SEBRIGHT, Sir John Saunders, 7th bt. (1767-1846), of Beechwood Park, nr. Hemel Hempsted, Herts. and Besford, Worcs.

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



1807 - 1834

Family and Education

b. 23 May 1767, 1st s. of Sir John Sebright†, 6th bt., of Beechwood and Besford and Sarah, da. of Edward Knight of Wolverley, Worcs. educ. Westminster 1778. m. 6 Aug. 1793, Harriet, da. and h. of Richard Croftes† of West Harling, Norf. and Saxham, Suff., 1s. 8da. (5 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 7th bt. 23 Feb. 1794. d. 15 Apr. 1846.

Offices Held

Ensign 1 Ft. Gds. 1785, lt. and capt. 1792, ret. 1794.

Sheriff, Herts. 1797-8; capt. Herts. yeoman cav. 1798.


Sebright’s eccentricities made him one of the minor characters of the House. A quirky, opinionated, blunt, irascible man, fond of the sound of his own voice, he gloried in and frequently boasted of his independence, disclaiming all party connection.1 Yet he was no buffoon, as Maria Edgeworth discovered in January 1822, when she was his guest, with a group of prominent scientists of both sexes, at Beechwood, a ‘fine looking’ but ‘very cold and straggling large house with endless passages’. Sebright welcomed her with ‘the most gracious countenance that his eyebrows would permit’ - they were ‘prodigious natural curiosities’ in ‘colour, size and projection’ - and proved himself to be ‘certainly a clever man and entertaining when he does not talk all’:

He is very clever, very vain, very odd, full of fancies and paradoxes and with abilities to defend them all. He has ... [a great] variety and range of acquirement in literature and science, an excellent chemist, mineralogist, horseman, huntsman, breeder of horses and dogs and pigeons whom he breeds and educates on philosophical principles ... His maxim is that no violence should ever be used to animals, that all we need do is teach by gentle degrees the language of signs which tells them what we want them to do ... But, alas, notwithstanding his philosophical tenderness principles about dogs and horses I am afraid he has been violent with his children. He has treated his daughters like dogs perhaps and his dogs like children. Certainly they all look under abject awe of him and scarcely speak above their breath when he is within hearing. They have all dogs’ faces, dogs’ mouths ... There does not seem to be any communication between the sisters. They do not seem to live happily together and in the midst of luxuries and fine house and park this perception chills their guests ... Sir John, however, amused me incessantly. He is quite a new character - strong head and warm heart and oddity enough for ten.

She later commented that if Sebright, ‘as arbitrary as the Grand Turk’ in domestic matters, was to bid his gangling, ugly daughters to ‘lie down, he should expect to see the Miss Sebrights fall flat at their long lengths, sprawling motionless, crouching like spaniels’.2

Sebright, a steady supporter of religious toleration and parliamentary reform and a critic of excesses in public expenditure, had more often than not acted with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry before 1820, though they could not implicitly rely on him for support, especially on questions of law and order. When he stood for Hertfordshire for the fourth time at the general election of 1820 as ‘the independent representative of independent constituents’, there was no opposition.3 He voted against government on the civil list, 8 May, and the additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May 1820. When presenting a local petition for relief from agricultural distress, 17 May, he wished it to be understood that he was ‘not pledging himself to any opinion upon the subject’.4 On 17 Oct. 1820 he dismissed Hume’s attempt to implicate ministers in the dissemination of seditious literature:

The government ... was excessively unpopular ... But ... he was sorry to believe, that in such a state of feeling as existed, the people would be satisfied with no government whatever. The ministers had given reason for discontent; but all possible means had been employed to foment it.

