MARTIN, Samuel (1714-88), of Abingdon Buildings, London

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



1747 - 1768
1768 - 1774

Family and Education

b. 1 Sept. 1714, in Antigua, 1st s. of Samuel Martin of Greencastle, Antigua, Speaker of the assembly 1753-63, by his 1st w. Frances, da. of John Yeamans, attorney-gen. of Antigua. educ. Westminster; Trinity, Camb. 1729; I. Temple 1729, called 1736, bencher 1747.  unm., 1 illegit. s.1  suc. fa. 21 Dec. 1776. His half-bro. Josiah Martin was gov. of N. Carolina 1771-5.

Offices Held

Dep. agent for Antigua 1742-4; agent for Montserrat 1742-9, for Nevis 1744-50; sec. to chancellor of the Exchequer Apr. 1754-Nov. 1755; sec. of the Treasury Nov. 1756-Apr. 1757, Apr. 1758-Apr. 1763, when given reversion of usher of the Exchequer (to which he never succeeded); treasurer to the Princess of Wales Oct. 1757-8 Feb. 1772. Granted, 1 May 1772, pension of £1,200 for life.2


Martin’s great-grandfather was an Ulster royalist who fled to the West Indies. His father, educated in England, owned property in this country, and resided here for stretches of time; and in letters from Antigua refers to Dodington as his old neighbour, and to Richard Glover as his ‘quondam friend’.3 Martin became connected with Leicester House and H. B. Legge. After the Prince’s death, 20 Mar. 1751, Martin, like most of his party, joined the Pelhams, and in 1754 stood at Camelford on the Government interest (with the help of secret service money) against the Duke of Bedford’s candidates. After Pelham’s death Legge, as Newcastle’s chancellor of the Exchequer, made Martin his secretary. Martin’s father, while welcoming the appointment as ‘a step to much greater preferments’,4 had some doubts about the relinquishing of his profession—

because ... that is your staff of independence, which is a blessing you may hold in spite of fortune’s frowns. On the contrary, if you become a mere dependant ... you are exposed to the insults of those in power, to the caprices of party rage, and to the temptations of stooping to measures, perhaps inconsistent with the true interests of the country, or at least inconsistent with your own free judgement.

After Legge had refused to sign a warrant under the Hessian subsidy treaty, Martin, on 13 Nov. 1755, moved to omit from the Address the indirect approbation of the treaty and the assurances of protection to Hanover;5 both voted against the Address, and were dismissed from office. On the formation of the Devonshire-Pitt Ministry, Legge, pressed to return to the Exchequer, stipulated ‘that something must be done for two or three of his friends’,6 and named Martin, who became joint secretary of the Treasury in that short-lived Administration. He was not re-instated in June 1757; Newcastle preferred James West who had gone out with him, but meant to compensate Martin by clearing for him the paymastership of marines and by making his father collector of customs in Antigua.7 In talking about it to West, Martin was affable and accommodating—he reserved his anger for a written communication to Newcastle: if the holders of these two offices were to be compensated, he wrote on 30 July, £1500 p.a. would have ‘to come out of the purse of the people of Great Britain’.8

Now my Lord ... I have long disapproved of this method of loading the public for the gratification of individuals; which seems to be peculiarly unfit in a time of national distress. And what I have thought wrong in the case of others, I should be self condemned were I to abet and contribute to for the sake of my own private emolument. I do not presume to judge your Grace, who are not to be tried by my principles, and to whom I am beholden for seeking every expedient to serve me. But those principles such as they are, whether sound or whimsical, must govern me.

Newcastle sent a polite reply,9 but was vexed to hear Martin’s letter talked about. Martin protested that he could not be expected to maintain complete silence on the subject; in the new Administration he alone was left unrestored:

Does your Grace then believe that I could converse with any one man, kindly interesting himself in my concerns, and not account to him how I thus seemed the outcast of my connexion, deserted and abandoned by everybody? ... I confess, too, that my part in the business with your Grace having been such as my heart approved, I was not sorry to have opportunities of letting my acquaintance know it, where I might without the appearance of ostentation and conceitedness.

