CURWEN (formerly CHRISTIAN), John Christian (1756-1828), of Ewanrigg and Workington Hall, Cumb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



31 May 1786 - 1790
3 Mar. 1791 - 1812
8 Mar. 1816 - 1820
1820 - 11 Dec. 1828

Family and Education

b. 12 July 1756, 1st surv. s. of John Christian of Ewanrigg and Jane, da. of Eldred Curwen† of Workington. educ. Peterhouse, Camb. 1773; Grand Tour 1779-82. m. (1) 10 Sept. 1775, Margaret (d. 1 Feb. 1778), da. of John Taubman, Speaker of House of Keys, of Castletown, Isle of Man, 1s.; (2) 5 Oct. 1782, his cos. Isabella, da. and h. of Henry Curwen† of Workington, 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. suc. fa. 1767; took name of Curwen 6 Mar. 1790. d. 11 Dec. 1828.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Cumb. 1784-5

Lt.-col. commdt. Workington vol. inf. 1803, militia 1809.


As Member for Carlisle since 1786, the agricultural improver and coal owner Curwen had championed the Whig crusade against the Lowthers in Cumberland at a personal cost of at least £1,000 a year. He was a Manxman by descent and heir by right of his second wife to the Workington estates of his uncle, the former Carlisle and Cumberland Member Henry Curwen (d. 1778). His 1809 Act to prevent borough sales had proved ineffective and his defeat at the general election of 1812 was attributed to his failure to support the 1808 Irish vagrancy bill and his alleged seduction of Bishop Watson of Llandaff’s daughter.1 Since his re-election in 1816 he had published his views on Ireland (1818), where he travelled, 1813-16, campaigned avidly for agricultural causes and generally voted with the Whigs for retrenchment; but he set too great a store by his freedom to promulgate his own views on the corn laws, game laws, poor laws, tithes and Irish issues to be ‘a good party man’.2 In January 1820 the Whig James Robert George Graham* of Netherby, who also aspired to a Cumberland seat, observed that ‘the parliamentary conduct of our friend Curwen, who is ever on the alert ... turns very quickly with the tide of public opinion’.3 His prospects of representing his county improved after he led the Whig attack on Lord Liverpool’s administration at the Cumberland Peterloo meeting, 13 Oct. 1819, and he declared for Carlisle at the general election of 1820 amid mounting speculation that he would capitalize on the local unpopularity of the sitting Whig, the 5th earl of Carlisle’s heir Lord Morpeth†, and contest both seats.4 However, he had no intention of offering for Cumberland merely to divert the Lowther’s ample resources from Westmorland, where Henry Brougham* again opposed them. According to Graham, Curwen’s ‘game’ was ‘obvious: he runs his own life against Lord Carlisle’s, hopes to obtain his seat quietly for the city, and to make his run for the county on a single vacancy’.5 In the event, he came second at Carlisle, amid allegations of collusion with the defeated radical William James*, rallied the Whigs to his cause at the Westmorland election afterwards, and defeated Morpeth in a token poll to come in for Cumberland with the Tory John Lowther, having spent only £163 16s. 5d. on the latter.6 The Whig leaders George Tierney*, Sir James Mackintosh*, Lords Bessborough and Grey bemoaned the party split signified by Morpeth’s defeat and feared it would cost them their Carlisle seat. Tierney complained: ‘I cannot comprehend what there is to be stated on the other side of the account, except the gratification of Curwen’s vanity’.7 His wife’s illness (she died, 18 Apr. 1820) prevented him from attending the London Westmorland dinner of 15 Apr. for Brougham, whom Grey cautioned: ‘Curwen, as you may be sure from past experience, will not fail to use any increased importance which his return for the county may give him, on the first emergency that may arise, to our disadvantage’.8 James, now openly backed by Curwen, contested Carlisle successfully at the ensuing by-election.9

In the 1820 Parliament Curwen, whose Workington Agricultural Association dinners and meetings remained central to Whig activity in Cumberland and Carlisle, took an independent line on agriculture and allied issues. Otherwise, he divided with the main Whig opposition, fairly steadily for economy and retrenchment, and as hitherto for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr. 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 24 Apr. 1823. He only paired for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. 1825, but, speaking for the bill’s third reading, 10 May, he described how his own prejudices had been removed by visiting Ireland, stressed the case for legislating in peacetime and cited the favourable reaction to the erection of a Catholic chapel at Workington as proof of growing toleration in Northern England.10 A radical publication of that year noted that he ‘attended frequently and voted with the opposition; spoke upon agricultural questions’.11

