STURGES BOURNE (formerly STURGES), William (1769-1845), of Testwood, nr. Southampton, Hants.; Acton Hall, nr. Droitwich, Worcs. and 15 South Audley Street, Mdx.

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



3 July 1798 - 1802
1802 - 1812
24 Mar. 1815 - 1818
1818 - 1826
1826 - 1830
1830 - 7 Mar. 1831

Family and Education

b. 7 Nov. 1769, o. s. of Rev. John Sturges, DD, preb. of Winchester, and Judith, da. of Richard Bourne of Acton Hall. educ. Winchester 1782; Christ Church, Oxf. 1786; L. Inn 1789, called 1793. m. 2 Feb. 1808, Anne, da. of Oldfield Bowles of North Aston, Oxon., 1 da. suc. uncle Francis Page† (formerly Bourne) to Acton Hall, and took additional name of Bourne by royal lic. 6 Dec. 1803; fa. 1807; uncle Richard Bourne Charlett (formerly Bourne) to Steeple Aston and Thrupp, Oxon. 1821. d. 1 Feb. 1845.

Offices Held

Sec. to treasury May 1804-Feb. 1806; ld. of treasury Mar. 1807-Dec. 1809; PC 10 Aug. 1814; commr. bd. of control Sept. 1814-June 1816 (unsalaried), June 1818- Feb. 1822 (salaried); sec. of state for home affairs Apr. -July 1827; commr. of woods, forests and land revenues July 1827-Feb. 1828; poor law commr. 1832-3; eccles. commr. 1832-5.

Vol. Bloomsbury corps; capt. New Forest vols. 1803-5; chairman, Hants q. sess. until 1822; warden, New Forest 1827.


Sturges Bourne’s ‘personal appearance ... was unprepossessing’, and ‘his manner in public neither dignified nor impressive’; but, as his obituarist noted, ‘being thoroughly familiar with the affairs of government, and capable of producing, as occasion required, the varied information which long official experience usually imparts, he acquired slowly but surely the favourable opinion of the House of Commons’.1 He was the close personal friend, long-standing political associate and occasional butt of George Canning*, who had saddled him with the nickname of ‘Scroggs’, and under whom he served at the board of control.2 At the general election of 1820 he came in again unopposed for Christchurch on the Rose interest. He is not known to have made a single Commons speech on Indian affairs during the remaining two years of his tenure of his place. He was, however, a pundit on the poor laws and related problems, and had had some success in legislating on them in the two preceding Parliaments. On 6 June 1820 he expressed his willingness to assist Parnell in any attempt to eradicate abuses in the treatment of vagrants forcibly returned to Ireland, though he pointed out that his own poor law amendment bill of 1819 had stipulated that they should not suffer physical punishment. He accordingly supported Parnell’s motion for leave to introduce a bill, 14 June, having ‘no objection to make the poor laws more perfect than they are at present’. At the same time, he advised Parnell that Irish paupers could obtain settlements by service or renting property, although his own efforts to extend the scope of the settlement regulations had been rejected by the House. He divided with his ministerial colleagues against economies in revenue collection, 4 July. On 6 July 1820 he was a teller for the minority against Chetwynd’s bill to end the public whipping of women. In the autumn, according to Mrs. Arbuthnot, he was the government emissary sent to Sir William Heathcote* to investigate his claims that Sir William Gell, Queen Caroline’s chamberlain, had given perjured evidence at her trial.3

When Canning, feeling compromised by the queen’s affair, resigned from the government in December 1820, he ‘persuaded’ Sturges Bourne to remain in place.4 He only paired against the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb. 1821. On 9 Feb. he echoed his colleague Lord Binning’s indignant repudiation of suggestions that Canning was still receiving his official salary. He paired in favour of Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He was named to the select committee on agricultural distress, 7 Mar. He voted against repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., a revision of public salaries, 30 Mar., parliamentary reform, 9 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 23 May. He voted steadily thereafter in the ministerial majorities against the radical-inspired campaign for economy and retrenchment. As a former chairman of the poor laws committee, he concurred in the principle of Scarlett’s proposed amendment bill, 8 May, and urged him to incorporate in it provision for the encouragement of select vestries, on which he had himself legislated in 1818. On 7 June, however, he joined in attacks on the inadequacies of the measure.5 He belatedly expressed concern over the ‘latitude of examination pursued in the House’ in the John Bull breach of privilege case, 11 May. He was a teller for the minority against reducing the compensation for General Desfourneaux as low as £3,500, 28 June 1821. That month John Croker* dismissed as nonsense a story that Sturges Bourne was about to replace him as secretary to the admiralty.6

