SUMNER (afterwards HOLME SUMNER), George (1760-1838), of Hatchlands Park, East Clandon, nr. Guildford, Surr.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 10 Nov. 1760, at Calcutta, 1st s. of William Brightwell Sumner of Hatchlands, member of council, Bengal, by Catherine, da. of John Holme of Holme, Cumb. educ. Harrow 1770-1, by Dr Samuel Parr, Stanmore; Emmanuel, Camb. 1778; L. Inn 1779. m. 17 Nov. 1787, Louisa, da. of Col. Charles Pemble, c.-in-c. at Bombay, 3s. 3da. suc. uncle Thomas Holme 1794 and took additional name of Holme; fa. 1807.
Member, board of agriculture 1793.
Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1797-1807; lt.-col. commdt. 2 Surr. militia 1809, col. 1 regt. 1822.
Dir. British Fire Office 1811, Westminster Life Insurance 1816.
Sumner, a nabob’s heir, had no intention of being left out of Parliament on relinquishing his rickety seat at Ilchester. In April 1789 Sir Gilbert Elliot reported:
My tenant Mr Sumner is to stand for the county of Surrey on Pitt’s interest. It is thought a strong measure to start a young nabob for a county who generally like old families. This Sumner, at a meeting in Surrey lately, asked ‘Who are these Russells? Who has heard of the family of Russells in the county of Surrey?’ He was talking of the Duke of Bedford’s family.1
In the event he withdrew his pretensions to the county and successfully challenged Chapple Norton*, Lord Grantley’s brother at Guildford, a bold step since the Nortons had occupied one seat there since 1768, as well as supplying a Member for the county until the year before. Unlike them, he was committed to Pitt. He was listed hostile to Test Act repeal in 1791. In speeches of 17 and 20 June 1794, he regretted that he could not concur in Pitt’s vote of thanks to the managers of Warren Hastings’s impeachment. As a great admirer of his father’s friend Hastings he had previously acted as teller on his behalf; he reserved his anger for Edmund Burke*, but failed to thwart the motion by 55 votes to 21. He was a government teller on 16 May and 30 Dec. 1794, but was at odds with them over proposals for the Prince of Wales’s establishment in 1795, and on 1 June sought to amend them to prevent their application to the payment of the Prince’s debts. His bid was defeated by 266 votes to 52. On 8 June he expressed a wish that the Prince might not be made liable, as surety, for his brothers’ debts. He opposed the abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar. 1796. He made an unsuccessful attempt to amend the dog tax, 27 Apr. 1796. He was a champion of the veterinary college and promoted public grants for a farriery there in 1795 and 1796. Writing to Pitt on 27 Mar. 1798 he renewed this subject and informed the premier that he had taken up farming.2
Sumner had not sought re-election at Guildford in 1796. He would not risk failure? The Treasury listed him among their candidates in quest of a seat, but he remained out of the House for ten years. In 1806 he took advantage of discontent over local issues at Guildford to challenge the Grantley interest again. He succeeded after a fierce contest, only to be unseated on petition and narrowly defeated at the ensuing election in 1807. He was prepared to petition, but was encouraged by the co-patrons of Guildford to offer himself for the county at the last minute: they supported him to be rid of him. He was, after all, the downfall of the Russells in Surrey, defeating their Member Lord William. He described himself as ‘a friend of the late Mr Pitt but not of all his measures’—with reference to the Catholic and slave trade questions—and had ministerial support.3
Sumner’s friend the 4th Duke of Richmond recommended him to the ministry for some official employment, but he spoilt his chances after they had named him for the finance committee. Unexpectedly, he warmed to the chairman Bankes’s campaign against sinecures. It was in vain that Canning advised Richmond to give Sumner a ‘general hint’, and he was dropped from the committee in 1809.4 In revenge, he criticized the obstruction offered by ministerialists on the committee to sinecure regulation and paid tribute to Bankes, 24 Jan. 1809. He regained his place on the committee, 1810-12. He could not accept Turton’s charge of corruption against the Duke of York, 17 Mar. 1809, but felt that the duke was guilty of connivance and so voted against Perceval’s exoneration of him the same day. He voted with ministers on the address, 23 Jan. 1810, and on 26 Jan. announced that he could not support inquiry into the Scheldt expedition then, but would not vote for the previous question either, lest it be supposed that he was against inquiry; he seconded a motion for the adjournment, which was negatived at the instigation of Ponsonby and Perceval. On 5 Mar. he was in the opposition majority, but on 30 Mar., at the conclusion of the inquiry, rallied to ministers. The Whigs had listed him ‘doubtful’. Thereafter no vote is known for two sessions and he confined himself in debate to local subjects, except for his opposition to the Middlesex petition in favour of Burdett, 2 May 1810. He was described as ‘a great Percevalite’ and attended the premier’s dinner party on 18 Jan. 1812, though on 7 Feb. he joined opposition on the offices in reversion bill. Moreover, explaining that he wished to abolish all sinecures, he opposed Col. McMahon’s, 21-24 Feb., and voted for sinecure reform, 4 May. He ridiculed the House’s proposals for compensation to Perceval’s family after his assassination, 13 May 1812, and secured the reversion of Mrs Perceval’s pension to her heir male, as well as defending Perceval’s memory. He despised the Marquess Wellesley and voted against a more comprehensive administration, 21 May 1812.5