Two months later he was reported in government circles as saying that in the ‘merry session’ which approached, he wished ‘to impeach ministers and hang the opposition’ for their respective parts in the Queen Caroline affair.5 In the event, he voted silently for the restoration of her name to the liturgy, 23, 26 Jan. (he was shut out of the division of 13 Feb.), and to censure ministers, 6 Feb. 1821. He voted against them on the Allies’ suppression of the liberal movement in Naples, 21 Feb. He presented a Hertfordshire agriculturists’ petition complaining of distress, 23 Feb.6 He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He divided for army reductions, 14 Mar., 6 Apr., repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., admiralty economies, 4 May, and against the Barbados defence fund pensions, 24 May. He voted for Russell’s parliamentary reform proposals, 9 May, and denounced the Constitutional Association as ‘illegal and unconstitutional’, 30 May. He seconded his county neighbour Lord Cranborne’s unsuccessful motion for inquiry into the ‘absurd’ and ‘unjust’ game laws, 5 Apr. He presented a Royston petition for amelioration of the criminal code, 1 May,7 and voted for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 4 June. He voted for inquiry into the administration of justice in Tobago, 6 June, and to omit the payment of arrears from the grant to the duke of Clarence, 18 June, 2 July; on 25 June 1821 he declared that this aspect of it was ‘most improper’ and ‘a waste of public money’.

It was reported in December 1821 that Sebright would have no truck with any opposition attempt to make an issue of Sir Robert Wilson’s* dismissal from the army and that he had ‘already told Lord Londonderry that if he (Sir John) attacks ministers on that subject, it will be by complaining that they did not dismiss him some years ago’.8 He had nothing to say on the subject in the House. At the Hertfordshire county meeting called to consider agricultural distress, 1 Feb. 1822, he agreed that the burden of taxation was oppressive, though he pointed out that the whole of Europe was paying the price of an expensive war. Replying to radical criticism of his failure to support enough of Hume’s motions for economy, he defended his record on retrenchment, declined to enlist as the ‘servile adherent’ of Hume or any other man and argued that much as he admired Hume’s pertinacity, his practice of constantly and vexatiously dividing the House was counter productive. He informed his audience that ‘he could not surrender his own opinions absolutely: he was their representative, not their delegate’.9 He nevertheless voted for Hume’s amendment to the address, 5 Feb., when he urged on ministers ‘the paramount necessity which at present existed of enforcing a system of economy in every branch of the public expenditure’. Although he did not vote for the opposition motions calling for more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb. (when he presented the petition from the county meeting),10 he joined, on his own terms, in the ensuing campaign for economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation. Supporting repeal or reduction of the salt duties, 28 Feb., he called on the country gentlemen to act ‘if they did not wish to see their rents unpaid, their tenantry ruined, their lands uncultivated, and their labourers reduced to beggary and want’. Miss Edgeworth, a spectator in the ventilator, thought he was ‘by far the best’ of the country gentlemen who ‘seemed to be speaking to please their constituents only’; ‘he was as much at his ease as at Beechwood in his own drawing room’.11 He spoke and voted for admiralty reductions, 1 Mar., but declared that ‘so far from being actuated by any hostility’ to ministers, ‘he rather wished them to retain their places’. He supported abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., 2 May, calling on the first occasion for ‘every reduction of the public expenditure that was consistent with the safety of the state’. He voted in favour of paying military pensions from the sinking fund, 3 May, 3 June, and for inquiry into diplomatic expenditure, 15 May; but on 18 May he declined to support Davies’s motion for massive tax reductions, ostensibly because it had nothing to do with the question before the House. He returned to the fold to speak and vote for repeal of the salt duties, 3 June, and divided for abolition of the lottery tax, 1 July. He voted for parliamentary reform, 25 Apr. He presented a Hitchin petition for relaxation of the criminal code, 30 Apr., and voted for progress in this area after presenting a similar petition from Royston, 4 June.12 On 6 May he deplored the present system of public house licensing. Later that day, on the report of the inquiry into agricultural distress, he stated that farmers had told him that ‘legislative interference with the corn trade must ... be productive of harm’. He was in the minority of 37 for Wyvill’s amendment for large tax remissions, 8 May, but on 18 May he welcomed the government’s proposals to revise the corn laws as an improvement on the existing regulations, and he agreed with ministers that Canning’s proposed clause to permit the grinding of foreign wheat would be ‘fatal to the agricultural interest’, 10 June. He was in the minority against the Irish constables bill, 7 June 1822.