In July 1821 Sturges Bourne succeeded his uncle, Richard Bourne Charlett (the brother of his benefactor of 1803), to estates in Oxfordshire.7 This addition to his personal wealth underpinned his voluntary retirement from office, with Binning, at the turn of the year, as part of the reshuffle which brought in the Grenvillites. Binning told William Huskisson* that ‘it is well known that Sturges retires because he bona fide wishes to withdraw finally from all official situation, and I do not know that it would break his heart if he were to be out of Parliament’. Sturges Bourne himself, like Binning, was adamant that Huskisson should remain in as commissioner of woods and forests, no matter how justifiably disgruntled he felt at not being promoted; and his surprise and disappointment at Canning’s decision to take the government of India made him ‘doubly glad that I took this opportunity of getting my release’. It was clearly understood, however, that he still had a ‘strong wish to support the government’, and that his ‘retreat may be considered as unconnected with Canning’s’.8 His only known votes in the 1822 session were with government against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb., relaxation of the salt duties, 28 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. He objected to the wording of Maberly’s motion for returns of public accounts as implying that they were inaccurate, 4 Mar.;9 he was named to the subsequent select committee, 18 Apr. He was also a member of the select committee on poor returns, 12 Mar. 1822. He divided with government against repeal of the assessed taxes, 18 Mar., and of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and on the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 24 Mar., 22 Apr. 1823; he had a technical point to make on the latter inquiry, 23 May.10 He ‘objected decidedly’ to Grey Bennet’s bid to abolish punishment by whipping, 30 Apr. 1823, arguing that ‘in the case of a hardened offender it was often attended with most beneficial effects’. He defended government policy on the war between France and Spain, 17 Feb. 1824, and moved a successful amendment, applauding their neutral stance, against Lord Nugent’s call for further information. He voted against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb., and was a teller for the majority against a clause proposed to be added to the county courts bill, 24 May. He objected to a petition complaining of the conduct of George Chetwynd, Member for Stafford, as a county magistrate, 27 Feb., and to the bill to raise funds for repairs to Londonderry Cathedral, 10 May, and recommended postponement of the mariners’ apprentices settlement bill, 21 May. He favoured printing the evidence given before the South London Docks committee, 2 June 1824.11 The following month an incredulous Robert Ward* reported a story that Canning had once offered the chief justiceship of Madras to Sturges Bourne, ‘a privy councillor, a member of the control, a man of fortune, and his own most attached friend’, and that he ‘could hardly answer him with gravity’. Commenting on this unlikely tale, Charles Williams Wynn*, the president of the board of control, observed that

in the difficulties which have attended the disposal of the governor[ship] of Madras, we should have been but too happy to put forward as respectable a candidate as Scroggs; but it never entered into my mind to offer it to a man with a very easy fortune, and only one daughter in miserable health, especially after he has quitted so easy an office as the India board from wishing to have more leisure.12

In the summer of 1824 Sturges Bourne went abroad for several months.13

He was appointed to the select committee on Ireland, 17 Feb., and voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. He divided for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825, though he was ready in private to admit ‘the increased aversion of the people of England to any further concession’.14 He supported the bill to disfranchise Irish 40s. freeholders as a means both of purifying the electorate and removing the incentive for the subdivision of land, 12 May. He was named to the select committees on the export of machinery, 24 Feb., and the combination laws, 29 Mar. On 22 Mar. he obtained leave to introduce a bill to clarify elements of the laws of settlement; it received royal assent as 6 Geo. IV, c. 57 on 22 June 1825. He divided for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 6, 10 June. He seconded Littleton’s motion for the appointment of a select committee on the constitution of committees on private bills, 7 June, and was duly made a member of it. He was at pains to ensure that William Kenrick, a former Member, was given the right of reply to the charges levelled against him, 14, 21 June; and doubted whether an election committee was best suited to investigate the rights of the electors of West Looe, 20 June 1825.15 In January 1826 Peel, the home secretary, commented that had Sturges Bourne ‘been a Protestant, he would have been a good man’ for the current vacancy for Oxford University.16 On 17 Feb. he declared in the House that the case against Kenrick amounted to virtually nothing, went ‘only to investigate the moral character of an individual’ and would establish a precedent ‘full of danger’. He divided with ministers in defence of the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. He was named to the select committees on emigration, 14 Mar., and promissory notes, 16 Mar. Although he wanted Wilson to restrict the scope of his motion for information on tavern expenses incurred by commissioners of bankrupts, 15 Mar. 1826, he thought that those who had abused the system should be brought to book.

