BURDON, Rowland (?1757-1838), of Castle Eden, co. Dur. and Mosley Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1790 - 1806

Family and Education

b. ?1757, o.s. of Rowland Burdon, merchant and banker, of Newcastle and Castle Eden by Elizabeth, da. of George Smith of Burn Hall, co. Dur. educ. Royal g.s. Newcastle; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 17 Dec. 1773, aged 16; Grand Tour 1779. m. (1) 27 June 1780, Margaret (d. 16 Feb. 1791), da. of Charles Brandling*, 1da. d.v.p.; (2) 20 Feb. 1794, Cotsford, da. and h. of Gen. Richard Matthews, 4s. 3da. suc. fa. 1786.

Offices Held

Mayor, Stockton 1793-5; capt. commdt. Easington vol. cav. 1797, maj. commdt. 1798.


Burdon was descended from an old Stockton family. His father was a successful Newcastle merchant in partnership with Aubone Surtees, whose daughter Elizabeth eloped with John Scott, later Lord Eldon, in 1772. He bought the Castle Eden estate, between Durham and Hartlepool, in 1758 and in 1768 founded the Exchange Bank in Newcastle with Surtees. Burdon junior, described in 1780 as ‘a macaroni manqué grafted on the son of a Newcastle banker by two years running about Italy’, became a partner in the bank, succeeded to Castle Eden in 1786 and two years later opened a branch of the bank in Berwick. After Surtees’s death in 1800, his sons Aubone and John joined Burdon as partners in the Newcastle bank, along with Burdon’s brother-in-law John Brandling. Burdon had other general business interests in the area, including one in the rope factory of Webster, Grimshaw and Company at Bishopwearmouth.1

In 1789, he began an active canvass for the county of Durham as a supporter of Pitt, who exerted government influence on his behalf. He had the backing of his father-in-law, Member for Newcastle, of the Bishop of Durham and the clerical interest and of the 10th Earl of Strathmore, also boasted of widespread ‘independent’ support and eventually secured the powerful interest of the 2nd Earl of Darlington. When he approached the reformer Christopher Wyvill, who told him that he was bound to support candidates who subscribed to the tenets of the Yorkshire Association, Burdon claimed to be well disposed towards reduction of the influence of the crown, parliamentary reform and a purge of sinecures. When further questioned by Wyvill as to his views on the Septennial Act, he replied that although he found it objectionable, he could not vote for its repeal without a guarantee of ‘preventatives’ against too frequent elections, and that much as he wished to diminish the influence of the crown, he was equally hostile to overbearing aristocratic power, from which he claimed to be trying to liberate the county. At the general election of 1790 he went to the poll with two Whigs, one of whom had earlier dismissed him as ‘an alien banker’, and finished top after a very expensive contest. He was unopposed in 1796.2

Burdon, who was said in 1795 to have ‘the undivided patronage of the whole county of Durham’ and described by Henry Dundas in 1797 as ‘a very steady and good friend’,3 generally supported Pitt’s ministry, but frequently showed himself capable of independent action. His maiden speech was delivered in support of the Spanish convention, 13 Dec. 1790. The deaths of his daughter and wife early in 1791 were severe blows, but he was listed hostile to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland, and he attended for the debate on the slave trade, 18 Apr., when he declared his preference for gradual abolition. By 25 Apr. 1792 he had become a convert to immediate abolition and he supported abolition or limitation of the trade, 14 May 1793, 25 Feb. 1794 and 15 Mar. 1796. He opposed the extension of the privilege of franking to judges, 9 May 1791, and on 6 June tried to cut short the consideration of Sheridan’s finance resolutions, but withdrew his motion at Pitt’s request. He objected to the proposed grant of £18,000 to the Duke of York, 7 Mar. 1792, contending that £10,000 was as much as the country could afford. He was a teller for the minority against an amendment to the sugar regulation bill, 22 May. Three days later he welcomed the royal proclamation against seditious societies.

