BANKES, George (1787-1856), of 11 Paper Buildings, Lincoln's Inn and 16 George Street, Hanover Square, Mdx. and Studland, Dorset
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Family and Educationb. 1 Dec. 1787, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Henry Bankes* (d. 1834) of Kingston Lacy, Dorset and Frances, da. of William Woodley†, gov. Leeward Islands; bro. of William John Bankes*. educ. Westminster 1795; Trinity Hall, Camb. 1805, fellow 1814-22; L. Inn 1810, called 1813; I. Temple 1815. m. 8 June 1822, Georgina Charlotte, da. and h. of Adm. Sir Charles Edward Nugent,1 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 4da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. bro. William John Bankes 1855. d. 5 July 1856.2
Commr. appeals, excise ct. 1816-17, of bankrupts 1822-8; cursitor bar. of exch. 1824-d.; sec. to bd. of control May 1828-Feb. 1830, commr. Feb.-Nov. 1830; ld. of treasury Apr.-Nov. 1830; PC 27 Feb. 1852; judge adv.-gen. Feb.-Dec. 1852.
Recorder, Weymouth 1823-35; chairman, q. sess. Dorset 1836-56; mayor, Corfe Castle 1838-9, 1840-1, 1847-8.
Bankes, a barrister on the western circuit, inherited his father’s solidly Tory principles and dogged sense of duty, but lacked the brilliance of his wayward brother William.3 Brought into Parliament on the Bond family’s interest at Corfe Castle in 1816, he was again returned there with his father at the general election of 1820, and he continued to give general support to the Liverpool administration.4 Little trace of parliamentary activity has been found for that session, but he apparently made a suggestion about the king’s bench proceedings bill, 3 July 1820. He moved the address, 23 Jan. 1821, in a high-flown speech of little substance, which the Grenvillite William Henry Fremantle* described as ‘wretched’ and the radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* as ‘the worst speech that I ever heard, full of presumption and folly, got up with some pains, but devoid of all sense and in no way applicable to the question’.5 Joseph Jekyll† reported to Nathaniel Bond†, 6 Feb., that Bankes ‘spoke quite at his ease in Parliament ... but I hear from all quarters it was a whimsical composition of general phrases and antitheses, that like Bayes’s Prologue would have suited any other play as well’.6 Henry Bankes, however, was full of praise for his son, writing in his journal that it was
a prepared speech of considerable talent in the composition and of elegance in many of the expressions. The topics were such as might have provoked reply, for although the terms were very general the reflections could not be mistaken as applying to the long continued system of opposition politics.7
He divided in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. It may have been he who commented on two legal matters, 15, 23 Feb. He voted against Catholic claims, 28 Feb. He took leave to go the circuit, 9 Mar. He spoke against inquiry into the game laws, 5 Apr., and was teller for the minority of three against the gamekeepers bill, 15 May. He divided against disqualifying civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., parliamentary reform, 9 May, and the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May. He voted for his father’s amendment to Hume’s motion on economy and retrenchment, 27 June, and spoke for the duke of Clarence’s grant, 29 June 1821. He sided with ministers against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11, 21 Feb. 1822. On 28 Feb. he declared that he could not ‘but look on the conduct of Mr. Sheriff [Robert] Waithman* [at the queen’s funeral] with feelings of horror and disgust’. He voted against the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr. He divided against inquiry into the conduct of the lord advocate relative to the press in Scotland, 25 June, repeal of the salt duties, 28 June, and referring the Calcutta bankers’ petition to a select committee, 4 July 1822.
Bankes, who canvassed for William in his successful election for Cambridge University that autumn, left the House at the start of the 1823 session to make way for John Bond, who had recently come of age.8 He had become a commissioner of bankrupts in 1822, when it was rumoured that he would be appointed a master in chancery.9 In late 1823, when he was elected recorder of Weymouth, he again unsuccessfully applied to Lord Liverpool for a Welsh judgeship.10 He was finally successful in gaining employment in July 1824, when he was made cursitor baron of the exchequer, with a salary of £455, although it was an office ‘which at last consisted of little more than joining in the Michaelmas solemnities of the shrievalty of London’.11 The following year he wrote a pamphlet on the game laws.12 He was considered a possible candidate for Dorset in late 1825, when William Morton Pitt announced his retirement, but in fact it was his father who successfully came forward for the county. He was therefore returned for the Bankes family seat for Corfe Castle in February 1826 and, at the dinner following Henry Bankes’s election that month, he stated that
although I have had the good fortune to act with those distinguished men who have carried this country through so many difficulties to the attainment of such unparalleled renown, yet have I on every occasion exercised my own discretion and have looked to measures rather than men: this will be my future rule of conduct.13
He voted against condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., for receiving the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr., and against resolutions for curbing electoral bribery, 26 May. It was probably he who made interventions on the bankruptcy commissioners’ tavern expenses, 15 Mar., and the petition for Irish Catholic education, 14 Apr. He was returned unopposed for Corfe Castle at the general election of 1826 and occupied the seat until 1832.
