HOLME SUMNER (formerly SUMNER), George (1760-1838), of Hatchlands Park, East Clandon, nr. Guildford, Surr.
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Family and Educationb. 10 Nov. 1760, at Calcutta, 1st s. of William Brightwell Sumner of Hatchlands, member of council, Bengal, and Catherine, da. of John Holme of Holme, Cumb. educ. Harrow 1770-1; by Dr. Samuel Parr, Stanmore; Emmanuel, Camb. 1778; L. Inn 1779. m. 17 Nov. 1787, Louisa, da. of Col. Charles Pemble, c.-in-c. Bombay, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. d.v.p. suc. uncle Thomas Holme 1794 and took additional name of Holme; fa. 1807. d. 26 June 1838.
Member, bd. of agriculture 1793.
Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1797-1807; lt.-col. commdt. 2 Surr. militia 1809, col. 1 regt. 1822.
Dir. British Fire Office 1811, Westminster Life Insurance 1816.
Holme Sumner, the heir of an Indian nabob, was returned for his county for the fourth time in 1820.1 Lord Lowther’s* personal assessment of him seven years later as ‘an ill tempered morose fellow’ appears to have been widely shared. Yet in 1822, after visiting a mutual friend at his ‘most comfortable and superb home’, Maria Edgeworth wrote: ‘I hear from some who pretend to know him that Mr. Sumner is odd tempered and disagreeable, but from what I heard ... I should think he must be one of the best natured of good friends’.2 He continued to be a fairly regular attender who gave general support to Lord Liverpool’s ministry and made frequent contributions to debate. He seconded the motion for Manners Sutton to continue as Speaker, 21 Apr. 1820. He spoke of the need to standardize weights and measures, 1 May. He attended meetings of Webb Hall’s Central Agricultural Association that year.3 He presented a Surrey petition complaining of agricultural distress, 9 May, and gave notice of his intention to propose an inquiry.4 He maintained that the protection afforded by the 1815 corn law was inadequate, 25 May. In moving for inquiry, 30 May, he depicted an agricultural interest in a ‘rapidly advancing state of decay’, offered a robust argument against free trade and deprecated the calls for cheap bread emanating from manufacturing interests. He was as surprised as anyone when his motion was carried by 150-101. According to Edward Littleton*, many Members abstained from a fear, shared by ministers, of ‘offending one of the suffering classes, either the agricultural or the manufacturing’, and some who supported the motion did so ‘without ... entertaining the slightest idea of raising the price of corn’.5 Next day Holme Sumner was refreshingly candid in his reply to charges that he had packed the resulting select committee, insisting that ‘he had only done what it would have been foolish in him not to have done in the situation in which he stood ... he had procured for himself a fair majority’; he assured the House that he approached the subject with an open mind. However, his triumph was short-lived as ministers carried an emasculatory amendment, which restricted the committee’s remit to the investigation of fraud in the computation of the corn averages.6 He emphasized that his support for the disfranchisement of corrupt boroughs did not signal his abandonment of the view that ‘representation should rest on the principle of property, and not upon that of population, as the modern reformers so clamorously contended’, 19 May 1820.