At the end of April 1826 Henry Goulburn* reported that Sturges Bourne had been ‘for some time laid up with a violent attack of gout. He is confined to his chair and still in great pain, but is I hope on the high road to be better. He is one of those who are in great uncertainty as to again coming into Parliament’.17 At the general election in June he made way for a member of the Rose family at Christchurch, and came in for Ashburton on the Clinton interest, presumably as a paying guest. He formally proposed the re-election of Manners Sutton as Speaker, 14 Nov. 1826, but seemed ‘embarrassed what to say’, according to the Whig Member George Agar Ellis.18 He was appointed to the select committee on Northampton corporation, 21 Feb. 1827. Still ‘gouty and indolent’, he talked incessantly at home of ‘Ireland, Catholics, corn and ministry’ at this time; and he voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He was trapped for five hours a day on an election committee later that month.19 During the negotiations for the formation of Canning’s ministry in April he initially ‘refused all office’ and, though anxious that the approach to the Lansdowne Whigs should succeed, ‘hugs himself at having nothing to do with it all’, in his daughter’s words.20 On 26 Apr., however, when matters had reached a seeming impasse over Lansdowne’s reluctance, as home secretary, to be responsible for the expected appointment of a Protestant executive in Ireland, Canning pressed Sturges Bourne to save the day by taking the home seals until the end of the session. He evidently asked for time to consider, but that evening tried to wriggle off the hook:

I have endeavoured in vain since we parted to persuade myself that I might execute the duties of the home department without discredit to you as well as to myself. But I feel my first opinion to have been correct. And though I should certainly be anxious to relinquish the office almost as soon as I had learned my task, yet I cannot disguise from myself that such a speedy surrender of the post would look very like a proof of my insufficiency, when I know and feel that such an opinion would be well founded. Under these circumstances I think it may be convenient to you that I should relieve you from any suspense respecting me ... I am ... sure that any facility which my acceptance of office would give to your arrangements, would be more than counterbalanced by having such a situation inadequately filled. I sincerely hope that a better arrangement may present itself to you.

Canning would have none of it, telling Sturges Bourne that ‘my administration wholly depends upon your helping me for two months as home secretary’; and under such pressure he had no choice but to submit. His daughter wrote that ‘nobody ever lamented more what the greater part of the world would consider such a piece of good fortune’.21 Huskisson, who became a member of the administration, described Sturges Bourne as ‘a very efficient man, of excellent understanding, and much respected in the House’, whose appointment would be ‘generally approved’; while Peel wrote to the duke of Wellington that ‘I know not what better arrangement could have been made and I wish it were to be a more permanent one’.22 On the other hand, two opponents of the new ministry, of contrasting political complexions, were contemptuous: the anti-Catholic Tory Mrs. Arbuthnot dismissed Sturges Bourne as one of the ‘little click of his own personal friends’ whom Canning had put in as ‘warming pans’; and the duke of Bedford thought how ‘ridiculous’ it was to see a man, ‘who I remember a briefless barrister, brought forward by Mr. Pitt, with scarce any pretension to a subordinate office’, in such an exalted station.23

There was no difficulty about Sturges Bourne’s re-election, but the brief interval during which he was out of the House enabled him to get to grips with his official business without distractions. As soon as he took his seat, 11 May, he was mischievously asked to confirm that his appointment was ‘only provisional’: his evasive answer did not please his questioner. Despite this, his daughter described him the following day as being ‘very well and in good spirits’.24 He had agreed that Peel should proceed with his legislation to reform the criminal code, and he welcomed his bills to abolish benefit of clergy and increase the punishment for second offences, 18 May, and to facilitate the recovery of small debts, 20 June. He did not object to the introduction of the Coventry magistracy bill, 22 May, though he did not wish to have evidence relating to it heard at the bar of the House; he presented a petition in its favour, 1 June. He announced that steps were being taken to revise the rules of confinement in the Fleet prison, 22 May; but on the 25th said that he had no measure in contemplation to provide for the employment of the aged poor.25 Closing the debate on the Penryn election bill, 28 May, he argued that it was ‘contrary to every principle of justice’ to penalize the whole borough on account of the misconduct of half the voters, and he divided with Canning in the minority against Russell’s amendment for disfranchisement. On 7 June, however, he supported the third reading of the bill in deference to the expressed will of the House. He presented an Ashburton petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 1 June, acquiesced in the appointment of a commission to investigate London’s water supply, though he would have preferred a select committee, 11 June, and sanctioned Gordon’s motion for a committee on the treatment of pauper lunatics, to which he was named, 13 June.26 He stated that a measure was in preparation to deal with estreated recognizances, 14 June, suggested that the House was guilty of ‘great extravagance in sanctioning the printing of so many petitions’, 16 June, and explained why there was as yet no public access to parts of Regent’s Park, 22 June 1827.27 His handover of the home seals to Lansdowne in July was briefly put in doubt by a notion that the latter might become foreign secretary, but he resigned on the 16th, replacing Lord Carlisle as first commissioner of woods and forests and retaining his seat in the cabinet. As Binning put it, ‘Sturgeon Burgeon falls soft, and gladly, from his present eminence into the rural lap of woods and forests’.28 The Whig Sir James Mackintosh* saw it as a reward ‘for the fatigues and ridicule of three months as nominal secretary of state’.29

