DUNCOMBE, Henry (1728-1818), of Copgrove, nr. Knaresborough, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 1728, 3rd s. of Thomas Duncombe† of Duncombe Park by Sarah, da. of Sir Thomas Slingsby, 4th Bt., of Scriven. educ. Westminster 1737-45; Lincoln, Oxf. 28 Oct. 1745, aged 16; M. Temple 1747. unm.
Duncombe was one of the Yorkshire Association’s candidates for the county in 1780 and 1784. As such he supported Pitt’s administration. He was unopposed in 1790. His colleague Wilberforce being seldom in Yorkshire, he was the business Member for the county and even managed Wilberforce’s private concerns for him.1 On 14 Dec. 1790 he moved the address of thanks to the King for the convention with Spain. Two days later he endorsed Pitt’s proposals for ways and means, except for the malt tax. It was as an agricultural protectionist, too, that he objected to a clause in the corn bill, 11 Mar. 1791. He opposed the repeal of the Test Act, a change of mind, when canvassed in April 1791, but also objected to the pampering of the clergy in the Quaker bill, 12 May. He had divided with ministers on the Oczakov question, 12 Apr.2 He voted for the abolition of the slave trade, 18 Apr. 1791, and was a teller for Wilberforce’s motions of 14 and 28 May 1793 and 4 Mar. 1794 on the subject.
Duncombe had seconded Pitt’s plan of parliamentary reform in 1785. Presenting the Sheffield petition in its favour, 2 May 1793, he admitted that he was still ‘a friend of temperate reform’. He objected to piecemeal disfranchisements, such as those proposed at Stockbridge, 3 May; and four days later spoke in favour of Grey’s reform motion in principle, though he thought Grey was over indulgent to popular representation and he did not divide on it.3 He did not think the question should be shelved because of the war against France, which he did not expect to last much longer. He voted for clemency to General Lafayette, 17 Mar. 1794. When on 30 Dec. 1794 Wilberforce urged peace negotiations, Duncombe was his seconder. This caused a stir, though Duncombe explained three days later that if the war must be carried on, he was in favour of a vigorous effort. On 27 May 1795 he again seconded Wilberforce’s plea for peace, regretting that England as readily engaged in war with the people of France as formerly with the French monarchy. He was a critic of the payment of the Prince of Wales’s debts, 1 June, approving the smaller grant and alleging that the Prince’s bad example gave encouragement to radicalism.
Duncombe approved precautions for the King’s safety, but could not swallow the bill against seditious meetings, 12 Nov. 1795, which undermined the ‘democratical’ part of the constitution. He supported the first reading in the hope that further discussion would reveal its objectionable tendencies. He concurred in Fox’s presentation of a petition from Halifax against it, 3 Dec., and next day presented a county petition to the same effect (countered by Wilberforce). On 15 Dec. he expressed his approbation of Fox’s defence of the character of Lord North, whom he had personally opposed. An advocate and founder member of the board of agriculture, he argued that potato growing was stimulated by the high price of other provisions, 29 Feb. 1796. Although he was an admirer of Sir John Sinclair’s exertions, he advised him to proceed more circumspectly with his general enclosure bill, 22 Apr. 1796.
Duncombe decided in January 1796 to retire at the next election, when his friend Rev. Christopher Wyvill informed him that the opposition of the Lascelles family, previously directed against Wilberforce, would in future be directed against him. His infirmity was excuse enough and he was conscious of having differed from public opinion in the county on the measures against sedition.4 Wyvill had urged him to justify himself and persevere:
But the delusion of his constituents was too complete, and at his age the fatigues of the struggle which awaited him, would have been too severe, and probably would have been alike pernicious to himself and unavailing to the public.
He duly retired at the dissolution, when he was denied the satisfaction of seeing his nephew Charles Duncombe* succeed him. One of Wyvill’s friends deplored the loss of ‘a useful steady Member’ whose ‘independence of spirit’ was admirable.5 He died 10 Apr. 1818.