SEWELL, Robert (1751-1828), of Oak End Lodge, Iver, Bucks.
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Family and Education
b. 1751, 4th s. of Sir Thomas Sewell† of Ottershaw Park, Surr. by 1st w. Catherine, da. of Thomas Heath† of Stansted Mountfichet, Essex. educ. ?Westminster 1764; M. Temple 1765, called 1770. m. 1775, Sarah, da. of William Lewis of Jamaica, 1s. 2da.1
Attorney-gen. Jamaica Feb. 1780-95.
Agent for Jamaica 1795-1806.
Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1798-1807.
Connected with West India planters by his marriage and by his sister’s to Matthew Lewis (father of ‘Monk’ Lewis), Sewell was attorney-general of Jamaica until in 1795 he settled in England as agent for the colony. As such, he sought a seat in Parliament and would have liked to come in for Hindon, where there was a vacancy in 1795, on the interest of William Beckford*. After much hesitation, however, Beckford chose another man and Sewell had to wait until the general election for an opening, which he found at Grampound as a guest of (Sir) Christopher Hawkins*. He was returned together with Bryan Edwards after a contest and they were prominent spokesmen for the planters and the colonial assemblies against the slave trade abolitionists. Sewell corresponded with Pitt on Jamaican affairs.2
His maiden speech was in defence of the augmentation of the militia, 2 Nov. 1796.3 He next spoke on the additional sugar duties, 8 Dec. He was at first hasty in debate: thus on 1 Mar. 1797 he was involved in a misunderstanding with Pitt over the latter’s view of Fox’s motion on the suspension of cash payments by the Bank. But he gained confidence gradually. On 9 Mar. he joined the ‘armed neutrality’, like Edwards and their patron. On 15 May, he stated baldly in the debate on slave abolition that the trade could not cease until the islands were fully cultivated and that even if England stopped it Spain would not. He voted for the assessed taxes, 4 Jan. 1798. On 22 Mar. he took part in the debate on the war with the maroons in Jamaica. On 3 Apr., when he was teller against the abolition of slavery, he spoke of the necessity for compensation for the planters if it were brought about. On 30 Apr. he opposed William Smith’s motion to prevent the crowding of small ships with slaves, pointing out that conditions were worse on the larger vessels. Next day he defended the transportation of the intransigent maroons from Jamaica to Nova Scotia, claiming that they were happily resettled, thanks to the fairness and generosity of the Jamaican assembly. He opposed abolition again on 4 May and on 10 May criticized the slave carrying bill: to William Smith’s proposal that a slave needed 40 cubic feet of space in a ship, he replied that negroes preferred to be herded together and that six and a half feet were ‘more than sufficient’.
Sewell criticized Wilberforce on 1 Mar. 1799 for deprecating the attempts made by the colonial assemblies to mitigate slavery, as he thought these more practical than total abolition, which must entail compensation for the planters. On 6 Mar. and 18 Apr. he further criticized the plan, though he would not oppose going into committee on it. On 2 May he was teller against it. On 3 June 1801 he defended the sugar drawback bill, in the interest of the planters. He was in the minority of 14 Dec. 1801 in favour of continuing the prohibition on distilling spirits from corn. In 1802 he failed to find a seat, being defeated at Grimsby. He remained a colonial agent several years longer. Sewell died 30 Apr. 1828, aged 77.4