Contributing to the opposition attack on the civil list, Curwen criticized the ministry’s failure to economize, 18 May 1820. He called repeatedly for immediate action to prevent shortfalls in crop production and, bringing up petitions complaining of the economic downturn, he urged a ‘full and dispassionate review of the corn laws’ and inquiry into agricultural and commercial distress, 12, 18, 25 May.12 He backed Lord Althorp’s motion for repeal of the wool tax, but complained that it ‘benefited neither agriculture nor manufacturing’, 26 May, and he was one of the small group of Whigs who supported the Tory Holme Sumner’s successful motion for inquiry into agricultural distress, 30 May. Doing so, he complained that the board of trade had over estimated foreign grain stocks, attributed distress to ‘the unproductive state of labour’, and called for a general income tax as a means of reducing the unsustainable tax burden on agricultural incomes and the poor. He reinforced his speech by publishing a pamphlet based on his 1819 address to the Workington Agricultural Association advocating ‘expansion in agriculture’, protection ‘to end the £10 million outflow of gold for grains’, a general enclosure bill, commutation of tithes, abolition of the poor rate and tax reductions. He cautioned also that coercive measures could not restore the prosperity necessary to allay universal discontent.13 He had his testimony to the Commons agriculture committee on 20 June 1820 printed in the partisan Whitehaven Gazette, and ensured that his theories were debated at the Cumberland ‘Independence’ dinner at Rosley in August.14 Curwen, who had installed Heslop and Watt engines at his mines, was named to the select committee on steam engines, 2 May 1820, and moved the second reading of the antimephitic bill based on their report, 20 Mar. 1821, when it was defeated by 68-24.15 He ordered accounts of coal imports to Ireland, the main market for Workington coal, 5 May 1820, and, acting mainly for Watt, he tried unsuccessfully in 1820 and 1821 to legislate to extend patents.16 He presented and endorsed Keswick’s petition against the duties on Irish linen, 2 June, voted in the minority for inquiry into the Irish Trades Acts, 14 June, and backed proposals by Sir Henry Parnell for conveying Irish paupers to the coast, 14 June 1820. He joined Parnell in trying to dissuade Davies Gilbert from proceeding with a general turnpike bill, 20 June 1820, and in opposing the 1821 measure.17 An uncompromising critic of the duke of Atholl’s government of the Isle of Man, he condemned as ‘a job’ the imposition of additional duties on Manx imports, the main source of Atholl’s revenues, 26 June.18 He endorsed the petition for inquiry into the deployment of military force at the Carlisle by-election, 28 June 1820, and afterwards received three weeks’ leave ‘on urgent private business’.

