HAWKINS, John Heywood (1802-1877), of Bignor Park, nr. Petworth, Suss. and 16 Suffolk Street, Pall Mall, Mdx.

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



1830 - 1831
13 July 1831 - 1832
1832 - 1841

Family and Education

b. 21 May 1802, 1st s. of John Hawkins and Mary Esther, da. of Humphrey Sibthorp† (afterwards Waldo Sibthorp) of Canwick Hall, Lincs. educ. Eton 1815; Trin. Coll. Camb. 1820. unm. ch. illegit. suc. fa. 1841. d. 27 June 1877.

Offices Held


Hawkins came from an old Cornish family. His grandfather Thomas Hawkins (?1724-66), the only son of Christopher Hawkins of Trewinnard, near St. Erth, succeeded in 1738 to the Trewithen estate, near Probus, of his uncle Philip Hawkins, and sat for Grampound in the 1747 Parliament. With his wife Anne, the daughter of James Heywood, a merchant, of Austin Friars, London, he had four sons, of whom two died in youth or early manhood. The elder surviving son, Christopher Hawkins, inherited Trewithen and was created a baronet in 1791. He sat for four Cornish boroughs, including St. Ives from 1821 to 1828. His younger brother, John Hawkins, born in 1761, was educated at Helston, Winchester, Trinity College, Cambridge and Lincoln’s Inn, and travelled extensively in Germany, Italy, Hungary, Greece, Crete and Turkey in the period 1787-98. He was something of a polymath, with particular interests in mineralogy, in which he excelled, botany, horticulture, archaeology and geology. He assisted John Sibthorp, sherardian professor of Botany at Oxford, in the collection of material for his Flora Graeca, published posthumously from 1806 by his trustees. He was a fellow of the Royal Society and the Geological Society of London and a founder of the Horticultural Society in 1804. He had a stake in the Ionian Islands and contributed essays to Walpole’s Memoirs relating to European and Asiatic Turkey (1817) and Travels in Various Countries of the East (1820). A man of means, he bought in 1806 the property of Bignor Park on the Sussex Downs, where the remains of a Roman villa were discovered in 1811. In 1824 he bought a ‘complete marine residence’, Berkeley House, at Littlehampton, into which he moved for a few years from 1826 when, with the aid of a legacy of £8,000 from his uncle John Heywood of Coventry Street, London (d. 1822), he had the mansion house at Bignor rebuilt in Neo-Greek style.1

With his wife, Sibthorp’s niece, John Hawkins had two sons, this Member, and Christopher Thomas Henry Hawkins, who was not born until 1820. By then John Heywood Hawkins, who was physically unprepossessing, having developed into ‘a tall ungainly young man with a squinting eye’, was at Cambridge, where, as his father reported in 1823, he showed a keen interest in architecture and pursued his ‘passion for the study of antiquities’.2 In 1828, when his father praised his ‘very uncommon knowledge of architecture and ... great taste for picturesque gardening’, which were of considerable assistance in the Bignor project, he went on an architectural tour, which took him to Cambridge, Durham (where he visited Whitfield, the home of his Cambridge contemporary and friend William Heny Ord†, son of the Whig William Ord*) and the Lake District.3 On the death of Sir Christopher Hawkins the following year his principal Cornish estates passed, by the terms of his will of 1823, to Hawkins’s younger brother.4 In early 1830 he spent some time in London, devoting himself to ‘painting, play-going, dining and political economy’.5

