TOUCHET, Samuel (c.1705-73), of Epping, Essex
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Director, Sun Fire Assurance Co. 1756-64.
Thomas Touchet, originally a Warrington pin-maker, settled in Manchester and became its ‘most considerable merchant and manufacturer’ of linen and cotton goods; his house in Deansgate was ‘one of the principal mansions in the town’, and at his death in 1744 he left nearly £20,000. Three of his sons continued in the Manchester business; and Lord Kinnoull, writing to the Duke of Newcastle from Manchester, 20 Aug. 1758, refers to ‘the Touchets and other of the King’s best friends’.3
Samuel Touchet went to London before 1740,4 probably as representative of the family firm, and by the 50s was the leading Lancashire businessman in the City, ‘the prime mover in parliamentary agitations, and the channel through which Manchester appeals to the Government were made’. His trade was with the Continent, the West and East Indies, America and West Africa. At one time he came under suspicion of trying to monopolize the raw cotton supply, and was then ‘negotiating with Lewis Paul, inventor of the first roller-spinning machine’. While cotton goods and linens were his staple concern, he became also a ship-owner, insurance broker, and speculator in naval prizes, sugar-merchant and slave-trader; engaged in extensive bill dealings with the West Indies; in money-lending at home; and like most merchants with wide connexions and considerable assets abroad, became a Government contractor and financier.5 In 1752 he and some associates unsuccessfully tried to secure for themselves the exclusive trade ‘in furs, whale bone, fish and masts’ in Labrador;6 and although a representative of Liverpool on the governing body of the Africa Company, Touchet tried to secure for himself a monopoly of the Africa trade: Senegal gum being indispensable in linen and cotton printing, this would have given him command of this growing industry. His claim was based on services rendered in an expedition against the French West African settlements which was undertaken in 1757 by Thomas Cumming, encouraged therein by Pitt’s promise, in case of success, of his ‘best assistance in obtaining ... an exclusive charter for a limited term of years’;7 and Touchet, for a half share in that charter, fitted out five vessels at a cost of over £10,000, and (suffering a loss of over £6,000) helped to capture Fort St. Louis in 1758.8 The claim to the charter, repeatedly pressed, but bitterly opposed by other merchants and manufacturers, was disallowed on the advice of the law officers of the Crown.9
How and when Touchet became connected with Henry Fox is not known, but on 15 Apr. 1757 Fox wrote to the Duke of Devonshire, then first lord of the Treasury, asking that Touchet be given a share in the new loan; and though Fox did not put him down for all he asked, in Devonshire’s list Touchet’s application for £30,000 is one of the highest individual subscriptions—and he was allotted £25,000. Touchet also courted Newcastle with an eye to Treasury contracts and ultimately to a seat in Parliament. In 1758 and 1759 he applied for a contract for victualling the troops in Senegal, on terms deemed extravagant by the Treasury Board; for provisioning the garrison at Gibraltar; obtained a contract for the Leeward Islands station; and supplied 10,000 oz. of silver for Senegal. From 1759 to 1760 he held together with Thomas Walpole and Joseph Mellish money remittances to Germany. In the subscription list to the Government loan of 1760 Touchet was with £420,000 one of the foremost underwriters; but from the Bank of England records it appears that he retained nothing of that vast subscription—it was presumably partly a stagging operation, and partly on behalf of customers.10
In July 1758 Newcastle described Touchet as ‘a very considerable and useful man in the City’. But James West, when asked by the Duke to suggest for a vacant seat a candidate who could give the Treasury expert support in the House, wrote on 21 Apr. 1759: ‘I have value for Mr. Touchet, but considering the late reflections, however ill-grounded, and which have made him very unpopular, I cannot think his coming into Parliament at this time, upon your Grace’s interest, would be right.’ The nature of those ‘reflections’ is unascertained, but Touchet’s monopolizing attempts must have counted against him. When at the general election of 1761 Touchet was put up for Shaftesbury, Fox’s brother, Lord Ilchester, on whose interest he stood, wrote on 16 Mar. as if Touchet’s candidature was entirely of Newcastle’s making. Dislike was expressed in the borough to Touchet as a Dissenter:
The clergy who used to be my friends are out of humour at my recommending a Dissenter, and even the Dissenters are very cold towards him. They have raised a strange story about him which does him harm, and it seems there was a very scurrilous print of him made in London about three years ago which they have got at Shaftesbury and which may have a bad effect in such a mobbish town.