Curwen stayed away from public meetings on the Queen Caroline affair. He asserted on presenting Cockermouth’s petition for the restoration of her name to the liturgy, 24 Jan., that it was ‘the only means by which the peace of the country could be restored’, supported the 1821 parliamentary campaign on her behalf and responded harshly to Lethbridge’s criticism of her £50,000 pension, 1 Feb. He murmured support for the petition of the London journeyman ropers, 12 Feb., brought in the St. Marylebone vestry bill, 15 Feb, and opposed the Stoke Newington one on procedural grounds, 14 May.19 On the address, 23 Jan., he resumed his exposition of the agriculturists’ grievances in what Henry Grey Bennet, as spokesman for the Whig ‘Mountain’, described as ‘his usual bad manner ... and sat down making no progress’.20 Undaunted, he vainly tried to persuade ministers to replace the agricultural horse tax with another of equivalent value, 31 Jan.21 His interventions on the forgery of country bank notes were disregarded, 1, 20 Feb. He testified to the superiority of American corn fired before grinding, 2, 14 Feb., stressed the priority of the agriculturists’ claims when a select committee on trade was appointed, 6 Feb., and endorsed a distress petition from Birmingham two days later with a scathing attack on Alexander Baring’s arguments on behalf of fundholders.22 Bennet considered his speech ‘most excellent and sound’ and he was cheered from both sides of the House.23 To Henry Labouchere*, writing on 12 Feb., it signalled the desperation of the country gentlemen and ‘a declaration of war against the fundholders’, which Curwen waged again that day and whenever he presented or endorsed a ‘torrent’ of agriculturists’ petitions over the next six weeks.24 He withdrew his attendant motion for returns of Bank of England stock transfers for want of information, 1 Mar.25 He had estimated that the recent fall of 6s.-8s. a bushel in wheat prices had generated a £10,000,000 reduction in income, 8 Feb., and that frauds in taking the averages cost ‘millions’, 26 Feb.26 When the Tory spokesman for the agriculturists Gooch moved successfully for a select committee on agriculture, 7 Mar., Curwen backed him, stating that it was not a party measure, and complained that day that Robinson, as president of the board of trade, had misrepresented him as ‘keen to exclude the foreign grower from the English market’. He explained that his objectives were to halt the decline in domestic cultivation, which he partly blamed for the recent distress, and to provide immediate relief by taxing incomes: ‘not the economy of candle ends and cheese parings, but a real, effectual and substantial economy’. Appointed to the committee that day, he was soon disillusioned and ceased attendance shortly after testifying, 15, 16 Mar. He described the switch from corn to less labour intensive green crops on his 1,100-acre Schoose farm, complained of the £35 he was taxed annually on 40 working horses, and likewise of falling wages and prices, rising taxes and increasing difficulty in procuring loans following the return to the gold standard. Calculating on a remunerative price of 60s. a quarter, he suggested admitting corn at a 72s. pivot price and imposing a 40s. fixed duty on imports.27 He failed by 122-65 with a motion to abolish the agricultural horse tax, 5 Mar., and withdrew it before the division at his next attempt, 5 Apr., so that he could reintroduce it should the agriculture committee let him down. He devoted part of his speech to the additional malt duty, which he voted to repeal, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., and he proposed a five per cent tax on incomes to finance reductions in taxation affecting the poor. Dismayed by Huskisson’s success in dissuading the agriculture committee from recommending immediate remedial action, he repeated his call for protection, 17 May, and advised Scarlett against proceeding with his poor relief bill on account of distress, 24 May.28 He renewed his campaign for repeal of the horse tax in a forceful speech on 14 June, when, supported by the Tory agriculturists (Gooch, Burrell and Knatchbull), he overcame ministerial opposition and carried it by 141-113.29 He maintained that ‘government ought not to have trusted to any committees’ but should have itself ‘made those retrenchments which would have enabled the House to sacrifice to the agriculturists this boon’. Perceiving distress ‘more than proven’, he offered no alternative but the cultivation of ‘each acre’ in order to maximize employment. Ministers afterwards encouraged newspaper criticism of Curwen, but they waived their objections to repealing the horse tax, 18 June.30 That day, as a minority teller for omitting arrears from the duke of Clarence’s grant, Curwen said it was ‘not too much to ask the royal family to share in the burdens of the country’ and suggested repaying Clarence’s debts from the residue of George III’s estate. Attending to constituency interests, he supported James’s motion for inquiry into the use of military force at the Carlisle by-election, 15 Mar., and was a member of the committee of privileges which decided that civil power should have sufficed. He presented and endorsed his constituents’ petitions for repeal of the Irish Union duties, 16 Feb., reform to alleviate distress, 17 Apr., 9 May, and revision of the criminal code, 4 May, 13 June. He added his voice, as a member of the select committee on the Scottish malt duty, to the campaign to tax Cumberland malt at the same rate, 17 May, 20 June 1821.31

At £1,912, the December 1821 half-yearly rent receipts from his farms were £1,025 less than for the comparable period in 1815, and writing to the radical Francis Place on the 23rd of the worst scarcity in his memory, he said that he had advised his tenants to ‘petition for a fixed duty on importation, a reduction of taxes, and a reduction of salaries from the crown to the lowest exciseman in due and just proportion’. He thought revolution inevitable and although, like Place, he saw no security without parliamentary reform, he did not consider that to be a ‘proper’ subject to discuss with his tenants. Henry Goulburn’s* appointment as Irish secretary and the imminent accession of the Grenvillites to the Liverpool administration only increased his pessimism, and with it his resolve to ‘strive’, albeit ‘in vain’, to ‘infuse into the government a good and wise policy of beginning with sacrifices from the crown downwards ... till they cut off the scions of corruption that prey on the estate of the nation and endeavour to gain strength for the government in the affections of the people’.32 Disappointed by the ‘fallacious’ assumption in the king’s speech that revenues were flourishing, he voted in Hume’s minority on the address, 5 Feb. 1822, explaining two days later that he had done so because he did not ‘in his conscience’ believe that ministers understood the severity of the agriculturists’ distress and the changes in the currency or taxation necessary to alleviate it. He added that he would vote against them for further tax reductions and, to the acclaim of the Whig Carlisle Journal, he did so, 11, 21 Feb., having also suggested in an article in the Whitehaven Gazette, 11 Feb., taxing ‘the funds’, regulating grain imports, repealing the malt tax and ‘retrenchment from the king down’.33 Appointed to the select committee on agriculture, 18 Feb., he warned that it could achieve little unless it restricted its remit to taxes on candles, grains, leather, malt, salt and soap, which were particularly burdensome to agriculture and the poor, and suggested that they should complete their deliberations by Easter to allow time for legislation that session. Independently and backed by several petitions, he pressed ahead with a motion to repeal the tax on tallow, 22, 28 Feb., 16 Mar., which was rejected without a division, 20 Mar., when the Wiltshire Member John Benett was his sole supporter.34 He was at the heart of the revived campaign for repeal of the salt duties, which he perceived as a means of increasing agricultural employment. He supported Calcraft’s scheme for repeal by three annual instalments, 28 Feb., when they lost by 169-165, and pressed for reductions in the salt duties in preference to concessions on malt, which benefited ‘brewers not farmers’, 6, 18 Mar.35 A ministerial compromise was in sight when his amendment failed (by 111-67), 3 June, and after heavy petitioning from the fisheries and defeat by the narrower margin of 104-92, 28 June, on 1 July 1822 government approved a reduction from 15s to 2s. a bushel in the salt tax as a prelude to repeal in 1825.36

