PENLEAZE, John Story (?1786-1855), of Beech Cottage, Southampton and Bossington, nr. Stockbridge, Hants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1831 - 1832
2 Apr. 1833 - 1834

Family and Education

b. ?1786, 1st. s. of James David Penleaze of High Cliff, nr. Christchurch, Hants and w. Ann. educ. Magdalen, Oxf. 1804; L. Inn 1803, called 1812. m. 15 June 1814, Mary Ann née Bowden of St. George’s, Westminster, Mdx.,1 ?2s. ?illegit. suc. fa. 1819. d. 12 Apr. 1855.

Offices Held

Consul, Amsterdam 1840-41, Barcelona 1841-54.


Penleaze’s ancestry and origins remain obscure, though it is possible that his grandfather was James Penleaze, the Middlesex magistrate who died in Church Street, Spitalfields, 9 Sept. 1783.2 His father was listed as a surgeon at his Hampshire address in an 1808 directory and left a substantial fortune at his death, 3 June 1819. Penleaze received a bequest of 3,000 guineas and a reversionary interest in the remainder of the personal estate of about £16,000 in total, which came his way on the death of his mother in 1823. (His younger brother, Robert Philip Penleaze, had been cut off with a shilling.)3 He evidently disposed of High Cliff, the ‘unpretentious’ residence of his father, and purchased the Bossington estate before 1826, by dint of which he qualified for admission to the Hampshire bench.4 He was called to the bar, but there is no evidence that he practised. He may have been the John Penleaze recorded as living in Greek Street, Soho, in 1811, though by the time of his marriage three years later he was resident in the parish of St. James’s, Westminster. He was described as a bachelor, but it is clear that he already had at least one son, though the identity of the mother has not been established.5 The Oxford University register entry for John Penleaze (d. 1879) indicates that he can have been born no later than 1809 and that he was his father’s second son, but of older siblings, one of whom was referred to in an obituary notice, no record has been found.6 A parish register for Bossington contains the baptism, 14 Sept. 1831, of a John Penleaze, his son with ‘Mary’, presumably his wife, but this is not noted as an adult baptism and if it refers to another child, he has not been traced thereafter.7

Penleaze was elected a burgess of Southampton, 8 Sept. 1826, and became deputy bailiff and a member of the borough council, 30 Sept. 1828, by which time he had presumably acquired his residence in the town.8 In Bossington he assumed the mantle of a paternalist squire, giving dinners to the inhabitants in the winters of 1827 and 1828. On the latter occasion, his gift of blankets and stockings to the poor was reported as an example of his ‘well known generosity’.9 He was installed as senior bailiff of Southampton, 6 Oct. 1829, but resigned on becoming a candidate for a vacancy there two months later.10 He adopted the same colours and inn headquarters as the late Member, a Whig, and in a wordy address proclaimed himself ‘the strenuous friend of civil and religious liberty’ and a supporter of the gradual abolition of slavery.11 A London journalist’s profile of him as ‘a red hot supporter of Catholic emancipation’ was disputed by a hostile local newspaper, which asserted that he had been ‘as staunch a churchman as Mr. Peel, ratted with him, and signed the petition in favour of Catholic emancipation and, some folks say, turned again’.12 Faced by a wealthy opponent, he withdrew after a canvass, but when his supporters insisted on putting him in nomination, he returned from London to appear on the hustings. Widely censured for this about-turn, he was soundly defeated after a six-day poll, which reputedly cost him about £4,500.13

Penleaze did not redeem his pledge to try again at the 1830 general election, by when he had resigned his burgess-ship, stating his intention to move away.14 Evidently he did not do so, for he featured in a town delegation to lobby support for a proposed London to Southampton railway early in 1831, and when he spoke in favour of parliamentary reform at a town meeting, 25 Apr., it was as a resident.15 By this time he had already accepted an invitation to offer again as a supporter of the Grey ministry’s reform bill at the forthcoming general election, in spite of having developed, by his own admission, ‘habits of retirement not very congenial with public life’. On the hustings he declared himself reconciled to the absence of a provision for vote by ballot in the bill, by which he insisted he would ‘stand or fall’. After a four-day poll he was returned in tandem with the veteran Whig Arthur Atherley, who had advised Lord Holland, 24 Apr., that he was ‘in some respects objectionable’, but ‘would do for the occasion’. Penleaze had disavowed all expenditure ‘not legal and actually necessary’ in his initial address, and his largesse fell so short of expectations that he was burnt in effigy by a thirsty mob.16 Unabashed, he proclaimed his victory as ‘a triumph which almost overwhelms me with its vastness’, and in a rambling speech at a celebratory dinner, 26 May, included a touching tribute to his wife, who ‘like himself ... had no pretensions to noble birth, but ... had a noble mind, because she had a heart open to the distresses of her fellow creatures’.17 On 17 May 1831 he had applied to the duke of Wellington, the lord lieutenant of Hampshire, for a deputy lieutenancy, which he was evidently never given.18

