HAWKINS, Sir Christopher, 1st bt. (1758-1829), of Trewithen, Probus, Cornw. and 31 Argyll Street, Mdx.
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Family and Educationbap. 29 May 1758, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Col. Thomas Hawkins† of Trewithen and Anne, da. of James Heywood of Austin Friars, London. educ. M. Temple 1768; Eton 1769-73. unm.; 1da. suc. fa. 1770; cr. bt. 28 July 1791. d. 6 Apr. 1829.
Sheriff, Cornw. 1783-4.
Recorder, Tregony 1796, Grampound 1804, St. Ives.
Maj. commdt. Tregony and Grampound vols. 1798.
Hawkins, who had inherited ‘extensive estates and several profitable mines’ from his father at the age of 12, became the ‘great Cornish borough Leviathan’, returning at various times one or both Members for Grampound, Helston, Mitchell, Penryn, St. Ives and Tregony. However, he never obtained the peerage that he coveted, presumably because of the prosecution in 1807-8 for bribery and corruption at Penryn, which almost led to his expulsion from the Commons. By 1820 his electoral influence had ‘greatly diminished’, and though he returned one Member for Mitchell at the general election that year, his candidates for Helston and St. Ives were defeated and he lost his own seat at Penryn. His bitter rival Francis Basset, 1st Baron De Dunstanville, observed: ‘Poor Sir Christopher beaten everywhere, and to render his mortification complete, everyone laughs at it’. In fact, he partially rebuilt his interest at Penryn, and in May 1821 he was returned unopposed at a by-election for St. Ives, where he was lord of the manor.1
He was an occasional attender who gave continued support to Lord Liverpool’s ministry. He voted against Hume’s economy and retrenchment motion, 27 June 1821, and more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb. 1822. He divided against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. He presented a St. Ives petition for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 16 Feb. 1824.2 He voted against the motion condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, and for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824. He was named as a defaulter, 28 Feb., but attended next day to divide for Catholic relief, and did so again, 10 May 1825. He was granted one month’s leave for urgent private business, 28 Mar., and voted for the financial provision for the duke of Cumberland, 30 May 1825. That autumn he attempted to obtain from the foreign secretary, Canning, a place for one of his Trelawny nephews, but this was deemed to be impossible without causing offence to Turkey.3 In January 1826 he published a pamphlet on the Catholic question in order, so he told John Cam Hobhouse*, to ‘justify myself to my friends and many of my constituents, who think differently from me’. He argued that Catholics sought only the ‘toleration granted to all dissenting from the Church of England’, and that they shared ‘an interest with the Protestants in supporting the state and in attachment to the constitution’, which gave them the same protection under the law. He believed that Catholic peers, many of whose titles dated ‘from the earliest times of our history’, and who were ‘associated with the liberties of our country’, should not be excluded from Parliament, and that Catholics should be allowed to hold public office with appropriate safeguards. He recognized that English resistance to emancipation was based on ‘fear and even dread of Popery’, but regarded the opposition from the Irish church as being ‘of a personal and selfish nature’. He was convinced that provided the Catholics did not ‘frustrate their wishes by ... over zeal or indiscretion’, their claims could ‘no longer be resisted’.4 He voted against the motion condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826. At the general election that summer he was returned at the head of the poll for St. Ives.5
Hawkins divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and was granted one month’s leave, ‘having sworn off’, 6 Apr. 1827. He addressed the House on the Penryn election bill, 18 May, but was ‘totally inaudible in the gallery’. He presented a Cornish petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 7 June 1827.6 In January 1828 he acknowledged a letter from Peel, leader of the Commons in the duke of Wellington’s new government, and promised to attend at the start of the session, but in the event he vacated his seat the following month and installed Charles Arbuthnot, an office-holder, in his place.7 A bachelor, he died of erysipelas in April 1829, when his title became extinct. He instructed that his property at St. Ives and in other specified Cornish parishes be sold to pay his debts, and left the remainder of his estates, including Trewithen, to his nine-year-old nephew, Henry Hawkins. He provided £20,000 for his ‘adopted daughter Christiana Dutton’, who was ‘aged about 18 years’ and ‘residing at Miss Smallwell’s’. His personalty was sworn under £30,000.8