WARBURTON, Henry (1784-1858), of 45 Cadogan Place, Mdx.

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



1826 - 7 Sept. 1841
9 Nov. 1843 - 1847

Family and Education

b. 12 Nov. 1784, 1st s. of John Warburton, timber merchant, of Eltham, Kent and ?Anne, da. of Abel Aldridge of Uxbridge, Mdx. educ. Eton 1799; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1802. unm. suc. fa. 1808. d. 16 Sept. 1858.

Offices Held

Fellow, R. Soc. 1809; member of council, London Univ. 1827, fellow 1836; pres. Geological Soc. 1843-4.


The Warburtons’ Baltic timber business had been in existence since at least 1757, and Henry may have been the grandson or great-grandson of the Norway merchant John Warburton of Rotherhithe, Kent, who died, aged 91, in 1765. Although his grandparents have not been traced, it is known that Henry’s father John married, on 23 Nov. 1780, the sister (d. 9 Feb. 1787) of John Clater Aldridge of New Lodge, St. Leonard’s Forest, Sussex, Member for Queenborough, 1784-90, and New Shoreham, 1790-5.1 One of their four surviving children, Frances, married in 1803 the army officer and later baronet John Elphinstone, whose mother Amelia was the daughter of the Somerset herald, another John Warburton (1682-1759), possibly a kinsman.2 This Member’s father, who signed the London merchants’ declaration of loyalty in 1795, died 19 Jan. 1808, when his London home was at 2 Parliament Street, Westminster. By his will, dated 9 Dec. 1807, he left annuities for his children Charles, Frances and Harriet, and bequeathed his commercial and residential properties and the residue of his estate, which included personalty sworn under £50,000, to Henry.3 As he later informed a Commons select committee, Henry then succeeded as a ‘yard keeper’ or wholesale dealer in foreign timber, which he sometimes imported on his own account. This was carried out at premises in Lambeth, variously listed as Cuper’s Bridge, Waterloo Bridge and Commercial Road, until he finally retired from the concern in 1831.4 He was active in defence of his business interests: for example in 1820 he forwarded to the prime minister, Lord Liverpool, the petition from the timber merchants of London against the timber duties, which was presented to the Lords by Lord Lansdowne on 16 Aug.5 Once in the House he frequently pressed the case for the duties on Baltic timber to be equalized with the more favourable tariffs on colonial American woods, and he played a part in the eventual abolition of those duties.6

Warburton, who had been placed as 12th wrangler at Cambridge in 1806, was a ‘scholar and man of science’ and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1809, but published nothing on mathematics until late in life.7 Described by one admiring society lady as ‘a good looking scientific youth’, and by an eminent physician as ‘the all powerful and omniscient Warburton’, he initially devoted himself to intellectual pursuits.8 John Whishaw, who in late 1815 thought that he ‘seemed to fall considerably short of the proper degree of indignation against the conduct of the Allies’, wrote of him that he was ‘very severe’ on provincial society and ‘a stranger hearing him would have supposed that he was a great admirer of the political conversation of the metropolis, the only difference being that he extremely dislikes one society and entirely neglects the other’.9 Maria Edgeworth made a similar comment in 1822, that he was

a young man of fortune, benevolence, pleasing manners, agreeable conversation, excessive shyness and [had] something incomprehensible about him. He vanishes from time to time from London and country society and no one, not even his favourite sister Lady Elphinstone, can tell where he is or anything about him till it be his pleasure to reappear.10

Probably on those occasions he was undertaking geological surveys, of the kind that he reported on at length to Whishaw in 1814.11 In the Commons, he sometimes intervened in favour of a new survey of Britain and Ireland, as well as on scientific subjects, such as longitude and cholera.

