TULK, Charles Augustus (1786-1849), of 19 Duke Street, Mdx.

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



1820 - 1826
1835 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 2 June 1786, 1st s. of John Augustus Tulk (d. 1845) and 1st w. Elizabeth Carey. educ. Westminster 1801-5; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1805; L. Inn 1807. m. 8 Sept. 1807, Susanna, da. of Marmaduke Hart, merchant, of Hampstead, Mdx. 12ch. (4 d.v.p.). d. 16 Jan. 1849.

Offices Held


Tulk, a close correspondent of the poet Coleridge and the phrenologist Spurzheim, was a member of the London branch of a Dorset family who had prospered as wine merchants (Tulk and Lovelace) and married well. In 1795 his father, an original member of Robert Hindmarsh’s Theosophical Society devoted to the Christian teachings of the Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, succeeded his brother James Stuart Tulk (d. 1791) to the Middlesex estates of Leicester Fields (Leicester Square) and Honiton previously owned by the latter’s brother-in-law Sir George Yonge†.1 Tulk was sent up to Cambridge and entered for the bar, but, ‘partly from disenchantment’ and ‘partly because his father’s fortune rendered it unnecessary’, he never practised.2 Of ‘middle height ... benevolent smile ... [and] remarkable gentleness and courtesy’, he married a merchant’s daughter and close connection of the sculptor John Flaxman, whose religious orientation they shared, and relocated his family regularly to scenic locations in Britain and France to broaden their horizons. Tulk invariably devoted several hours daily to reading and writing religious tracts and the affairs of the Swedenborgian Society, of which he was a founder and committee member, 1810-43, and chairman in 1814 and 1843.3 Encouraged by Coleridge, whom he first met in 1817, he contributed anonymously to the newspaper campaign for factory legislation and, like Swedenborg, entered politics as a means of addressing social issues.4 At the general election of 1820 he was considered for Maidstone before successfully contesting the venal borough of Sudbury as the candidate of the Dissenters and the ‘low party’. He insisted that he would eschew party affiliation and act solely according to his conscience.5

Tulk made a few short speeches and attended regularly in his first Parliament. He sat with the radical opposition and forged a close personal friendship with Joseph Hume, with whom ‘his general opinions closely coincided’. However, as his biographer, Hume’s daughter Mary Catherine, noted, ‘the character of their minds was totally different’, and Hume could not depend upon his vote.6 Nevertheless, a radical publication in 1825 described him as a Member who ‘attended regularly and voted with the opposition’.7 He voted with the Whig opposition to restore Queen Caroline’s name to the liturgy, 26 Jan., but against their censure motion criticizing the Liverpool ministry’s handling of the affair, 6 Feb. 1821. Tulk, who worshipped at home, saw no need for a separate sectarian church and never officially left the Anglican communion,8 was steadfastly opposed to Catholic relief: he voted against it, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar. 1825, and declared his objections to concessions when presenting hostile petitions from Sudbury, 23 Mar. 1821.9 He supported the parliamentary campaign on behalf of the ‘mistreated’ radical prisoner Nathan Broadhurst in the division on 7 Mar., and was a majority teller against the contentious Newington select vestry bill, 16 May 1821. He abhorred violence and voted against capital and corporal punishment, 23 May 1821, 4 June 1822, 30 Apr. 1823, and for the spring guns bill, 21 June 1825.10 He voted for parliamentary reform, 2 June 1823, 26 May 1826. On slavery, he voted in condemnation of the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824, and of the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826.

Tulk accepted Swedenborg’s arguments in favour of a metallic currency, reductions in taxation and repeal of the usury laws, and voted for the last, 8 Feb. 1825.11 He became inclined to withhold support for economies whose prime purpose he perceived to be to embarrass government; and although he voted against the appointment of an additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May 1820, he rarely divided in Hume’s small minorities on the estimates after May 1821, and he voted with government on the revenue, 6 Mar., the grant to the duke of Clarence, 18 June, and taxation, 27 June 1821. He voted against Brougham’s vague proposals to relieve distress, 11 Feb. 1822, but for Lord Althorp’s, 21 Feb., and for admiralty reductions, 4 Mar., and abolition one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., 2 May 1822. He voted to reduce taxation on salt, 28 Feb., and malt, 2 July, and for the third reading of Grey Bennet’s alehouses licensing bill, 27 June 1822. He voted against raiding the sinking fund to finance massive tax cuts, 5, 13, 18 Mar., and against reopening the currency question, 12 June 1823. He was in the minority of eight against the committal of the warehousing bill, 21 Mar. 1823, and presented Sudbury’s petition against the coal duties that day.12 He voted for information on the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 24 Mar., but was in the government minority, when defeat made them concede inquiry, 22 Apr. 1823. True to his family and Dorset interests, he strenuously supported the Newfoundland bill and testified to the ‘absolute need’ to improve justice and administration to safeguard the fisheries and save the island from ‘absolute ruin’, 25 Mar. He voted against the silk manufacture bill, 9 June, and the beer duties bill, 13 June 1823.

