NEWMAN, Robert William (1776-1848), of Sandridge, nr. Dartmouth, Devon.

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



28 Dec. 1812 - 1818
1818 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 18 Aug. 1776 at Oporto, 1st s. of Thomas Newman, merchant, of Oporto, later of Bath, Som. by Sarah, da. of John Page, merchant, of Oporto and London. m. 21 Sept. 1813, Mary Jane, da. of Richard Denne of Meriteau House, Winchelsea, Suss., 4s. 5da. suc. fa. 1802; uncle Lydston Newman of Belmont, Devon 1829; cr. Bt. 17 Mar. 1836.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Devon 1827-8.


The Newmans, prominent in Dartmouth life since about 1400, were pioneers of the Newfoundland-Portugal trade. By 1800 their business activities were extensive, embracing trade in fish from Newfoundland to Portugal and wine from Portugal to England, a shipping line and a fleet of licensed privateers based on Dartmouth. As well as land and fish factories in Newfoundland, they had warehouses and premises in Vianna do Castello and Oporto, where this Member’s father married and he himself was born. They later handled most of the supplies for Wellington’s army in the Peninsula.1

Newman’s father, the only one of six brothers to leave issue, retired to Bath after his return from Portugal and left Newman an equal share with three siblings in three quarters of his estate.2 Between 1805 and 1808 he was listed as a merchant with premises at 6 Pope’s Head Alley, Cornhill, London, an address shared by Messrs. Hunt and Newman, the Hunt in question being a future brother-in-law. His name then disappears from the London directories, but in 1811 Newman, Hunt and Lyon were listed as wine merchants at 12 Broad Street. By 1813 the firm was styled Newman, Hunt & Co.; from about 1821 to about 1839 it was known as Newman, Hunt, Christophers & Co., and thereafter it reverted to Newman, Hunt & Co. still based in Broad Street. Later in the century it merged with Hunt, Roope, Teage & Co., Oporto merchants, of Philpot Lane. The most active of the Newmans in this period was Lydston Newman, the longest lived of this Member’s paternal uncles. He prospered handsomely, bought an estate at Coryton near Tavistock in 1809, and by 1814 was handing over much of his work, which included supervision of his manganese mines, to Robert William. The latter owned little land in Devon before the 1820s, for Sandridge was leased, but he later bought property at Mamhead, eight miles from Exeter. On the death of his uncle in 1829 he inherited real estate in the vicinity of Dartmouth and a half-share with his brother Thomas in the Coryton estate, property in Dartmouth itself and Newfoundland plantations and fish factories, as well as 7/11ths of Lydston’s personal estate.3

Lord Mount Edgcumbe had evidently offered to find a seat for his ‘friend’ Newman in 1812 and was willing to return Lord Desart for Bossiney if ministers could accommodate Newman elsewhere. Hopes of Kilkenny or Cashel came to nothing and the project collapsed, but shortly after the general election Newman came in on a vacancy for Bletchingley on the Kenrick interest.4 Ministers calculated on receiving his support and may have done so until the end of the war, but if his votes of 24 May 1813, 21 May 1816 and 9 May 1817 against Catholic relief are excluded (he voted to consider relief on Parnell’s motion, 30 May 1815), his name does not appear on the ministerial side in any of the surviving division lists of this period. From 1816 his voting record was that of a Whig, though he always insisted that he was independent of party, did not sign the requisition to Tierney in 1818 and did not join Brooks’s until 1825.

Before 1816 his only recorded votes, apart from the two on the Catholic question, were for the reduction of the paymasters’ salaries, 8 Mar. 1813, against the expulsion of Lord Cochrane, 5 July 1814, and for inquiry into the civil list, 14 Apr. and 8 May 1815. He took no part in the opposition to the renewal of war or the peace terms, but in his first known speech, 10 Apr. 1815, he supported inquiry into the ‘profuse expenditure’ of the commissariat, and from February 1816 he voted regularly against government in favour of economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation.

On 5 Mar. 1816 he presented a Dartmouth petition against the property tax (which he opposed later in the month) and also endorsed its calls for abolition of sinecures and for parliamentary reform. In December 1816, having earlier offered himself as a candidate for Exeter at the next general election and been joined in the field by a radical reformer, he publicly declared his support for any measure that would ‘tend to ameliorate the representation, and to relieve the burthens of public expenditure, without violating the principles of the constitution’. He was, he insisted, ‘wholly unattached to any party’.5 He voted for Burdett’s parliamentary reform motion, 20 May 1817, but not for that of 1 July 1819. Newman spoke against the army estimates, 8 Mar., and the fortifications at Plymouth, 8 Apr. 1816, attacked the Bank loan bill, 29 Mar. 1816, and was a regular voter against Bank restriction. On 22 May 1816 he condemned tithes as a curb on progressive agriculture and a source of odium for the Church and moved for an inquiry into the feasibility of allowing the substitution of cash payments ‘at certain periods’, but had to accept a ministerial amendment limiting the investigation to the possibility of leasing tithes. In 1817 he brought in a tithes leasing bill which passed the Commons, in amended form, 24 June, but foundered in the Lords. He voted against the suspension of habeas corpus, 26, 28 Feb. and 23 June, and the secret inquiry into combinations, 5 June 1817, but not against the domestic spy system, 11 Feb. and 5 Mar., though he opposed the indemnity bill, 9 and 10 Mar. 1818.

At the general election of 1818 he stood for Exeter and came a comfortable second in the poll, although the corporation as a body was not well-disposed towards him. He continued to vote regularly with opposition in 1819 and divided with them in support of Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May. He spoke against the coal duties, 20 Feb., denied rumours that he had changed his mind on the Catholic question, 3 May, and voted for inquiry into Scottish burgh reform, 6 May. In the emergency session of 1819, he voted against government on the address, 24 Nov., and the state of the nation, 30 Nov., but his only recorded votes against the subsequent repressive legislation were on the seditious meetings bill, 2 and 6 Dec., and the sureties clause of the newspaper stamp duties bill, 20 Dec. He died 24 Jan. 1848.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. P. Russell, Dartmouth, 85, 126; T. Newman, Coryton, 57-59.
  • 2. PCC 458 Marriott.
  • 3. Newman, 63-73, 101; Lysons, Magna Britannia (1822), vi. 460; W. G. Hoskins, Devon, 431; PCC 369 Liverpool.
  • 4. Add. 40181, ff. 11, 19; 40216, f. 25; 40280, f. 70.
  • 5. R. Cullum, Exeter and Devon Addresses (1818), 29-30.