GASCOYNE, Isaac (c.1763-1841), of Roby Hall, nr. Liverpool, Lancs.

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



1796 - 1831

Family and Education

b. c.1763,1 2nd s. of Bamber Gascoyne of Bifrons, Barking, Essex, and bro. of Bamber Gascoyne*. educ. Felsted. m. 1 July 1794, Mary, da. and coh. (with her sis. Anne Jane, w. of John Dent*) of John Williamson, brewer, of Roby Hall, 1s.

Offices Held

Ensign 20 Ft. 1779, 2 Ft. Gds. 1780, lt. and capt. 1784, capt. and lt.-col. 1792, brevet col. 1796, lt.-col. 16 Ft. 1799; maj.-gen. 1802; col. 7 W.I. Regt. 1805, lt.-gen. 1808; col. 54 Ft. 1816-d.; gen. 1819.


Gascoyne was wounded in the Flanders campaign 1793-4. In 1796 when his brother Bamber decided not to seek re-election for Liverpool, he became candidate in his place. His brother had become unpopular and he was little known, but he secured the seat. Report had it that he was ‘inimical to the present administration’, but he later remarked about Pitt that ‘from his public principles and conduct, whether in or out of office, I was never severed during his life’.2 His speeches in the House bore this out. On 14 Dec. 1796 he admitted that he had come prepared to vote for Fox’s censure motion on the loan to the Emperor but, swayed by Pitt, he would now oppose it, ‘confident that he was voting according to the sentiments of his constituents’. For this he was ridiculed by Sheridan, speaking next. He opposed Col. Wood’s motion for inquiry into national defence, 28 Mar. 1797. In 1798 he served in Ireland.

As Member for Liverpool Gascoyne, with his colleague Tarleton, set his face against bids to abolish the slave trade during the sessions of 1798 and 1799. Other Liverpool business also occupied him: the defence of the port against the enemy, 23 May 1798; the public grant-in-aid of £500,000 to the distressed merchant community, 30 Sept., 2 Oct.1799, and his constituents’ objections to the corn bill report, 7 Mar. 1800, and to the Combination Act of 1799, which placed workmen ‘a great deal too much at the mercy of the masters’: he undertook its repeal and helped bring in a less objectionable measure in July 1800. On 9 Feb. 1801 he moved for a call of the House in three weeks’ time, deploring the fact that only 401 Members had taken their seats at that critical juncture. (He had voted with the minority of 22 Jan. 1800 for a similar motion of Tierney’s.) On 3 Mar. he was gratified by the response, nearly 40 Members having taken their seats. He had joined opposition in calling for an inquiry into the Ferrol expedition, being anxious to see the army vindicated, without reflection on individuals, 19 Feb., and on 25 Mar. he voted for Grey’s censure motion. On 31 Mar. he was a minority teller for a call of the House. He opposed the salt duty on behalf of his constituents, 14 May.

Gascoyne was dissatisfied with Addington’s administration and in the session of 1802 collaborated with the ‘new opposition’. In this he was encouraged by his brother-in-law Dent. French Laurence* wrote, 24 Feb.:

Col. Gascoyne will attempt something incidentally availing himself of the opportunity of the American countervailing duty bill next Friday. He intends to introduce much of the general commercial question, and if called to order give notice of a specific motion. He is to be with me tomorrow.

And on 2 Mar.:

On Thursday I have promised General Gascoyne to support him on the commercial part of the question, for which we have concerted a scheme of opposition to the American trade bill so as to admit something of a wide discussion.

On 5 Mar. accordingly, Gascoyne, inspired (he said) by suggestions from West India merchants, made a lengthy protest against the suspension of countervailing duties under the Anglo-American treaty; and, apropos of the Anglo-French peace treaty, informed Laurence on 16 Mar. that he was ‘satisfied from the great change which has lately taken place in public opinion, that we shall have a strong division against the treaty’. On 31 Mar. he was in the minority for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s duchy of Cornwall revenues. In a defence of the slave trade, which had it not existed he claimed he would have been ready to invent, he stressed its commercial importance, 2 Apr. He approved the Bank restriction, 9 Apr., but resumed opposition on the convoy duty bill. He wished to include Ireland in it, 14 Apr., and called for further protection for the merchant marine, 27 Apr. Next day he withdrew his opposition on learning that the bill was extended to Ireland. Meanwhile he was involved with Windham and Laurence in a concerted attack on commercial policy, in support of which he brought in five motions on 11 May; only the two least important were assented to. He favoured a censure of the Treaty of Amiens and acted as teller for it, 13 May. On 24 May he joined Windham in defence of bull-baiting as a pastime of the ‘lower orders’ and secured the defeat of the bill to abolish it by 64 votes to 51. He also thwarted Wilberforce’s proceedings against the slave trade, 3 June. He was a stickler for the equalization of commercial duties between England and Ireland.3

