GORDON, Robert (1786-1864), of Leweston House, nr. Sherborne, Dorset and Ashton Keynes, nr. Cricklade, Wilts.
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Family and Education
b. 1786, o.s. of William Gordon, W.I. planter, of Auchendolly, Kirkcudbright by Anna, da. of Stephen Nash of Bristol, Glos., sis. and h. of Sir Stephen Nash of Leweston House. educ. Eton 1799-1803; L. Inn 1803. Christ Church, Oxf. 1804. m. 11 July 1809, his cos. Elizabeth Anne, da. of Charles Westley Coxe† of Kemble House, Glos., 1da. suc. fa. 1802.
Cornet, Dorset yeomanry 1805, lt. 1808; capt. Wilts. yeomanry 1816.
Commr. Board of Control July 1832-Dec. 1833; jt. sec. Dec. 1833-Dec. 1834, Apr. 1835-Sept. 1839, sec. to Treasury Sept. 1839-June 1841.
Commr. in lunacy Aug. 1844-d.
Gordon’s grandfather Robert, a younger son of the house of Auchendolly who ultimately succeeded to that estate, was a Bristol merchant with West Indian property; his father William left him these estates and from his mother he acquired a Dorset and Wiltshire estate. The latter included ‘a large property’ in the hundred of Cricklade and in December 1811 when Thomas Goddard, one of the sitting Members, announced his retirement at the next election, he backed Gordon to succeed him. Gordon was thought ‘very eligible’ by his friend Lord Bolingbroke, who recommended him to Lord Holland, but he faced a contest and his declaration was in effect too late. He withdrew his candidature, 17 Oct. 1812, for the present.1 Tierney had informed Lady Holland on 5 Oct., ‘My friend Gordon comes in for Wareham’.2 He purchased the seat from John Calcraft*, who was being pressed to return Whigs, but seems to have made no stipulation as to politics.
Although, as Lord Thanet put it, ‘the name of Gordon is an odd one for a Whig’ and Gordon himself was ‘a curious looking fellow’, he proved a staunch supporter of opposition, if not a ‘violent reformist’, joining in due course the group of young Whigs whose mentor was Henry Brougham.3 He joined Brooks’s Club with Lord Holland as sponsor, 5 Feb. 1813. At Westminster he was a not infrequent speaker. His favourite theme was retrenchment (whence his later sobriquet, ‘the Dorsetshire Joseph Hume’). It was the subject of his maiden speech in opposition to the vice-chancellor bill, 15 Feb. 1813: he saw no reason why the lord chancellor should not pay the salary of his new deputy. On 29 Mar. he voted for the sinecure reform bill. He was a constant, if silent, supporter of Catholic relief.
Other subjects on which he had strong views were the desirability of civil legislation for the people of India, as opposed to government by the East India Company, 22 Mar., 28 June 1813; taxes on manufactures, 31 Mar. 1813, of which he disapproved; the reform of county elections, 16 May 1814; the fees system in the law courts, 28 June; the treatment of subalterns in the army, 13 July; continued subsidies to allies, 18 Nov., and, above all, the new Post Office, which he regarded as an expensive nuisance, 16 Feb. 1815. He opposed its construction at every stage, and finally announced triumphantly, 7 May 1819, that it had already cost £238,000 and would cost another £158,000 to complete.
Gordon was a prominent opposition critic of the high peacetime establishment, who opposed the property tax absolutely, 21 Apr. 1815, 27 Feb., 1 Mar. 1816. He voted against the resumption of war with Buonaparte, 28 Apr. 1815. He opposed an additional grant to the Duke of Cumberland on his marriage, 29 June. He opposed Wilberforce’s slave importation bill, 5 July 1815, as being ‘not fairly introduced’, but later supported the anti-slave trade treaty with Spain, 9 Feb. 1818, and an inquiry into the treatment of slaves in the West Indies; ‘he thought the domination of the whites would be best maintained by kindness to the slaves’, 20 May 1818.
In the debate on Lord Elgin’s acquisitions, Gordon said ‘the present distressed situation of the country did not call upon Parliament to make a purchase of a set of marbles’, 23 Feb. 1816. He objected to the number of troops stationed in Jamaica and to the annexation of the Ionian isles, 13 Mar.; he demanded cuts in the navy establishment, 25 Mar. He defended the agricultural distress petitions, 28 Mar., 9 Apr., and an inquiry into child labour in factories, 3 Apr. 1816, 10 Feb. 1818. He regularly voted for the resumption of cash payments by the Bank. He asked for a reduction of the Windsor establishment, 11 Feb. 1817. He voted for parliamentary reform on Burdett’s motion, 20 May, and opposed the civil services compensation bill, 10 June 1817, as it encouraged politicians to stay in office for the sake of pensions. He opposed the curtailment of civil liberties in 1817. The treatment of political prisoners, 17 Feb. 1818, caused him concern. He was an opponent of lotteries.
Since 1816 Gordon had been cultivating Cricklade. Late that year he was a Whig spokesman at the Wiltshire county meeting and in February 1818 he toyed with the idea of offering for the county, but by then his canvass at Cricklade preoccupied him. With the assistance of Lord Folkestone he came second in the contest of 1818, though the ministerialists tried to keep him out.4 He signed the requisition to Tierney to lead the Whig opposition. In that Parliament he remained a critic of excessive expenditure and of the creation of new offices, 8 June 1819. He voted for criminal law reform, 2 Mar. 1819, and for an inquiry into the abuse of charities, 23 June. He spoke in favour of the reform of corrupt boroughs, 7 Apr., and voted in that sense on 1 Apr. and 6 May. He was in the minority against the address, 24 Nov. 1819, but took no further part that session. Gordon died 16 May 1864, ‘aged 78’.5
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Add. 51826, Bolingbroke to Holland, 17 Dec. , Suffolk to same, 28 Mar.; Salisbury Jnl. 26 Oct. 1812.
- 2. Add. 51585.
- 3. Add. 35152, f. 166; 51571, Thanet to Holland, n.d.
- 4. Add. 47235, ff. 4, 5; 51574, Abercromby to Holland, [Nov. 1816]; Berks RO, Pleydell Bouverie mss 028/101, 135, 163.
- 5. Gent. Mag. (1864), i. 814.