He unsuccessfully proposed a reduction of the grant to Queen Caroline to £30,000, 31 Jan. 1821, when he clashed with Matthew Wood over her alleged failure to pay bills. In what Thomas Creevey* described as a ‘Billingsgate attack’, he characterized her conduct since arriving in England as ‘one continued effort to bring into contempt every institution in the country’, and, though the adultery charge against her had been dropped, he stated his continued belief in her guilt.7 Next day he repented of the warmth with which he had made the latter allegation, but he stood by the substance of his speech. However, as the radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* noted, when the gallery was cleared for the division on his amendment, Holme Sumner realized that ‘no one would divide with him’ and ‘wisely abandoned his motion’. He told Grey Bennet that ‘he had been hardly used, as many persons who had promised him their support now deserted him’.8 He was hissed when he repeated his views at a county meeting, 2 Feb., and his defence of ministers and the wars against France likewise found little favour among the freeholders. William Cobbett†, who reciprocated the contempt which Holme Sumner often expressed for radicals, thought he had received a ‘pretty decent lesson ... from the people of Surrey’.9 He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards the queen, 6 Feb., and denied that the Surrey meeting represented the generality of opinion in that county, 8 Feb. He approved of the transfer of Grampound’s seats to Yorkshire, 12 Feb., but voted against Russell’s general reform resolutions, 9 May. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He expressed satisfaction with the government’s proposed changes in the computation of corn averages, 26 Feb., and was reappointed to the committee on agricultural distress, 7 Mar. (and again, 18 Feb. 1822). He announced that while he had supported repeal of the tax on husbandry horses, he could not give his backing to remission of the additional malt tax, 21 Mar. He voted against Hume’s economy and retrenchment motion, 27 June 1821. This was raised at two county meetings, 4, 18 Feb. 1822, when he faced strong criticism for his failure to vote for tax reductions, as he was supposed to have promised the previous year. Unrepentant, he replied that ‘a passing word in a crowd could not be considered as a pledge or obligation’, and maintained that tax remissions would do nothing to alleviate agricultural distress, which he ascribed to the post-war depression. He was similarly immovable on the subject of parliamentary reform.10 He divided against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb., having assured the House the previous day that he enjoyed neither office nor favour from ministers.11 He voted against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., explaining that he feared the growth not of crown influence, but of the popular clamour he had faced at county meetings. Returning to this theme, 2 May, he contended that even if ‘a reduction proposed might be proper, it would not be made in a proper manner under the influence of such a spirit’. He thought reduction of the leather tax should have a higher priority than relief of that on salt, but preferred a partial remission of both, 1 May, 14, 28 June.12 He divided against the leader of the Commons Lord Londonderry’s resolution for a revised scale of corn duties, 9 May, presented a petition against Ricardo’s proposals for a fixed duty, 21 May,13 and was a minority teller against the corn bill, 3 June. He voted against the removal of Catholic peers’ disabilities, 30 Apr. He supported a bill to divide Yorkshire for electoral purposes, which would have limited the influence of the West Riding manufacturing interest, 7 June. He declared that no expense should be spared to relieve the Irish famine, 27 June.14 Following Londonderry’s suicide in August 1822 Holme Sumner confided to Lord Clive* that he could not support the government ‘with the same confidence that I have done’, if ‘Canning is to be minister in the ... Commons’. Clive, alarmed that this comment might portend general discontent among the country gentlemen, reported it to the home secretary Lord Sidmouth. Henry Hobhouse, the home office under-secretary, subsequently tried to disabuse Holme Sumner of his conviction that Canning and Peel ‘would never go on well together’.15
At a county meeting, 10 Feb. 1823, he was given another rough ride for his refusal to support its petition for parliamentary reform. Far less assured than hitherto, he lamely admitted that the agriculture select committee had sat ‘for two years, without being able to devise a remedy for their distress’, and, to the delight of Cobbett, he repented of his support for Peel’s 1819 Currency Act.16 In the House, 25 Feb., he conceded that the meeting had been ‘numerous and regular’, but claimed that nineteen-twentieths of the freeholders at large would not support its petition. In concurring with a call for returns on poor relief the next day, he asked that a distinction be drawn between regular and occasional recipients of relief.17 He divided with ministers against repeal of the assessed taxes, 18 Mar., and inquiry into the currency, 12 June. He applauded their policy of neutrality in the Franco-Spanish war, 7 Mar., 28 Apr., and voted against the provision of information on the plot to murder the Irish lord lieutenant, 24 