SCHONSWAR, George (1775-1859), of Ferriby, Yorks. and 18 Adam Street, Adelphi, Mdx.

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



Family and Education

b. 15 July 1775, 1st s. of Robert Schonswar of Ellerker, Yorks. and Janet, da. of Thomas Lundlie of Glassel, Forfar. m. Sept. 1801, Lydia, da. and h. of James Smith of Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorks., 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 1801. d. 19 Jan. 1859.

Offices Held

Alderman, Kingston-upon-Hull, sheriff 1808, mayor 1811-12, 1817-18.


Schonswar’s grandfather, a resident of Friesland in the Netherlands, had come to England with William III in 1688 and after military service settled in Hull. His son Robert, George’s father, was one of the elder brethren of Trinity House, and in his capacity as a joiner was one of the craftsmen who built the new Trinity House in 1753. George and his brother Henry initially traded as East India merchants and later as wine merchants in Hull, where, according to a local historian, they built the block of property called ‘Schonswar Square’ in 1801.1 During 1812-13 Schonswar became actively involved in the outports’ campaign against the London monopoly on East India trade, serving as chairman of the United Deputation who campaigned against the privilege.2 In 1818, while serving as mayor of Hull, he presided over the scrutiny of the election there.3

At the 1830 general election Schonswar, ‘a very gentlemanly man, rather stout’, with a walk ‘as bolt upright as a turkey-cock’, proposed John Broadley, a local merchant, as a third candidate for Hull at a large meeting of the freemen. In declining Broadley suggested that Schonswar would make a better Member, to unanimous agreement. Schonswar initially hesitated, but next day accepted a requisition inviting him to stand without pecuniary obligations, a situation unprecedented in Hull. In his address he cited his local residence and support for the abolition of slavery and retrenchment, and promised to safeguard the shipping interest. He was returned at the head of the poll with the support of the corporation, amidst ‘enthusiastic acclamations of joy among all classes’.4

Schonswar was listed by the Wellington ministry as one of the ‘good doubtfuls’, who they believed would be ‘generally friends’, but he voted against them in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented constituency petitions for the abolition of slavery, 12, 18, 25 Nov., repeal of the coal tax, 19 Nov., and the stamp duties, 2 Dec. 1830. That day he endorsed one for the easier recovery of small debts. On 9 Feb. 1831 he welcomed a petition for reform from Hull, which, although ‘disgraced by practices at elections’ in the past, had ‘voluntarily and fairly restored their mode of election to what it was originally designed’. He brought up and endorsed a constituency petition against the proposed levy on merchant seamen towards Greenwich Hospital, and secured a pledge from ministers for a bill to facilitate their access to its facilities, 28 Mar. He expressed concerns about the proposed increase of duties on timber, fearing it would ‘force ships out of business’, 14 Feb., and again, 22 Feb., 15 Mar. He welcomed a Yorkshire petition for reform and the secret ballot, 20 Feb., and the Grey ministry’s reform scheme, which he had initially viewed ‘with the greatest caution’, fearing it to be ‘a measure of sweeping reform’, but which he now saw contained ‘so much that was just and true’ that he would give it his full support, 9 Mar. He brought up favourable petitions, 19, 30 Mar., and divided for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he offered again, explaining:

When I first went to Parliament if I had any partiality, it was a wish that those who then held the reins of government might continue to hold them. But when I got to London, and saw how the affairs of the country were, in my opinion, ill conducted ... then I thought that those who held the reins ... ought to hold them no longer.

He promised to support ministers if they fulfilled their pledges and declared that reform was ‘entitled to the support of every honest man and lover of his country’, although he would defend the existing freemen’s rights. He was returned unopposed.5

He called for the exemption of Hull and Yorkshire from the general register bill, 30 June, and brought up constituency petitions in these terms, 7 Dec. 1831, 2 Feb. 1832. He presented another against the East India monopoly, 1 July 1831. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, initially supported its details, but was absent from all recorded divisions between 26 July and 7 Dec., during which time he was granted a month’s leave due to ‘severe indisposition’, 13 Sept. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and gave steady and occasionally vocal support to its details. He welcomed the enfranchisement of Whitby, as shipping required ‘another voice in the House’, 9 Mar. 1832. He divided for the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar., the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish measure, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to increase Scottish county representation, 1 June. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He spoke in support of Sadler’s petition for restricting the hours of child workers in factories, 9 Feb., and his subsequent bill, 16 Mar. He divided with ministers on the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. He presented and endorsed a Hull petition condemning the Russian intrusion in Poland and demanded retaliation, 24 May, and endorsed others in similar terms, 28 June. He voted against Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 6 June, and spoke in support of a petition from the Hull and Sculcoates Political Union condemning the bill, 20 June. He called for more consistent sentencing for sheep stealing, believing that death was too severe but a year’s imprisonment too lenient, 7 July 1832.

That September he was declared bankrupt, but he had already decided not to seek re-election. The bankruptcy was annulled in March 1833, only for his joint business venture with his brother to be declared bankrupt the same day.6 His wife succeeded to her father’s estate in 1835 and the same year he retired to Cheltenham, where he died, leaving an estate valued under £800, in January 1859.7

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. White’s Hull Dir. (1821), 73; (1831), pp. xxxvi, 120; VCH Yorks. E. Riding, i. 406; Hull Celebrities ed. W.A. Gunnell, 452.
  • 2. C.H. Philips, E.I. Co. 182.
  • 3. Hull Advertiser, 27 June 1818.
  • 4. Ibid. 30 July, 6 Aug. 1830.
  • 5. Add. 40401, f. 187; Hull Advertiser, 29 Apr. 1831.
  • 6. The Times, 8 Sept. 1832, 20 Mar. 1833; Hull Advertiser, 27 July 1832.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1859), i. 329.