Bankes made interventions on private bill procedure, 28 Nov., 4 Dec. 1826, 15 Feb. 1827, when he was a teller for the minority of ten to adjourn the debate on the cost of appeals. He defended the administration of justice in bankruptcy cases, 27 Feb., 13 Mar., 22 May. On 5 Mar., when he presented an anti-Catholic petition from the Isle of Purbeck,14 he ‘spoke ill’ (according to the Whig George Agar Ellis*) and ‘poorly’ (according to the Canningite John Evelyn Denison*) against relief, in what his father nevertheless described as ‘an able and argumentative speech, well delivered and well received’.15 He of course voted against Catholic relief the following day. He was named to the East Retford election committee, 3 Apr., and opposed the bill to disfranchise the borough, 22 June. He criticized the Lords’ alterations to the spring guns bill, 17 May, when he was a teller for the minority of 24 for his own amendment against it. He obtained leave to bring in his bill to relieve Catholics from double land tax assessments, 23 May, and oversaw its passage through the Commons that session; it was lost at the prorogation. He deprecated remarks hostile to ministers who had seceded from Canning’s government, 28 May, spoke and voted against the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June, and expressed his joy at the defeat of the corn bill, 21 June. Although in late 1827 George Tierney’s* list of the proposed finance committee included ‘G. Bankes’, it was his father who was named to it in the following session.
On the appointment of the duke of Wellington’s administration in early 1828 Bankes wrote to Peel, the home secretary, that
I wish I could so flatter myself as to imagine that the expression of my desire to render any services in my power to a government of which you shall hold a principal direction could be considered of any moment. I feel pleasure however in the opportunity of so expressing myself.16
As ‘William Bankes’, he complained of the House’s treatment of East Retford, 31 Jan., and, arguing that no case had been made out for its disfranchisement, he spoke several times in its defence that session. He reintroduced his Catholic land tax bill, 4 Feb., and repeatedly urged its adoption against obstruction from the law officers, but he conceded a select committee on it, 1 May, whose report he presented, 18 July. He defended chancery administration, 12 Feb., and voted in this sense, 24 Apr. He divided, 26 Feb., and spoke, 28 Feb., against repeal of the Test Acts. Wishing to move an amendment to substitute ‘an oath or declaration in lieu of the sacramental test’, he consulted Peel, who doubted the usefulness of such oaths, but added that ‘I can say with truth, that it could come from no quarter better calculated to ensure very favourable consideration of it’; nothing came of this.17 He opposed alteration of the franchise at Penryn, 24 Mar. He spoke at length and voted against Catholic relief, 12 May. He divided against making provision for Canning’s family, 13 May, and on the 20th, when he defended his absent father from attacks on his forthright opposition to it, he called his own vote ‘one of the most painful I have ever had occasion to give’. He objected to the alehouses licensing bill, 21 May, 19 June, and the corporate funds bill, 8 July, which he twice divided against, 10 July. At the suggestion of William Bankes, who thought his brother would prefer to be judge advocate-general, and perhaps through the influence of his putative father-in-law, the anti-Catholic duke of Cumberland, with whom he corresponded,18 Bankes was brought into the government in mid-1828 as secretary to the India board, with a salary of about £1,500.19 Thereafter he presumably supported ministers in the House, and although he did not act as a government spokesman there, Wellington and Lord Ellenborough, who soon became president of the board, were satisfied with his departmental work.20
In early 1829, however, he was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, among those likely to be ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation. Ellenborough, who urged Peel to see him, attempted to conciliate Bankes, but when he showed him the king’s speech
he seemed much affected, breathed hard and was very nearly in tears. At last he told me that he was perfectly free to act as he pleased, his father having imposed no restrictions upon him, but that he feared he should be obliged to leave us ... In any case he should retire if he found it necessary, quietly and in such a manner as to do no injury to the government.21
