TURGIS, Thomas (1623-1704), of St. Dionis Backhouse, London and Lower Gatton, Surr.
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Family and Education
bap. 7 Oct. 1623, 1st surv. s. of Thomas Turgis, Grocer, of London, by 1st w. Ebbot, da. of Thomas Urry of Gatcombe, I.o.W. m. by 1655, Mary (d. 1724), da. of William Beake, Merchant Taylor, of London, 3s. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1651.
Alderman, London 1661; commr. Southwark fire ct. 1677.1
An extremely wealthy merchant whose parliamentary durability was founded on his acquisition of the manor of Lower Gatton in 1654, Turgis displayed a closer interest in the City than in the business of Westminster. His family hailed from Sussex, where his grandfather had served as mayor of Chichester in 1584–5, and his father’s commercial success enabled him to become ‘one of the richest commoners in England’. The first of his 13 electoral victories came in 1659 when, at the first opportunity of contesting Gatton, he fought and won a contest. Such was the strength of his interest there that on only one other occasion, in 1660, was he forced to go to the poll to retain his seat. During the Parliaments of Charles II he established himself as a firm, if inactive, Whig, most notably over the question of Exclusion, but on the eve of the Revolution political adversaries still acknowledged that there was little prospect of dislodging him from his Gatton stronghold. Aged 66 and the veteran of eight Parliaments at the outset of the Parliament of 1690, he chose to make little impact on its debates. Although Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) bracketed him with the Whigs at the start of the session, Turgis’ political outlook was somewhat equivocal. In April 1691 Robert Harley* identified him as a Country supporter, but two years later Samuel Grascome classed him with the Court. This swing, parallel with that of other notable Whig merchants, was confirmed in the succeeding Parliament by a forecast for the vote of 31 Jan. 1696 over the proposed council of trade, and by his readiness in signing the Association on 27 Feb.
The election for the 1698 Parliament revealed that, despite advancing years, his control over one of the borough’s seats was still complete. In the run-up to the election, Nicholas Carew of Beddington, an ambitious Surrey Whig whose father (Sir Nicholas†) had sat for Gatton between 1664 and 1681, made overtures to Turgis for his seat, and, as he later claimed, received ‘repeated promises’ from Turgis that he should have it. However, Turgis joined with the other major local landholder, Lord Haversham (Sir John Thompson, 1st Bt.*), to thwart Carew’s hopes. In the subsequent Parliament Turgis made a significant return to the Country opposition over the question of the standing army, having been forecast in August 1698 as a supporter of disbandment and cited as an opponent of the Court at the outset of the first session. The rest of his parliamentary career continued in this volatile manner, for his allegiance was described as doubtful in early 1700 and the last assessment of his politics, by Robert Harley in December 1701, classed him as a Tory.2
Turgis’ decision to retire from Westminster at the accession of Anne was no doubt caused by his advancing years, but the victory of his successor at Gatton, Thomas Onslow*, was clearly engineered by him. Onslow was a distant relation, the grandson of Turgis’ half-sister Elizabeth, and, as Nicholas Carew had found four years before, could not hope to take the seat at Gatton without Turgis’ consent. So close were the ties between Turgis and the Onslows that Thomas’ father, Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, was reported to have expected a windfall on news of Turgis’ death in June 1704. However, ‘old Turgis the miser’, whose wealth was estimated at over £100,000, did not leave him anything in his will. With no direct heir, he ensured that his fortune remained in mercantile hands by leaving the bulk of his wealth to the descendants of his grandfather’s first marriage. Most of his Surrey properties, including the manor of Lower Gatton, were bequeathed to the offspring of George Newland*, a London scrivener, who subsequently sat as MP for Gatton until his son William* came of age. Turgis was buried at St. Dionis Backhouse in London, the church in which he had been baptized over 80 years before, and, belying his parsimonious reputation, left sizable benefactions to three London hospitals.3
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Perry Gauci / Richard Harrison
- 1. IGI, London; Vis. London (Harl. Soc. xcii), 139–40; Manning and Bray, Surr. iii. 368; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 165.
- 2. Hay, Chichester, 569; Manning and Bray, ii. 231; Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 1593, Nicholas Carew to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 9 Aug. 1698.
- 3. Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 434; Add. 70076, Dyer’s newsletter 20 June 1704; PCC 79 Gee.