At the general election in August 1830 he was returned unopposed for Mitchell, where his father, as trustee for his younger son, had assumed the right of nomination to one seat which Sir Christopher had shared with the Tory 1st earl of Falmouth.6 One observer heard that he had come in ‘merely to get the best price after the meeting [of Parliament], and without regard to party’, but this was not the case.7 Almost immediately after his election Hawkins went to Paris to examine buildings and pictures. To his father, 13 Aug. 1830, he wrote that ‘the conduct of the people’ in the recent upheaval was ‘beyond all praise’, and ventured the opinion, formed after talks with members of ‘the middle classes, who now rule the roost here’, that ‘an hereditary legislative peerage can[not] any longer exist in France’. In September he began ‘as much of my projected tour in Normandy as the late political drama of Paris has left me time for’.8 The Wellington ministry listed him among the ‘good doubtfuls’, but he was absent from the division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. In February 1831 he joined Brooks’s, sponsored by Lord Althorp* and one of the Ords, and he voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, by which Mitchell was to be disfranchised, 22 Mar. Opposing Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., he delivered a maiden speech of stunning virtuosity, in which he asserted that ‘we shall give no small confirmation of that charge of legislative incapacity which is now ringing in our ears, if we neglect to repair our House while it is still summer, because the winter hurricane is not yet upon the horizon’, and called on the Commons to ‘inscribe ourselves on the page of history as the first recorded example of power correcting its own usurpation’. John Cam Hobhouse* recorded that he ‘spoke with great fluency and precision during nearly an hour, gaining every moment on his audience until the House became quite silent’, and made ‘certainly by far the best first speech I ever heard in Parliament’.9 The elder Ord, informing Lady Holland that Hawkins, who ‘squints horribly and is hideous’, was ‘rather a protégé of mine’, reported that ‘the best judges are all in ecstacies about it’, as ‘the most beautiful speech in our favour that ever was heard’.10 Thomas Spring Rice* privately applauded his ‘superior abilities and exquisite taste and eloquence’, which had brought him a ‘complete’ triumph.11 Sir Henry Bunbury*, who correctly assessed Hawkins as ‘one of those retiring, scientific men that will be disinclined to speak often’, considered it ‘the best speech that has been delivered’ during the debates on the bill.12 Thomas Gladstone*, an Etonian contemporary of Hawkins, was sure that ‘no speech but Peel’s first has yet been so much cheered’, though he suspected, rightly, that ‘it must have been written out for the press’, and thought that his ‘manner is not impressive, or the effect would have been still greater’.13 James Hope Vere* also perceived that while the speech was ‘well delivered’, it was `evidently ... all previously wrote and committed to memory’.14 Anne Sturges Bourne heard from her father that ‘the ministers were charmed, and at Lansdowne House ... [Hawkins] was pointed out as the lion of the night, the Mr. H. who made the speech’.15

At the 1831 general election Hawkins paid the price of his support for reform when Falmouth, on the pretext that he had violated the terms of the electoral pact and sacrificed his younger brother’s future interests, put up a second Tory against him at Mitchell and secured his defeat.16 Ministers wanted to provide him with a seat in the new Parliament, if possible. Four days before the Mitchell election Althorp had suggested to him that he ‘might be brought in for Liverpool free of expense’, but he deemed this to be ‘impossible’, though he was ready to accept any offer without strings.17 He let it be known that he ‘could not pay a farthing’ and ‘would not sacrifice a particle of independence’, and heard that Lord Grey ‘said, at a dinner party, that I was to be returned’.18 Towards the end of May he received an offer from the 6th duke of Bedford of the seat for his borough of Tavistock which was about to be vacated by his son Lord John Russell, who had also been returned for Devon. Bedford, who would have brought in Lord John’s brother Lord George William Russell* if he had wanted the seat, was responding to a ‘movement’ among the leading electors in favour of Hawkins as a man of promise and martyr to the reform cause; but he had the ultimate power of determining who was returned. Hawkins was at pains to establish that he could sit for Tavistock not only free of expense, but politically ‘responsible to no one’, as he had been in the previous Parliament, and would have been in the new had he come in again for Mitchell:

Under these circumstances of perfect independence, it was my intention to ... sacrifice all points of minor importance for the purpose of supporting a ministry of whose good intentions I am satisfied, and who, I believe, will, if they continue in office, do more good in the long run than any ministry that could be formed; but without knowing what their opinions and intentions are on any of the great questions that might be brought forward after this [reform] bill, I feel an insuperable objection to enter Parliament without an entire discretion as to how far I may see fit to carry that support and without a power to act as I please upon any measure which may seem to me to be of too great importance to the public welfare to be considered as a mere party question.

Bedford gave him satisfactory assurances on both points.19 When they met in London to settle matters, the duke took to Hawkins, though he could not resist indulging in a joke at the expense of his unfortunate physiognomy, commenting to his son and Lady Holland that while he hoped that he would ‘answer people’s expectations’ in the House, he was sure that they would ‘be convinced that it is on public grounds alone that I have brought him in, and not pour ses beaux yeux!’20 Hawkins went to Tavistock on 12 July and was returned unopposed the following day after addressing the inhabitants ‘at some length’, chiefly on the reform bill. In the course of his speech he said that

the boroughmongering system had been a dirty job under William Pitt; a difficult one under George Canning; but impossible to continue under the present administration ... He did not mean to tell the poor man that the bill would give him a twopenny loaf for a penny, or that the pint pot would in future contain a quart, nor did he mean to say that the man who went to bed badly shod at night, would awake in the morning and find a new pair of shoes at his bedside; but ... the effects of the bill would tend to promote education among the lower classes, and from the increase of labour materially benefit them.