At the Hertfordshire county meeting called to petition for parliamentary reform, 8 Feb. 1823, Sebright declared his personal preference for the moderate scheme propounded by his erstwhile colleague Thomas Brand (now Lord Dacre) in 1810, and his hostility to a radical amendment for taxpayer suffrage and annual parliaments. He condemned both the extremists who had ‘made the question obnoxious to the country at large’ and the reactionaries who would resist all change:

I am a true friend to reform, but not such a reform as would altogether overturn the present state of things. I would amend, but not destroy; and I do not go hand in hand with those who would annihilate everything. I am a practical man, and a friend to practical reform; such a reform as should unite the House of Commons with the people of England.13

He voted for inquiry into the franchise, 20 Feb., but, for reasons unknown, was not in the minority for Russell’s major reform motion, 24 Apr. 1823. He claimed that he would have voted for reform of the Scottish county representation, 2 June, had he not been accidentally locked out of the division. His only other known votes in that session were with opposition for inquiries into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., chancery arrears, 5 June, and the expense of the coronation, 9 June; with ministers against currency reform, 12 June; and for Onslow’s unsuccessful attempt to repeal the usury laws, 27 June, for which he also spoke.14 He seconded Cranborne’s motion for inquiry into the game laws, which ‘affected the moral character of a vast body of the population’, 13 Mar., and was named to the resulting select committee. When presenting a petition from Sir John Sinclair† against repeal of the protecting duties on foreign wool, 14 May, Sebright explained that he had rejected Sinclair’s suggestion that he should lay a piece of British cloth on the table, but had agreed to wear a coat of the finest domestic wool, which he invited interested Members to inspect at close quarters in the lobby. He presented petitions from Royston for the abolition of slavery, 22 May, and from his own parish of Flamstead for the imposition of a duty on the importation of Leghorn hats, 10 July 1823.15

Sebright continued his support for repeal or reform of the usury laws, 27 Feb., 8 Apr. 1824. He presented assorted Hertfordshire petitions against the coal duties, 18 Feb., and slavery, 15, 16 Mar.16 He voted to refer the reports of the Scottish judicial commission to a committee of the whole House, 30 Mar. He spoke in support of the game laws amendment bill, 25 Mar., 12 Apr., and for the Hammersmith bridge bill, 13 Apr., because ‘he detested monopolies of all kinds’. He did not join opposition in resisting the aliens bill, but he voted for inquiries into the Irish church establishment, 6 May, and the state of Ireland, 11 May, when he said that he ‘objected entirely to trusting the inquiry to the management of the executive government’. He voted to end pluralities in the Irish church, 27 May. He supported the warehoused wheat bill, 17 May, and the beer duties bill, 24 May, approving of the latter in particular because it broke up the brewers’ monopoly. He voted in condemnation of the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. Although he supported the legislation to suppress the Catholic Association, Sebright told the House, 18 Feb. 1825, that the ‘disgrace’ of having to bring in such legislation would never have arisen ‘but for our prejudice, injustice and cruelty towards the Catholics’; he voted that day to allow, as an act of justice, the Association’s counsel to be heard against the bill. He presented a petition from Protestants of Carrick in favour of Catholic claims, 28 Feb.,17 though he defaulted on the call of the House that day. He was excused, 1 Mar., when he voted for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., as he did again, 21 Apr., 10 May. On 6 May he observed that none of the arguments advanced against it ‘required any answer’. He presented a Ware petition against the coal duties, 25 Feb.,18 supported the game bill, 7 (when he was a teller for the favourable majority) and 24 Mar.,19 backed Hume in his strong objections to the fees charged for admission to St. Paul’s, 21 Mar., and approved the increase in police magistrates’ salaries proposed by government, 21 Mar. He voted against the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May, 6 and 10 June, arguing that the duke’s immorality furnished a good ground for objecting to anything more than adequate provision, and concluding with the observation that he ‘appeared before them like an individual who requested the parish ... to enable him to maintain his own child. Oh fie!’ He voted for action on chancery delays, 7 June, and was in the minority of 14 against the grant for the Irish Society for the Suppression of Vice, 13 June 1825.

