HENNIKER, John (1724-1803), of Stratford House, West Ham, and Newton Hall, Dunmow, Essex

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1761 - 1768
1774 - 1784

Family and Education

b. 15 June 1724, 1st s. of John Henniker of London, freeman of Rochester and Russia merchant, by Hannah, da. of John Swanson, London merchant.  m. 24 Feb. 1747, Anne, da. and coh. of John Major, 3s. 1da.  suc. fa. 1749; and fa.-in-law by sp. rem. as 2nd Bt. 16 Feb. 1781;  cr. Baron Henniker [I] 31 July 1800.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Essex 1757-8; director, London Assurance Co. 1758.


Until about 1770 Henniker’s City address is given as Janeway’s coffee house; after that, Bank coffee house, Bank Street; and next Threadneedle Street. He continued the business of his father, who had been ‘the greatest importer ... of masts from Norway, Riga and Petersburg for his Majesty’s navy’;1 was a big shipbuilder on the Medway;2 had considerable shipping interests; and engaged in the Greenland white fishery.

In February 1754 Henniker was invited to stand at Rochester,3 but declined. On 6 Dec. 1760 he wrote to Newcastle:4

Encouraged by your Grace’s obliging promise of assistance in the next Parliament (after I had quitted Rochester at the desire of Mr. Pelham) I beg leave to offer my best services wherever your Grace may be pleased to direct—with probability of success. In Rochester I have a native interest and have been desired by some to offer myself a candidate. I will decline that without your Grace’s full leave and permission.

Should Newcastle be already engaged everywhere, Henniker asked to be allowed to seek a seat in the best manner he could. This he did at Sudbury; and the following note appears against his name in Bute’s parliamentary list of December 1761:

Has a natural interest in the town of Rochester and very often has been indulged with building a man of war there. Supported in his election by a very considerable sum of money and the Duke of Newcastle, £5,500.

Fox, trying to secure a majority for the peace preliminaries, wrote to Sandwich on 12 Nov.: ‘Pray, my Lord, send Mr. Major, Mr. Henniker, Mr. Stephenson, and, if you can, Lord Clive, to me next Tuesday’ (16 Nov.).5 The grouping suggests an East India House background to Sandwich’s connexion with Major and Henniker. Newcastle, in his list of 13 Nov., still classed the two as his friends; but soon became aware of what was brewing—in his ‘Memorandums’ of 23 Nov. he linked their names with Sandwich’s. However, on 1 Dec. they voted with the Opposition for postponing consideration of the preliminaries, and were not in Fox’s list of Members secured in their favour. In the end both voted for them.6 By 17 Dec. Newcastle had written off both.7

They now claimed their reward. On 7 Jan. 1763 Henniker wrote to Jenkinson asking for allotments in the loan for 1763: £50,000 for himself, and £30,000 for Major; and on 8 Jan. to Bute: he heard ‘that Mr. Walpole was to quit the share of the contract he has with Mr. Fonnereau’ (at Gibraltar), and asked to succeed him.8 Although unsuccessful in this particular application, they obtained a contract for the victualling of troops in West Florida, and another for remitting money thither;9 and grants of land in Nova Scotia, 20,000 acres each; last but not least, a baronetcy for Major with special remainder to Henniker—the warrant for it was signed on 5 July 1765,10 five days before the Grenville Administration, to which the two had adhered, was dismissed from office. In July 1765 Rockingham classed Henniker ‘contra’; but he did not vote against the repeal of the Stamp Act; and in November 1766 was listed by Rockingham as ‘Swiss’ (prepared to support every Administration); by Townshend in January 1767 and by Newcastle on 2 Mar. as ‘doubtful’. How he voted over the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, is uncertain—one list places him on the Government side, another with the Opposition. After July 1765 the line taken by him no longer coincides with that of Major as much as it did before, but on one occasion they both voted with the Opposition: 9 Mar. 1767, over the printing of the papers of the East India Company.11

In 1768 Henniker did not stand again for Sudbury, but about a fortnight before the election declared his candidature for Maldon, a difficult and expensive borough. A stranger to it, he was guided by Bamber Gascoyne and John Strutt, who were inveterate opponents of John Huske. When defeated Henniker was unwilling to petition—‘He is a poor creature’, wrote Gascoyne to Strutt, ‘and fit for nothing but the use we have made of him, and I wish we may hold him for another time.’12 But Henniker was through with Maldon: the London voters alone cost him £800, ‘and there are not fifty in number’.13

In 1774 he was returned as Government candidate for Dover, yet another difficult and expensive borough. During the war, 1776-82, he held considerable victualling contracts for troops in America.14 Robinson wrote in his electoral survey of July 1780: ‘Mr. Henniker would stand again and can well afford his share of an hearty contest, both from his fortune and the honey he eats from Government without much labour.’ The return was unopposed; and Henniker’s name again appears regularly in the lists on the Government side to the very end of the North Administration. But while his attendance was steady, only two speeches of his are recorded during his 17 years in the House, and both were on naval matters.15 Henniker stuck to North even after his fall: voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries; adhered to the Coalition; voted for Fox’s East India bill; and against Pitt. He did not stand again in 1784. When his son entered the House in 1785 it was as a supporter of Pitt; and Henniker was one of the 16 Irish peers created on 31 July 1800.

Henniker had inherited a substantial fortune from his father, which he increased himself. When asking George Grenville for the baronetcy for his father-in-law with remainder to himself, he claimed to hold unencumbered landed estates worth near £3,000 p.a.; and those of John Major, to which his wife was co-heir and which were ultimately entailed on his son, he put at about £5,000 p.a.16

He died 18 Apr. 1803.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. John, 2nd Baron Henniker, Some Account Fams. of Major Henniker, 3.
  • 2. Add. 38340, f. 94.
  • 3. London Evening Post, 9-12, 12-15 Feb.
  • 4. Add. 32915, f. 330.
  • 5. Sandwich mss.
  • 6. Jas. Marriott to Bute 5 Feb. 1763, Bute mss; Newcastle’s ‘Mems’ of 11 Dec., Add. 33000, f. 278.
  • 7. Add. 32945, ff. 301-2.
  • 8. Add. 5726 D. ff. 118-19.
  • 9. T29/35/394; T54/39/300-6.
  • 10. Cal. Home Office Pprs. 1760-5, p. 656.
  • 11. Add. 32980, f. 248.
  • 12. Strutt mss.
  • 13. Gascoyne to Strutt, 21 Dec. 1773, ibid.
  • 14. T54/42/176-8, 470-5; T54/43/134, 306, 435.
  • 15. 21 Apr. 1766, Newdigate’s ‘Debates’; 30 Apr. 1776, Almon, iii. 501.
  • 16. Henniker to Grenville, 2 May, 2 July 1765, Grenville mss (JM).