Schooled in politics by James Mill and befriended by David Ricardo*, Warburton, a member of the Political Economy Club from its foundation in 1821, was a Utilitarian, although less doctrinaire than some of the other philosophic radicals.12 At the general election of 1826 he was introduced to Bridport by the retiring Whig Member James Scott and was returned unopposed, on the radical Dissenting interest, with a Tory, Sir Horace St. Paul.13 As the Dorset newspaper later put it, Warburton was ‘Mr. Hume’s Echo’ in the Commons, where he often seconded Joseph Hume’s motions, supported him in debate and acted with him as a teller.14 An extremely active member of the ‘Mountain’, he almost invariably spoke and voted for economies and reduced taxation, and was a consistent advocate of free trade and an opponent of monopolies. One of the most frequent speakers, as well as a regular committeeman, he made interventions on a wide variety of topics, including cases of personal injustice, local legislation and the organization of business in the House, and regularly moved for returns of papers and presented constituency petitions.15 He voted for Hume’s amendment to the address, 21 Nov., and made his maiden speech on the corn laws, 24 Nov. 1826, though the following day Lansdowne wrote to Lord Holland that ‘Warburton I hear did not speak like a man of the sense and talent we know him to possess’.16 He commented on postage to the West Indies, 28 Nov., advocated lowering coroners’ fees, 30 Nov., and insurance duties, 8 Dec., and urged free trade in timber, 30 Nov., machinery, 6 Dec., and corn, 7 Dec. 1826.17 He condemned naval impressment, 13 Feb., and the practice of flogging, 12 Mar. 1827. He voted for a lower import price for corn, 9 Mar., and against increased protection for barley, 12 Mar., attacked the method of calculating the averages, 23, 27 Mar., and spoke and acted as a teller for the minority for Hume’s amendment to reduce the duty on corn to 10s. by 1833, 27 Mar. He presented the Manchester petition for repeal of the corn laws, 28 Mar., objected to Knatchbull’s amendment for a fixed duty, 9 Apr., and declared that the corn bill ‘would afford no substantial relief to the country’, 12 Apr.18 He voted for inquiry into the allegations against the corporation of Leicester, 15 Mar., and information on the mutiny at Barrackpoor, 22 Mar., and on the Orange procession and Lisburn magistrates, 29 Mar. He divided for reform of chancery administration, 5 Apr., and to consider separating bankruptcy jurisdiction from it, 22 May. As John Evelyn Denison* noted on 1 May, he, like Hume and others, ‘kept their old seats’ on the appointment of Canning as prime minister; and he sided with the minority of ten for repeal of the Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act, 31 May, thus placing himself with those ‘irreconcilables’ opposed to the new ministry.19 He criticized the notion of extending Penryn into the neighbouring hundreds, 26 May, and voted in this sense, 28 May; he suggested the introduction of the ballot, 14 June. He opposed the grant for water communication in Canada, 1 June, and was teller for the hostile minority, 12 June.20 He was a teller for the majority for considering the third reading of the Coventry magistracy bill rather than the orders of the day, 18 June 1827.

Warburton insisted that the finance committee be allowed to examine its subject in depth, 12 Feb., and as originally constituted, 25 Feb. 1828. It was during that session that Edward Davies Davenport* named him among the handful of Members who ‘appeared most willing’ to join his parliamentary club of like-minded reformers.21 He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. He spoke against the passengers regulation bill, 4, 18, 20, 24, 25 Mar., and higher duties on insurance, 10, 25 Mar., 1 Apr. He voted against extending East Retford into the hundred of Bassetlaw, 21 Mar., and spoke against the bill treating Penryn in the same way if not accompanied by the ballot, 28 Mar. He opposed Wilmot Horton’s schemes for assisted emigration unless he could ‘distinctly prove by a pounds, shillings and pence statement, that this country will be a gainer by our voting considerable sums’, 17 Apr., and repeated this point, 24 June. He brought up a petition from surgeons complaining of the difficulties of obtaining bodies for dissection, 22 Apr., and obtained a select committee on the subject. He again voted for inquiry into chancery administration, 24 Apr. He seconded and acted as a teller for Hume’s motion for the transition to a low fixed duty on corn, 29 Apr. He divided against making provision for Canning’s family, 13 May, and for the usury bill, 19 June. On 24 June, when he denied that there was distress in shipbuilding, he rebutted Gascoyne’s suggestion that he had a personal interest in the matter. He divided for disqualifying certain East Retford voters that day, when he also sided with opposition for inquiry into the Irish church, and he voted against recommitting the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 27 June. On 7 July he stated that although he was ‘on the economical benches’, he would not oppose the grant for the survey of Ireland, but he did object, as he had often done, to further expenditure in Canada, ‘inasmuch as the colony is of no value, but a source of great expenditure and waste’. Having chaired the select committee on anatomy, he wrote its rigidly Benthamite report, which he presented to the House, 22 July 1828.22

