BENNET, Charles Augustus, Lord Ossulston (1776-1859).
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Family and Education
b. 28 Apr. 1776, 1st s. of Charles, 4th Earl of Tankerville, by Emma, da. of Sir James Colebrooke†, 1st Bt., of Gatton, Surr.; bro. of Hon. Henry Grey Bennet*. educ. Eton 1788-93; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1793; in Italy 1797.1 m. 28 July 1806, Corisande Armandine Sophie Leonice Hélène de Gramont, da. of Antoine Louis Marie, Duc de Gramont, 1s. 2da. suc. fa. as 5th Earl of Tankerville 10 Dec. 1822.
Treasurer of Household Feb. 1806-Mar. 1807; PC 12 Feb. 1806.
Maj. commdt. Glendale vols. 1803.
‘Lord Ossulston is insignificant and diminutive in his appearance, and aims at thinking and judging for himself’: thus Lady Holland in 1799. ‘Little O’ joined Brooks’s Club on 3 May of that year. Before the election of 1802 he informed his kinsman Charles Grey* of his aspirations to a county seat for Northumberland, when the moment was ripe. He proceeded to Paris, where he was not noticed by the Whig leader Fox, and returned in December 1802, ‘abusing everything at Paris like a pickpocket’. His father had meanwhile secured him a seat in Parliament as the Duke of Norfolk’s guest for Steyning.2
Ossulston voted with Fox against the Nottingham election bill, 3 May 1803. On 27 Feb. 1804 he spoke ‘at some length’, but inaudibly, on the volunteer consolidation bill. The Duke of Northumberland had not taken his offer to raise volunteers seriously. The reporters believed he was favourable to the bill (their deafness to his speeches recurred frequently), but on 6 Mar. he secured an amendment. Moreover, he was in the opposition minorities of 7, 14 and 19 Mar., and in those of 10, 16, 23 and 25 Apr. 1804 which heralded Addington’s downfall; and was listed a Foxite in all three party lists that year. But his only contribution in debate was to lead the opposition to the extension of the franchise at Aylesbury, 13 Apr.; in doing so he disclaimed hostility to parliamentary reform, but (with the Cavendish interest in mind) to this mode of effecting it. He conceded defeat on 7 May by 154 votes to 126. He was then about to marry a French ward of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, but differences with his father led to a threat to settle on an estate in America and postponed the match for two years.3 He voted steadily, if silently, against Pitt’s second ministry. Meanwhile the family interest at Shrewsbury devolved on his brother Henry, who shared his politics in future.
Ossulston presented Fox with ‘more trouble ... than the whole cabinet’ when he came to power in 1806. ‘Fox had openly expressed a wish that he might have offered him some place, and little O’s vanity made it into a promise.’ The Duchess of Devonshire interceded with Fox for him. The sequence of events was bewildering:
First he lost a lord of the Admiralty by being at Cambridge; next he was named for White Stick which he hates, and which was taken away for Lord William Russell; then came a vacancy in the Admiralty which he was really appointed to and the patent made out, and the Duke of Bedford claims it, for Lord William ...
So Russell got the Admiralty and Ossulston the Household place, ‘a mere cypher about the Court’. His ‘pride and hesitation’ vexed Fox, who urged that in due course he might become a lord of trade or of the India Board and informed the duchess, ‘I am ashamed of myself for going so far as to press him. I have my pride as well as others.’ Ossulston let his father decide for acceptance.4 Was he venting his spleen when he moved for an explanation of the increase in the East India Company debt, 11 Mar. 1806? If so, he consented to withdraw it and allow the ministry to state the Company’s case. On 11 July he opposed the mode and manner of the proposed vote of thanks to the volunteers.
Ossulston needed a seat for the next Parliament; indeed he ‘must be ruined if he were out of Parliament’, as Lady Bessborough complained when she realized that the Duke of Devonshire would prefer Ossulston to her son Duncannon for Knaresborough—the duke also provided a dowry of £10,000 for Lady Ossulston.5 There was no vacancy for Northumberland where, Ossulston had peremptorily informed Charles Grey a year before, he expected to be given absolute preference by the independent interest. What he did not realize was that some representatives of the latter would not hear of his standing. So his return for Knaresborough was something of a wedding gift.6 In the House, apart from reporting two royal messages, he spoke only once in debate in that Parliament, successfully opposing the Bath Common division bill, 16 Mar. 1807. He was listed among the staunch friends of the abolition of the slave trade (Fox had summoned him to vote for it in 1805),7 and he voted with them following his colleagues’ dismissal from office, 9 Apr. 1807.
