NEWNHAM, Nathaniel (c.1741-1809), of King's Bench Walk, Inner Temple, London
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Family and Education
Alderman of London 1774, sheriff 1775-6, ld. Mayor 1782-3.
In 1773 or 1774 Newnham succeeded his elder brother, Thomas, as head of a grocery business and sugar bakery in Botolph Street, which he carried on in partnership with another brother, William. After their father’s death in 1778 Nathaniel apparently retired from the business, but in 1785 was a joint founder of the banking firm of Newnham, Everett, Drummond, Tibbets, and Tanner, in which he retained an interest till his death.
In City politics Newnham, according to the English Chronicle (1781), ‘was always ranked among the political doubtfuls, having ... frequently joined with both parties’. When in 1780 he stood for London he was opposed by the violently anti-ministerial John Sawbridge, and on 14 Sept. Charles Jenkinson suggested to John Robinson that it might be ‘prudent to endeavour to prevent Sawbridge’s success by giving Newnham, who is the least violent of the two, any assistance that Government has in its disposal. Perhaps Newnham might be induced in consequence thereof to be more friendly.’ But Administration support did not prevent Newnham from voting with the Opposition till the fall of North. In Parliament his speeches were fairly frequent, principally on commercial matters concerning his constituents, and more than once showing a prickly dislike for the landed interest. ‘Mr. Newnham is a man of abilities; and was it not for an unhappy impediment in his speech, might rank as a pleasing speaker’, wrote the English Chronicle. In his maiden speech, on 6 Nov. 1780, he declared that he opposed the Address
because it tended to countenance and support the measures of the present ministers who had ... been guilty of the grossest neglect of our commerce, and of the most scandalous partiality in the imposition of taxes ... as the house tax stood, the tax was oppressively partial, the inhabitants, inferior traders and shop-keepers of the City of London, paying more towards the revenue so raised for their houses and shops dedicated to business and the necessary support of them and their families than the nobility and gentry paid for their gorgeous and stately palaces in the country, kept merely for the purposes of luxury, which ought ever to be the more immediate object of taxation, than the honest industry of men in trade and business.
Bitterly opposed to the American war, Newnham suggested on 14 Dec. 1781 that ‘the wisest means of proceeding, and the most certain way of pleasing the people of England, would be for the ministers to abandon their posts, and resign their employments’. But on 27 Feb. 1782, supporting Conway’s motions against the war, he said:
He would undertake to pledge himself in the name of his constituents that if ministers would make peace with America and turn the arms of this country against the old and natural enemies of Great Britain, there was no support which they might not expect to receive from the City of London.1
In a debate of 24 May 1782 Newnham declared that he was a ‘strenuous supporter’ of the Rockingham Administration ‘at the same time that he was perfectly independent’. He was included in the list of Members who voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, but in Robinson’s list of March 1783 was counted as a supporter of Shelburne. He voted for Pitt’s proposals for parliamentary reform, 7 May 1783, for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, and was in opposition to Pitt’s Administration. Newnham continued to support parliamentary reform; seconded Sawbridge’s motion of 16 June 1784 for an inquiry into parliamentary representation, and voted for Pitt’s reform proposals of 18 Apr. 1785. On 18 June 1784 he moved for the repeal of the receipts tax. He did so, he declared, at the request of his constituents, and took the opportunity to state that
upon all local questions, upon all oppressive internal taxes, and every case that related to them in particular, the constituents’ instructions ought ... to be implicitly obeyed; but where the character, talents, and views of ministers were matters under consideration, where measures affecting the general interests of the nation at large were to be discussed and decided upon, there he thought the representative ought to be left to himself, to act as his own judgment, founded upon that degree of light and information which could only be obtained in Parliament, should direct him.
In 1787 Newnham was active in urging the Administration to pay the debts of the Prince of Wales. Anthony Morris Storer wrote to William Eden on 27 Apr.:
The motion which is to be made in Parliament with regard to the Prince of Wales is the subject at present of conversation. Alderman Newnham is to take the lead in this business, but he is not supposed to be able to add much dignity to the measure by his personal influence, nor likely to insure it much success by his superior abilities.
In the end the Administration agreed to act, and Newnham did not proceed with his motion. He was opposed to the movement for the abolition of the slave trade, and told the House, 12 May 1789:
If wise regulations were applied to the slave trade so as to cure it of the many abuses that he had no doubt prevailed in it, it might, he was sure, be made a source of revenue and material commercial advantage. If it were abolished altogether he was persuaded it would render the City of London one scene of bankruptcy and ruin.
And on 27 Jan. 1790:
The preservation of the West India islands depended on it, and our connexion with those islands ... materially concerned the welfare of the country ... Mr. Newnham reprobated the prevailing zeal for reformation, and said, giving way to the system of new-fangled humanity, in this instance, would be a sure way of forfeiting the West India property.2
He died 26 Dec. 1809.