Gascoyne headed the poll at Liverpool in 1802. His friends were alarmed at the appearance of Joseph Birch* as a supporter of Addington’s peace treaty, because Gascoyne was ‘a Grenvillite ... and holds the patronage of Liverpool, it may be presumed on sufferance only’, and accordingly gave subsidiary support to Tarleton to keep Birch out. The Times announced, 3 Aug. 1802:

General Gascoyne, the constitutional Member for Liverpool, has been returned to Parliament more flattered by his constituents than any gentleman we know of; his election did not cost him one shilling, and he has received numerous proofs of attachment from all parties.


The epithets ‘squinting Isaac’ and ‘hopper-arsed Isaac’, applied to him by squib writers at Liverpool, were coined more in sorrow than in anger? On 24 Nov. he contradicted Addington’s picture of commercial prosperity, with particular reference to the West Indian trade; but failed on 1 Dec. to make any headway against the tonnage duty, which his constituents opposed because it would lead to foreign encroachment on the carrying trade. He presented their petition to this effect on 3 Dec. and another from Scotland on 10 Feb. 1803. He was absent when the House divided on the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 4 Mar., but it was assumed that, if present, he would have joined the minority with Dent. He objected to subsidizing the Sierra Leone Company when no relief was offered to West India merchants, 7 Apr., but made no headway against the tonnage duty, which he also wished to see extended to Ireland if it was enforced. To make up for this the House conceded him the opportunity to prove his contention that excise prosecutions were more expensive than the lost revenue for which they were meant to be a remedy, 5 May; and, after giving elaborate notice on 17 May, he was enabled on 20 May to move for papers on the execution of the Treaty of Amiens, but only one motion was agreed to, that on the West Indies. At that time he joined the Canningite dinners to promote Pitt’s return to power. On 3 June he was in the minority for Patten’s censure motion. On 10 June he made a last stand against the tonnage duty in his objection to the customs consolidation bill, but was forced to withdraw his motion to extend it to Ireland and did not divide the House. On 17 June he failed to secure a suspension clause for the additional customs duties bill.4


Gascoyne supported the resumption of hostilities with Buonaparte, but on 6 July deprecated an insular stance, thinking that more attention should be paid to the protection of the colonies and that an invasion of Britain was unlikely. On 10 Aug. he renewed his arguments for an offensive war, ridiculing dilettante volunteer corps and regretting that the Prince of Wales was not offered a command. Henceforward he might have been in a quandary as to how to vote, but allegedly told a friend he had ‘determined to vote according to his conscience, until the event was decided’. On 31 Jan. 1804, however, he wrote to Pitt from Haverfordwest:

My absence from Parliament may possibly be liable to misrepresentation or misconstruction, and imagined by some to proceed from a dereliction of former political sentiments. I confess I am solicitous to have my political conduct clearly and explicitly understood by yourself and my constituents, particularly as to my absence at present from Parliament, although I feel indifferent as to the misconception of my motives which may be entertained by the public in general.

His Majesty soon after the last prorogation was graciously pleased to honour me with the command of the troops in South Wales ... It has been intimated to me recently that it was highly desirable that I should remain at my post, which intimation will unavoidably at present prevent my attendance in the House of Commons.

I feel no change in my former opinion ... nor can I think any administration that may be formed adequate to contend against the dangers and evils that threaten us, unless you Sir preside. Impressed with these unalterable sentiments ... I shall be ready to contribute to the utmost of my power to that object when opportunity may offer.

He nevertheless gave practical advice to Addington’s colleague Yorke for his volunteers bill in February and was consulted on the draft of it. Listed ‘Pitt’ both before and after his return to office, he warmly approved Pitt’s additional force bill, which he preferred to Addington’s expedients, 18 June 1804. On 28 Feb. 1805 he thwarted Wilberforce’s bill to prohibit the importation of slaves into the colonies. His only further speech that session was a dig at St. Vincent in the aftermath of the censure of Melville, 29 Apr. He was to have proposed a public funeral for Pitt, but gave way to Lascelles, in January 1806.5


Gascoyne’s overt opposition to the Grenville ministry was virtually confined to their sponsorship of the abolition of the slave trade. When in the election of 1806, standing singly, he held on to his seat, one of the would-be candidates for Liverpool, Ellis Leckonby Hodgson, remarked that Gascoyne ‘I don’t doubt wishes to be thought the government Member’—with particular reference to patronage. Another Whig observer admitted that though ‘by no means a brilliant man ... nor having had the benefit of a very liberal education’, he was

a model in many respects of what a Member of Parliament ought to be ... active, industrious and persevering, never sparing of his trouble, when [his constituents’] interest required it, and ready upon all occasions to give his personal attention ... and never on any account omitting to answer their applications.6

On 10, 20 and 23 Feb. 1807 he tried in vain to halt the slave trade abolition bill; he admitted, 9 Mar., that he hoped it would be repealed in 1808.