In February 1824 Tulk consulted the home secretary Peel preparatory to ordering papers on the state of the Lancashire and Cheshire cotton factories that session, but in great distress throughout his wife’s final illness, he moved with his family to Worthing, where she died, 17 Oct.13 Testifying to the ‘atrocious cruelty’ of the current factory system, he spoke, 16 May, and presented petitions in favour of Hobhouse’s cotton factories regulation bill, 31 May 1825, when he moved an amendment to restore its provision for an eleven and a half hour day, which he reluctantly withdrew after Huskisson warned that it placed the entire measure in jeopardy. He voted to defeat the controversial Leith Docks bill, 20 May, against increasing the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 27 May, and with Hume for information on the Indian army, 24 Mar., and the Rev. Bryce’s appointment as clerk to the committee of stationery in Bengal, 1 June 1825.14 He voted against the president of the board of trade’s proposed salary, 7, 10 Apr., and to consider corn law reform, 18 Apr. 1826. He voted for and was named to the select committee appointed to inquire into James Silk Buckingham’s† allegations concerning press censorship in India, 9 May 1826.

Tulk had dined with the corporation and stated his intention of seeking re-election for Sudbury when a dissolution was anticipated in the autumn of 1825, but criticism of his idiosyncratic cross-party stance augured against his success and he withdrew after John Wilks II*, Benjamin Rotch and Bethell Walrond* entered the fray at the general election of 1826.15 By then Tulk was engulfed in a religious controversy prompted by John Clowes’s pronouncement that his editing of Swedenborg’s writings proclaimed ‘idealistic and gnostic notions denying the reality of the Lord’s incarnation’ tantamount to heresy.16 He defended himself, under the pseudonmyn ‘Mr. Collins’, in The Intellectual Repository, a religious periodical which he and his father had financed since 1812, but he was soon exposed and became estranged from his father on account of their doctrinal differences. He launched and funded the New Jerusalem Magazine (1826-9) to publicize his views, but Clowes retaliated at the Swedenborgians’ 1828 meeting at Warwick by carrying a series of doctrinal resolutions that he knew Tulk could not accept.17 Assisted by his son-in-law John Gordon, Tulk (who faced further charges of heresy in 1842), published his Record of Family Instruction in 1832 and The Science of Correspondency, a digest of his numerous religious articles, in 1846.18 He was defeated at Poole, where Dissent and the Newfoundland lobby were well represented but the reformers were divided, at the October 1831 by-election and the general election of 1832, but was returned there as a Liberal in 1835.19 After retiring from Parliament in 1837, he remained an active Middlesex magistrate and chairman of the management committee of Hanwell lunatic asylum, 1839-47.20 He did not remarry, remained close to his five surviving sons and three daughters and died in January 1849, having bequeathed his valuable property in Leicester Square, which was the subject of protracted litigation, equally between them, excluding only his ‘beloved eldest son Marmaduke’ Hart (d. 1853), for whom his maternal grandfather had already provided.21

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. IGI (Dorset, London, Mdx., Surr.); PROB 11/837/131; 1213/345; 1813/200; 2011/165; Gent. Mag. (1791), 789, 868; Public Characters (1799-1800), 418; Swedenborgian Soc. (London) archives K 59, ‘Annals of the New Church’, i. 483.
  • 2. M.C. Hume (afterwards Rothery), Brief Sketch of the Life, Character and Religious Opinions of Tulk ed. C. Pooley (1890), 7-8.
  • 3. Ibid. 9-13, 24; Add. 39781, ff. 152, 480; Swedenborgian Soc. (London) archives A9.
  • 4. Hume 14, 16, 18; ‘Annals of the New Church’, i. 260.
  • 5. Bury and Norwich Post, 8, 15 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Hume, 14, 16.
  • 7. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 488.
  • 8. Hume, 13-14; Dorset Co. Chron. and Som. Gazette, 6 Dec. 1832.
  • 9. The Times, 24 Mar. 1821.
  • 10. Hume, 16.
  • 11. C. Hasler and J. Kaczmayck, Emanuel Swedenborg, 27.
  • 12. The Times, 22 Mar. 1823.
  • 13. Add. 40361, f. 44; 40363, f. 233; Swedenborgian Soc. (London) archives K4, 42, 74; The Times, 19 Oct. 1824.
  • 14. The Times, 25 Mar. 1825.
  • 15. Ipswich Jnl. 15 Oct. 1825; The Times, 6 June 1826.
  • 16. ‘Annals of the New Church’, i. 275, 306, 332.
  • 17. Ibid. i. 335, 343, 351, 258-62; Oxford DNB.
  • 18. Swedenborgian Soc. (London) archives K4; ‘Annals of the New Church’, i. 559; New Church Mag. (1890), 102.
  • 19. The Times, 11 June, 22 Sept. 1832, 17 Dec. 1834; Dorset Co. Chron. and Som. Gazette, 29 Nov., 6, 13 Dec. 1832, 8 Jan. 1835.
  • 20. The Times, 6 July 1837, 30 Mar. 1838, 4 Dec. 1839, 3 Sept. 1844; Hume, 15.
  • 21. The Times, 7, 22 Dec. 1848, 12 Feb. 1849; Oxford DNB; PROB 11/2088/148.