FOSTER BARHAM, Joseph (1759-1832), 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



22 Feb. 1793 - 3 Apr. 1799
1802 - 1806
1806 - 1807
1807 - 24 July 1822

Family and Education

b. 1 Jan. 1759, 1st s. of Joseph Foster Barham (formerly Foster) and Dorothea, da. and event. h. of Erasmus Vaughan of Trecwn. educ. ?Leipzig; G. Inn 1777. m. 26 July 1792, Lady Caroline Tufton, da. of Sackville, 8th earl of Thanet, 3s. 2da. suc. fa. 1789. d. 28 Sept. 1832.

Offices Held

Capt. Stockbridge vols. 1798, lt. 1803, capt. 1804-6.


Foster Barham, a Welsh landowner and conscience-stricken West India proprietor, again returned himself on his own interest for Stockbridge at the 1820 general election. He took his seat on the opposition benches, as he later mentioned, 9 Mar. 1821, and though his attachment to the Whig cause had previously wavered, he sided with them against the Liverpool ministry on most major issues, including economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation, during his final years in the House.1 The simultaneous return of his son John, with whom he was inaccurately classed as an ‘idle fellow’ by a radical commentary of 1823, presents problems of identification, but internal evidence and this Member’s seniority suggest that he delivered most of the speeches attributed to ‘Mr. Barham’ in debate. An obituary praised him as an ‘acute and powerful speaker’.2 Either he or his son voted against the appointment of an additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May, but it was almost certainly he who was added to the select committee on the Welsh judicature, 1 June, and who spoke in support of its reform, 1 June 1820, when, after making a charge of corruption, he was obliged to deny that he meant to accuse John Lloyd, a Welsh judge. He moved for a list of practising Welsh attorneys, 9 June 1820, and was appointed to the revived committee, 21 Feb. 1821.3 He defended the army ophthalmic establishment as a cost effective venture, 2 June, 10 July 1820. He divided against ministers on the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June 1820, 23, 26 Jan., but was apparently absent from the opposition motion censuring their conduct, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided for Catholic relief and objected to an ‘illiberal, uncharitable, unchristian’ passage in a hostile petition, 28 Feb.4 He probably gave the vote to repeal the duty on husbandry horses, 5 Mar., as it was surely he who warned of the danger of famine in agricultural districts and called for economies in public expenditure and a revision of the corn laws, 7 Mar.5 He spoke in defence of the Whig Morning Chronicle, which stood accused of a breach of parliamentary privilege, 9 Mar. It was possibly he who made a brief intervention concerning the size of proposed army reductions, 12 Mar., and divided for a figure of £10,000, 14 Mar.6 On 4 May he denied that West India proprietors sought preferential treatment and objected to Henry Grey Bennet’s assertion that they dealt in human flesh. He voted for parliamentary reform, 9 May, when, in a somewhat contrary speech, he claimed that tales of corrupt practice in his own borough belonged to a former era, and, according to one account, raised objections to the enfranchisement of large towns. (In an undated, apparently earlier memorandum, he had protested that all the schemes for parliamentary reform he had seen were based on ‘a mistaken view of the nature of the constitution’, which they would destroy.)7 He was in the minority for reform of the Scottish county representation, 10 May. While he doubted the necessity of a bill to permit the humanitarian removal of slaves, he was content to allow it a second reading, 1 June. He voted for inquiry into the administration of justice in Tobago, but regretted that its mover, Lord Nugent, had descended to ‘loose and unwarranted’ accusations against planters and had to be persuaded to withdraw an amendment, 6 June.8 On 25 June 1821 he made a stout defence of the West Indian sugar monopoly, arguing that the blame for the slave trade could not be laid exclusively at the door of the colonialists and contrasting the outcry at the maltreatment of slaves with the general indifference to the ritual immolation of Hindoo widows in India.

Foster Barham appears to have missed the early part of the 1822 session. On 1 Apr. he spoke in favour of the colonial trade bill, believing it ‘absolutely necessary to do something for the colonial interest’, and observing that ‘as a proprietor himself ... he was absolutely compelled, by the pressure of the present situation, to deny his negroes (most unwillingly) many comforts and advantages to which they had been accustomed’.9 He denied that the measure would revive the slave trade and again defended the West Indian sugar monopoly, wondering at the irony of East India men taking up the cry of free trade, 17 May. He welcomed Allen’s initiative to consider previous select committee reports on the incorporation of the Welsh judicature into the English system, 23 May, but objected to the precipitate introduction of an alternative plan to reform existing arrangements, 30 May. Either he or his son voted against the new corn duties and in favour of a permanent bounty on wheat exports, 9 May, and paired for a motion blaming agricultural distress on the resumption of cash payments, 12 June. On 27 June he queried the value of legislation against the slave trade when other countries were of a different mind, and he assured Hume that the extent of economic distress in Trinidad was too great to permit any governmental economies, 5 July.10 He took the Chiltern Hundreds, 24 July 1822.

