MILLS, John (1789-1871), of 22 Hill Street, Mdx and Bisterne, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. 11 Aug. 1789, 1st s. of William Mills† of Bisterne and Elizabeth, da. of Hon. Wriothesley Digby of Coleshill and Meriden Hall, Warws. educ. Harrow 1801; Christ Church, Oxf. 1807. m. 25 July 1835, Sarah Charlotte, da. of Nathaniel Micklethwait of Taverham Hall, Norf., 3s. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1820. d. 28 Feb. 1871.
Ensign Coldstream Gds. 1809, lt. and capt. 1814, ret. 1814.
Verderer, New Forest 1820-d.; capt. S. Hants yeoman cav. 1824.
Mills was the eldest of the six sons of William Mills, Whig Member for St. Ives, 1790-6, and Coventry, 1805-12, who was descended from an old Warwickshire family and settled at Bisterne in 1792. He inherited the estate there under his father’s will, dated 1 Dec. 1819, in March 1820, as well as a share of his personalty, which was sworn under £120,000.1 His uncle Charles Mills, Member for Warwick, and his brothers Charles, who took over the business on his namesake’s death, and Edward Wheler were partners in the highly successful London banking firm of Glyn, Mills and Company, which moved from Birchin Lane to Lombard Street in 1826.2 He entered the Guards and fought in the Peninsula at Fuentes d’Onoro, Salamanca and the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Burgos. He then served in Holland and retired from the regular army in 1814, but at the duke of Wellington’s request he was given a commission in the Hampshire militia in 1824 and the command of the newly amalgamated Avon valley squadron in 1831.3 At Oxford he had been one of several Harrovians who had moved in Robert Peel’s* circle, but his political sympathies lay more with the Whigs and he may well have been the Mr. Mills who was elected to Brooks’s, 20 Feb. 1810.4 He was presumably ‘Dandy Mills’, the friend of Thomas Creevey*, who acquired notoriety for his eccentricities of dress and behaviour; for instance, he nearly fought a duel with John George Lambton* over a horse race in 1824 and he at some point fell in love with the courtesan Harriette Wilson ‘merely to prove himself a fashionable man’. She described him as ‘rather well informed, but a stiff, bad imitation of Meyler’s gentlemanly carriage and manner; a sort of man who would rather have died than not been a member of White’s club’.5 He did, indeed, belong to White’s (though he could hardly have been the John Mills who was admitted in 1800), and, among many other examples, he lost bets made on 18 Apr. and 14 May 1825 that there would have been a dissolution by the end of October that year.6
Mills was introduced at Rochester two days before the poll at the general election of 1830, against the Tory Lord Villiers* and the Whig Ralph Bernal*. This was supposedly in order to replace William Hughes Hughes*, who had retreated to Oxford, on the Pink or Ultra interest, but he actually stood as an independent and spoke against slavery and in favour of economies and parliamentary reform.7 He retired on the third day, complaining that his opponents had split votes between them, but boasting of 265 plumpers.8 One correspondent in the local newspaper wrote of the dark subtleties of the Ultras who had inveigled the innocent Mills to offer so as to divide the Whig interest. His 48 hours’ amusement had cost him an estimated £1,200, but the corporation of Rochester agreed to make him an honorary freeman, 23 Aug., and after the ceremony, 15 Nov. 1830, he was presented with a snuff box by his friends there, ‘as a token of their admiration of his manly and independent conduct’.9 He was adopted, with Bernal, as a pro-reform candidate for the forthcoming general election at a meeting, 25 Apr. 1831. No contest was seriously expected and Villiers withdrew as a consequence of his re-appearance.10 He declared that he had supported reform for 20 years, and that the Grey ministry’s bill was necessary in order to stem the influence of the aristocracy over elections and to reconcile the middle and labouring classes who had been set against each other by the ruling oligarchy. He hinted, however, that he might wish to oppose some of its details and that he could not agree with the voters on every question.11 He was returned unopposed and without expense. He seconded the nomination of the Whig James Macdonald* for Hampshire the following month and, at a reform dinner in Rochester, 8 June, he stated:
I do consider the reform bill of such paramount importance, that unwilling as I am that any of the privileges of my constituents should be lessened, yet I have a stern duty to perform and no vote of mine shall in any way interfere with the success of the bill.12