Lady Harriet Cavendish, who found Ossulston mildly exasperating, reported that he forgot ‘even his politics’ in 1807 on the birth of a daughter and that he accepted with alacrity his father-in-law’s introduction of him to the exiled French Bourbon princes, ‘meaning his empressement to be a small satire upon the country for its backwardness in this respect’. But when he threw himself into opposition to the Portland ministry, she commented ‘his tirades against ministers are not amusing and leave him scarcely breath to splutter out "it’s a shame, it’s a blot upon the country" at the end of each of them’.
He soon associated himself with the more advanced Whigs.8 He informd the House that Cochrane’s motion for inquiry into Members’ places and pensions did not go far enough, 7 July 1807. On 7 Apr. 1808 he made one of his inaudible speeches against Perceval’s amendmants to the offices in reversions bill and on 12 and 13 Apr. 1809 moved for particulars of places and offices in reversion since 1782. This culminated in an isolated motion that sinecures were an ‘inexpedient’ mode of rewarding public service and should be replaced by pensions, 13 June 1809; it was nagatived, unheard by the reporters and without observation. On 20 Apr. Ossulston had expressed his objection to the convention of Cintra and the conduct of the Peninsular war (‘in a low voice’). He had attended the meeting to confirm Ponsonby’s leadership of the opposition, 18 June 1809, but was one of a dozen Members who attended the London livery meeting for reform on 22 Apr., and he voted not only for Folkstone’s and Hamilton’s motions on 17 and 25 Apr., but also for Madocks’s motion alleging ministerial corruption on 11 May. Though a critic of the Whig leadership in the winter of 1809-10, he himself attended and urged reluctant fellow-travellers like Creevey to attend the pre-sessional meeting at Ponsonby’s, 22 Jan. 1810.9
Listed a ‘thick and thin’ adherent to the Whigs, he emerged, 27 Mar., 5 Apr. 1810, as a champion of Sir Francis Burdett in debtae and on 18 Apr. called for inquiry into the death of an ‘inoffending individual’ at the hands of the soldiery in the Burdettite disturbances in London. Lady Harriet reported:
Little O. was obliged to explain his politics to the mob, who were going to swallow him, I believe. He is so factious that if he was not so small and inarticulate he might some day or other get into mischeif. As it is, he is never heard and scarcely seen. So passe, passe petit bonhomme, very harmless and very ridiculous.10
He voted for sinecure and parliamentary reform, 17, 21 May 1810. He opposed the Regebcy restrictions silently and was one of the Prince’s Brighton Pavillion gang in 1811, when he was courted by the Freinds of Constitutional Reform and attended the London livery reform dinner, 3 May;11 but figured in the House only by silent votes for the freedom of the press, 28 Mar., for Catholic relief, 31 May, against flogging (on Burdett’s motion), 18 June, and against the bank-note bill, 19 July.
