PALMER, Charles Fyshe (?1771-1843), of Luckley House, Wokingham; East Court, Finchampstead, Berks. and Ickwell Old House, nr. Biggleswade, Beds.
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Family and Education
b. ?1771, s. of Charles Fyshe Palmer of Luckley, East Court and Ickwell and w. Lucy Jones of Celyn, Flints.1 educ. Eton 1779-86;2 ?Wadham, Oxf. 19 Nov. 1789, aged 18. m. 25 Nov. 1805, Lady Madelina Gordon, da. of Alexander, 4th duke of Gordon [S], wid. of Sir Robert Sinclair, 7th bt., of Stevenson, Haddington, s.p. suc. fa. 1807. d. 24 Jan. 1843.
Palmer’s skeletal physique and great height amused Mary Russell Mitford, who wrote that ‘three or four yards of brown thread would be as like him as anything, if one could contrive to make it stand upright’. She thought him ‘a good sort of man’, though, as a liberal, she had qualms about the £200 pension which his aristocratic wife enjoyed. She complained soon after his return for Reading, where his Berkshire estates and advanced Whig politics were electoral assets, at the contested election of 1818 that he had ‘the worst fault that a franker can have; he is un-come-at-able. One never knows where to catch him. I don’t believe he is ever two days in a place - always jiggeting about from one great house to another’.3 Certainly, as brother-in-law to three dukes and a marquess, and the possessor of polished, if rather stiff manners, he moved easily in high society. He joined Brooks’s on 20 Dec. 1819, sponsored by Lord Holland and Lord John Russell*, the son of his brother-in-law the 6th duke of Bedford, of whose electoral interests in Bedfordshire, where he also owned inherited property, he was a staunch supporter. He offered again for Reading at the general election of 1820, claiming to have fulfilled all his pledges. At the nomination, when he, the radical Whig John Monck and the Tory John Weyland* were put forward, he denied having voted systematically against government, instancing his support for them on the resumption of cash payments, against an attempt to increase the duty on coals and ‘on several other occasions’. He boasted of his resistance to heavy taxation and the coercive legislation adopted after Peterloo. (He had attended and addressed the county protest meeting, 14 Nov. 1819.)4 On parliamentary reform, of which he was a long-standing advocate, favouring triennial parliaments and a householder franchise, he said that he
would not support the scheme of annual parliaments and universal suffrage, because he thought all the advantages proposed might be obtained without the danger which appeared to him in that measure. He viewed the Manchester proceedings as having done more mischief to the cause of substantial reform than could be remedied for years.
He was curiously reticent about affirming his support for Catholic relief. After a six-day poll, he beat Weyland into third place by only five votes. Proclaiming the victory of electoral purity and independence, he called for other boroughs to follow Reading’s example and so produce ‘a useful House of Commons, though he could not promise ... a good one till ... reform was effected’.5
Palmer was a conscientious attender, who voted steadily with the advanced wing of the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry. Although he was no orator (he was reported as saying in 1821 that ‘he could not speak in the House of Commons and durst not attempt it’) he was not afraid to intervene in debate.6 He presented the petition of Reading agriculturists and tradesmen complaining of distress, 19 May,7 and demanded economies at the Royal Military College, 2 June. He was one of the minority of 12 who voted for a prorogation, 18 Sept. 1820. The previous month he had attended the trial of his friend Major John Cartwright at Warwick.8 At the Reading meeting in support of Queen Caroline, 7 Dec. 1820, he declared that her ‘assailants ... had done more to degrade the kingly dignity than all the radical meetings which had been held for the past 50 years’, but he thought that ‘a change of ministers without a change of system would be worse than useless’: ‘the present men were undoubtedly leagued with foreign powers; and, under the present system, he feared English liberty could not exist’. He took the same line at the Bedford meeting, 29 Dec. 1820, when he ‘utterly denied that he was a party man’. He also addressed the Berkshire county meeting, 8 Jan. 1821, but was handicapped by a cold.9 He presented and endorsed Reading and Tilehurst petitions demanding the dismissal of ministers and economical and parliamentary reform, 26 Jan. He complained on 8 Feb. that he had been kept off the commission of the peace for Wiltshire, on whose borders he lived, on account of his ‘known political conduct and principles’.10 He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb., 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He voted for Leeds to be made a scot and lot borough