BINDLEY, John (c.1735-86), of Whitefriars, London and Caversham, nr. Reading
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Sec. to Bd. of Excise Dec. 1761-Feb. 1763; commr. of Excise Feb. 1763-Dec. 1764.
Bindley started in business as a distiller in partnership with his father. Precluded from keeping on his business while connected with the Excise, he made it over to his brother James for a term of years, and appointed an employee William Wright as manager, reserving to himself £250 p.a. and the rest to his children.3 When on 13 Feb. 1762 he asked his old friend Jenkinson for an introduction to Lord Bute, he claimed that he had been ‘taken out of trade’ which yielded a profit of £2-3,000 p.a., with a prospect of doubling in 10 or 12 years his ‘not inconsiderable’ fortune; that he meant to devote himself to the service of the public, with only a commissionership of the Excise in view; that he had already made considerable improvements in commerce and the revenue, and had others to suggest. And on 18 May,4 a week before Bute replaced Newcastle at the Treasury:
I can now put a plan into the hands of Government which will raise £5 or 600,000 the succeeding year, provided I am only removed from the post of secretary to the excise to commissioner ... I find I am not to succeed by the assistance of those who promised me and tempted me out of trade.5
In November he was received by Bute and treated in a ‘very gracious manner’;6 and in February 1763 was appointed commissioner of the Excise.
An early advantage which Bindley derived from his ‘ministerial interest and connexions’ was a share in subscriptions to Government loans: e.g., £76,000 to the short-term loan of 1762,7 and £100,000 to the loan of 1763, on which, he stated, the profit was £12,000 or more.8 According to Alexander Fordyce, since 1760 his banker, Bindley said he could, through influence, get a considerable sum in the 1763 subscription, ‘but that he had neither money to make the necessary payments thereon, nor knowledge enough of the public funds ... to conduct the same to the best advantage’: in this loan certainly, and possibly also in others, Fordyce was his partner.
Bindley was a friend of Charles Townshend, and tried to make political capital by claiming to influence him. When on Bute’s resignation Townshend hesitated whether to accept the Admiralty, Bindley wrote to Jenkinson, 8 Apr. 1763:9
Mr. Townshend is to be at Mr. Burrell’s at seven who will most strongly enforce his steady attachment to the Administration. The world say he will not accept. I am pretty confident he will. I shall call at 7 at Burrell’s, and if anything occurs you shall hear from me.
Still looking on Bute as the minister, Bindley, on 3 June 1763, promised Jenkinson10 ‘some matters relative to Claremont’11 for Bute’s information: he is never suspected by them ‘of consequence enough to convey anything to his Lordship’, though they conceive he might to Townshend. ‘They know Mr. Townshend loves me ... and they keep telling me he only can preserve me or push my future fortune. But my obligations are due to my Lord.’
As early as January 1764 Townshend sent through Bindley messages to Halifax and Grenville expressing his high regard for them, and the little value he set on the Opposition.12 On 15 June Bindley again reported to Jenkinson:13
My friend Townshend is in perfect health. He is at Adderbury. His letter of today says—I am a free man, bound to no party, or system etc. I hope therefore, dear sir, Government will find some means to engage and employ his talents.
It is not clear what share Bindley had in the tentative approaches between Townshend and Grenville through John Morton in the autumn of 1764. But when these broke down, Townshend’s claims were stated for the first time in concrete terms by Bindley to Jenkinson who, when transmitting them to Grenville, 20 Nov. 1764, remarked:14
You will judge how far all this is to be relied on, and what use should be made of it, but Bindley will call on you to-morrow between nine and ten, and if you admit him will tell you more.
By 1764 Bindley openly aspired to a seat in Parliament, and on 29 Mar. inquired through Jenkinson ‘if Mr. Grenville chooses to gratify me in my wish ... at a proper time’.15 Next he saw Grenville who ‘behaved in the most cordial and friendly manner ... pressing me to remain in my present position till he can exchange it for a more honourable and more lucrative one’.16 But on 25 July Bindley wrote to the Duke of Portland:17
I do not think it is very probable I shall remain long in my present situation. I do not like it, I want to get into a walk more adapted to the principles I profess, liberty and independency, and where a man may at least show whether he has or has not abilities. I would however act with some caution lest I should not succeed in getting into Parliament.
And on 11 Dec. he joyfully reported to Portland that he had quitted his office, and was now full master of his own time—‘I intend to be in Parliament but when or how I know not, but I am sure I shall never be in office again.’
In November 1764 Grenville recommended Bindley, ‘a gentleman whom I have some time wished to see’ in Parliament, to James Buller, for a vacant seat at West Looe.18 But Buller found serious difficulty in nominating him ‘from the report which had been spread that he was the first proposer of the tax upon cider’,19 and Grenville was forced to name another. By that time Bindley had already another seat in view: on 23 Nov. he wrote to Jenkinson20 about a vacancy at Berwick-upon-Tweed and a man with a considerable interest in the borough who ‘is a great enemy to Administration but ... loves me and my family’. Passed over in favour of J. H. Delaval, Bindley acquiesced with a show of devotion. But on 6 Jan. 1765:21 Lord Tylney is believed dead (lived another 20 years), and Admiral Townsend is slow in dying (died 10 months later); he would therefore prefer Malmesbury to Rochester—‘I cannot embark in the business I propose [some revenue schemes] till I am in Parliament, having determined they shall take place together.’
