GEARY, Sir William, 2nd Bt. (1756-1825), of Polesden, Surr. and Oxenhoath, Kent.
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Family and Education
bap. 23 Sept. 1756, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Adm. Sir Francis Geary, 1st Bt., of Polesden by Mary, da. and coh. of Adm. Philip Bartholomew of Oxenhoath. educ. Cheam sch.; Magdalen, Oxf. 1773-6. m. 15 Jan. 1810, Henrietta, da. and coh. of Richard Nevill* of Furnace, co. Kildare, wid. of Edward Dering, 2s. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 7 Feb. 1796.
Member, board of agriculture 1793; capt. Kent yeomanry 1794-5, Coxheath (E. Kent) yeomanry 1797, maj. 1799.
Dir. Greenwich Hosp. 1802-d.
Geary became a man of Kent through his mother. His father was an unsuccessful ministerial candidate at Rochester in 1768. Geary too was defeated at his first attempt, at Maidstone in 1784. Soon after inheriting, he offered for the county encouraged by Lord Romney, who noted that his affairs were in a ‘very flourishing way’. Because he had resigned his yeomanry troop in 1795 out of opposition to Pitt’s legislation against sedition, he had been ‘represented as hostile to administration’, but this he was at pains to deny, claiming to support the war against revolutionary France. Moreover, he owed his return to a clandestine understanding with the ministerial Member Knatchbull, which ousted the Whig Member Filmer Honywood. He bore the brunt of expenses, amounting, it was said, to nearly £20,000 and paid for his success by selling his Surrey property to Richard Brinsley Sheridan* for £12,384.1
In the House Geary took an independent line. He first spoke on the unsuccessful petition against his return, 28 Nov. 1796. He approved the militia augmentations, 13 Dec., but joined opposition on the stoppage of payments by the Bank, 1 and 9 Mar. 1797; and although he opposed a county address against ministers on 19 Apr., called on Fox to delay a censure on the naval mutiny, 10 May, and opposed Grey’s reform motion, 26 May, he admitted that he was a reformer, in favour of election by ballot and of a reduction of expenses by the creation of convenient, one-Member constituencies. He suggested that the franchise be extended to all ratepayers of £10 or £20 p.a. He was a critic of the Whig secession. On 7 Nov. 1797 he supported Tierney’s motion against the expense of the third secretaryship of state. He supported Pitt’s triple tax assessment, 4 Jan. 1798, despite his wish for relief from the farm horse tax for small farmers (28 Dec. 1797). He thought that volunteers for home defence should be encouraged by limiting the time and territory of their services, 30 Mar. 1798. He opposed the land tax redemption bill on principle, 4 Apr. Conceding that it was an emergency measure, he still voted against it on 18 May. On 19 Dec. he objected to the tacking on of extra clauses to the income tax bill after its third reading but, assured by the Speaker that this was in order, had to confine his objection to one of them. He favoured union with Ireland, 14 Feb. 1799. He joined opposition in favour of a call of the House, 22 Jan. 1800, for inquiry into the failure of the Helder expedition, 10 Feb., and on the effects of the Act of Union on parliamentary representation, 25 Apr. For the remainder of that Parliament local questions preoccupied him in debate. As representative for west Kent he campaigned for a better county gaol at Maidstone against opposition from the western division of the county, which thwarted him in 1800 but gave in a year later. He voted with the minorities for inquiry into the Ferrol expedition, 19 Feb. 1801, for Grey’s censure motion, 25 Mar., and for Tierney’s motion, 22 Apr. Like his colleague he was placed on the East India judicature committee, 9 Dec. 1801.