After hearing Peel’s statement, 5 Feb., Bankes, who had already submitted to Peel a memorandum of the difficulties that the adoption of such a policy would place him under, offered his resignation to Wellington the following day. As he explained to Peel, for whom he retained a high personal regard, the announcement
obliges me to act immediately upon my sense of the embarrassment to which an individual must expose the government, should he continue in office while conscious that he cannot concur in every measure which the members of His Majesty’s government consider it their duty to propose.22
The news of his resignation leaked out, much to the annoyance of the prime minister, who had begged him to reconsider or at least to delay his departure.23 As Ellenborough recorded, Wellington said that he
did not know what to do with Bankes’s letter. That it put him into a situation of much difficulty. That if he resigned others would, that Lord Lowther*, Lord G. Somerset* might. That if Bankes thought it necessary to resign he should be obliged to turn out some man or other who voted against him, whose vote he might otherwise have overlooked. That it would oblige him to break with some of the first families. He wished to keep the government together. He said with great warmth, ‘There is Bankes, like most other men, looking only to himself, and not caring about the public!’24
Of the intransigent Bankes, who told the Commons that his opinions remained unchanged, 20 Feb., it was rumoured that he would be made president of the board of control or chancellor of the exchequer in the event of an Ultra ministry being established. Ellenborough nevertheless evidently persuaded him to continue to fulfil his duties on a temporary basis, and noted on 5 Mar. that ‘he has behaved very well, and has abstained from going to any meeting of the enemies of the bill on the ground that, as a member of the government, he knew more than he otherwise should have done’.25 Henry Bankes, a leading opponent of emancipation, recorded in his journal that his son’s conduct was ‘highly gratifying to me, and honourable to him, but it was entirely his own act and without any influence from myself’.26
Bankes voted against Catholic emancipation, 6 Mar., called for more time for the presentation of hostile petitions, 9 Mar. 1829, and was one of those whom Mrs. Arbuthnot urged Wellington to dismiss for having been ‘vexatious in their opposition’.27 Professing his regard for ministers, 17 Mar., he explained that he could not agree with them that the state of Ireland provided a compelling case for emancipation, and lamented his inability to convey ‘in its full extent, an adequate sense of my hearty and deep-felt opposition to the present measure’, despite the beneficial securities. Charles Fox* thought this ‘clever anti-Catholic speech’ was ‘too long’, and Ellenborough commented that he ‘would speak better if he adopted the conversation style’.28 He was a teller for the minority for his father’s wrecking amendment against the second reading, 18 Mar. He presented a petition from 600 graduates of Cambridge University against emancipation, 23 Mar., when he divided for his father’s motion to ban Catholics from sitting in Parliament. The following day he spoke and acted as a teller against allowing them to vote and to prevent the office of lord high treasurer being held by a Catholic. He voted against bringing up the report, 27 Mar., and the third reading of the bill, 30 Mar. He spoke against receiving the petition of the Irish Catholic bishops on education, 9 Apr. 1829.
According to Ellenborough, writing on 15 Apr. 1829, when Wellington offered to take him back into government
Bankes said he had attended none of the meetings at Lord Chandos’s.* He had avoided as much as he could all communication with the duke of Cumberland. He had fully determined not to take a part with any new government which might be formed, unless it should clearly appear the king had been unfairly dealt by, or unless there should be an attempt to make peers to carry the bill. The duke of Cumberland had always said that he made him his first object, and he had reason to think that he had mentioned him to the king and had been instrumental in his appointment. The duke of Cumberland had desired him to come to him (during the bill), and had apparently intended to name some particular office for him, but seeing his coldness had only sounded him.