Listed a Treasury supporter in the Parliament of 1812, Sumner was a staunch, if silent, opponent of Catholic relief: his cousins were Anglican bishops. He had championed the Speaker against Morpeth’s censure, but was absent the day it came on, 22 Apr. 1814.6 He presented petitions from Surrey both for and against agricultural protection—he supported protection himself, 6 Mar. 1815. He was for the reception of the London petition against war and taxation until he discovered ‘the most scandalous libel against the House’ in the first paragraph of it, 1 May. On 3 July he informed the House that he had come up from the country on purpose to oppose the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill. In defiance of local and county petitions, he voted for the continuation of the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816. He deprecated hasty legislative interference in agricultural distress, 9 Apr., but voted against the leather tax, 9 May, and admitted the need for tithe reform, 22 May. He voted with ministers on the public revenue bill, 17 June 1816, and on Admiralty retrenchment, 25 Feb. 1817. He nevertheless proposed an increased pension for his friend the Speaker on his retirement, 5 June 1817. In this he was thwarted by 126 votes to 42. He was a ministerial dinner guest and was invited to Fife House to hear Lord Liverpool’s proposals for the royal dukes’ marriage grants in April 1818.7 He informed the House afterwards that ministers did not have ‘the gift of the gab’. He could not swallow the proposal of £10,000 for the Duke of Clarence and it was on his motion that the duke was offered £6,000 only, by 193 votes to 184. It was he, too, who stopped the issue of a new writ for Camelford until the corruption in the borough hinted at in the election committee’s report was investigated, 8 Apr. 1819. He voted with ministers against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, but against them on the malt duty, thinking that they were hard on the agricultural interest, 8 and 9 June 1819. He was a member of the Poor Law committees of 1818 and 1819.
After Perceval, no minister engaged Sumner’s sympathies and he became more interested in airing local grievances in the House. His bill for the better preservation of county records (4 May 1813) came to grief.8 Prison questions had long interested him. He had objected to popular prejudices against the Coldbath Fields prison as unfounded, 17 Mar. 1808, and objected to the penitentiary scheme as over-expensive, 16 Mar., 1 July 1812. He was placed on the committee of inquiry into conditions at Lincoln gaol after stating the magistrates’ case, 25 June 1812. He informed the House (14 June 1814) that he had been appalled at conditions at Newgate five years before and had since visited Bedlam and St. Luke’s, the latter being the only commendable establishment of its kind that he knew of. As a new London prison to accommodate Middlesex convicts was in demand, he hoped it would be a fit place; but he had from the outset (6 July 1812) objected to its being built by means of a tax on all the home counties: Surrey had its own prisons to maintain. Nor, incidentally, did he see why London and the home counties should shoulder the burden of great public buildings, 29 June 1814. He described the removal of the Post Office to a new site as wasteful, 6 July 1814, 16 Feb., 8 May, 1 and 12 June 1815.
When the question of the financing of a new London prison was revived in 1818, Sumner passed to the offensive and sought to prevent the City from applying the Orphans’ fund to it, 24 Feb. He complained, 21 May 1818, 1 Feb. 1819, that the corporation were obstructing his efforts to judge from facts, rather than their claims, that they could not afford to finance the building; and fearing that a supplementary duty on seaborne coal, which would affect all the home counties, would be resorted to, he championed the equalization of coal duties throughout the country; but his motion for the repeal of the sea coal tax was opposed by ministers and defeated by 151 votes to 49, 20 May 1819. He complained to Lord Liverpool, 4 May 1820, that he did not enjoy ‘the slightest consideration or influence with a government with whom I have strenuously acted (and with few exceptions to their measures), for the last thirty years’. But according to Liverpool he courted unpopularity—‘His temper and his manners are considered as offensive and overbearing’.9 Sumner died 26 June 1838.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Minto, i. 298.
- 2. PRO 30/8/181, f. 183.
- 3. PRO 30/8/197, ff. 98, 247, 248; Morning Chron. 12 May 1807.
- 4. NLI, Richmond mss, Canning to Richmond, 30 Apr. 1808.
- 5. Bath Archives ed. Lady Jackson, i. 316.
- 6. Colchester, ii. 455-7; PRO 30/9/16, Summer to Abbot, 23 Apr. 1814.
- 7. Add. 38366, ff. 133, 135.
- 8. Romilly, Mems. iii. 107.
- 9. Add. 38284, f. 261; 40305, f. 187.