COVENTRY, Thomas (c.1713-97), of North Cray Place, Bexley, Kent
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Family and Education
b. c.1713, 2nd s. of Thomas Coventry, Russia merchant (bro. of William, 5th Earl of Coventry), by Mary, da. and h. of John Green of Hambleton, Bucks. educ. Magdalen Hall, Oxf. 1728; I. Temple 1732, called 1735, bencher 1766, reader 1777, treasurer 1778. m. c.1743, Margaret, da. and coh. of Thomas Savage of Elmley Castle, Worcs., s.p. suc. to estate of his kinsman William Hetherington 1778.
Director, South Sea Co. 1751-68; dep. gov. 1768-1771; sub gov. 1771-94.
Thomas Coventry was left ‘one shilling and no more’ by his father, but seems to have inherited considerable property from his mother. During the time he sat in Parliament he was a wealthy man: his purchases of Government stock between 1760 and 1796 amounted to nearly £400,000, and he died possessed of stock to the value of £185,000. In 1764 he began to buy Bank of England stock and at his death held £25,000 worth—a large amount for a man who never served as a Bank director.1
In 1754 Coventry was returned unopposed on the interest of his cousin Lord Coventry, and in Dupplin’s list was classed as a country gentleman supporting Administration. Returned after a contest in 1761, and classed ‘Newcastle and Government’ in Bute’s list, his first recorded vote was to postpone consideration of the peace preliminaries, 1 Dec. 1762. He voted against them on 9 Dec. 1762, and with the Opposition over Wilkes, 15 Nov. 1763, and general warrants, 15 and 18 Feb. 1764. Both Jenkinson and Newcastle in 1764 counted him as a friend. In July 1765 Rockingham classed him as ‘pro’, yet he opposed the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766. He voted against Government on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. Henceforth, he voted regularly with the Opposition, although he had no strong ties with any party leader.
Charles Lamb, who as a child had known Coventry, described him as ‘the scarecrow of his inferiors, the browbeater of equals and superiors’, with ‘a rough spinous humour’.2 ‘Thomas Coventry’, he wrote, ‘passed his youth in contracted circumstances, which gave him early those parsimonious habits which in after life never forsook him; so that, with one windfall or another, about the time I knew him he was master of four or five hundred thousand pounds ... a hoarder rather than a miser ... Coventry gave away £30,000 at once in his life time to a blind charity.’3
Lamb’s description is borne out by Coventry’s speeches in Parliament. On 17 Mar. 1756, in the debate on the plate tax, Coventry
advised the proposer of the tax to consult the Acts of the Apostles, where he would find that St. Paul, by opposing the craft of the silversmiths, raised a great cry amongst the mob, and would hardly have escaped them but for one or two powerful friends and the assistance of the town clerk.4
And on 28 Feb. 1780, on a bill for the relief of insolvent debtors, he declared:5
It desired an entire alteration of the laws of the land, and was of infinitely too important a nature to be agreed to; that he objected to both its principle and to its provisions. That men now went to jail on purpose to enjoy the luxuries of a prison. That the King’s Bench was crowded ... and that the proposal of allowing debtors 2s. 4d. a week was highly improper. A soldier had but 6d. a day for being shot at, and should a rascal who had cheated industrious tradesmen and perhaps ruined many persons, be allowed 4d.?
Coventry died 21 May 1797.