Mills’s maiden speech, on the occasion of his vote in favour of reducing the grant for the civil service, 18 July 1831, contained a similar declaration: ‘I am returned here to do my duty, and no power on earth shall tempt me to vote a shilling unless it be clearly shown that the party to whom it is granted deserves it’. He also complained of the degeneracy of the people, who no longer had the ‘proud stubbornness’ to refuse parochial relief. However, he confined his activities in his first session almost wholly to reform. He paired for the second reading of the reintroduced bill, 6 July, and voted at least twice against adjourning debate on it, 12 July, and fairly regularly for its details. However, he was listed as absent, 3 Aug., on the enfranchisement of Greenwich, whose two dockyards, arsenal and hospital he deemed good material for the creation of a new rotten borough.13 He moved an amendment to keep Rochester separate from Chatham and Strood, 9 Aug., on the grounds that his constituency had sufficient £10 houses already to justify its independent representation, would be swamped by the much larger Chatham and was under a recognizably distinct jurisdiction. He was a teller for the minority against uniting the boroughs, and at the end of the session he was thanked by the corporation of Rochester for his exertions on its behalf.14 On the same principle, he voted against combining Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff, 10 Aug. He divided for Lord Chandos’s motion to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., as he believed they deserved the vote if it was also to be given to £10 borough householders. He voted with government in favour of giving copyholders and leaseholders who had votes in boroughs the right of voting in county elections, 20 Aug., and twice on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug.; but he divided for the total disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept., which had been the original intention, as he could conceive of no reason for the new proposal to retain one seat there and wanted the bill to be as perfect as possible. He voted for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831.
Mills voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, its disfranchisement clauses, 20, 23 Jan., and again usually for its details. However, he divided against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., as he thought that the lowest dwelling in the metropolis was valued at over £10, whereas many respectable houses elsewhere were worth less. He voted for the third reading, 22 Mar., but angered his constituents by leaving the House before the division on Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the bill unimpaired, 10 May, because, as he later argued, it ‘declared positively that they placed all confidence in His Majesty’s ministers and, as he during the progress of the details of the bill frequently voted against them, he could not conscientiously support it’.15 He objected to the grant of £25,000 for the new Liverpool customs house, 8 Feb., and secured accounts of recent expenditure on Hampton Court and Kensington Palace, 23 Feb. He voted with ministers against producing information on Portugal, 9 Feb., and for the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. He again promised to defend his constituency’s interests in Parliament, 10 Feb.16 He voted against Buxton’s motion for a select committee on colonial slavery, 24 May, and presented a Bristol petition against its abolition without compensation, 20 June. On 20 July he explained that he had divided against Herries’s amendment against the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July, as it ‘seemed to me that the object of his motion was to pass a broad censure at once upon the government, in which I was not prepared to acquiesce’, but had voted for Baring’s motion for papers, 16 July, because, ‘being convinced that the demand was not just, I wished for further information to satisfy my mind that we really were bound in honour to pay the money’; he moved to resume the House and was a teller for the minority that day. His popularity declined in Rochester as a result of his hostile votes on this and reform, but, after having given a lengthy defence of his conduct, he survived a contest at the general election of 1832.17 At the end of that Parliament, he retired to his Hampshire estate, which, at his death in February 1871, passed to his elder surviving son, John (1836-99).
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. PROB 11/1628/227; IR26/831/270.
- 2. E.G. Browne, Glyn, Mills and Co. 36-46; R. Fulford, Glyn's, 73-75, 80-81; Oxford DNB sub Mills fam.
- 3. Wellington mss WP1/799/2; 1175/21.
- 4. N. Gash, Secretary Peel, 54, 79.
- 5. Gronow Reminiscences, i. 33; ii. 70; Creevey's Life and Times, 201, 309; Harriette Wilson's Mems. (1929), 602.