GORDON, Robert (?1786-1864), of Kemble House, nr. Cirencester, Glos.; Leweston House, nr. Sherborne, Dorset; Ashton Keynes, nr. Cricklade, Wilts. and 32 Bruton Street, Mdx.

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

Constituency

Dates

1812 - 1818
1818 - 1837
1837 - 1841

Family and Education

b. ?1786, o.s. of William Gordon, W.I. planter, of Auchendolly, Kirkcudbright and Anna, da. of Stephen Nash of Bristol, Glos., sis. and h. of Sir Stephen Nash of Leweston House. educ. Eton 1799; L. Inn 1803; Christ Church, Oxf. 1804. m. 11 July 1809, his cos. Elizabeth Anne, da. of Charles Westley Coxe† of Kemble House, 1da. suc. fa. 1802. d. 16 May 1864.

Offices Held

Commr. of lunacy 1828-d.; commr. bd. of control June 1832-Dec. 1833, jt.-sec. Dec. 1833-Dec. 1834, Apr. 1835-Sept. 1839; sec. to treasury Sept. 1839-June 1841.

Cornet Dorset yeomanry 1805, lt. 1808; capt. Wilts. yeomanry 1816.

Sheriff, Glos. 1811-12.

Biography

‘Bum’ Gordon was how this Member was commonly known, at least behind his back, but the nickname is of uncertain derivation.1 The imputation of idleness or inebriety would have been no more appropriate for him than for many politicians, though Edward Littleton* linked it to his character when he referred to Colonel Thomas Davies* and ‘Bum Gordon [as] "damned good-natured fellows" proverbially’.2 More speculatively, ‘Bum’ may have been a phonetic abbreviation of the contemporary pronunciation of the first syllable of bombast, as in Henry Brougham’s* caricature of him as ‘Bombastes Furioso’, and he may well have boomed or hummed loudly while speaking in the House.3 However, he probably just had a large posterior: according to one newspaper story, when Gordon asked the duke of Devonshire to add his name to a guest list, from which the duke of Wellington’s had already been struck out, Devonshire

was sorely puzzled. At length he hit upon the expedient of discharging the duke of Newcastle, and declared that he and the duke of Wellington would just make a proper place in the saloon to be filled up by Mr. Gordon. It is said that his grace chuckled at his cleverness, and some friends, who scarcely ever smiled before at any of his jokes, laughed outright at his grace’s additional sally, which we do not repeat.4

Gordon was always in danger of appearing ridiculous, and, as Denis Le Marchant† later wrote, he

was a contemporary of Sir Robert Peel*, like whom he had obtained the highest honours at Oxford, and he had equally the advantage of a large fortune and an early seat in the House of Commons; but a love of ease and social pleasure, with an indifference to the higher branches of politics, always kept him in a position below both his pretensions and his abilities.5

Descended from the Gordons of Auchendolly, his grandfather and father were successful West India merchants, who acquired the plantations of Paisley and Windsor Lodge, Jamaica.6 He presumably followed them into this business, and was perhaps one of the unidentified Gordons who attended meetings of the West India Committee (a ‘Robert Gordon’ was present on at least one occasion in 1816).7 He almost invariably advocated lower duties on West Indian sugar and defended the practice of slave-owning. Through his parents and wife, he came into considerable property in the West Country, where he established himself as a local gentleman and magistrate. He was made a freeman of Gloucester in 1813, and was, for instance, a regular attender at the annual dinners of the Wiltshire Society in London.8 He was returned for Wareham in 1812, and was elected in second place for the enlarged freeholder borough of Cricklade at the general election of 1818, when he voted for the Whig candidates Sir Samuel Romilly† and Sir Francis Burdett* in the contest for Westminster.9 Having been returned unopposed for Cricklade at the following general election, the 16th earl of Suffolk, one of his Whig neighbours, commented to Lord Holland, 9 Mar. 1820, that ‘though my acquaintance with Gordon is at an end, by his own fault I must say, yet I am always glad when a man of good and sound principles comes in’.10 Although essentially a Whig opponent of the Liverpool administration, as seen in his generally hostile voting behaviour on legal, political and social issues, he had too independent a cast of mind and too great a sense of the self-righteousness of his own conduct to follow a consistent party line in Parliament. Like Joseph Hume, with whom he nevertheless also differed on occasion, he was one of the champions of economies and reduced taxation (almost always voting, sometimes as a teller, in this way, notably in the early 1820s) and, under all governments, he was relentless in his scrutiny of the estimates. A regular committeeman, he was very active in the House, making numerous minor interventions and frequently presenting petitions on local legislation and private matters.