Geary owed his re-election in 1802, when he and Knatchbull received the blessing of the Addington ministry, to a push against Knatchbull by Filmer Honywood’s friends. Little credit was given to his denial that he had solicited it. He was aided by subscription and paid less than his share of Honywood’s bills. His tendency to opposition increased.2 On 4 Mar. 1803 he was seconder of and teller for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s financial claims. He gave a reluctant support to the Nottingham election bill, 29 Apr., but voted against it on 3 May. He supported Creevey’s motion against the war in Ceylon, 14 Mar. 1804. He was a champion of the Marine Society fishery bill, 27 Mar. He spoke up for the volunteers on several occasions and voted for Fox’s defence motion, 23 Apr. 1804. On Pitt’s return to power he was listed ‘doubtful, etc.’. He opposed the immediate abolition of the slave trade as likely to benefit other nations, 30 May 1804. After speaking and voting against Pitt’s additional force bill in June, he was listed ‘doubtful Addington’ in September; but after steady hostility to Pitt on all major divisions in 1805 he was listed ‘Opposition’ in July. He voted for the Grenville ministry’s repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, having on 22 Apr. seconded James Paull’s first charge against the Marquess Wellesley’s conduct in India, not because he believed it but because of its gravity, which challenged investigation. He disliked the property duty bill because it was hard on poor and numerous families, 15 May, and the tax on private brewers because it would introduce excisemen into private houses, 19 May. The Whigs were content to see him defeated at the poll in 1806, sure that he would have been decidedly hostile to them. He had spent £24,000 on his elections and a subscription proved of little help. He gave up after two days, ceding the second place to Knatchbull.3 In 1807 he was defeated at Maidstone.
Geary was returned for Kent faute de mieux in 1812 when, on the resignation of their Member William Honywood, the Whigs could not produce a candidate. He had meanwhile refurbished his reputation as a reformer by taking the lead in promoting a county reform meeting in October 1810 and by publishing his ideas on the subject in the Maidstone Journal in a letter of 4 Dec. In 1811 he was courted by but did not join the Friends of Constitutional Reform, but in 1812 became a founder member of the Hampden Club for reform. Lord Thanet quoted him as styling himself ‘a reforming Tory’.4 He was not on the Treasury list of supporters after his re-election. He opposed Catholic relief on 2 Mar. and 24 May 1813, speaking that session only on the Kent gaol bill in opposition to his colleague Knatchbull. He voted with the majority for the sinecure regulation bill, 29 Mar. 1813. On 20 Feb. 1815 he opposed fresh taxation in peacetime and he voted against the transfer of Genoa, 21 Feb., and in favour of the disembodying of the militia, 28 Feb. He was in the minority against the civil list, 8 May. On 6 and 18 Mar. 1816 he presented and concurred with petitions from Chatham and from the county against the renewal of the property tax, pairing against it. He also opposed the leather tax, 9 May. He was in the minority against the address, 29 Jan. 1817, when he deprecated alarm about reform petitions. He voted for Admiralty retrenchment, 25 Feb. On 11 Mar. he presented and defended the Kent petition for reform and next day supported the reception of printed reform petitions. No further word or vote of his is known before the dissolution. His neglect was criticized at the ensuing election; he said that he had been ill and unable to afford a London life and promised to make up for it; he also reverted to his plan for reform, but his critics pointed out that they were tired of his lip-service to it. The fact was that he could not afford the hopeless contest in which he was involved against straightforward ministerial and opposition candidates and kept the poll open only in hope of a subscription to aid him.5 It was his last fling. He died 6 Aug. 1825.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Camden mss C124/1; Kentish Chron. 22 Apr.; Morning Chron. 26 May; True Briton , 15 June 1796; Sheridan Letters ed. Price, ii. 43.
- 2. The Times , 19, 20, 28 July 1802.
- 3. Kentish Chron. 3, 7 Nov. 1806; Add. 51571, Thanet to Holland, 26 Jan. 1807.
- 4. Grey mss, Thanet to Grey, 23 Oct. 1810; Whitbread mss W1/1957.
- 5. Kentish Chron. 23, 30 June 1818; The Late Elections (1818), 155, 161.