if it received Grampound’s seats, 2 Mar., and spoke for an amendment to the disfranchisement bill, 19 Mar. 1821.11 He was one of the stewards of the City reform dinner, 4 Apr., when he detailed the attempts being made at Reading to eliminate electoral corruption.12 Supporting Lambton’s reform motion, 17 Apr., he warned that if change was not implemented, ‘a tremendous convulsion would ensue’. He missed the division in the fiasco of 18 Apr., but voted for Russell’s motion, 9 May, and for reform of the Scottish county representation, 10 May. He was an assiduous supporter throughout the session of economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation. He advocated referral of the Liverpool petition for recall of the Austrian loan to the committee on agricultural distress, 14 Mar., and presented a Biggleswade agriculturists’ petition calling for a reduction of taxation, 3 Apr.13 He demanded to know why the Bedfordshire yeomanry cavalry had tripled in size in the last year, 16 Apr. He was a severe critic of the grant to the duke of Clarence, which he opposed to the bitter end and denounced as an ‘abominable’ waste of public money, 25, 29 June. He spoke and voted for reception of Broadhurst’s petition complaining of conditions in Lancaster gaol, 7 Mar., and on 15 May brought up a petition from a victim of Peterloo and pressed for inquiry, for which he divided next day.14 On Lord Althorp’s county courts bill, 15 Mar., he dismissed a suggestion that their business could be thrown on the quarter sessions, which were already overburdened. He advocated a fresh approach to the problem of smuggling prevention, after the failure of expensive coercive methods, 13 Apr. He said that the plan for an extra post was ‘impracticable’, 10 May. He saw no merit in the poor relief bill, arguing that rates might easily be diminished under the existing regulations, 24 May; asserting that ‘farmers had never paid their labourers sufficient to enable them to support their families’, 8 June;15 and insisting that the laws, ‘the chartered rights of the poor’, ought not to be tinkered with, 2 July 1821.
At the Reading meeting promoted by the local radicals to pay tribute to Joseph Hume for his parliamentary exertions in the cause of ‘economy, retrenchment and reform’, 14 Jan. 1822, Palmer received a vote of thanks, with Monck, for supporting him. In response, he damned with faint praise Hume’s campaign for economical reform, which however admirable, seemed likely to fail, just as Burke’s had. The essential requirement, he argued, was ‘a measure of [parliamentary] reform, on a plan much less limited than that pursued’ by Hume, who in this respect was only ‘a moderate reformer’. He admitted that he had occasionally differed with Monck, but stressed the importance, to compensate for the want of triennial parliaments, of holding regular public meetings to allow popular opinion to be expressed and brought to bear on Members. At the anniversary dinner of the Reading Purity of Election Association two days later he condemned the Constitutional Association, advocated ‘reform of an efficient but temperate description’ and exhorted extreme radical reformers to settle for what was attainable.16 On one of his own pet subjects, the ‘excrescence’ at Sandhurst, he called for savings there, 20 Mar.,17 and on 28 Mar. he spoke for Hume’s attempt to reduce its grant and acted as a teller for the minority of 15. He dismissed Burgess’s claims for remuneration for his extra post plan, 2 Apr., when he was a teller for the majority against inquiry, and on 22 July ‘objected to the inhumanity of the scheme as it affected the horses’.18 Yet he was a teller for the majority against the cattle ill-treatment bill, 24 May. He was one of the leading requisitionists of the Bedfordshire county reform meeting, 20 Apr., when he attacked the Grenvillites, who had recently joined the government, complained of the great increase in ministerial patronage and, as well as triennial parliaments, advocated an increase in the number of county Members and the disfranchisement of rotten boroughs, claiming the blessing of Pitt for such a scheme.19 On the presentation of the meeting’s petition, 25 Apr., he denied the allegation of Macqueen, Tory Member for East Looe, that it had been packed with reformers and misrepresented in the press.20 He voted for Russell’s reform motion later that day. He presented and supported the prayer of a Reading petition against the ‘present oppressive system of licensing public houses’, 1 May, entreated Bennet not to give up the compulsory clause of his licensing bill, 24 May, was a teller for the majority for the measure, 27 June, and expressed regret that the Lords had expunged its two key clauses, 30 July.21 He presented a Reading petition in favour of Brougham’s beer retail bill, 17 July.22 On 26 July 1822 he asked ministers to extend to agriculturists the full benefit of the reduction of stamp duties.
