BOHUN, George (1642-1705), of Coundon and Newhouse, Warws. and Spitalfields, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 23 Feb. 1642, 2nd s. of Abraham Bohun of Coundon (d. 1685), rector of Elmdon and vicar of Foleshill, Warws. by Elizabeth, da. of George Bathurst of Hothorpe, Northants. m. lic. 18 Oct. 1681, Mary, da. of Thomas Green of St. Martin’s, London, 2s. d.v.p. 4da.1
Asst. R. African Co. 1684–6, 1689–92, 1695–7, dep. gov. 1687–8, sub-gov. 1693–4; cttee. E.I. Co. 1686–95, gov. 1696–8.2
Commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.3
Bohun’s ancestral line had been settled at Coundon since the 1570s, but before then the family’s roots had lain in the area around Bakewell in Derbyshire. Unlike his elder brother Ralph, Bohun did not attend university, but embarked on what was to be a prosperous mercantile career in London. His trading interests were reflected in his rise to prominence in the African and East India Companies, and his stockholdings became considerable: in the latter company, for example, they stood at £3,300 in 1689. At the time of his marriage he was living at Wood Street in Cheapside, but on the death of a younger brother in 1690 he inherited property in Spitalfields which he later augmented. He was of sufficient standing to be nominated to the Middlesex lieutenancy in 1693. At the same time he maintained and cultivated his links with Coventry, although it was not until 1703 that he was added to the lieutenancy there. In 1692 he provided the town’s principal church of St. Michael with two enormous iron candlesticks, but it was a gesture of generosity which may have seemed to flaunt his churchmanship too ostentatiously for the tastes of Presbyterian townsmen, who spread the rumour that the new lights were lit for the first time at the funeral of a lunatic who had overdosed himself with opium.4
Bohun, a Tory, was elected without opposition in 1695, and during his only term of parliamentary service his involvement in proceedings centred mainly upon the coinage and the affairs of the East India Company of which he was for most of the time the senior representative in the House. On 1 Jan. 1696 he was among those ordered to prepare a supply bill for extending the period for raising duties on East India merchandise. His likely support for the proposed council of trade in the divisions anticipated on 31 Jan. was regarded as ‘doubtful’, and in the following month he refused at first to sign the Association. He voted against the government on fixing the price of guineas in the division of either 20 or 26 Mar., while on 25 June he presented to the lords justices a petition from Coventry ‘about the coin’, but it was recorded that ‘he did not stay for an answer’. On 31 Oct., in the next session, he was one of the Members appointed to prepare a bill ‘for the relief of creditors’. He voted against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick† on 25 Nov. In a division on 13 Feb. 1697 he served as teller against a question to elect a new commissioner of accounts in place of Lord William Powlett*, who wished to be excused from serving.
During the early months of 1697 the East India Company, with Bohun as its governor, set itself against legislation to prohibit the growing importation of silks from the far east. The measure was promoted chiefly by the London silk-weavers, anxious to preserve their livelihoods against powerful competition. When on 19 Mar. they heard that the bill had been lost in the Lords an unruly crowd of weavers and other elements marched upon and assailed Bohun’s residence in Spitalfields with ‘iron bars, pick-axes and other instruments’, threatening the lives of himself and his family. There was fierce resistance from members of his household, who fired shots, killing two protesters and wounding others, and the situation was only saved by the arrival of several companies of militia. The following day Bohun reported the incident to the House as a breach of privilege, and expressed apprehensions about the ‘much greater number’ that had since reassembled. It was agreed to address the King to deploy the militia ‘or other forces’ for the suppression of any further attacks on Bohun’s property. Very soon afterwards Bohun became involved in a government initiative to provide the East India Company with the legislative recognition it had been seeking for several years for its monopoly over Asiatic trade. On 23 Mar. he was summoned to Whitehall, where it was proposed to him that the company should have a parliamentary ‘settlement’ in return for a loan to the crown of £400,000. The ‘committees’ (directors) concurred, but their decision to recommend the offer to the company’s general court was taken no further. In the next parliamentary session, however, the matter was reopened. On 12 Apr., in ways and means, ‘Mr Newport’, possibly Hon. Thomas Newport*, said he had ‘by chance’ heard a suggestion that there was to be a loan from the company of £700,000 ‘upon a remote fund at 6 per cent’ in return for an Act of Parliament, and called upon Bohun to verify whether such a scheme was intended. The company had indeed circularized Members with details of a proposal for making a £600,000 loan, but Bohun responded to Newport with due caution:
Mr Bohun said he had no proposal to make of that kind, nor had any such thing been yet offered to their general court; there had been some discourses about it. Some against it absolutely, saying it would be to sell the trade of the nation and to ruin all manufacturers; some that if money were to be raised this way, a better bargain might be made, and for such an establishment the money should be given, not lent only; that if the company did not think fit to do it, there were others would for the sole benefit of the trade, and it was better to take a less sum without any after-reckoning or entailing a debt upon the nation.
It was agreed to defer further discussion until more information regarding the company’s plans was available, though it was reported that ‘Mr Bohun would have been glad to have had some better handle for bringing it under debate at this court’. Two days later the general court did agree to a loan of £700,000 and to a plan for bringing in the large number of interlopers in the East India trade. Bohun subsequently laid the offer before the King, who was willing that Parliament should consider it. Later in the month, however, Bohun stood down as a governor, succeeded by Sir John Fleet*, and so ceased to be officially involved in the negotiations. In the meantime, the interlopers’ syndicate had put together, and the government had accepted, a rather more generous proposal to provide £2,000,000 at 8 per cent for the ‘public service’ which they would raise through a new subscription, and in return by statute they would be established as a new East India Company. When the enabling bill was before the House in June Bohun naturally stood in defence of the Old Company: on the 7th he ‘insinuated that they had done the utmost that the public might be accommodated’, and on the 10th he supported Fleet’s somewhat desperate expression of the company’s readiness to receive whatever proposal the House might make.5
Bohun did not stand for re-election in 1698. He died on 15 Nov. 1705 and was buried in the vault prepared for the family’s use by his brother John Bohun in St. Michael’s church. There being no surviving male issue, his principal estate at Coundon passed to his eldest daughter, Susanna, who married Gilbert Clarke, the younger son and brother, respectively, of the Derbyshire MPs, Sir Gilbert and Godfrey Clarke.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. IGI, Warws.; Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. lxii), pp. 40–41; Dugdale, Warws. 133–4; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxx), p. 76; T. W. Whitley, Parl. Rep. Coventry, 122–3.
- 2. K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 378; Add. 38871, ff. 9–11
- 3. CJ, xii. 508.
- 4. Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. lxii), pp. 40–41; VCH Warws. viii. 52; Dugdale, 133; Add. 22185, f. 12; Harl. 7017, ff. 287, 297; PCC 263 Smith; CSP Dom. 1693, p. 181; 1703–4, p. 280.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1696, p. 245; 1698, pp. 188, 283, 289; Jnl. Brit. Stud. xvii(2), pp. 9–10; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 199.
- 6. Whitley, 123; Harl. 7017, f. 287; PCC 263 Smith; Fam. Min. Gent. (Harl. Soc. xxxvii), 336.