As he had on 6 Mar. 1827 and 12 May 1828, Warburton divided for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He obtained leave to bring in his anatomy bill, 12 Mar., when he argued that, despite the public distaste for the use of pauper cadavers for dissection, there was no other way to advance the vitally important medical science of anatomy. Peel, the home secretary, gave him guarded support, but the bill attracted widespread popular hostility, particularly from Tories and some radicals, so that Warburton had to concede another select committee on it, 7 Apr., from which he reported, 1 May. He saw off several attempts to amend and wreck the bill, 15, 18 May, but it was defeated in the Lords, 5 June.23 He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, and for Lord Blandford’s reform proposals, 2 June. He called for revision of the corn laws, 14 May, when he also attacked the India board as a ‘mere nursery for statesmen’, and he voted for Hume’s motion on the corn duties, 19 May. He divided in favour of allowing Daniel O’Connell to take his seat without swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May, and against the ecclesiastical courts bill, 21 May. He raised a question about a loophole in the Small Notes Act, 22 May, objected to protection of the shipping trade, 1 June, when he voted for reduction of the hemp duties, and expressed caution about natives being allowed to serve on grand juries in India, 5 June 1829.

He sided with Lord Howick in the ministerial majority against Knatchbull’s amendment to the address, 4 Feb. 1830, but in early March attended, ‘as the representative of the Mountain’, the Whig meeting at which Lord Althorp* was chosen as leader.24 He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5 Mar., and condemned the influence of landlords, peers and government there, 5, 8, 15 Mar., when he divided against the disfranchisement bill and for O’Connell’s amendment to include the ballot. He voted for parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He commented on the state of distress and the need to reform the system of taxation, 23, 25 Mar., 8 June. He advocated mitigating the punishment for forgery, 8 Apr., 13 May, and divided for this, 24 May, 7 June. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He voted with opposition for alteration of the laws relating to Irish vestries, 27 Apr., 10 June, abolition of the lord lieutenancy, 11 May, and information on the conduct of the Irish attorney-general, 12 May. Having observed how important its trade was to his constituency, he divided for inquiry into the state of Newfoundland, 11 May. He was in the minority for consideration of the civil government of Canada, 25 May, and condemned the payment of its expenses, 14 June. He was active in the opposition to the labourers’ wages bill, 23 June, 1, 3, 5, 9 July, and expressed his hostility to the libel bill, 6 July, when he voted in the majority against requiring additional securities to be given by printers. He divided to abolish slavery, 13 July. He was returned unopposed for Bridport at the general election that summer. He successfully insisted on Hume being allowed to stand for Middlesex and, as chairman of his committee, helped to oversee his return, though John Cam Hobhouse*, who noted that Warburton ‘cannot write’, had to draft the necessary addresses.25 He presided at the meeting at the London Tavern, 17 Aug. 1830, when he spoke in support of resolutions congratulating the French on their recent revolution.26

