GURNEY, Hudson (1775-1864), of Keswick, Norf.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 19 Jan. 1775, 1st s. of Richard Gurney, banker, of Keswick by 1st w. Agatha, da. and h. of David Barclay of Youngsbury, Herts.; half-bro. of Richard Hanbury Gurney*. educ. at Youngsbury by Dr Thomas Young and John Hodgkin. m. 27 Sept. 1809, Margaret, da. of Robert Barclay* of Urie, Kincardine, s.p. suc. fa. 1811.
Sheriff, Norf. 1835-6.
‘I was in early life determined to write a poem, to go abroad and to sit in Parliament’, wrote Gurney in 1813. He reacted against his Quaker upbringing and never became a Friend. He did become a partner in the Yarmouth branch of the family bank in 1797 and of the Norwich bank from 1800 until 1832, but by his own admission had little interest in banking. He travelled in France and Italy with his friend Lord Aberdeen (November 1802-April 1803) and being already a versifier wanted only a seat at Westminster to realize his ambitions.1
In 1796 he had stood proxy for Bartlett Gurney at the Norwich election, but became averse to the hurly-burly of popular elections and would take no part at Norwich in 1802. In 1805 he had thoughts of finding a seat, but it was not until 1812 that he obtained one. He had by then succeeded to his inheritance, including a quarter share in the Barclay Perkins brewery. He was returned with Richard Bateman Robson after a contest at Shaftesbury on the Messiter interest against ministerial nominees, but unseated on petition. His politics were independent, though the Whigs were hopeful of him. He and Lord Aberdeen had styled themselves Jacobins, but it was a youthful pose. Gurney’s maiden speech on 11 Dec. 1812 was on the gold coin bill, an ‘unavoidable necessity’: he voted against the Treasury on the subject. He believed the accumulation of the national debt caused the depreciation of the currency and suggested that the Bank issue token securities. Before losing his seat, he also voted against the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb. 1813. He had got a glimpse of Parliament and thought of coming in again, but was in no hurry. In 1816 he was returned as Sir Fitzwilliam Barrington’s nominee for the borough of Newtown. There was ‘no signed and sealed contract’, but he retained his seat until 1832, when he thought it had cost him £1,200 a year, without the anxiety of contested elections. He seldom if ever visited his constituency.
I really do not think greatly of my own fitness as a representative for a larger place. I should not give satisfaction, and perhaps as a solicitor of their interest should not do those who sent me justice; but buying straight out I should feel I compromised the welfare of no one.2
He delighted in the ‘Noah’s Ark’ of Westminster and vowed never to ‘prate’. He was a diffident speaker in debate. He was much impressed by Canning ‘and all Jacobin as I am, and suppose shall ever be, I suspect that renowned Anti-Jacobin will after all be my snout-ringer. At the same time I shall not lead by the hind leg kindly, but travel the King’s highway in acute angles.’ So he did and ended on the neutral bench.3
Gurney voted with ministers on the finance committee, 7 Feb. 1817, against them on Admiralty salaries on 17 Feb., but with them on the junior lordships of Admiralty, 25 Feb. That day he supported the suspension of habeas corpus (after sniping at Burdett), but objected to the capital punishment clauses: on 10 Mar. he tried in vain to excise them from the seditious meetings bill. He objected to enlistment for life in the army, 13 Mar. 1817, returning to the attack on 6 Mar. 1818 and 15 Mar. 1819. He voted for Catholic relief, 9 May 1817. He condemned the Game Laws, 9 June 1817. He disliked the detention of suspects under the suspension of habeas corpus, and voted steadily against it and against its renewal in June 1817; on 10 Feb. and 5 Mar. 1818, he voted in the same sense. He also joined opposition to the royal dukes’ marriage grants, 13 and 15 Apr., though he deprecated invidious distinctions between them, 16 Apr., when he was obliged to borrow a seat under the opposition gallery to express his distaste for party warfare on the subject.4 His most ambitious speech, 18 May 1818, was in favour of the Bank restriction bill: he deprecated resumption of cash payments for a year, during which he advised government to adjust the coinage to the value of the pound contemplated and abridge its floating debt. He was a member of the select committee to review the Copyright Acts and endorsed their resolutions, 5 June 1818.
On 2 Feb. 1819 Gurney voted against Tierney’s motion for a committee on the Bank and the currency, but he did not like Vansittart’s proposals either and on a second division was ready to oppose them. He noted wryly that his half-brother Richard, a new Member committed to the Whigs, was on the other side. He regretted the timing of the cash payments bill, 5 Apr., and on 25 May spoke ‘across everybody’ on the question, for which he was, so he complained, ill-reported. He had concluded by supporting Ellice’s amendment in favour of an adjustment of Mint prices. He voted for criminal law reform, 2 Mar. 1819, and for Catholic relief, 3 May. He was in the government majority against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May. He voted for the repeal of the coal duties, 20 May, and against the foreign enlistment bill, 3, 10 June. He voted for Brougham’s motion to inquire into the abuse of charities, 23 June 1819, though he had voted against him on 3 June the year before. He voted against the extension of the franchise at Penryn, 22 June, explaining on I July when he opposed Burdett’s motion for reform, that he believed the ‘large unrepresented towns’ should be given Members, and adding on 7 July that this might be done by disfranchising Cornish boroughs like Camelford. In August he admitted to being politically uncommitted: ‘Government may have a tendency sometimes to be most wrong in principle but opposition assuredly to be oftenest wrong in fact’. He missed the last session of that Parliament, being on a continental tour.5
He died 9 Nov. 1864. In his own view he ‘did nothing, but thought much’.6
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Norf. RO, Gurney mss RQG 569-92, Gurney to Mrs Agatha Hanbury, 14 Feb. 1813; W. H. Bidwell, Annals of an East Anglian Bank, 14, 45, 55, 75, 144.
- 2. Gurney mss 334, Aberdeen to Gurney, Mon. 14 [June 1802], 5 Oct. 1805, Gurney to Mrs Hanbury, 14 Feb. 1813, 8 July 1816; Bidwell, 145.
- 3. Gurney mss, Gurney to Mrs Hanbury, 20 June 1816; ibid. 401, Gurney to his sister Anna, 14 Jan. 1819.
- 4. Ibid. same to same, 18 Apr. 1818.
- 5. Ibid. same to same, 2, 3 Feb., 27 May 2 Aug.; ibid. 334, Aberdeen to Gurney, 13 Oct. 1819.
- 6. Bidwell, 199.