BASSET, Sir Francis, 1st Bt. (1757-1835), of Tehidy, nr. Redruth, Cornw.
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Family and Education
b. 9 Aug 1757, 1st s. of Francis Basset (d.1769). educ. Harrow 1770; Eton 1771-4; King’s Camb., 1775; Grand Tour (France, Italy). m. (1) 16 Aug. 1780, Frances Susanna (d. 14 June 1823), da. and eventually coh. of John Hippesley Coxe, sis. of Richard Hippesley Coxe, 1da.; (2) 13 July 1824, Harriet, da. of Sir William Lemon, 1st Bt., s.p. suc. fa. Nov. 1769; cr. Bt. 24 Nov. 1779; Baron de Dunstanville 17 June 1796; Baron Basset with sp. rem. to da. 30 Nov. 1797.
When in August 1779 a Franco-Spanish descent was expected on the Cornish coast ‘the gentlemen of the county’ raised a body of tin-miners for defence; and Lord Edgcumbe, lord lieutenant of Cornwall, on 14 Sept. successfully solicited the honour of a baronetcy for Basset,1
whose services have been very essential in having marched near 70 miles at the head of 600 tinners, who are now actually working at the fortifications at Plymouth Dock. His subscription towards raising a regiment has been very liberal, and his activity to complete it will be as great.
In 1780, supporting local malcontents at Truro, Basset successfully attacked what had hitherto been considered an impregnable pocket borough of Lord Falmouth; and North and Robinson failed to make him agree to share the representation of Penryn with the Treasury whose interest was managed by Edgcumbe: their assurances how much they wished ‘to be at all times on friendly terms’ with him evoked no response. Virile, rigid, sensing infringement of his rights or offence where neither was meant, he seemed driven by an inner urge to fight, without much thought of the purpose: having carried both seats against Government, he, from the very first, adhered to them in the House, voting with them in favour of choosing a new Speaker.2 After this, and till the fall of the North Administration, every recorded speech and vote of his was on their side; he appears in each of the six extant division lists, 12 Dec. 1781-15 Mar. 1782; on 26 Feb. 1781 he spoke against Burke’s motion for regulating the civil list revenue, and on 8 May 1781 against Savile’s motion reiterating that of Dunning on the influence of the Crown. Then, at the height of the crisis, he addressed some peremptory demands (so far untraced) to North, who wrote to Robinson, 15 Feb. 1782:3
I enclose a summoning letter sent to me by Sir Francis Basset to give him the decisive answer I promised. I cannot give it him, but I have no right to expect him to remain undetermined, so that, I fear, I must let him take his course, the consequence of which will be the defection of himself and his three friends to the enemy. We can but ill spare them.
But the storm blew over, and Basset and his friends4 continued with North to the end.
Under the Rockingham Administration Basset spoke against Crewe’s bill disfranchising revenue officers, 15 Apr., and against Sawbridge’s motion for shorter Parliaments, 16 May. He was a determined opponent of parliamentary reform, and in a pamphlet published anonymously in 1783, Thoughts on Equal Representation, argued that such representation ‘never had a place in the British constitution’, and that representation at all times was one ‘of property, not of numbers’. W. J. Temple, vicar of Penryn and one of the anti-Basset party in the borough, wrote to Christopher Wyvill, on 9 Jan. 1783, to entertain no hopes of Penryn, for it was entirely in the hands of Basset, ‘a forward, presuming young man, and of too interested and narrow a mind to wish for improvement of any kind’.5 ‘Interested and narrow’ is hardly a correct description of Basset: he was egocentric, and lived in a world of his own preconceived, often contradictory, ideas.
Having gone into opposition with North, Basset voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783; and after that adhered to the Coalition, though not without occasional squalls—thus when Humphry Morice, long an absentee from England and no longer in Parliament, was replaced as warden of the stanneries by Lord Lewisham, Basset on 20 Nov. 1783 addressed the following letter to the Duke of Portland:6
The ill usage my relative Mr. Morice has received ... renders it impossible for me to act any longer with Administration. Something of this kind I own I had been taught to expect by some of my friends, but knowing and feeling the very honourable manner in which I must say I have acted towards Administration I naturally expected the same conduct from them: ill usage to myself I could better have brooked than to my friends. As I consider my connexion with ministry as no longer subsisting I must beg leave to withdraw the various applications I have made to your Grace, as I cannot continue to receive favours where I mean to confer none.
Portland’s reply is not extant; but a week later Basset voted for Fox’s East India bill, and at the general election of 1784 Lewisham was his candidate in two constituencies.
That year he contested no less than five Cornish boroughs, attacking the Falmouth and the Edgcumbe interest: he tried to retain both seats at Penryn and Truro; put up two candidates at Tregony, and two at Mitchell; and one at Fowey, where Edgcumbe held one seat only. He also thought of putting up one candidate at Bossiney where the representation was shared by Edgcumbe and Lady Bute: the story is told in letters to her from her agent, Elford.7 Thus on 22 Jan. 1784:
Sir Francis Basset is certainly as formidable as any rival can be. He hath increased his borough interest prodigiously since he came of age, and the adding to it is his constant object. With the late ministry his interest was very great.