In November 1830 he attended the Whigs’ planning meeting for Henry Brougham’s intended motion on parliamentary reform, recommending him ‘to say as little as possible for fear of making it necessary for the radical reformers to qualify their vote’.27 Listed, of course, by ministers among their ‘foes’, he divided against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. He presented Bridport petitions for reform and the ballot, 16 Nov., and against slavery, 25 Nov., and urged abolition of the duty on coastwise coal as it adversely affected the fortunes of his borough, 8 Dec., when, as on other occasions, he commented on the causes of economic distress. Like Hume and others, he was displeased at the extremist turn of the Middlesex reform meeting which he attended on 15 Dec.; in related matters, he came to Hume’s defence over his attitude to the beer bill, 16 Dec., and supported his call for the ballot, 21 Dec. 1830.28 He stated that he would reintroduce his anatomy bill at some point, 9 Feb. 1831, when he acceded to Lord John Russell’s request to postpone his motion on the ballot until after the general reform question had been raised. He welcomed the proposed alteration of the timber duties, 11 Feb., but criticized Althorp’s budget that day. He pressed for the abolition of tobacco planting in Ireland, 21 Feb., 10, 25 Mar., objected to Howick’s emigration plan, 22 Feb., and continued to urge the case for lower timber duties, 11, 15, 18 Mar. Richard Carlile’s petition for the remission of the remainder of his sentence was forwarded to him on 22 Feb., but in the end it was John Wood who brought it up (on 3 Aug.).29 He voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. He was returned unopposed for Bridport at the ensuing general election, when he presumably again assisted Hume in Middlesex.30 He informed Brougham, 7 May 1831, that he believed ‘Whigs and reformers ought not now to be quarrelling’, but stated that he would have felt obliged to support Leslie Grove Jones† if he had persisted in his candidacy for Southwark.31

Considered as one of the three main candidates for chairmanship of the National Political Union later that year, Warburton remained a respected radical Member, although Francis Place had written a few months earlier, ‘I can hardly tell you how much I esteem him, and yet his old bachelor sort of prudence, spite of his enlarged views and accurate reasoning, makes a droll thing of him sometimes’. One of Althorp’s ‘most confidential friends’, he helped to moderate radical attitudes towards the government and, while he continued very often to attack ministers and vote against them on financial and economic questions, he gave consistent support to the reform bills.32 Thus, he divided for the second reading of the reintroduced English bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July 1831, and steadily for its details. He spoke against St. Paul’s amendment to remove Bridport from schedule B, 27 July, Littleton’s attempt to enfranchise Stoke, 4 Aug., and saving both seats at Dorchester, 15 Sept. He voted for the minority for swearing the original Dublin election committee, 29 July, but with ministers against censuring the Irish government on this, 23 Aug., and against Benett’s amendment against issuing the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept. Edward Littleton* noted on 11 Aug. that ‘the Mountain (Hume, Warburton and others) were refractory and were disposed to oppose the government’ on the division of counties.33 He was listed in the minority for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry that day, but in the majority against the Irish union of parishes bill, 19 Aug. He declared that the Chandos amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will had ‘completely overturned the balance between town and county representation’, 20 Aug., when he was in a minority of one against giving urban copyholders and leaseholders the right of voting in counties. He voted for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., when he opposed giving representation to Scottish universities, and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. While acknowledging the need for reform of the bankruptcy laws, he raised strong objections to Brougham’s bankruptcy court bill, 12-15, 17, 18 Oct. 1831.

Warburton reintroduced his much simplified anatomy bill, 15 Dec., and secured its first reading, 17 Dec. 1831. He was accused of bringing the matter forward because of the fear of a renewed outbreak of ‘Burking’ and under cover of the continuing furore over reform, but he insisted in the House, 17 Jan. 1832, and in private, for instance to Holland on the 29th and to Brougham on the 30th, on the validity of his timing and purpose.34 He faced strong attacks on the bill, notably by radicals such as Henry Hunt and Tories such as Sir Robert Inglis, at every stage. He presented petitions in its favour from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, 6 Feb., the Medical Society of London, 24 Mar., and the National Political Union, 8 May, and had to defend the bill (and act as a teller against hostile amendments), 17, 24, 26 Jan., 6, 27 Feb., 15, 16 Mar., 11, 18 Apr., 8, 11 May.35 At least he had the support of John Hawkins, Member for Tavistock, who reported to his father, 13 Apr., that the bill

is of great importance as a matter of principle, and Warburton deserves much credit and all the support which we can give him, in carrying through a measure which exposes its proposer to the daily risk of undergoing the death of St. Stephen.36

It was eventually given royal assent, 1 Aug. 1832.