He presented anti-slavery petitions, 15 Feb., 27 Feb., 7 Mar., 20 Apr., and divided against ministers on the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826.20 On the government motion for a bill to consolidate the larceny laws, 9 Mar., he attributed most of the increase in rural crime to the game laws. He voted to regulate the Irish first fruits fund, 21 Mar., against the ministerial salary of the president of the board of trade, 13 Apr., for parliamentary reform, 27 Apr., and to curb electoral bribery, 26 May. He declared his opposition to the proposal to permit the emergency admission of foreign corn, 2 May, and two days later said that although he would like to see the ports open at a fixed duty, one of 12s. did not afford adequate protection. He upbraided ministers for panicking in response to ‘the burning of a few looms’. On 5 May he again took them to task for resorting to ‘this indirect mode’ of altering the corn laws, claiming that his disappointment was the greater because he was ‘more disposed to repose confidence ... [in them] than in any administration of which he had a recollection’. He duly voted against the admission of foreign corn, 8 May, and the second reading of the corn bill, 11 May 1826. Sebright, who in 1826 published Observations upon Hawking, in which he described his methods of training birds for falconry, stood again for the county at the general election that year. There was no threat of opposition, but he was assailed by a notorious local anti-Catholic for his support for emancipation. In reply, he conceded that Catholicism was ‘dangerous to any state’, but challenged his critic to ‘produce a single instance where any religion was put down by persecution’ and argued that the only way to neutralize the threat from Ireland was to ‘throw open the portals of the constitution’ to Catholics:

He had never swerved from the right path during his parliamentary career; he had never been called a government man, who sat behind the treasury benches; and whatever support he gave to the present administration was founded on the conviction that take it all in all, it was the best the country ever had.21

Two months later his wife died.

Sebright opposed as ‘extremely ill-timed’ Western’s amendment to the address on the subject of agricultural distress, 22 Nov. 1826, and he gave his ‘hearty concurrence’ to the corn bill, 1 Mar. 1827. He voted against the duke of Clarence’s grant, 16 Feb., 2 Mar. 1827. He spoke against Hume’s attempt to end corporal punishment in the army, 26 Feb., 12 Mar., being quite prepared to accept his share of ‘public odium’ for so doing. He spoke, 2 Mar.,22 and voted, 6 Mar., in favour of Catholic relief. He presented a Dissenter’s petition for general religious freedom, 26 Mar., and called again for reform of the game laws, 28 Mar., and a more open system of licensing public houses, 9 Apr.23 He voted for inquiry into the Irish miscellaneous estimates and chancery delays, 7 Apr. On 11 May he declared his ‘decided support’ for Canning’s ministry, despite his refusal hitherto to have anything to do with party: he attacked Peel and the other ‘narrow-minded and prejudiced’ former ministers, who would have been prepared to provoke rebellion in Ireland rather than concede Catholic relief, and asked whether it was better to rally to ‘those who were disposed to pursue a liberal and enlightened policy, or go back again to the control of that miserable remnant which had been discarded’. Canning drew the king’s attention to his speech.24 Sebright did, however, vote for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May. He presented a Hitchin petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 7 June, and supported a detail of the government bill to regulate arrests on mesne process, 15 June 1827.25

On 4 Feb. 1828 he urged the Wellington ministry to initiate ‘a diligent inquiry into the finances of the country’, and went on:

I am far from intending to enter into the ranks of opposition to the new ministry; neither do I feel myself pledged to be their inveterate supporter on all occasions. Opposition has been, with one exception, my uniform course in public life; but not so from system. I have never ranged myself as a supporter of any government except that of Mr. Canning - there, indeed, I almost felt it a duty to become a partisan, and to continue so, at least, until I had finally seen that great man firmly seated as minister.

He repeated his intention of judging ‘measures not men’, 11 Feb., when he said that he would not oppose the navy estimates if doing so would injure the public service, but counselled ministers to do their best to economize, on pain of being called to account. He presented Hitchin petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 20 Feb., denying an assertion that most Dissenters were anti-Catholic, and he duly voted for repeal, 26 Feb. He again opposed curbs on army flogging, 10 Mar., saw no reason to restrict the activities of retail brewers, who ‘tended to defeat the monopoly of the great breweries’, 2 Apr., and approved Estcourt’s alehouses licensing bill, 21 May. He voted for a pivot price of 60s. rather than 64s. in the corn duties scale, 22 Apr., and for inquiry into chancery delays, 24 Apr. He failed in his bid to secure permission for the bill for the erection of a new court house at St. Albans to be proceeded with despite an inadvertent failure to comply with standing orders, 29 Apr. He approved Robinson’s bill to shorten the duration of borough polls, 6 May. He divided for Catholic relief, 12 May. The next day he was in the minority against the proposed provision for Canning’s family, to the surprise and disappointment of Backhouse, Canning’s former secretary, ‘recollecting how handsomely he came over, very early, last spring’.26 He condemned Calvert’s proposal to throw the corrupt borough of East Retford into the neighbouring hundred as the worst possible solution, 2 June. He voted against government on the alleged waste of public money on Buckingham House, 23 June, but with them to maintain the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, which he thought the finance committee had been wrong to target, 4 July 1828.

