PEARSE, John (1759-1836), of 41 Lothbury, London; 98 Long Acre; 4 Craig's Court, Charing Cross, Mdx. and Chilton Lodge, nr. Hungerford, Berks.
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Family and Educationbap. 19 Dec. 1759, 1st surv. s. of Nicholas Pearse, Blackwell Hall factor, of 41 Lothbury and Woodford, Essex and w. Sarah. m. 31 Jan. 1787, Anne, da. and coh. of John Phillimore, silk merchant, of 15 New Broad Street, London, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.).1 suc. fa. 1795. d. 21 July 1836.
Dir. Bank of England 1790-1, 1793-5, 1796-8, 1799-1802, 1803-6, 1807-8, 1812-28, dep. gov. 1808-10, gov. 1810-12; manager, Sun Life Office 1788-d.; dir. Sun Fire Office 1791, manager 1823-d.; gov. Van Dieman’s Land Co. 1829-d.
Capt. commdt. Hungerford vols. 1798, 1803; capt. Bank of England supp. vols. 1803.
Pearse and his brother Brice were the senior partners in J. and B. Pearse and Company, and operated as Blackwell Hall factors at 41 Lothbury and as army clothiers at 98 Long Acre. He continued in business in this period, enjoying lucrative contracts through his connection with the duke of York, the commander-in-chief, and served as a director of the Bank of England until 1828.2 He lived near the Wiltshire border, at Chilton Lodge, which he rebuilt.3 He voted for Charles Dundas* and Richard Neville* against the radical William Hallett at the Berkshire election of 1818, but he apparently played little part in the affairs of that county.4 He was more active in Wiltshire, where he regularly attended meetings of the Devizes Bear Club and the Wiltshire Society, especially after his election for Devizes in 1818, when he came in as the surprise choice of the corporation. He stood again at the general election of 1820, stating that, although he was ‘advanced in years’, he was ‘young in Parliament’, and stressing that ‘my situation in life is such that I can have nothing to ask’. He answered criticisms of his having opposed economies and the resumption of cash payments by recommending the ‘judgement of practical men in political considerations’ against those economists who were ‘only scientifically acquainted with these subjects’, and was again returned with Thomas Grimston Estcourt, against a popular local candidate.5 On resumption, he had previously confided to Sir John Sinclair† that ‘Parliament seems to have gone wild on this measure and will not, I fear, come to its senses in due time’.6 A supporter of the Liverpool administration, including on opposition motions for economies and tax reductions, he made no impact on the House except as a spokesman for the Bank of England.
He vindicated the Bank’s conduct over the issuing of exchequer bills, 31 May, and spoke against reducing the size of its public balances, 13 June 1820. He denied the respectability of the Devizes petitioners in support of Queen Caroline, 24 Jan. 1821, but did not vote in the division on the opposition censure motion on this affair, 6 Feb. He muttered something about agricultural distress, 8 Feb., and moved for a return of the number of bank notes in circulation, 20 Mar., to show, ‘together with the prices of gold, that the currency had no reference to the distresses of the country’. On 19 Mar. he expressed his surprise that those, like David Ricardo*, who had advocated the resumption of cash payments in 1819 should now object to it, and he opposed going into committee on it, 9 Apr., because he was ‘convinced that it was the political events in Europe, and not the report of the committee of 1819, which had brought about the state of things so much complained of’. He confirmed that the Bank would issue sovereigns instead of bank notes, 26 Mar., 12 Apr., partly as a precaution against forgery, which he claimed the Bank was doing everything it could to prevent, 9 Apr., and for which he wished the death penalty to be retained, 4 June.7 He decried country bankers’ alarm about the Bank cash payments bill, 13 Apr., when he employed his usual argument that the Bank had been restrained in pursuing its own profits and had amply repaid the confidence of the public. He divided against disqualifying civil officers of the ordnance from voting in elections, 12 Apr., parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, and inquiry into the right of voting in parliamentary elections, 20 Feb. 1823.
Pearse defended the policy of the Bank in comparison with the high interest rates charged by the Bank of Ireland, 8 Mar. 1822, when he stated that
although a director, he had no great interest in the profits of the Bank; for to confess the truth, he had not much more Bank stock than was necessary to give him a qualification. Indeed, upon seeing the effects of the war, he had made it a point of honour not to increase his stock beyond the amount which he possessed upon first entering into the direction.
