GREGORY, Robert (?1729-1810), of Valence, Kent; Rolls Park, Essex; and Coole Park, co. Galway.
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Family and Education
b. ?1729, s. of Henry Gregory of Galway by Mary, da. of Robert Shaw of Newford, co. Galway. m. Maria Nimmo, da. of an East India merchant, 3s. 1da.
Director, E. I. Co. 1769-73, 1775-9, 1780-2, chairman Apr.-July 1782.
Gregory went out to Bengal about 1747 as a free merchant, and, having made his fortune, returned to England in 1766 and settled in Kent. In 1767 he gave evidence before the House in committee on East India affairs. On 4 Mar. 1768 Rockingham wrote to Newcastle:1
Lord Aylesford through Lord Winchelsea conveyed to me a day or two ago that he wanted much a candidate to set up at Maidstone and yesterday he came to me about it ...
Mr. Gregory, a gentleman of good fortune, acquired really in a very honourable manner in the East Indies, and whose character and abilities I think well of, had some time ago conveyed to me his wishes of coming into Parliament. He particularly desired that where he stood it might be with the countenance of the neighbouring gentlemen and some old and known interest, as thinking that ground was better and freer from the accusation of coming as an adventurer. Mr. Gregory met Lord Aylesford ... and in short likes the appearance so much that he embarks ... Gregory’s political inclinations are certainly with us. Lord Aylesford takes it so ...
I shall try to do all the service I can for Mr. Gregory as I really like him from the conversations I have had with him on India matters, and have found him very intelligent and able on that matter.
Gregory had started late and there were already two candidates, but he came second on the poll with a comfortable majority.
In Parliament he voted consistently with the Opposition, and was consulted by Rockingham on East India affairs. He is recorded as having made over 30 speeches, almost all in debates covering the East India Co. He was a member of the secret committee of 1772 and of Burgoyne’s select committee, and was genuinely concerned for the welfare of India as well as of the Company. He said in the House on 5 Apr. 1773:2
Most of the gentlemen now in India are my particular friends, but I am willing to do all I can for the ease of the inhabitants of India. A place without law can never be happy. I shall prefer the happiness of seventeen millions of souls to the emoluments of my friends, and shall be glad to give all the information I can from my long residence in India.
In 1774 he was defeated at Maidstone, and elected after a contest at Rochester. He opposed the American war, and in every recorded division 1780-2 voted against North’s Administration. ‘Though strongly attached to Fox and to the party acting with him’, writes Wraxall,3 ‘Gregory disdained to be considered a devoted partisan.’ On 9 Apr. 1781, during a debate on East India affairs, Gregory ‘expressed a willingness’ to support North ‘in whatever measure should appear to him to have for its object the mutual interests of the public and the Company.’4 Burke, who followed him, pledged himself, Gregory, and ‘those in Opposition with whom he had conversed on the subject’ to support North ‘in everything that should appear to them conducive to the joint interest of the Company and the kingdom’.
Mr. Gregory got up again; and with warmth observed that as no man was more ready to support the noble Lord in everything reasonable than he was, yet he requested the honourable Member would only pledge himself, and nobody else, for the support of the measures that might be proposed; he said he stood connected with no party, nor with the honourable Member who had spoken last; he would give his opinion freely, and his support where he thought it due; but still regardless of the promises of others, he being as independent in his principles and his seat as any man in the House.
‘Mr. Burke was hurt ... and observed that as the honourable gentleman thought proper to renounce any connection with him, he was very welcome to do it.’
On 30 Apr. 1781, when North moved for a committee of secrecy on the war in the Carnatic, Gregory ‘trusted that it would not be a mockery of justice, nor mixed with party interests and party friendships’.5 The committee was chosen by ballot, and Gregory ‘was placed out of all competition at the head of the committee, he uniting the suffrages of the ministerial as well as of the Opposition sides of the House’.6 He obtained 249 votes, 88 more than the second Member chosen.
In 1782 he had a serious illness: in July he resigned his post as chairman of the East India Co.; and in Robinson’s list of March 1783, drawn up after the division on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, he is included amongst those who were ‘ill or cannot attend’. Yet he was named one of the commissioners for Indian affairs in Fox’s East India bill, and his last speech in the House, 1 Dec. 1783, was in defence of that measure:7
Mr. Gregory declared that though the bill then under consideration appeared to him to be by far the best system that he had yet seen or heard of, yet he hoped there would ever continue a respectable Opposition in that House who would narrowly watch the commissioners’ conduct and exercise a rigorous control over their proceedings.
In Robinson’s list of January 1784 and Stockdale’s of March he is classed as an opponent of Pitt. He did not stand at the general election.
He died 1 Sept. 1810, aged 81.