SHIFFNER, Sir George, 1st bt. (1762-1842), of Coombe Place, nr. Lewes, Suss.

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

Constituency

Dates

13 Jan. 1812 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 17 Nov. 1762, 3rd but 1st surv. s. of Henry Shiffner† of Pontrylas, Herefs. and Mary, da. and coh. of John Jackson of Pontrylas, second in council, Bengal. educ. Bosma’s acad. Amsterdam 1777-8; Pastor L’Honore’s, The Hague 1778-80. m. 31 Oct. 1787, Mary, da. and h. of Sir John Bridger of Coombe Place and Coln St. Aldwyn, Glos., 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. suc. fa. 1795; fa.-in-law 1816; cr. bt. 16 Dec. 1818. d. 3 Feb. 1842.

Offices Held

Cornet 11 Drag. 1782-8.

Capt. Suss. militia 1794-5, Lewes yeomanry 1795-1827, S. Lewes vol. batt. 1803.

Biography

Shiffner, the son of a failed Russia merchant, married well and in 1816 inherited Coombe Place at Offham, north of Lewes, where he had established an electoral interest. He was awarded a baronetcy by Lord Liverpool’s ministry in 1818 and was returned for Lewes for the fourth time in 1820.1 He was a fairly regular attender who continued to give loyal support to the government, though he seldom intervened in debate. Details of his attendance and voting record are supplemented by his personal diary, which also indicates his clear preference for local society over metropolitan, and the assiduity with which he performed his duties as a magistrate, militia commander and turnpike trustee.2 Following his re-election in 1820 he feared he would not live to take his seat, as ‘intermitting in my pulse’ caused him to reflect on mortality and his Christian beliefs, 21 Mar. By the end of the month he had recovered and was ‘thanking electors’ in Lewes. He attended the opening of Parliament, 21 Apr., and took the oaths four days later. He recorded that he had received and presented two petitions regarding agricultural distress, 26 May, and that he attended the debate on this subject, 30 May, without staying for the division; next day he apparently voted for the inclusion of corn averages in the remit of the agricultural committee. In June he sat through the debates on the Queen Caroline affair. He spoke in favour of the Sussex election bill, which proposed to fix future contests at Lewes, 23 June.3 He divided against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. Later that month the local antiquarian Gideon Mantell condemned his ‘arbitrary conduct’ as a magistrate in preventing a travelling menagerie from stopping in Lewes. It is possible that he feared the exhibition would provide an excuse for a popular demonstration of support for the queen. Shortly afterwards he and his colleague Sir John Shelley refused to accompany the constables presenting an address to her from the borough, because they ‘did not consider it consistent with their duty’ as Members to ‘take any steps which might appear like prejudging the case’.4 He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards the queen, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He presented a petition from Sussex landowners complaining of distress, 6 Mar.,5 but privately noted that the widely favoured remedial measure of malt duty repeal would constitute ‘too much loss to the government’. He divided against the disfranchisement of ordnance officials, 12 Apr. He was granted three weeks’ leave owing to illness in his family, 2 May. Early that summer he toured the west of England, returning to London in time for the coronation on 19 July. On his wedding anniversary, 31 Oct. 1821, he reflected that he was ‘quite happy in every respect, excepting the want of money owing to the pressure of the times on agriculture’. Nevertheless, he believed his locality would have been ‘better without’ the meeting on distress in January 1822, at which William Cobbett† spoke. He divided against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and reductions in diplomatic expenditure, 15 May. In his only known gesture of independence in this Parliament, 8 May, he voted with the minority for a fixed 40s. duty on imported corn. However, he recorded that he was in the majority next day against Ricardo’s proposed sliding scale, and that he also paired against permitting the grinding and export of bonded corn, 10 June. He divided against inquiry into the resumption of cash payments, 12 June, and wrote approvingly that ‘ministers have remitted four million taxes and reduced the expenditure by two million, making an aggregate saving of six million in twelve months’. He voted against the bill to relieve Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr. He divided against inquiry into the administration of the Ionian Islands, 14 May, and for the aliens bill, 5 June 1822.

He arrived in London for the new session of Parliament on 27 Feb. and voted against more extensive tax reductions, 3 Mar. 1823, before returning to Sussex to attend to local duties. He ensured that he was present to divide against Catholic relief, 17 Apr., and voted for the Irish insurrection bill, 12 May. He divided for the military and naval pensions bill, 18 Apr. He attended a Pitt Club dinner at the Merchant Taylors Hall, 28 May. He voted against inquiry into delays in chancery, 4 June 1823. He hastened to London ‘in defence of Robinson’s budget’, 2 Mar. 1824, returning to Brighton the following day. He was back in attendance at the end of April, but grew tired of waiting for the warehoused wheat bill to be considered and went home on 15 May. He was present for the debate on the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 31 May, and voted against inquiry, 11 June. He again divided for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June. His journey back to Coombe, 17 June 1824, took ‘six hours exactly’. Of the debate on the address, 3 Feb. 1825, he recorded tersely, ‘full House, much speechifying, no amendment’. He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15 Feb., recovered from illness to divide against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., and voted against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. He defended lord chancellor Eldon from Brougham’s attack, 18 May, after the Lords had rejected the relief bill.6 He was shut out of the division on the grant to the duke of Cumberland, 2 June, but voted for it, 6, 10 June 1825. He travelled to attend Parliament on 2 Feb. 1826, and was present for the division on the withdrawal of small banknotes, 13 Feb., which he evidently supported. He voted against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr., and Russell’s reform motion, 27 Apr. 1826. Next day he divided against the spring guns bill.7

In September 1825 Shiffner had informed his agent of his determination not to contest Lewes again. His Sussex neighbour John Smith* reckoned him to be a casualty of the uncertainty over the date of the general election, at which he seemed bound to face a contest. In his parting address he declared that the government had ‘carried us triumphantly through times of difficulty and danger’, with such success that ‘individual exertion is not so much called for’.8 Privately, he admitted that his decision stemmed from ‘the great and constant expense and trouble’ of maintaining his interest at Lewes, adding that ‘my chief wish now [is] to make all matters in point of money as comfortable for my family as possible’. He was magnanimous enough to dine with the man who effectively displaced him, the Whig Thomas Read Kemp, 31 May 1826. Thereafter he made few diary references to politics, though it is clear that his conservative opinions never altered. In April 1831 he was a signatory to the Sussex anti-reform declaration.9 He interpreted an attendance of 300 at the county meeting on reform, 4 Nov. 1831, as a ‘complete failure to show confidence’ in Lord Grey’s ministry, and alleged that Lord Chichester had ‘moved resolutions which he did not approve of’. The existing electoral system, he noted by way of approval, 5 May 1832, had been ‘in practice for nearly three centuries’. He died in February 1842 and was succeeded in turn by his eldest surviving sons, Henry Shiffner (1789-1859) and George Shiffner (1791-1863).10

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Robin Healey / Howard Spencer

Notes

  • 1. Suss. Advertiser, 6 Mar. 1820.
  • 2. E. Suss. RO SHR 827-9, Shiffner’s diaries, 1820-32, for what follows.
  • 3. The Times, 24 June 1820.
  • 4. Jnl. of Gideon Mantell ed. C. Curwen, 23; Town Bk. of Lewes, 1702-1837 ed. V. Smith (Suss. Rec. Soc. lxix. 1972-3), 228-31.
  • 5. The Times, 7 Mar. 1821.
  • 6. Ibid. 19 May 1824.
  • 7. Norf. RO, Gunton mss 1/21.
  • 8. Brougham mss, Smith to Brougham, 3 Oct. 1825; E. Suss. RO SHR 305/7.