OLIVER, Richard (1735-84), of Fenchurch St., London

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



11 July 1770 - 1780

Family and Education

bap. in Antigua, 7 Jan. 1735, o. surv. s. of Rowland Oliver of Antigua, judge and member of council 1753-62; gd.-s. of Richard Oliver, Speaker of the Antigua assembly.  m. 2 Feb. 1758, cos. Mary, da. of Richard Oliver of Leyton, Essex, and Antigua, s.p.  suc. fa. 16 July 1767.

Offices Held

Alderman of London 1770-8; sheriff 1772-3.


As a young man Oliver went to London, and was brought up in the counting house of his uncle, Richard Oliver (whose daughter he subsequently married), a draper and West India merchant. He retired from business after succeeding to his father’s estates in Antigua, and, with his brother-in-law Thomas Oliver, entered City politics.

Richard Oliver was one of the trustees of the fund raised in 1768 to pay Wilkes’s debts, a founder member of the Bill of Rights Society, and later its treasurer. In March 1770 he was on the deputation which presented the London remonstrance to the King. Thomas Oliver was chosen as Radical candidate for London at the by-election following Beckford’s death; but owing to illness had to withdraw, and was replaced by Richard Oliver. ‘It was very far from my wish to take an active part in public affairs’, wrote Oliver in his election address;1 and he promised to obey the instructions of his constituents, and not accept place, pension, or contract. He was returned unopposed.

Oliver’s first speech, 6 Dec. 1770, was to second Glynn’s motion for an inquiry into the administration of criminal justice.2 In March 1771 he was thrust into the limelight by the part he took, as a City magistrate, in committing a messenger of the House of Commons. The House was reluctant to take action against him, but Oliver struck an attitude which invited martyrdom. ‘I shall make no defence’, he said.3 ‘I shall say nothing. You may do what you please. I defy you.’ On 26 Mar. 1771 he was sent to the Tower for the remainder of the session. The city of London voted him a silver cup for this exploit.

Although Oliver had been associated with Wilkes in this defiance of the House of Commons, he was tiring of the connexion. He supported John Horne’s attempt to dissolve the Bill of Rights Society, and when that failed helped to found the Constitutional Society in opposition to Wilkes. Invited by Wilkes to stand with him for the shrievalty of London, Oliver replied, 11 Apr. 1771:4 ‘I am determined not to serve the office of sheriff with you, because I really do not think from your own declarations that your political aims are similar to mine.’ Horace Walpole wrote5 that Oliver and his brother-in-law ‘had contributed a tenth of the subscriptions for the payment of Wilkes’s debts ... and as the expense of the shrievalty was a burthen in common between both sheriffs, he would not subject himself to pay what Wilkes could not pay’.

Oliver now joined James Townsend, who was trying to form a party against Wilkes in the City; and in 1772, 1773, and 1774 opposed Wilkes’s candidature for lord mayor. At the general election of 1774 he refused to sign the Radical declaration drawn up by Wilkes, and lost some support as a result. Yet his standing in the City was sufficient to ensure his return.

He was not a frequent speaker in the Commons. On 26 Jan. 1773 he seconded Sawbridge’s motion for annual Parliaments.6 On 27 Nov. 1775 he moved to address the King to name those who were responsible for the policy adopted towards America.7 Accepting Burke’s fiction about the ‘double cabinet’, he wanted to know who were the secret advisers behind the Throne. The motion, wrote Anthony Storer,8 ‘wore such an unparliamentary shape and appearance that it made a very ridiculous figure in the House’; and of the regular Opposition speakers only Wilkes and Sawbridge supported it. ‘Wilkes counted twelve who voted with him on the main question’, wrote Storer, ‘and he dignified them by calling them his twelve apostles.’ Oliver’s only other reported speech was to second Sawbridge’s motion of 10 May 1776 against the taxation of America.9

On 6 Sept. 1778 Oliver published a letter to the livery of London10 declining to become a candidate for lord mayor: he was leaving England for the West Indies, and would not stand again at the next general election. On 24 Nov. he resigned his alderman’s gown, and the next month sailed for Antigua.

He died on the voyage back to England, 16 Apr. 1784.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Gent. Mag. 1770, pp. 339-40.
  • 2. Cavendish’s Debates, ii. 126-7.
  • 3. Brickdale’s ‘Debates’.
  • 4. Add. 30871, f. 74.
  • 5. Mems. Geo. III, iv. 210.
  • 6. Parlty. Hist. xvii. 692-5.
  • 7. Almon, iii. 214-16.
  • 8. HMC Carlisle, 314-315.
  • 9. Almon, iv. 107.
  • 10. Gent. Mag. 1778, p. 435.