Gordon objected to the cost of the new post office, 3, 4 May, the funding of the African Company, 30 May, and the barracks grant, 6 June, 10 July 1820.11 He divided against the appointment of a secret committee on the allegations against Queen Caroline, 26 June 1820. He signed the requisition for a Wiltshire county meeting on the affair, which he attended, 17 Jan. 1821. He afterwards reported to Holland that it had gone well, and in his own speech he explained

the trick of ministers to manage, as it was termed, the House of Commons, and described in so humorous a manner as to keep the meeting in constant roars of laughter the duties of the ministerial whipper-in, who had to keep the votes together. Fatal to the pay of the whipper-in was a good hunting week or a Newmarket meeting; for it was on those occasions alone, and not on any virtue in the House of Commons, that occasionally a beneficial measure passed, or a bad one was defeated. It was ludicrous, he said, to see the ministers secretly watching the door of the House of Commons, while the whipper-in was mustering the votes. On such occasions the ministers sat like ‘tame hawks that sit and hear the very whispers curious’.

He declared that nothing but parliamentary reform would be of any benefit to the country, and praised opposition leaders for supporting it, revealing that he had quarrelled with them over their coalition with the Grenvillites and had feared that ‘they had got tired of being so long nailed to the north wall of opposition; the cold of that chilly atmosphere had, however, he hoped sufficiently braced their nerves against the relaxing atmosphere of Courtly interest’.12 He divided steadily in favour of the Whig campaign on Caroline’s behalf during the first few weeks of the following session, and supported the Devizes petition against the removal of her name from the liturgy, 24 Jan. He voted against the sugar duties, 9 Feb., and denounced the rumoured offer of a bribe to government for renewal of the West India Dock Company’s charter, 27 Feb. He unsuccessfully moved one of the delaying amendments in the committee of supply on the army estimates, 12 Mar., and urged further economies, 30 Mar., 13, 30 Apr., 14 May.13 He voted to make Leeds a scot and lot, not a £10 householder, borough if it received Grampound’s seats, 2 Mar., and was a steward at the City of London Tavern reform dinner, 4 Apr.14 He was listed in both the minority for and the majority against disqualifying civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr. He voted for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr., 9 May, reform of the Scottish county representation, 10 May, and to better secure of the independence of Parliament, 31 May. He came to the defence of the West India interest, 4 May, and was a teller for the majority against allowing James Stephen to give evidence against the slaves removal bill, 31 May 1821.

He apparently missed most, if not all, of the 1822 session, and was reported not to have voted ‘for or against anything’.15 It was not until the middle of the following year that he returned from a tour of the continent and resumed his parliamentary activities.16 He divided to abolish the death penalty for larceny, 21 May, and against the usury bill, 27 June 1823. He paired in condemnation of chancery administration, 5 June, and was in the opposition majority for the Scottish juries bill, 20 June. He regretted the failure of the silk manufacture bill, 18 July 1823. On 20 Feb. 1824 Gordon supported ministers on the army estimates by justifying the cost of military defences in the West Indies, but, surprisingly, he joined his advanced Whig colleagues in calling for lower sugar duties as part of a general plan of free trade, 8 Mar. He voted for reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb. He divided for abolition of flogging in the army, 5 Mar., and to consider the evils of naval impressment, 10 June. He asked whether it was worth retaining the civil and military establishments on the Gold Coast, 12 Mar., and urged free trade in silk, 22 Mar. He commented on the duties on salt and beer, 6 Apr., and rum, 8 Apr., and, although he had formerly objected to the grant for the building of new churches, he spoke of its necessity in ‘a canting and hypocritical age’, 9 Apr.17 He voted in favour of inquiries into the Irish church establishment, 6 May, and the state of Ireland, 11 May, and against improper use of Irish first fruits revenues, 25 May, and Irish pluralities, 27 May. However, he sided with ministers for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June. He divided against Brougham’s censure motion on the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824.

He voted for hearing the Catholic Association against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 18 Feb. 1825, dividing against this measure at some or all of its stages. On the 24th he opposed leave for the introduction of a bear-baiting bill while there were more important issues before the House. As he had on 28 Feb. 1821, he voted for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. Although he defended ministers’ conduct on the Canadian waste lands bill, 15 Mar., he opposed the grant to the Irish linen board, 18 Mar. He claimed that a rise in the price of sugar would be of general benefit, 18 Mar., denied the allegation that planters had done all in their power to obstruct the amelioration of the condition of their slaves, 21 Mar., when he approved Huskisson’s proposed warehousing system, and stated his approval of the West India Company bill, 16 May. He decided not to attend the Westminster reform dinner, 23 May, but told John Cam Hobhouse* that ‘I have a right to be considered a zealous supporter, and you will not from my absence today infer any change in my public attachment or my private regard’.18 He declared that children in cotton mills ‘required the protection of the legislature as much as the slaves of the West Indies’, 31 May, and voted for Hume’s amendment to exclude magistrates who were factory owners from enforcing the combination laws, 27 June. He said he would vote against the Mauritius trade bill unless its implementation was postponed, 3, 6 June. He complained about customs officers being permitted to search individuals in foreign ships in order to prevent smuggling, 10 June, and objected to high duties on trifling articles of luxury, 17 June 1825, when he voted for Hobhouse’s amendment to the judges’ salaries bill.19

