PETIT, Louis Hayes (1774-1849), of 9 New Square, Lincoln's Inn, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 9 Nov. 1774, 3rd surv. s. of John Lewis Petit, MD (d. 1780), of Bloomsbury Square and Katherine Letitia, da. of Rev. James Serces, minister of French Chapel, St. James’s, Westminster. educ. Newcombe’s sch., Hackney; by Rev. Samuel Perlby; Queens’, Camb. 1792; L. Inn 1791, called 1801. unm. d. 13 Nov. 1849.
Petit was of Huguenot stock. His great-grandfather Lewis Petit (?1665-1720), a member of the ancient Norman family of Petit des Etans, fled to England from Caen on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He served in the British army as an engineer, rose to the rank of brigadier-general and was appointed lieutenant-governor of Minorca in 1708. His son John Peter Petit, who married Sarah, daughter of John Hayes of Wolverhampton, occupied the manor of Little Aston, near that town, from 1743 to the early 1760s. He and his younger brother Captain Peter Petit, who lived with him, were noted for their extensive charitable activities in the neighbourhood. After John Petit’s death his widow left Staffordshire and took up residence in London at Bloomsbury Square, where she died in 1766. That year their only son John Lewis Petit qualified as a doctor and commenced practice in London: he was physician to St. George’s Hospital, 1770-4, and to St. Bartholomew’s from 1774 until his death, 27 May 1780.1 In his will, executed three days earlier, he devised his undivided moiety of the estate of Ettingshall Park, near Wolverhampton, to his eldest son John Hayes Petit. He made provision for the maintenance and education of his two younger sons, Peter Hayes and Louis Hayes Petit, until they came of age, and for their support from landed property thereafter. He also gave the following instruction:
I desire my body may be opened [for medical science] if the distemper of which I may die shall not have rendered it so loathsome as to endanger the operator and that the sum of ten guineas shall be given to the person who shall perform the operation.2
Louis Hayes Petit, who was raised by his mother and maiden aunt Mary Anne Petit (d. 1808), was bred to the bar. He went the Oxford circuit and also attended the Chester assizes and Stafford and Worcester sessions. According to an obituary
the uprightness and integrity of his character, the depth of his legal knowledge, the soundness and discrimination of his judgement, and the infinite pains he bestowed on all business in which he was consulted, caused him to be much sought after as an arbitrator.
It was reckoned that he would have attained ‘the higher honours of his profession had he persevered in his legal career’, but he gave it up in 1821, though he occupied his chambers in Lincoln’s Inn for the rest of his life.3 His unmarried brother Peter, lieutenant-colonel of the 35th Foot, died in 1809 at Deal of a wound received at Flushing. His mother died the following year having, like her husband, left her body for dissection. She bequeathed Louis £1,500 in bank annuities. His only surviving brother John, perpetual curate of Shareshill, Staffordshire, died in 1822, when the Ettingshall estate, which was now being extensively and lucratively mined for coal, iron ore and limestone, passed to his eldest son John Louis Petit.4 In his will Petit’s father had described Lancelot Shadwell of Beamish, Shropshire, one of the trustees of his property, as his ‘cousin’. Shadwell’s son Lancelot Shadwell*, a leading king’s counsel, to one of whose sons Petit was godfather, managed the controlling electoral interest at Ripon of Miss Elizabeth Sophia Lawrence. It was presumably he who engineered Petit’s return for the borough on a vacancy in May 1827, when the ‘smallness’ of Petit’s election ‘disbursements’, which were said ‘not to exceed ... £50’, created ‘considerable dissatisfaction’.5
Petit voted against the disfranchisement of Penryn for electoral corruption, 28 May, 7 June, the election expenses bill, 28 May, and the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June 1827. He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., chancery reform, 24 Apr., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He presented a Ripon petition for repeal of the Act preventing the circulation of small bank notes, 9 June. He was in the Wellington government’s majorities on the ordnance estimates, 4 July, and the silk duties, 14 July 1828. In February 1829 he was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as ‘opposed’ to the principle of Catholic emancipation, against which he duly divided steadily the following month. He was not, however, permanently alienated from the ministry and he voted with them against parliamentary reform, 18, 23 Feb., and for the grant for South American missions, 7 June 1830. He divided for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May 1830. After the 1830 general election, when he was again returned unopposed for Ripon, ministers listed him among their ‘friends’. He voted in their minority in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, but like his colleague, Spence, he promptly transferred his support to the Grey ministry and its reform bill, for which he voted, 22 Mar., 19 Apr. 1831. Miss Lawrence evidently raised no objection, for he was again returned for Ripon at the ensuing general election and continued to support reform. He voted for the second reading of the revised bill, 6 July 1831, and gave steady support to its details, though he voted against the disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July, and for Lord Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He was in the ministerial majorities on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He voted for the third reading and passage of the reform bill, 19, 21 Sept., and for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. On 4 Oct. 1831 Sir Charles Wetherell accused Petit, who, he sneered, ‘never says anything’, of interrupting, with a ‘strange, ambiguous’ and ‘slumbrous’ noise, his tirade against that measure’s provision for the establishment of a court of appeal to determine the validity of voting claims. Forced to his feet, Petit protested his innocence of any conscious interjection and went on:
I own that during my attendance in this House I have sometimes felt rather thankful that I possessed the gift of somnolency, and could indulge it without the risk of noise. If we involuntarily nod in the course of any of [Wetherell’s] lengthy orations, can it be interpreted into an interruption? ... I should not have risen upon the present occasion except, perhaps, for the reason that the gentlest animal will turn when trodden upon.
He voted for Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in the reform ministry, 10 Oct. 1831.
Petit divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, again supported its details, and voted for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. On 1 Feb. he dismissed Wetherell’s objections to the clause enfranchising leaseholders. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He was a member of the committee to which the Scottish exchequer court bill was referred, 27 Jan. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 and 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He voted against Hunt’s call for information on military punishments, 16 Feb., and spoke and voted in favour of public inquests, 20 June 1832. Soon afterwards Miss Lawrence, having ‘turned violent Tory’, gave him notice to quit the Ripon seat. He did not seek election to the reformed Parliament.6
Petit had bought property at Yeading, Middlesex, and a house in Tamworth Street, Lichfield, which was occupied by his widowed sister-in-law and her unmarried daughters. He had also acquired an estate at Merridale, in the vicinity of Ettingshall, which provided him with income from mineral rights. His remaining years were largely devoted to literary and philanthropic pursuits and, according to his obituarist, he became noted for ‘his unostentatious benevolence, his sound judgement, his extreme consideration for the feelings of others, his uniform kindness’.7 He died in his chambers in November 1849, having left careful instructions for the treatment of his corpse:
If I die in my own chambers or my body is brought there after death I order and direct that as soon as the apothecary or medical man attending me in my last illness or called in upon the occasion of my decease shall declare that I am dead my corpse shall be forthwith removed from the place or bed in which I die or where it was placed and shall be laid out in the small bed in the room below stairs usually called the office, there to remain until it is put into its coffin and the coffin to remain in the same room till the funeral.
By his will, dated 28 July 1849, he left legacies to the amount of about £15,000 to relatives and friends. The bulk of his estate passed to his nephew and sole executor, the Rev. John Louis Petit (1801-68), the last male representative of the family, who made a name for himself as an authority on church architecture.8