At the anniversary dinner of the Purity of Election Association, 16 Jan. 1823, Palmer applauded the progress which the reform cause had made locally, but attacked the ‘blameable timidity’ of country gentlemen in Parliament and censured the Members for close boroughs who sustained ministers in power. He attended the county reform meeting, 27 Jan., but told his audience that their petition would be ignored by the Commons as it stood. He spoke briefly in support of it there, 27 Feb.23 He questioned the utility of the yeomanry and criticized the Sandhurst establishment as before, 7, 10 Mar.24 He voted for parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., the production of information on Inverness elections, 26 Mar., and reform of the Scottish electoral system, 2 June. He asked ministers to relax the beer duties ‘a little more’, 21 Mar.,25 and said that ‘with certain modifications’ the beer duties bill would be an improvement on the existing law, 12 May; but he voted against its report stage, 13 June. He sought leave to introduce a bill to enable public brewers to retail small quantities of beer for off-consumption, 28 May, but withdrew his motion in the face of official hostility. He questioned the chancellor about the scope of the current regulations, 8 July.26 He spoke and voted against Onslow’s bill to repeal the usury laws as ‘most ruinous to the agricultural interest’, 17 June. He supported the prayer of a Lancashire petition for curbs to be placed on magistrates’ powers to levy county rates, 10 July 1823.27 Palmer was slightly less assiduous in his attendance in 1824, when he seem to have been absent for short periods in March and early April. He voted for reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb. He presented a petition for repeal of the assessed taxes from Reading, 17 Mar., and advocated the imposition of a tax on ‘the barking curs which infested every town and village in England’, 18 May.28 He presented a petition from Reading licensed victuallers against the existing system of excise licenses, 2 Mar., welcomed the beer duties bill as ‘a very great improvement’, 6 Apr., and presented favourable Reading, Newbury and Sonning petitions, 21, 24 May, when he said that he ‘anticipated more good to the mechanics, tradesmen and to the mass of the people, than from any other measure that could be introduced’, for the retail breweries, which it sanctioned, were ‘calculated to break down the abuses’ of the current brewers’ monopoly.29 He opposed Curteis’s mariners’ apprentices settlement bill as a source of aggravation for magistrates, 17 May, but supported Hume’s motion for returns of committals and convictions by justices, 27 May 1824.
Palmer welcomed Stuart Wortley’s bill to amend the game laws, 17 Feb. 1825, attributing increases in poaching to the low level of labourers’ wages. He spoke and was a teller for the minority for Hume’s motion for a return of clergymen holding municipal offices, 17 Mar., when the House was counted out. On 24 Mar. he supported Hume’s motion for inquiry into the organization of the Indian army, which he said was riddled with ‘discontent’. The same day he opposed Martin’s bill to prevent maltreatment of animals, feeling that he had already gone too far with his interference on this subject; he was a teller for the hostile majority. On 22 Feb. he obtained leave to introduce a bill to empower quarter sessions to effect transfers or exchanges between counties of insulated parcels of land for the more convenient administration of justice. It got a second reading, 25 Apr., but at the home secretary Peel’s request he had it printed to allow time for local inquiries. He secured a return of all parishes and townships which extended into two counties, 30 June.30 He was an opponent of the Newbury improvement bill and the Berkshire and Hampshire canal bill. He wished the labourers’ wages bill to be given a second reading so that it could be discussed in detail, 2 June 1825.31 In September, when an early dissolution was expected, the local Tory newspaper reported that despite Palmer’s public assertion that he intended to stand, his electoral position was weak and under serious threat from Edward Wakefield, who had started for the borough on the Blue, or Tory, interest earlier in the year. According to the same source, he ‘passed a high and extraordinary eulogium’ on the Liverpool ministry ‘for the liberal and enlightened policy which they had pursued’ in recent years at the mayor’s inaugural dinner, 3 Oct. 1825.32
On the navy estimates, 17 Feb. 1826, Palmer argued that ministers should ascertain the effects of the alteration in the currency, which by its depreciation had inflated public salaries, before levying taxes. He divided with Hume and nine others for an amendment to the promissory notes bill, 27 Feb., and the following day spoke at some length against that ‘ill-timed, injudicious’ measure, elaborating his argument that unless public expenses were reduced, there could be no safe return to a metallic currency. He denied being an advocate of high prices, but contended that
if corn were not kept up to a certain price, starvation must ensue amongst the agricultural classes. Ministers had a really difficult task to perform ... they must have low prices for the manufacturers, and they must have high prices for the other classes. But, under these circumstances, they were not justified in the unbounded extravagance of their expenditure. If the difficulty was to be met, it could only be by the most rigid economy.