He called for the abolition of slavery, an end to the cycle of ‘famine and rebellion’ in Ireland, which was barely controlled by ‘the military and the gibbet’, and a redistribution of clerical incomes and tithe reform.21

He took his seat in time to vote in the minority of 41 for a reduction in the civil list grant, 18 July 1831. The following day he divided with ministers against the opposition proposal for the 1831 census to be used to determine the disfranchisement schedules of the reform bill, and he voted steadily for the details of the measure during the next seven weeks, at the end of which he told his father that ‘the enemy are tired out. Their opposition has been gradually waxing faint’. He anticipated that the ‘factious and loquacious propensities’ of the Irish Members would produce lengthy debates on their reform bill.22 He voted twice with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He was one of a ‘small party’ of ministerialists who dined at Althorp’s at the end of the month, and he attended the coronation with Macaulay, a new friend, 8 Sept.23 On the third reading of the reform bill, 19 Sept., he tried to repeat his oratorical success of April with a long and florid set piece dismissing the objections raised to the measure and accusing its opponents, in predicting ‘revolution’, of ‘holding up the consequences of their own obstinacy as a warning to mankind’. His condemnation of their appeals to the ‘vulgar motives of personal fears and private interests’ in the Lords provoked cries of protest and a dressing from Alexander Baring, and he was forced to make a partial retraction. The effort was generally reckoned to have been ‘a failure’, which, as Bunbury saw it, ‘lowered him from the scale on which his first speech had seemed to place him’. Charles Williams Wynn* reported that Hawkins had ‘only strung together a number of antitheses and flowers of rhetoric which faded almost as they budded’; and Hudson Gurney* dismissed it as ‘poor gossip slip-slop, got by heart, poorly delivered’.24 Perhaps chastened by this setback, Hawkins kept his mouth shut for the remainder of the 1831 Parliament. He voted for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and for the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept. The defeat of the reform bill in the Lords came as no surprise to Hawkins, who attended the party meeting which agreed to support Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in the ministry and duly voted thus, 10 Oct. Remaining in London until the prorogation, he initially thought that ministers had little choice but to resort to a creation of peers to carry the bill. Moreover, he believed that

the best thing that could be done now for the future stability of the Upper House, would be to infuse some new blood into it. As for the bishops, it is useless trying to save them. They must either quit the House of Peers, or the Church of England, before ten years are out.

He was sure that the king could be relied on, if only because he ‘likes popularity’; and he had faith in the ability of Thomas Attwood† and the other ‘clever men’ leading the mass reform movement to prevent serious unrest: ‘the affair is not in the hands of the mob, but of the middling classes, and therefore all will go well’, he told his father. He was, however, a little alarmed by the Derby and Nottingham riots and by reports that ‘the people are becoming very impatient about the reform bill’. As he now saw it, the ministry’s ‘very awkward dilemma’ was rooted in the fact that while the Lords, deluding themselves that there had been a ‘reaction’ against reform in the country, might be willing to swallow ‘a considerable measure’, it was clear to everyone else that ‘the introduction of a less efficient (that is, less democratic) bill, by the present ministry, would place us in imminent danger of an insurrection, and that the resignation of the ministry would produce one instantly’. Yet if ministers forced through, by a creation of peers, a measure ostensibly ‘but a little more efficient’ than that which the peers would take willingly, they would appear to be guilty of ‘great tyranny’.25

Hawkins voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831. He thought it gave ‘great satisfaction to the reformers’ while offering enough concessions to ‘afford an excuse for any repentant Tory to withdraw his opposition’. He believed that ‘the anti-reformers, both in Parliament and out, consider the passing of the bill as inevitable’, though they were ‘thoroughly frightened at the state of the country, as they well may be’.26 He was therefore surprised by the ‘appearance of an obstinate resistance on the part of the enemy’ given by their dividing against going into committee on the bill, 20 Jan. 1832, when he of course sided with ministers. A week later, however, he concluded that opposition had resigned themselves to the bill’s passage through the Commons and were ‘inclined to direct their attacks from different quarters’.27 He attended and voted steadily as the measure went through committee, though he was in the minority of 32 who voted to expunge the provision for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 1 Feb.28 He told his father that he had been ‘anxious to speak’ on the third reading, for which he voted, 22 Mar. 1832, ‘not for any sense of ability in doing so, but as a farewell to the question’, but that he failed to catch the Speaker’s eye on the second night, and on the third ‘sat still in compliance with Althorp’s desire to conclude the debate’.29