He admitted that the transaction did ‘cast some little blemish’ on Newcastle as willing to dispense with strict propriety and depart from a rigid economy in the management of public money; and he would have had no right to disclose the Duke’s offer had it come ‘from private heartfelt kindness’ to him. But as ‘your Grace thought proper to proscribe me from the secretaryship of the Treasury which must have fallen to my lot if that agreement [of restitution] had universally taken place’, he did not feel bound to silence.10 The pleasure of retaliating seems to have got the better of Martin’s concern for money.

On the death of Nicholas Hardinge in April 1758 he was none the less restored to his post at the Treasury; but Newcastle did not like or trust him—thus to Hardwicke, 16 Aug. 1760: ‘Mr. Martin, who comes out of the Patriot Shop, and of which I see uncomfortable traces every day ...’ While Martin wrote to Bute, 24 Aug. 1758, about ‘the very few cases, where I think the Treasury acts with purity, and where indeed the miserable corruption of the times allows them to do so’.11 At the end of 1759 Martin may have incurred Bute’s displeasure over Legge and the Hampshire election—he was ‘the person through whose hands that negotiation passed’;12 and when in January 1761 the new court insisted on dismissing Legge, it seemed that Martin, too, would suffer: ‘the insisting on the removal of a secretary of the Treasury’, wrote Newcastle to Hardwicke, 19 Jan. 1761, ‘is very extraordinary and not so civil to me’.13 Finally he remained—‘not thinking myself in the slightest measure bound (nor being indeed permitted by him [presumably Legge]) to quit my offices, because Mr. Legge was displaced’.14 He parted from Legge with remarkable ease, and thereafter was one of the men closest to Bute.

As secretary of the Treasury Martin held the key office of the civil service, which did ‘not endure negligence or amusement’. When his father wanted to place one of his younger sons, Byam, in Samuel’s care, he replied, 15 Jan. 1759, that his house in Downing Street was too small, and he was at home in the evening only when ‘the business that obliges me to withdraw from amusement requires that I should be alone and free from interruption, this being the only part of my day which is not liable to continual disturbances’. When again pressed on the subject—

If Byam lived in the house with me [he replied on 22 Nov. 1761] I could not possibly converse with him a quarter of an hour in a week; my time being wholly engrossed by the functions of my employment ... from the moment I have breakfasted to my time of dining, and from my return home after dinner to the instant of my walk upstairs to bed. To say the truth I have been so much wearied with unremitting application, that if I saw strong probability of the war’s continuance (whence a great part of my slavery arises) for two years longer I would endeavour to procure a retreat for myself in some less active, though it were a much less profitable station.15

Martin’s work was administrative rather than political; even his speeches in Parliament were now mainly on finance. Till May 1762 Newcastle looked after patronage and the House of Commons, or employed West on it; and October 1762-April 1763 the House was managed by Fox: Martin is never mentioned in the extensive triangular correspondence Bute-Fox-Shelburne. He may have had to deal with some constituencies; but the story that he was the parliamentary manager derives from the fact that secret service money was drawn by secretaries to the Treasury whoever had the use of it afterwards.

When in the spring of 1762 differences arose between the new court and Newcastle over the German war and its finance, Martin, behind his back, supplied them with information from the Treasury.16 Matters came to a head in May: on the 4th Bute wrote to Martin for ‘a few lights ... to guide me through a labyrinth, that every art is made use of to mislead me in’; he arranged for Martin to talk to James Oswald and Grenville.17 Two days later Newcastle wrote to Devonshire:18

The secret is now out; the honest Mr. Martin ordered the clerks yesterday ... to make out an account of what saving there would be, if the troops were recalled and the German expense ended, at the end of June ...
Sure, after this, nobody can doubt a moment, whether I should make so pitiful a figure as to remain at the head of the Treasury.

