BUNBURY, Sir Thomas Charles, 6th Bt. (1740-1821), of Barton, Suff.

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



1761 - 1784
1790 - 1812

Family and Education

b. May 1740, 1st s. of Rev. Sir William Bunbury, 5th Bt., of Barton by Eleanor, da. and coh. of Vere Graham of Wix Abbey, Essex. educ. Bury St. Edmunds sch. 1747; Westminster 1754; St. Catherine’s, Camb. 1757; Grand Tour 1760-1. m. (1) 2 June 1762, Lady Sarah Lennox (div. 14 May 1776), da. of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, s.p. (2) 21 Nov. 1805, Margaret née Cocksedge,1 s.p. suc. fa. as 6th Bt. 11 June 1764.

Offices Held

Sec. embassy, France Aug. 1764-May 1765; sec. to ld. lt. [I] May-July 1765.2

Sheriff, Suff. 1788-9.


Sir Charles Bunbury’s commitment to Fox, his brother’s brother-in-law, had cost him his seat for the county in 1784. He defiantly joined the Whig Club, 6 Dec. 1784. But his passion was for the Turf rather than for politics and, eschewing party warfare thereafter, he recaptured his seat in a contest in 1790. One of his chief assets was his previous 23 years’ service.3 Thenceforward his opposition was occasional, his conduct that of an independent county Member with special interests. Thus he was a critic of the cost of the armament against Spain, which must be met by new taxes, and particularly opposed the malt tax, reviving the argument that if ale was taxed, so should cider be, 16, 21 Dec. 1790. He voted against Pitt on the Oczakov question 12 Apr. 1791, but could not, apparently, be counted on to support repeal of the Test Act in Scotland that month. As a member of the finance committee that session, chosen third on the ballot of 4 Apr., he criticized the increases in the peacetime establishment and called for government ‘frugality’, 7 June 1791. He was listed a Portland Whig in December 1792 and invited to attend Windham’s ‘third party’ meeting of 17 Feb. 1793, but did not do so. He did, however, secede from the Whig Club.

He had been interested in prison reform for many years. As chairman of the committee on the offenders bill, he moved for information on conditions in the convict colony in New South Wales, 9, 21 Feb. 1791, 15 Feb., 4 May 1792; and on 31 May 1793 moved six resolutions critical of the treatment of prisoners awaiting transportation and of the conditions they encountered on the voyage to and in the penal colony. He admitted that he was a convert to Jeremy Bentham’s penitentiary scheme and thought that it might at least be applied in the case of waiting transportees, instead of the hulks. On 8 Apr. 1794 he obtained leave for a bill to exempt the poor from liability to highway repairs, and on 22 May 1795 sought relief for owners of market carts, which were liable for the same duty as chaises, though essential to agriculture. On 25 Nov. 1795 he and his colleague upheld the Suffolk magistrates’ proposal that they should regulate labourers’ wages since employers refused to fix a minimum wage, and a bill to authorize this was promoted. On 18 Feb. 1796 he proposed a clause for the game protection bill to prohibit the shooting of game before 15 Sept.

Bunbury’s speeches in the Parliament of 1796 were on similar topics, except for his seconding the motion of 3 Mar. 1797 for public acknowledgment of the services of Sir John Jervis*, which was withdrawn. He had voted in the minority on the Bank restriction, 28 Feb. On 23 Mar. he seconded a motion to review the allowances made by their creditors to prisoners in gaol for debt, presenting a petition from prisoners in King’s bench to that effect. He attempted, 22 Dec. 1797, to exempt market carts (already liable to tax) from Pitt’s assessed taxes bill, against which he voted on 4 Jan. 1798; and when Pitt made difficulties threatened a bill to procure the exemption, 16 Mar. After a further exchange with Pitt, 23 Mar., he made his point on 25 June when he secured, by 23 votes to ten, tax relief for cart owners hitherto liable under the bill, who were now assured future exemption. On 11 Mar. 1800 Bunbury brought in a bill to continue the local operation of the Poor Relief Act of 1796; when the Lords limited its duration, he abandoned it and obtained instead enlarged powers for the poor law guardians, 23 Apr. He seconded Lord William Russell’s poor relief bill, 25 Feb. 1801, explaining, 5 Mar., that it was necessary to secure the obedience of overseers to magistrates’ orders. He was a critic of the additional tea duty because it was a hardship for the poor, 10, 12 Mar. He voted for Grey’s censure motion of 25 Mar. 1801 and for inquiry into the finances of the Prince of Wales, with whom he was acquainted through the Turf, 31 Mar. 1802. On 13 Apr., emphasizing that he did not wish to be in the habit of opposing government measures, he objected to the additional malt duty, as it was damaging to agriculture and to the morals of the poor.

In the ensuing Parliament Bunbury welcomed the felons transportation bill, 17 Dec. 1802, suggesting the separation of debtors from felons and reviving his notion of placing prisoners awaiting transportation in a Benthamite panopticon. He and Bentham tried to convince the Home secretary of the advantage of this kind of penitentiary.4 He again voted for scrutiny of the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 4 Mar. 1803. He was chairman of the committee on the Corn Laws in 1804 and introduced the protectionist measure it recommended on 25 June. He was listed ‘doubtful’ by the Treasury in September, having apparently opposed Pitt’s additional force bill (though he was locked out on 11 June). He was listed ‘Opposition’ in July 1805, having meanwhile opposed the salt tax, 4 Mar., supported the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 6 Mar. and voted in the majorities of 8 Apr. and 12 June against Melville. On 11 Mar. 1806 he presented the Suffolk maltsters’ petition against the duty on malt introduced in 1802.

Bunbury was among the ‘staunch friends’ of the abolition of the slave trade. He voted for Brand’s motion after the dismissal of the Grenville ministry and was in the minority on the address, 26 June 1807. The Whigs listed him ‘hopeful’ in March 1810, though he had not meanwhile voted with them. He did so on 30 Mar. on the Scheldt inquiry. He spoke on only two topics in that Parliament: as a critic of the transportation system for criminals, 15 June 1808, and as a promoter of the bill to prevent cruelty to animals, 12 June 1809. His motion to commit the bill was defeated on 15 June by 37 votes to 27. On 1 and 21 Jan. 1811 he joined opposition on the Regency questions. He went away and/or paired with opposition on the divisions of 4 Feb. and 3 Mar. 1812. His last known vote was for Catholic relief, 24 Apr. 1812. On 22 June he took leave of absence for illness. He retired at the dissolution, lacking the stamina, at his age, for ‘the fatiguing length of modern speeches. by which the public business is so impeded’.5 He died 31 Mar. 1821.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Add. 19215, f. 62.
  • 2. He did not discharge either duty.
  • 3. Kent AO, Cornwalls mss C1, Cornwallis to bp. of Lichfield, 5 Dec. 1790.
  • 4. Add. 33543, passim.
  • 5. Edinburgh Advertiser, 6 Oct.; Morning Chron. 26 Oct. 1812.