BEAUFOY, Henry (1750-95), of Gt. George Street, Westminster, and Claverley, Salop.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

11 Mar. 1783 - 1784
1784 - 17 May 1795

Family and Education

b. Nov. 1750, 1st s. of Mark Beaufoy, vinegar brewer, of Cuper’s Bridge, Lambeth, Surr. by Elizabeth, da. of Capel Hanbury of Bristol, Glos. and Pontymoyle, Mon. educ. Compton; Hoxton Acad. 1765-7; Warrington Acad. 1767-70; Edinburgh Univ. 1770-2; Grand Tour. m. 1773, Elizabeth, da. and coh. of William Jenks of Shifnal, Salop, s.p. suc. fa. 1782.

Offices Held

Sec. to Board of Control May 1791-July 1793.

Dir. Society for British Fisheries 1786.

Biography

Beaufoy was the exemplar of George Tierney’s* contention that ‘the dissenters indeed seldom thrive when they separate from the flock’. He added, ‘It is true he got a place, but he very soon sickened and died’.1 The son of an Evesham Quaker who built up a vinegar brewery in Lambeth, he conformed to the established church after his marriage (by elopement) and, relinquishing his partnership in the firm of Beaufoy, Biddle and James on his father’s death, schooled himself only for public life.2 He had to buy his way into Parliament. ‘Rather a friend than a follower’ of Pitt, he was next returned for Yarmouth in the ministerial triumph of 1784, in which dissenting support played an important part. He drew attention to himself in that Parliament by his defence of the dissenting interest, his knowledge of commercial questions and his sympathy for the abolition of the slave trade. (He was secretary of the African Association.) According to Wraxall, ‘he possessed much command of expression and even dignity of language, but there was in his manner something theatrical which diminished the effect of his eloquence’.3 It was for this that he was mocked in the Rolliad.

Beaufoy was returned after another contest—but a feeble one—at Yarmouth in 1790. On 10 Nov. he was awarded the freedom of the borough as a token of the corporation’s ‘esteem and regard’.4 In May following he was made secretary to the Board of Control, a post Pitt had in mind for him two years before. Office seems to have gone to his head. Wilberforce had already complained (20 July 1790) of Beaufoy’s ‘absurd and affected religious tenets’.5 In April 1791 he was still reckoned a supporter of dissenters’ relief. He voted for abolition of the slave trade, 18 Apr. 1791, but on 25 Apr. 1792 announced his conversion to gradual abolition, in the hope that ‘the conclusions of my understanding may ultimately correspond with the dictates of my heart’. He expressed his fear that ‘too precipitate a benevolence augmented, while it hoped to have diminished, the sum of human calamity’, claiming that a cessation of the trade must aggravate the plight of the existing slave population of the West Indies, and that if it spelt ruin for the planters, no other country would abolish the trade and thereby destroy its colonies. He chaired the committee of the House which on 1 May 1792 reported in favour of gradual abolition. Apart from chairing the East Indian budget, 5 June 1792, 4 Apr. 1794, and acting as teller for an amendment to the slave carrying bill, 26 May 1794, he did not otherwise draw attention to himself in the House. He had formally relinquished his office in July 1793.

Beaufoy was a witness in the trial of John Horne Tooke* in November 1794, when the latter, cross-examining him, regretted that ‘his remembrance required so much flapping’. According to Farington,

Beaufoy’s evidence is considered prevaricating and contemptible; he did not, he said, remember the uniform worn by members of the Association though he was one ... Sir Joseph Banks declared he had seen Beaufoy at his house in that dress many times.

Further, ‘Beaufoy affected to know lit