A jaundiced commentator on his earlier attempt to enter the Commons had predicted that ‘if he could not speak better in the House that he does out of it [he] would ... add another name to the glorious 658 who on all occasions confine themselves to the scriptural text of Aye and Nay’.19 This was more or less accurate, for he proved to be a largely silent, yet reliable supporter of the Grey ministry. He voted for the second reading of their reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and gave steady support to its details. On 9 July he was admitted to Brooks’s. He was in both government majorities on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., but in the minority for the introduction of an Irish poor law, 29 Aug., of which he made much at the next general election.20 On 1 Sept. he wrote to The Times to advertise his presence in both the majorities against preservation of the electoral privileges of freemen the previous day, saying that he had been ‘present at every division on the reform bill (with one exception, when I paired off) and voted with ministers’. He divided for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831. At a reform meeting in Southampton four days later he opined that the bill might be modified to satisfy its opponents without sacrificing its ‘efficacy and spirit’, and excused his failure to contribute to debate. It was, he explained, ‘his fixed determination to do so whenever he apprehended it would be productive of good’, but in view of the delaying tactics adopted by the opposition, he considered that the ministry was at present best served by his silent support.21

He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and again gave steady support to its details. On 2 Feb. he presented a Southampton petition for a general drainage system, which he endorsed, presciently enough, with reference to the cholera epidemic, and called for a survey of ‘the abodes of the poorer classes ... to see that their health is preserved by a due attention to cleanliness’. He divided for the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. His steady conduct was praised in his absence at a Southampton meeting, 14 May.22 Speaking in support of the resulting petition for withholding supplies until the bill was passed, 22 May, he warned that though ‘the necessity of resorting to violent measures is for the present averted ... we must remember that we have "scotched the snake and not killed it"’. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and military punishments, 16 Feb. He was in the minority for a select committee on colonial slavery, 24 May, and divided to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June 1832.

At the 1832 general election he offered again for Southampton, boasting of a peerless record of Commons attendance, though he was obliged to admit that he had compromised his views in support of the ballot.23 He was narrowly defeated, but seated on petition after a subscription had been raised to subsidize him.24 The existence of financial difficulties may also be inferred from the contemporaneous sale of his Bossington estate, which fetched £23,000 at auction. (Penleaze won a subsequent court case confirming the obligation of the purchaser, one Elwes, to pay off a £6,000 mortgage, 7 Aug. 1833.)25 In the House he continued to be classed as a reformer, but he abruptly retired on the eve of the 1834 dissolution, citing his age and ill health.26 Afterwards he appears to have lived for a time at Exeter in Devon, where his son John, a clergyman, had lately acquired the living of Black Torrington.27 In 1840 he took up the first of two European consular postings granted by the Melbourne ministry, which seem to have been acts of charity. He returned from Spain in December 1854 to consult a doctor in London, who advised him to go immediately to stay with a relative. He went to Hereford, where his son held an additional curacy, and died there ‘in the full possession of his faculties, without suffering’, in April 1855. Tribute was paid to his ‘warm hearted character, charitable disposition and social excellencies’ by the Southampton lodge of freemasons, to which he had belonged before becoming a Member.28 No will or grant of administration has been found. A year before his death, his son had vainly sought a living in the south of France from Lord Brougham, which suggests that despite his denial of financial motives, he expected no patrimonial windfall.29 Whether as a result of his father’s expenditure on elections, or from some other cause, it seems fairly certain that he did not receive one, and at his own death, 24 June 1879, his personal estate was valued at £450.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Philip Salmon / Howard Spencer


  • 1. Reg. St. George, Hanover Square, iii. 85.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1783), ii. 806.
  • 3. PROB 11/1618/343; IR26/795/685.
  • 4. VCH Hants, v. 84; Hants RO Q27/3/250.
  • 5. Reg. St. George, Hanover Square, iii. 85.
  • 6. Hants Independent, 21 Apr. 1855.
  • 7. IGI (Hants).
  • 8. Southampton Corporation Jnls. 1815-35 ed. A. Temple Patterson, 43, 46.
  • 9. Salisbury Jnl. 8 Jan. 1827, 11 Feb. 1828.
  • 10. Southampton Corporation Jnls. 49; Portsmouth Herald, 20 Dec. 1829.
  • 11. Hants Advertiser, 19 Dec. 1829.
  • 12. The Age, 20 Dec.; Hants Advertiser, 26 Dec. 1829.
  • 13. Hants Advertiser, 2, 16 Jan. 1830; Temple Patterson, Hist. Southampton, i. 152-3.
  • 14. Hants Advertiser, 12 Dec. 1829; Southampton Corporation Jnls. 49.
  • 15. Temple Patterson, i. 167; Hants Advertiser 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 16. Hants Advertiser, 2, 9 Apr., 7, 14 May 1831; Add. 51836.
  • 17. Hants Advertiser, 7, 28 May 1831.
  • 18. Wellington mss WP4/3/4/24, 5/1/3.
  • 19. The Age, 20 Dec. 1829.
  • 20. Hants Advertiser, 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 21. Ibid. 15 Oct. 1831.
  • 22. Ibid. 19 May 1832.
  • 23. Ibid. 15 Dec. 1832
  • 24. The Times, 14, 21 Dec. 1832; Temple Patterson, i. 172-4.
  • 25. The Times, 8 Aug. 1833
  • 26. Dod’s Parl. Companion (1833), 3rd edn., 149; Temple Patterson, i. 174.
  • 27. Hants RO Q27/3/250.
  • 28. Salisbury Jnl. 4 Jan. 1830; Hants Advertiser, 21 Apr.; Hants Independent, 21 Apr. 1855.
  • 29. Brougham mss, Penleaze to Brougham, 22 Apr. 1854.