CASWALL, George (d.1742), of Muddiford Court, Fenchurch St. , London.
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Family and Education
1st s. of James Caswall of Leominster. m. (1) Mary (d. 8 Aug. 1721), da. of John Brassey, banker of Lombard St., sis. of Nathaniel Brassey, 2s.; (2) bef. Aug. 1731, Mary, wid. of Thomas Brassey, s.p. Kntd. 10 Feb. 1718.
Director, Sword Blade Co. 1701, South Sea Co. 1711-18; sheriff, London 1720-1; director, R. African Co. 1742-d.
Caswall, a Baptist, came of a Leominster family, who had been prominent in local politics for several generations, frequently supplying mayors of the borough. Marrying the daughter of an eminent London banker, he became a partner in the firm Turner, Sawbridge and Caswall, bankers, operating under the name and charter of the Sword Blade Company. The Sword Blade Company were the bankers of the South Sea Company, of which Caswall was elected a director in 1711. Returned as a Whig for Leominster in March 1717, he was unseated in May for bribery, but re-elected in June. On 8 Apr. he spoke in support of a government motion for a supply to secure allies against Sweden, closing the debate in ‘a short smart speech, which was very much applauded’.1 On 20 Dec. he seconded a motion for preventing the exportation of silver by lowering the value of gold coins, again receiving great applause. During the split in the Whig party he adhered to Sunderland, voting in 1719 for the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts and for the peerage bill. He lost his seat on the South Sea board in 1718, but it was generally believed that the Company’s proposals, which were introduced into the House of Commons by the Government at the beginning of 1720, had been agreed by him ‘and three or four other South Sea men’ with Aislabie, the chancellor of the Exchequer.2 As the South Sea Company’s bankers, his firm played an important and, for a time, a profitable part in running the scheme till its collapse in September 1720, when they were forced to suspend payment.3
In February 1721 the South Sea committee of the House of Commons drew attention to certain entries in the books of Caswall’s firm relating to a sum of £250,000, purporting to represent the profit on £50,000 South Sea stock bought in March 1720 at 250 and sold in June at 750. The stock in question formed part of £574,500 stock shown in the South Sea Company’s books as having been sold to a number of unnamed persons while the South Sea bill was before Parliament, for which no payment had been made by the persons concerned. In the words of the committee:
This supposed sale of stock was colourably entered in the book for the benefit of persons whose names were designed to be concealed, with intention to make an interest in favour of the Company and to facilitate the acceptance of the South Sea proposals, and the passing of the bill which was at that time depending in Parliament.
Taken in conjunction with other features of the transaction (see Stanhope, Charles, and Sawbridge, Jacob), the facts left little doubt that Caswall and his partners had been acting as a channel for the transmission of bribes to Members of Parliament.4
When the matter came before the Commons Caswall took the line that he and his partners had bought the stock from the South Sea Company as a genuine speculation. He admitted that no payment had been made for the purchase but claimed that adequate security had been provided in the form of £70,000 South Sea stock which his firm had previously pawned to the South Sea Company for a loan of £105,000. In the ensuing debate a few speakers, including Sir Joseph Jekyll, the master of the rolls, held that the defence was valid, inasmuch as the pawned stock could be regarded as constituting sufficient security. But it was
generally thought, this stock was in trust for others, and this was spoke strongly to in the debate. Even the master of the rolls declared freely his being of that opinion, going yet further, that he did not see how any Member could justify buying stock (pending the bill) although he should even have paid ready money for it.5
On a division it was resolved by 227 to 92 that no sufficient security had been given. The Commons then passed unanimously a series of resolutions, declaring that on accepting the stock on these terms Caswall and his partners had been ‘guilty of a corrupt, infamous and dangerous practice’; expelling him from the House; committing him to the Tower; requiring him and his partners to refund the £250,000 to the South Sea Company; and ordering that a bill should be introduced for obliging him to do so.6
When the Bill was introduced Caswall wrote to Walpole protesting that it treated him ‘worse than a director or any one of the confederates’ and that he would be ‘utterly ruined by it, if not prevented by the interposition of just men’. He complained that it contravened the principle that ‘no one co-partner shall be liable further than his share in the co-partnership’, his point being apparently that since his partner, Jacob Sawbridge, came under the bill confiscating the property of the South Sea directors, Sawbridge would be unable to meet his share of the £250,000, thus increasing Caswall’s liability. The letter concluded:
There never was a law so severe made against the greatest villains yet extant, and the foundations as false as the cruelty extravagant. I beg your honour’s pardon for the length of this, but a wife, children, and many dependents on me, who are to be stript of all the comforts of life and reduced to the utmost necessities, plead for me.7
The bill was read a second time, but a month later Caswall is reported as being so sure of the outcome that he had ‘made a great entertainment for all his city friends’.8 No further progress was made with it before Parliament was prorogued, when it lapsed, never to be revived.
In 1722 Caswall was re-elected for Leominster, which he represented for nearly twenty more years, voting with the Government, except on the excise bill, which he opposed. Only two speeches of his during these years are recorded: one in 1733 opposing a bill for preventing stock jobbing, which he suggested should be re-named a bill for the destruction of public credit; the other in 1739 supporting a motion for the repeal of the Test Act.9 Giving up his seat to his son John, in 1741, he died 22 Sept. 1742.