On 13 Feb., when told of assurances that Basset’s attack was against the Edgcumbe interest only: ‘Perhaps Sir Francis wishes to weaken the old interest by dividing it and to sap first the one and then the other.’ And on 2 Apr.:
I had great difficulty in prevailing on the under sheriff to let me have the precept for Bossiney, he being in Sir Francis Basset’s interest, and having given all the trouble in his power to the boroughs where my Lord Mount Edgcumbe hath any interest.
‘Our elections go on well’, wrote Lord Sydney to the Duke of Rutland, 17 Apr. 1784, ‘... Sir Francis Basset is beat in two thirds of the places where he pushed his friends. He has returned but three, himself inclusive, and there is a petition against two of them, himself likewise inclusive.’8 He returned himself and Sir John St. Aubyn at Penryn, and both retained their seats; so did David Howell at Mitchell, while Roger Wilbraham was unseated on petition;9 he lost both seats at Truro by 11 votes to 12; both at Tregony, by 69 to 90; while at Fowey his candidate received 9 votes against 31 for Edgcumbe’s candidate. Although but moderately successful, in four out of the five boroughs Basset had established an important interest. And what use did he make of it? In 1788 he purchased Falmouth’s estate at Tregony,10 but gave up all further claims to Truro; at Mitchell in 1790, Basset and Falmouth, whose interests were ‘so much upon an equality’, each contented himself ‘with sending one Member’;11Penryn was now Basset’s; Fowey (and Bossiney) he never attempted again. And next? Before the next general election (1796) he had sold Tregony to Richard Barwell, and his share in Mitchell to Christopher Hawkins; and in 1803 voluntarily relinquished his hold on Penryn: a campaign on a scale greater than any other private individual had ever undertaken in Cornwall, with little value attached to its yield. ‘Your turbulent nephew’ with his ‘moveable candidates’, Frances Boscawen called him writing to Mrs. Delany in June 1784.12 A similar turbulence Basset evinced in relations with neighbours: he engaged in disputes over mining rights with the Percevals of Pendarves, Thomas Pitt, and George Hunt. ‘I could never yet learn’ wrote to George Hunt his steward, William Jenkin, 24 Apr. 1798, ‘by what right or grant that family [the Bassets] presumed to attack their neighbours’ property ... troublesome disturbers of the peace of the neighbourhood in which they reside’—‘this all-grasping family’.13
In the Parliament of 1784-90 Basset steadily adhered to the Opposition, voting with them in every division for which lists are extant.14 His speeches were similarly all on the Opposition side: over Mortlock, 18 May 1784; against the commercial treaty with France, 6 and 15 Feb. 1787; and so were his interventions in debates on Indian affairs and the Regency.
In 1792 James Boswell, visiting W. J. Temple (by then obviously reconciled to Basset) records in his diary:15
My friend and I having a polite invitation from Sir Francis Basset, went to his seat at Tehidy Park ... a large and splendid house; table, servants, every thing in style ... Sir Francis ... is a genteel, smart little man, well reformed and lively ... A great variety of dishes (and wines) delighted me and his high Tory talk crowned my satisfaction. He had three grand-uncles killed in battle for Charles I. His blue and buff dress and attachment to Charles Fox seemed not consistent with all this old aristocracy.
Basset went over to Pitt in 1793, and after the dissolution of Parliament in 1796 was created a peer. In his later years he published some books and pamphlets on agriculture.16 He died 14 Feb. 1835.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. S.P. Dom. 41/33.
- 2. See his speech on 20 Nov. 1780, Debrett, i. 110.
- 3. Laprade, 40; HMC 10th Rep. VI, 40;HMC 10th Rep. VI, 49.
- 4. John Rogers, Hen. Rosewarne and Fra. Basset (?1740-1802).
- 5. Wyvill Pprs. iv. 267.
- 6. Add. 21553, f. 122.
- 7. Wharncliffe mss, Sheffield City Lib.
- 8. HMC Rutland, iii. 89.
- 9. According to Sydney’s calculation only Wilbraham was a Basset candidate; but he and Howell certainly stood on a joint interest, and Howell too, is treated by Oldfield as Basset’s candidate; see 1816 ed., iii. 152; also by W. P. Courtney, Parlty Rep. Cornw. 318.
- 10. See 28 Geo. III, c. 19. to enable Falmouth to sell it to Basset.
- 11. Oldfield (1792), i. 99.
- 12. Mrs. Delany, Autobiog. and Corresp. vi. 217-18.
- 13. A. K. Hamilton Jenkin, News from Cornw., 55-6.
- 14. D. Pulteney wrote to Rutland, 17 June 1784 (HMC Rutland iii. III) that the previous night, over parliamentary reform, Pitt had been ‘in the minority with Fox, Sir F. Basset, &c. &c.’; this of course was not a party question but Pulteney’s statement ranging Basset on the side of reform can only be due to a misunderstanding; cf. his speech that day in Debrett xv. 213, and Stockdale, ii. 69.
- 15. Private Pprs. xviii. 152.
- 16. Boase Courtney, Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, i. 112-13.