Bankes, who insisted on first consulting an initially antagonistic Cumberland, was soon formally reinstated.29 He spoke against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May. He was the only member of the government to attend (as he had in previous years) the London Pitt Club dinner on 29 May.30 In June 1829, as the anti-Catholic candidate, he briefly relinquished Corfe Castle to contest his brother’s former constituency, Cambridge University, where he had been preparing the ground for several months in expectation of a vacancy. Yet he lacked powerful ministerial support and was opposed by the bright young Whig William Cavendish, who defeated him by about 150 votes. His chances were crippled by his apparent academic deficiencies and the unseemly alacrity with which he had resumed his official position.31 As Professor Adam Sedgwick put it, Bankes had ‘no merit that I know of except that he pretended to go out on the Catholic question. It was all mockery; he never was out or he would not now be in. The cast-off rags of no Popery won’t cover his nakedness’.32
In November 1829 Bankes extracted from Wellington the promise of exchanging his secretaryship for an extra commissionership at the India board. Ellenborough, who attributed this move to Cumberland and observed that ‘it is evident from the endeavour to detach Bankes from the government now that the Brunswickers still have hopes’, believed that Wellington was annoyed to have to create this worthless position, so that he did ‘not think Bankes would soon get office again’.33 Bankes came to Ellenborough’s defence in the Commons over misinterpretation of his letter to Sir John Malcolm* about the renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 5, 9 Feb., and spoke against inquiry into the Bombay judicature, 8 Mar. 1830. According to Ellenborough’s diary, 10 Feb., Bankes ‘says the House of Commons is loose indeed, but he thinks ministers will have a majority on the East Retford business’.34 John Stuart Wortley*, who succeeded Bankes that month, noted that ‘it is rumoured but I hardly believe it that he was not much liked as secretary and received the hint’. But he agreed with others who credited the change to the Ultras: William Huskisson*, for example, commented that ‘Bankes’s resignation looks as if the Tories were sticking together. I suppose, therefore, that they at least show fight’.35 Bankes, who then and later in the year was spoken of as a possible Speaker, continued to demand another promotion. The prime minister rebuffed his request to chair the select committee on the East India Company (to which he was named, 9 Feb.), but eventually confirmed his pledge to let him succeed to the secretaryship of the admiralty, in the unlikely event of John Croker* making way for him. In the end Bankes secured a place at the treasury board in April, but as late as July his transfer to the admiralty was still considered a distant possibility.36 He spoke against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and he continued to act as a teller for government majorities during the remainder of the 1830 session.
Bankes, who was of course listed by ministers among their ‘friends’, sided with them in the minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, and duly resigned from office. He complained about the Grey ministry’s removal of the Irish lord chancellor, 9 Dec., and under-secretary, 20 Dec., and spoke for superseding the writ for Evesham, 16 Dec. 1830. He was reappointed to the select committee on the East India Company, 4 Feb. 1831. By that time he was attending meetings of the Ultras, including one on 9 Feb. at his father’s house to consider their attitude to parliamentary reform, and was also one of the small group who liaised with the Tory opposition, for instance about how to oppose ministers’ reform proposals.37 In the House, 3 Mar., he condemned the ‘sweeping measure of reform’, arguing that government had incited violence and made unconstitutional use of the king’s name to forward its ends. He voted against the second reading of the bill, 22 Mar., denied the suggestion that the freeholders of Dorset supported it, 23 Mar., and made other anti-reform interventions, 24 Mar., 12 Apr. He divided for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., which precipitated a dissolution. At the ensuing general election he was expected to stand for Weymouth on the dominant Johnstone interest, but he withdrew before the poll.38 He was active in his father’s unsuccessful campaign in Dorset against the reformer John Calcraft*, and, although his vote was challenged on the ground that as cursitor baron he held an office under government, he was allowed to split for Henry Bankes and Edward Portman, the other sitting Member.39 He and two of his friends were physically attacked by reformers while travelling through Wareham, Calcraft’s pocket borough, on 16 May 1831.40
Bankes, who was again named to the select committee on the affairs of the East India Company, 28 June, spoke against Hume on the prosecution of radical publications, 29 June 1831. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and at least three times for adjourning the proceedings on it, 12 July. Presumably on behalf of his brother William, now Member for Marlborough, he presented the petition against the abolition of Lord Ailesbury’s other pocket borough, Great Bedwyn, 19 July. That day, when he was involved in angry exchanges in the House, he spoke and acted as a teller for using the 1831 census to determine the boroughs in schedules A and B. He again alluded to Great Bedwyn, 20 July, and he spoke in defence of the existing representation of Wareham, 26 July, Chippenham, 27 July, Dorchester, 28 July, and Weymouth, 6 Aug. Having several times made objections to the handling of the bill in the House, he criticized the powers granted in it to sheriffs and returning officers, 10, 19 Aug. He spoke and voted in condemnation of the Irish government’s interference in the Dublin election, 23 Aug. He divided against the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. Although, like his father and brother, he did not come forward for Dorset at the by-election that autumn, he was a member of the committee of the eventual anti-reform candidate Lord Ashley*, voted for him, and later gave him legal advice for his defence against his opponent’s petition.41 In the House, where he presumably voted against Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion on 10 Oct., he argued that Ashley’s success confirmed that there was a widespread reaction against reform, 11 Oct., and defended the conduct of the assessor, 20 Oct. He opposed the bankruptcy bill, 11-13 Oct., and condemned the reform proceedings in Birmingham, 12, 19 Oct. 1831.
