HARBORD, Hon. Edward (1781-1835), of Henbury House, nr. Wimborne Minster, Dorset and Gunton Hall, Norf.

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



1806 - 1812
1820 - 1 Aug. 1821

Family and Education

b. 10 Nov. 1781, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Harbord Harbord†, 1st Bar. Suffield (d. 1810), and Mary, da. and coh. of Sir Ralph Assheton, 3rd bt., of Middleton, Lancs.; bro. of Hon. William Assheton Harbord†. educ. Aylsham, Norf. 1787; Neasden; Eton 1793; Christ Church, Oxf. 1799; Northern tour (Denmark, Russia, Prussia) 1800; L. Inn 1802. m. (1) 19 Sept. 1809, Hon. Georgiana Venables Vernon (d. 30 Sept. 1824), da. and h. of George Venables Vernon†, 2nd Bar. Vernon, 2s. 1da.; (2) 12 Sept. 1826, Emily Harriott, da. of Evelyn Shirley of Ettington, Warws., 7s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da. suc. bro. as 3rd Bar. Suffield 1 Aug. 1821. d. 6 July 1835.

Offices Held

Military sec. Gen. Decken’s mission to Portugal Aug.-Sept. 1808.

Chairman, q.s. Norf. 1821-d.

Capt. Blickling rifle vols. 1803; lt.-col. 1 regt. E. Norf. militia 1808-21.


Harbord, a slight but athletic figure with an increasingly religious cast of mind, was politically at odds with his ministerialist elder brother, who succeeded their father as 2nd Baron Suffield in 1810. He resigned his seat for Great Yarmouth in 1812, but at the general election of 1818 stood unsuccessfully as an independent for Norwich, which his father had represented for 30 years.1 The Quaker Joseph John Gurney of Earlham Hall, who got to know him at this time, commented that although his family was connected with ‘the high party in church and state’, Harbord was ‘a friend to public improvement, especially adverse to all kinds of warfare, opposed to capital punishment, and zealous for the administration of prison discipline’; in the last cause he was a collaborator of another Norfolk country gentleman, Thomas Fowell Buxton*. Harbord joined Gurney in condemning corruption in Norwich municipal politics in March 1819, but later that year was privately reprimanded by him for making his laudable benevolent intentions the subject of ordinary daily conversation.2 He condemned the Peterloo massacre, distancing himself at the same time from the radical Henry Hunt*, and declared that he held himself independent of Tory or Whig allegiances at the Norfolk county meeting in October 1819. This provoked Suffield, whose wife was the sister-in-law of the foreign secretary Lord Castlereagh*, into disowning him.3 Abandoned by the Purple and Orange party (supporters of Lord Liverpool’s administration) in Norwich, he withdrew his pretensions there at the general election of 1820.4 Instead, he accepted the invitation of the Whig Lord Grosvenor to come in, as ‘a brother reformer’, for his newly acquired borough of Shaftesbury. Assured by Grosvenor that he would ‘be at liberty on all occasions to use your entire discretion’ and would not be displaced simply to suit the convenience of the patron’s family, he was duly returned unopposed and without expense, under the wing of his colleague Abraham Moore.5

An assiduous attender and latterly a reasonably capable speaker, Harbord was credited with having voted with the Whig opposition in almost all known division lists during his second spell in the House. According to Buxton’s later recollection, he was

most diligent in all his parliamentary duties; I remember one session he never missed a division but once, when he was dining with me, and a division took place without his being aware of it, which he much lamented. He was perhaps the only man in the House of Commons at that time who could say as much.6

He commented on the ‘impolicy’ of the barrack system, 16 June, opposed capital punishment, 30 June, supported the New South Wales duties bill, 3 July, and pointed out the urgency of assisting Irish paupers, 10 July 1820.7 He criticized conditions at the gaol in Norwich, 5 July, and later that year published his proposals for the erection of a replacement in his Remarks Respecting the Norfolk County Gaol.8 He divided against the appointment of a secret committee on the Queen Caroline affair, 26 June. In a letter to his friend and later biographer Richard Mackenzie Bacon, 17 Aug., he condemned ministers’ conduct over this and expressed his fears of queenite unrest. He added that ‘I did not miss a division during the last session of Parliament, excepting the last, and that took place after I had left town’, and that he had (‘but I disdained party’) on one occasion sided with government; possibly this was on Wilberforce’s compromise motion on the queen, 22 June, when he was not listed in the minority.9 His constituents entrusted him with an address to her in July and a petition in her support in October.10 Replying publicly to the reformers of Middleton, who had invited him to support the queen on the same platform as William Cobbett† and John Cartwright, 11 Oct., he made it clear that they were the ‘leaders of a particular party [which] would alone be with me sufficient reason for not acting in connection with them’. Cobbett replied angrily to this snub by quoting in his Political Register an extract from the forthcoming Links of the Lower House, which exposed Harbord’s aristocratic connections and repeated the canard that he had received £5,000 under his father-in-law’s will in order to buy a parliamentary seat.11 Harbord dismissed his political enemies in a letter to Bacon, 12 Nov. 1820, as ‘poor misguided radicals’, though he had earlier warned him that ‘reform can alone prevent revolution’. At about this time he was shown round the site of Peterloo by a leading Manchester magistrate, who temporarily convinced him that he and his colleagues had acted precipitously out of pure terror.12