He condemned the government policy of restricting the circulation of country bank notes, 9, 10 Feb. 1826, because he thought that ‘it would be impossible to pay in gold what had been borrowed in paper’. He voted against going into committee on the Bank Charter Acts, 13 Feb., and presented and endorsed a Cirencester petition critical of ministers’ handling of the financial crisis, 14 Feb. He asked whether the report of the commissioners of inquiry into the courts in the West Indies would be acted on, 17 Feb. He agreed with Canning, the foreign secretary, that the impetus for the abolition of slavery should come from colonial assemblies and not Parliament, 1 Mar., though he presented an anti-slavery petition from Malmesbury, 20 Mar.20 He divided for the bill to disfranchise non-resident voters in Irish boroughs, 9 Mar., to abolish flogging in the army, 10 Mar., and against the second reading of the corn importation bill, 11 May. He divided for reforming the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr., parliamentary reform, 27 Apr., and curbing electoral bribery, 26 May 1826. He was returned unopposed for Cricklade at the general election the following month. He brought up a Gloucestershire petition against alteration of the corn laws, 21 Feb., and divided against the second reading of the ministerial corn bill, 2 Apr. 1827.21 He voted for inquiry into the allegations against the corporation of Leicester, 15 Mar., and for the production of information on the mutiny at Barrackpoor, 22 Mar., and the Orange procession and Lisburn magistrates, 29 Mar. He sided with opposition on the Irish miscellaneous estimates and chancery administration, 5 Apr. He voted for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, when he also, however, spoke and voted in the minority against Lord Althorp’s election expenses bill. He voted with the Canning government for the grant to improve water communications in Canada, 12 June 1827.

He successfully moved for a select committee on the ‘dreadful state of misery’ in which pauper lunatics were kept in Middlesex, 13 June 1827. He chaired its sittings on 11 occasions and presented the report, mostly written by himself on the 29th.22 On 1 Jan. 1828 Thomas Spring Rice* informed Lord Lansdowne, the home secretary in the doomed Goderich ministry, that Gordon intended moving for a committee on the police and a bill founded on his lunacy report, to which Lansdowne replied next day that ministers would handle the former, but that Gordon could pursue the latter if he so wished.23 He duly introduced his pauper lunatics bill for the construction of a new county asylum in Middlesex, 19 Feb., outlining allegations about the wrongful confinement of alleged lunatics under the signature of one doctor or apothecary; the appalling physical condition in which the lunatics were kept and the hopelessly inadequate level of medical attention; and the absence of inspection which made it extremely difficult for inmates who had recovered their sanity to secure their release. At Gordon’s request, the motion was seconded by Lord Ashley,24 and, in lending his support to the measure, Peel, who had recently returned to the home office, said that Gordon was ‘fully entitled to the appellation of philanthropist for those exertions near which the suspicion of self-interest cannot come, for those exertions which can be prompted by nothing but pure humanity’. He defended the bill against various criticisms, 17, 25, 27 Mar., 1 Apr., and, on its rejection by the Lords, 6 June, reintroduced a replacement county lunatics asylum bill in the Commons that day. Although again much amended, this, and the lunatics regulation bill (which he had also first brought before the House on 19 Feb.) were given royal assent, 15 July.25 Peel wished him to be president of the statutory commission of lunacy, but Gordon preferred to be named second in the list, announced in August 1828, leaving the honour to Lord Granville Somerset*.26