On Canning’s death, 8 Aug. 1827, Sturges Bourne and Lord Goderich were immediately summoned to Windsor, where the king invited Goderich to form an administration on Canning’s principles and pressed Sturges Bourne to become chancellor of the exchequer and government leader in the Commons. He shied at the prospect, and on 11 Aug. formally declined the offer, as he did the king’s subsequent suggestion that he might return to the home office. He was, however, willing to remain where he was, though his personal preference would have been for complete retirement.30 On his refusal, the exchequer was offered to the anti-Catholic Tory John Herries*, whose appointment was unacceptable to many of the Whig supporters of Canning’s administration. Goderich’s difficulties were increased by the king’s refusal to admit Lord Holland to the government. Sturges Bourne was ‘sadly tired and worried’ by all this aggravation, as his daughter reported, and pitied Goderich, who he thought had ‘not nerves nor the strength to keep together very heterogeneous materials’. Once the king had explained to him the grounds of his objections to Holland, which had ‘reference to the feelings of foreign sovereigns’, he saw them as ‘so much more reasonable and valid than any which I anticipated, that I almost regret that they could not be communicated’ to Holland himself.31 As Huskisson’s arrival from Paris was awaited, Lord Palmerston* wondered whether, if he would not take on the exchequer, Sturges Bourne ‘may be persuaded to devote himself for a session in order to save the government’; but on 29 Aug. he informed a friend that ‘Bourne says that if the fate of the government depends on his taking the exchequer, the government must prepare for dissolution, for that on no consideration will he do any such thing’.32 The following day, however, Huskisson thought at one point that he had prevailed on Sturges Bourne to take the exchequer, if only for a year, and was near to persuading Herries to settle for woods and forests and the chairmanship of the finance committee. Yet George Tierney*, the master of the mint, perceived in the early evening that Sturges Bourne was ‘perfectly wretched at the prospect’; and four hours later he wrote to Huskisson:

After I left you today, and was able to collect my thoughts, I felt that, though the case had not arisen, by Herries being satisfied, which made my decision necessary, yet that I had perhaps given more reason to expect that I would take the seal of the exchequer than I could upon a moment’s reflection confirm. I therefore hastened back to the chancellor [Lord Lyndhurst] and Knighton [the king’s secretary] to put them out of doubt upon the subject.

Lyndhurst, reporting his ‘fixed determination’, saw that it would be ‘impossible to induce him to change his resolution’; and all efforts to do so duly failed.33 Sturges Bourne, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade Huskisson to take the exchequer, explained and justified his conduct to Lansdowne, 31 Aug.:

I had at no time yesterday acquiesced in the proposal, though when so painfully pressed as I was upon the subject, it is difficult in seeking information, in order to ascertain all that belongs to the question, not to depart in some degree from the language of peremptory refusal; and I necessarily allowed the case to be put to Mr. Herries as if I had acquiesced, in order to see whether his feelings could be satisfied, which I understood was a sine qua non. And I stated more than once to the chancellor that I considered the proposal to me as premature till that was ascertained. The first moment however that I was once more left to my own reflections, the vastness of such an undertaking occurred to me so forcibly, that I determined to put an end to all doubt on the subject. But I do not consider the preliminary point as gained ... If the case had arisen, I would again have made a sacrifice of my peace and comfort in life, if that had been all that was had been required of me. But I am called upon to undertake the most arduous office in the state ... having, as I had already assured the king, a certain and entire conviction of my own incompetence to discharge its duties without disgrace to myself and discredit to the government. That opinion is informed by all the reflection which I can give the subject, and I must so far regard myself as to decline sacrificing not only my peace, comfort and health, but my reputation, such as it is, also.

He was active in the successful efforts to persuade Lansdowne and the other Whigs to accept Herries’s appointment and stay in office, though he did not expect Lansdowne, for one, to ‘remain long with us’. While he was inclined to blame Goderich for all the trouble which had occurred, he thought that it would have been avoided had Huskisson been on the spot when Canning died.34 His daughter was delighted that he had managed to ‘persuade people that it was not necessary to sacrifice himself’, and that he had returned to Testwood ‘the same Herr Wald und Forts commissioner that he went and very well’; but others took a less charitable view of his conduct. Georgiana Agar Ellis thought him ‘provoking’; Lady Granville complained that he was ‘beyond my patience’; Lord Seaford considered his refusal of the exchequer to have been ‘quite inexcusable’, and even Huskisson had ‘not forgiven him’ for his ‘desertion’ three days later.35

