KEMP, Thomas (1745-1811), of Lewes Castle, Suss.

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



1780 - 1802
1806 - 3 May 1811

Family and Education

bap. 25 Sept. 1745, 1st s. of George Kemp of Lewes by Grace, da. of Thomas Stonestreet, surgeon, of Lewes. m. c.1780, Anne, da. and h. of Henry Read of Brookland, Kent, 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1767; uncle John Kemp in moiety of manor of Brighthelmstone 1774.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Suss. 1777-8; capt. Suss. vols. 1794.


Kemp, a wealthy wool stapler with a landed inheritance, came in for Lewes on an independent interest, pledged never to accept place or pension. From 1784 he supported Pitt and was assured the goodwill of the Treasury before the election of 1790 by what Thomas Steele* called ‘a long, steady adherence to the cause of the present administration’. His own ambition remained ‘to be the independent representative of an uncorrupt borough’.1

That this was more than a catch-phrase was shown by his subsequent conduct in the House, where, however, he is not known ever to have spoken in debate. He was in the minority against Pitt on Oczakov, 12 Apr. 1791; was listed ‘doubtful’ on the question of Test Act repeal the same month; and from 30 Dec. 1794 joined opposition to the war with revolutionary France, voting steadily in that sense during the next two sessions. He was also in the minorities on the Prince of Wales’s debts, I June 1795, and against the seditious meetings bill, 25 Nov. He was then listed ‘con’ by the Treasury. Assisted by his attentions to the poor of Lewes and his hospitality at Lewes Castle, he headed the poll in 1796, having announced his intention to persevere ‘in an honourable and unbiased line of parliamentary conduct, without regard to party, and with a view only to the common good’.2

In the ensuing Parliament Kemp joined opposition on supply, 8 and 14 Dec. 1796, against the Bank stoppage, 28 Feb. 1797, on the naval mutiny, 10 May,3 and against the assessed taxes, December 1797, and the land tax redemption bill, April-May 1798. He voted against the refusal to negotiate with Buonaparte, 3 Feb. 1800, against the conduct of the war, 10, 17 Feb., and against the Irish union, 21 Apr. He was again in opposition throughout the next session, voting on 1 Dec. 1800 for a separate peace. On 20 Apr. 1801 he opposed the seditious meetings bill and on 31 Mar. 1802 voted for a review of the Prince of Wales’s financial resources.

Kemp was narrowly defeated at the election of 1802 and resorted in vain to a scrutiny. He next dissociated himself from his tactical alliance with the Pelham interest at Lewes and was restored to his seat on the shipwreck of the latter in 1806. Then and in 1807 he was unopposed. He was well disposed to the Grenville ministry, being listed among the ‘staunch friends’ of the abolition of the slave trade and voting for Brand’s motion hostile to their successors, 9 Apr. 1807. He supported the Whig candidate in the ensuing county election so keenly that it was supposed he was making an interest for his son. He was in the minority against the address, 26 June 1807. Thereafter he voted only occasionally—for admitting Catholics to the directorate of the Bank of Ireland, 30 May 1808, and against the Duke of York’s conduct in March 1809—until the session of 1810, when he voted steadily against Perceval’s ministry on the Scheldt inquiry. The Whigs listed him ‘present Opposition’. He voted in favour of parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810 (having last done so in 1785) and was courted by the Friends of Constitutional Reform in March 1811. He had been granted a month’s leave from the House for ill health, 1 Jan., and died ‘after a lingering illness’ on 3 May 1811, aged 65. ‘His politics’, according to his obituary, ‘were those of the honest country gentleman, free and unbiased; not cemented with those of the leading parties, but generally inclining to Whiggism.’4 His only son succeeded to his seat and to a valuable estate, to which he had recently added Hurstmonceaux by purchase.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: M. H. Port


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1811), ii. 87; W. D. Cooper, Parl. Hist. Suss. 25; Suss. Weekly Advertiser, 14 June 1790.
  • 2. Suss. Weekly Advertiser, 30 May 1796.
  • 3. Ibid. 22 May 1797.
  • 4. Gent. Mag. loc. cit.