Prior to this Foster Barham had agreed to sell his Stockbridge property to Lord Grosvenor, and he nominated the latter’s chosen candidate as his successor, 30 July 1822.11 According to Lord Lowther*, his West India estates had ‘failed’ and he was ‘clamorous’ for the repayment of a loan to his brother-in-law, Lord Thanet. There was indeed a sharp fall in his bank balance between 1821 and 1823 and he subsequently confirmed that financial difficulties had induced him to put Stockbridge up for sale.12 This transaction was due for completion by the end of 1822, but dissolved into an acrimonious dispute which dragged on for eight years and sparked two electoral contests. Stung by attacks on his personal integrity, Foster Barham recalled in an undated letter:

He was 35 years in Parliament without even asking for an exciseman’s post when his friends were in power ... Coming into a large West India estate which would be increased £10,000 per annum by the expenditure of £20,000 on negroes, which he had abundant means to purchase, [he] did however renounce that advantage when hardly anybody had scruples of the same sort.13

He had stressed his steady opposition to the slave trade in his 1823 tract Considerations on the Abolition of Negro Slavery, which envisaged a gradual shift to a wage economy in the West Indies and outlined plans for the compensation of planters and the education of slaves. It won praise from Sir James Mackintosh* and William Wilberforce*, who had long regarded Foster Barham as a worthy exception among planters and told him, ‘if Mr. Pitt were now alive, he would be strongly tempted to carry your plan into execution’.14 Lord Westmorland, by contrast, thought that the pamphlet was ‘very ridiculous, but states well the West Indians’ case’.15 Foster Barham’s attendance at meetings of the West India Planters and Merchants Committee was in decline by 1815, but he was appointed to committees on the renewal of the West India Dock Company charter, 15 Mar. 1821, 17 Apr. 1822.16 He subsequently appears to have left the management of his West Indian estates to his son John.17 The same applied to the Pembrokeshire estate, which, according to estimates for 1828, produced a modest annual return of £1,381.18

At the 1826 general election Foster Barham unsuccessfully intrigued to secure a seat for his son at Appleby, to which he was connected through Thanet. Commenting on this episode, Lord Kensington† was supposed to have remarked that ‘he never touched anything without making a job out it’.19 He was active on behalf of Henry Brougham* at that year’s Westmorland contest, during which he stayed at his brother-in-law’s seat at Appleby Castle, having the previous July failed to persuade Lord Lonsdale to compromise with his Whig opponent.20 At a meeting of London-based Westmorland freeholders, 15 May 1826, he observed that the Lowther family’s monopoly of the county representation appeared to substantiate the case for some degree of parliamentary reform, ‘a process which I have always much deprecated’, as he afterwards told John Beckett*, Lonsdale’s son-in-law. He added that he had not come out expressly in support of Brougham at the meeting and objected that a Lonsdale acolyte had dismissed him as a West Indian parvenu, a comment from which the peer subsequently dissociated himself.21 He was equally tetchy in his dealings over Stockbridge, ‘the unexampled vexation and anxiety’ of which he identified in September 1825 as the cause of his declining health, of which he complained steadily thereafter.22 At some time in 1832 a doctor pleaded with his wife to dissuade him from a contemplated journey, but when he died at his sister’s residence near Bedford that September, it was reportedly ‘after an illness of only two days’. His wife Lady Caroline, ‘one of the leaders of the beau monde’, followed him five weeks later after being run over by a cab.23 The residue of his personal estate, which was sworn under £16,000, 15 Oct. 1832, but resworn under £40,000, 5 July 1834, passed to his eldest son John, along with his town house in Queen Anne Street, Marylebone, and property in Pembrokeshire, Hampshire and Jamaica. In his will, dated 22 June 1832, he referred to the depreciation in value of the latter, and his consequent obligation to charge other estates with the provision for his wife and younger children. He left to his wife’s discretion a bequest to his second son William, who may well have been the reprobate ‘gentleman’ of the same name convicted of an assault on a young woman in Regent Street in August 1832.24

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Philip Salmon / Howard Spencer


  • 1. The Times, 10 Mar. 1821.
  • 2. Black Bk. (1823), 137; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 449; Gent. Mag. (1832), ii. 573.
  • 3. The Times, 10 June 1820.
  • 4. Ibid. 1 Mar. 1821.
  • 5. Ibid. 8 Mar. 1821.
  • 6. Ibid. 13 Mar. 1821.
  • 7. Ibid. 10 May 1821; Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.381.
  • 8. The Times, 7 June 1821.
  • 9. Ibid. 2 Apr. 1822.
  • 10. Ibid. 28 June, 6 July 1822.
  • 11. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.388, bdle. 1; Salisbury Jnl. 5 Aug. 1822; Grosvenor mss 9/11/25.
  • 12. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 11 Oct. 1822; Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.369, bdle. 2, address to Stockbridge inhabitants, Sept. 1825; c.389, bdle. 14.
  • 13. See STOCKBRIDGE; Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.388, bdle. 1, Foster Barham to Sir C. Hamilton (draft).
  • 14. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.388, bdle. 2, Mackintosh to Foster Barham, 30 Nov. 1823, Wilberforce to same, 4 Dec. 1823.
  • 15. Wellington mss WP1/773/14.
  • 16. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/3, 4.
  • 17. Bodl. Clarendon. dep. c.428, passim.
  • 18. Ibid. c.372, bdle. 2.
  • 19. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 18 Oct. 1825; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 20 Apr. 1826.
  • 20. Gent. Mag. (1832), ii. 573.
  • 21. The Times, 16 May 1826 (where the report identifies him as ‘Mr. Barron’); Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.388, bdle. 2, Foster Barham to Beckett , Lonsdale to Foster Barham, 26 May 1826.
  • 22. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.369, bdle. 2; c. 388, bdle. 1, Hamilton to Foster Barham, passim.
  • 23. Ibid. c. 369, bdle. 2, Dr. Maclure to Lady Caroline Barham [1826]; Gent Mag. (1832), ii. 573.
  • 24. The Times, 15 Aug. 1832; PROB 11/1806/618; IR26/1281/731.