Gascoyne clearly welcomed the eclipse of the Grenville by the Portland ministry. On 24 Mar. 1807 he suggested that the late ministry’s bid to abolish reversions of office was intended to be ‘a restriction on the new arrangement’. His goodwill to government was hampered in some respects by constituency pressure. Thus on 3 Mar. 1808 he was teller for the Liverpool petition against the orders in council, the tenor of which he played down. He further supported their petition on behalf of the sugar planters’ lobby against distillation from grain in May 1808. He repeatedly objected to a call of the House on the Duke of York’s conduct and on 10 Mar. 1809, deprecating the prolixity of debates on it, threatened to move

that the two figures at St. Dunstan’s church should be placed upon the clock, in order that their striking should apprise those gentlemen the number of hours in which they occupied the attention of the House, and also to produce an effect which was generally necessary, in order to rouse a drowsy meeting.

He nevertheless voted for inquiry into allegations of ministerial corruption, 25 Apr. 1809. His conduct was also vacillating on the Scheldt inquiry: he sided with ministers on 23 Jan., 23 Feb. and 5 Mar. 1810, but voted against them on 26 Jan., and on 30 Mar. with them on the first question but against them on the last, ‘strange to say’. All the same, the Whigs listed him ‘Government’. He resisted a bid of George Canning’s through Dent, to enlist his support for his squad, ‘not at all approving of Canning’s conduct’. He voted against the release of the radical Gale Jones, 16 Apr., and against parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810.7 That day he had questioned the representative nature of a reform petition from Liverpool. He also opposed sinecure reform, 17 May 1810, 7 Feb. 1812. On 1 Jan. 1811 he took a month’s sick leave. On 4 Apr. he moved unsuccessfully for inquiry into army pay and allowances, with a compliment to the Duke of York. In the session of 1812 he was at odds with government owing to his constituents’ commercial problems. He supported their aim of breaking into the East India Company trade monopoly in order to compensate for their loss of colonial trade, 6 Feb., 23 Mar. He had disappointed Brougham’s hope that he would second his attack on the orders in council, but he voted against them, ‘notwithstanding Arbuthnot, secretary of the Treasury and others had used their endeavours to make him stay away, if he would not vote against [Brougham]’.8 On 27 Apr. he presented a petition signed by 6,560 constituents’ against the orders, though he expressed doubts as to the respectability of some of the signatories, 13 May. It was he who first recognized Perceval’s assassin Bellingham, who had pestered him about his grievances. On 5 June his bid to accelerate an announcement of the formation of a new government fell flat. He voted against Catholic relief, 22 June.

Gascoyne had lost ground at Liverpool, as his struggle to retain his seat in 1812 illustrated. In March he had warned the government that his colleague Tarleton stood no chance of re-election and would probably be replaced by Canning; he therefore wished for a ‘coadjutor’ at once to hold Canning at bay. Robert Ward, his confidant, asked him ‘why he did not mention this himself to ministers. He said he had intended to do it, but they always seemed so occupied in the House, he could never get near them; that he wanted nothing of them, and he did not wish to call upon them lest it might look as if he did.’ His warning was not heeded and in the event it was Canning who rescued him from defeat at the hands of the Whigs. Canning, in return, seems to have expected Gascoyne to act with him, but, as usual, he preferred to give a general support to government and may have pledged his leading supporters that he would do so.9 He was listed a Treasury supporter after his election, though one with a cross against his name, the significance of which is uncertain. Like Canning he voted against the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb. 1813, but his hostility to Catholic relief remained—he voted against it on 2 Mar. and 24 May 1813 and paired against in 1817.

