STURT, Humphry (?1725-86), of Crichel More, Dorset
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Family and Education
b. ?1725, o.s. of Humphry Sturt of Horton, Dorset by Diana, da. of Sir Nathaniel Napier, 3rd Bt., M.P.; gd.-s. of Sir Anthony Sturt, M.P. educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 27 Apr. 1741, aged 16. m. 27 Apr. 1756, Mary, da. and h. of Charles Pitfield, ‘proprietor of a considerable estate’ in Shoreditch,1 10s. 5da. suc. fa. 1740, and cos. Sir Gerard Napier, 6th Bt. at Crichel More 26 Jan. 1765.
Sturt was classed as a Tory: by Dupplin in 1754; in Bute’s list of December 1761; and by Rockingham and Newcastle in 1767. Unconnected with any Administration, wealthy, and independent, he had during his first 19 years in the House an erratic voting record, unilluminated by political correspondence or speeches—not one speech by him is reported during his 30 years in Parliament, and there are hardly any letters from him in the great contemporary collections. Parliamentary managers were often uncertain or wrong in their political estimate of him. Newcastle, in his list of 13 Nov. 1762, though on the whole quite unduly optimistic, classed Sturt as ‘Government’; but Fox, early in December, did not include him among the Members favourable to the peace preliminaries; whether he voted for them is not known, but he did not vote against them. In the autumn of 1763 Jenkinson, in his marking of Sturt, hesitated between ‘pro’ and ‘absent’; and when on 18 Feb. 1764, over general warrants, Sturt voted against the Government, Jenkinson still placed him among ‘persons ... who are friends or nearly so’. But Newcastle on 10 May counted him among his own ‘sure friends’; and Sturt belonged to the Opposition club at Wildman’s. Yet—‘Sturt ... continues firmly yours’, wrote Robert Nugent to Grenville, 20 Oct. 1764. On 3 Apr. 1765 Sturt presented to the House a petition, largely from Dorset merchants, complaining of French encroachments in Newfoundland: apparently a performance embarrassing for the Grenville Administration.2 In July 1765 Rockingham listed him as ‘doubtful’; but he did not vote against the repeal of the Stamp Act. In January 1767 Charles Townshend marked him ‘Administration’; and on 27 Feb. 1767, when a great many regular Government supporters among the country gentlemen felt obliged to vote for a reduction of the land tax, Sturt for once appeared on the Government side: he must have felt very sure of his seat, or cared not overmuch, to give such a vote a year before a general election. He did not vote on the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768; but his attendance seems to have been so irregular that one never knows whether to attach any political significance to his absence.
In the new Parliament his name does not appear in any division list on Wilkes and the Middlesex election in 1769, but on 25 Jan. 1770 he voted on it with the Opposition; and on 13 Feb. 1771 against the Spanish convention. Over the royal marriage bill in March 1772, Robinson first marked him ‘contra, may attend’; and next, on the 8th, ‘pro, present’. When on 9 Feb. 1773, over the petition of naval captains on half-pay, Sturt voted with the Opposition, as did a good many Government supporters, he still appears in the King’s list as a ‘friend’. But on 26 Apr. he voted again with the Opposition over the Middlesex election; and in Robinson’s survey drawn up in September 1774, on the eve of the general election, Sturt was marked as Opposition: a definite political alignment starts about this time.
In the Parliament of 1774 every recorded vote of Sturt’s was given on the Opposition side; but his name appears only in six out of twelve division lists. The draft of an undated letter from Rockingham,3 clearly written about 1780, shows that for a few years past Sturt had acted with the Opposition.
I most truly agree with you [wrote Rockingham] that the melancholy and perilous situation into which this once great country is now brought has arose from the weakest, and perhaps the wickedest, system of measures, by which any great empire ever was ruined. You indeed, my dear Sturt, was among those, who early saw the tendency and the natural consequences of the measures by which the wealth and the strength of this country has been exhausted. It was in vain that you joined with all of us, made every attempt to forewarn this country, that the courses pursued would ultimately render this country perhaps an easy prey to its old foreign enemies, or at least would bring it into such a situation as to invite the attempt. That day is now come.
Robinson in his survey of July 1780 thought that Sturt might meet with an opposition at the forthcoming general election, but added that ‘it is not easy to get gentlemen to stand forwards in a county contest against persons of large property and weight in possession of a county’. Sturt was once more returned unopposed; and claimed to have secured the election of two Opposition Members at Bridport4 where his interest was very considerable. Soon after the general election, the English Chronicle wrote about him:
With many peculiarities, is a man of inviolable integrity and a good heart. He supports his character as one of the country Members, with great independency and respect, and votes with Opposition.
Sturt appears in four or five out of the six division lists, December 1781-March 1782, always on the Opposition side; he voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; was classed as a Foxite by Robinson in March; voted for Pitt’s parliamentary reform proposals, 7 May 1783; was absent through illness from the divisions on Fox’s East India bill, but approved of it; was twice listed as ‘doubtful’ by Robinson in anticipation of a dissolution of Parliament, and once as ‘hopeful’; and more correctly by Stockdale, 19 Mar. 1784, as ‘Opposition’. But he did not stand again: on 25 Mar. he declared in an election address that ‘whenever any other gentleman is nominated to succeed me with the approbation of my constituents, I shall ... think myself obligated to bend to their purpose, and retire’; but in that case he would not accept of any other seat in Parliament. He stood down at the county meeting when the majority decided against him.5
Sturt enlarged Crichel House ‘so immensely ... that it has the appearance of a mansion of a prince more than that of a country gentleman’.6 But he was not a ‘man about town’, and never appears in the correspondence of Walpole, Selwyn, or Gibbon. Only Bentham mentions him7 in a letter from Bowood, 2 Oct. 1781: ‘With Sturt I had some general conversation; but saw nothing about him that made him very interesting to me.’
He died 20 Oct. 1786.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Gent. Mag. 1786, p. 911.
- 2. Add. 33000, ff. 153-61; Grenville Pprs. ii. 454; Harris’s ‘Debates’; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, ii. 63.
- 3. Rockingham mss.
- 4. Sturt to Shelburne, 6 Aug. 1782, Lansdowne mss.
- 5. I. R. Christie, End of North’s Ministry, 393; Laprade, 51, 67; Morning Herald, 31 Mar.; Sherborne Merc. 12 Apr. 1784.
- 6. Hutchins, Dorset, iii. 127.
- 7. Works, ed. Bowring, x. 113.