FOSTER BARHAM, John (1799-1838), of Trecwn, Pemb. and Stockbridge, Hants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1820 - 1826
1831 - 1832
17 Feb. 1834 - 1837

Family and Education

bap. 16 Feb. 1799,1 1st s. of Joseph Foster Barham* and Lady Caroline Tufton, da. of Sackville, 8th earl of Thanet; bro. of Charles Henry Foster Barham*. educ. Eton 1814; Christ Church, Oxf. 1818. m. 14 Jan. 1834, Lady Katherine Grimston, da. of James Walter Grimston†, 1st earl of Verulam, s.p. suc. fa. 1832. d. 22 May 1838.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Pemb. 1834-5.


On first meeting Barham in 1833, Lady Salisbury described him as ‘not good looking, nor the reverse: tall, with small eyes and a reddish face and rather tigerish in appearance’. As a friend of his betrothed, she subsequently came to regard him as ‘a good sort of man’.2 Barham (whose other surname was not often used) apparently left Oxford without taking a degree. He was brought in for Stockbridge at the 1820 general election by his father and, like him, aligned himself with the Whigs. An ‘idle’ Member, inaccurately described as a ‘frequent attender’ by a commentary of 1825, when present he voted with the opposition to the Liverpool ministry on most major issues, including economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation, although he and his father’s voting records are often difficult to distinguish.3 It is possible that he may have delivered some of the speeches by ‘Mr. Barham’ attributed to his father, though his youth and subsequent diffidence in the House argue against this. He divided for Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, 21 Apr. 1825. He voted for parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821. No parliamentary activity has been found for 1824, but he was probably the ‘J. F. Barham’ who was named to a committee of the West India Planters and Merchants to apply to ministers for a reduction in the sugar duties, 25 June, and was present at its meetings, 14 July 1824, 16 Mar., 17 May 1825. He appears to have taken on the running of his father’s West Indian estate by this time.4 He voted against suppression of the Catholic Association, 15 Feb. 1825. No trace of parliamentary activity has been found for 1826. At that year’s dissolution he retired from Stockbridge, where his father was in dispute with another patron, and although Thomas Creevey* recorded that he was in line to replace him at Appleby, on the interest of his maternal uncle, the 10th earl of Thanet, his father’s intrigues to bring this about foundered.5 He may have been the ‘Pony Barham’ who dined with Lady Holland (a cousin) in July 1826 and have been afflicted by a serious illness that September, if he was the son of Joseph Foster Barham referred to in contemporary correspondence.6 When he contested Stockbridge at the 1830 general election on his father’s revived interest (the management of which he had evidently assumed), it was as a friend of the Wellington administration, according to a friendly squib. He was defeated and his petition against the return was unsuccessful.7

At the 1831 general election he offered again for Stockbridge, which stood to be disfranchised by the Grey ministry’s reform bill. He deplored this on the hustings, but professed himself to be a reformer in the broad sense and was returned unopposed.8 He paired in favour of the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, voted against the adjournment, 12 July 1831, and gave general support to its details, though according to Lord Lowther* he took ‘an active part’ against the disfranchisement of Appleby, even if he did not vote thus, 19 July.9 On 26 July he stayed mute on the subject of his own borough’s extinction. He was in the minority for a committee of inquiry into the effect of the Sugar Refining Act on the West India interest, 12 Sept. He voted for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He was in the minority for a reduction in the sugar duties, 7 Mar. He presented a petition against the Holderness drainage bill, 18 Apr. He was absent from the division on the motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, when he was listed as being ‘in country’. He was in ministerial majorities for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against Conservative amendments to the Scottish bill, 1, 15 June. He paired with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 16, 20 July. The balances in Barham’s bank books had never looked healthy, and though the death of his father in September 1832 brought him estates in Pembrokeshire, Stockbridge and the West Indies, it does not appear to have left him financially secure. Shortly before her own death that November, his mother made over to him £12,000 in annuities.10