Gascoyne stated his constituents’ case for ending the East India Company trade monopoly in the debates of May and June 1813, but conceded the continuation of it on the understanding that its days would now be numbered. In passing, 3 June, he claimed that the natives of India were far worse off than the slaves, whose welfare had provoked so much solicitation in the House. He also voiced his constituents’ opposition to any alteration in the Corn Laws, 1814-15. He did so successfully on 6 June 1814. On 22 and 27 Feb. 1815 he was an advocate of a 72s. threshold for the admission of foreign corn, but on 6 Mar. suggested 74s., instead of the 80s. proposed. On 10 Mar. he presented a petition of 48,000 constituents’ against the alteration. On 9 Feb. he had stated his constituents’ opposition to the renewal of the property tax, but on 20 Apr. he swallowed the tax in view of the resumption of hostilities; he wished it to be modified, however, and voted for the reception of the London petition for retrenchment, 1 May. He voted with ministers on the Regent’s extraordinary expenditure, 31 May, but against them on the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment, 28, 29 June, 3 July. On 26 Feb. 1816, presenting his constituents’ petition against the retention of the property tax, he said he should oppose it as long as he had a seat in the House; he did so in the division of 18 Mar. He said he would vote against the leather tax, 9 May, though his name is not in the division list, and he paired against the public revenue bill, 17 June. (The allegation that he voted with ministers on 20 June was contradicted.)10

The welfare in peacetime of his fellow army officers was to Gascoyne an object of concern. On 11 July 1814 he tried to increase their allowances and on 13 July to increase subalterns’ half-pay. In November he urged the claims of veteran half-pay officers. On 1 May 1815 he tried to secure exemption from the property tax for officers on foreign service and on 2 June, abandoning his ambition for the half-pay officers, raised the question of widows’ pensions. It was at his suggestion that the allowance in lieu of exemption from wine duty was increased from £5 to £25 per company. He advocated public honours for two military heroes, Sir Edward Pakenham and Sir Thomas Picton*. On 4 Mar. 1816 he defended the Military Club against charges of political motivation. The Duke of York’s command he declared to be a safeguard against ‘influence in that House, arising from the patronage of the army’, 5 Apr. 1816, on which occasion he announced that the army estimates had been too much reduced.

Gascoyne voted with ministers on the composition of the finance committee, 7 Feb. 1817, and against the reduction of the Admiralty board, 25 Feb., but against them on the salt duties. He was in their majority for the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June, but demurred on 26 June as to its duration, preferring 1 Dec. as its limit. He opposed the charges against the Scottish law officers, 10 Feb. 1818. He supported the repeal of the leather tax, 12 Mar., and on 15 Apr. opposed ministers on the ducal marriage grant, though on their dinner lists.11 He also voted to refer the public purchase of Dr Burney’s library to the committee of supply, 24 Apr. He was encouraged by his constituents’ complaints to support inquiry into prevention of bank-note forgery, 14 May.

On his re-election in 1818 Gascoyne addressed his constituents’ as follows:

I was supposed not to have the entire confidence of some of the opulent merchants [of Liverpool] ... It was even suggested, that I ought not to have presented myself; but conscious that I had so discharged my duty, that not even my opponents could bring forward a charge against me that would give me a moment’s pain; that during a representation of twenty-one years, I had never asked a personal favour, and never received one, and that I could, at all times, enter the House of Commons with a feeling of independence, which was my firmest support: animated by this consciousness, I again came forward ... I am aware, that reports were in circulation of a projected compromise, in which I was to be the sacrifice ... Your extraordinary kindness and exertions soon suppressed the very idea.12

His role in the ensuing Parliament was minimal. Three minor speeches are reported. He voted with ministers against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819, but against them on the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June. He retained his seat until 1831. Gascoyne died 26 Aug. 1841.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: M. H. Port


  • 1. DNB has 1770.
  • 2. SRO GD51/1/200/15; The Late Elections (1818), 183.
  • 3. Fitzwilliam mss, box 60, Laurence to Fitzwilliam, 12, 24 Feb., 2, 17 Mar., 27 Apr. 1802.
  • 4. Creevey mss, Currie to Creevey, 9 July 1802, Creevey to Currie, 11 Mar.; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 20, 21 May 1803.
  • 5. Hist. of the Election ... for ... Liverpool (1806), 88; PRO 30/8/138, ff. 173-4; Add. 38240, ff. 176, 200; Colchester, ii. 29.
  • 6. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. E210, Hodgson to Fitzwilliam, 27 Oct. 1806; Ignotus, Letter to Earl of Sefton (1806), 15.
  • 7. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 31 Mar. 1810, 18 Jan. [1811]; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 338; The Times, 24 May 1810.
  • 8. Brougham mss, Brougham to Thornely, 10 Feb., Tues. [1812].
  • 9. Phipps, i. 466-8; see LIVERPOOL; Add. 38251, f. 60; 48220, f. 102.
  • 10. Morning Chron. 22 June 1816.
  • 11. Add. 38366, f. 135.
  • 12. The Late Elections (1818), 184.