PHILIPS, George Richard (1789-1883), of 12 Hill Street, Berkeley Square, Mdx.

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

Constituency

Dates

1818 - 1820
1820 - 1832
1835 - 1837
1837 - 1852

Family and Education

b. 23 Dec. 1789, o. legit. s. of George Philips* and Sarah Ann, da. of Nathaniel Philips of Hollinghurst, Lancs. educ. Eton 1803;1 Trinity Coll. Camb. 1808. m. 18 Nov. 1819, Hon. Sarah Georgiana Cavendish, da. of Richard, 2nd Bar. Waterpark [I], 3da. suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 3 Oct. 1847. d. 22 Feb. 1883.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Warws. 1859-60.

Biography

The ‘beloved and excellent’ son of a wealthy Manchester cotton merchant, Philips displayed an invariable ‘filial affection’ for the father who so influenced his personal and political career.2 Also a Whig, he was elected to Brooks’s, 30 Mar. 1816, and, very much in his father’s shadow, to the House in 1818. This was probably under the same financial arrangement with the 12th duke of Norfolk that saw George Philips returned for Steyning.3 His parents, ‘to whom I am bound by every tie of duty, gratitude and affection’, highly approved of the prospect of his marriage, and a separate establishment in London was supported by his father’s liberality in the form of an annuity of £1,000.4 He agreed with his father that the bloodshed at Peterloo would have been avoided if the crowd had been allowed to disperse peacefully. He wrote to his fiancée, 17 Sept. 1819, that ‘when the late proceedings come before the notice of Parliament, I shall be in a pleasing state of unpopularity both with the violent Tories and the violent reformers’, although he added, 1 Oct., ‘thank God a more agreeable object occupies my mind so that I can look upon all local politics with philosophical composure’.5 Most likely under the same agreement with Norfolk, he was brought in for Steyning at the general election of 1820, and his father continued to bear his heavy electoral expenses.6 Judging by George Philips’s comment that his son’s tact and circumspection, which he attributed to his good education, led him to avoid speaking often or on unfamiliar subjects, it is probably fair to conclude that the vast majority of the ambiguously ascribed speeches in the parliamentary reports were made by him rather than by his almost silent son.7

Philips voted frequently for lower expenditure and taxation in the early 1820s and, like his father, was a steady opponent of the Liverpool ministry on most major issues.8 He voted for Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He divided for parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr. 1823, 9 Mar., 13, 27 Apr., and to curb electoral bribery, 26 May 1826. He attended the inaugural annual meeting of the Cheshire Whig Club, 9 Oct. 1821, and was occasionally present in subsequent years.9 Possibly he, rather than his father, spoke and acted as a teller for the minority against the third reading of the Salford small debts bill, 13 May 1822. It may have been he who condemned the duties on salt and transfers of property, 11 June, and attributed all the country’s troubles to the suspension of cash payments in 1797, 14 June 1822.10 He was appointed to the select committee on artisans and machinery, 12 Feb. 1824, and the following day he informed his father that William Huskisson*, the president of the board of trade, had promised to be open-minded about the inquiry, though he himself believed that in most cases ‘it will prove to be sound policy to adhere to the general principles of free trade’.11 He was listed in the majorities of 41 against the Leith docks bill, 20 May, and of 55 for the St. Olave tithes bill, 6 June 1825. Any notion of a contest at Steyning was ridiculed in the local press, and Philips was duly returned at the general election.12

He voted for the amendment to the address, 21 Nov. 1826, and to make 50s. the import price of corn, 9 Mar. 1827. He was given a month’s leave of absence on urgent business, 19 Mar. 1827. He disapproved of his father’s acceptance of a baronetcy from the Goderich ministry.13 He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828, and, as he had on 6 Mar. 1827, for Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He sided with opposition for making 60s. not 64s. the pivot price of corn, 22 Apr., and on the misapplication of public money on Buckingham House, 23 June. He divided against extending the franchise of East Retford to the freeholders of Bassetlaw, 21 Mar., and against the bill to disqualify certain voters there, 24 June 1828. He voted for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and to allow Daniel O’Connell to take his seat unimpeded, 18 May 1829. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, and for the issue of a new writ and Lord Blandford’s parliamentary scheme, 2 June. He divided in favour of reducing the hemp duties, 1 June 1829. Either he or his father joined 27 other opposition Members in voting with the Wellington government against Knatchbull’s amendment to the address, 4 Feb. 1830, but he divided regularly in favour of retrenchment and lower taxation during the session. He was one of the Whigs who joined Lord Howick in voting against the East Retford bribery prevention bill, 11 Feb., and he again divided to transfer its seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. He voted for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., to refer the Newark petition complaining of the duke of Newcastle’s electoral interference to a select committee, 1 Mar., and general parliamentary reform, 28 May. He divided with opposition on Portugal, 10 Mar., the Terceira affair, 28 Apr., Canada, 25 May, and Ceylon, 27 May. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and it may have been he rather than his father (who paired), who presented and briefly endorsed the Manchester petition in its favour. He voted for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June, and may have spoken in favour of applying the grant for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels more generally and not confining it to the use of the established church, 14 June 1830.