On 1 Apr. he ‘contended that overproduction was the real cause of the distress, and that the rate of interest had always been governed by the price of the funds’. He spoke in justification of the Bank’s monopoly, 31 May, and rebutted Ricardo’s allegations that it had purchased too much gold, 12 June, asserting that as between 1797 and 1817, ‘the Bank had never forced an issue, so neither had there ever been any depreciation in the value of their notes, with reference to the price of gold’. He commented privately that the suicide of Lord Londonderry* that summer had occasioned ‘universal dismay in London’ as ‘a great national loss’.8 In his constituency, 30 Sept. 1822, he remarked that radicalism
was on its deathbed and its chief heroes were fast sinking into decay. The lower classes, who had been made the dupes of these political itinerants, were returning to their former sober and religious habits, and again manifesting their love of our excellent constitution.9
Pearse, who made an interjection on behalf of the Bank on 18 Apr., voted for inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823.10 Thomas Creevey* reported to Miss Ord, 12 May 1823, that the foreign secretary Canning
says the king is violent for [the Irish attorney-general William] Plunket* from thinking that the duke of York interferes with the division on Tuesday [22 Apr.] and giving as his proof, Pearse, the Bank director, voting against the government which he knows he would never have done but at the instigation of the duke of York.11
Pearse defended the £4,000,000 balance held by the Bank, 19 Feb. 1824 (and again, 23 Feb. 1825). He voted against the abolition of flogging, 5 Mar., and spoke and voted in the minority against the exportation of long wool, 21 May.12 He divided against condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. He voted for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824, and the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. As he had on 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, he divided against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and he voted against the related Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825. He assisted in the passage of the Devizes improvement bill and contributed £1,000 towards the cost of its implementation. At the mayoral dinner, 30 Sept. 1825, he spoke in praise of ministers and expressed the hope that his conduct towards his constituency had assured his re-election.13
Rebutting the attacks made on the Bank for its role in the recent financial crisis, 2 Feb. 1826, he stated that it had ‘acted with the utmost prudence and consideration in the whole of the late tremendous convulsion’, and a week later he argued that its privileges were well deserved, considering the ‘eminent services performed by the Bank for the public, when that corporation had stood in the gap, and effected what, upon emergencies, legislative interposition would have failed to accomplish’. He spoke in defence of the Bank’s charter and against the establishment of a rival bank in London, 13 Feb., when he also argued (as he did on the 20th) that it was the excessive issuing of bills of exchange, not of notes, which had led to the speculative panic. He advocated the establishment of a commission to issue exchequer bills on behalf of the government, as in 1793, in order to provide additional relief and restore confidence, 14, 15, 23 Feb. He informed John Beckett* of the decision to form one before it had been officially announced, supported it in the House on 28 Feb., and was asked a technical question about it by Peel, the home secretary.14 He objected to the regular publication of the quantity of Bank issues, 24, 27 Feb., and defended its ability to control note issue, 7 Mar. He made other short speeches on the Bank in relation to merchant law, 8 Mar., electoral bribery, 14 Mar., the petitions of Elizabeth Pridham, 15 Mar., 2 May, and forged notes, 14 Apr.15 His voted against condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and for receiving the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr. Business in the House had kept Pearse away from the by-election in Devizes in February, but he attended with his new colleague, George Watson Taylor, at the general election that summer, being returned unopposed. On 9 June 1826 he claimed that he had a long connection with the town and promised to act on its behalf, while remaining free to exercise his own judgement.16 He was elected a free burgess of the borough, 23 Jan., and sworn, 4 June 1827.17
He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828. He was given a week’s leave of absence, 23 Mar. 1827, on account of illness in his family. Brought to order by the Speaker, 30 May, the following day he managed to speak in mitigation of the offence of a fellow director, a letter of whose had been unintentionally sent round as a Bank circular. He denied that there were any prevailing circumstances which might force the Bank to suspend cash payments, 14 June, and insisted that it would act with ‘perfect fairness and equity’, 29 June.18 He voted in the majority for the grant to improve water communications in Canada, 12 June. ‘In allusion to the late political changes’, 4 June, he commented in Devizes that ‘without looking to the right hand or to the left, he should give his vote in Parliament for those measures which he conceived would be most conducive to the interests of the country’.19 During the formation of Lord Goderich’s ministry in August, he told John Herries*:
I am not a fellow to pay compliments, but I will venture to say, if you will take the chancellorship of the exchequer, it will tend more to raise the funds and give financial confidence than the restoration of poor Canning’s life.20
Writing to William Huskisson* from Ireland, which he found in a flourishing state, save for the ‘Catholic, intrusive and arbitrary clergy’, he commented, 30 Sept. 1827, that
as I see a preponderance in the cabinet, of those who have entertained and put in practice principles that have saved the country in dangerous times, I augur well of the arrangements that have been made, and that at any rate radicalism will be kept down.21
He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts from Devizes Dissenters, 25 Feb., but voted against this, 26 Feb. 1828. He was one of the minority of nine who divided against repealing the Act which prohibited the use of ribbons at elections, 20 Mar., and he recommended investigation of the wool trade, 28 Apr. 1828.