Sturges Bourne had an ‘uncomfortable’ time of it in November and December 1827, when cabinets on the conflict with Turkey necessitated several journeys to and stays in London; but he was back in Hampshire before Christmas, and remained there throughout the crisis which put an end to Goderich’s ministry. Williams Wynn kept him informed of developments, and he replied that ‘as I could have been of no use I am well pleased to be absent’. He was uneasy at the prospect of war in the aftermath of Navarino.36 He told Huskisson in January 1828 that even if he was not turned out by the duke Wellington, he wished to retire, partly because, having been party to the reconciliation of Lansdowne to Herries (both of whose conduct he considered to have been ‘more than irreproachable’) in September, he did not wish to make himself ‘an accomplice ... ex post facto’ to the anticipated removal of the former and retention of the latter. He also observed that the ‘enmity and malevolence towards Canning’ shown by some of Wellington and Peel’s subordinates ‘must make it painful to meet them on terms of daily and official familiarity’. He was duly replaced by Charles Arbuthnot*: his daughter construed it as ‘a great relief’, though she resented the failure of the ministers to give him ‘any private account’ of the new arrangement, which he gleaned from the newspapers, and the indecent haste with which the Arbuthnots took possession of the commissioner’s house in Whitehall.37 Williams Wynn believed that he had ‘urged Huskisson as strongly as he could to decline the junction’ with Wellington.38 He was seen as a contender for the contentious chairmanship of the finance committee, and Charles Percy, a government backbencher, preferred ‘Sturgy Burgy ... an independent and upright man’, to all others. He was offered the position, but turned it down, claiming that the state of his wife’s health, which might force them to go abroad, made it impossible for him to put himself in ‘a situation of such long confinement to London’, as well as observing that as a member of a government which had been broken up over the chairmanship, he did not wish to become involved in a possible renewed contest for it.39 On the ministerial explanations in the House, 21 Feb., Sturges Bourne queried some of Herries’s allegations and deplored his ‘tone of contempt and sarcasm’ towards Goderich. He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 20 Feb., and attended the debate on Russell’s motion, 26 Feb., but did not vote in the division.40 In the absence of Acland, Member for Devon, it fell to him on 18 Mar. to propose the insertion in the repeal bill of a declaration to be made by Dissenters appointed to office which was designed to satisfy both supporters and opponents, but it was rejected in favour of an alternative put forward by Peel. That day he extolled the beneficial effects of his Select Vestries Act, and expressed surprise that the report on London’s water supply had been so long delayed. He thought that Macqueen’s bill to deal with settlement by hiring had ‘little bearing’ on the poor laws and would merely redistribute paupers, 29 Apr. On the offences against the person bill, 5 May, he argued that attempted murder should remain a capital offence; and later that day he pressed for magistrates to be given a summary power of determining cases of assault. He voted for Catholic relief, 12 May. He defended the cost of the royal yachts and spoke of ‘the economical spirit of the admiralty’, 19 May. The same day he explained that, as last session, he had opposed the disfranchisement of Penryn, but that he was prepared to support that of East Retford and the transfer of its seats to Birmingham:

I have ever been, and ever will be, an enemy to parliamentary reform, but I think I shall be the best friend to the cause I espouse, by taking away a franchise when it is proved to be notoriously only a vehicle for corruption. The transfer ... will be of great service to ... [Birmingham] as well as take away one of the most popular arguments from those who advocate the general principle of reform.

After the resignation from the government of the former Canningites which was precipitated by Huskisson’s disagreement with his cabinet colleagues on this question, Sturges Bourne was listed as one of their parliamentary group.41

When he arrived in London for the 1829 session, his head, as his daughter reported, was ‘in a state of the greatest amusement and interest’ over the rumoured concession of Catholic relief.42 In the House, 19 Feb., he sarcastically commented that the promoters of the much vaunted Norwich anti-Catholic petition clearly ‘had better means of appreciating the condition of Ireland - and were themselves wiser - than the king’s cabinet’. He voted for emancipation, 6 Mar., and presented and endorsed a favourable petition from Southampton, 9 Mar. In committee on the relief bill, he said that a Catholic would ‘outwit himself as well as the House’ by refusing to take the oath provided for him (23 Mar.), and that only a Protestant secretary of state could authorize the disposal of church property (24 Mar). He disputed Inglis’s claim that Catholics had no cause to complain of interference with the ‘free exercise of their religion’, 26 Mar., and voted for the third reading of the bill, 30 Mar. On Hobhouse’s motion for a committee on select vestries, to which he was appointed, 28 Apr., he said that those which had been regulated by his own Acts of 1818 and 1819 should not be tarred with the same brush as the London ones: ‘nothing can be so improper as to lay down one general rule on this subject’. According to Hobhouse, in the committee, 15 May, Sturges Bourne ‘gave me a sort of lecture, under which I was not very docile’.43 He doubted whether Slaney’s labourers’ wages bill would achieve its object, 4 May, when he called for the removal of the limitation to 20 acres which had been imposed by the Lords on his own bill of 1819 facilitating parochial purchases of land for cultivation by the able bodied poor. He voted, with the other Huskissonites, for the extension of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, and spoke against the issue of a new writ for the borough, 7 May. He presented an Ashburton petition for repeal of the coal duties, 19 May. On Peel’s bill regulating the appointment of justices of the peace, 27 May, he opposed Hume’s proposal to extend the qualification to all freeholders, but at the same time suggested that the bill as it stood would deter many worthy men from taking seats on the bench.