Gordon voted against the grant for 30,000 seamen, 11 Feb. 1828. He presented petitions against the Test Acts, 21 Feb., and divided for their repeal, 26 Feb. He chaired turbulent sessions of the committee on the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 3, 4, 7 Mar., and voted against the constituency being thrown into the hundred of Bassetlaw, 21 Mar. He reported from the committee on the Penryn disfranchisement bill, 24 Mar. He criticized the treatment of turnpike bills as private legislation and thus subject to heavy costs, 15, 21 Apr. He expressed his approval of the Scottish madhouses bill, 24 Apr. On the cities and boroughs poll bill, 28 Apr., 15 May, he noted that it excluded enlarged freeholder boroughs, in which he thought that the county authorities ought to be allowed to establish several polling places. He divided for establishing efficient control over proceedings by the crown for the recovery of penalties under the customs and excise laws, 1 May. He took exception to Lord Palmerston (who had just left office) presenting the Cambridge University anti-slavery petition, 3 June, stating his hope that the question would have been dealt with in a dispassionate and non-partisan fashion. Palmerston, although clearly riled, told the House that he would have been annoyed by the remarks of someone ‘who sits on these benches’, were he not ‘accustomed to infuse an air of good humour into every subject with which he meddles’. Although Gordon admitted that he had already changed his view once on granting public money for church building, and had been castigated for it by his colleagues, he stated that he had reverted to his former opinion, 30 June, when he condemned the additional churches bill as riddled with drafting errors. He voted against its second reading that day, and twice acted as a teller for the minority for having it put off. He insisted that the condition of enslaved Africans had been improved, 3 July, objected to the practice of ministers presenting bills without stating the grounds for their introduction, 4 July, and praised the amended benefices regulation bill, 17 July 1828.

Gordon, who had divided in its favour on 6 Mar. 1827 and 12 May 1828, voted for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and stated his support for the Wellington administration on this, 9 Mar. 1829. He objected to the grant for Toulonese and Corsican emigrants, 13 Mar., supported Peel’s justice of the peace bill, 25 Mar., and suggested that charity commissioners should be full-time paid employees, 2 Apr., when he called for further inquiry into official pensions. He thanked ministers for referring the Irish miscellaneous estimates to a select committee, 4 Apr., to which he was appointed, 9 Apr. At about this time he appears briefly to have become active on the West India Committee, his being the first signature on the requisition for a new standing committee, 8 Apr., and he was appointed to the new acting committee, handling the committee’s daily administration, 8 May.27 In the Commons he urged reduction of the duty on sugar, which he believed was an out-of-date wartime tax, 14 May, and objected to a motion against slavery, 3 June. He criticized the level of expenditure on Buckingham House, 11, 12 May, and voted against the grant for the marble arch, 25 May. On 14 May he expressed his annoyance at Vesey Fitzgerald’s indignant objection to the supposedly angry manner in which he had complained about the duty on olive oil. He divided for O’Connell being allowed to take his seat without swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May. He expressed his horror at the employment of children in factories, 19 May, and moved the third reading of the cotton factories regulation bill, 4 June. He spoke against the Irish arms bill as an unnecessarily severe measure, 2 June, when he voted for parliamentary reform. In December 1829 Palmerston, who noted that Gordon ‘travels about the continent with half a dozen carriages and all sorts of luxuries, and complains that he is ruined and cannot live in England’, reported to Lady Cowper that ‘he is all for paper currency and depreciating the standard, and what some people call equitable adjustment, which consists in robbing the fundholder, but then he has no stock and some land’.28

He was one of the members of a West India Committee delegation to Wellington in January 1830, after which he told Greville that ‘they had all been shocked at the manner in which he had used them, that some of them had declared they would never go to him again’.29 He introduced his lunatic licenses bill, 9 Feb., which passed that session, and supported Michael Angelo Taylor’s lunacy bill, 2, 18 Mar. He voted for transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5 May, and with Lord Howick against the East Retford bribery prevention bill, 11 Feb.; on 8 Mar. he explained that he would prefer the seats to be given to Birmingham, but, if that failed, he would vote for them being thrown into the neighbouring hundred. He divided for parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., 28 May, the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and the ballot, 15 Mar. He paired for information on Portugal, 10 Mar., and urged ministers to lower the sugar duties to increase revenues, 19 Mar. Arguing that there was no reason to be alarmed by the state of Ireland, he spoke against the Irish constabulary bill, 30 Mar., and the arms bill, 2 Apr., 3 July, but he condemned abuses in the Irish admiralty court, 6 May. He presented petitions against the death penalty for forgery from Malmesbury, 12 May, and Cricklade, 3 July, and paired in this sense, 24 May, 7 June. He deprecated the fact that the king’s West Indian sugars were no longer taxed, 21 May, and pleaded with ministers to relieve the distress of the West India merchants, 30 June, when he spoke against the sugar refinery bill and declared that their interest had been treated by government ‘with the greatest contumely and neglect’ that year. He served on two deputations from the West India Committee in June.30 He divided in favour of reform of the divorce laws, 3 June 1830, and the next day provoked a furious reaction from Scarlett, the attorney general, by referring to the cost of the ‘prosecutions, or rather persecutions, instituted by the treasury against the press’.31

