ATKINSON, Samuel (c.1645-1718), of Rotherhithe, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1698 - 14 Feb. 1699

Family and Education

b. c.1645, s. of Richard Atkinson, rector of Kessingland, Suff., by Judith, ?da. of Henry Fitzhugh of Great Barford, Beds.  m. (1) [-]; (2) 2 May 1706, Mary (d.1746), da. of Edward Yallop, Merchant Taylor, of London, s.p.1

Offices Held

Gov. corp. of Sons of Clergy 1678; er. bro. Trinity House 1687, master 1700–1, dep. master 1706.2

Commr. licensing hawkers and pedlars 1698–?d., transports 1689–1715.3

Freeman, Harwich and Portsmouth 1703.4


Atkinson’s father had been appointed rector of Kessingland in 1641, but three years later was ‘sequestered and distressed’ during the Civil War and had the misfortune to die shortly after regaining his living at the Restoration. The children were consequently ‘put to their shifts for a livelihood’ and, as Samuel himself later recalled, it was his ‘fortune to go very young to sea’. Through hard work he succeeded in rising out of impoverishment, and his knowledge of England’s coast and maritime affairs proved highly useful. In 1665–6, at the time of the Second Dutch War, he acted as an agent for the transportation of goods from Bristol, possibly in an official capacity, since in 1708 he recalled having served the crown ‘for the last 40 years’. Little is known of his peacetime activity, but he may well have been the Captain Atkinson who in 1676 commanded a ketch bound for Tangier, and was later described as a ‘Guinea man’; and it is also likely that he traded with Turkey. His extensive experience made him an obvious appointment on 24 June 1689 to hire sufficient ships to transport and provision the army which was being sent to relieve the siege of Derry, and he was retained as a commissioner for transports until 1715. The post was, in theory at least, a lucrative one: it paid £400 a year, and since huge sums of money were involved (in 1689–1702 the commissioners handled £577,000, and £1,336,000 in 1702–11) the possibilities existed for making a personal fortune, especially after Atkinson’s appointment in 1703 as the agent for prizes in London and in 1705 as agent to sell prize ships and goods. He nevertheless had to work hard, and an indication of his devotion to do his work comes in a letter of 1704 in which he explained that despite bad weather and ‘a great cold’ he would ‘if it pleased God . . . be carried on board’ his ship to fulfil his duties. Some of his tireless skill at logistics also becomes apparent in his reports to the government (written in a style that exposes his lack of a formal education) which reveal him scurrying round the English coast in his efforts to secure a smooth passage for the troops. Always a man of energy, he was resourceful and inventive, co-patenting in 1691 ‘a new engine by which a man may stay and work for many hours at a considerable depth under water’.5

His strong connexion with the navy, and friendship with Under-Secretary of State John Ellis*, who was himself the son of a clergyman and a commissioner for transports, must have helped ensure Atkinson’s return for Harwich in July 1698. Naturally listed as a placeman supporting the Court, and as voting on 18 Jan. 1699 against the third reading of the disbanding bill, he was nevertheless unable to serve the Court for long in Parliament. On 24 June 1698 he had been appointed as a commissioner for licensing hawkers and pedlars, with an annual salary of £100, thereby falling foul of a clause in the 1694 Lottery Act which barred holders of new financial offices from sitting in the Commons. This stipulation had been long neglected, and under normal circumstances Atkinson could have expected to have retained his seat. However, ‘Country’ antipathy to mismanagement and corruption at the Admiralty was running high, and it is tempting to suggest that Sir Thomas Davall I*, the other MP for Harwich, who was particularly incensed about the state of the navy, may have been involved in naming Atkinson as one of the ‘disagreeable Members’ who were to be expelled under the terms of the place clause. Moreover, the political atmosphere had become particularly charged at this time because of the rivalry between the Duke of Leeds (Sir Thomas Osborne†) and Charles Montagu*: the latter had secured the post of auditor of the Exchequer for his brother until he was ready to take it himself, much to the annoyance of Leeds, who had wanted the office conferred on his own son, Lord Carmarthen (Peregrine Osborne†). The matter of the place clause was therefore raised partly in the hope of embroiling Montagu in the affair, though the Duke’s plan came to nothing and Atkinson was the unfortunate victim of circumstance: on 13 Feb. 1699 he was ordered to attend the House and the following day was deprived of his seat. Since the revenue from licensing hawkers and pedlars had been used towards the payment of interest on the transport debt, Atkinson had good cause to nurse a sense of grievance over his unseating.6