Warburton voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, to go into committee on it, 20 Jan. 1832, and again generally for its details, though on the 17th and other occasions he criticized the method of devising the schedule of condemned boroughs. He divided for Hobhouse’s vestry bill, 23 Jan. He was appointed to the select committee on the East India Company, 27 Jan., and heard evidence on its financial affairs.37 He admitted that he had taken notes on 26 Jan., when he voted with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, and so was implicated in the complaint of a breach of privilege on the publication of that day’s debate, 31 Jan. Persuaded to do so by Place, he urged that the franchise should not be given to ratepayers because they were dependent on their landlords, 3 Feb., and he voted against giving the vote to all £10 ratepayers that day.38 He voted against the production of papers on Portugal, 9 Feb., but to omit the reference to Providence in the preamble to the cholera bill, 16 Feb., and for Hunt’s motion for inquiry into Peterloo, 15 Mar. He divided for the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. In a letter to Place that month he condemned the mobbing of the duke of Wellington, and he did much to deflate radical expectations in order that some measure of reform might be allowed to pass.39 He stated that he had several Dorset petitions for withholding supplies, 17 May, and brought up one from Bridport, 25 May, when he divided for the second reading of the Irish reform bill. He was a teller for the minority against the second reading of the Liverpool franchise bill, 23 May, and for the majority for his own spontaneous motion requiring coroners’ inquests to be held in public, 20 June. He spoke and voted for Buxton’s motion for a select committee on the abolition of slavery, 24 May. He advocated extending the borough of Wareham to include Bere Regis and Corfe Castle, 22 June, when he voted to amend the boundaries of Whitehaven and Stamford. He divided for giving New South Wales a system of representation, 28 June. He again objected to the bankruptcy bill, 5, 9, 20, 26, 30 July, when he described the bribery at elections bill as worthless and cited his own conduct on reform as evidence that radicals need not be labelled as obstinate. He divided with ministers for the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July. On 11 Aug. 1832 he suggested that the Reform Act might be amended in the reformed Parliament.

Warburton, who laid the foundation stone of the Working Men’s Institute in his constituency on 2 July 1832, was returned with another reformer for Bridport after a contest at the general election in December 1832.40 He continued to sit for that borough until revelations about the practice of making customary payments to the electors forced his resignation in 1841, and he was thereafter Member for Kendal. Although he was ‘not among the first class of political wranglers’ and was not active on the City platform, in 1840 it was observed of his career as a Radical that

his speeches from the beginning were invariably short, but always to the point ... He has very rarely fallen below the point of promptitude and energy requisite in a practical reformer at such a period as the present, and he has never damaged his cause by over zeal, rashness of judgement or the impulses of personal vanity.41

His university friend, the political economist George Pryme†, remembered

Russell at a dinner at his house gently rallying Warburton on his having been called by the Examiner, ‘the Nestor of the Radical camp’, and he was that; for though he was far more radical than any of us Whigs, there was a kind of temper and judgment about him which moderated what otherwise might have been extravagant in his views.42

‘Philosopher’ Warburton, as he was known, ‘a man of high character and integrity’, died in September 1858, leaving his estate to his great-nephew Howard Warburton Elphinstone (1830-1917), only son of Sir Howard Elphinstone, who was Liberal Member for Hastings, 1835-7, and Lewes, 1841-7.43

