HUNTER, Thomas Orby (c.1716-69), of Crowland, Lincs. and Waverley Abbey, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. c.1716, o.s. of Maj.-Gen. Robert Hunter, gov. of New York 1710-19 and of Jamaica 1729-34, by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Sir Thomas Orby, 1st Bt., of Crowland, wid, of Lord John Hay. m. 4 Apr. 1749, Jacomina Caroline, da. of Hon. William Bellenden, gd.-da. of John, 2nd Lord Bellenden [S], 4s. 3da. suc. to Crowland Abbey and other estates of his uncle Sir Charles Orby, 3rd Bt., Feb. 1724; and fa. 31 Mar. 1734.
Dep.-paymaster of the forces in Flanders 1742-8; commissary to treat with France 1748; ld. of Admiralty Nov. 1756-Apr. 1757, July 1757-Apr. 1763; superintendent of supplies to the allied armies in Germany Dec. 1758-Apr. 1760; ld. of Treasury Apr. 1763-July 1765.
Hunter was connected politically with Pitt, who in 1746 became his chief at the pay office. On 13 Nov. 1755 he followed Pitt in voting against the Address. When the Pitt-Devonshire Administration was being formed in October 1756, H. B. Legge told Sir Robert Wilmot ‘that something must be done for two or three of his friends’, and mentioned Hunter and Samuel Martin.1 Hunter was appointed a lord of the Admiralty, which office he retained under the Pitt-Newcastle Administration.
He was really a man of business, and not an effective parliamentarian (he rarely spoke in the House). In December 1758 he undertook the exacting and important post of superintendent of supplies to the armies in Germany, which vacated his seat in Parliament (it was held for him by his brother-in-law, George Gray). Pressed by Newcastle to keep down expenses and by Pitt to ensure that the army never went short, he seems to have done a difficult job admirably—an honest man amongst the shady crew of commissaries. He wrote to Newcastle on 31 Jan. 1759:2
I do with great truth assure your Grace that though I rise every morning at six o’clock and give a constant and close attention to my business till midnight, I find the time too short to despatch what is already under my care.
‘He is a very sensible, able man, and does his duty very well’, wrote Newcastle to Granby on 14 Aug. 1759;3 and Peter Taylor told James Harris in 1763 ‘that Mr. Hunter had acted honourably and kept down the expenses’.4When on 21 Mar. 1759 Hunter applied to Newcastle for a pension for his mother-in-law (recently left a widow), he pleaded ‘the distress I was obliged to leave my family in to obey your Grace’s commands’.5 Towards the end of the year his health deteriorated, and he asked leave to come home at the close of the campaign. But to Harris in May 1763 he gave a different reason for relinquishing his employment:6
Mr. Hunter in talking over the German war said as usual that Pitt opened the flood-gates of expense, [and] gave Prince Ferdinand powers to call for what men and money he pleased; that Pitt ... did this to make his court to the old King, contrary to the sentiments and endeavours of the Duke of Newcastle ...; that he (Hunter), who was sent over to regulate expenses and who did it at first with some success, finding all his endeavours after the battle of Minden vain, determined from that time to resign.
In Bute’s list of December 1761 Hunter was classed as his follower. In December 1762 Henry Fox offered him the place of receiver-general of the customs, said to be worth £2,500 per annum, but incompatible with a seat in Parliament. To Bute, Fox wrote on 18 Dec.:7
Mr. Hunter has just left me. He has no thought of quitting Parliament, and you can not have a worthier friend than he is in it. He is much obliged by the offer though he declines it. He wishes to be surveyor of the woods, and I wish you could contrive it for him.
This proved impracticable, but when the Grenville Administration was formed Hunter was promoted to the Treasury Board.
In July 1765 he followed Grenville into opposition; voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766; and against the Chatham Administration on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, and the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768. At the general election of 1768 he stood at Winchelsea with Lord Thomond on the Egremont interest, and was returned after a contest. He remained a follower of Grenville to the end, but there is no record of his having voted in the Parliament of 1768. He died 20 Oct. 1769.