Hawkins was keenly interested in the government’s plan for the revision of Irish tithes, which, he wrote in December 1831, ‘if it be anything better than one of those milk and water expedients which are unfortunately the characteristic of Whig policy’, would isolate Peel, ending ‘the little appearances of coquetry which still remain’ between the ministry and him, enrage the more reactionary Tories and so ensure ‘a more unflinching support from the radicals and the press’. When the proposals were unveiled in March 1832, he was largely satisfied, and pleased with ministerial hints that ‘English tithes will not much longer remain an assessment of the gross produce’. Yet he was annoyed by the ‘inexcusable’ threats of Irish Members to press for more radical change, which he thought would ‘seriously embarrass the progress of the reform bill in the House of Lords’.30 He did not vote in the division on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. 1832, when he privately criticized the ‘miserable mismanagement’ of ministers in the Commons and thought them lucky to have escaped defeat;31 but he was in their majorities when the issue was raised again, 12, 16, 20 July. On 27 Jan. he was named to the select committee on the East India Company, 27 Jan., whose investigations he professed to find ‘most entertaining’ and informative.32 He voted with government on the question of interference in the affairs of Portugal, 9 Feb., and for the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr.; but on 16 Feb. he was in Hume’s minority of 28 for information on military punishments, and he rejoiced at being involved in the ‘glorious division’ of 2 Apr., when Hume’s motion to abolish flogging in the army, as modified by Burdett (whose suggested exceptions Hawkins thought ‘judicious’, as it was ‘a case in which it is as well to proceed cautiously’) was defeated by only 11 votes.33 He deplored Hunt’s ‘factious and popularity-hunting’ opposition to Warburton’s anatomy bill, which he stayed at his post in mid-April 1832 to support as a measure ‘of great importance as a matter of principle’.34

He witnessed the debates in the Lords on the reform bill and flattered himself that the narrow success of the second reading ‘removes ... the last opportunity of provoking popular disturbances’, as ‘no damage done to the bill in committee is likely to cause a riot’. At the same time, he thought that there was now ‘only a choice between a creation of peers, or a compromise’, fearing that abandonment of the provisions creating the new metropolitan constituencies, which the Tories hated, would ‘give most offence to the lower classes’, especially in London.35 He voted for the motion calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the bill unimpaired, 10 May. The following day, writing to his father on the current crisis, he discounted the notion that Peel or Wellington would come in to effect reform and asserted that for the moment, at least, the people were ‘inclined to keep the peace’, under the direction of the unions:

It is the ultimate consequence of this event which appears to me most pregnant with difficulty. We had already made the political unions our masters; we are now about to owe our safety to them. They will exhibit more forbearance than bodies of men have ever yet shown, if they do not rule us for some years to come with a rod of iron. Of course, we shall have no more of this bill as a final measure. The House of Lords have now proved that which the anti-reformers have been asserting all along, that, as at present constituted, they are a body whose existence is incompatible with a House of Commons freely elected by the people. As we cannot avoid, much longer, seeing a House of Commons so elected, the inference is obvious. The only choice will be between a senate elected for life, or continual creation for the purpose of carrying the successive reforms which the advance of the public mind will render necessary. This was, in truth, the last throw of the hereditary peerage; and they have played it away even more childishly than their worst enemies could have hoped.36

He presented a Tavistock petition for the supplies to be withheld until reform had been secured, 23 May, and voted for the Irish, 25 May, and Scottish reform bills, 1 June. He was still attending the House in the dog days of early August 1832, when he reported that Smith Stanley had ‘wisely’ abandoned his bill to reform the administration of justice in Ireland.37