In the ensuing session he spoke in the House only twice: in defence of his father’s conduct as postmaster general, 28 Jan., and in an unsuccessful bid to promote a new theatre in London, 20 Mar.—in this he failed again on 28 Apr. 1813, altogether inaudible. Out of the House, he was overheard: on 12 May 1812, Fremantle informed Lord Grenville, ‘Lord Ossulston’s speech at the reform meeting with Mr Waithman in the chair, was of the most gross description’.12 It exposed him to ridicule when he was again returned for Knaresborough by 6th Duke of Devonshire at the ensuing election. John William Ward, calling him ‘half Jacobin, half aristocrat and whole blockhead’, noted that his claims were preferred to George Tierney’s for the seat and added ‘The best of all this is that Ossulston goes to the Crown and Anchor, and makes speeches about H. of C. being filled with the nominees of great men which, he says, is an infamous abuse’.13
Ossulston’s re-election for Knaresborough in 1812 caused considerable embarrassment to the Whig leaders. The 6th Duke of Devonshire was pledged, by his father’s word, to return him again if he could find no seat elsewhere. Lord Grey had induced him to bide his time as to Northumberland and, in doing so, only increased the reluctance of the independent interest to adopt him, in view of his Burdettite proclivities.14 He had in 1811 been invited to try Berwick, but his father was unwilling to finance the venture and he had to be satisfied with staking a claim for the futture.15 Tierney, who aspired to Ossulston’s seat, had his suspicions confirmed by Grey and others that Ossulston had made no serious effort to find a seat elsewhere. He was prepared to make ‘long explanations’ to the duke in his own justification and would parley with none of the other interested parties. Tierney went so far as to arrange to he Lord Thanet’s nominee at Appleby at the duke’s expense, but eventually waived an exchange of seats with him. Ossulston came out of it all very badly.16
Ossulston continued to act with the opposition dissidents in the Parliament of 1812. He supported Burdett’s and Creevey’s motions; opposed the East India Company trade monolpoly, 14 June, and Christian missions to India, 1 July 1813. He invariably voted for Catholic relief when present. He attempted, on his own account, to secure a guarantee of amnesty for Frenchmen of all political persuasions under the peace treaty, 21 Mar. 1814, but, as usual, no notice was taken of him in the House. He voted against the expulsion of Lord Cochrane, 5 July 1814. Beyond a brief observation, 24 Feb. 1815, he avoided the question of agricultural protection. He voted against the transfer of Genoa, 21 Feb. 1815, and against the deportation of Spanish Liberals from Gibralter, 1 Mar.; after a week’s sick leave, 28 Apr., he was lost to sight until 31 May when he paired the opposition on the Regent’s extraordinary expenditure. A month later he opposed the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill throughout. He had been ‘most dangerously ill’ and horrified by Whitbread’s suicide.17 Obliged to retrench himself, he voted steadily for public retrenchment in the session of 1816, as well as against continental commitments and the legislation of aliens. He favoured the resumption of cash payments by the Bank. His only supporting speech was a suggestion that merely the freight charge of the Elgin marbles should be paid by government and no more, 23 Feb. 1816. On 8 May 1816 he rebuked Burdett for bringing in a petition in which the grievances stated were demonstrably false.
‘Lord Ossulston is come to town for the winter full of eagerness, not to say hopes’, reported Tierney, 4 Jan. 1817.18 He spoke only once, aganist extension of legislative security for the Prince Regent, 28 Feb., but voted staedily against ministers, particularly on the suspension of habeas corpus in February and June, and in the follwoing sessions, on grievances arising out of it. He voted for reform in Burdett’s motion, 20 May 1817, and for repeal of the Septennial Act on Heron’s, 19 May 1818. By March 1817 he knew that he could not expect to come in again for Knaresborough. Brougham then assured Grey:
The Duke of Devonshire has given Ossulston notice to quit and in a very unworthy manner in my opinion—complaining of [Henry Grey] Bennet’s abuse of Castlereagh—and he wished to have Members who would vote with him in every tittle as he pleased!19
In consequence, Grey promised to recommend Ossulston for the first vacancy that he could influence. This caused embarrassment because Brougham’s intention to vacate a seat of Lord Darlington’s in which he wanted Sir James Mackintosh to be his successor became known; but Grey stood by his promise—and failed in his recommendation.20 Ossulston’s financial problems had been solved by his father’s offer to pay off his debts of £40,000, if he consented to live at Walton on £1,100 p.a.; but the final agreement, as reported by Mrs George Lamb, was less favourable to him:
After all, Lord Tankerville does no great thing in paying their debt’s, for he makes them pay the interest of the money he borrows, and their income is reduced to £600 a year, poor little people, and what is worse they must live always with him.21
A visit of Ossulston’s to Berwick in March 1818 was intended to pave the way for his standing there, which faute de mieux he did, only to be defeated. Nothing came of last-minute hopes of a seat of Lord Darlington’s.22 To make matters worse, his former patron returned both Tierney and Mackintosh for Knaresborough. His disgruntlement had repercussions in the Aylesbury election, of which Thomas Grenville wrote:
The amiable Lord Ossulston was maddened with rage, at finding that the Duke of Devonshire refused to bring him in; and forgetting all his former obligations, he revenged himself, by persuading Sir J[ohn] A[ubrey] to give any second vote to Cavendish.23
Ossulston also refused to support John Cam Hobhouse† for the Westminster by-election later that year, consoling him with the reflection that he preferred him to Douglas Kinnaird.24 When George Lamb was adopted by the Whigs, Earl Grey was informed by John George Lambton:
Ossulston was the only other person thought of, and his situation prevented the possibility of his succeeding. I mean as to pecuniary affairs. Besides he is not formed by nature (or indeed art) to stand a contested election.25
He took it well and went to France. Earl Fitzwilliam would not consider Ossulston for a vacancy at Peterborough later that year, but he won his contest for Berwick in 1820.26 He died 15 June 1859.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Add. 51650, Penrose to Lady Holland, 4 Nov. 1797.