Newcastle resigned, and on 29 July 1762 Martin sent Hardwicke a paper to set himself right in Newcastle’s opinion.19 He admitted the facts, but this was his blatantly disingenuous excuse:

Mr. Martin laments that he had not the attention and recollection to ask the Duke’s consent for this purpose because, though his conscience acquits him of treachery or baseness of any kind, yet he is sensible that he was deficient in the civility and respect due to the head of the Board to which Mr. Martin was a servant.

Martin left the Treasury with Bute but, keeping up with him and retaining his place in the household of the Princess of Wales, came in for invective in the campaign waged against them. Attacked by Wilkes in the North Briton, Martin burst out against him in the debate of 15 Nov. 1763; this led to a duel in which Wilkes was wounded. Both now crossed over to France, Wilkes to escape political prosecution, and Martin in case Wilkes died of his wound. In Paris they exchanged civilities:20 ‘It is impossible for Mr. Martin’, he wrote to Wilkes, ‘to think of taking part in any affair of Mr. Wilkes’s that he may find depending in the House of Commons on his arrival in England’; he will ‘not set foot in London till those matters are determined’. He therefore neither spoke nor voted in the debates of January-February 1764.

His only further notable part in parliamentary debate was over the Regency bill in May 1765. An amendment inserted by the House of Lords by implication debarred the Princess of Wales from being a regent. On 9 May Martin supported a motion by John Morton to add her by name. He was determined, he said,21 not to make the motion himself, nor had he asked anyone to do so; but he would vote for it.

I am not authorized to say anything from the Princess I serve, but as a private man I will declare that it is a matter of total indifference to Her Royal Highness ... I do not pretend to know by whose suggestion the alteration has been made. It is parliamentary to suppose that it proceeded only from the other House; but it circumscribes the power of nomination out of the Royal family, and excludes none of that family but the Princess of Wales ... I might almost call this a parliamentary brand upon her.

On 10 May James Stuart Mackenzie and Martin acted as tellers for the Regency bill.

During the Cabinet crisis of May-July 1765 Martin remained in the closest touch with Bute—an index he made of his own papers in May 1769 mentions ‘Memorandums concerning Lord Bute’s behaviour to me with relation to the change of ministry, 1765 (for my own secret use)’: it is not among his extant papers. Martin was not of the ‘flying squad’ which after Cumberland’s death Fletcher Norton was forming against the Rockingham Administration; nor was he among those ‘particularly remarked’ as voting against the Government over the Anstruther Burghs election.22 There is also among Martin’s papers a copy of Bute’s minute of his conversation with Grenville and Bedford on 12 Feb. 1766, a most confidential document.23 Like Bute, Martin opposed the repeal of the Stamp Act, and on 22 Feb. voted against it; and, while his father sided with the Americans, Martin wrote about them with growing aversion: by 1777 he hoped for ‘the subjugation of that insolent and cowardly people to their just obedience’.24 Mass movements were at all times distasteful to the rather narrow, authoritarian civil servant with a legalistic outlook.

Martin was on terms of friendship with Camden and with Bradshaw, once his clerk at the Treasury, and now its secretary.25 As a follower of Administration Martin voted with them even on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. It is not clear why he changed his constituency in 1768. On 17 Dec. 1767 he was nominated at Hastings,26 a Treasury borough which Newcastle claimed as his own—‘Samuel Martin, that worthy gentleman’, he bitterly remarked, is ‘to oppose me at Hastings’.27 Martin had to contribute more than £1,250 to the expenses of that election.28

In the Parliament of 1768-74 Martin played a very small part; spoke rarely; and voted regularly with Government. In 1774 he did not stand again. The circumstances of his leaving Parliament are recounted in a letter to his father on 6 Nov. 1774.29 About the middle of September he was summoned by Lord North:

He said his business was to talk with me concerning my seat in the next Parliament, notwithstanding he knew my weariness of parliamentary attendance. For as I held an annuity from the Crown in the nature of a freehold and tenable with a seat in Parliament, it was much more desirable that I should continue there than give place to a new man, who would want a new provision.

