HURST, Robert (1750-1843), of Horsham Park, Suss.
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Family and Educationbap. 19 Sept. 1750,1 o.s. of Richard Hurst of Horsham and Mary (Barton?).2 educ. M. Temple 1771, called 1776. m. 14 Oct. 1784,3 Maria, da. of Adam Smith, 2s. 5da. d. 13 Apr. 1843.
Bencher, M. Temple 1811, reader 1814, treas. 1821.
Lt. Suss. yeomanry 1797.
Hurst, a ‘Horsham gentleman and ... barrister of great reputation’, was returned again for his native town in 1820 by the 12th duke of Norfolk, for whose family he had acted as an election agent.4 He was a regular attender who continued to vote with the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry on all major issues, including parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr., 24 June 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 13 Apr. 1826. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He was granted a week’s leave to attend to urgent private business, 1 June, spoke and acted as a teller against the Sussex election bill, 23 June,5 and was given another three weeks’ leave, 28 June 1820. He approved of the enlargement of the marine force, 2 Feb. 1821. In supporting the enfranchisement of Leeds as a ‘scot and lot’ borough in place of Grampound, 2 Mar., he hoped that ‘when the House was creating a new right, they would not overlook the claims of the poorer classes, who so largely contributed to the burdens of the state and bore with such patience their unexampled privations’. He spoke in favour of a motion criticizing the use of excessive force in the preventive service, 22 Mar.6 He thought the Lyme Regis petition complaining of a loss of elective rights should be attended to, but not by an election committee, 12 Apr. He was granted a week’s leave for urgent private business, 14 May 1821. He described the vagrant laws as an ‘ill-digested mass’ which ‘called loudly for revision’, 29 Mar. 1822. He opposed a petition against the Insolvent Debtors Act, 10 Feb. 1823, on the grounds that ‘in many cases the creditor was as much to blame for giving credit to improper persons as the debtor who requested and received it’.7 He supported the bill to tackle abuses in the management of Limerick corporation, 6 May 1823.8 Next day, during the inquiry into the conduct of the sheriff of Dublin, he offered his legal opinion that a grand juryman’s oath did not prevent him from giving evidence. He suggested widening the brief of the committee on rate expenditure to include an examination of rate levels, which had remained static in some parishes ‘notwithstanding great change of circumstance’, 19 May 1824. The following day he endorsed the principle of a bill to repeal the settlement laws for mariners’ apprentices. In supporting inquiry into delays in chancery, 7 June 1825, he recounted his personal experience of a lawsuit in which £8 17s. 6d. had been expended for every £10 recovered. He was again returned for Horsham at the general election of 1826.
He assured the House that the landed interest ‘did not by any means feel the alarm on the subject of the corn laws which was attributed to them’, 27 Nov. 1826, but he hoped to see swift action as ‘landlords at present were embarrassed upon what terms to let their lands’. He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He was granted a month’s leave for urgent business, 27 Mar., and returned to vote against Canning’s ministry for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May. He was in the minority of seven against the committal of Thomas Flanagan to Newgate for forging signatures on a petition, 19 June 1827. As a land tax commissioner of 30 years’ standing he favoured remitting double payments by Catholics, 4, 21 Feb. 1828, predicting that the resultant loss of revenue would be minimal. He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May. He warmly supported the division of counties bill as ‘a boon ... to the poor suitor for justice’, 27 Feb. He dismissed as ‘libellous, false and scandalous’ a petition alleging hardships in Horsham gaol, 2 May, but admitted that prisoners’ allowances had been reduced owing to lack of funds. He supported Davies’s bill for the better ordering of elections, 6 May, and lamented the ‘confusion ... disturbance and tumult which took place by night as well as by day in all places where the polling booths were not so numerous as they ought to be’. He gave qualified backing to a proposal that trustees of turnpike roads should be personally liable for them, 3 June. In presenting an anti-slavery petition, 10 June, he recalled the royal declaration of 1823 and hoped the House would ‘no longer suffer the matter to sleep in silence’. He voted against the duke of Wellington’s ministry for the motion condemning the misapplication of public money for building work at Buckingham House, 23 June 1828. He divided for the government’s Catholic emancipation bill, 6, 30 Mar., and presented a favourable petition from Horsham Baptists, 18 Mar. 1829. Following the bill’s passage he resigned his seat in favour of his patron’s son, the Catholic earl of Surrey. According to the historian of Horsham, ‘it was certainly concluded by the ... people that Hurst had resigned his seat under pressure from the duke of Norfolk’, but in his speech nominating the new Member, 4 May 1829, he cited ‘advanced age’ as the reason for his retirement and recalled with pride his 60 years spent ‘upon the stage of public business’.9
In November 1830, during the ‘Swing’ riots, Hurst was involved in an incident when a group of discontented labourers demanded that local landowners hear their grievances about wages and tithe payments in Horsham church. A local lady recorded that
they went in a large body for Mr. Hurst (who holds the great tithes) and as he endeavoured to excuse himself they seized a chariot from the King’s Head yard and dragged it up to his house, but luckily he had just set off, supported by his two sons ... [The] gentlemen were stationed at the altar to receive the demands of the lawless multitude ... Mr. Hurst held out for so long it was feared that blood would be shed.
Another local diarist was convinced that ‘had not some of Hurst’s friends ... managed to take off the attention of the mob ... there would have been much risk of his being murdered’. Eventually the labourers’ demands were met, much to the dis