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. PP (1835), xix. 337; Gent. Mag. (1765), 247; (1780), 542; (1787), i. 186.
  • 2. Warburton the herald (see Oxford DNB) had a son John, an antiquarian of Dublin, who was clearly not Henry Warburton’s father; and therefore the suggestion in Elphinstone’s obituary (Gent. Mag. (1846), ii. 93) that he married his ‘cousin german’ must be wrong.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. (1808), i. 94; PROB 11/1473/80; IR26/131/276.
  • 4. PP (1835), xix. 337.
  • 5. Add. 38286, f. 169; LJ, liii. 369; The Times, 17 Aug. 1820.
  • 6. D.M. Williams, ‘Henry Warburton and Free Trade Movement’, Procs. Dorset Natural Hist. and Arch. Soc. xc (1968), 287-9, 293.
  • 7. Oxford DNB; Procs. R. Soc. ix (1859), 555-6.
  • 8. Countess Granville Letters, i. 200; Gentlemen of Science: Early Corresp. ed. J. Morrell and A. Thackray (Cam. Soc. ser. 4, xxx), 31.
  • 9. ‘Pope’ of Holland House ed. Lady Seymour, 122.
  • 10. Edgeworth Letters, 270, 390.
  • 11. ‘Pope’ of Holland House, 300-6.
  • 12. The Times, 21 Sept. 1858; Oxford DNB; W. Thomas, Philosophic Radicals, 13.
  • 13. Add. 51659, Whishaw to Lady Holland, 4 June; Dorset Co. Chron. 8, 15 June 1826.
  • 14. Dorset Co. Chron. 13 Dec 1832.
  • 15. P. Jupp, British Politics on Eve of Reform, 203, 231.
  • 16. Add. 51687.
  • 17. The Times, 29 Nov., 1, 9 Dec. 1826.
  • 18. Ibid. 29 Mar., 10 Apr. 1827.
  • 19. Nottingham Univ. Lib. acc. 636, Denison diary; W. Harris, Radical Party in Parl. 199.
  • 20. The Times, 2 June 1827.
  • 21. JRL, Bromley Davenport mss, ‘mem.’ 1828.
  • 22. PP (1828), vii. 1-122; R. Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute, 108-9, 113, 166-7, 332.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxiv. 129, 209, 260, 263, 277, 290-1, 308, 313; M.D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, xi. 15777; Richardson, 151-2, 157-8.
  • 24. Castle Howard mss, Graham to Morpeth [3 Mar. 1830].
  • 25. Dorset Co. Chron. 15 July, 5 Aug. 1830; Add. 56554, f. 134; Broughton, Recollections, iv. 29-30; D. Miles, Francis Place, 138.
  • 26. Add. 56555, f. 13; The Times, 18 Aug. 1830.
  • 27. Add. 56555, f. 52.
  • 28. Ibid. f. 74.
  • 29. Add. 35149, f. 22.
  • 30. Dorset Co. Chron. 28 Apr., 5 May 1831.
  • 31. Brougham mss.
  • 32. G. Wallas, Life of Place, 278; Miles, 187, 212; The Times, 21 Sept. 1858.
  • 33. Hatherton diary.
  • 34. J. Belchem, ‘Orator’ Hunt, 189; Add. 51836; Brougham mss; Richardson, 177-9, 183, 185-7, 191-2, 194, 197-205.
  • 35. CJ, lxxxvi. 27, 32, 35, 49, 53-54, 147, 268-9, 287-8, 308.
  • 36. Cornw. RO, Hawkins mss 10/2192.
  • 37. PP (1831-2), x. pt. 1, p. 37.
  • 38. Wallas, 325.
  • 39. Add. 35154, f. 135; The Times, 21 Sept. 1858.
  • 40. Sherborne Jnl. 5 July, 13 Dec. 1832.
  • 41. Saunders’ Portraits and Mems. of Eminent Living Pol. Reformers, 119.
  • 42. Autobiog. Recollections of George Pryme ed. A. Bayne, 231-2.
  • 43. The Times, 21 Sept. 1858; Gent. Mag. (1858), ii. 531-2; DNB; Oxford DNB