In 1792 Burdon, who had earlier promoted a turnpike road between Stockton and Sunderland, obtained an Act of Parliament (32 Geo. III c.90) for the construction of a bridge across the Wear at Sunderland. His personal contribution to the venture which, begun in 1793 and completed in 1796, laid the foundation of Sunderland’s prosperity, was put at £30,000; but the royal architect John Nash later complained to Glenbervie that the iron bridge ‘was first projected by himself, and the design stolen from him by Mr Burdon’.4

He defended the erection of military barracks, especially in large towns, 22 Feb. 1793, and welcomed the militia augmentation bill, 6 Mar. 1794, though the previous year he had opposed the raising of volunteers as unnecessary. He thought the ‘oppressive’ additional newspaper duty was unworthy of Pitt, 21 Mar., but he emphatically supported the suspension of habeas corpus, 16 May, and the address on the suppression of sedition, 16 June. He was one of the Members who, having hitherto supported the war, voted for Wilberforce’s peace amendment, 30 Dec. 1794, when he argued that as its original object, to ‘bring the French back to their senses’, had largely been achieved, it was pointless to sustain it merely out of dislike for the French form of government. This was no bar to his supporting ‘vigorous prosecution of the war, by readily granting the supplies’, 2 Jan. 1795, though he wanted ministers to adopt ‘moderate and pacific language’. He voted with them against Grey’s peace motions, 26 Jan. and 6 Feb., but divided against the imperial loan, 5 Feb., criticized Pitt’s handling of the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 14 May, when he spoke for a reduction in the proposed grant, and spoke and voted for Sumner’s amendment to the provisions for payment of the Prince’s debts, 1 June. He defended barracks, 4 Dec., condemned the Durham petition against the repressive legislation as unrepresentative, 10 Dec., and opposed Whitbread’s wage regulation bill, 9 Dec. 1795 and 12 Feb. 1796. He favoured repeal of the Game Laws, 1 Mar., and waste enclosure, 20 Mar., and was said to have been one of the six county Members who voted for the estate duty bill, 9 May 1796.5

Burdon was appointed to the secret finance committee, 13 Mar. 1797, and prepared its report on the Post Office. He sat on it again in 1798 and ‘constantly attended’ its meetings.6 He seconded Keene’s request for information on French prisoners and foreign immigrants, 22 Mar., spoke strongly against Combe’s motion for the removal of ministers, 19 May, suggested making the land tax redeemable, 30 June, spoke against Tierney’s motion on the third secretaryship, 7 Nov. 1797, and was a teller for the ministerial majority in the division. He invested £10,000 in the 1797 loyalty loan and supported the triple assessment in principle, 4, 7 and 14 Dec., but wanted modifications to ensure that the owners of large property paid more. One of the Members invited to hear Pitt’s proposed alterations, 17 Dec., he secured exemption for undertakers and teachers, 28 Dec. 1797, and voted for the third reading of the bill, 4 Jan. 1798. He welcomed the militia enlistment bill, 30 Dec. 1797, but also pressed for the provisional cavalry to be made into a regular force. He spoke for the land tax redemption bill, 9 May 1798, and was a ministerial teller in the division, but on 18 May he voted for Buxton’s proposal that no new land tax should be levied without taxing all other property. He preferred inquiry by commissioners into corn importers’ losses to an investigation by committee of the whole House, 10 May.

Burdon approved of the bill extending the time limit for land tax redemption, 5 Dec. 1798, and hoped it would make provision for settling the test of freeholders at elections. He supported the continued suspension of habeas corpus, 21 Dec., and was a government teller in the division. He refuted, on the basis of personal investigation, allegations of the maltreatment in custody of Col. Despard, 26 Dec. 1798, and on 22 Feb. 1799 moved for production of the evidence given before the Middlesex magistrates on the regime in Coldbath Fields prison. He planned to move the appointment of a select committee of inquiry into the prison, but on 5 Mar. 1799, explaining that he had been unaware that he would be obliged to serve on it, which he could not do because of his duties as a member of the secret committee on conspiracies, he dropped his motion and appealed for another Member to take it up. William Dundas did so and on 21 May Burdon expressed satisfaction with the committee’s favourable report. On the militia exemption bill, 26 Dec. 1798, he commended Dundas for putting the country in an excellent state of defence, but urged the creation of an effective offensive force. He supported the income tax, 27 Dec. 1798, but objected to the proposed secrecy of returns, 14 Mar. 1799. On 6 May he introduced the government bill continuing the suspension of the issue of small bank-notes.