Curwen’s attempt to convene a Cumberland meeting to petition for an additional protective duty on corn, ‘in the spirit of his friend Webb Hall’, was thwarted by Graham of Netherby, but he procured, presented and endorsed similar petitions from Workington and elsewhere, 11, 13, 20, 22 Mar., 23, 25 Apr., and ordered returns, 4, 20 Mar. 1822.37 He was a minority teller with Thomas Coke I for receiving the strongly worded North Greenhoe distress petition, when it was rejected (by 89-55), 3 June.38 As ‘father’ of the Manx House of Keys, he presented their petition for inquiry into the management of local schools, which the home secretary Peel promised to investigate, 17 May.39 He called for a select committee to consider petitions against the wool tax, 30 May.40 Having pioneered one in Workington, he advocated setting up savings banks to assist the poor, 18 Feb., and complained that Scarlett’s poor bill failed to take account of recent legislation for the removal of Irish and Scottish paupers, 1 May. Endorsing a reform petition from Carlisle that day, he deliberately distanced himself from James and its promoters, who advocated universal suffrage, and made it clear that he sought reform solely as a remedy for abuses and a means of safeguarding the constitution.41 When Lord Londonderry reported from the agriculture committee, 7 May, and proposed a 60s. pivot price, Curwen was at first inclined to vote for it ‘as a permanent measure of relief in times of distress’. He still regarded free trade as inimical to the agriculturists’ interests, but now conceded the disadvantages of ‘very large protecting duties’ and that lower duties would better regulate supplies. Learning that Londonderry’s proposal was temporary he reiterated his plea for self-sufficiency in corn.42 He voted in Wyvill’s minority for large tax remissions, 8 May, spoke against Ricardo’s amendment for a fixed 20s. rate, 9 May, and suggested a 80s. pivot price, whereupon Londonderry, whose resolutions he opposed in preference to a fixed 18s. bounty on wheat exports, professed to be ‘astonished’ at the change in his opinions since their deliberations in the committee. Now a diehard opponent of the government’s corn bill, he objected to proceeding with it in committee, 24 May, and as a minority teller, 3, 10 June, he spoke of the ‘great harm’ of permitting grinding and the unlimited export as flour of bonded corn. His last-ditch attempt to kill the bill by adjournment failed, 19 June 1822.43 Addressing the Cumberland farmers in July, he conceded that a high protective tariff would become untenable in the event of industrial distress, which confirmed him to his enemies as ‘an absolute charlatan’.44 Petitioning at county level continued to be precluded by political differences among the Whigs.45

Prompted by Whitmore’s announcement of a new corn bill, 5 Feb., Curwen ordered returns, 5, 11 Feb., and expressed dismay at the government’s continued failure to alleviate agricultural distress and make fund holders pay ‘a proportion of the poor rates’, 14 Feb. 1823.46 In a speech he later published, he opposed Whitmore’s ‘ill-timed’ proposals for a gradual reduction to a 60s. corn pivot price, conceded that Londonderry’s resolutions had proved beneficial and said that the only way forward was through further tax reductions, 26 Feb.47 Encouraged by the concession on salt, he campaigned for repeal of the duties on candles, leather and tallow, 21, 24, 26, 27 Feb., 11 Mar., 5, 7, 21 May.48 When, on 21 May, Daniel Sykes was refused leave for a repeal bill, Curwen challenged Robinson’s arguments as chancellor for retaining the duties and suggested increasing them on tallow imports and moulded candles so that dipped candles ‘which pressed hard on the poor’ could be exempted. His motion exempting houses rated at £5 and under from assessed taxes failed (by 87-34), 10 Mar.; but his plea that English cottagers with three children be given the same tax exemptions as their Scottish counterparts was granted and was particularly welcome in Carlisle.49 He broke his long silence on the game laws with a speech in support of Lord Cranborne’s motion for inquiry into game sales, 13 Mar.50 Endorsing St. Marylebone’s petition for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, he said this would facilitate the sale of coal of inferior, non-taxable, quality that was quite adequate for use by the poor, 27 Mar. He seconded Bennet’s motion for a bill to abolish punishment by whipping, 30 Apr. He approved the government’s policy of neutrality towards Spain, believing that the ‘general feeling of the country’ was for peace and that distress compounded the dangers of war, 29 Apr. He presented and endorsed his constituents’ petitions for the abolition of colonial slavery, 12, 30, May, 2, 11 June, and equalization of the duties on English, Irish and Scottish spirits, 6, 20 June, and called for the speedy release from detention of vessels carrying small quantities of contraband for the personal use of crews, 19 June. He brought up personal petitions from Captain George Manby for reimbursement for his work on lifebelts, 28 Apr., and from William Leslie who disputed McAdam’s claim to be the sole inventor of tarmac, 14, 23 May.51 He saw ‘great mischief’ in the minimum wage for which Stockport petitioned, 30 May. He voted reluctantly for inquiry into the coronation expenses, 9 June, and when Hume next broached it on the 11th, he urged that the matter be dropped.52 He was a majority teller against inquiry into Middlesex county court, 19 June 1823, and objected to subjecting its magistracy to further scrutiny, 24 May 1824.53 During the 1823 recess he authorized expenditure on a new breakwater at Workington, which in 1825 was recognized as a separate port, independent of the Lowther harbour of Whitehaven for customs purposes.54