Gordon, who voted for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830, was a leading figure in the opposition campaign for economies and reduced taxation that session, during which he constantly probed ministers in depth and divided against them on financial questions. He infused unusual animation into the committee of supply, and according to Le Marchant

Gordon’s success was such that Lord Macaulay, then a young Member, speaking to me some years afterwards on the fleeting character of parliamentary distinction, observed that he used to listen with admiration to his speeches, thinking them eminently clever and persuasive, and hardly venturing to hope that he might one day speak as well.32

He questioned ministers about the number of full-pay army officers who were entitled to retain their salaries as well as accepting civil allowances for service in public offices, 11, 16, 17 Feb., withdrew a motion on this after receiving ministerial assurances that the matter would be investigated, 9 Mar., but expressed himself dissatisfied with the limited remit of the inquiry, 26 Apr. He emphasized the prevalence of distress, 18 Feb., warned that its existence in other countries had created ‘a revolutionary spirit abroad’, 22 Feb., and objected to an increase in the duties on spirits, which were the only ‘resource for the unhappy’ in such times, 23 Feb. Hobhouse detected him in an act of hypocrisy, privately observing that Gordon ‘would not vote with us because he has an intimacy with the Bathurst family’, his Gloucestershire neighbours, on the opposition motion to abolish the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar.33 However, Gordon recommended the abolition of useless legal and financial offices, 1 Apr., 14 May, and the reduction of official salaries, 2, 30 Apr., 21 June. He spoke and was the teller for the majority against an amended clause in the poor law bill to provide education for children whose parents were unable to support them, 26 Apr. He rejected the attacks made on him and others who urged economies, 30 Apr., when he insisted that items in the estimates should be considered separately. On the motion to go into the committee of supply, 3 May, he berated Members for streaming out of the House and pointed out that, although ‘eloquence and arithmetic never go well together’, it was vital to scrutinize public expenditure, as ‘we are not to consider, in these times, and under our present circumstances, what is useful or advantageous, but what is absolutely necessary’. He hinted that distress and reform were issues which would become linked in the public mind since ‘the one consolation I have in seeing so many Members without constituents support the government is that the subject must force itself into notice’. Sensing that he lacked enough support, he decided against moving for an impartial select committee to study the estimates in general, but his motion in the committee to refer the first item, the grant for public buildings, to such an inquiry was defeated by 139-123. He voted against the beer bill, 3 May, voiced objections to it on the instructions of his constituents, 3, 4, 14 June, and divided for amendments to prohibit its sale for on-consumption, 21 June, 1 July. He judged the labourers’ wages bill to be ‘weak and absurd’, 11 June, and offered several amendments to it, 5 July, when, as he did on other occasions, he criticized the poor quality of drafting exhibited in government bills and disapproved of attempts to pass legislation late in the session. On 2 July, when opposition leaders were not supported by their followers in an attack on ministers in the committee of supply, Gordon ‘came over to Herries and said he should vote with government’.34 He was in the minority of two against the report of the select committee on repairs to Windsor Castle, 9 July, and spoke against it, 16 July 1830, when he asked for a review of committee procedures on private and public bills.

At the general election that summer, Gordon, who was again returned unopposed for Cricklade, attended the election at Gloucester, where he declared that ‘I took great pains, in the last session, to reduce the expenditure of this country’. He told the electors that ‘it is your business to send men to Parliament who will perform their duty, and to say this to your representatives, always attend a committee of supply, never be absent when any of the money of the people is to be voted away’. He questioned the candidates closely about their commitment to economies, and finally plumped for Edward Webb*.35 He moved for papers on the pay of army officers in civil employment, 4 Nov., and the English pension list, 12 Nov. 1830. Deemed by ministers to be among their ‘foes’, he of course voted against them on the civil list, 15 Nov., and was evidently dismayed not to be invited to join the Grey ministry that succeeded them. Althorp, the new chancellor of the exchequer, wrote to Lord Milton*, 22 Nov., that Gordon was ‘the most violent against us; he says that we are the most aristocratic administration that ever was formed, and that it is an insult to the people to have formed such a one in such times’.36 Following Hobhouse’s hint to government that there were too many ‘anti-reductionists’ on it, he and Gordon were added to the select committee on Members’ salaries, 10 Dec.37 The following day Gordon complained that pensions had been awarded under the new reign despite the absence of a legal pension fund, and later burst out that

I observed that an honourable Member on the ministerial bench had a sneer on his countenance when I called on ministers to declare that they had nothing to do with the matter, as if it were utterly impossible that the present pure administration could make any kind of composition with its predecessors; but when I see what has been going on in Ireland, the pensions which have been created there, and the manner in which vacancies have been made and filled up, it is with regret I feel that the present government must be watched almost as closely as the last.