Mar., Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June, and inquiry into delays in chancery, 5 June. On the other hand, he was in the minorities against the warehousing bill, 21 Mar., and for recommital of the silk manufacturing bill, 9 June. He opposed the reception of a petition against the game laws, 25 Apr., and unsuccessfully moved for postponement of the sale of game bill, 2 June 1823.18 He was dismissive of a complaint against George Chetwynd’s* conduct as a Staffordshire magistrate, 27 Feb., and opposed Hume’s call for lists of the prison commitments made by individual magistrates in the metropolitan area, 2 Mar., 27 May 1824. He spoke against the clause in the Gaol Act amendment bill to restrict use of the treadmill, 5 Mar., for which he had been an apologist at an earlier Surrey magistrates’ meeting.19 He voted that day against abolition of flogging in the army and opposed any remission of the sugar duties, though he ‘sincerely sympathized’ with West Indian interests. He believed the coal trade had ‘a paramount claim to relief’, 1 Apr. He was a majority teller against repeal of the usury laws, 8 Apr. On 13 May he cited the complaint of hardship from retired clerks and civil servants as an example of how the cry for retrenchment had been ‘listened to unjustly’. He supported a petition condemning the Catholic Association, 31 May, and wished it to be ascertained whether the existing law was ‘sufficient to put an end to this evil’, 10 June. Next day he divided against the motion condemning the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara. In December 1824 he consulted Peel, whom he addressed as ‘our great Protestant defender’, over whether to accept the vice-presidency of a national ‘Protestant Union’ contemplated by an existing organization of Southwark anti-Catholics. His sense of a ‘formidable and appalling’ threat to the Protestant ascendancy almost overcame his rooted distaste for mass organization, but in the end he accepted Peel’s advice ‘to wait at least and see whether the Protestant association of which you are already a Member (the House of Commons) will do its duty, before you attach yourself to any other’.20 Holme Sumner duly voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. He divided against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., and paired against it, 10 May. He made a facetious suggestion for the wording of an oath not obnoxious to Catholics, 6 May, and demanded to know the government’s attitude to the payment of priests, 8 May. He disapproved of Stuart Wortley’s attempt to amend the game laws, 17 Feb., 29 Apr. He opposed a prohibition on Members voting on bills in which they had a pecuniary interest, 15 Mar. He wanted to see a clause added to the warehoused corn bill to limit Canadian imports and opposed a free trade amendment, 13 May. That day he objected to a further award of money to the road engineer Robert Macadam. Regarding his vote against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 6 June, he explained that he was ‘actuated by motives, the grounds of which he could not with propriety develop to those whom he now addressed’; he disclaimed any hostility to the duke in proposing that the grant be halved. He supported the investigation of allegations of misconduct made against the Welsh judge and Surrey resident William Kenrick†, 28 June 1825. That autumn he thanked Peel for intelligence of the postponement of the dissolution, which was rumoured to have been taken ‘against the opinions of Lord Liverpool, Lord Eldon, yourself and those in the cabinet who are my bonds of attachment to the present government’, but observed that he could not regard the delay as a material gain for the supporters of Catholic relief and therefore welcomed it.21 He supported the London merchants’ petition for relief, 23 Feb. 1826, with the admission that their distress had ‘now assumed such a shape’ as to render assistance necessary. However, this did not extend to conceding any relaxation of the corn laws, and he condemned the ‘language of rebellion’ in the Glasgow petition against them, 9 Mar. He remarked on 18 Apr. that free trade ‘might do very well in commercial concerns’, but ‘it was a frightful and fearful doctrine to apply to the agricultural interest, the absolute ruin of which it might probably occasion’. He accused the government, which was now set on corn law revision, of seeking to stifle debate on the question, 4 May, and insinuated that Huskisson, the president of the board of trade, was beholden to mercantile interests by dint of his connection with Liverpool. Next day, denying that the threat of famine existed, he could find no justification for what he regarded as ministers’ abandonment of the principle of protection, ‘a sine qua non for the welfare of the landed interest’. Peel replied by asking what had happened to Holme Sumner’s earlier intimations of flexibility on the issue. Ignoring the advice of his fellow agriculturists, he divided the House for an adjournment on the warehoused corn bill, 10 May, and was defeated by 174-2. He voted against the corn importation bill, 11 May, and regretted that he had been unable to get a county meeting called in time to strengthen his resistance, 17 May. He divided against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. He had harsh words for the design of the court of chancery building, 17 Apr. 1826, and clashed next day with Hume over an alleged miscarriage of justice in the court.