Atkinson’s name nevertheless continues to appear in the Journals at the foot of accounts for the transport office, which was supplied out of the funds voted for the army and navy, although the cost was not included in their estimates. Problems about financing the department had soon become apparent. As early as 1691 Atkinson petitioned that he had ‘undergone great difficulties in the service for want of seasonable supplies of money and is now in arrear above £900’, and so deeply was he in debt for the state’s expenditure that he feared prosecution by creditors. Another crisis arose in 1704, when the House had to vote £60,000 for transport provisions in an attempt to reduce the expanding naval debt. The financial position of the office had become even more fragile after 1702, when the commission was formally dissolved, leaving only a Treasury minute as the authority for Atkinson’s disbursements, a vagary that was resolved only in 1710 when a new warrant for the commissioners’ appointment retrospectively ratified their actions. This document was also the culmination of efforts to bring the office into line with the rest of the naval administration by regularizing the system of payments, though none of the impetus or ideas for the reform appears to have come from Atkinson himself. The accounting procedure adopted by the commissioners had been particularly open to abuse: a parliamentary report on 17 Mar. 1712 pointed out that they had never been asked for security for the money they spent, but had been ‘left in liberty to make their payments in what manner they pleased, they neither numbered their bills, nor paid them in course, according to the method of the navy office’. Despite the ensuing reorganization, the settlement of accounts was still unfinished six years later. Atkinson stood unsuccessfully for Harwich at both 1701 elections, and as late as July 1704 was said to be one of the ‘persons many of the corporation have their thoughts upon’. But he never regained his seat, and in any case would have been ineligible from 1707, when commissioners of transport were no longer allowed to sit in the Commons.7

In 1706 Atkinson married, apparently for the second time since his marriage allegation described him as a widower, and by then he was a rich man. In 1709 payments were defaulted on a mortgage of £10,200 which Atkinson had funded for the Seckford family estates in Suffolk and Essex, and on 2 Nov. 1713 he formally acquired them. When he died on 13 Dec. 1718 these properties passed to his wife and then, since the couple were childless, to his grand-nephew Samuel. Mary also received £1,000 of South Sea Company stock, and property in Surrey and Middlesex was left to other relatives. He bequeathed £200 to Trinity House, where he had acted as master 1700–1, and made provision for the poor sons of the clergy, showing that success had not obscured the memory of his early struggles.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Mark Knights


  • 1. Guildhall Lib. mss 25803/2, f. 117 (ex inf. E. G. Richards).
  • 2. BL, Dept. Printed Bks. 1865 c.13(6); W. R. Chaplin, Corp. Trinity House, index.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii. 365; Adm/1/5284 (ex inf. E. G. Richards); Watson thesis, 323.
  • 4. Harwich bor. recs. 98/4, f. 138; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 373.
  • 5. Info. from E. G. Edwards; Add. 45516 B, accts. for 1665–6; Add. 28891, f. 348; CSP Dom. 1690–1, pp. 245, 252, 267, 292; 1702–3, p. 258; CJ, xvii. 70, 100.
  • 6. Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/143, James Vernon I* to Duke of Shrewsbury, 11 Feb. 1699; Add. 30000 C, f. 49; CJ, xii. 503–4.
  • 7. Watson, 262, 273, 295, 325; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 1375; xviii. 461; xx. 255; xxiv. 376–7; xxix. 868; xxxi. 418; xxxii. 249; CJ, xiv. 424; xvii. 100; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, p. 186; Boyer, Pol. State, iii. 229–30; Add. 28886, ff. 158, 172, 195–6; 28889, ff. 13, 38, 72; 28893, f. 310; 28927, f. 180; Harwich bor. recs. 69/5, 69/6.
  • 8. Guildhall Lib. mss 25803/2, f. 117 (ex inf. E. G. Richards); Copinger, Suff. Manors, iii. 7; Greater London RO, St. Mary, Rotherhithe par. reg. (ex inf. E. G. Richards); PCC 182 Browning.