HILL, Sir Richard, 2nd Bt. (1733-1808), of Hawkstone, Salop.
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Family and Education
b. 6 June 1733, 1st s. of Sir Rowland Hill†, 1st Bt., of Hawkstone, and bro. of John Hill*. educ. Shrewsbury 1743; Westminster 1744-8; Magdalen, Oxf. 1750-4; Grand Tour 1755-7. unm. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 7 Aug. 1783.
Capt. Salop yeoman cav. 1803.
Described by his biographer as ‘a model of a Christian gentleman and an upright senator’,1 Hill continued to represent his county unopposed until his retirement. He then stated that he had always supported government as far as he thought government measures were for the good of the nation, though insisting from the outset on his perfect independence.2 He was described as ‘the scriptural Killigrew’, since ‘he pressed the Bible constantly into his service while speaking on political subjects— not always with the gravity that such a book seemed to demand’. According to the Rolliad,
His lively genius finds in holy writ
A richer mine of unsuspected wit.
Wilberforce, whose steady admirer he was, said in 1813 that, after himself, Hill was the first ‘member of the House that was publicly considered to be a religious man’, and added that he ‘was certainly possessed of strong feelings of religion, but had singularities which weakened his character’. These singularities were supported by Hill’s view that ‘religion was falsely accused of generating moroseness and gloom’, which often led him to be facetious in a determined effort to put everyone in a good humour, with varying success: Lord Kenyon did not know ‘within the circle of human nature a better man than Sir Richard Hill’ and his hospitality at Hawkstone was proverbial. In 1790 the clerical critics of his support for civil liberty for dissenters were disarmed when he entertained his kinsman Archbishop Moore there;3 he was listed ‘doubtful’ on the question of Test Act repeal in 1791.
Hill had from the outset been an effusive admirer of Pitt, though his family pride had been wounded by Pitt’s bestowal of a peerage on his cousin Noel Hill, of the cadet branch of Attingham. He was particularly hostile to Fox (whom he had in 1783 lampooned as ‘Great Carlo Khan’) during the Regency crisis.4 He took no part in the early sessions of the Parliament of 1790, being on tour in Italy. On 18 Feb. 1793 he spoke in support of the war against France as ‘inevitable’, adding that he would not support an unnecessary war, but on 1 Nov. 1794 he wrote to Pitt:
Your persevering silence speaks more forcibly than a thousand answers and you may rest assured I shall not trespass upon you by a personal intrusion for a single moment, though had I been permitted to have had the honour of a short interview I have no doubt I should have explained myself in such a way, as would perfectly have justified me and satisfied you as to any expressions I may have made use of in my letters. But I suppose it is best as it is; therefore only say, may a gracious Providence ever bless and protect you, my still dear Sir! These are indeed awful times and I am persuaded far more awful are at hand, unless an immediate end be put to the war.5
On 30 Dec. 1794 Hill was one of four county Members who supported Wilberforce’s amendment for peace: overcome by tears, he admitted that he had supported the war at the outset, but had been tempted to support Fox’s peace motion last session. Now he thought the war would ruin the country and advocated withdrawal and reliance on England’s ‘wooden walls’ for self-defence. He publicly denied that he regretted his action, explaining with reference to Pitt, ‘I have almost uniformly voted with him on every great national question for more than ten years past, and I hope to do so again: but I never resigned to him my right of private judgment’.6 A week later he supported the naval supplies; but on 26 Jan. 1795 he voted for Grey’s peace motion, on 5 Feb. against the imperial loan and next day again for Grey’s peace motion: on 27 May he further voted for Wilberforce’s peace motion. He had taken legal action against a pamphleteer named Woolley who attacked him in A cure for canting (1794) and was a steady advocate of Sabbath observance in the House. He also supported Poor Law amendment and the abolition of the slave trade, 18 Feb. 1796. He was in the minority to proceed with the bill enforcing public sale of corn, 11 May 1796. He wrote two pamphlets in defence of his brother John’s candidature at Shrewsbury in 1796, when there was open war between the Hawkstone and Attingham branches of the family. In the first, Hard measure, he denied that he had ever engaged his brother’s seat to his kinsman of Attingham, William Hill, who had accused him of seeking to monopolize the representation of county and county town. In the second, A Christmas box, he sought to heal the division after an expensive contest.7
Hill spoke in favour of the cavalry bill, since it was defensive, 2 Nov. 1796. He supported Grey’s motion for parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797, on which occasion he explained that ‘he had now rather hear the speeches of others than make any of his own’. He went on to advocate a coalition of talents in government, rather than that the country should be ‘between the millstones, ground to powder’ and characteristically suggested that every man should reform himself, as a prerequisite. He had been a member of the ‘armed neutrality’ advocating a new administration in March 1797. He nevertheless made a voluntary contribution of £1,200 in 1797. Privately he deplored the duel between Pitt and Tierney in May 1798, as Pitt was guided by ‘false profligate notions of honour’ in engaging in it: ‘it was a shocking aggravation of the crime that it was committed on the Lord’s day and even on Whitsunday. What a method of commemorating the descent of the Holy Ghost!’ On 3 Feb. 1800 he again voted for peace negotiations. At this time he was involved in pamphlet warfare with Charles Daubeny, who had attacked Wilberforce in his Guide to the Church (1798). Hill replied with An apology for brotherly love and for the doctrines of the Church of England, and when Daubeny combated this, with Reformation truth restored and Daubenism confuted and Martin Luther vindicated. Though a Calvinist in theology, who in his early days had consorted with Methodists, he remained an Anglican, albeit a keen evangelical and a critic of the hierarchy. In 1803 he defended the evangelical clergy against Bishop Tomline, Pitt’s friend; the orthodox clergy resented his attitudes and his repeated attempts to secure through Pitt the deanery of York or Chester for his brother Robert were not successful.8 On 2 Apr. 1800 he seconded Pulteney’s motion for a bill against bull baiting, reproaching Windham for his defence of it (18 Apr.), and on 24 May attacked the sport with eloquence and wit, arguing that manliness was not degraded by humanity.