Althorp said that he took it in ‘perfect good part’, but on 13 Dec. 1830 there was a ‘curious debate’ with, as Lord Ellenborough put it, ‘B. Gordon and others breaking ground against the new ministers’.38 In fact Gordon denounced them for failing to abolish useless cabinet offices or to reduce the pension list; demanded that further economies be made, particularly in military expenditure, in order to relieve distress; and suggested, as he was frequently to do thereafter, that the estimates be voted a year in advance, and not merely sanctioned retrospectively.

Gordon chaired a reform meeting in Sherborne, 31 Jan. 1831.39 He repeated his criticisms of government, 4 Feb., but Le Marchant noted that he and Sir Henry Parnell were ‘two disappointed candidates for office, whose motives were too open to suspicion for their speeches to have any injurious effect’.40 On 23 Feb. Gordon introduced a lunatics bill to consolidate and renew his Acts of 1828, and argued that ‘although it has been my fate - perhaps I should say my choice - to cavil and discuss the estimates proposed by government’, the measure was worth the expense; it was lost at the dissolution. He made light of his differences with Brougham, the lord chancellor, over it and the following day Macaulay’s father Zachary wrote to Brougham that ‘Gordon appears to have spared anyone the pains of drubbing him. Tom I believe would have been quite ready to do his best to make him regret any attack he might have made on you’.41 He commented on the sinecure of paymaster of marines, 25 Feb., and naval half-pay and the tax on steam vessels, 28 Feb., when he told Sir James Graham* that the latter had said he was ‘glad to see symptoms of returning kindness on my part; but I thought that nothing had ever fallen from me to make him suppose it was ever gone away. I am, however, a little pertinacious, more especially when I am not satisfied’. He presented Cricklade and Dursley reform petitions, 26 Feb., declaring that ‘very little reform will be necessary if the system of voting by ballot be established. It is, in my opinion, of itself preferable to any scheme of reform at present afloat’. He advocated relief for the beleaguered West India interest, 11 Mar., and asked ministers to delay their arrangements for the sugar duties, 14, 22 Mar. He attended a meeting of Whigs on reform at Althorp’s, 17 Mar., when, according to Thomas Creevey*, ‘that goose Ridley was the only untractable hound with the exception of a growl or two from "Bum" Gordon’.42 He voted for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and promised his support for it as a veteran reformer, 24 Mar., arguing that the purpose of the committee was ‘not to throw out the bill, but to correct such of its details as well admit of alteration, without endangering the principle upon which it is founded’. He expressed his anger at ministers’ refusal to agree to further inquiry into the civil list, 25 Mar., 12 Apr., when he declined to bother to oppose the reintroduced truck bill because it would be ‘wholly inoperative and perfectly useless’. He paired in the minority against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831, which precipitated a dissolution.

His name was mentioned as a possible reform candidate for Dorset, but at the general election Gordon was returned for Cricklade after a close contest, his colleague Philip Pleydell Bouverie being defeated by the supposed anti-reformer Thomas Calley. At a Malmesbury reform dinner, 30 May 1831, he spoke for the abolition of rotten boroughs and, although cautioning that there was much still to be done, he stated that ‘the great blessing of reform would be that none but an honest ministry ever can hereafter govern the country’.43 He reintroduced his lunatics bill, 27 June 1831, when he spoke against the army estimates and the confused accounts of the former vice-treasurer of Ireland. He praised government’s inclination to do something to assist the West India interest, 30 June. He advocated economies that day and on several occasions during the following two months, dividing against ministers on public grants, 18, 25 July, 21 Aug. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July, and for the disfranchisement of Appleby, 19 July. He presented and endorsed a Cricklade petition against the election being held in a church there, 20 July, and obtained a proviso in the reform bill to outlaw such practices, 6 Sept. He divided against government on the total disfranchisement of Downton, 21 July, and St. Germans, 26 July, when (according to his speech on 9 Aug.) he also voted for the amendment, in which ministers acquiesced, to salvage one of the seats at Saltash. He was listed as absent on the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and Dorchester, 28 July. He condemned electoral corruption at Malmesbury, 30 July, and thereafter usually divided in favour of the bill’s details, though he pointed out ministers’ inconsistencies on the uniting of Penryn and Falmouth in schedule E, 9 Aug., and voted for Lord Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He was listed in minorities against printing the Waterford petition in favour of disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug., and for legal provision for the Irish poor, 29 Aug., and in the majority for the second reading of the Irish union of parishes bill, 19 Aug. 1831.

