HILL, John (c.1690-1753), of Thornton Hall, nr. Malton, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. c.1690, 1st s. of John Hill of Thornton. educ. M. Temple 1706. unm.
Commr. of customs 1723-47; gov. Scarborough castle 1744-d.
John Hill, whose family bought the manor of Thornton in 1669, was appointed a commissioner of customs when the number of commissioners was doubled on the extension of their functions in Scotland in 1723. During the debates on the excise bill in 1733 he gave evidence to the House of Commons on the frauds in the customs. Speaking for the rest of the board, he ‘gave it as his opinion that, exclusive of running, he believed the frauds amounted to as much as the duty paid the public’. It was thought that ‘considering the number of questions asked a man in such an assembly, and many in order to puzzle, ... [he] acquitted himself very well’.1 Though his office disqualified him from a seat in Parliament, some of its duties were highly political. On the eve of the general election of 1734, the 1st Lord Egmont
visited Mr. Hill of the Custom House to desire him to influence the officers under them at Harwich in favour of my son’s election. He told me he was last Thursday at Sir Robert Walpole’s, who gave him a letter I wrote him for that purpose, and bade him take care of my son: whereupon when he went to the board that morning he advised with the clerk in what proper and safe manner to signify the Government’s pleasure to these officers; that the clerk told him the two Philipses [Harwich customs officers] were such rogues that they would betray him if a letter were writ down to them; wherefore he ordered a letter that night to the Collector Davis to come up and receive orders by word of mouth.
When the collector arrived, Hill told him in Egmont’s presence that Walpole ‘would have the officers of the customs to vote for Lord Perceval and Mr. Leathes’, adding that if they refused Davis should notify this by express.
He cautioned that his name should not be used if possible as directing anything, for what he did now was more, by G— , than he could do for anyone beside.
Some of the officials still proving recalcitrant, Egmont wrote to Hill asking that they should ‘be sent for up to be out of the way during the election.’ After consulting some of the other customs commissioners Hill replied that
we must beg your Lordship’s pardon for not complying with your request, since we think we cannot be justified in it.2
Next year Hill was reported to be standing himself for Scarborough, not far from his estate. ‘If Mr. Hill should stand’, wrote the Duke of Leeds, who was putting up Lord Dupplin, ‘nothing can be done for Lord Dupplin at all ... but by a vast expense, and I doubt if even that would do’. In the event, it appeared that Hill had been keeping the town in suspense to serve the real government candidate, William Osbaldeston, who was related to him. Later the Duke complained of threats to turn out the customs officers if either they or their relations voted for Dupplin.3
After Walpole’s fall Pulteney, now a member of the new Government,
went in to the King to ask him to turn out Mr. Hill for opposing him at Hedon, ‘Sir’ said the King, ‘was it not when you was opposing me? I wont turn him out: I will part with no more of my friends’. Lord Wilmington was waiting to receive orders accordingly, but the King gave him none.4
In 1747 Hill gave up his customs post on being returned for Higham Ferrers by Lord Rockingham, with whose family he had long been closely connected. When Rockingham died in 1750 he left Hill £1,000, which Hill left back to the dowager Marchioness on his own death, 3 July 1753. He also left her sister, Lady Isabella Finch, £1,000 with all his plate and china, making the new Marquess of Rockingham his executor and trustee.5