Harbord, who in December 1820 avowed that ‘a revolution must ensue if the present ministers continue in office’ and in February 1821 contributed £50 to the subscription for the dismissed army officer Sir Robert Wilson*, an advanced Whig, continued to vote regularly with opposition.13 He complained of political subjects intruding into sermons on the queen’s case, 13 Feb. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He seconded the motion for the appointment of a select committee on the vagrancy laws, 14 Mar., and secured another on the sale of bread, 15 Mar.; he served on these and was added to the select committee on another of his main interests, gaols, 21 Mar. He spoke ‘a few words’ on education in Ireland, 1 Mar., and the army estimates, 30 Mar., but their substance went unrecorded.14 He was scathing in his attack on the game laws, 5 Apr., when he was teller for the minority for inquiry into them, and backed investigation of Ilchester gaol, 11 Apr. He warned of the dangers of extra-parliamentary forces pledged to revolution and urged the House to reform itself ‘from within’, 18 Apr., and voted for Lambton’s reform proposals that day; he again divided for parliamentary reform, 9 May, and alteration of the Scottish county representation, 10 May. He presented and endorsed petitions for inquiry into the yeomanry’s actions at Peterloo, 15 May, voted in the minority for this, 16 May, and, on the barrack grant, 28 May, declared himself ‘decidedly averse’ to measures of public intimidation.15 He praised the vagrancy bill, asserting that it was the duty of a civilized society to relieve those in need, 24 May, spoke and voted for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 4 June, and in the poor law debate, 7 June, argued the government ought to promote an increase in the population rather than encourage vice and misery as a check to its increase.16 He opposed paying the arrears on the grant to the duke of Clarence, 8 June, and, after Hume had declined to press this to a division, moved an amendment against the arrears, which was lost by 119-43. He reverted to this topic, 29 June, and made his last known interventions in the House, 2 July 1821.17

He inherited his peerage in August 1821 and soon made plans to revamp Gunton, but his late brother fulfilled his promise by bequeathing the unentailed properties to his widow. He resigned his command of the local militia, in protest over Peterloo, but accepted the chairmanship of the quarter sessions.18 As testimony to his independent conduct in Parliament, his constituents at Shaftesbury, at the suggestion of Grosvenor’s political opponents, awarded him a gold snuff box. Thanking them, he promised to continue in the Lords along the same political course.19 At the Norfolk meeting on agricultural distress, 12 Jan. 1822, when he advocated relief measures and parliamentary reform, he was reported as declaring that ‘he didn’t belong to any party ... by party in this instance he meant faction, understanding faction to be founded on men, party on principle’. Yet, while remaining hostile to ministers, in March 1822 he wrote to Bacon that ‘I do not desire a change of ministers ... a Whig ministry would be as hostile to reform as the present’.20 In the Lords, where he continued to promote his favourite causes, he campaigned almost single-handedly for the abolition of colonial slavery. He died, from the effects of a fall from his horse, in July 1835.21 He was succeeded as Baron Suffield in turn by the first surviving sons of each of his two wives: Edward Vernon (1813-53), a huntsman and gambler, who was one of the defeated Liberal candidates for Norwich at the general election of 1834, and Charles (1830-1924), a soldier and courtier.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Stephen Farrell / Robin Healey


  • 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 147-9.
  • 2. Mems. of J.J. Gurney ed. J.B. Braithwaite, i. 154-8; Buxton Mems. 64; Bacon, 118.
  • 3. The Times, 1 Nov. 1819; Bacon, 85-95.
  • 4. Bacon, 95-100, 110; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 295.
  • 5. Norf. RO, Gunton mss GTN/1/3, Grosvenor to Harbord, 7, 9, 10 Feb.; 1/7, Moore to same, 5 Mar.; 1/9, Suffield to Harbord, 20 Feb. 1820; Bacon, 101-4, 110-11.
  • 6. Bacon, 118-20.
  • 7. The Times, 22 June, 4, 11 July 1820.
  • 8. Bacon, 126-7.
  • 9. Ibid. 121-3.
  • 10. Salisbury Jnl. 10, 17 July, 21 Aug.; Gunton mss 1/7, Gillingham to Harbord, 5 Oct. 1820.
  • 11. Bacon, 43, 124-6, 130-1; Pol. Reg. 4, 11 Nov. 1820; Links of Lower House (1821), 16.
  • 12. Bacon, 124.
  • 13. Ibid. 131-3.
  • 14. The Times, 2, 31 Mar. 1821.
  • 15. Ibid. 16 May 1821.
  • 16. Ibid. 8 June 1821.
  • 17. Ibid. 3 July 1821.
  • 18. Bacon, 139-42; PROB 11/1331/885.
  • 19. Bacon, 144-9; Gunton mss 1/14, Jones to Suffield, 8 Sept.; Salisbury Jnl. 10 Sept. 1821.
  • 20. Bacon, 151-2, 164; The Times, 14 Jan. 1822.
  • 21. Bacon, 506-12; The Times, 1, 8 July 1835; Gent. Mag. (1835), ii. 317-20; DNB; Oxford DNB.