LUSHINGTON, Stephen Rumbold (1776-1868), of Norton Court, nr. Faversham, Kent.

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



1807 - 1812
1812 - 1830
1835 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 6 May 1776, 2nd s. of Rev. James Stephen Lushington of Rodmersham, vicar of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and preb. of Carlisle, by 2nd. w. Mary, da. of Rev. Humphrey Christian of Docking, Norf. educ. Rugby 1785; Linton acad. m. (1) 9 Dec. 1797, Anne Elizabeth (d. 25 Mar. 1856), da. of Gen. George Harris, cr. 1st Baron Harris, 6s. 2da.; (2) 8 May 1858, Marianne, da. of James Hearne of Gt. Portland Street, Mdx., s.p.

Offices Held

Writer, E.I. Co. (Madras) 1790; asst. to sec., military, political and secret dept. 1792; asst. to translator, board of revenue 1793, Persian translator 1794; dep. sec. board of revenue 1796, sec. 1798; under searcher, Sea Gate 1796, collector, Ramnad 1799, Tinnevelly 1801; registrar, sadar and faujdari adalat 1803; at home 1803, res. 1807.

Chairman of ways and means 1810-13; sec. to Treasury Jan. 1814-Apr. 1827; PC 30 June 1827; gov. Madras Oct. 1827-Oct. 1832.

Capt. Lath of Scray vols. 1805; maj. 2 E. Kent militia 1810.


Lushington entered the East India Company service through his father’s connexions. In Madras he acted as private secretary to the victorious commander-in-chief General Harris from 1795 to 1799, marrying his daughter. He arrived home with an adequate fortune in 1803, three years after his father-in-law, whom he had assured that he wished to secure his own financial independence before leaving India and had no inclination to any of the professions that might realize this ambition at home. In the event it was his father’s death and his wife’s health that conspired to bring him home and he did not then rule out the possibility of returning to India.

Lushington settled in Kent on an estate procured for him by General Harris. He later reminded Harris that he then had no thought of entering Parliament:

I was occupied chiefly in overcoming my repugnance to an agricultural occupation which you and William had from the kindest motives prepared for me and thereafter in seconding your endeavours to secure your property and remove unjust calumny. In the early part of this struggle you felt the want of political connexion, and at the suggestion of Lord Wellesley, and with the concurring judgment of Lord Moira, you proposed to me to get into Parliament. I declined it then not seeing any return of satisfaction or benefit, and we proceeded in repelling the attacks of the directors, and in preparing the government for a more just consideration of the great services you had rendered to your country.

In the progress of this cause we thought it of the greatest importance to your success that Mr Perceval, then solicitor-general, should be engaged not merely professionally as your advocate, but that he should be warmly impressed with a sense of the deep injustice you had suffered. To this we both directed our particular attention, and of course both of us became personally acquainted with him.

General Harris wanted to recover a loan to the Madras government, but he also wished for a British peerage, having refused an Irish one on his return home at the instigation of Lord Wellesley.1

On the eve of the general election of 1806, Lushington agreed to come into Parliament to serve his father-in-law and approaches were made to Lord Moira for a seat, while Wellesley, believing that Harris was ‘made of money’, offered to procure him one for £4,000. In December 1806 an arrangement was made with the Treasury through Wellesley whereby Lushington was to be returned for Grampound on Sir Christopher Hawkins’s interest for £5,000, with power to vacate in favour of the General’s son Col. William Harris, or any other person acceptable to the minister Lord Grenville. This fell through, but Harris’s dispute with the East India Company continued. He had just invested in East India stock in Lushington’s name when the dissolution of 1807 provided a fresh opportunity. The general had some interest at Canterbury and Wellesley secured the new government’s backing for Lushington’s candidature there. He was averse to it, especially when the general eschewed a compromise and spent as much on a contest, in which Lushington was defeated, as he had intended to in the purchase of a seat. But Wellesley saw to it that government compensated Lushington soon afterwards with a vacant seat for Rye, which he obtained for £2,500, of which Harris contributed £1,000.2

Although Lushington’s maiden speech was a defence of government’s conduct towards Denmark, 3 Feb. 1808, in which he rebuked opposition for a ‘sentimental system’ which ‘would embrace all nations but their own’, his chief parliamentary topic, predictably, was the defence of Wellesley’s conduct in India, which he was sure would be vindicated by any inquiry, 22 Feb., and defended in detail on 15 Mar. 1808; on I June he justified at length the East India Company’s policy towards the Carnatic. (In February he had given notice of his intention to stand for the Company directory.) He found Perceval ‘very kindly disposed’ towards him, ‘for his request to me ... to second the address to the throne was his own spontaneous act’. This was on 19 Jan. 1809. He spoke in exoneration of the Duke of York, 17 Mar. 1809. Harris having obtained his compensation, Lushington was now prepared to quit Parliament and had actually applied for the Chiltern Hundreds at the end of March 1809 and was arranging for his seat to be bestowed on a friend of Wellesley’s when Perceval and Huskisson persuaded him against it. He voted for inquiry into charges of ministerial corruption, 25 Apr. 1809, and in the same month made another bid to secure election to the East India Company directory, with the encouragement of Perceval’s offer to place him on the India finance committee. He informed his father-in-law that not being ‘naturally a farmer’, he had better aspire to be a spokesman for the Company in the House, where he felt confident of recognition, ‘for I never lose my temper in debate’; besides, thanks to the imminent renewal of the Company charter, India must be ‘largely discussed’. In canvassing the Company directors in May 1809 he suggested that they should impress the proprietors ‘by recommending a person for their choice upon public grounds’, but nothing came of it. Of Curwen’s reform bill Lushington remarked in private that it ‘would in fact strengthen the influence of the crown and diminish that of the people. Such are the difficulties of meddling with the constitution. I shall always oppose every change until I can perceive the benefits of it.’3

