JONES, Robert (d.1774), of Clement's Lane, Lombard St., London, and Babraham, Cambs.
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Family and Education
Director, E.I. Co. 1754-8, 1765-9.
G.F. Grand, apprenticed c.1765 to Jones, states that he started as ‘captain of a Lisbon trader’.1 In August 1743 Jones entered into partnership at Gibraltar with Thomas Tierney, father of George Tierney.2 In a list of Members 1754-53 he is described as ‘wine merchant intimate with Captain Montagu’: who may be Lord Sandwich’s brother William, M.P. for Huntingdonshire 1745-7, or possibly John Montagu, of the Manchester branch, M.P. for Huntingdon 1748-54; both were naval captains. The origin of the connexion with Sandwich, the decisive factor in Jones’s public career, is unascertained. He sat in Parliament on Sandwich’s interest, and acted as his man of business both in national politics and in East India House.
Sandwich, having taken office, reported to Newcastle, 24 Dec. 1755, that Jones had ‘attended and voted in every question this sessions in support of the measures of the Government’; and on 23 June 1758, when forwarding Jones’s application to be employed in remittances to America:
If he had the honour of being more known to your Grace, you would find him a very honest, intelligent, and useful friend, in which light his own inclination, and my advice makes him wish to be considered.
It was probably as a favour to Jones that in February 1759 his brother John was appointed receiver of the land tax for Berkshire.4
When in April 1761 Sandwich tried to detach Clive from Pitt,5 he used Jones as intermediary—‘I can entirely depend on Jones’s discretion and address’, he wrote to Newcastle, 24 Apr. 1761.6 In July 1762 Jones appears as employed in remittances to Portugal.7 When in 1763 merchant Members faithful to Newcastle were being deprived of their contracts, Jones, in partnership with Peregrine Cust, obtained a share in remittances to Gibraltar; also to Goree.8 After the return of the Bedfords to office, he held a victualling contract for troops in Nova Scotia, 1770 till his death.9 At times he dealt heavily in Government loans—over £100,000 was entered in his jobbing account at the Bank, 1760-3.10 He was one of the financiers consulted when Grenville was at the Treasury.11
Jones went into opposition with Sandwich; voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766; and against the Chatham Administration over the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. On 9 Mar. 1767, during the debates on the affairs of the East India Company, he ‘presented a petition to the House from the court of directors praying that the papers called for by the House might not be printed’:12 his only recorded intervention in debate during 20 years in the House. His attendance in divisions was fairly regular.
When in September 1768 Sandwich showed dissatisfaction at his ‘subordinate situation’ as postmaster general, Jones discussed the matter with Grafton’s secretary to the Treasury, Thomas Bradshaw: a remarkable example of top negotiations through political henchmen. On 12 Sept. Jones reported to Sandwich that Bradshaw had called on him, thanked him for his assistance over East India affairs,
and asked if I could point anything that his Grace could oblige me in. This gave me an opportunity to exercise the authority your Lordship gave me at Epsom. I told him I had but one wish, and that was to see my best friend happy, pointing at your Lordship’s picture. He desired me in confidence to explain. I told him I could not presume to say much on so delicate a subject, but my opinion was your Lordship would be happy to be in a more active situation to assist his Grace in administration. He desired my private thoughts on what would be most agreeable to your Lordship, which led me to the Admiralty. We had a long conversation, in which Lord Hinchingbrooke was not forgot. He appeared to be much in earnest, and assured me that he could communicate the whole to the Duke, with his best wishes. He told me in confidence that Lord Shelburne would soon be out of office.13
On the 14th Sandwich wrote to Rigby, who showed the letter to Jones when on the 23rd they dined with the notorious Powell of the pay office.14 ‘The subject alarms him’, wrote Jones to Sandwich on the 26th, ‘and believe carries him and Lord Weymouth to Euston.’ Meantime Jones told Bradshaw’s brother-in-law, Anthony Chamier, who desired employment in the office of the secretary of state, ‘how favourably your Lordship speaks of him and that he is the first person to be provided for when your Lordship has it in your power’. Two days later Bradshaw assured Jones of Grafton’s ‘good disposition’ towards Sandwich, but ‘the office of secretary of state was out of the question’, and it was difficult to remove Hawke from the Admiralty. And here the matter rested for some time.
The most important sphere of Jones’s activities was India House. Sandwich seems first to have concerned himself seriously in East India affairs when the Administration of which he was a member supported Clive against Sulivan in the election of directors of 1764. Jones, who had earlier been a director, but lost his seat when Sulivan rose to power, now re-entered East India politics as Sandwich’s agent.15 In 1765 he was again elected a director and was noted as one ‘who would certainly follow Lord Sandwich on all occasions’,16 and until 1768 was the most prominent of the three directors owing him allegiance (the others being John Stephenson and George Wombwell). In 1769, though he was not eligible for election since he had served four consecutive years, he organized the campaign for the election of directors for his patron. His role had won him some unpopularity in the Company, but it is not clear why he withdrew from its affairs at this time. In 1773 the ministry tried to press him on the Company17 but without success, and his death prevented any further efforts.
In July 1770 Jones bought Babraham for £27,500,18 and ‘pulled down the old house which was built in the Italian style by Sir Horatio Pallavicini [Palavicino]’.19 At his death, 17 Feb. 1774, the estate, with his improvements, was valued at £37,000, and the total of his properties and holdings in the funds at £88,000.20 As his daughter had ‘disobliged him in marrying’ J. W. Adeane, he made his grandson Robert Jones Adeane his chief heir.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Narr. Life Gent. long resident in India (1910), p. 2. On this point Grand’s evidence can probably be accepted; but the story of the ‘bargain’ between Jones and Sandwich, p. 11, is sheer nonsense.
- 2. Adeane Pprs. at Babraham.
- 3. Lowther mss.
- 4. Add. 32861, f. 427; 32881, ff. 25, 27; 38334, f. 206.
- 5. Namier, Structure, 286.
- 6. Add. 32922, ff. 181-2.
- 7. T29/34/336.
- 8. Add. 38338, ff. 109-11; T29/35/175; T29/36/212.
- 9. T54/41/89-93.
- 10. Bank of England recs.
- 11. Jenkinson Pprs. 352.
- 12. James West to Newcastle, 9 Mar., Add. 32980, f. 248.
- 13. Sandwich mss.
- 14. Rigby to Sandwich, 24 Sept. 1768, ibid.
- 15. L. S. Sutherland, E.I. Co. in 18th Cent. Politics, 120-5.
- 16. J. Walsh to Clive, 5 Apr. 1765, Clive mss.
- 17. L. Sulivan to W. Hastings, 28 Apr. 1775, Add. 29133, ff. 533-6.
- 18. Memorandum c. 1774 in the Adeane Pprs.
- 19. J. Nichols, Anecs. of Wm. Bowyer, 95-96 n.
- 20. Memorandum cited above.