Curwen devoted much of his time in 1824 to the campaign for repealing the tax on shepherds’ dogs, which he complained was ‘of trifling amount’ but ‘very unequally distributed, pressing entirely on the farmers in unenclosed counties’, and in scrutiny of the government of the Isle of Man. He presented and endorsed petitions requesting repeal from agricultural associations and parishes throughout Cumberland and Westmorland, 10, 24, 25 Feb., 1, 5, 26 Mar., but to no avail. However, supported by further petitions, 31 Mar., 8, 9 Apr., 3, 5, 7 May, he lobbied successfully to ensure that the residual duty on salt was removed in 1825 as promised.55 On 18 Feb. he demonstrated his mastery of the Manx constitution and judicial system with a motion for papers on the alterations made by Atholl in the criminal law of the Isle, including home office directives instructing him to exclude the Keys, the usual court of appeal for decisions made by the deemsters (judges), from further attendance at the Tinwald. Peel’s complaint, that Curwen’s position as a Member of Parliament and of the House of Keys rendered his motion untenable, was ignored and the motion was carried (by 28-26) with bipartisan support.56 Disregarding allegations of self-interest (for his only son of his first marriage, John Christian (1776-1857), was a deemster), he followed it on 1 Apr. with a further request, preparatory to bringing on a motion of complaint against the recorder of Liverpool as attorney-general of the Isle of Man, an absentee unqualified in Manx law who habitually delegated his duties to a Manx barrister at £100 a year, having himself received £400. He obtained returns of grain exports from Irish and Scottish ports, 29 Mar., 13 Apr., and expressed misgivings about opening the English ports, 13 Apr.57 He stated his outright opposition to repeal of the usury laws when Dublin Chamber of Commerce petitioned for it, 31 Mar., 8 Apr.58 He presented several Cumberland petitions for the abolition of West Indian slavery, 19, 25, 30 Mar., 5, 8, 13 Apr., 11 May 1824;59 one from the licensees of Penrith against the excise duties, 9 Apr.; one from Cockermouth in favour of the county courts bill, 12 Apr, and three against the hides and skins bill, 14 Apr., 3, 14 May, which he said merited close scrutiny by select committee, 14 Apr.60 Presenting Workington’s 400-signature petition against the Dublin coal bill, which he personally opposed, the previous day, he had disputed Lord Lowther’s claims that Cumberland was in favour of the measure. He expressed conditional support for the Tees and Weardale railway bill, which Lowther promoted, 3 May 1824, 4 Mar. 1825.61 He presented a Carlisle petition against the beer bill, 17 May 1824, but supported it on the 24th as a means of checking the deterioration in the quality of malt liquor under the existing monopolies. He also brought up the Dissenters’ petitions condemning the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 26, 27 May, but his failure to vote for it, 11 June 1824, cost him constituency support.62