When on the formation of the Rockingham Government Sir William Meredith had to seek reelection at Liverpool Bindley claimed to have been encouraged to stand but to have declined: which Townshend in a letter of 6 Aug. 1765 thought very prudent as it ‘would certainly have been expensive, unpleasant to ministry, and offensive to the Crown’.22
I think you are wise in concealing, I will not say in renouncing, your passion for a seat in Parliament, because, in this minute of arrangements, I conclude it would be difficult to promise it, even if it were practicable to do it, and the application itself might be used to engage and entangle you once more. It cannot be long before every impediment you have felt will be removed: you will then see your fullest wishes accomplished in the most pleasing manner, and in the meantime how large is your fortune, and how great your prospect. As to me, you know I have been invariably your advocate and ... friend ... and if you choose to take your fate with me ... I am ready to become one with you upon this plan of joint communication and common interest. More than this I cannot say; you are to judge of the eligibleness of the offer.
I wish I could prevail upon you to come here for a week: we would settle every thing.
Lord Rockingham has a high opinion of you, and, I suppose, he will seek your aid when he begins to feel his wants in office ...
Be true to yourself; be sensible of your own consequence; be firm in your mind, and let not the minute darken the hour, nor the passing cloud of one hour give colour or gloom to so fair a day as you have before you. You will be great, if you will be explicit and patient ... Forgive this. It is from love for you.
Gross flattery expressing in high-falutin language Bindley’s half-avowed dreams—he replied on the 9th: ‘I wish nothing so much as to take my fate with you. I never intended anything else when I expected to go into Parliament.’ Before he ventured to treat with Grenville he had understood that Townshend had decided not to join in any opposition. ‘My step was too hasty. He has deceived me most infamously and led me to the brink of losing your protection ... I ask pardon for troubling you with his name. But I hate him so that I cannot help abusing him.’ He had attended Rockingham’s first levee; next was sent for; but was determined not to disclose to ministers his ideas concerning taxes ‘till I am in a situation that may justify to the public my interfering in revenue matters.’23
Even before the change of Government Bindley had communicated with Portland about a vacancy at Ilchester;24 on 21 July 1765 about Berwick at the next general election; and on 22 Jan. 1766 about a vacancy at Dartmouth. But Rockingham apparently was not keen on having him in the House.
When Townshend became paymaster general, Bindley had tried to make him ‘lodge all the pay office money’ in Fordyce’s bank. And with Townshend a leading figure in the Chatham Administration, Bindley wrote to Fordyce, 7 Nov. 1766:
I now flatter myself with the prospect of being one day more useful to you, as at last it is settled that I go into Parliament at the beginning of the session. My push will be for some share in contracts ... something may be struck for our joint concern and advantage ... Perhaps the world ... will blame me for quitting my Board for Parliament, but, besides the advantage I hope to gain by it and the great satisfaction I shall feel in being, if it becomes necessary, at liberty to superintend and to act at Whitefriars [his office], I profess my genius urged me to it and there is no resisting that.
Meantime he asked for Fordyce’s ‘assistance about my qualification [for Parliament]’, and borrowed money for his election expenses from Richard Atkinson who at that time worked closely with Fordyce. When he was returned on the Government interest at Dover, on 23 Dec. 1766, Newcastle wrote to Rockingham: ‘I see the excise man, and as some say, the excise smuggler, is chose for Dover.’25
There is no record of Bindley having spoken in the House; he was a Government supporter, and voted with them over the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, but was absent from the division on nullum tempus, 17 Feb. 1768: Townshend was dead, and Bindley would not go against Portland. No Government contracts with him have been traced; and dealings in East India stock undertaken in May 1767 by Bindley and Fordyce on inside information from his ministerial friends resulted in losses. On leaving the Excise Bindley had resumed his business, making Wright a partner: they engaged in a variety of schemes with inadequate capital and heavy losses, and by August 1767 were very deep in debt to Fordyce. On 4 Sept. Townshend died. On the 25th, at a meeting with Fordyce and Wright, Bindley was beside himself, ‘frequently burst into floods of tears, wrung his hands and walked about the room like a madman’. Fordyce offered him an annuity of £400 p.a. during his life and that of his wife, in return for an assignment of all his fortune; to which Bindley agreed. At the general election of 1768 Bindley stood for Reading—‘all his ... hope of being provided for in some office under Government’, he told Fordyce, ‘depended upon ... getting into Parliament.’ Fordyce therefore agreed to meet his ‘common tavern expenses’, and paid out £900. But Bindley was defeated, and his bankers refused to finance a petition to Parliament. His financial position deteriorated still further; and so did his relations with Fordyce who now denied the validity of the annuity agreement. Bindley fled to France; and when persuaded by Fordyce to return, was arrested for debt and made bankrupt.26
In 1771, ‘to find immediate maintenance and future provision for my distressed family’, Bindley entered the wine trade, with Portland for customer and, he hoped, also promoter of his venture.27 In May 1772, again in danger of arrest, he escaped once more to France where he lived in penury, carrying on the wine trade (without having the necessary capital), spinning schemes for re-establishing himself; and pressing Lord North through Grey Cooper for some Government employment, but receiving only promises and occasional payments of £50 or £100 from secret service funds.28 After a visit to England in 1776 he wrote to Portland (from Calais, 27 Nov.):
Lord North has put me off till another day, though he readily acknowledged he stood in need of my assistance. I was advised however not to throw away my talents; and to be out of the way of being cajoled, I again returned to the Continent.
