WEBB, Philip Carteret (?1700-70), of Busbridge, Surr.
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Family and Education
b ?1700, 2nd s. of Daniel Webb of Devizes. educ. M. Temple 1727; L. Inn. 1741, called 1754. m. (1) 2 Nov. 1730 Susanna (d. 12 Mar. 1756), da. of Benjamin Lodington, consul at Tripoli, 1s.; (2) Aug. 1758, Rhoda, da. of James Coates of Dodington, Cheshire, s.p.
Sec. of bankrupts in the court of Chancery 1745-66; solicitor to Treasury Dec. 1756-July 1765.
Webb, who was admitted an attorney in 1724, established a reputation as an outstanding parliamentary and constitutional lawyer ‘peculiarly learned in the records of this kingdom’, and in 1745 was appointed by Hardwicke secretary of bankrupts. In 1748 he purchased the estate of Busbridge which gave him an influence at Haslemere, and in 1754 he successfully contested the borough. On 23 Oct. 1756 Hardwicke asked Newcastle ‘as a particular favour’ to appoint Webb solicitor to the Treasury in succession to John Sharpe: ‘Your Grace could not name one of more integrity and ability to serve in that station, nor who will be more faithfully and zealously attached to you.’ In 1761 Webb was again returned for Haslemere after a contest, and when a petition was threatened, Hardwicke, assuring Newcastle on 17 Nov. that the justice of the case was ‘absolutely with [the] sitting Members’, wrote:
I really think that Government ought not to give up the solicitor of the Treasury who has been long in their service ... I know Mr. Webb has some enemies, but that is partly owing to the warmth of his temper, and partly to the good he has done rather than the ill.
After Newcastle’s resignation he continued in office. Hardwicke informed Newcastle on 9 July that Webb, in spite of frequent reports of his imminent dismissal, ‘would not own that he thought himself in any danger, and what Jenkinson had said to him made him believe to the contrary’. And in August 1762, at the dinner given by the high sheriff at the Surrey assizes, Webb openly declared his allegiance to Bute. Newcastle wrote to Hardwicke on 11 Aug.:
They then sat down, and everybody was to name his toast. The first toast named was Sir John Evelyn; that went round quietly. Then our friend, Mr. Carteret Webb named my Lord Bute, upon which the whole company at once got up and would not drink it ... This broke up the company. One Mr. Coates, a very considerable wine-merchant, called out, who gave that toast? or proposed that health? Mr. Webb replied, He is my master.
Hardwicke replied on 21 Aug.:
I don’t wonder at my old friend Webb’s proposing the toast, nor blame him for it. ’Twas natural for the solicitor to the Treasury to toast the head of it; and the reason he gave for it—he is my master was a modest one, and took off from any political merit in it.
Webb, who as solicitor to the Treasury was present with Robert Wood, the under-secretary, at the arrest of Wilkes, firmly upheld the legality of general warrants, and subsequently published a book of precedents for them, taken from records of the King’s bench. When Wood was tried for illegal entry Webb gave evidence which in January 1764 produced an indictment against him for perjury. Harris reports that on 19 Jan. 1764, during a debate on Wilkes, Webb
being reflected on, got up and spoke as to the bill of indictment found against him; gave an account of the meanness of the grand jury—the foreman a cowkeeper, the rest in the same rank; had a great regard to his honour as anyone; his office invidious. As he spoke of his honour, he added, he had too a great many friends among the minority—this raised a laugh and he got up and said—as many as an honest man ought to have.
On 13 Feb., during the debate on general warrants, Webb spoke in his own defence, which Horace Walpole, always hostile towards him, declared was ‘so scurvy, that he was reduced to plead inadvertence, and his being a servant of the secretary of state. He even had the front to affirm that there had been no intention of making Wilkes a close prisoner.’ The following day, after the House had heard precedents for general warrants, Sir William Meredith moved that they might be deemed illegal and that Webb and Wood should be found guilty for proceeding on an illegal warrant, but both were finally acquitted without a division. And when on 22 May Webb was tried for perjury, he was again acquitted. Walpole called it ‘a vindication that no more cleared his character than conviction would have made it worse’. On 22 Apr. 1766 Wood and Webb were once more attacked in the House, and Wood having justified his behaviour to Wilkes, Webb got up to do the same, but, writes Harrris, he ‘was most contemptuously, I may say most uncandidly and unfairly, treated as he was speaking’.1
Webb lost his office as solicitor to the Treasury on the formation of the Rockingham Administration but remained secretary to the bankrupts till Lord Northington left office in July 1766. In Rockingham’s list of July 1765 he was classed as an opponent; voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766; and was classed as ‘doubtful’ by Rockingham in November 1766. On the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, Webb appears in two of the three division lists as voting with Opposition. In Newcastle’s list of 2 Mar. 1767 he was classed as ‘Administration’. He did not stand again in 1768. In November 1768, when Wilkes petitioned for a redress of his grievances, he charged Webb with having bribed with public money a printer, Michael Curry, to give evidence against him. In reply Webb himself petitioned the House on 29 Nov., stating that the charges were unfounded, and praying the House to allow him an opportunity to show his innocence at the bar. This was allowed, and on 31 Jan. 1769 the question came before the House. Walpole writes that Webb ‘now blind, sat there at the bar, and was grievously abused by Davenport, Wilkes’s counsel’. The following day Webb’s own counsel was heard ‘and to move compassion, pleaded before his face that he was decayed in both eyesight and understanding’. It was resolved by the House that Wilkes had not proved his charge.2
Webb was well known for his antiquarian interests; in 1751 he ‘assisted materially’3 in obtaining the charter of incorporation for the Society of Antiquaries, and on various occasions published learned articles, besides assembling a valuable collection of manuscripts.
He died 21 June 1770, aged 70.