On 7 Feb. 1825 Curwen called on the government to end the discrepancy in English and Scottish spirit duties, which pressed hard on the north of England, where convictions for smuggling only filled the gaols.63 He opposed the introduction of the ‘ill-timed’ usury laws repeal bill, 8 Feb., voted against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15 Feb., and was a majority teller for the St. Katharine’s Docks bill, 22 Feb. He supported the ‘general principle’ of Stuart Wortley’s game bill, 17 Feb., and seconded his motion against receiving late petitions alleging non-compliance with standing orders for private bills.64 His chief concern remained the corn question, on which, as he explained on presenting the City of London’s petition for revision, 28 Mar., he had modified his views because monopoly was ‘fast bringing the manufacturing class to beggary’. He conceded that self-sufficiency had become untenable and suggested that the agriculturists might be satisfied with a corn pivot price of 56s.-60s. a quarter and tariffs of 20s.on corn, 10s. on wheat and 8s. on oats. Although backed by petitions from Whitehaven, 14 Apr., and Workington, where he had a favourable press, 25 Apr., he found that he differed from the Tory agriculturists and most of his constituents when he indicated that he would vote for Whitmore’s inquiry motion, 25 Apr.65 He voiced qualified support for Huskisson’s resolutions, 28 Apr., 2, 13 May, but his misgivings about the premature release of bonded corn persisted. He ‘expressed great satisfaction’ with the government sponsored Isle of Man Trade Act and the decision to award an annuity to Atholl in place of customs revenues, 6 May 1825.66

Responding to Whitmore’s complaint at the omission of the corn laws from the king’s speech, 3 Feb. 1826, Curwen, who privately conceded that ‘ministers, must ... grant relief to the mercantile classes’, reiterated his claims that ‘unrestricted imports would lead to famine in five years’ and that manufacturers were ‘mistaken in attributing their distress to the operation of the corn laws’, which ‘if rightly understood ... would be found to be highly beneficial to the commercial interests of the country’.67 He spoke similarly when petitions for their abolition were presented, 10 Mar., and in the debate on Whitmore’s proposals, 18 Apr. He ordered returns of imports of all grains, flax, hemp and tallow, 13 Apr., and on 25 Apr. requested more, which he incorporated in his speech at the Abbey Holm dinner in September.68 He presented further petitions against colonial slavery, 16, 23, Feb., 14, 22 Mar., 7, 17, 21 Apr.69 He voted reluctantly against accommodating Huskisson by reviewing his office and salary as navy treasurer, 6 Apr. 1826.70 His return for Cumberland at the general election in June was not contested, but his stance on corn and his refusal to coalesce with Brougham or sign his Westmorland requisition alienated many Whigs, who threatened opposition should he fail to admit to his error on the hustings at Appleby.71 Forced to compromise with both sides, he acknowledged his political differences with the freeholders, spoke unequivocally of the need for compromise with the Lowthers and defended his right to vote with government when he deemed their measures beneficial.72 He would give no pledges and confidently dismissed a final reminder for his Westmorland subscription from James Brougham* with the words:

I did not reply as I had neither subscribed nor [had I] been an accessory in dragging Mr. Brougham into the contest. On the contrary, I disapproved of it from the sound belief there was no possibility of it being successful’.73

Differing from his nephew William Blamire*, Graham, Jonathan Ritson and the ‘Green Row Academy’ of Joseph Saul, at the Abbey Holm meeting in September, he repeated his belief that ‘a regular duty’ was the key to steady price for grain.74 According to the diarist John Grainger of Southfield, who was present, he

incurred much obloquy by expressing his opinions: his opinions had indeed changed, but he was not the man openly to keep it from the public if he thought himself in error. He once thought Great Britain could produce corn for itself, but he now thought otherwise, and if the supply should fall short in one quarter, that is only one quarter part of consumption, the whole world could not supply it.75

At 70, Curwen’s health was deteriorating and although he prepared by requesting returns, 1, 12, 15, 29 Mar., he played only a minor part in the 1827 debates on the corn question. He opposed the duke of Clarence’s award as ‘distress makes it unaffordable’, 16 Feb., and paired for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He presented and endorsed petitions of complaint against the navigation laws from ship owners, of whom he was one, 19, 21 Mar., but although he remained prepared to redeem his pledge to divide with Gascoyne for inquiry, ‘he was satisfied a committee was not now necessary’ and glad to see the motion withdrawn, 8 May.76 He defended the County Fire Office commissioners when Hobhouse criticized their conduct, 10 Apr., presented a petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 25 May 1827, and called that day for ‘fair play’ for the new Canning administration, adding that he would support them despite his differences with them on reform, as he agreed with many of their policies and dreaded the return of the Tories, ‘to whose measures he was ten times more opposed’.77

Addressing the August 1827 Abbey Holm meeting, Curwen defended his former opposition to Londonderry and maintained that the failure of the Liverpool ministry’s corn bill that session was ‘deeply to be deplored by every friend to agriculture’.78 He suffered a stroke in September and was reported to be close to death, but he lingered a further fifteen months until December 1828. As he had requested, he was buried with his second wife in an unmarked grave in Workington.79 An obituary in the Tory Cumberland Pacquet praised him as a good constituency Member and sincere and independent politician, but added:

He never stood so high in the opinion of the world after quitting his city for the county seat. His party charged him with personal ambition and gross impolicy; his Carlisle friends twitted him with political ingratitude. We only condemn the manner in which he effected his purpose ... He sometimes showed himself superior to mere party considerations. His general talents were more attractive than solid ... His oratory was always graceful, often forcible, but deficient in argument and arrangement. His leading foible as a public man was too great a love of popular applause; and a proneness to unmeaning promises, exaggeration and mystification.80

Curwen’s colliery finances had been in disarray for some time on account of increasing costs and declining profits, and he died with debts of £118,334 and £16,579 owing to him.81 His will, dated 23 Jan. 1825, was proved at York under £25,000, 16 Feb. 1832. It confirmed his marriage settlement of 5 Oct. 1782, by which his eldest son John Christian succeeded to Ewanrigg, and his second son Henry Curwen (1783-1861) to the Curwen property, from which, together with Papcastle and some recent acquisitions, he was charged with providing the unrealizable sum of £10,000 for each of his six siblings.82 Henry Curwen declined nomination for Carlisle in 1829 and Cumberland in 1831, but stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal for Cumberland West in 1832.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. J.T. Ward, Sir James Graham, 25; H. Lonsdale, Worthies of Cumb. i (1867), 3-204; J.F. Curwen, Hist. Ancient House of Curwen, 176-82. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 91-94; iii. 548-53; W.A. Hay, The Whig Revival, 12; N.C. Miller, ‘Radical Parliamentary Reform, 1808-19’, EHR, lxxxiii (1968), 714-15.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 91-94.
  • 3. Brougham mss, Graham to Brougham, 11 Jan. 1820.
  • 4. Carlisle Jnl. 16 Oct.; The Times, 18 Oct. 1819; Hay, 105; Brougham mss, Graham to Brougham, 7 Feb., Saul to same, 15 Feb.; Castle Howard mss, Morpeth to wife, 8-10 Feb., 9 Mar.; Lonsdale mss, Hodgson to Lonsdale, 1 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Castle Howard mss, Morpeth to wife, 8 Feb. 1820.
  • 6. Northumb. RO, Middleton mss ZM1/S76/35/2, 3, 5, 7; Castle Howard mss, Morpeth to wife [16 Mar.], memo on Cumb. election; Hay, 113; Add. 51571, Thanet to Holland, 17, 21 Mar. 1820; Cumbria RO (Workington), Curwen mss D/Cu/3/14.
  • 7. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 22 Mar.; Add. 52444, f. 99; Bessborough mss, Grey to Duncannon, 9 Apr. 1820; Middleton mss S76/29/13.
  • 8. J.F. Curwen, 185; The Times, 24 Apr.; Grey mss, Grey to Brougham, 15 Apr. 1820.
  • 9. Carlisle Jnl. 27 May, 3 June 1820.
  • 10. Ibid. 14 May 1825.
  • 11. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 459.
  • 12. The Times, 19, 26 May 1820.
  • 13. Curwen, Report to Workington Agricultural Soc. (1820).
  • 14. The Times, 10 Aug.; Whitehaven Gazette, 19 Nov. 1820.
  • 15. The Times, 21 Mar. 1821.
  • 16. Ibid. 22, 23 June 1820, 7 Feb. 1821.
  • 17. Ibid. 21 June 1820, 28 Feb., 7 Apr. 1821.
  • 18. Ibid. 27 June 1820.
  • 19. Ibid. 16 Feb., 14 May 1821.
  • 20. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 3.
  • 21. The Times, 1 Feb. 1821.
  • 22. Ibid. 3, 7, 9, 15 Feb. 1821.
  • 23. Grey Bennet diary, 16.
  • 24. Harrowby mss, Labouchere to Sandon, 12 Feb.; The Times, 13, 23, 28 Feb., 6, 7, 15, 20, 27 Mar. 1821.