An improvement in his wife’s health made it unnecessary for Sturges Bourne to go abroad in the winter of 1829, as he had at one point contemplated. Looking ahead to the next session, he commented to Huskisson that ‘the government will have a large body of steady and zealous friends, and a yet smaller body of organized and combined opponents, and in that will consist its strength, if strength it can be called’. He thought that ministers had some awkward explaining to do on their foreign policy, especially in relation to Turkey and Portugal.44 His own plans for parliamentary attendance in 1830 were disrupted by a severe attack of gout, which had him on crutches in February and, after a relapse, in bed the following month. By mid-April he was ‘very well’, and he arrived in London in time to vote with opposition for information on the Terciera incident, 28 Apr.45 He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and the abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He was named to the committee on the labourers’ wages bill, 3 May, and the select committee on manufacturing employment, 13 May. He objected to a clause of the Scottish and Irish paupers removal bill, 26 May, and on 4 June dwelt on its inadequacies, arguing that it was desirable to give parishes entire discretion in the matter of relief, in order to deter the ‘sturdy beggar’. He was unhappy that Hamerton’s divorce bill had come to Parliament without the sanction of a verdict at law, 3 June. He again gave annoyance to Hobhouse, who described him as ‘the most egregious coxcomb I ever met’, in committee on his vestries reform bill, 14 June 1830.46 Shortly after the king’s death, his daughter warned her regular correspondent to prepare herself for a ‘final cessation’ of franks, as it seemed almost certain that he would not come in again: ‘He has many things that make politics at present not very interesting or pleasant to him, and yet I think he will feel the difference’. In the event, the 1st marquess of Anglesey, believing it to be ‘of consequence that Sturges Bourne should be in Parliament’, as he told Huskisson, offered him a seat for Milborne Port:

He very conscientiously told me that upon the subject of reform he did not go the length that many liberals did, and could not for instance go in hand with Lord John Russell. It is not very probable that S.B. and I should materially differ upon such matters, and if we do, it is very easy to separate.47

After his unopposed return ministers of course listed him as one of the ‘Huskisson party’; and in early September 1830 Huskisson met and conferred with Palmerston at Testwood before setting off on his ill-fated journey to Liverpool. There was evidently some speculation about his standing there after Huskisson’s death, but Lord Carlisle commented that he ‘would not be active enough’. Later that month Sturges Bourne toured North Wales with his wife and daughter.48 He did not vote in the division on the civil list which brought down the Wellington ministry, 15 Nov. 1830, and he was back in Hampshire a week later.49 There he received a ‘Swing’ letter ‘threatening my life’; and he joined in the steps taken under the aegis of the duke of Wellington to organize ‘persons who have anything to lose’ in order to combat disorder.50 In early January 1831 Lord Grey, seeking to accommodate Sir Richard Vivian, who was proving reluctant to vacate his seat for Windsor in favour of the Irish secretary, Edward Smith Stanley, suggested to Anglesey, now lord lieutenant of Ireland, that Sturges Bourne, to whom ‘I cannot think it can be an object of much importance to ... continue in Parliament’, might be sounded ‘as to his resignation’ by Palmerston, the foreign secretary. He evidently declined to retire, but a fortnight later Grey thought of his seat as a berth for one of the Irish lawyers, Philip Crampton* or Richard Sheil*, whom ministers were anxious to bring in. Anglesey was willing to make one Milborne Port seat available for this purpose, but the difficulty lay in deciding whether it should be Sturges Bourne’s or that of his colleague, George Byng, Anglesey’s son-in-law and a member of his vice regal household. Stanley told Anglesey at the beginning of February that

upon this there has been much discussion, and the general opinion of the cabinet seems to be that it would not be desirable that Sturges Bourne should be urged to retire. His vote, and his weight with some of the country gentlemen, are thought of great importance upon the reform question, as well as any measure which may be brought forward connected with the English poor laws.

Anglesey acknowledged the force of this argument, and in the event, it was Byng who made way for Sheil.51 On 16 Feb. 1831 Sturges Bourne warmly welcomed Briscoe’s bill to extend the scope of his own Act of 1819 for parochial land purchases, which would ‘do more to relieve parishes from the present enormous burden of the poor rates than any other measure that I can think of’. He had reservations about Lord Chandos’s bill to disfranchise Evesham, 18 Feb., because no reliable evidence of the venality of the resident voters had been adduced. He presented a Milborne Port petition for the abolition of slavery, 2 Mar. 1831. In November 1830, Lord Sandon* had named Sturges Bourne as one of the ‘sober and peaceable’ men who were ‘inclining’ to parliamentary reform; but when the ministerial scheme was unveiled he found it too extreme, and surrendered his seat to Anglesey. Grey was peeved, feeling that it was ‘now very much to be regretted that his seat was not vacated instead of Byng’s’; but Anglesey was more sympathetic, as he told the premier:

I am truly sorry ... that you will not have the support of Sturges Bourne. I regret it much, because he is a very influential man. I think he is mistaken about Canning. Had he lived in 1831, I feel confident that he would have supported the measure of reform. I have so written to Sturges Bourne, and have expressed a strong desire that he would retain his seat and support you, but I have also begged that if he cannot bring himself to do this, he will immediately resign, in favour of George Byng.