He was one of the minority of nine against the third reading of the bill, 7 Mar. On 21 Feb. he endorsed the prayer of a Reading silk weavers’ petition for protection against foreign imports, blaming government policy for their distress;33 but he was persuaded not to vote for Ellice’s motion for inquiry into the trade, 24 Feb., by the ‘powerful’ speech of Huskisson, president of the board of trade. He presented a Reading petition for the abolition of slavery, 20 Apr.34 He voted for Newport’s proposal to get rid of non-resident voters in Irish boroughs, 9 Mar., and, supporting Russell’s bill to curb electoral bribery, 14 Mar., he argued that ‘if the House did not reform itself from within, it would ultimately be reformed from without’. He voted for reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr., but seems to have missed the division on Russell’s general reform motion, 27 Apr. He was present to support the resolutions against bribery, 26 May 1826, when, in response to Gurney’s assertion that all Members paid for their seats in one way or another, he denied ever having done so.
Palmer stood again for Reading, as did Monck, at the general election of 1826, when the Blues produced a second man, George Spence, to run with Wakefield.35 Palmer issued a new edition of his Letter to the Electors of 1818, updated to cover the issues of slavery, the corn laws and Catholic emancipation.36 At the nomination, he boasted of his support for reform, retrenchment, reduced taxation, the abolition of slavery and an open beer retail trade. He denied having voted ‘to place the Catholics in power’, explaining that he had voted for concession of their claims ‘for the purpose of conciliating and relieving the great body of the Irish people’. He praised the ‘far more liberal principles’ applied by the present ministers to their commercial policy, said that he had supported their recent opening of the ports, and insisted that ‘low-priced corn and high taxes were incompatible’. Wakefield withdrew from the contest on the fourth day, in order to improve Spence’s chances of beating Palmer for second place, and this he managed to do, by four votes in a poll of over 1,000.37 Palmer was seated on petition, after a scrutiny of disputed votes by the election committee, 26 Mar. 1827. Four days later he was granted a week’s leave on account of ill health. On 12 Apr. he supported the fledgling Canning ministry’s corn bill, which he said was ‘framed upon strict principles of impartiality’, and expressed general support for the administration. In an address to his constituents, he proclaimed that ‘the cause of rational liberty is daily adding to the number of its advocates’; and his reinstatement in the seat was lavishly celebrated in the town, 18 Apr.38 In the House, 4 May, he called for full investigation of the allegations against Lord Charles Somerset’s† conduct as governor of the Cape, 17, 30 May, 29 June.39 He voted for the creation of a separate bankruptcy jurisdiction, 22 May, and for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May. He presented Dissenters’ petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 15 June.40 At the Reading mayoral dinner, 1 Oct. 1827, he rejoiced in the ‘great change’ in politicians’ views on economy and retrenchment and remarked that ‘I have lately found myself, rather unexpectedly I confess, sitting on the same benches with ... ministers, voting with them on important public questions’.41
He voted in Hume’s minority of eight for naval economies, 12 Feb. 1828. He supported the petition of Reading Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts, 25 Feb., and voted for that measure the following day. He denounced the 1827 Malt Act as ‘injurious to the revenue, hurtful to the maltsters, and prejudicial to the landed interest’ and presented a Newbury petition for its repeal, 27 Feb. Later that day he welcomed Acland’s bill to improve the regulation of divisions of counties, though he wished its scope to be extended to cover other problems affecting county magistrates; he was named to the committee on the measure, 5 Mar. He voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 21 Mar., and on the Penryn disfranchisement bill, 24 Mar., called for a shortening of the duration of polls in all constituencies. He accordingly supported the principle of Davies’s borough polls bill, 31 Mar., when he cited Reading in 1826 as an example of how the current law was frequently abused. He was named to the committee on the bill, 2 Apr., but on 23 May complained that ministers had rendered it ‘ridiculous’ and useless. He voted for inquiry into chancery delays, 24 Apr. He called for protection against common informers on the subject of sales of excisable liquor to be extended to retail brewers, 30 Apr., and the following day voted for the establishment of efficient control over proceedings by the crown for the recovery of excise penalties. On 19 June he obtained leave to introduce a bill