Martin (having already secured whatever provision he could hope for out of Parliament) replied that he would certainly prefer to retire, but would continue if desired to do so, and if North would ‘recommend me to an election without any expense of mine’. North argued that ‘few or no gentlemen were adequately paid for their services in Parliament’, and he himself was £10,000 poorer for it, but that it became them to serve; Martin contended that he could not ‘defray any considerable expense without borrowing’, and anyhow would ‘deem it a hardship’ to part with the sum required. He left the option to North; and a few weeks later received a letter from Jenkinson, his successor at Hastings, congratulating him on his retreat.30

You will readily believe [Martin went on to say in the letter to his father] that I who had neither ambition to be gratified, nor vanity to be indulged, nor expectation of profit to be acquired by a seat in Parliament, am very well satisfied after twenty-eight years diligent attendance and no small share of occasional vexation, to find myself in a private condition towards the end of life, at liberty to enjoy the small remainder of it after my own fashion.

To Jenkinson he repeated the personal reasons he had given to his father for leaving Parliament, and added that of ‘being convinced by time and experience of the moderate size of my own parliamentary talents’.31 Martin’s father greatly regretted his decision: it would debar him from helping his brothers and serving his country; moreover ‘absolute retirement will have an ill influence upon your health; you will lose your natural cheerfulness, and become a melancholy mope, notwithstanding your solitary rides and walks’.32

Such was his journey’s end. He had started out with high hopes and ambitions, and achieved a fair measure of success earlier in his career. Eager, efficient, highly intelligent, clear-headed and hardworking, he showed promise of further advance. Perhaps his emotional poverty accounts for his ultimate failure. A joyless man, solitary and self-centred, he could not stand anyone permanently near him; he remained unmarried. There was little warmth, sympathy, or loyalty in him: and politics is a gregarious game. While not fit to serve, he was not great or bold enough to be a master. An obsessional worker, he was pathologically methodical. Gradually his life silted up; he grew weary even of work. Towards the end, after 1782, he tried to help his Antiguan and North Carolinian friends, furthering the claims of some of the loyalists before the commission for American claims.33  He died 20 Nov. 1788.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Add. 41347, f. 51b.
  • 2. T52/62/11-12.
  • 3. Add. 41347, ff. 51b, 101.
  • 4. Add. 41346, f. 106.
  • 5. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, ii. 50.
  • 6. Robert Wilmot to the Duke of Devonshire, 22 Oct. 1756, Devonshire mss.
  • 7. Add. 32872, ff. 127, 308.
  • 8. Ibid. ff. 390, 393-4.
  • 9. Ibid. f. 463.
  • 10. Add. 32876, ff. 21-22.
  • 11. Bute mss.
  • 12. Martin to John Buller, 21 Sept. 1764, Add. 41354, ff. 94-95.
  • 13. Add. 35420, ff. 166-7; Dodington, Diary, 428-9.
  • 14. Martin to his father, 24 June 1761, Add. 41347, f. 83b.
  • 15. Ibid. ff. 4, 28-29, 93, 113.
  • 16. Namier, England in Age of American Rev. 366-71.
  • 17. Add. 41354, f. 44.
  • 18. Add. 32938, f. 85.
  • 19. Add. 35597, ff. 136-43.
  • 20. Add. 41354, ff. 86, 88.
  • 21. Grenville Pprs. ii. 25-33.
  • 22. Fortescue, i. 249.
  • 23. Add. 41355, ff. 173-90.
  • 24. Add. 41348, f. 297.
  • 25. For his corresp. with both see Add. 41354.
  • 26. Add. 32986, f. 323.
  • 27. Add. 32988, f. 404.
  • 28. Add. 41359, ff. 44-47.
  • 29. Add. 41348, ff. 199-200.
  • 30. Add. 41354, ff. 206, 208.
  • 31. Add. 38458, f. 112.
  • 32. Add. 41348, f. 170b.
  • 33. E. W. C. M. Andrews, Jnl. of a Lady of Quality, app. II.