Touchet was returned, a rather poor second, on the poll. The election cost him over £2,000.11
Two months later he was in financial difficulties. ‘Private credit is at an entire stand in the City’, wrote a merchant to Newcastle on 28 May 1761, ‘and the great houses are tumbling down one after the other. Poor Touchet stopped yesterday and God knows where this will end.’ But he managed to extricate himself and on 16 June thanked Newcastle ‘for the respect with which I’ve heard your Grace was so good as to mention me when my affairs were in a critical situation; I soon convinced my friends that they ran no risk in assisting me ... I have met with suitable support.’12 According to one source he ‘persuaded his creditors that he had an overplus of £109,000’, according to another he promised his friends ‘to confine himself to the Manchester business ... which would have brought him in from 7 to £10,000 a year’.13
At the opening of Parliament Touchet received his summons from Newcastle, and on 11 Dec. made his maiden speech—in opposing the motion for the Spanish papers he quoted information received from his correspondents in Spain.14 His interventions on several later occasions similarly dealt with matters within the sphere of his own experience—the seamen’s prize bill, 3 Mar. 1762, or the Portugal trade, 16 Dec. 1762—rather than with problems of high policy. In Bute’s parliamentary list he was classed as ‘Government’. He was with Bute ‘on Wednesday last’, wrote H. V. Jones to Newcastle, 19 June 1762; ‘but it was supposed he came with the merchants’ [to solicit some point of business]. When on 10 Sept. Walpole and Mellish, as friends of Newcastle, were deprived of their share in the German remittances Touchet was continued, and Peregrine Cust joined to him; and by the end of the month Newcastle no longer counted him among his friends. On 15 Sept. Shelburne wrote that Touchet would ask to be allowed to subscribe more than a million of the new loan; he was allotted £200,000, on which the profit was about £20,000 (but possibly Fox had a rake-off on that transaction). On Sunday, 17 Oct., Shelburne wrote again to Bute:
Touchet was with Charles Townshend a great while, looking over Spanish treaties, which gave him an opportunity of speaking over other matters. He left him determined to support the King’s measures and your Lordship ... steadily and with cordiality ... As to Mr. Fox too, Touchet thinks he will be easily reconciled—but not to change his office, for some reasons he is to give on Monday.
Touchet acted as a go-between with Fox over the leadership of the House; and was consulted on the commercial aspects of the peace preliminaries—‘I desired Mr. Touchet to write down what he thought would content the merchants here that France could grant on the 7th article [frontiers on the American continent],’ wrote Fox to Bedford, 27 Jan. 1763.15
On 18 Mar. Touchet defended in the House the recent loan as a good bargain for the nation. This was his last intervention in debate for some time. A severe credit crisis ensued on the failure of the international banking house of Neufville in Amsterdam on 25 July 1763. During August and September Touchet was desperately trying to stave off creditors; he stopped payment on 21 Oct., his debts exceeding £300,000; and though he claimed them to be fully covered, he ‘never retrieved his fortunes, and his estate appears to have paid only eight shillings in the pound’.16 His Manchester brothers, involved in the failure but enjoying the respect of the business community, were helped by their creditors and were able to re-establish themselves. But no one had a good word for Samuel.