In the event of a reshuffle in 1809, Lushington was tipped for a place at the Treasury. His father-in-law, to whom he had mortgaged his estate, hinted that his finances needed boosting. If Wellesley formed an administration, both of them would benefit and Lushington intended to apply to him to be an under secretary of state. This application was postponed from September to 16 Nov. 1809, when Wellesley’s prospects seemed better, but Lushington was careful to assure Wellesley of Perceval’s continued ‘good opinion’ of him. In fact, he was content with Perceval’s appointment of him, previously pledged, as chairman of ways and means in place of Wharton, 31 Jan. 1810, with £1,200 a session: it was ‘the most fortunate and flattering [event] of my life’.4

When he took his seat for his first committee on 2 Feb. 1810, William Smith, encouraged by a very thin House, tried to substitute Davies Giddy, as a more experienced man; but Lushington parried the blow, ‘very adroitly’, so Perceval assured him, and was vindicated by the Speaker, whose confidence he henceforward enjoyed, and by others: Wharton pointed out that ‘not long experience, but a sort of technical knowledge’ was required. Lushington, who on the opposition push for an inquiry into the Scheldt expedition on 23 Jan. had stated that he had no objection to one but was confident ministers could justify themselves, was now more closely connected with government, and, relieved of the dread that he would have to chair the Scheldt inquiry, voted with ministers throughout the debates on the subject.5 The Whigs listed him among the dozen personal adherents of Perceval in the House.

For the rest of that Parliament, Lushington had little to say in debate outside his business duties. He did not find them onerous: ‘one day of my Poligar administration was more severe than a month of this. There is no pressure of the mind, the great requisites are impartiality and the faculty of sitting as long and as quiet as a shoemaker.’ He was careful to establish ‘a character for impartiality’, even to the extent of giving a decision against Perceval: but an invitation to a cabinet dinner on 19 June 1810 convinced him that it was taken in good part and Perceval, for whom he was prepared to undertake business chores during the recess, reassured him of his confidence. He had voted against criminal law reform, 1 May 1810, and against parliamentary reform, 21 May, as well as against the abolition of sinecures, 17 May 1810 (and subsequently). He viewed the Regency debates with distaste, disliking Perceval’s proposed limitations on the Regent’s power and embarrassed lest his casting vote should be required; he resolved, however, to uphold ‘the cause of the King and of my friend Perceval’ if necessary, recollecting ‘the miserable state of men’s minds in the Carnatic from the operation of a divided government’. He regarded Perceval’s death as a great personal blow and on 14 May 1812 appealed to the generosity of Parliament to agree to a provision for his family, having taken it upon himself to assure Perceval’s brother, Lord Arden, of it in advance.

On 21 May he voted against Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration, which he privately believed the cabinet should have endorsed, though ‘much more easy to desire than to accomplish’. Nevertheless, in the event of Wellesley forming a government, he was earmarked for the secretaryship of the Board of Control, though no longer considered a Wellesleyite and expecting to lose his place. He had in fact had the same appointment proposed to him by government in July 1811, when he was considering the possibility of returning to India, but could not then make up his mind to it. He now assured Wellesley of his support, freely confessing that he had adhered to Perceval, but was anxious to safeguard his father-in-law’s claims on Wellesley, only to learn that Wellesley stood little chance of forming a government. He regretted it, as he wished for a more efficient administration with Canning taking the lead in the Commons, regardless of what his own fate might be; and if Lord Moira, rather than Wellesley, headed a new ministry, he was confident that the former would be as ready to make his father-in-law a British peer. Even so, he agreed to parley with Wellesley at the eleventh hour, 10 June 1812, before the rump of Perceval’s administration were reinstated in office. On 22 June 1812 and on all subsequent occasions he voted against Catholic relief: on 9 Mar. 1813, before taking the chair in the Catholic relief bill committee, not satisfied to give ‘a silent vote’ he expressed his hostility.6

