PAYNE, Peter (1762-1843), of Knuston Hall, nr. Higham Ferrers, Northants.

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



1831 - 1832

Family and Education

bap. 17 Mar. 1762,1 4th but 2nd surv. illegit. s. of Sir Gillies Payne, 2nd bt., of Roxton and Maria, da. of John Keeling, farmer, of Potton, Beds. educ. Hackney; Queens’, Camb. 1779; I. Temple 1779. m. 21 Aug. 1789,2 Elizabeth Sarah, da. of Samuel Steward of Stourton Castle, Staffs., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. suc. fa. to property at Tempsford, Beds. and Sandy Point, St. Kitts 1801. d. 23 Jan. 1843.

Offices Held


Payne was descended from a family which had settled in the Caribbean island of St. Kitts in 1654, as royalist fugitives from Cromwell. His grandfather Charles Payne (d. 1744) received a large grant of land from the crown as reward for his part in the expulsion of the French, and profited from shrewd land purchases, sharp rises in the price of sugar and an advantageous marriage to Janet McArthur, the daughter and heiress of a former president of St. Kitts council. He was knighted in 1728 and created a baronet in 1737, and at his death was one of the richest planters on the island, with an additional estate on Nevis. His eldest surviving son, Sir Gillies Payne, whose elder brother Abraham died without male issue in 1738, was born in St. Kitts in 1720, but educated in England, at Hackney, Queens’ College, Cambridge and the Middle Temple. The death of one brother, the bankruptcy of another, and the death of his mother put the entire West Indian property in his hands by 1767. A handsome, coarse-fibred, licentious man, he took up residence in Bedfordshire, initially at Roxton, and formed a liaison with a local farmer’s daughter, whom he passed off in the county as his wife, though it is almost certain that they never married. With her he had numerous bastards, of whom the two elder surviving males were John Payne, born in about 1754, and Peter, born in 1762. Six years later Sir Gillies, who returned occasionally to St. Kitts, bought the 1,200-acre estate of Tempsford, seven miles east of Bedford on the River Ouse, where he built an imposing new mansion house in Palladian style. He had no difficulty in integrating into the upper echelons of county society, serving as sheriff in 1771. He was described in 1778 as ‘a strong North American partisan’, and he supported the petitioning movement for economical and parliamentary reform in the early 1780s. On John’s marriage to Elizabeth Campbell of Blunham in 1788, he settled on him an annuity of £500, charged on one of his two plantations at Sandy Point in St. Kitts. She died in childbirth, and in 1792 John married the heiress of Monoux of Wotton, having in the interim been granted by his father a year’s rent charge from Tempsford. At the general election of 1790 he unsuccessfully contested Bedford as a supporter of Pitt’s ministry, and his subsequent petition was rejected.3

Peter Payne was educated more or less in his father’s footsteps. On his marriage to a Staffordshire woman in 1789, his father provided him with an annuity of £400, charged on the Nevis estate and that of St. Thomas Middleground, St. Kitts. Sir Gillies Payne died in 1801, when John succeeded to the bulk of the family estates and assumed the baronetcy. By his father’s will of 14 Feb. 1794 and its codicil of 1 July 1796, Peter received the old mansion house at Tempsford and some surrounding land, the plantation of St. Anne, at Sandy Point and an annuity of £100.4 He did not question John’s right to the baronetcy, and after his brother’s sudden death in May 1803 he became the trustee of his property and the guardian of his children, of whom the eldest son, Charles Payne, assumed the baronetcy and joined the army, serving in the Peninsula. In 1808 Peter Payne, a lifelong devotee of hunting, left Bedfordshire and moved to the vicinity of Birmingham, explaining to his friend Samuel Whitbread, the maverick advanced Whig Member for Bedford, whose politics he greatly admired:

It was of great importance that my daughters should have some instruction which their mother could not give them; schools and governesses disagreed either with our habits or our means. In the little village of Solihull we found in the midst of decent society masters tolerably qualified to give the instruction we desired under their mother’s eyes.