Burdon supported the naval estimates, 12 Feb., and Pitt’s budget, 24 Feb. 1800. He was against Wilberforce’s plan to encourage the growth of early potatoes, 19 Feb., because it was dangerous to interfere with agriculture, and, as his remedy for the grain shortage, recommended public funding of facilities for the production and sale of cheap bread, 6 Mar. He secured the appointment of a select committee to consider the existing turnpike laws and means of improving roads, 11 Mar., but was frustrated by the lack of a quorum in his attempts to have its report considered, 28 Mar. and 9 May, and on 13 May dropped the matter for that session. Burdon was not a coal owner and disclaimed ‘any interest whatever’ in the coal trade, but he was quick, as Durham Members had to be, to safeguard the interests of those involved in it. He welcomed Manning’s motion for an inquiry, 11 Mar. 1800, and sat on the committee, as he did when Manning, who sought to effect a reduction in prices, secured the appointment of another inquiry, 27 Nov. 1800. Burdon admitted that prices had risen, but spoke of increased labour costs and when Manning introduced his unsuccessful regulation bill, 11 Mar. 1801, he defended the northern coal owners and proclaimed the trade to be a fine nursery for the navy. His own attempt to strengthen the legal position of the captains of coasting vessels, 11 and 13 May, came to nothing. He sat on the committee of inquiry into Irish disaffection, a Apr., and supported the country banks forgery prevention bill, 14 May and 9 June 1801.

In September 1801 Burdon, who had transferred his support to Addington on the change of ministries, announced that he would not stand for the county at the next election. Lord Eldon told his brother:

I have had a letter from Burdon. He assigns no reason but a love of retirement. He adds only ... that his support for the treason and sedition bills, and the stronger measures of government, have created him bitter, fierce and unrelenting enemies, in a county in which he seems to say ... all good men are inconceivably timid.

Judith Milbanke, the wife of his Whig colleague in the county seat, claimed to know that ‘his real reason for retiring’ was that

he had got a contract under government to supply the navy with ropes, and which, had the war continued, would have been very profitable, but the peace being made, is now not worth a rope’s end.7

Although Sir Henry Vane Tempest immediately offered in his place, Burdon was immensely popular in Durham, especially with the shipping and coal interests, and an attempt was made to persuade him to change his mind, but in November 1801 he publicly declined to do so.8

Burdon, who was appointed to the civil list committee, 17 Feb. 1802, expressed general satisfaction with Addington’s budget statement, 5 Apr., though he was worried about the proposed convoy duty and considered repeal of the invaluable income tax a departure from Pitt’s policy. He went on:

He was shortly to terminate his political existence; and he wished it to be known, for the sake of consistency, that he continued still of the same opinion respecting this tax ... He concluded with expressing his confidence in the present administration, and wished that the country might long enjoy the benefit of it.

He threatened to oppose going into committee on the tonnage duty, 27 Apr., but relented. He secured a payment of £1,200 to Henry Greathead for his invention of the lifeboat, 2 June. When Parliament was dissolved a concerted campaign was begun in Durham and among the voters resident in London to nominate and elect Burdon for the county, if necessary without his consent. Vane Tempest initially stood his ground, but he withdrew the day before the nomination meeting when Burdon, who spoke of his independent support for Pitt’s measures and stressed his services to the commercial interests of the county, accepted the invitation to stand. He was returned unopposed with Sir Ralph Milbanke.9

Burdon introduced another small notes suspension bill, 25 Nov. 1802, and praised Addington’s financial plans, 13 Dec., but the following day, presenting a Blyth petition against the tonnage duties, he found fault with the minister’s policy towards the shipping interest and he demanded amendment of the duties, 21 Apr. 1803. He supported the appointment of the commission of naval inquiry, 15 Dec. 1802, opposed consideration of the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 4 Mar. 1803, favoured the prosecution of electoral miscreants at Ilchester, 22 Apr., and supported the adjournment pending news of the renewal of war, 6 May.10 On Patten’s censure motion, 3 June, he voted with Pitt for the orders of the day.