Having been returned again for Steyning at the general election, Philips was of course listed by ministers among their ‘foes’, and he divided against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He voted for a reduction of the duty on wheat imported to the West Indies, 12 Nov., and presented a Glastonbury petition for repeal of the assessed taxes, 11 Dec. 1830, when he asked the new Grey ministry whether they had any intention of lifting what was universally considered an oppressive and vexatious tax. He voted for the second reading of the government’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He was returned unopposed for Steyning with another reformer at the subsequent general election. In the absence of his father, he nominated Francis Lawley* at the Warwickshire election, 10 May, when he declared that he intended to vote ‘for that great, and wise, and salutary question of parliamentary reform’, and that

whatever might be the consequence to himself of the disfranchisement of the borough of Steyning, which he then represented, he was quite certain that there was no action in his life which he should hereafter look upon with such feelings of satisfaction, as that act of political suicide which he was about to commit.14

Philips duly voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July. He insisted that the electors of Steyning had returned him in the full knowledge that he would support the bill and that it was therefore the last vote they would give, 26 July. Although it was said that his ‘penchant’ was for only a moderate reform, he continued to vote regularly with ministers on the bill’s details, and he sided with them on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug.15 He voted for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He signed the requisition for a Warwickshire county meeting in favour of reform after its rejection by the Lords, and was thanked by the meeting for his role in supporting the measure, 8 Nov. 1831.16

He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, again consistently for its details and for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against increasing the county representation of Scotland, 1 June. He voted in the majority for going into committee on Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 27 June. He divided with ministers for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb., and for the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. He was appointed to the secret committee on the Bank of England’s charter, 22 May. He was introduced at the newly enfranchised borough of Kidderminster in an anonymous address, 14 June 1832, as

a man who has voted in every stage for the bill which has disfranchised the place for which he is a Member, who has been brought up a commercial man and is therefore well suited to represent a commercial town, and whose principles and conduct are approved by that illustrious statesman and patriot, Lord Holland.

Though thought certain to succeed, he was narrowly defeated at the general election in December. He was returned there as a Liberal in 1835, before switching to Poole for the remainder of his parliamentary career.17 Unlike his father, who never quite threw off his business concerns, Philips devoted himself to those ‘liberal pursuits which occupy my mind and never allow me a moment’s ennui’, becoming a genuine country gentleman in the process.18 He died in February 1883, when the baronetcy, to which he had succeeded in 1847, became extinct.19

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. Eton Coll. Lib. entry bk. (ex. inf. Mrs. P. Hatfield).
  • 2. Warws. RO, MI 247, microfilm of Sir George Philips’s mems. i. 1; Warws. RO, Philips mss CR 456/8, G. to G.R. Philips, 20 June 1842.
  • 3. Philips mems. ii. 110-11; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 794.
  • 4. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Philips mss DR 198/29, 30, 33-36.
  • 5. Ibid. DR 198/31, 32; Philips mems. i. 264-5.
  • 6. Philips mems. i. 352-2; ii. 110-11; Spectator, 1 Jan. 1831.
  • 7. Philips mems. i. 20-21.
  • 8. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 480.
  • 9. Manchester Guardian, 13 Oct. 1821, 15 Oct. 1825, 14 Oct. 1826.
  • 10. The Times, 12 June 1822.
  • 11. Philips mss DR 198/11.
  • 12. Brighton Gazette, 8 June 1826.
  • 13. Philips mems. i. 412.
  • 14. Warwick Advertiser, 14 May 1831.
  • 15. [W. Carpenter] People’s Bk. (1831), 347.
  • 16. Warwick Advertiser, 29 Oct., 12 Nov. 1831.
  • 17. Ibid. 23 June 1832; Kidderminster election address [BL L.23.c.7.(93.)].
  • 18. D. Brown, ‘From "Cotton Lord" to Landed Aristocrat: the Rise of Sir George Philips’, Hist. Research, lxix (1996), 78, 80-81.
  • 19. The Times, 27 Feb. 1883.

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