VERNON, Sir Thomas (1631-1711), of St. Stephen Coleman Street, London, and Sudbury, Derbys.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
bap. 10 Dec. 1631, 2nd s. of Henry Vernon of Farnham, Surr. by Joan, da. of John Winter of Preshaw, Corhampton, Hants; bro. of Sir George Vernon†. m. 13 Dec. 1660, Ann (d. 1702), da. of Henry Weston† of Ockham, Surr. and sis. of John Weston*, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 8da. Kntd. 8 Mar. 1685.1
Member, Levant Co. 1657, asst. 1663–70, 1684–5, 1686–91, 1693, 1697–8, husband 1671–83; asst. R. African Co. 1672–4, 1677–9, 1682–4; member, Eastland Co. 1687.
Freeman, Haberdashers’ Co. 1661, master 1685; common councilman, London 1676–80, 1682–3, 1691–3, 1696, auditor 1683–4.
Commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1695.2
Although the son of a Surrey gentleman, Vernon established himself as one of the leading Turkey traders in the City, earning the respect of such notables as the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†), who described him as ‘an eminent merchant of London’. However, Vernon did not use his commercial interest to obtain a place in the court of aldermen, resting content with election to the common council for the ward of St. Stephen Coleman Street, his residence from at least 1674. Amid the struggle over the London charter he was described by one observer in 1682 as a ‘very good’ Tory, and his adversaries would later accuse him of having made ‘great heats’ to procure its surrender. His loyalty earned him a knighthood in March 1685, but he appears to have quickly accepted the Revolution. In March 1690 Sir Peter Rich† recommended him to Sir Stephen Fox* as a possible creditor for a government loan, and only two months later the Treasury asked Sir William Prichard* to intercede with Vernon to the same end. Vernon’s candidacy at the London election of 1690 evidently owed much to his financial stature, and he duly benefited from the sweeping victory gained by the ‘Church party’ over its rivals.3
At the outset of the new Parliament Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) identified Vernon as a Tory and possible supporter of the Court. He gained rapid prominence in connexion with the bill to restore the London charter, moving on 22 Apr. 1690 that the committee on that bill be instructed to confirm the status of London freemen; and two days later he sought to explain the common council’s reticence to petition the House over the issue. On the latter occasion he drew a distinction between London’s parliamentary and ward electorates, describing the former as ‘far the better part of the City’. In the next session he was actively concerned with naval affairs, gaining appointment to the drafting committee for a bill to employ foreign mariners, and being named as one of the Members to prepare an address to the King for the recruitment of seamen. In addition, on 26 Nov. 1690, he was appointed to the drafting committee of a bill to regulate the African trade, a personal interest of long standing. At this particular time Vernon was noted by Lord Carmarthen as a probable ally, but Robert Harley* was less certain of Vernon’s allegiance in April 1691 when distinguishing between Court and Country Members, and described him as doubtful.4
Only a week before the start of the next session Vernon attended the committee of the interlopers trading to the East Indies, and although maintaining an investment in that trade, he did not subsequently play a prominent role in parliamentary discussion of its affairs. Nevertheless, in the third session he was active in connexion with a variety of issues. On 16 Dec. 1691 he unsuccessfully moved that the inns of court be liable for the land tax, and a month later spoke in support of the engrossment of a bill to suppress hawkers and pedlars. He was predictably conspicuous with regard to the bill to relieve the London orphans, rising on 29 Jan. 1692 to assure the House of the City corporation’s readiness to repay the orphans. As a member of the civic committee to tackle the problem, he had been closely associated with the issue for some time, and the month before had been put forward by the orphans as one of the commissioners for enforcing the bill. His concern for the Levant trade was demonstrated on 19 Feb., when he warned that Turkey traders would need time to respond to the requirements of the bill to prevent correspondence with enemy powers, informing the House that they relied on French vessels to convey goods to Italy. Before the session was over, his identification with the Church party was confirmed when he acted as a teller on 22 Feb. to block a bill to allow Quakers to use a solemn affirmation in the Exchequer and Chancery courts.5
