BAKER, John (?1754-1831), of St. Stephen's, nr. Canterbury, Kent.
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Family and Education
b. ?1754, o.s. of George Baker, surgeon, of Canterbury. m. 15 Oct. 1776, Jane, da. of Rev. James Tattersall, rector of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, Mdx., 2s. 2da. surv.
Sheriff, Canterbury 1786-7; lt.-col. Canterbury vols. 1803.
Baker inherited from his father a considerable fortune including Hawkhurst Lodge, near Canterbury, originally the property of his uncle, John Baker, sometime receiver-general for Kent. His inheritance was substantially augmented upon his marriage. Before he established the Union bank at Canterbury in 1793, he was one of the greatest hop planters in the district. He was, moreover, ‘one of the handsomest men in England’, and in 1805:
Although he is now become corpulent, and makes use of spectacles, yet he is still considered one of the best gentlemen billiard players in this country. He excels still more at whist, being reckoned by some as equal to the late Mr Alderman [John] Sawbridge*, in his best days.1
In 1796 Baker, with Sawbridge’s son and heir, contested Canterbury on the Blue interest and headed the poll. He joined the Whig Club, 8 Nov. 1796. The election was voided on account of treating, and although Baker and his colleague were returned on the fresh election, they were unseated on petition. He had voted steadily with the Whigs. In 1802 he came back unopposed. No speech of Baker’s in the House is known. He did not oppose Addington’s ministry, except on 7 Mar. 1804, on the conduct of the Irish government. He was listed ‘Fox’ that month. His next minority vote was against Pitt’s additional force bill, 8 June. He was listed ‘Fox and Grenville’ in September, and after voting in the majorities against Melville on 8 Apr. and 12 June 1805, became ‘doubtful Sidmouth’ in July; were he and Peter William Baker*, labelled ‘doubtful Opposition’, confused? He was supposed a supporter of the Grenville ministry, returned unopposed in 1806 and listed among the ‘staunch friends’ of the abolition of the slave trade.
Baker damaged his reputation among the Canterbury Blues by a bid to come to terms with the change of ministry in 1807. He had taken three weeks’ leave on 20 Mar. and avoided the debates on the dismissal of Grenville’s administration. He claimed on the hustings to have opposed Catholic relief in 1805, and now, confronted with two ministerial opponents, made a bid for a compromise. It was rejected, but he contrived to find an unexceptionable colleague to weather the contest.2 He did not subsequently vote in the minority until 17 Mar. 1809, against Perceval’s resolution on the Duke of York’s conduct, but he appeared with them again on 25 Apr., on the charge of ministerial corruption. After his votes against the address, 23 Jan., and against Chatham’s conduct, 5 Mar. 1810, the Whigs were hopeful of him. He confirmed their hopes on 30 Mar. and joined them on the Regency question, 1 and 21 Jan. 1811. He also opposed ministers on McMahon’s sinecure and appointment as the Regent’s secretary and on the orders in council, 24 Feb., 3 Mar., 14 Apr. 1812.
On 21 May 1812 Baker voted against a remodelling of the ministry. Did he change sides to save his seat? Stephen Rumbold Lushington assured the Treasury that Baker would be turned out ‘after it is known that he has deserted the popular principles and persons by whom he has alone been returned on former occasions, and has devoted himself to Lord Sidmouth’.3 The withdrawal of his colleague saved his face, but a token contest was indicative of a strong protest against him. He was listed a Treasury supporter after the election. He opposed Catholic relief in 1813 and did not subsequently appear in the minority until 11 Mar. 1816 when, after supporting ministers on the army estimates on 6 and 8 Mar., he voted for the reduction of the Household troops on the first division, but changed sides on the second. He was in the opposition majority against the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, and further voted for retrenchment on 20 Mar. and 3 Apr. His next known vote was in opposition to the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817, and he further opposed the employment of informers and the indemnity bill, 5, 9, 11 Mar. 1818. He voted for Admiralty retrenchment and against the ducal marriage grant, 16 Mar., 13 Apr. 1818, for the repeal of the Septennial Act, 19 May, with ministers for the imprisonment of radical booksellers, 21 May, and against them next day on the aliens bill. The coherence of this line was not apparent to his constituents, who threw him out at the ensuing election.
He died 20 Jan. 1831, aged 76. An obituary charitably described him as ‘always a consistent Whig’.4