Holme Sumner spoke regularly in the 1820 Parliament on matters of local interest which, from his county’s location, often encompassed London affairs. On 16 May 1820 he introduced a bill for a new church at Newington, Surrey, in the face of strong local opposition. He complained at the second reading stage, 26 May, of disorder at vestry meetings held to oppose it; it gained royal assent, 30 June 1820 (1 Geo. IV, c. 41).22 His Newington select vestry bill of the following session was presumably a response to this problem. The second reading was carried by 128-80, 3 Mar., but it faced such concerted opposition thereafter that after several recommitals Holme Sumner was obliged to withdraw the bill, 24 May 1821. He was criticized for partiality in his chairmanship of the committee on the bill (on 6 Apr. there had been uproar over his refusal to allow the votes of latecomers), and Hume sarcastically informed the House that he had conducted himself upstairs with ‘that suavity of temper, that mild forbearance and perfect command over himself, for which he was so remarkable’. (It was later reported that at some unspecified date before 1820 he had thrown an inkstand at a fellow Member in private committee.)23 He pursued his earlier objections to proposed expenditure on a new post office which would have drawn on the Orphans’ Fund, 11 May 1820. He privately complained to the prime minister of being ignored in favour of City interests and in the House, 22 July 1822, he alleged mismanagement of the fund.24 He opposed a grant for public money for rebuilding Blackfriars Bridge, 3 Apr. 1821. He expressed disappointment with the plans to repair the old London Bridge, 5 Mar., and presented a Southwark petition for a new one, 26 Apr. 1822. He warmly supported the bill for rebuilding the bridge using public funds, 6, 16 June 1823.25 He approved the Hammersmith Bridge bill, a private venture, 13 Apr. 1824. He was apparently noncommittal in introducing the South London Docks bill, 4 May 1824, but supported the St. Katharine’s Docks bill on the principle of competition, 22 Feb., 9, 24 Mar. 1825.26 In the autumn of 1824 he furnished Peel with lists of suitable candidates for the shrievalty of Surrey, with separate markings for ‘Whigs’ and ‘incorrigible radicals’.27 For all the hostility evinced towards him at county meetings, and the offence he realized he had given to commercial interests by his attitude to the corn laws, he was caught unawares by the challenge to him at the general election of 1826. On hearing of his likely defeat, Peel tried to persuade Liverpool of his entitlement to government support, but the premier replied that his opponent (a neighbour and connection of his own) had only been induced to come forward on account of Holme Sumner’s personal unpopularity. According to Liverpool, he was ‘hated by all parties in the county except his own immediate friends’, because ‘his temper and his manners are considered overbearing and offensive’.28 Holme Sumner blamed his subsequent defeat on the ‘tinkers and tailors’, having ‘always too sturdily set myself up against mobocracy to be a favourite with that class’, and he told Peel that only his desire to help resist further inroads into the Protestant constitution, free trade and ‘new theories of political economy’, had induced him to abandon his plans for retirement.29
Out of the House, Holme Sumner made his presence felt at Surrey quarter sessions by opposing an attempt to exempt women from treadmill punishment in 1827, and by deprecating a motion against the game laws three years later. At a county meeting, 21 Mar. 1829, he accused the sheriff Felix Ladbroke of partiality in fixing the date and spoke strongly against the Wellington administration’s plans to grant Catholic emancipation.30 By late 1827 he was eyeing his former seat at Guildford, where he was returned at the general election of 1830 after a contest. At the county election he supported Hylton Jolliffe* against John Ivatt Briscoe, his chief liberal antagonist on the magistrates’ bench. He failed to keep the poll open after Jolliffe retired, but queried the victor’s