For several years he lived mostly at Winson Green.5

Sir Gillies Payne had left a troublesome legacy, with many claims on the West Indian estates and difficulties in fulfilling the provisions of his will, despite the sale of the Nevis property. In 1815, when his nephew Sir Charles Payne had come of age, Peter persuaded him to make over to him for life the other Sandy Point plantation, in return for a payment of £2,200 and renunciation of his annuity. Sir Charles soon became enmeshed in financial difficulties, which led him to mortgage all his English property, and in 1824 to put Tempsford on the market. It was bought the following year by William Stuart, Tory Member for Armagh, and a cousin of the 2nd marquess of Bute. Peter Payne, never slow to feather his own nest, extracted from Stuart in return for his own stake in the property a payment of £200 and a life annuity of £100. In order to safeguard his right to vote at the next county election, the completion date of the purchase was delayed, Stuart meanwhile being legally recognized as Payne’s nominal tenant. In 1827 Sir Charles Payne agreed to become responsible for the payment of one fifth (£20) of his uncle’s annuity, making over to Stuart £666 in three per cent consols for this purpose.6 In 1826 Payne, who had recently moved to Knuston Hall in Northamptonshire, aimed another blow at his nephew by claiming, after a silence of 25 years, that he was entitled to the baronetcy as his father’s first legitimate son, resting his case on a supposed surreptitious marriage between his father and mother in 1761. Although no documentary evidence could be produced, a chancery judgment of 7 June 1828 ludicrously ruled that Payne was the eldest son born in wedlock and was therefore the third baronet. However, this finding was reversed by the lord chancellor in January 1829, when the issue of the legitimacy of Payne and his late brother John was directed to be tried. Neither side pursued the matter in Payne’s lifetime, but he continued to style himself a baronet, though he never registered himself as such with the heraldic authorities.7

He had become politically active in the Midlands after his move to Birmingham. His occasional letters to Whitbread between 1808 and the latter’s death in 1815 reveal that he regarded himself as an honest Foxite, albeit of advanced reforming views, who felt betrayed by the trimming conduct of the leaders of the party, notably Lord Grey and George Tierney*, during and after their brief and ill-starred coalition in government with the Grenvillite Whigs. Borrowing a phrase of Buonaparte, whom he admired, he denounced them as ‘shopkeeping politicians’ who had compromised their principles on the Catholic question and, above all, peace, both in power and in their subsequent ‘plastic opposition’, thereby forfeiting the support and trust of the people.8 Thus on 1 Oct. 1809 he wrote that

the conduct of the Grenvillites and Foxites in office reminds me of two physicians called in to a sick person who laboured under a mortal complaint upon which the physicians disagreed, but being employed and liking the fees, they determined to let that proceed as usual, lest their disagreement upon it should disgust their employer. They therefore set about looking for the little sores of the patient’s body, which he did not even know he had, and took great credit for their cure - the slave trade sore, the Scotch judicature sore and so on -leaving the decline by which the patient was dying to be treated in the same ineffectual way as heretofore. I do not know exactly what to make of the Burdettites. This I know, that if any new administration is formed not guided by the principles you are guided by, Burdett and his party may play the devil with it. That party has a party among the people, a strong party, a sensible party, though not of the highest condition. The calamities of the day will daily increase that party. A new administration will have no party among the people. Your principles only can meet the calamities from without and the discontents within, supported by calmness, liberality towards opponents, upon principle and firmness.9

Again, on 9 Apr. 1813, when he blamed the war with America largely on British provocation, he argued that the Liverpool ministry had ‘but one really vulnerable point about it’, against which everyone but Whitbread had ceased to strike:

If once it is admitted that its wars are just, all their other faults and incapacities will be overlooked by the people, because they have no reason to think their opponents more virtuous, or more able, and because the private judgement of the community is lost in its resentment against foreign aggression. What an eternal foothold would the Foxites have had, if they had adhered with you to their original ground of opposition, what a pyramid of guilt, crowned with Moscow in flames, might they not have pointed out to the people. But the presence of royalty confounded all honest and wise principle in them, its waves washed piece by piece the foundation on which they stood away, and they sank into the corruption which surrounded them.10

Payne, who became friendly with Samuel Parr and John Cartwright, composed pamphlets on these and related themes, though none of the following seem to have been published: England and the Cause of Europe’s Subjugation (1810); The Character and Conduct of British Ministers in War and Negotiation (1810) and Mr Pitt the Grand Political Delinquent (1812).11 He was active in the Birmingham campaign for repeal of the orders in council, in support of which he published in 1812, under the pseudonym of Philagathos, Seven Short and Plain Letters, to the Inhabitants of Birmingham. He distrusted the Tory activist Richard Spooner*, whom he suspected of playing a double game.12 In February 1814 he deplored to Whitbread the assumption that the destruction of Buonaparte was a sine qua non of peace; and a year later observed that although he had lost his empire, ‘I continue his friend and admirer as before. He is great in his fall’.13 In 1819 he stood bail for Cartwright on his indictment for sedition as chairman of the Birmingham meeting to elect a ‘Member of Parliament’, and wrote an apparently unpublished Letter to Lord Erskine in Defence of the Whigs. He also wrote on slavery and the education of women.14

