MATHEWS, Sir George (?1655-1718), of Twickenham, Mdx.
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Family and Education
?bap. 8 June 1655, s. of John Mathews of St. Olave’s, Southwark. m. aft. 1703, Elizabeth Michell (d. 1730), wid. of Richard Blisse of St. Saviour’s, Southwark, s.p. 2da. by previous marriage(s). Kntd. 7 Sept. 1704.
Dir. E. I. Co. 1710–14.
Although Mathews was cited in the course of his first parliamentary campaign as ‘a man of experience and honour’, his origins remain obscure. His monumental inscription at St. Saviour’s church, Southwark, suggests that he was born in 1654, but he may have been the ‘George Mathews’ baptized in June 1655 in the adjoining parish of St. Olave’s. Not until his marriage to Elizabeth Michell can his personal life be outlined with any certainty, by which time he had already fathered two daughters. However, given his probable age and domicile, he may have been the ‘George Mathews’, a 40-year-old widower from Rotherhithe, Surrey, who was licensed on 4 June 1694 to marry Frances Midleton of Findon, Sussex. His marriage to Elizabeth Michell was clearly a lucrative affair, reportedly bringing him ‘a considerable fortune’. However, he must have been a man of some independent means before their union, for the marriage settlement required that Mathews contribute £3,000 to a marital trust fund.1
The task of tracing his professional career suffers from similar ambiguity, for although Le Neve identified Mathews as a ‘captain of a company’, there is no evidence that he ever held a commission in the army or navy. However, in consideration of the prominent position which he subsequently held in the East India Company, he may have served as a commander in its merchant fleet, a ‘George Mathews’ gaining clearance from the Privy Council in January 1702 to sail a ship to the East Indies. Further evidence of a possible prior interest in that trade is provided by the presence of a namesake in a list submitted to the Commons on 20 June 1698 of East Indian adventurers willing to advance money to the government. Moreover, another paper submitted to the House on 29 Jan. 1700 recorded that a ‘Geo. Mathews’ had exported silver to India only a year before. Election as a director of the East India Company in April 1710 testified to his influence in the City, while the ownership of Bank stock, together with an estate at Twickenham, provide proof of a substantial personal fortune.2
Although Mathews’ principal residence lay in Twickenham, the Surrey poll book of 1710 revealed that he possessed property in St. Saviour’s, Southwark, and he could thus boast some local interest in the borough. However, his political allegiance was of a more equivocal nature. His recent activity suggested Whiggish sympathies, as he had voted Whig at the highly polarized Surrey election of 1710, and had also been cited in April 1711 as one of the candidates favoured by the Whigs for election to the board of the East India Company. However, in order to combat his main opponent, the local Whig brewer Edmund Halsey*, Mathews was willing to enlist the aid of his Tory son-in-law, Henry Goring*, as well as that of John Lade*, a patron of the High Church chaplain of St. Saviour’s, Dr Henry Sacheverell. Even though seeking Tory support, Mathews evidently did not share the zealotry of local High Churchmen, since his candidacy received an endorsement from the author of a pamphlet condemning the excesses of Sacheverell and his followers. Significantly, the pamphleteer stressed Mathews’ status, rather than his principles, in order to illustrate the differences between the two principal candidates.3
The by-election in December 1711 proved a very close contest, Mathews finishing a mere 16 votes ahead of his rival Halsey. However, the bailiff actually returned Halsey, prompting Mathews to petition the House on 14 Jan. 1712. The elections committee later confirmed that irregularities had taken place at the poll, and on 7 Feb. the Commons ordered the return to be amended in Mathews’ favour. In the remainder of the 1710 Parliament he made no significant contribution to the business of the House, nor does any surviving division list give any clue to his politics. However, an increasing attachment to Tory ranks was suggested by his willingness to present on behalf of his constituents two addresses at court: in June 1712, to thank the Queen for her promise to communicate peace terms; and, a year later, to thank both her and her ministry for securing a European peace.
Further evidence of Mathews’ shifting allegiance came at the Southwark election of August 1713, when he was prepared to align himself with the Tory Samuel Rush† in opposition to his former agent John Lade, whose accommodation with the Whigs was revealed by his choice of running-mate, Fisher Tench*. The Whig candidates prevailed at the polls, but on 4 Mar. 1714 Mathews and Rush petitioned the House to reverse the result, alleging bribery and other electoral malpractice on the part of their opponents. However, it was Mathews’ reputation that was most severely compromised by the ensuing inquiry, for the Southwark Whigs sought to prove his incapacity to sit in the House by the terms of the Members’ Qualification Act of 1711, which had stipulated that all borough MPs must own real estate of at least £300 p.a. Mathews actually claimed to possess properties worth £314 p.a., but his Whig adversaries used land tax assessments to demonstrate to the elections committee that he had inflated the annual value of his Twickenham estate by over £100. Although the Tories could celebrate on 20 Apr. 1714 when the Commons declared the election void, Mathews’ credibility had clearly been undermined, and it was no surprise that he did not contest the the ensuing by-election, held in May 1714.
Mathews also declined to fight the general election of January 1715, but remained active in commercial circles. In June 1716 he was advanced some £1,800 for supplying clothing to the regiment under the command of his son-in-law Goring (now a baronet). Moreover, about two weeks before his death on 14 Mar. 1718, Mathews appeared before the Board of Trade and Plantations as one of the petitioners for a charter ‘for carrying on and improving the fishery’. His will did not suggest great wealth, but his prominence as a trader was indicated by the prestigious match which he had secured for his younger daughter Frances, whose portion of £6,000 enabled her to marry into the wealthy mercantile family of Vandeput. His widow’s will revealed much greater evidence of prosperity, while also betraying a close attachment to Southwark by a bequest of £5 p.a. to the poor of the parish of St. Saviour’s.4
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. J. Aubrey, Surr. v. 207; IGI, London; M. Concanen and A. Morgan, Hist. St. Saviour’s, Southwark, 124–5; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxxi), 292; Boyer, Pol. State, xxv. 356; PCC 167 Auber; Lambeth Bor. Arch. Minet Lib. Merry New Year’s Gift .
- 2. Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 486; Cal. Treas. Bks. xvii. 126; Add. 38871; Egerton 3359.
- 3. Surr. Poll of 1710; Boyer, i. 264; Case of Southwark Election ; Merry New Year’s Gift .
- 4. London Gazette, 21–24 June 1712, 30 June–4 July 1713; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1714–19, p. 260; Jnl. Commrs. of Trade and Plantations, 1715–18, p. 344; PCC 64 Tenison; PCC 167 Auber.