Addington was from the start a minister after Hill’s heart and he was his constant supporter and correspondent, though he refused to countenance a suggestion from the Attingham branch of the family that he should take advantage of the situation to solicit a peerage, with remainder to his brother John and his issue, thinking it would make him a laughing stock at his time of life, when he should be ‘expressing his anxiety for no honours but those which are beyond the grave’.9 On 15 May 1801, he wrote to express his satisfaction at the repeal of the salt duty, which made the minister the friend of the poor, and on 23 Dec. ‘fully persuaded that you are placed at the helm to fulfil some great designs of Providence for the national benefit’, he hailed him as ‘the instrument of putting a stop to war and bloodshed’, while achieving by the peace ‘all our grand objects’.
Hill wrote again, 26 Oct. 1802, advising Addington to cling to peace despite Napoleon’s provocations and shun costly continental alliances. On 21 Apr. 1803 he wrote advising Addington to strengthen his administration by an alliance with Fox, their political views being now ‘nearly the same’. Admitting that this letter was not without ‘some foundation’, he did not ask for ‘a single word of answer. You best know how to act, and if you will just shake your head at me when I pass you in the House, it will convey as full a reply as if you were to write a volume’.10 On 25 May he spoke briefly in defence of the ministerial resumption of hostilities, of the necessity for which he was convinced.
In August 1803 Hill informed Addington that he had remonstrated with the editor of a ‘loyal paper in high repute’ for the ‘pernicious tendency’ of some of its contents and assured him that ‘no minister ever stood so unanimously high and respected’ in Shropshire during the many years Hill had represented it than he. On 3 Dec. he wrote apologizing for absence through illness and likened Addington’s critic Windham to the blasphemous Rabshakeh, and Buonaparte to Senacherib.11 When Addington came under heavy attack in April 1804 on the Irish militia bill he sprang to his defence, citing a letter of his nephew Rowland Hill in its favour: the latter, being in Ireland, had communicated his views on Irish affairs for some time and Hill had been in the habit of conveying them to the minister. On the fall of Addington he was at first listed as one of his friends and subsequently as a supporter of Pitt’s second administration. It is doubtful, in view of his declining health, whether he was active at this time, though he appeared in the list of July 1805 as a doubtful Sidmouthite and left Sidmouth an onyx ring in his will. Hill retired at the dissolution in 1806, without obtaining an assurance of support either for himself or his nephew Col. John Hill on the occurrence of any future vacancy.12
He died 28 Nov. 1808. Wraxall described him as
one of the most upright, disinterested and honest men who ever sat in Parliament ... His manners were quaint and puritanical; his address shy and embarrassed ... but in the simplicity, singularity and eccentricity of his character, as well as deportment, he always reminded me of Addison’s Sir Roger de Coverley.13
With an annual income of over £15,000, of which he spent over £10,000, Hill derived nearly £4,000 p.a. from money out at interest. In his will he left legacies worth £30,000 and annuities worth £2,240.14 According to his memorial at Hodnet, ‘the character he most delighted in, was that of a sinner freely saved by Sovereign grace’.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Rev. Edwin Sidney, Life of Sir Richard Hill (1839). For a recent assessment, J. R. M’Quiston, ‘Sir Richard Hill: Shropshire Evangelist’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. lviii. 167-77.
- 2. Hill’s farewell address, 23 Oct. 1806.
- 3. Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, i. 106; Farington, vii. 190; Life of Wilberforce (1838), i. 244; Parl. Portraits (1795), i. 40; Heber Letters, 57; Add. 34461, f. 40; M’Quiston, loc. cit.
- 4. Life of Wilberforce . i. 201.
- 5. PRO 30/8/145, f. 34.
- 6. Senator, xi. 77; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1180; Sidney, 430.
- 7. See SHREWSBURY.
- 8. Salop RO, Rev J. C. Hill mss 549/58, ‘Thoughts on the duel’, 31 May 1798; PRO 30/8/145, ff. 36-39, 45-50.
- 9. Rev J. C. Hill mss 549/60, M.B. to Sir R. Hill, 23 Nov., copy of reply 26 Nov. 1801.
- 10. Sidmouth mss.
- 11. Ibid.
- 12. Bradford mss, Hill to Bradford, 27 Oct., Eyton to same, 9 Nov. 1806.
- 13. Wraxall Mems. i. 106.
- 14. Salop RO, Bygott (Hawkstone) mss 731/260.