Privilege of Parliament protected him from a commission of bankruptcy; but it was his case which made another merchant Member, George Prescott, seconded by Beckford, and supported by Coutts, Anthony Bacon and Alexander Grant, carry through the House, nem. con., a bill ‘for obviating inconveniences which may arise in the case of merchants, bankers, and traders entitled to privilege of Parliament, and becoming insolvent’, by taking away that privilege—‘some foreigners’, said Prescott, ‘had given orders not to accept drafts on merchants who were M.P.s.’17 On 27 Feb. 1765 Lord John Cavendish moved a further amendment—‘an effectual and decisive stroke’, wrote William Baker jun., ‘against ... the Touchets of the age, whose rogueries ... have shamefully evaded the lash of the law under the prostituted plea of parliamentary privilege’.18 And when Touchet, unable to obtain a monopoly of the African trade and reduced in circumstances, petitioned to be compensated for the losses incurred over the expedition of 1757-8, a favourable report was countered on 2 Apr. 1764 by a motion for re-committment: Grenville, Oswald and Elliot spoke for Touchet; Cotes, Bertie, Coventry, and others against;19 the motion was defeated by 72 to 45 votes, and the matter referred to the committee of supply. Apparently the Administration supported Touchet, while Rockinghams, Radicals and Tories opposed him. £7,000 compensation was voted to him.
Touchet continued as a famulus of the Fox family and of their friends. When on 7 Apr. 1764 Lady Susan Fox Strangways, daughter of Lord Ilchester, married an actor William O’Brien, and the family wished them out of the country, Touchet was employed to examine openings for them in the East or West Indies, and finally in America.20 On 11 Oct. Lady Sarah Lennox wrote to Lady Susan: ‘Mr. Touchet ... is a dear man, for he tells me everything about you.’21 Similarly Lady Frances Coningsby, widow of Charles Hanbury Williams, employed Touchet on her estate business and accounts.22 This was one level of business on which Touchet was now engaged. But there was also another level. George Onslow, writing to Newcastle, 24 Mar. 1765, about Grenville as financier, refers to ‘his wise counsellors Mr. Cust and Mr. Touchet and Sir George Amyand’.23 While in this case the juxtaposition of Touchet with two other Members of a very different calibre may be unjustified, there can be no doubt concerning Touchet’s importance as friend and adviser of Charles Townshend.
In June 1766 Touchet received a grant of 20,000 acres in Florida; and on 8 July 1767 a grant of land in the Island of St. John. In the Bank of England records he appears as buying Government stock for £322,000 jointly with three Members of Parliament, Sir John Major, Sir Merrick Burrell, and Charles Townshend’s close friend, Peter Burrell. And here is perhaps by far the most significant incident of Touchet’s public career: among Charles Townshend’s papers there is an undated draft in Touchet’s handwriting of Townshend’s American duties exactly as introduced in the House on 13 May 1767: to be imposed on wine, oil, fruits, and china, and to be taken off as drawbacks on glass, paper, lead, and colours. The idea of taxing America had long been entertained and canvassed by Townshend but on this final, fatal measure Touchet was his adviser. This is further borne out by Townshend’s letter to Grafton, presumably of Monday, 6 July 1767, urging
that some method may now be found of providing for Mr. Touchet or his family ... because he and he alone has the merit of whatever has been honourably done in this winter for the public and the Treasury in the choice of taxes. My dear Lord! this is my own cause, not his: it is the cause of Government, not mine alone, and I should not rest in peace with myself, nor have the feelings of an honest mind, if I were to consent to see so indisputable an act of justice done to so able and deserving a man, whose family waits with anxiety, suspended longer.24