In February 1829 Walter Long† informed Thomas Henry Sutton Bucknall Estcourt*, the son of Pearse’s former colleague, that he had entered his name on their putative Wiltshire anti-Catholic declaration, ‘which he will not quarrel with us about’.22 Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, listed him as ‘doubtful’, and he duly voted against emancipation throughout March, telling the House on the 30th that he had ‘great confidence’ in ministers and would have approved a limited measure, but that he could not surrender his judgement on such an important question. His comment that the majority of the people were against concessions to the Catholics brought an angry retort from a correspondent of the Devizes Gazette, 9 Apr. On 4 Dec. 1829 Lord Lansdowne described Pearse to Lord Holland as being among those who were ‘quite malignants’ in their attitude towards the Wellington administration.23 He voted against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May 1830. Following the death of his second son, 28 Apr., he was unable to attend the Wiltshire Society dinner, 19 May, where he had been due to preside.24 At the ensuing general election he was returned without incident, having stated on the hustings that he would work for all the inhabitants, vote for ‘every measure which has a tendency to a rational reform of abuses, and to promote an economical expenditure of the public money’, as well as looking to protect the Protestant ascendancy. At the mayoral dinner, 29 Sept. 1830, he said that the ‘leaning of my political feelings is to support the king’s government’, but added that ‘I have no party connection. No man can despise more than I do, a mean, subservient adulation of the minister, or deprecate more a restless, systematic opposition’.25
He was listed by ministers among their ‘friends’ and sided with them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He was granted a fortnight’s leave on account of the disturbed state of his neighbourhood, 2 Dec., and in a letter to Bucknall Estcourt senior, 10 Dec. 1830, noted that his exertions against the ‘Swing’ rioters had made him ill. He was, however, optimistic:
At this season, fortunate in that respect, the farmers have great crops and the funds are daily rising, and I anxiously fear will rise still higher. The advantages which the farmers will thus enjoy will much exceed the expense they will incur by the increased wages, and it is yet to be proved whether the increase of wages will not diminish the poor rates to a great extent.26
Despite poor health, which might have obliged him to retire from the House, he attended and voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar. 1831.27 He signed the Berkshire declaration against it,28 and presented and endorsed the anti-reform petition of the corporation of Devizes, 18 Apr. 1831, when he praised the borough for its electoral purity. The following day he voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment. Forced to defend himself against the Devizes reformers at the subsequent general election, he declared:
I am ready to give my sanction to any well-digested measure of reform, and should have voted for a specific motion on the subject, which would have been brought forward by Sir Richard Vyvyan [the Ultra leader], in case the ministerial measure was lost.
He objected to the reduced representation of England, the sweeping nature of the bill, and the ‘domineering and dictatorial’ manner in which it had been introduced, but he was again elected unopposed.29
He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and at least four times for adjourning the proceedings on it, 12 July, when he was noted as leaving the House before the seventh and last division. He divided for using the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He announced that he would vote against the removal of one seat from Guildford, 29 July, and for Campbell’s amendment to exclude weekly tenants and lodgers from the franchise, as their inclusion would amount ‘almost to universal suffrage’, 25 Aug., but his name appears in neither of the partial minority lists for these divisions. He was one of the signatories of the Wiltshire declaration against reform.30 He divided against the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept. He voted against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., the third reading, 22 Mar., and the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May 1832. He voted in the majority for Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 27 June, and in the minority for establishing a system of representation for New South Wales, 28 June. His only other known vote was against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July. In his last reported speech, 22 May 1832, he urged that a ‘commanding preponderance of practical men’, not of ‘philosophers and political economists, whose obstinacy and perverseness are known by experience to be unequalled by any other description of persons’, be appointed to the secret committee on the renewal of the Bank of England’s charter.
Such was his popularity in Devizes, it was believed that if he had changed his mind on reform, he would have been returned at the general election of 1832, but by early June he had positively declined to stand again.31 In February 1835 he informed Peel that, at his age, he did not think it desirable to continue with the fatigue of the Commons, but he wished his ministry well.32 He died suddenly, on the point of recovering from an illness, in July 1836. Despite his ‘high conservative opinions’, the obituary in the Devizes Gazette praised him for having established a national school in the town, and recorded that he was a ‘noble, manly character - honest, generous, frank and social’, whose chief delight was ‘in doing good’. As requested, he was buried at Chilton Foliat, in a family mausoleum done in the ‘heaviest Grecian’ style.33 By his will, dated 24 July 1835, he left the bulk of his estate, including personal wealth sworn under £40,000, to his eldest son John (b. 1789).34
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. IGI (London).
- 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 739; Wellington mss WP1/880/13; 881/33; 1036/21; The Times, 11 Aug. 1831.
- 3. Reading Univ. Lib. Hist. Farm Recs. BER 36, summary guide, 28.
- 4. Berks. Pollbook (1818), 22.
- 5. Devizes Gazette, 16, 23 Mar. 1820.
- 6. Mems. of Life and Works of Sir John Sinclair ed. J. Sinclair (1837), ii. 314.
- 7. The Times, 9 Feb., 21, 27 Mar., 13 Apr., 5 June 1821.
- 8. Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss 9/35/117.
- 9. Devizes Gazette, 3 Oct. 1822.
- 10. The Times, 19 Apr. 1823.
- 11. Creevey mss.
- 12. The Times, 22 May 1824, 24 Feb. 1825.
- 13. Devizes Gazette, 6 Oct. 1825.
- 14. Lonsdale mss, Beckett to Lowther, n.d. ; Add. 40385, f. 309.
- 15. The Times, 9, 16 Mar., 3 May 1826.
- 16. Devizes Gazette, 2 Mar., 15 June 1826.
- 17. Wilts. RO, Devizes borough recs. G20/1/22.