The news of the failure of Burdon’s bank, 30 June 1803, which was later attributed to improvident speculation by the Surtees brothers, cast a ‘blight’ over the north east. The bank’s affairs were placed in the hands of a committee and hopes were held out of meeting all outstanding demands. By May 1804 the liquidation committee were able to report that a large debt to the government had been repaid and many large accounts settled and that there was every prospect of winding up its affairs with full satisfaction.11 Burdon, who was listed under ‘Pitt’ in March and September 1804 and July 1805, evidently played little part in Parliament after the crash, his only recorded speeches being against the proposal to transport coal to London by canal, 16 May and 7 June 1805. Difficulties occurred and multiplied in settling the bank’s affairs and in June 1806 Burdon, the Surtees brothers and their Berwick partner John Embleton put their estates and effects in the hands of trustees for sale. This did not satisfy some creditors and Burdon and his partners were required to surrender themselves to the bankruptcy commissioners in July, when Farington was told that Burdon, once worth £8,000 a year with £50,000 in capital, had ‘now only left £500 a year which had been settled upon his wife as pin-money’. He announced his retirement from Parliament at the dissolution in October 1806.12

Despite the failure of the bank, Burdon retained most of his popularity in Durham and at the 1807 general election a ‘No Popery’ cry, and the hostility of the shipping interest to the Grenville ministry’s American intercourse bill, inspired a move to bring him forward and pay his expenses. Burdon initially agreed to stand, but his doing so as a certified bankrupt provoked some criticism and he eventually withdrew, having agreed to transfer his interest to a generally acceptable compromise candidate. At the county meeting he said that he had only come forward because he considered the measures of the ‘Talents’ to have been ‘subversive’ of the constitution and wished the true sentiments of the county to be expressed at Westminster.13

Meanwhile, the bank’s creditors had decided to seek permission to dispose by tontine of sums secured to Burdon in tolls on the Sunderland bridge and of his interest in the ropery. Powers were obtained, but the venture was unsuccessful and a lottery was eventually resorted to. His interest in the sum of £41,682 in 4 per cent annuities under his second marriage settlement was sold by auction in 1809, but when his life interest in the Castle Eden estates was threatened, they were saved from alienation by a county subscription, which Burdon accepted as a loan and was eventually able to repay. By 1811, debts of £85,368 against his private estate had been paid, but he and his partners remained liable to 3,320 creditors for £280,298. In 1812 Burdon, backed by Bishop Barrington of Durham, applied unsuccessfully to Lord Liverpool for the post of distributor of stamps for the county. The affairs of the bank were finally wound up in 1832, when a dividend of 8d. in the pound was paid. Burdon, who helped to promote an Act of 1832 for the improvement of Hartlepool harbour, eventually emerged solvent, but he never regained his fortune and died in comparatively modest circumstances, 17 Sept. 1838.14

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Lawrence Taylor / David R. Fisher


  • 1. Surtees, Co. Dur. iii. 173-5; M. Phillips, Banks, Bankers and Banking in Northumb., 27, 385-7, 391, 395-7; M. Elwin, Noels and Milbankes, 158; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 99-100.
  • 2. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC 2668; PRO 30/8/118, ff. 7-19; 181, f. 69; N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss ZFW 7/2/61/1-4, 9, 10; Egerton 2137, f. 37.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/162, f. 64; Add. 37274, f. 242.
  • 4. A. R. Laws, Schola Novocastrensis, ii. 92; J. Latimer, Local Recs. 97; Gent. Mag. (1838), ii. 553; Glenbervie Jnls. 149.
  • 5. Morning Chron. 12 May 1796.
  • 6. Colchester, i. 108-9, 113; PRO 30/9/32, f. 322.
  • 7. Twiss, Eldon, i. 349; Elwin, Byron’s Wife, 76.
  • 8. Addresses to Burdon (1802), 1-14.
  • 9. Ibid 14-83; The Times, 17, 20, 23, 27, 30 July 1802.
  • 10. PRO 30/9/33, Abbot diary, 6 May 1803.
  • 11. Farington, iii. 286; Grey mss, Grey to Fox, 3 Aug. 1803; Phillips, 387-90.
  • 12. Phillips, 390-1; Farington, iii. 286.
  • 13. Newcastle Chron. 9, 16, 23, 30 May 1807.
  • 14. Phillips, 391-5, 400; Latimer, 97; Add. 38328, f. 28; PCC 679 Nicholl.