to amend the Beer Duties Act so as to prevent informers from plaguing retail brewers. He introduced it, 24 June, but on the 26th set it aside for another one, of which John Wood, Member for Preston, took charge. Palmer presented petitions for Catholic relief, 24, 29 Apr., 8 May, and voted for it, 12 May. He sought to puncture Macqueen’s inflated claims for the significance of the Bedfordshire petition for greater agricultural protection, 25 Apr. He voted for information on civil list pensions, 20 May, against the small notes bill, 5 June, for various economies, 6, 20 June, 7 July (though not for reduction of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July), and against the additional churches bill, 30 June. He voted for inquiry into the Irish church, 24 June, and for the corporate funds bill, 10 July. He again blamed inadequate wages for destitution among agricultural labourers, 23 May. On 19 June he presented a Wallingford petition in favour of the alehouses licensing bill and, as a member of Bedford corporation, asserted that they did not consider the measure a violation of their rights. He wanted retail brewers to be allowed to remain open until ten at night for the convenience of agricultural labourers, 8 July. At the Reading mayoral feast, 6 Oct. 1828, he commented on the current ‘absence of all party feeling’ in national politics and ‘the confidence generally felt by the public’ in the duke of Wellington’s ministry, from which he expected further liberalization.42
Palmer moved the address for a return of sheriffs’ fees and allowances, 6 Feb., and called for further economies at Sandhurst, 20 Feb. 1829, though he regretted the recent removal of one of its surgeons, who also treated the poor of the neighbourhood. Presenting the Reading petition against Catholic claims, 26 Feb., he said that it was sparsely signed and that local opinion on the issue had ‘changed, very materially, within the last few years’. He presented and dissented from an intemperate anti-Catholic petition from Alfold, 17 Mar., and duly voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and for O’Connell to be allowed to take his seat unhindered, 18 May. He voted against the silk trade bill, 1 May. He was prepared to go into committee on Slaney’s labourers’ wages bill, even though he thought it would do no good in the prevailing distress, 4 May; and on 15 May he denounced it as a serious threat to employment. Either he or Charles Pallmer, Member for Surrey, voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May. He was shut out of the division on Lord Blandford’s reform proposals, 2 June 1829. He voted for the amendment to the address, 4 Feb., and on 12 Feb. 1830 urged ministers to tackle distress which, as a magistrate, he knew to be at a level which ‘baffles all description’. He voted for reductions in the estimates, 19 Feb., 1, 9 Mar., a revision of taxation, 25 Mar., to abolish the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., and for inquiry into the management of crown lands revenues, 30 Mar. He voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5 Mar., against the disfranchisement bill and to incorporate the ballot in it, 15 Mar., and for Blandford’s reform scheme, 18 Feb., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., investigation of the allegations of electoral interference at Newark against the duke of Newcastle, 1 Mar., and for Russell’s reform motion, 28 May. He secured the appointment of a select committee on the expenses attending the office of sheriff, 9 Mar., when he complained of the ‘hardships, inconvenience, expense and great responsibility’ attached to it. On 20 May, anticipating its report, he said that it was desirable that sheriffs should be allowed to pass their own accounts. He was in O’Connell’s small minority for reform of Irish vestries, 27 Apr., and voted for abolition of the lord lieutenancy, 11 May, and repeal of the Irish coal duties, 13 May. He voted against the grant for public buildings, 3 May, to reduce the salary of the assistant secretary to the treasury, 10 May, for information on privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May, and inquiry into the government of Ceylon, 27 May, and to reduce the grants for South American missions, 7 June, and consular services, 11 June. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He asserted that in practice tithes amounted to more than a tenth of rents, 18 May. That day he supported Hume’s attempt to reduce the salaries of the new judges appointed under the administration of justice bill, which he opposed, 27 May, because it would ‘give anything but satisfaction to the Welsh counties’. He voted against it, 18 June. He divided for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June, and against any increase in recognizances under the libel laws, 6 July. Unlike Monck, he was a supporter of the sale of beer bill, and he presented Reading and Henley petitions in favour of it, 11 May 1830.