Charles Townshend died 4 Sept., and with him Touchet’s brightest hopes. He continued to support Government, and voted against Savile’s nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768. In 1768 he stood again for Shaftesbury on Ilchester’s interest. ‘Poor Sam Touchet has lost it at Shaftesbury’, wrote Lord Winchilsea to Rockingham on 19 Mar. 1768, with a peculiar touch of familiarity and regret—what was Touchet’s connexion with either of them? In 1769-70 Touchet tried an Irish job through Lord Townshend, then lord lieutenant. He wrote to his secretary, George Macartney, on 1 Mar. 1770:
I don’t care how it is done provided it brings an income to me or my family of about £300 per annum without requiring my residence from [sic] London, and surely considering how much he knows I had the honour of being respected by his brother, how much time I gave up to him for many years, and how much use I was to him even in money matters when I wanted it myself, he must think it extremely hard that I should be the only person unprovided for, circumstanced as I am with a numerous family.25
Another patron of Touchet towards the end of his life was Sir Edward Walpole. With him for figure-head Touchet engaged in his last ambitious scheme: in May 1768 Touchet with a number of associates petitioned for a grant of all mines, minerals, and metals in and about Lake Superior. But they met with difficulties from Government representatives on the spot, and it was only after four years of negotiations that a charter in a severely truncated form was approved, 19 June 1772, with Edward Walpole for governor of the Company and Touchet deputy governor; among the proprietors appear Charles James Fox, Chase Price, Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury, Francis Eyre, and John Townson.26
Touchet died suddenly, 28 May 1773. John Baker noted in his diary on 3 June: he had been told ‘Touchet had hanged himself—poor man!’27
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. E. Axon, ‘Harrison Ainsworth’s Maternal Ancestors’, Trans. Lancs. and Ches. Antiq. Soc. 1911, xxix. 111-13; Hunter, Fam. Min. Gent. i. 167-8; A. P. Wadsworth and J. de L. Mann, Cotton Trade and Industrial Lancs. 1600-1780 , pp. 243-4.
- 2. Touchet to Geo. Macartney, 25 Nov., 19 Dec. 1769, 1 Mar., 11 Apr. 1770, Macartney mss, Belfast RO.
- 3. Add. 32882, f. 474.
- 4. Complete Guide for 1740.
- 5. Wadsworth and Mann, 241, 244, 245, 444.
- 6. Bd. Trade Jnls. 1750-1753, pp. 299-300, 304.
- 7. Chatham Corresp. i. 221-2.
- 8. CJ, xxix. 957-8.
- 9. Letter from a Merchant in Bristol to a Merchant in London, 1762; Jenkinson Pprs. 107.
- 10. Devonshire mss; T29/33/54-6, 60-61, 81, 260; Add. 32892, f. 235; 32901, f. 238; T29/33/168; T52/51/51.
- 11. Add. 32881, ff. 331-2; 32890, ff. 231-2, 251-2.
- 12. Add. 32923, f. 282; 32924, f. 132.
- 13. Chas. Steuart to Jas. Parker and Wm. Aitchison, 15 Nov. 1763, Parker mss, Liverpool RO.
- 14. Harris’s ‘Debates’; Add. 32932, f. 139; 33035, ff. 32-38.
- 15. Add. 32939, f. 415; T29/34/342; Bute mss; Harris’s memorandum, 12 June 1765, Malmesbury mss; Bedford mss.
- 16. Harris’s ‘Debates’; E112/1523/19, 1525/56, 1580/335, 336, 348; Lancs. and Ches. Antiq. Soc. xxix. 113.
- 17. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
- 18. 7 Mar. 1765, Baker mss, Herts. RO.
- 19. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
- 20. Hen. Fox mss.
- 21. Countess of Ilchester and Lord Stavordale, Life and Letters of Lady Sarah Lennox, 144-7.
- 22. Letters to her da. Charlotte, w. of Capt. R. Boyle Walsingham, 20, 27 May, 7 July 1766, Boyle Walsingham mss, Belfast RO.
- 23. Add. 32966, f. 96.
- 24. APC Col. 1745-66, pp. 815, 401-2, 414; Buccleuch mss; Grafton mss.
- 25. Rockingham mss; Macartney mss.
- 26. Walpole, Last Jnls. i. 101; APC Col. 1766-83, pp. 129-37.
- 27. Diary of John Baker, ed. Yorke, 259.