property qualification and appeared to revel in the opprobrium of the crowd.31 The ministry listed him as one of the ‘moderate Ultras’, with the hopeful endorsement ‘friend’. He presented a petition from Jolliffe complaining of proceedings at the Surrey election, 12 Nov. 1830. On 15 Nov. he suggested that magistrates be granted additional powers to deal with the ‘Swing’ disturbances, but denied that a general state of disaffection prevailed in the agricultural counties; he appeared satisfied with Peel’s response. Nevertheless, he voted against government in the crucial division on the civil list later that day, having explained that he was acting not to redeem any election pledge but purely out of personal dissatisfaction with the economies proposed by ministers. He said he expected better things from Lord Grey’s ministry, 9 Dec. 1830, and trusted that they would show the way in effecting economies by volunteering ‘fair and adequate’ reductions in their own salaries. He joined in calls for the chancellor of the exchequer, Lord Althorp, to reconsider his budget proposal to tax the transfer of stock, 11 Feb. 1831, though he applauded the decision to reduce the duty on coal. He announced that he would support Hume’s amendment for a greater reduction in the civil list than that proposed by ministers, 25 Mar. Early that year he evidently submitted to ministers a scheme for encouraging emigration.32 He supported Weyland’s bill to reform the law of settlement, 10 Feb., and noted the burden on the poor rates caused by immigrant Irish labourers, 17 Feb. In supporting an inquiry into secondary punishments in gaols, 17 Mar., he repelled Hunt’s charges against visiting magistrates and extolled the benefits of solitary confinement. He did not explain his attitude to the government’s reform bill, but he voted against its second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election, when he was described by Creevey as an ‘arrant’ anti-reformer, he was narrowly defeated by a supporter of the bill.33
Holme Sumner fought a spirited, though ultimately unsuccessful contest against two reformers in West Surrey in 1832.34 He died in June 1838 and left his Surrey estate to his elder son William; his personalty was sworn under £45,000.35
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Howard Spencer
- 1. County Chron. 21 Mar. 1820.
- 2. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 7 Jan. 1827; Edgeworth Letters, 358-9.
- 3. T.L. Crosby, English Farmers and Politics of Protection, 40, 54; B. Hilton, Corn, Cash, Commerce, 99-100.
- 4. The Times, 10 May 1820.
- 5. Hatherton diary, 10 May 1820.
- 6. Hilton, 102.
- 7. Creevey’s Life and Times, 137.
- 8. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 9.
- 9. Ibid. 10-11; The Times, 3 Feb.; Pol. Reg. 10 Feb. 1821; Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, iii. 1036.
- 10. The Times, 5, 19 Feb. 1822; Black Bk. (1823), 195.
- 11. The Times, 21 Feb. 1822.
- 12. Ibid. 2 May, 15, 29 June 1822.
- 13. Ibid. 22 May 1822.
- 14. Ibid. 28 June 1822.
- 15. Devon RO, Sidmouth mss, Clive to Sidmouth, 22 Aug. 1822; Parker, Peel, i. 334.
- 16. The Times, 11 Feb.; Pol. Reg. 15 Feb. 1823.
- 17. The Times, 26 Feb. 1823.
- 18. Ibid. 3 June 1823.
- 19. Ibid. 15 Jan. 1824.
- 20. Add. 40371, ff. 197-8, 234.
- 21. Add. 40381, f. 416.
- 22. The Times, 27 May 1820.
- 23. Ibid. 17, 25 May 1821; County Chron. 20 June 1826.
- 24. Add. 38282, ff. 221, 282; 38284, f. 261; The Times, 23 July 1822.
- 25. The Times, 6 Mar., 27 Apr. 1822, 7 June 1823.
- 26. Ibid. 5 May 1824, 10, 25 Mar. 1825.
- 27. Add. 40368, ff. 103-8; 40370, ff. 36-38.
- 28. Add. 40305, ff. 184-7; 40387, f. 159.
- 29. Baldwin’s Weekly Jnl. 17 June; County Chron. 20 June 1826; Add. 40387, f. 180.
- 30. Brighton Herald, 17 Jan. 1827; The Times, 23 Mar. 1829; County Chron. 19 Jan. 1830.
- 31. Brighton Herald, 23 Oct. 1827; Baldwin’s Weekly Jnl. 7, 14 Aug. 1830.
- 32. Grey mss, Graham to Howick, 3 Feb. 1831.
- 33. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 30 Apr. 1831.
- 34. Add. 51837, Denison to Holland [Dec. 1832].
- 35. PROB 11/1900/559; IR26/1499/532.