He defied the expectations of some by standing again for Reading at the 1830 general election, when Monck retired and recommended in his room Dr. Stephen Lushington*, the eminent civilian, and the Blues put up Charles Russell, the second son of Sir Henry Russell, a former Indian judge, of nearby Swallowfield, whose first son, Henry Russell, another nabob, had taken an active part for Spence in 1826. Palmer made his usual statements of policy on the hustings, adding that while he had ‘not supported’ government for his first six years as a Member, he had since often ‘voted with them’ as they had adopted ‘a system having for its object the welfare of the country’. He eventually finished top of the poll, with Russell in second place; and he reiterated his intention of supporting government ‘so long as a due regard to the rights of the people and a provident expenditure of the public money is continued’.43 He was one of the five Members who attended the London dinner to celebrate the French revolution, 18 Aug., when he gave the toast to ‘purity of election and equal representation’.44 Ministers of course listed him as one of their ‘foes’, and Wellington declined to interfere in support of Lady Madelina’s request for an army commission for a protégé.45 At the mayoral dinner, 2 Oct. 1830, Palmer applauded their ‘promptitude’ in recognizing the new French government, but expressed alarm at ‘the revolutionary principles which had lately shown themselves in Brussels’.46 At the Reading meeting called to petition for repeal of the assessed taxes, 12 Oct., he suggested that in the current climate of opinion ‘petitions will be listened to’. He attributed unrest to ‘oppression’, which was the sole cause of ‘revolution’, in the shape of heavy taxes and harsh penal laws:
The misery and distress of the agricultural labourers is constantly on the increase, and unless Parliament insist on an effectual reduction of the taxes it will go on increasing, for the farmer, whilst he has so many calls upon him ... cannot employ the labourers, and they are forced to go to the parish ... The expenditure of every farthing of the public money calls for the severest and closest scrutiny, and until the amount is seriously curtailed, the country can never be placed in comfortable circumstances ... Let us prevent revolutionary movements occurring here, by timely representations of our grievances and discontents to Parliament.47
He condemned slavery as ‘unchristian and inhuman’ at a Reading abolitionist meeting, 21 Oct., when he also attended the town reform meeting, called for reform to avert ‘a terrible convulsion’ and declared his support for the ballot, to which he had been converted by his experience of intimidation at Reading.48 He voted to reduce the duty on wheat imported to the West Indies, 12 Nov., and against government on the civil list, 15 Nov. He presented Reading petitions for the abolition of slavery, 16 Dec. 1830, and repeal of the assessed taxes, 21 Feb. 1831. He was given a fortnight’s leave on account of the disturbed state of his neighbourhood, 30 Nov. 1830.49 He spoke for reform and the ballot at the county reform meeting, 17 Jan., and at the town meeting, 31 Jan. 1831.50 He was reported as predicting in early March, when he was given a week’s leave because of illness in his family (on the 9th), that the ministerial reform bill would ‘miscarry’; but at the Reading meeting to endorse it, 14 Mar., when he complained of the ‘bitter, rancorous hostility’ of the Tory opposition, he commended it as ‘the means of restoring happiness and prosperity to the country’.51 On the presentation of the county reform petition, 22 Mar., he disputed the allegation of his namesake, the county Member, that there was ‘a latent spirit of dissatisfaction’ with the bill in Berkshire. He then presented the Reading petition, and later that day he voted for the second reading of the bill. He presented a Maidenhead petition for the proposal to tax steamboat passengers, 14 Apr., and when the county Members presented petitions for repeal of the Beer Act, 18 Apr., he argued that it had made cheaper beer more widely available and done no ‘evil’. He voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he was returned unopposed as a supporter of the measure with Russell, who had taken the same line. On the hustings he said that the bill was ‘founded on reason, and a perfect regeneration of the English constitution’:
He ... should take it cheerfully, as presented by ministers, rather than endanger the whole by cavilling about the clauses. He was now a ministerial man, and while the government was conducted on liberal principles, as at present, doing away with all their patronage, and distinguishing their measures not for individual but the public good, so long would they have his support, but nothing would induce him to deviate from the pledges he had given to his constituents.52