Payne was intermittently active in Bedfordshire politics in the 1820s. At the general election of 1820, when his residence was given as Sherbourn, Northamptonshire, he voted for the two Whig candidates, while his nephew plumped for the unsuccessful Tory.15 At the county meeting called to express support for Queen Caroline, 12 Jan. 1821, he seconded the petitions and spoke powerfully for parliamentary reform.16 He did so again at the county reform meeting, 20 Apr. 1822, when he declared that until the system had been purified, it was ‘not an honour at all’ to have a seat in the Commons, and called on the people to force reform on the House.17 At the general election of 1826 he nominated Pym, one of the Whig sitting Members, and spoke in support of the other, Lord Tavistock, the duke of Bedford’s son, who stood on purity of election principles.18 He was a leading requisitionist for the county meeting to petition for repeal of the malt tax, 16 Feb. 1830, when he stated his approval of the principle, but said that it would achieve little, given the size of the national debt, and moved alternative resolutions ascribing the country’s problems to ‘the corrupt state of the Parliament’ and the sins of successive ministries since 1793. He was prevailed upon to drop them for the sake of unanimity.19 At the general election in August 1830 he nominated Tavistock.20 He advocated triennial parliaments and the ballot at the Bedford town reform meeting, 17 Jan. 1831.21 At the general election precipitated by the defeat of the Grey ministry’s reform bill just over three months later, Payne, now in his seventieth year, was persuaded to stand with Tavistock as a second ‘good reformer’ in an attempt to turn out Stuart, who had been returned in 1830 but had caused great offence by opposing the bill. A Bedford committee worked for him and Tavistock jointly, and the latter sought a contribution from the Loyal and Patriotic Fund for Payne, who was ‘without a shilling in his pocket’. At the nomination, he said that he had agreed to come forward, despite his advanced years

because he felt the time was now arrived, for which he had been looking for the last 50 years ... Before, he thought himself a little man, but strengthened as he was by the confidence of the people, he now felt himself to be a giant ... He was a friend of the constitution ... He wished the king to possess his prerogative, and the Lords theirs, but he was determined the people should have theirs.

In response to a jibe that he possessed no property in the county, he retorted that he was a freeholder and ‘possessed ... far more than a legal freehold’. He was returned in second place, well ahead of Stuart.22

Payne made no mark in the House, where he is not known to have spoken in debate, though he presented Woburn and Ridgmount petitions for reform of the penal code, 30 Aug. 1831, and one from Leighton Buzzard in favour of the London and Birmingham railway bill, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, was a steady supporter of its details, and voted for its passage, 21 Sept. 1831. He voted for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and the motion of confidence in the Grey administration, 10 Oct. He sided with them twice on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, to go into committee on it, 20 Jan., and for schedule B of the borough disfranchisement, 23 Jan. 1832; but his wife’s illness, which ended in her death, 23 Apr., seems to have interfered with his attendance that session.23 He voted against Wason’s attempt to limit polling in boroughs with under 1,200 electors to one day, 15 Feb., but was in Hunt’s later minority of four in favour of paying the cost of erecting hustings and booths out of corporate funds. He paired for the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., but voted in person for the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. His bereavement was given as the reason for his absence from the division on Lord Ebrington’s motion calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the measure unimpaired, 10 May. He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 20 July, but was in minorities for O’Connell’s attempt to extend the Irish borough franchise to £5 householders, 18 June, and a tax on Irish absentee landlords, 19 June. He voted to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June 1832.

At the Bedford dinner to celebrate the enactment of reform, 27 June 1832, Payne announced his intention of retiring at the dissolution on account of his age. He spoke at the Biggleswade reform dinner, 16 July. He was subsequently persuaded to stand at the general election in December, but he was narrowly beaten into third place by Stuart, who spent heavily to secure his revenge. The influence of Tory landlords on Chandos tenants-at-will was also thought to have been instrumental in the defeat of Payne, whose advocacy of repeal of the corn laws in a pamphlet that year would not have aided his cause.24 Six weeks after his defeat he addressed to the reformers of Bedfordshire from Leamington a Letter on the Ballot, Triennial Parliaments and the Ministers, in which he argued that the Reform Act, for all its virtues, had ‘not placed the new electors in a state of safety from the unlawful interference of the rich’. He never joined Brooks’s, and on the subject of party wrote that while he might be told that he had been ‘a good party man’ (a label which he disclaimed) in voting for reform

if I had continued in Parliament, I should have separated from those who continued leagued on party views, confident that they would not assist in rendering the bill generally beneficial; and confident that it is union, not party, that effects public good ... Party has reduced a powerful monarchy to a weak one, a happy people, to a discontented people, has made the rich, richer, and the poor, poorer, and filled each with fear and hatred of the other ... Party has never had any fixed political principles.