  • 25. The Times, 2 Mar. 1821.
  • 26. Ibid. 9 Feb. 1821.
  • 27. PP (1821), ix. 62-68; B. Hilton, Corn, Cash, Commerce, 104-5; The Times, 25 May 1821.
  • 28. E. Hughes, Stud. in Administration of Finance, 491.
  • 29. The Times, 15 June 1821.
  • 30. Ibid. 16 June 1821 [‘A BRITON’], 16 Jan. 1822.
  • 31. Carlisle Jnl. 24 Mar., 7 Apr.; The Times, 18, 19 Apr., 18 May, 14, 21 June 1821.
  • 32. Curwen mss 5/160; Add. 37949, f. 103.
  • 33. Carlisle Jnl. 2, 9, 16, 23 Feb. 1822; E. Hughes, North Country Life, ii. 283.
  • 34. The Times, 23 Feb., 1, 17, 21 Mar. 1822.
  • 35. Ibid. 1, 7, 9 Mar. 1822; Hughes, North Country Life, ii. 468.
  • 36. The Times, 6, 11, 12, 15, 18, 25, 27-29 June, 2 July 1822; Hughes, Finance, 491, 494, 392.
  • 37. Brougham mss, Graham to Brougham, 3 Mar. 1822; The Times, 5, 14, 21 Mar., 23, 26 Apr. 1822.
  • 38. The Times, 4 June 1822.
  • 39. Ibid. 18 May 1822.
  • 40. Ibid. 31 May 1822.
  • 41. Ibid. 2 May 1822.
  • 42. Ibid. 8 May 1822.
  • 43. Ibid. 25 May, 20 June 1822.
  • 44. Hughes, North Country Life, ii. 283; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 10 July 1822.
  • 45. The Times, 31 Dec. 1822, 14 Jan. 1823.
  • 46. Ibid. 6, 12 Feb. 1823.
  • 47. Ibid. 27 Feb. 1823; Hughes, North Country Life, ii. 468.
  • 48. The Times, 22, 25, 28 Feb., 12 Mar., 6, 8, 22 May 1823.
  • 49. The Times, 11 Mar.; Carlisle Jnl. 12 Mar. 1823.
  • 50. The Times, 14 Mar. 1823.
  • 51. Ibid. 29 Apr., 13, 15, 24, 31 May, 3, 7, 12, 21 June 1823.
  • 52. Ibid. 10, 12 June 1823.
  • 53. Ibid. 20 June 1823.
  • 54. Hughes, North Country Life, ii. 371-2; Curwen mss 3/44; 5/109.
  • 55. The Times, 11, 25, 26 Feb., 1, 5, 25, 27 Mar. 1824.
  • 56. Ibid. 18, 19 Feb. 1824.
  • 57. Ibid. 30 Mar., 14 Apr. 1824.
  • 58. Ibid. 1 Apr. 1824.
  • 59. Ibid. 20, 26, 31 Mar., 6, 9, 14 Apr., 12 May 1824.
  • 60. Ibid. 10, 13, 15 Apr., 4, 15 May 1824.
  • 61. Ibid. 4 Apr., 4 May 1824, 5 Mar. 1825.
  • 62. Ibid. 27, 28 May 1824; Carlisle Jnl. 29 Apr. 1826.
  • 63. The Times, 8 Feb. 1825.
  • 64. Ibid. 8 Mar. 1825.
  • 65. Hilton, 271; The Times, 15, 26 Apr.; Carlisle Jnl. 9 Apr., 14 May 1825.
  • 66. The Times, 7 May 1825.
  • 67. Curwen mss 3/75, Curwen to W. Ledger, 24 Feb. 1826.
  • 68. The Times, 14, 26 Apr. 1826; Hughes, North Country Life, ii. 286-7.
  • 69. The Times, 17, 24 Feb., 14, 23 Mar. 1826.
  • 70. Ibid. 8 Apr. 1826.
  • 71. Brougham mss, Graham to Brougham, 22, 25 July 1825, 13 June 1826, W. to J. Brougham [16 Feb.]; Lonsdale mss, Porter to Lowther, 14 Apr., Curwen’s address, 13 June, Musgrave to Lonsdale, 14 June; Carlisle Jnl. 17 June; Cumb. Pacquet, 20, 27 Jun. 1826.
  • 72. The Times, 20 June 1826.
  • 73. Brougham mss, Curwen to J. Brougham, 8 Aug. 1826.
  • 74. Carlisle Jnl. 29 Sept. 1826.
  • 75. Hughes, North Country Life, ii. 286-7.
  • 76. The Times, 20, 22 Mar.; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 123, Gascoyne to J. Gladstone, 9 May 1827.
  • 77. The Times, 26 May 1827.
  • 78. Carlisle Jnl. 11 Aug. 1827.
  • 79. Diaries and Corresp. of James Losh ed. E. Hughes (Surtees Soc. cclxxiv), ii. 182; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 10 Sept.; Add. 69366, J. Greville to G.M. Fortescue, 15 Sept. 1827; Carlisle Jnl. 16 Dec. 1828.
  • 80. Cumb. Pacquet, 16 Dec. 1828.
  • 81. M. Wood, ‘The Collieries of J.C. Curwen’, Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. (ser. 2), lxxi (1971), 199-236.
  • 82. Borthwick Probate Reg. 185/42; Curwen mss 1/104 and Addl.