At the general election of 1832 Hawkins successfully contested Newport, Isle of Wight, where he had canvassed in June, after being approached by the leaders of the ‘popular party’ there. On 1 Aug. he told his mother that the local Tories ‘affect to be much shocked at the radicalism of my opinions’; but he wondered how they would react when William Henry Ord, who stood and came in with him after Robert Torrens* had transferred his attention to Bolton, made known his views: ‘Poor things, they don’t know what radicalism is, yet!’38 A supporter of the ballot, who was later said to have been ‘regarded with disfavour by most of the leaders of the Whig party’, he was returned again after contests in 1835 and 1837 (on the former occasion by one vote), but retired from Parliament in 1841, soon after succeeding his father to Bignor and property in Lancashire.39 He died, leaving no legitimate issue, at 76 Regent’s Park Road, London in June 1877. By his will, dated 3 Dec. 1862, he left most of his property to his brother, who succeeded him at Bignor. He bequeathed £1,000 to his bailiff and the rest of his ready cash and invested money to one Sarah Hawkins of 3 St. James Terrace, Regent’s Park, formerly Sarah Dallin of Dartmouth, with remainder to their surviving illegitimate children. His personalty was sworn under £25,000, 22 Oct. 1877, and resworn under £35,000 in 1903 after the death of Christopher Hawkins, when the family estates passed to the Johnstone family, descendants of their married sister Mary Anne.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Oxford DNB; I am, my dear Sir ed. F.W. Steer, pp. ix-xiv; Hawkins Pprs. ed. F.W. Steer, pp. v-vi; Letters of John Hawkins and Samuel and David Lysons ed. F.W. Steer, pp. v-vii; PROB 11/1654/140; Add. 39782, f. 257.
  • 2. Add. 56555, f. 125; I am, my dear Sir, 36.
  • 3. I am, my dear Sir, 60; Cornw. RO, Hawkins mss 10/2149-55.
  • 4. PROB 11/1755/291; I am, my dear Sir, p. xv.
  • 5. Hawkins mss 10/2157.
  • 6. West Briton, 30 July, 13 Aug. 1830.
  • 7. Add. 51835, Goodwin to Holland [Aug. 1830].
  • 8. Hawkins mss 10/2158, 2160.
  • 9. Add. 56555, f. 125.
  • 10. Add. 51569, Ord to Lady Holland [19 Apr. 1831].
  • 11. Add. 51573, Rice to Holland [19 Apr. 1831].
  • 12. Bunbury Mem., 160-1.
  • 13. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 198, T. to J. Gladstone, 20 Apr. 1831.
  • 14. Hopetoun mss 167, f. 257.
  • 15. Hants RO, Sturges Bourne mss F9/6. See also Three Diaries, 83 and Baring Jnls. i. 85.
  • 16. West Briton, 6, 20 May, 3, 10 June; The Times, 12 May 1831.
  • 17. Cornw. RO, Johnstone mss DD/3/2142/6, 7.
  • 18. Add. 76382, Poulett Thomson to Althorp, 11 May 1831; Hawkins mss 10/2162.
  • 19. Russell Letters, ii. 340, 341-2; Hawkins mss 10/2162; Add. 51663, Bedford to Holland, Tuesday [June 1831].
  • 20. Russell Letters, ii. 343, 346, 351; Add. 51670, Bedford to Lady Holland, Sunday [?17 July 1831].
  • 21. Hawkins mss 10/2163; Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse Herald, 16 July 1831.
  • 22. Hawkins mss 10/2165, 2166.
  • 23. Macaulay Letters, ii. 31, 89, 97; Hawkins mss 10/2167.
  • 24. Bunbury Mem. 163-4; NLW, Coedymaen mss 220; Gurney diary, 19 Sept. [1831].
  • 25. Hawkins mss 10/2169-72.
  • 26. Ibid. 2175, 2176.
  • 27. Ibid. 2178, 2179.
  • 28. Ibid. 2180-5, 2195.
  • 29. Ibid. 2190.
  • 30. Ibid. 2175, 2176, 2184, 2187.
  • 31. Ibid. 2179.
  • 32. Ibid. 2185.
  • 33. Ibid. 2191.
  • 34. Ibid. 2192.
  • 35. Ibid. 2193, 2194.
  • 36. Ibid. 2198.
  • 37. Ibid. 2207, 2208.
  • 38. Ibid. 2200, 2201, 2203, 2205-6, 2209-13; The Times, 8, 14 Dec. 1832.
  • 39. The Times, 6 July 1877; Gent. Mag. (1841), ii. 322-3; PROB 11/1955/807.