FISHER, Brice (d.1767), of South Hill, Berks. and Follifoot, Yorks.
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Family and Education
Yst. s. of Walter Fisher, clothier, of Colham Mill, nr. Castle Combe, Wilts., by his w. Mary. m. June 1732 Anne de la Chambre, 1s.
Director, South Sea Co. to 1754, Sun Fire Office 1734- d.
A glimpse of Fisher’s background is obtained from the monument which, well pleased with himself, he put up in 1764 in Castle Combe church, to the memory of his ‘valuable and respectable parents’ who ‘left behind them six sons and four daughters, all decently formed for the world by their industrious care and tenderness’. At his marriage he is described as ‘Blackwell Hall factor’, i.e. wholesale clothier; and he was in partnership first with one of his brothers, and afterwards with his nephew Nicholas Pearse, to whom he handed over the business in the early 60s. A friend of Lord Granby, Fox, and John Calcraft, he held army contracts for clothing; and was one of the packers in ordinary to H.M.’s great wardrobe. He also supplied cloth in a big way to the East India Company—but on 1 Nov. 1754 John Yorke wrote to his brother Lord Royston:
The ministers have had a meeting with the directors [of the East India Co.]; who, it seems, have lately discovered a very gross fraud in their trade, committed by the person who supplies the Company with English cloth, whose name is Brice Fisher, a Member of our honourable House, and a drinking companion of Lord Lincoln’s. The fraud upon the Company is supposed to amount to a very large sum, and the injury to our trade in those parts ... may be as fatal as anything we have to fear from French intrigues. Yet, it is said, that a party among the directors were against prosecuting this man; but melior pars was also major in this instance. The knavery is supposed to lie in ... over-straining the cloth; which spoils the quality and substance of the manufacture, while it enables the person, who is guilty of it, to cheat in the quantity.1
The case opens in the East India court book2 on 18 Sept. 1754 with a report by the inspector of cloth; Fisher was pressed to disclose the names of the makers, which he finally did; and when the matter came up for final decision, 28 Feb. 1755, the small clothiers were duly punished: no cloth made by them was to be offered in future for sale to the Company; but on the resolution declaring Fisher guilty ‘of a great neglect’ the votes were equal, and it was withdrawn. Still, henceforth Fisher disappears from the court books of the Company in which he previously figured as recipient of large sums in payment of cloth; his closest associates, Nicholas Linwood and Sir William Baker, drop out of the directorate; and he himself out of that of the South Sea Company. But Newcastle averred that ‘there was not the least foundation in justice for any run upon Mr. Fisher’,3 and continued to favour him.
A share for him in the Minorca-Gibraltar contracts caused Newcastle unpleasantness with other merchant Members who thought they had a better right to them. Peter Burrell sen. died 16 Apr. 1756; ‘at the earnest request of my Lord Lincoln’ wrote Newcastle,4 ‘(and it is not a great favour considering how he stands related to me) ... Brice Fisher succeeds to Mr. Burrell’; but Peter Burrell jun. protested: ‘What great merits this gentleman may have I cannot say, that so many emoluments should be heaped on him, for I am informed he has already the clothing of the army.’5 Next, Minorca was lost, and four regiments were added to the garrison at Gibraltar. Newcastle now wanted Fisher and Bristow, the other Minorca contractor, to be given the victualling contracts for these regiments. But the Gibraltar contractors, the two Fonnereaus, Merrick Burrell, and Thomas Walpole, all of them M.P.s, protested. An accommodation was finally reached; Fisher and Bristow had, moreover, the remittance of money for the garrison.6 But Fisher no longer held any of these contracts when the purge of Newcastle’s friends occurred in 1762. Perhaps his last deal with Government was a share of £40,000 in the loan ‘for the service of the year 1762’.7