When the Catholic question was aired at the annual dinner for the inauguration of the mayor of Hertford, 29 Sept. 1828, Sebright repeated his view that while Catholicism was ‘founded on the darkest bigotry and the most degraded superstition’, the state of Ireland demanded immediate remedial action and his belief that ‘Catholic emancipation might be carried without the slightest danger to the Protestant establishment’.27 He attested to the respectability of the signatories of an anti-Catholic petition from Hemel, 9 Feb. 1829, but deemed them to be misguided. He voted for emancipation, 6 Mar., endorsed a favourable petition from Hitchin, 11 Mar., paid tribute to Peel for his ‘courage’ and ‘magnanimity’, 27 Mar., when he entered a minor cavil over the inadequacy of the relief bill’s restrictions on Jesuits, and voted for its third reading, 30 Mar. He voted for O’Connell to be allowed to take his seat unimpeded, 18 May, and saw nothing to object to in the case of two army officers who had been dismissed for refusing to attend a Catholic service while stationed abroad, 12 June. He voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, and for the issue of a new writ, which he preferred to the extension proposal, 2 June 1829, when he was also in the minority of 40 for Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme.

Sebright was reported as saying that he would oppose Knatchbull’s amendment to the address, 4 Feb., ‘being satisfied that ministers ... would do everything in their power to alleviate the distresses of the country’; but he was listed in the minority who voted for it. He divided for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. At the Hertfordshire county meeting on distress, 13 Mar., he refused to commit himself to a specific plan of parliamentary reform, merely stating that he had always favoured ‘that sort of reform which would afford to the people the greatest portion of liberty’. When he presented its petition, 16 Mar., he stated his conviction that ‘there must be a reform of some kind in this House, and that the country will not be satisfied without it’. He voted for Russell’s reform motion, 28 May. He took little part in the opposition campaign for tax reductions and retrenchment. He would not oppose the grant for maintaining the orphans of soldiers killed on active service, 8 Mar., but the following day he did vote to limit the funding of the volunteers. He divided ‘against’ the opposition motion on relations with Portugal, 10 Mar.28 He also voted for inquiry into the management of crown lands, 30 Mar., after calling for the provision of a footpath from Waterloo Place to St. James’s Park, which he thought was not much to ask in view of the money wasted on ‘that ridiculous building at the end of the park’. He protested strongly against the cost of repairs and alterations at Windsor Castle, 3 May, declaring that he ‘should be ashamed to look my constituents in the face’ if he voted for the grant without prior inquiry; he then contrived to get shut out of the division. The chancellor of the exchequer believed that he had only spoken as he did because of the impending general election.29 He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He welcomed the government bill to regulate the beer trade, 8 Apr., though on 21 June he complained that it did not give due consideration to the vested property of publicans. He saw no merit in Knatchbull’s proposal to prohibit sales for consumption on the premises, but voted for Maberly’s amendment to outlaw them for two years, 1 July. He presented a number of petitions from Hertfordshire agriculturists for the imposition of a duty on rum commensurate with that proposed for corn spirits, 12, 17, 24 May, and he voted with government on the sugar duties, 21 June 1830.30