- 2. Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 275; Grey mss, Ossulston to Grey, 29 Aug. ; Chatsworth mss, Fox to Duchess of Devonshire, 16 Dec. Duchess to ?,  Dec. 1802; Alnwick mss 63, f. 8.
- 3. Add. 51724, Ponsonby to Lady Holland, 21 Aug. 1804; Leveson Gower, i. 472-4; Minto, iii. 365; Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish, i. 134; Two Duchesses ed. V. Foster, 196, 203, 286.
- 4. D. M. Stuart, Dearest Bess, 137; Chatsworth mss, Fox to Duchess of Devonshire, Tues., Sat. [Feb.], Duchess to Hartington, Wed., Sat., Sunday, Mon. [Feb. 1806]; HMC Fortescue, viii. 17, 19.
- 5. Carlisle mss, Lady Bessborough to Lady Morpeth, n.d. ; Farington, iii. 300.
- 6. Grey mss, Ossulston to Grey, 29 Aug. , Swinburne to same, 7 Aug., 26 Oct.; Carlisle mss, Lady to Ld. Morpeth, 24 Oct. .
- 7. Leveson Gower, ii. 34.
- 8. Letters to Lady Harriet Cavendish, 259, 265, 271, 277; HMC Fortescue, x. 26, 241; Spencer mss, Grenville to Spencer, 19 Apr. 1812.
- 9. Morning Chron. 22 Apr. 1809; Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 111, 121, 122; Creevey mss, Ossulston to Creevey, Thurs. [Jan 1810].
- 10. Letters of Countess Granville, i. 3.
- 11. Creevey Pprs. i. 150; Morning Chron. 4 May 1811.
- 12. Fortescue mss.
- 13. Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 174.
- 14. Grey mss, Howick to Ossulston 30 Sept., reply 2 Oct., Swinburne to Howick, 11 Oct. 1807, to Grey, 15 Sept. 1811, Monck to Grey, 26 Feb., Tierney to same, 8 Oct. 1812.
- 15. Whitbread mss W1/1890; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 10 Oct., Grey to Holland, 11 Nov. 1812.
- 16. Chatsworth mss, Grey to Devonshire, 5 Oct., 13 Dec., Ossulston to same [26 Oct.]; Grey mss, Tierney to same, 6, 26, Sept., Sat [3 Oct.], 8, 10, 14, 16, 19, 30 Oct., Thanet to same, 28 [Oct.] Ld. G.A. Cavendish to same, 19 Dec.; Add. 51545, Holland to Grey, [7 Nov.], 10 Dec. 1812.
- 17. Creevey Pprs. i. 243; Creevey’s Life and Times, 84; Creevey mss, Bennet to Creevey, 31 May 1815.
- 18. Add. 51585, Tierney to Lady Holland, 4 Jan. 1817.
- 19. Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey, Wed. [19 Mar. 1817].
- 20. Add. 51545, Grey to Holland, 3 Feb.; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 6 Feb. 1818.
- 21. Chatsworth mss, Lady Morpeth to Devonshire, 29 May; Carlisle mss, Mrs Lamb to Lady Morpeth, 10 July .
- 22. Grey mss, Ossulston to Grey, Fri. [20 Mar.], Lambton to Grey, 2 Apr.; Carlisle mss, Lady to Ld, Morpeth, Tues. night [23 June 1818].
- 23. Buckingham, Regency, ii. 263.
- 24. Add. 56540, f. 32.
- 25. Grey mss, Lambton to Grey, 12 Feb., .
- 26. Chatsworth mss, Abercromby to Devonshire, 16 Feb., Lady Morpeth to same, 5 May; Grey mss, Fitzwilliam to Grey, 22 Oct. 1819.