GUNNING, Sir Robert Henry, 3rd bt. (1795-1862), of Horton, Northants.
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Family and Educationb. 26 Dec. 1795, 1st s. of Sir George William Gunning†, 2nd bt., of Horton and Elizabeth Diana, da. of Sir Henry Bridgeman, 5th bt.†, of Weston Park, Staffs. educ. Eton 1806-11; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1813. unm. 1s. 2da. illegit. suc. fa. as 3rd bt. 7 Apr. 1823. d. 22 Sept. 1862.
Capt. Brackley and Chipping Warden yeoman cav. 1831.
Sheriff, Northants. 1841-2.
Gunning’s family were originally from Cornwall, but his grandfather, a career diplomat, was created a baronet and purchased Horton in 1778. His father, Member for Wigan, 1800-2, Hastings, 1802-6, and East Grinstead, 1812-18, was a steady friend of the Liverpool ministry and had been expected to come in for one of Lord Bath’s seats at the 1820 general election, but was passed over.1 Gunning, who shared his politics, succeeded him in 1823, becoming one of the most prominent of Northamptonshire’s gentry. In February 1826 Northampton’s Tory corporation, who were seeking to oust the incumbent Whig Members, asked Gunning to come forward as a ministerial candidate at the approaching general election. He initially declined, probably fearing the cost of a contest, but after the corporation had pledged to contribute £1,000 towards his expenses he resolved to stand.2 In his address he promised to ‘strenuously oppose’ the admittance of Catholics to office, because it was ‘likely to lead to most injurious consequences’, and to pay strict attention to local interests.3 Illness, however, prevented him from canvassing until 8 June 1826, and he was absent for much of the polling. After a violent contest he was left in third place behind the sitting Members, for which he blamed ‘circumstances that are well known [which] prevented you putting forth your real and entire strength’.4 On 1 Feb. 1827 Lord Althorp, Whig Member for the county, noted that Gunning had failed to attend a county meeting to move an address of condolence to the king on the death of the duke of York.5
At the 1830 general election Gunning offered again for Northampton as a supporter of the Wellington ministry. Pressed for his views on parliamentary reform, he declared that he had ‘always been equally reluctant blindly to support antiquated institutions, or rashly to depart from the system of our ancestors’, and that he would only support gradual and moderate change, for example the transfer of seats from places where the ‘elective franchise has been grossly abused’ to ‘some large unrepresented town’. After another fierce contest he was returned in second place, but because of his poor health his brother Henry was chaired in his stead.6 He presented a Hackleton petition for the abolition of slavery, 4 Nov. 1830. He had been listed by ministers among their ‘friends’ and he duly voted with them on the civil list, 15 Nov. In his first known spoken intervention, 15 Dec. 1830, he endorsed a Northampton petition for repeal of the assessed taxes presented by his Whig colleague, saying, ‘I know of no taxes which press so heavily on the country’. On 15 Mar. 1831 he was urged by the corporation to support a Northampton petition endorsing the Grey ministry’s reform bill, to which he promised to give ‘every attention’.7 He voted against its second reading, 22 Mar., telling his constituents a few days later that he had ‘most unhesitatingly’ opposed the measure because it was ‘fraught ... with the greatest danger to the country’, and he could not ‘as an honest man, vote one way while I think another’. A Northampton meeting passed a resolution condemning his votes ‘on the only two questions of importance’, 28 Mar., and the pro-reform Northampton Free Press predicted that ‘Sir Robert may bid his friends goodbye ... when the next election arrives’.8 In response his friends circulated a letter approving his conduct, which received over 500 signatures.9 He attended the Northamptonshire reform meeting at the shire hall in Northampton, 13 Apr., but when, after a two hour delay caused by a boisterous crowd, the sheriff adjourned the meeting to the market place, he joined other anti-reformers in complaining that the move outside was unprecedented and withdrew to an inn to draw up a letter of protest.10 When Althorp presented the resulting pro-reform petition, 19 Apr. 1831, Gunning objected to the way in which the meeting had been conducted and claimed that the letter of complaint expressed the real feelings of the county. He voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill that day.
At the ensuing general election he offered again, insisting that the question at issue was not ‘reform or no reform’, but the specific ministerial bill. On the hustings he reiterated his pledge to support a degree of reform, complained that the people had lost sight of the ‘beauties and excellencies’ of the existing representative system, and protested at the proposed reduction of English Members and increase of Irish. After coming third in the poll he demanded a scrutiny, which lasted 15 days, but did not alter the result.11 His petition against the return, alleging bribery and corruption by both his opponents, was presented, 4 July, but withdrawn next day in favour of one against his nearest rival.12 On 18 July 1831 he published a letter announcing that he was abandoning this one also, on account of the inconvenience it would cause his friends, the expense and the likelihood of an election as soon as the reform bill had passed.13
In the event Gunning did not seek election again. He had been named as sheriff of Northamptonshire in 1825, but declined to serve.14 He filled the post in 1841. He died in September 1862. Although he never married he had a son and two daughters with a Mary Anne Whitlock. By his will, dated 24 Aug. 1860, he directed that she should be allowed to reside for life in the London house which he had provided for her in Upper George Street, Bryanston Square, and left her an annuity of £200. He bequeathed small annuities to his children. His brother, the Rev. Sir Henry John Gunning (1797-1885), who succeeded him as 4th baronet, was his residuary legatee.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Authors: Martin Casey / Philip Salmon
- 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 119-20.
- 2. J.C. Cox, Recs. Northampton, ii. 510; Add. 40385, f. 240.
- 3. Northampton Mercury, 3 June 1826.
- 4. Ibid. 17, 24 June 1826.
- 5. Althorp Letters, 135.
- 6. Northampton Mercury, 17, 31 July, 7, 14 Aug. 1830.
- 7. Northampton Free Press, 22 Mar. 1831.
- 8. Ibid. 29 Mar. 1831.
- 9. Northampton Mercury, 2 Apr. 1831.
- 10. The Times, 16 Apr. 1831.