Stanley, too, was ‘sorry’ to lose Sturges Bourne, though he had been ‘afraid it might be so, and that the reform plan would be too sweeping for him to venture upon’. Sturges Bourne’s mind was made up, and he vacated his seat in the first week of March, thereby doing, as his daughter saw it

the most honourable thing between his reluctance to oppose government in a measure on which their existence, and perhaps our safety, depend, and an equal reluctance to give up the opinions of his whole life, and incur the charge of great inconsistency ... I hope nobody will say that he shirks difficulties, and they need not think either that he entirely disapproves of the bill, in which there are many good things. He was always for transferring to large towns the franchises of corrupt boroughs and thinks that had more been done in this way, we might have been saved so sweeping a measure.52

Shortly before the general election of 1831, when he cast anti-reform votes for Southampton and Winchester, Sturges Bourne, in his daughter’s words, was ‘nearly as busy and excited as if he were in Parliament, always going about to hear the latest thing and his friends coming to talk it all over and pick his brains’.53 According to Littleton, he refused in July 1831 to become a boundary commissioner, being ‘frightened out of ... [his] wits at the reform bill’; and in December he was critical of the ‘injudicious policy’ of the Tory opposition ‘during the whole of the reform debates’. In April 1833 Littleton found him still

sadly alarmed about the country’s political state. He expresses his conviction that Lord Althorp is in heart a republican, and that it is now too late to stop that downward tendency which monarchical institutions have derived from his influence on public affairs. He lamented pathetically the want of sound understanding and good sense on the part of the king ... Sturges Bourne, however, is a great alarmist by nature.54

In 1832 he was appointed to the royal commissions on the poor laws and ecclesiastical revenues; and in the former capacity he corresponded with John Fazakerley* on the knotty problem of the bastardy laws, and the ‘excess of population’, which he thought was the ‘besetting evil’ and ‘cause of all that are called the abuses of the poor laws’.55 Greville reported that Lord George Cavendish Bentinck* invited him to stand for King’s Lynn at the 1835 general election, ‘but he would not hear of it’; and soon afterwards he wrote to Peel, who had sent him some correspondence about the career of Canning’s only surviving son:

I rejoice to see young men of such character and talents attaching themselves to you, in order that your principles may long endure and actuate our councils. It was the object of Mr. Pitt ... to rally round him such persons in their early manhood. How much more important is such an object now, when those who, like myself, being past the maturity of life, feel themselves unequal to the conflict of the hustings and the more formidable labours of the House of Commons ... No person can be more anxious than I am for the success of your administration.56

Sturges Bourne, who, so Sydney Smith said in 1839, ‘makes his wife and daughter leave off wine in order to do his own gout good’,57 died at Testwood in February 1845. By his will, dated 15 June 1836, he left all his property to his wife, who survived him by five years, with remainder to his daughter.58 An anonymous obituarist wrote that he would enjoy no ‘large amount of posthumous reputation, but his career will not utterly pass away from our minds as a man or a minister’.59 Littleton commemorated him as

a very sensible, honest and excellent man ... It was difficult to say of him whether he was more a liberal Tory, or a moderate Whig. Till the period of Huskisson’s death, all his sympathies seemed to be with ... the remnant of the Canning party, but when on Lord Grey’s accession to the government, that party became parliamentary reformers, Bourne, who was a very cautious man, became alarmed, and though no longer in Parliament himself, was a very useful ally of Peel’s more immediate party, in clubs and in society. Canning had a particular regard and respect for him. With much information, and a great delight in that kind of wit, which he found in the Canning circle in its best days ... he nevertheless was totally free from the vice of humour himself. Gravity and deliberation and solidity were the ornaments of a mind eminently judicial. He was consequently a respected, and a very useful friend ... The death of such a man is a great loss.60