By this time Lushington was assured that he was ‘the best chairman ... seen in the House’. Before the general election of 1812 he had applied to Lord Liverpool, who had perhaps disappointed his hopes of an under secretaryship of state but had engaged to place him ‘in a situation that would be equally satisfactory as the Board of Control’, for a British peerage for his father-in-law. The latter shared his hostility to Catholic relief, would support government in the Lords and might bring his son into the Commons to do so. This would be ‘the consummation of my present political wishes’, he added. Although he could not readily afford it and it does not appear to have been his father-in-law’s original intention for him, he came in for Canterbury, standing singly, subsidized by a loan from the general and heading the poll. He had evidently satisfied Harris that he and his family needed political patronage and that no other member of the family had the same prospects, though he gave his blessing to his brother-in-law’s efforts to get in for Coventry, where his money was wasted. Nor did Harris secure his peerage until 1815, Lushington being reluctant to press the premier on a point that might compromise his career if insisted on. Speaking in defence of the bill for a new county gaol for Kent, 2 June 1813, he referred to his own exertions to stem unrest in the county in the past year. A select committeeman on the renewal of the East India Company charter that session, he was still toying with the notion of returning to India, though it was suggested to him that he might next look to the Speaker’s chair. In debate he was an advocate for the Company, opposing restricted renewal or the removal of its China trade monopoly, and although he professed to favour the propagation of Christianity in India, he deprecated and tried to refute Wilberforce’s attack on Hindu morality, 28 June, pointing out that missionary methods also left much to be desired.7

On the anticipated resignation of Wharton as joint secretary to the Treasury, Lushington was tipped to succeed him, and so he did, early in 1814. Although he retained the office until 1827, he found his special responsibility for finance (his colleague Arbuthnot being patronage secretary) ‘odious’ and held on to it only faute de mieux.8 Apart from the business of his office, he took little part in debate. He wished to exclude counties from the election expense bill, 16 May 1814, and defended agricultural protection, 23 May. He showed no great enthusiasm for debates on postal abuses or those concerning bleaching powder, which were part of his official duties in 1815; nor did he shine as a spokesman for government in Castlereagh’s absence, 1 Mar. 1816, on the renewal of the property tax, which he defended because ‘it would reach affluence in the hands of avarice’, or on Princess Charlotte’s establishment bill, 9 Apr., when Castlereagh arrived to rescue him. The defence of the leather tax, 9 May 1816, 12 Mar., 6 Apr. 1818, and of public lotteries, 12 June 1816, did not inspire him, nor did that of the Bank restriction on cash payments, 19 May 1818.

Before the general election of 1818, Lushington again appears to have been offered a Treasury seat for Rye, but his father-in-law had no confidence in his son’s ability to retain Canterbury in his place without Lushington’s assistance, and although he advised him to quit Canterbury tout court, Lushington retained the seat, heading the poll.9 He had received a hint by March 1818 that should he change his situation he might obtain a pension or place: the customs board with £2,000 a year was one possibility. Nothing came of it and he was soon involved in most uncongenial business duties in the House, such as the defence of excise informers and excise prosecutions. On 3 June 1819 he felt obliged to deny that he had over-indulged in patronage for his friends at Canterbury. At the same time he was abused in the opposition press for his exposure of the doubtful character of Capt. Hanchett of the navy, who had petitioned the House against his dismissal. The quality of his contribution to the cause of government may be gauged by the opening of his vindication of indirect taxes, his only reported speech before the recess of the next session, 22 Dec. 1819: ‘Mr Lushington said that the consumption of tea had been considerably increased during the last year. It was certainly greater last quarter than during the corresponding quarter of last year.’

Lushington eventually realized that he had no prospect of political promotion at home and was glad to escape to Madras, where he became governor in 1827. Lord Liverpool had written in 1823:

The truth is, India is not the road to office in this country ... it would be unfair if it was so generally ... for whatever disadvantages may attend an Indian life a person has the means of amassing a fortune there, which he has not through civil office in this country. Mr Lushington I know is an exception but he had been many years in Parliament before he attained office, and he is perhaps of all persons of that description the one who most easily fell into English habits and English connections.10

Lushington died 5 Aug. 1868.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Kent AO, Harris mss C67/8, 9, 18, 91.
  • 2. Ibid. C67/33, 37, 38, 91; Add. 37309, ff. 152, 208; 37415, f. 38.
  • 3. Geo. III Corresp. v. 3834; Harris mss C67/44, 47-49, 91.
  • 4. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 252; Harris mss C67/50, 51, 55, 56, 78; Add. 37309, f. 303.
  • 5. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 3 Feb. 1810; Harris mss C67/57.
  • 6. Harris mss C67/75, 83-87, 88, 90, 93, 104, 117; Add. 37297, f. 167; Bagot mss, Canning to Bagot, 9 Nov. 1812.
  • 7. Harris mss C1/8, 67/91, 100, 102; 106/1, 2; Add. 38249, f. 207.
  • 8. Lonsdale mss, Beckett to Lowther, 20 Sept. 1813; Jnl. of Mrs Arbuthnot, ii. 75-76.
  • 9. Harris mss C234, Harris to Lushington, 8 Mar. 1818.
  • 10. Add. 38475, f. 106.