There was some talk in Tory circles of mounting an opposition to Sebright, who was supposed to have had a ‘most unsuccessful canvass’, at the 1830 general election, but it came to nothing.31 Ministers numbered him among their ‘foes’, and he voted against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He thought that Briscoe’s scheme to provide the poor with small plots of ground was unlikely to work, 17 Dec. 1830, but he was willing to donate land of his own if the experiment was to be tried. He presented a Berkhampstead petition for the abolition of slavery the same day. Recurring to the subject of spending on Buckingham House and Windsor Castle, 15 Feb. 1831, he observed that this ‘scandalous waste of public money’ had ‘done more to irritate the people, and even set their minds against a monarchical form of government, than any speech ever made in or out of this House’. He was upbraided by Goulburn, but defended by Lord John Russell against the charge of levelling personal accusations. Later that day he welcomed the Grey ministry’s bill to deal with the game laws. On 26 Feb. he urged ministers, if the House rejected their forthcoming reform bill, to dissolve and appeal to the people. When Russell had finished detailing the measure, 1 Mar., Sebright broke the ‘dead silence’ which had fallen on a stunned House by seconding the motion for leave to introduce it and giving it his personal endorsement.32 He voted for its second reading, 22 Mar. In a public letter of 26 Mar. he answered the question of a Watford freeholder by saying that conferring the vote on tenants with leases of under 21 year would put county elections at the mercy of large landowners and defeat the objects of the bill, but in general terms, he urged unanimity among reformers:

This bill will be violently opposed, both directly or by the more dangerous mode of proposing amendments; and I think that those who are real friends to substantial reform should support the measure as proposed by the ministers. This ... is the line of conduct I shall adopt. Nothing will be more fatal to the measure than for its friends to split upon its minor points.33

His remark in the House, 30 Mar., that in the nature of things the Members for doomed boroughs could not be expected to cast disinterested votes on the details of the measure, was interpreted by some Tories as a suggestion that they should be debarred from voting in committee. He voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

At the ensuing general election, when Sebright congratulated his constituents resident at Hertford on the defeat of the Hatfield House interest in the borough by two reformers, his contemptuous dismissal of the opposition threatened by Lord Verulam’s son, just ousted at St. Albans, was vindicated when the latter backed down in face of the overwhelming current of opinion in favour of reform.34 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and was a steady supporter of its details in committee at least until the end of the third week in August. He denied an allegation that the people of Hertfordshire were ‘cooling down’ on reform, 20 July, accused the opposition of wilfully obstructing the bill’s progress, 29 July, and declared himself to be ‘for the bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill’, 5 Aug. On the presentation of the Hertford electors’ petition complaining of evictions by Lord Salisbury in reprisal for their having opposed his nominee at the last election, 21 Sept., Sebright expressed his hope that reform would extirpate the ‘improper influence of landlords’, but voiced his concern over the likely effects of the Chandos clause enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, who would ‘have no more freedom of voting than the negro slave in the West Indies’; he had been criticized in the local press for his opposition to this proposal.35 He voted for the passage of the reform bill later that day, and for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., after observing that O’Connell’s complaint that the Irish measure was being neglected was another symptom of Irish paranoia. He made clear the alarm felt in Hertfordshire at plans to allow the use of molasses in brewing, 20 July, and presented a Bishop’s Stortford maltsters’ petition to this effect, 18 Aug. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He professed not to understand Gordon’s assertion that the House was turning a blind eye to blasphemy by accepting certain petitions, 5 Sept. He argued that reform of abuses in the Irish church was imperative, 14 Sept., and criticized the Irish tithes system, 6 Oct. He promised full support for Campbell’s general register bill, 20 Sept. 1831.

At the county reform meeting, 30 Sept.1831, Sebright explained that he

had considered it most advisable to support ministers throughout the discussions, because he thought that it would be most unfortunate for the reformers to split among themselves with respect to particular portions of the great measure. He had voted in every division except two or three, from which he was absent in consequence of indisposition.36

He voted for the motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct. On the presentation of an anti-reform petition from Worcestershire, where he had an inherited estate, 16 Dec. 1831, he denied that it was representative of opinion there. The following day he voted silently for the second reading of the revised reform bill. Denis Le Marchant† wrote that afterwards at the Athenaeum Sebright, a ‘sagacious, hardheaded man’, whose ‘opinion is generally esteemed of much weight’, pronounced that the changes incorporated in it meant that there would be ‘no difficulty with the Lords’. His view, which proved to be erroneous, was supposed to derive added credibility from his ‘alliance and friendship with the Harewoods and other great Tories’ (his sister Harriet had married Henry Lascelles, 2nd earl of Harewood, in 1794).37 Sebright, who at last joined Brooks’s, sponsored by Lords Dacre and Western, 4 Feb. 1832, again gave steady support to the details of the reform bill, and voted for its third reading, 22 Mar. He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He voted against interference with corporal punishment in the army, 16 Feb., and next day opposed Hume’s call for military reductions, observing that if ministers deserved criticism, it was for not having increased the army in view of the disturbed condition of Ireland. He also maintained that the political corruption which had influenced promotion in his day was a thing of the past. As the owner of Norfolk property, he thought the assizes should be permanently removed from Thetford to Norwich, 3 Apr. He voted against the recommittal of the Irish registry of deeds bill, 9 Apr., and applauded Warburton’s anatomy bill as a boon to the poor, 11 Apr. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June 1832.