Having been named to the Dublin election committee, 29 July, he presented the report, 8 Aug. 1831, when he moved the writ for a new election and gave notice that he would raise the issue. During a heated debate on 23 Aug. he duly described the allegations made during the recent contest, though he was careful not to lay the blame on the unseated Members or Lord Anglesey, the lord lieutenant. His first and second resolutions, that there had been bribery and that this was contrary to election law, were agreed to, but the third, instructing the Irish law officers to prosecute those guilty of ‘illegal and unconstitutional practices’, was heavily criticized. Gordon agreed to withdraw it for a weaker resolution devised by the attorney-general, Denman, but this was also unsatisfactory to the House, so Denman introduced another, for prosecution only of those ‘guilty of bribery’. This, Gordon considered a poor substitute for his original motion, which he then unsuccessfully moved as an amendment (it being lost by 147-224). The fourth resolution, alleging ‘undue influence’ by the Irish government, was dispatched by Smith Stanley, the chief secretary, who, in a strong speech, called it a ‘direct censure’ on the ministers with whom Gordon supposedly acted. Gordon confessed himself hurt by the unfavourable comments heaped on him by Members from both sides, but said it was his duty to persist. He was defeated by 207-66 in the second division, for which (as on the first) he acted as a teller. The next day Creevey wrote to Miss Ord that

that spiteful Bum Gordon, from pure disappointment at not being treasurer of the ordnance, or some such officer, spent the whole night in attempting to spite Lord Anglesey, and was eventually beat by more than three to two; so far as it was it was mighty well, but a night was lost by it.44

Gordon, who defended his right to bring forward such a matter, 25 Aug., voted for Benett’s amendment that there had been gross bribery at the Liverpool election, 5 Sept. 1831.

He spoke against the ministerial alteration to the reform bill to exclude electors of Cricklade who were freeholders from voting for the county of Wiltshire, 2 Sept. 1831, and the following day he criticized the decision to give the lord chancellor a veto over the choice of revising barristers. He called the Sugar Refinery Act one of the most objectionable laws he had ever known, 5 Sept., and warned ministers not to give the impression of being disposed to do injustice to the colonies, 7 Sept. He told the House, 22 Sept., when he called the measure flawed and impolitic, that if he had been present he would have voted in the minority for a select committee to inquire how far the Act could be renewed with regard to the West India interest, 12 Sept.;45 he pressed strenuously for the matter to be dropped, 28 Sept., 13 Oct. He managed the committee and conference on the Lords’ amendments to his lunatics bill, 26 Sept., and overturned a decision to transfer to the lord chancellor the power to appoint commissioners. Ellenborough recorded that ‘Brougham is very angry about it - the government having been beaten by Bum Gordon to annoy Brougham’, but the prorogation again intervened before the bill could be passed.46 Gordon, who voted for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., was absent from the Commons on the call for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct., but was excused on the 15th. He signed the requisitions for two Wiltshire reform meetings, and was probably present at them, 30 Sept., 28 Oct. 1831.47 He voted for the defeated Whig candidate William Ponsonby* in the Dorset by-election that autumn, and at the turn of the year was listed among the prospective members of a putative Whig club in that county.48

He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and for the clause to partially disfranchise 30 boroughs, 23 Jan. 1832, when he divided for the vestry bill. He sided with opposition for inquiry into the glove trade, 31 Jan., and spoke in favour of this, 3 Apr. He again reintroduced the lunatics bill, 2 Feb., and, although substantially amended in both Houses, it passed that session, being given royal assent, 11 Aug.49 He divided against giving the vote to all £10 poor rate payers, 3 Feb., but argued that the hereditary rights of freemen should descend through daughters as well as sons, 7 Feb. He pointed out the absurdity of levying taxes on pensions, 8 Feb., and recited details of how to make additional savings on the naval estimates, 13 Feb., when Rice accused him of taking ‘great pleasure in finding fault’. He voted against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb. He was probably the Gordon who voted in the minority against the recommittal of the anatomy bill, 27 Feb. He divided for the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and Gateshead, 5 Mar., and for the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. He asked ministers to postpone the debate on sugar, 29 Feb., voted in the minority against them for reduction of the duties on it, 7 Mar., and requested impartial inquiry into the sufferings of West Indian merchants, 9, 23 Mar. He again suggested ways of reducing expenditure, 26, 27 Mar., and on the 28th opined that

if this be all that can be done in the way of economizing the public money, which the expense of the army calls for, I cannot help thinking that I and ... [Hume] and other gentlemen, have been wasting our time during the last 15 years in calling upon the Tory administrations to make reductions.

He voted for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May 1832.