Palmer voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and was a steady supporter of its details in committee, though he took a pair for 8 and 9 Aug. He voted twice with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He opposed the use of molasses in brewing, by which ‘the trade will again be thrown into the hands of the drug manufacturers’, 20 July; and on the presentation of more petitions against the Beer Act, 23 Aug., he again defended the measure, which had provided the poor with ‘a wholesome, nourishing beverage, instead of the abominable stuff that used to be very generally sold in the public houses’, and benefitted the agricultural interest by raising the price of barley. He presented a Reading petition in favour of the measure, 16 Sept., along with one from local retail brewers and beer sellers asking to be put on the same footing as licensed publicans. He opposed the highways bill, 3 Aug. On 22 Aug. he spoke strongly for compensation to be given to Lescene and Escoffery for their removal from Jamaica in 1823, which he described as ‘the grossest act of perfidy and injustice ever committed under the sanction’ of a British government, even though his brother-in-law the duke of Manchester had been governor. He called for a reduction of the duties on Cape wines, 7 Sept., and on 16 Sept. sought to excuse the conduct of the Hampshire magistrates in the case of the Deacles. He voted for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and for the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept. At the mayoral dinner in Reading, 3 Oct., he confined himself to hoping that the Lords ‘would do their duty’ after mature deliberation. He voted for the motion of confidence in the Grey ministry, 10 Oct., and, like his colleague, was unable to attend the Reading radical meeting of the following day to consider the current crisis.53 At the town meeting to honour Monck for his public services, 22 Nov. 1831, Palmer counselled moderation, arguing that further ‘riots and tumults’ would embarrass the ministry and that as ‘enlightened men’, the Lords ‘must ultimately fall in with the wishes of the people’.54
He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831. He seems to have been a little less assiduous than previously in his attendance at the committee stage, for his name appears on the ministerial side in only five of the ten divisions for which lists have been found. He defended the proposal to give three Members to some counties, including Berkshire, 27 Jan. 1832, suggesting that it would break the monopoly enjoyed by ‘men of large property’ and provide openings for those ‘whose talents would be devoted to the public service’. He had something to say on the clause dealing with the compilation of lists of eligible borough voters, 8 Feb. He voted for the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar. After its rejection by the Lords, he voted for the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. At the Reading meeting of 14 May he advised the electors to ‘trust no man further than you can see him: if ... [he] does not pledge himself to support enfranchisement, disfranchisement, and the £10 qualification ... reject him’. He said that he did not entirely despair of seeing the Conservatives carry a full reform, and criticized Grey and his colleagues for giving up the fight.55 In the House later that day, however, he said that
the general impression in the country is, that there has been a juggle, and that Lord Grey has been cajoled ... There is at the moment an excitement throughout the country which must be allayed soon, or it will burst out into a species of violence that I will not take upon me to describe.
On 21 May he welcomed the Scottish reform bill, recalling how his uncle, Thomas Fyshe Palmer, a Unitarian minister, whom he claimed to have visited in the hulks in 1794, had been transported for advocating reform. He attributed the change in opinion since those dark days to Tory ‘misgovernment’, excessive taxation and interference with the currency. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against any increase in the Scottish county representation, 1 June, and again applauded the triumph of reform in Scotland, 27 June. He subscribed £20 towards the cost of the Reading celebrations of the passage of reform in July.56 He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 20 July (pairing on 12 July), relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr., but was in the minority in favour of a reduction in the salary of the Irish registrar of deeds, 9 Apr. 1832.
On 14 Feb. 1832 Palmer got permission to bring in a bill to regulate and reduce the expenses of the office of sheriff, explaining that ‘I intend to make that which is now avoided by country gentlemen an object of ambition’. He introduced it, 23 Feb., and after its second reading, 7 Mar., it was referred to a select committee. It passed the Commons on 20 July, when Palmer defeated an attempt to expunge the clause ending the procession of sheriffs to meet assize judges, but made no further progress. He praised the Oundle system of empowering select vestries to provide work for the able-bodied poor, 17 Feb. He presented petitions from Reading and Leighton Buzzard in favour of the bill to regulate children’s factory hours, 10 Apr., and a Reading Dissenters’ petition against the death penalty for non-violent crimes against property, 8 May. On 7 May he deplored the ‘general cry’ which had been got up against beer shops, merely because a few had given cause for complaint, and appealed for the Sale of Beer Act to be given a fair trial. He therefore opposed a proposal to introduce an amendment bill, which he dismissed as a bid to restore the brewers’ harmful monopoly, 31 May; he was a teller for the hostile majority. He showed that he had misunderstood the object of Campbell’s bill to reform the law of dower, 8 June. He sought confirmation of the exemption from tax of agricultural carts used to carry domestic coals on their return from market, 29 June 1832.