Later that month Sebright, together with Calvert, announced that he had decided to retire into private life when Parliament was dissolved. However, in response to a request from the county reformers, anxious to meet a Conservative threat as effectively as possible, they agreed to stand. Sebright topped the poll at the 1832 general election (his first contest, after 25 years as a Member), but he stood down at the next dissolution.38 In 1836 he published Observations upon the Instincts of Animals. An improving landlord, and a generous benefactor of the poor in the vicinity of Beechwood, he died at Turnham Green in April 1846.39 By his will, dated 14 Jan. 1846, he provided for his three surviving daughters, all unmarried (Emily, who had married Frederick Franks in March 1822, had died seven months later).40 He was succeeded in the baronetcy and the settled estates by his only son, Thomas Gage Saunders Sebright (1802-64).

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. W. Blake, Irish Beauty, 20; E. Inglis-Jones, Peacocks in Paradise, 179; Life of Wilberforce, iii. 496; Oxford DNB.
  • 2. Edgeworth Letters, 320-6, 332.
  • 3. County Chron. 29 Feb.; County Herald, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. The Times, 18 May 1820.
  • 5. Lonsdale mss, Beckett to Lowther, 19 Dec. 1820.
  • 6. The Times, 24 Feb. 1821.
  • 7. Ibid. 2 May 1821.
  • 8. Colchester Diary, iii. 240.
  • 9. The Times, 2 Feb. 1822.
  • 10. Ibid. 22 Feb. 1822.
  • 11. Edgeworth Letters, 370.
  • 12. The Times, 1 May, 5 June 1822.
  • 13. Ibid. 10 Feb. 1823.
  • 14. Ibid. 28 June 1823.
  • 15. Ibid. 23 May, 11 July 1823.
  • 16. Ibid. 19 Feb., 16., 17 Mar. 1824.
  • 17. Ibid. 1 Mar. 1825.
  • 18. Ibid. 26 Feb. 1825.
  • 19. Ibid. 25 Mar. 1825.
  • 20. Ibid. 16, 28 Feb., 8 Mar., 21 Apr. 1826.
  • 21. Herts Mercury, 3, 10, 17 June 1826.
  • 22. The Times, 3 Mar. 1827.
  • 23. Ibid. 27 Mar., 10 Apr. 1827.
  • 24. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1328.
  • 25. The Times, 8, 16 June 1827.
  • 26. Harewood mss, Backhouse to Lady Canning, 15 May 1828.
  • 27. Herts Mercury, 4 Oct. 1828.
  • 28. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 10 Mar.
  • 29. Add. 40333, f. 101.
  • 30. Howick jnl. 21 June .
  • 31. Hatfield House mss 2M/Gen., Price to Salisbury, 24 July, reply [July]; Herts Mercury, 10 July, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 32. Three Diaries, 13.
  • 33. County Herald, 9 Apr. 1831.
  • 34. Hatfield House mss 2M, Sebright to Nicholson, 22 Apr.; County Herald, 7, 14 May 1831.
  • 35. County Press, 23, 30 Aug., 6 Sept. 1831.
  • 36. Ibid. 4 Oct. 1831.
  • 37. Three Diaries, 168; NLS mss 24762, f. 49.
  • 38. Herts Mercury, 23, 30 June, 7 July 1832.
  • 39. VCH Herts. ii. 196, 200; Gent. Mag. (1846), ii. 93.
  • 40. PROB 11/2039/541; IR26/1753/483; Gent. Mag. (1822), i.369; ii. 478. Burke PB wrongly attributes the marriage to Frederica Anne Sebright and the death to Franks.