He declared himself to be one of ‘the party of the people’.25

Payne ended his days in Bedfordshire, for in 1835 he bought Blunham House, near Tempsford.26 The following year Emily Shore, who lived at Potton, wrote:

Sir Peter Payne and his daughters called. Sir P. is a remarkably healthy old man ... He was naturally very delicate, and says he never knew what good health was till he was sixty years of age. He attributes his present good health and strength to his constant hard exercise and his great temperance. He never drinks anything but a single glass of wine in soda-water; he eats scarcely any meat, and lives principally upon pudding.27

Payne died of a disease of the bladder in January 1843.28 By his will, dated 4 Dec. 1841, he directed that his Blunham property be sold to pay specified debts amounting to about £3,360, with the residue going to his daughter Laura. He made a distribution among his children of shares in the Birmingham canal navigation. He also ordered the sale of all his other disposable real estate.29 His elder surviving son, Charles Gillies Payne (?1794-1870), assumed the baronetcy, as did Payne’s nephew, the Rev. Coventry Payne (c.1795-1849), who succeeded his brother Charles in the main family estates in Bedfordshire and the West Indies in 1841, and his descendants. The dispute was given further airings in the second half of the nineteenth century, but nothing was ever settled in law, and the published authorities eventually deemed the title to have become extinct on the death of Sir Gillies Payne.30

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


See A. O’Shaughnessy, A Planter Family and the Decline of the West Indian Sugar Industry: The Payne Estates of St. Kitts (Beds. RO Cfls. 180) and ‘A Gentleman Radical: the Life of Sir Peter Payne’, Beds. Mag. xv (1975-7), 338-44; Oxford DNB.

  • 1. IGI (Beds.), confirming CB, v. 82. DNB and Oxford DNB incorrectly give his year of birth as 1763.
  • 2. IGI (Staffs.).
  • 3. O’Shaughnessy, Planter Fam. pp. iv, 1-22; V.L. Oliver, Hist. Antigua, iii. 7-9, 10.
  • 4. O’Shaughnessy, Planter Fam. 22-24; Beds. Mag. xv. 338-9; Beds. RO BS 1443; PROB 11/1359/481.
  • 5. O’Shaughnessy, Beds. Mag. xv. 339; Beds. RO, Whitbread mss W1/2443, 3210, 4187.
  • 6. O’Shaughnessy, Planter Fam. 36-38; Beds. RO, Wynne mss WY 998/5, 33; Beds. RO BS 1459/1-3; 1461.
  • 7. O’Shaughnessy, Planter Fam. 37-38; CB, v. 82; Oxford DNB; Payne’s printed letter to Bedfordshire in support of his claim, 15 Jan. 1829 (Beds. RO HI 220).
  • 8. Whitbread mss W1/2480, 2557.
  • 9. Ibid. W1/2483.
  • 10. Ibid. W1/3930. See also ibid. W1/2444, 2480, 2501, 2522, 4187, 4209.
  • 11. Oxford DNB.
  • 12. Whitbread mss W1/4209, 4237, 4241.
  • 13. Ibid. W1/2569, 4260.
  • 14. Life of Cartwright, ii. 169; Oxford DNB.
  • 15. Beds. Pollbook (1820), 20.
  • 16. The Times, 13 Jan. 1821.
  • 17. Ibid. 22 Apr. 1822.
  • 18. Herts Mercury, 1 July; Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 8 July 1826.
  • 19. Herts Mercury, 6, 13, 20 Feb. 1830.
  • 20. Ibid. 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 21. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 22 Jan. 1831.
  • 22. Ibid. 30 Apr., 7, 14 May; Beds. RO, Russell mss R 767, J.H. Fisher to C. Haedy, 2 May; Add. 36466, ff. 368, 370; Add. 51786, Holland to C.R. Fox, 2 May 1831.
  • 23. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 18 Feb. 1832.
  • 24. Ibid. 30 June; The Times, 28 Aug., 12 Oct., 25 Dec. 1832; Russell Letters, iii. 25.
  • 25. Copy in Beds. RO Z 231/7/2.
  • 26. Beds. RO X 336/44.
  • 27. Jnl. of Emily Shore (1891), 156.
  • 28. Gent. Mag. (1843), i. 94; O’Shaughnessy, Beds. Mag. xv. 344.
  • 29. Beds. RO X 447/1, 3; PROB 11/1977/202; IR26/1652/133.
  • 30. Oxford DNB; O’Shaughnessy, Planter Fam. 40-42; Beds. RO Cfls. 180, Payne Baronetage (1863).