The following month Gordon joined the India board, on a salary of £1,200, and soon sowed the seeds of discord. As Macaulay wrote to his sisters, the

history of it is this. Gordon, ... a fat, ugly, spiteful, snarling, sneering, old rascal of a slave-driver, is my colleague ... The appointment was, in my opinion, quite unjustifiable. He had always been a Whig, and a violent Whig. When the present ministers came in he asked for one of the under-secretaryships of state. They were all given. He became angry and, though he could not with decency oppose the reform bill, having always declared himself a zealous reformer, he gave the ministers all the trouble in his power. On their colonial policy, on their financial policy, on their commercial policy - nay, wherever a favourable opportunity offered, even on the details of the reform bill, he opposed and harassed them. It was not without much grumbling and reluctance that, on the night of Lord Ebrington’s last motion, he voted for them. They have resolved, it seems, to buy him off and they have stopped his ugly, wide, grinning mouth with this commissionership. He brings into his new situation the same vile temper which he has always displayed in public life. Knowing nothing of the business of the office, he wishes to remodel it all. He has already quarrelled with Charles Grant* and with Hyde Villiers*, and wishes to draw me to his party. What chance he has of succeeding with me you may judge from this letter. I am opposed to him, not merely from dislike of his temper and from distrust of his principles, but also on public grounds. It is not merely by an envious, querulous, busy-bodyish disposition that he has been induced to act as he has acted. He differs from Grant and Villiers with respect to the policy which ought to be pursued towards India. We consider him as being, in fact, the creature of the directors, a friend of the China monopoly, a friend to the existing system of patronage. He as good as told me that he considered himself as placed at the board to be a check to Grant and Villiers.50

As expected, he was returned unopposed for Cricklade, 16 June 1832.51 He was added to the select committee on the East India Company, 22 June, and sat on its subcommittee on revenue affairs.52 He voted to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June, and thereafter, of course, with his colleagues, occasionally acting as a government teller. He defended the ministerial salaries of the lord privy seal and the postmaster-general, 27 July, but otherwise confined himself to making nondescript remarks, 25, 30 July, 4, 9 Aug. He was returned as a Liberal for Cricklade at the general election of 1832, later transferring to a seat for New Windsor, and continued to serve in minor office under Grey and Melbourne. He died ‘aged 78’ in May 1864, leaving everything to his unmarried only child Anna (1809-84), and was remembered as ‘the Dorsetshire Joseph Hume’.53

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 9 Mar., 3, 14 May, 14 June, 2 July 1830; Three Diaries, 34.
  • 2. Hatherton diary, 5 Sept. 1831.
  • 3. OED; Macaulay Letters, ii. 139.
  • 4. Devizes Gazette, 28 June 1827.
  • 5. Le Marchant, Althorp, 242.
  • 6. K. Morgan, Bristol and Atlantic Trade, 185-6, 189, 191; Sources of Jamaican Hist. ed. K.E. Ingram, 696.
  • 7. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/3, 4.
  • 8. Regs. of Freemen of Gloucester ed. A.R.J. Juřica (Glos. Rec. Ser. iv), 208; Devizes Gazette, 31 May 1821, 20 May 1824, 11 May 1826.
  • 9. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 37-38; Westminster Pollbook (1818), 63.
  • 10. Add. 51830.
  • 11. The Times, 4, 5 May, 7 June 1820.
  • 12. Add. 51831; Devizes Gazette, 11, 18 Jan. 1821.
  • 13. The Times, 31 Mar., 14 Apr., 15 May 1821.
  • 14. Ibid. 4 Apr. 1821.
  • 15. Black Bk. (1823), 158.
  • 16. Devizes Gazette, 7 Aug. 1823.
  • 17. The Times, 7, 9 Apr. 1824.
  • 18. Add. 36461, f. 88.
  • 19. The Times, 7, 11, 18 June 1825.
  • 20. Ibid. 18 Feb., 21 Mar. 1826.
  • 21. Ibid. 22 Feb. 1827.
  • 22. PP (1826-7), vi. 75-260.
  • 23. Lansdowne mss.
  • 24. G. Battiscombe, Shaftesbury, 37.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxiii. 85, 122, 151, 208, 227, 411, 415, 421, 434, 498, 535.
  • 26. Add. 40397, ff. 206, 210, 219.
  • 27. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/4.
  • 28. Countess of Airlie, Lady Palmerston and her Times, i. 169.
  • 29. Greville Mems. i. 365.
  • 30. Inst. of Commonwealth Stud. M915/4.
  • 31. NLS mss 24770, f. 50.
  • 32. Le Marchant, 242.
  • 33. Add. 56554, f. 80.
  • 34. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 301; Howick jnl. 2 July 1830.
  • 35. Gloucester Jnl. 31 July 1830; Gloucester Pollbook (1830),