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 434.
  • 2. Greville Mems. i. 92.
  • 3. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 41.
  • 4. Harewood mss, Binning to Liverpool, 20 Dec.; TNA, Dacres Adams mss, Courtenay to Adams, 21 Dec. 1820.
  • 5. The Times, 8 June 1821.
  • 6. Croker Pprs. i. 188.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1821), ii. 93; VCH Oxon. xi. 63; xii. 192; PROB 11/1649/595.
  • 8. Add. 38743, ff. 65, 83; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 273; Hobhouse Diary, 85; NLW, Coedymaen mss 615.
  • 9. The Times, 5 Mar. 1822.
  • 10. Ibid. 24 May 1823.
  • 11. Ibid. 3 June 1824.
  • 12. Buckingham, ii. 107, 112.
  • 13. Add. 37061, f. 44.
  • 14. Colchester Diary, iii. 369.
  • 15. The Times, 21, 22 June 1825.
  • 16. Add. 40342, f. 307.
  • 17. Surr. Hist. Cent. Goulburn mss Acc 304/67A, Goulburn to wife, 30 Apr. 1826.
  • 18. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary.
  • 19. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 276, Huskisson to J. Gladstone, 10 Dec. 1826; Hants RO, Sturges Bourne mss 9M55 F5/4, 7.
  • 20. Sturges Bourne mss F5/8, 11, 13.
  • 21. Ibid. F5/8; Canning’s Ministry, 250-1, 261; Hobhouse Diary, 144-5.
  • 22. Huskisson Pprs. 224; Wellington mss WP1/887/49.
  • 23. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 109; Canning’s Ministry, 290.
  • 24. Sturges Bourne mss F5/14, 15.
  • 25. The Times, 23, 25 May 1827.
  • 26. Ibid. 2, 12 June 1827.
  • 27. Ibid. 15, 18, 23 June 1827.
  • 28. Canning’s Ministry, 336, 340, 343; HMC Bathurst, 638, 643; Add. 37305, f. 133; Hobhouse Diary, 139; Sturges Bourne mss F5/25; Bagot, Canning and Friends, ii. 407.
  • 29. Add. 52447, f. 108.
  • 30. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1377, 1381, 1386, 1400; Croker Pprs.i. 382; Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 190; Bagot, ii. 420, 423; Huskisson Pprs. 226; Add. 38750, f. 39; TNA 30/29/9/5/51; Harrowby mss, Sturges Bourne to Harrowby, 11 Aug. 1827.
  • 31. Sturges Bourne mss F/28; Harrowby mss, Sturges Bourne to Harrowby, 19 Aug. 1827.
  • 32. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 197, 199.
  • 33. Add. 38750, ff. 145-9, 152, 158, 162; 51586, Tierney to Lady Holland, 30, 31 Aug. [1827]; TNA 30/29/9/5/56; Southampton Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss PP/GMC/17; Coedymaen mss 200, 202; Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 200; Greville Mems. i. 187.
  • 34. Lansdowne mss; Add. 38750, f. 216; Harrowby mss, Sturges Bourne to Harrowby, 7 Sept. 1827.
  • 35. Sturges Bourne mss F5/29; Howard Sisters, 91; Countess Granville Letters, i. 424; Bagot, i. 426-7; Add. 38750, f. 188.
  • 36. Coedymaen mss 252-5.
  • 37. Sturges Bourne mss F5/37, 39-41; F6/2-4; Add. 38754, ff. 159, 240; Wellington mss WP1/915/41.
  • 38. Coedymaen mss 735.
  • 39. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC12/85; SC17/36; Add. 40395, ff. 226, 244.
  • 40. Sturges Bourne mss F6/8.
  • 41. Bulwer, Palmerston, i. 278-9; Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 205; Colchester Diary, iii. 568; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss OsC 67a.
  • 42. Sturges Bourne mss F7/1.
  • 43. Add. 56554, ff. 11-12.
  • 44. Add. 38758, f. 50.
  • 45. Sturges Bourne mss F8/7-9, 11, 13.
  • 46. Add. 56554, f. 114.
  • 47. Ibid. F8/18, 19; Add. 38758, f. 198.
  • 48. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 241; Sturges Bourne mss F8/25; Add. 51580, Carlisle to Lady Holland, 2 Oct. 1830.
  • 49. Sturges Bourne mss F8/30, 31.
  • 50. Coedymaen mss 257-9.
  • 51. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/ 28a-B/32, 37; 31D/13. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 119/2, Anglesey to Smith Stanley, 4 Feb. 1831.
  • 52. Harrowby mss, Sandon to Harrowby, 12 Nov. 1830; Anglesey mss 28A-B/46; 28C, pp. 79-80; 31D/30.
  • 53. Sturges Bourne mss F9/6,7.
  • 54. Hatherton diary, 22 July 1831; Three Diaries, 170, 319.
  • 55. Duke Univ. Lib. Fazakerley mss, Sturges Bourne to Fazakerley, 4 Oct. 1832.
  • 56. Greville Mems. iii. 118; Add. 40413, ff. 261, 297.
  • 57. Smith Letters, ii. 689.
  • 58. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 661; PROB 11/2013/183; IR26/1696/262.
  • 59. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 434.
  • 60. Hatherton diary, 4 Feb. 1845.