At the 1832 general election he answered the call of the reform party in Westmorland, to which he was connected via the earls of Thanet. A hostile report portrayed him as ‘an admirable equestrian, and excellent shot, elegant and accomplished in his manners’ but dismissed ‘his qualifications as a Member for the county’. Aspersions were cast on his ability as a public speaker and an unsubstantiated rumour circulated that ‘his private character is not what it ought to be’.11 He was defeated by the established Lowther interest, but in December 1833 was invited to fill the vacancy at Kendal caused by the death of James Brougham*, whom he described in his address as ‘a most valued and dear friend’. Pledged to continue his line of support for the Grey administration, he was returned unopposed.12 He took time off from his canvass to get married to the daughter of the earl of Verulam, with whom he was, according to Lady Salisbury, ‘desperately in love’.13 The bride’s mother was supposed to have observed in a more worldly vein that although the feeling was mutual, ‘I am sure you would not wonder if you saw the diamonds’.14 There was no opposition to his return in 1835, when he denied reports that he had gone over to the Conservatives. (He had abandoned his intention to contest the county again after a preliminary canvass.)15 In January 1836 he recorded that he was ‘under strict medical superintendence and shall be perhaps for some time to come’, and the following month informed agents that he was too ill to present a petition, fearing that he would have to vacate his seat.16 Shortly afterwards his mental health collapsed completely. When he was eventually certified by a commission, in the face of mounting concern from his constituency, 23 Mar. 1837, the jury determined that he had been of unsound mind since 21 Apr. the previous year.17 This ‘shocking calamity’ was noticed by Lady Salisbury, 5 May 1836, when she reported that he was ‘in confinement, and it is hoped he may not live’. His death in May 1838 was in her eyes ‘a great blessing’.18 Administration of his personal estate was granted to his widow, who had sought advice from Lord Brougham over anticipated difficulties from William Barham, her husband’s brother and next of kin, a shadowy figure who appears to have died soon afterwards.19 The estates in Pembrokeshire and the West Indies were entailed on the next brother Charles (1808-78), briefly Member for Appleby in the 1832 session.20

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Howard Spencer / Philip Salmon


  • 1. Reg. of Old Buckenham, Norf. (copy in Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.386), which gives his father’s name as John, but is correct in other details. Other sources give his birthdate as January 1800, which would have made him an under age Member in 1820.
  • 2. Gascoyne Heiress ed. C. Oman, 94-95, 97.
  • 3. Black Bk. (1823), 137; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 449.
  • 4. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/4; Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.389, passim.
  • 5. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 20 Apr. 1826.
  • 6. Lady Holland to Son, 43; Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.388, Sir C. Hamilton to Joseph Foster Barham, 6 Sept. 1826.
  • 7. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.369, bdle. 2, draft address [1830]; c.430, bdle. 4.
  • 8. Salisbury Jnl. 8 May 1831.
  • 9. Londsale mss, Lowther to Londsale, 22 July 1831.
  • 10. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.386; c.389, bdle. 14.
  • 11. Westmld. Gazette, 10 Nov., 8, 22 Dec. 1832.
  • 12. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.382, bdles. 3, 4, passim; Kendal Chron. 11 Jan., 22 Feb. 1834.
  • 13. Kendal Chron. 18 Jan. 1834; Gascoyne Heiress, 95.
  • 14. Maxwell, Clarendon, i. 83.
  • 15. Kendal Mercury, 3 Jan. 1835.
  • 16. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.382, bdle. 4, Barham to Nicholson, 24 Feb.; c.389, bdle. 16, same to Stanley, 28 Jan., to Richards, 18 Feb. 1836.
  • 17. Ibid. c.382, bdle. 10, unnamed agent to Lady Katherine Barham, 14 Jan. and reply; The Times, 27 Mar. 1837; TNA C211/4/311.
  • 18. Gascoyne Heiress, 202, 284; Gent. Mag. (1838), ii. 224, 234.
  • 19. PROB 6/214/255; Brougham mss, Katherine Barham to Brougham, 26 Mar., 23 Nov., 2 Dec. 1838.
  • 20. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 21 Aug. 1878.