Another payment of £50 appears in the secret service accounts for January-April 1779,29 the first available for North’s period at the Treasury. Those of Cooper, Bindley’s paymaster, are missing for April 1779-October 1780, but when they restart Bindley is employed at the Exchequer at a salary of £500 p.a. In 1781 it rises to £700;30 and in North’s closing accounts stands at £1,000 p.a.; and is thus explained in a memorandum for the King:31 ‘Mr. Bindley has been much employed every year about the taxes, and his allowance has been annually increased. He receives his allowance till provided for.’ His £1,000 was among the private pensions communicated to Rockingham, 21 Apr., and to Shelburne, 17 July 1782; and in a list, compiled for Pitt in the summer of 1782,32 the remark is added: ‘said to have been promised to be commissioner of the Excise—recommended much by Mr. Cooper, who reports also Lord North’s high opinion of his services.’ Apparently he now longed to return to the Board he had so uppishly left nearly 20 years earlier.
When he died, 18 Feb. 1786, the Gentleman’s Magazine (1786, p. 183) described him as one ‘to whose abilities the revenue ... is considerably indebted, as well for its augmentation as improvement in several ... branches’; and in an obituary memoir of his brother James in 1818 (1818, ii. 280):
His parents ... brought up their children with strictness, and divided among them a moderate fortune. The eldest son had great talents, with a vivacious turn of mind, and united a peculiar aptitude for financial concerns to an ease and pleasantness of conversation, which ... obtained for him many friends.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. His yr. bro. James (see DNB) was b. 16 Jan. 1737.
- 2. There is no list of Carthusians other than scholars before 1800, but James was at the Charterhouse ‘on account of the vicinity to his father’s dwelling’ (see Gent. Mag. 1818, ii. 280); and John Bindley, writing to Charles Jenkinson, another Carthusian, 13 Feb. and 18 May 1762 (Jenkinson Pprs. ed. Jucker, 29, 40) refers to ‘the intimacy that subsisted between us in our early days’.
- 3. A great deal of information concerning Bindley’s financial affairs can be derived from an Exchequer case which he brought in 1770 against the banker A. Fordyce and his partners, E112/1614/1287.
- 4. Jenkinson Pprs. 40.
- 5. Presumably Newcastle.
- 6. Bindley to Jenkinson, 12 Nov., Add. 38200, f. 103.
- 7. Bute mss.
- 8. E112/1614/1287.
- 9. Add. 38200, f. 193.
- 10. Ibid. f. 355.
- 11. i.e. the Duke of Newcastle.
- 12. See Grenville Diary, 10 and 11 Jan. 1764, Grenville Pprs. ii. 482-3.
- 13. Jenkinson Pprs. 301; the letter is marked Friday, and misdated in the docket ‘June 13’. For a further report on Townshend from Bindley see Jenkinson to Grenville, 28 Aug., Grenville mss (JM).
- 14. Grenville Pprs. ii. 465.
- 15. Add. 38202, f. 208.
- 16. To Fordyce, c. 17 Apr. 1764, E112/1614/1287.
- 17. This connexion may possibly have started through
- 18. Grenville to Buller, 1 and 17 Nov. 1764, Grenville Letter Bk.
- 19. Grenville to Buller, 11 Dec. 1764, ibid.
- 20. Add. 38203, f. 275.
- 21. Add. 38204, f. 3.
- 22. Buccleuch mss.
- 23. See also his letter to Portland, 21 July 1765.
- 24. See letter of 15 Apr. 1765.
- 25. 25 Dec. Add. 32978, f. 474.
- 26. Gent. Mag. 1769, p. 216.
- 27. Bindley to Portland, 3 Sept. 1771.
- 28. See his letters to Portland—there are more than a dozen covering the period 1772-6.
- 29. In the Royal archives, Windsor.
- 30. See also Bindley to Portland, 1 Aug. 1781.
- 31. Fortescue, v. 469.
- 32. Chatham mss.