Palmer was returned unopposed for Reading at the general election of 1832, but he fell foul of the local radicals in 1835. He recovered the seat in 1837 and retired from Parliament at the next dissolution.57 He died in January 1843. By his terse will of 4 Oct. 1832 he left all his property to his wife.58
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. N and Q, clx. 463; E. Hasted, Kent, ix. 572-3; Northill (Beds.) par. reg.
- 2. The Times, 28 Nov. 1831; Eton Coll. Reg. 1753-1790, p. 406.
- 3. Life of Mary Russell Mitford ed. A.G.K. L’Estrange, ii. 31, 35; Letters of Mary Russell Mitford (ser. 2) ed. H.F. Chorley, i. 56.
- 4. The Times, 16 Nov. 1819.
- 5. Ibid. 29 Feb., 4, 11-17 Mar.; Reading Mercury, 21 Feb., 13 Mar. 1820.
- 6. The Times, 5 Apr. 1821.
- 7. Ibid. 20 May 1820.
- 8. Cartwright Corresp. ed. F.D. Cartwright, ii. 186,
- 9. The Times, 11, 30 Dec. 1820, 9 Jan. 1821.
- 10. Ibid. 9 Feb. 1821.
- 11. Ibid. 8 Mar. 1821.
- 12. Ibid. 4, 5 Apr. 1821.
- 13. Ibid. 15 Mar., 4 Apr. 1821.
- 14. Ibid. 8 Mar., 16 May 1821.
- 15. Ibid. 9 June 1821.
- 16. Ibid. 16, 19 Jan. 1822.
- 17. Ibid. 21 Mar. 1822.
- 18. Ibid. 23 July 1822.
- 19. Ibid. 22 Apr. 1822; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 289.
- 20. The Times, 26 Apr. 1822.
- 21. Ibid. 2 May, 31 July 1822.
- 22. Ibid. 18 July 1822.
- 23. Ibid. 18, 28 Jan., 28 Feb. 1823.
- 24. Ibid. 8, 11 Mar. 1823.
- 25. Ibid. 22 Mar. 1823.
- 26. Ibid. 9 July 1823.
- 27. Ibid. 11 July 1823.
- 28. Ibid. 18 Mar., 19 May 1824.
- 29. Ibid. 22, 25 May 1824.
- 30. Ibid. 1 July 1825.
- 31. Ibid. 6 May, 1, 3, 11 June 1825.
- 32. Berks. Chron. 17, 24 Sept., 8 Oct.; Reading Mercury, 26 Sept. 1825.
- 33. The Times, 22 Feb. 1826.
- 34. Ibid. 21 Apr. 1826.
- 35. Reading Mercury, 13 Mar., 3 Apr.; The Times, 11 May 1826.
- 36. Berks. Chron. 6 May; Reading Mercury, 8 May 1826.
- 37. Reading Mercury, 19, 26 June 1826; Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, f. 47.
- 38. Reading Mercury, 16, 23 Apr. 1827.
- 39. The Times, 18, 31 May 1827.
- 40. Ibid. 16 June 1827.
- 41. Reading Mercury, 8 Oct. 1827.
- 42. Ibid. 13 Oct. 1828.
- 43. Ibid. 12 July, 9, 16, 23 Aug.; The Times, 20 July, 3-7, 9-13 Aug. 1830.
- 44. Add. 56555, f. 13; The Times, 19 Aug. 1830.
- 45. Wellington mss WP1/1138/12.
- 46. Berks. Chron. 9 Oct. 1830.
- 47. Reading Mercury, 18 Oct. 1830.
- 48. Berks. Chron. 23 Oct.; Reading Mercury, 25 Oct. 1830.
- 49. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, f. 241.
- 50. Reading Mercury, 24 Jan., 7 Feb. 1831.
- 51. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, f. 91; Reading Mercury, 21 Mar. 1831.
- 52. Reading Mercury, 25 Apr., 2 May 1831.
- 53. Berks. Chron. 8 Oct.; Reading Mercury, 17 Oct. 1831; Bodl. MS. Eng.lett. d. 153, ff. 209-14.
- 54. The Times, 28 Nov. 1831.
- 55. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 154, f. 101; Reading Mercury, 21 May 1832.
- 56. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 154, f. 113.
- 57. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 284-91.
- 58. Reading Mercury, 28 Jan. 1843; PROB 8/236 (15 Feb. 1843); 11/1975/127.