Vernon’s concern for the state of commerce was apparent at the start of the fourth session, when he moved on 16 Nov. 1692 for the referral to committee of a merchant petition complaining of heavy shipping losses. He was duly appointed to serve on this committee, and the same day was chosen as one of the Members to examine the papers of the transport commissioners, one of several trade-related inquiries to secure his attention. He then concentrated his efforts on a bill for the import of Italian thrown silk carried overland, a measure perceived as a direct threat to the Levant Company. On 19 Nov. he opposed the bill’s second reading on the grounds that it would ‘tend very much to the destruction of the woollen manufacture’, and on 7 Dec., during the debate preceding the bill’s committal, warned that it would ‘ruin your Turkey trade’. He also spoke out against the measure on 11 Jan. 1693, before the bill failed at its engrossment stage. Ever ready to represent other City interests, he had presented a petition from the London corporation on 6 Dec. 1692 against the bill concerning the capital’s convex lights. Significantly, the referral of the bill and the petition to the second-reading committee were seen as a victory for ‘the Whig interest’, an observation which suggests Vernon’s readiness to waive his party principles in the cause of his constituents. He presented another petition from the corporation on 27 Feb. 1693, on this occasion for its counsel to be heard concerning the London orphans bill. Earlier, on 26 Jan., he had shown support for the linen industry when he acted as teller against a higher duty being levied on imported flax, and on 4 Feb. as a teller to block a postponement of the committee of ways and means. On 6 Mar. he opposed a clause within the bill to encourage privateers, arguing that any licence to permit them to export goods would be ‘absolutely destructive’ to the Turkey and other chartered companies.6
Vernon contributed little to Commons business in the 1693–4 session, although he was required on the drafting committee for a bill to encourage the clothing trade. However, in the final session of the 1690 Parliament his activity increased dramatically. Of greatest personal interest were two bills of direct metropolitan significance: one to confirm the grant of a part of the churchyard of St. Martin Vintry, London, and the other to regulate the price of coal. He also acted as a teller on 26 Mar. 1695 in support of the passage of a bill to ratify a lease of Lancashire lands by the Earl of Derby, such activity reflecting his conviction that Parliament ranked among ‘the great and zealous protectors of property’. In the remainder of this session he told on two other occasions: on 19 Apr. in support of a motion to hear the report of the committee of the whole on a supply bill; and on 30 Apr. against the reading of a bill to reverse the attainder of Jacob Leisler, the colonial rebel executed for seizing control of New York after the Revolution. At this time he was listed by the Treasury secretary Henry Guy* as a probable supporter.
Despite his prominence in commercial and local matters, Vernon performed poorly at the London contest of October 1695, finishing seventh in the poll as the City Whigs atoned for their defeat at the preceding general election. He did not fight another electoral campaign, and also withdrew from the London common council soon afterwards. By January 1703 he had settled in Sudbury, Derbyshire, the domicile of his son-in-law George Vernon I*. Although still keen to discuss with Sir William Trumbull* the affairs of the Levant Company, Vernon confessed to him that ‘my age with some indispositions . . . inclined me sometime past to retire from business’. However, mercantile success had ensured that three of his sons were able to establish themselves as Turkey traders, including his eldest son, Henry, whose death in 1691 had caused his father ‘inexpressible affliction’. Vernon’s own demise occurred on 10 Feb. 1711, and the bulk of his estate, which included a lease of the rectory of Farnham, Surrey, passed to his eldest surviving son, Thomas*, who had recently gained a seat in Parliament for Whitchurch. Another of his sons, Sir Charles†, later became a Member for Chipping Wycombe and Ripon, while the family’s status was further enhanced by his daughters’ marriages to Sir James Rushout, 2nd Bt.*, and Sir Henry Furnese*.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. IGI, Surr., London; Manning and Bray, Surr. iii. 159–60; Brooke and Hallen, Reg. of St. Mary Woolnoth and St. Mary Woolchurch Haw, 364.
- 2. Info. from Prof. R. R. Walcott and Prof. H. G. Horwitz; K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 390; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 167; Guildhall Lib. ms 15857/2, p. 95; I. Archer, Hist. Haberdashers’ Co. 242; Beaven, Aldermen, i. 291; Add. 10120, ff. 232–6.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1690–1, p. 397; SP29/418/199; HMC Lords, iii. 50; Dorset RO, Fox-Strangways mss D124, box 235, bdle. 4, Rich to Fox, 17 Mar. 1690; Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 682; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 19.
- 4. Grey, x. 60, 63.
- 5. Bodl. Rawl. C.449; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 525; PCC 39 Young; Luttrell Debates, 84, 133, 163, 195, 198; HMC Lords, 298, 300.
- 6. Luttrell Debates, 231, 296, 299–300, 361, 388, 401, 452, 464.
- 7. BL, Trumbull Add. mss 85, Vernon to Trumbull, 11 Jan. 1703; Seymour, Survey of London, i. 567; Woodhead, 167; PCC 39 Young.