Fisher’s first constituency, Malmesbury, lay in the neighbourhood of his native Castle Combe; he owed his seat to Newcastle’s recommendation to Henry Fox, who at that time ran the borough on the King’s money, and to whom Fisher was no doubt an agreeable candidate. When differences arose between Newcastle and Fox, Fisher, a close friend of Newcastle’s nephew and heir, Lord Lincoln, adhered to Newcastle. ‘Fisher’, wrote Calcraft on 7 Apr. 1757, ‘... did not when tried stick to us ... I am too much connected with politics not to feel angry when deserted.’ By December 1760 Fox was running Malmesbury on his own account, and Fisher could not expect re-election. He now begins to appear in Newcastle’s lists of unplaced candidates: is thought of for Fonnereau’s borough of Aldeburgh or for Fane’s Lyme Regis. Lastly, in an undated list of ‘persons who have applied to be brought into Parliament’ in Newcastle’s own hand: ‘Mr. Brice Fisher turned out of Parliament by Mr. Fox—recommended by Lord Lincoln—Aldborough or Boroughbridge [Newcastle’s own pocket boroughs].’ He was finally returned for Boroughbridge. ‘Depend upon it, my dearest Lord’, wrote Lincoln to Newcastle on 7 Apr. 1761, ‘I feel as I ought, this last obligation I owe you in choosing Fisher.’ Lincoln and Fisher became co-responsible with Newcastle for the £20,000 which he borrowed from Fisher’s friend, Governor Watts, for the general election of 1761.8
Fisher was now in the fullest sense Newcastle’s Member; voted against the peace preliminaries in December 1762; joined Wildman’s Club; and was at Newcastle’s beck and call: ‘I am very much out of order’, he wrote on 3 Feb. 1764, ‘and by no means equal to the fatigue of the House, I will however at your Grace’s desire go down there today, and see Sir William Baker.’ He voted with Opposition over Wilkes and general warrants, 15 Nov. 1763, and 14 and 18 Feb. 1764; was listed by Newcastle among his ‘sure friends ... to be sent to upon any occasion’; and by Rockingham as ‘pro’ in July 1765. But he adhered to Lincoln when the break occurred between him and Newcastle; disappears from the lists of Newcastle’s friends; and in March 1767 was classed by Newcastle as ‘Government’. There is no record of his having spoken in the House.9
The connexion with Lincoln seems to have been the pivot of Fisher’s social and political life. A drinking companion of his, and a ‘racing associate’ of Granby’s,10 with a fine sense for social strategy, Fisher bought in 1751 the estate of South Hill, near Ascot; and in the names of two of his racehorses he seems to have unconsciously epitomized his thoughts on his incursion into titled society—one was called ‘Why Not’, and the other ‘Small Hopes’.11 From 1758 till 1764 there was a break in his racing activities, and in 1758 he sold South Hill to Governor Watts for £7,730.12 He moved to Follifoot in Yorkshire where he continued to entertain—‘my example even keeps him sober’ wrote Lincoln to Newcastle from Follifoot, 15 June 1762. ‘I like him as a companion’, wrote Calcraft even after politics had come between them.13 He was also a friend of Wilkes and of John Hall Stevenson, of ‘Crazy Castle’ fame.14
After Fisher’s retirement from active business he still continued his interest in the Sun Fire Office, and moved to Craig’s Court which was their headquarters; and together with Sir William Baker and Nicholas Linwood held extensive property in South Carolina and in Georgia.15
Fisher died 28 May 1767. In his will he enjoined that he should be ‘buried at night in the church of such parish where I shall happen to die in the most private and least expensive manner’.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Add. 17493, ff. 27, 56, 144; 17494, f. 131; 35374, ff. 107-8.
- 2. India Office Lib.
- 3. Add. 32868, ff. 170-1.
- 4. Ibid.
- 5. Add. 32864, ff. 298-9.
- 6. See Namier, ‘Brice Fisher, M.P.’, EHR, Oct. 1927.
- 7. Add. 33040, ff. 290-1.
- 8. Add. 17493, f. 56; 32999, ff. 156, 202, 218; 33067, f. 282.
- 9. Add. 32957, f. 109; 32999, ff. 190-1.
- 10. W. E. Manners, John Manners, Mq. of Granby, 35.
- 11. See R. Heber’s Historical List of Horse Matches Run for 1753; also for 1755, ’58, ’64, ’66 and ’67; also J. Pond’s Sporting Calendar for 1753.
- 12. Private Act 14 Geo. III, c. 18.
- 13. Add. 32939, f. 362; 17493, f. 56.
- 14. Namier, ‘Brice Fisher’.
- 15. H. A. M. Smith, ‘The Baronies of S. Carolina’, S. Carolina Hist. and Gen. Mag. 1913, p. 63; also Private Act, 8 Geo. III, c. 36, for their sale.