Bankes voted against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, going into committee on it, 20 Jan., the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He presented a petition from the Isle of Purbeck for it to be given additional representation, 14 Feb., stated that he would press the case for it to be granted one Member, 2, 9 Mar., and suggested extending the borough of Wareham to take in much of this district and his own borough, 22 June. Having complained about smuggling, 16, 21 Feb., and obtained papers on silk imports, 28 Feb., he urged inquiry into distress in the silk trade, 1 Mar., and was appointed to the select committee on this, 5 Mar., demanding alterations in its composition, 6, 15 Mar. He was a teller for the minority against Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and complained about the tactics used to secure the government’s reappointment, 15, 18 May. He divided against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. His only other known votes were against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, and he was a teller for the opposition minority on this, 16 July. He was prevented from attending the Dorchester dinner in his father’s honour, 26 July, because of his duties on the silk committee. For his work on this he was thanked by the Silk Traders’ Committee on 8 Aug.42 He stood with Sir Frederic Johnstone† as a Conservative for (the now two Member constituency of) Weymouth at the general election of 1832, but finished in fourth place.43 Having returned to the Commons as Member for Dorset in 1841, he opposed repeal of the corn laws in 1846 and served in junior office under Lord Derby in 1852. He effectively took control of Kingston Lacy and the family’s other estates in the early 1840s, when the disgraced homosexual William (who had succeeded Henry Bankes in 1834) went into exile abroad.44 George Bankes died, a little over a year after his elder brother, in July 1856, when he was described as the epitome of the ‘high-souled country gentleman, the generous and unfailing friend [and] the sound and uncompromising Conservative’.45 He was succeeded by his eldest son, Edmund George (1826-60).
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. According to family tradition, her real father was the duke of Cumberland (V. Bankes, A Dorset Heritage, 180).
- 2. Not 8 July 1856, as given in HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 128.
- 3. Ibid. 119, 180-5.
- 4. As he was much less active than his father, at least until the late 1820s, most parliamentary activity attributed to ‘Mr. Bankes’ has been credited to Henry.
- 5. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 112; HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, p. 3.
- 6. Dorset RO, Bond mss D/BOH C15.
- 7. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 122.
- 8. Add. 36460, f. 150.
- 9. Western Flying Post, 24 June 1822.
- 10. Add. 38298, f. 28.
- 11. Black Bk. (1831), 421; E. Foss, Judges of England, ix. 133-4.
- 12. G. Bankes, Reconsiderations on Certain Proposed Alterations of Game Laws (1825), 1-44.
- 13. Dorset RO, Anglesey mss D/ANG F5/36, Castleman to Anglesey, 23 Sept.; Dorset Co. Chron. 29 Sept. 1825, 23 Feb. 1826.
- 14. The Times, 6 Mar. 1827.
- 15. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary; Nottingham Univ. Lib. acc. 636, Denison diary; Bankes jnl. 159.
- 16. Add. 40395, f. 45.
- 17. Add. 40396, ff. 1, 3.
- 18. NRA 28404.
- 19. Wellington mss WP1/913/31; 934/15, 16; The Times, 2 Aug. 1831.
- 20. Wellington mss WP1/950/35; Ellenborough Diary, i. 294-5, 339.
- 21. Ellenborough Diary, i. 321, 325-6, 333-4, 336, 338.
- 22. Wellington mss WP1/994/30; Add. 40398, ff. 120-1, 146-7.
- 23. Croker Pprs. ii. 7, 11; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 5, 9 Feb. 1829.
- 24. Ellenborough Diary, i. 338-9.
- 25. Ibid. i. 353, 363, 365, 379.
- 26. Bankes jnl. 166.
- 27. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 250-1.
- 28. Add. 52058, C.R. to H.E. Fox, 6 Mar. 1829; Ellenborough Diary, i. 397.
- 29. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 16-18, 21.
- 30. P. Jupp, British Politics on Eve of Reform, 363.
- 31. Cambridge Chron. 5, 12, 19 June 1829; Wellington mss WP1/1029/18; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 284; Arbuthnot Corresp. 120; Bankes jnl. 167; M. D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, xi. 15818.
- 32. J.W. Clark and T.M. Hughes, Life and Letters of Sedgwick, i. 347-8.
- 33. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 139-40.
- 34. Ibid. ii. 184, 191.
- 35. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss, Huskisson to Denison, 30 Jan.; Harrowby mss, Stuart Wortley to Harrowby, 3 Feb. 1830.
- 36. Wellington mss WP1/1092/2; 1098/18; 1105/39; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 181, 184-5, 194, 208; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 328, 330; Hatherton mss, Palmerston to Littleton, 19 Nov. 1830; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/139/14/29.
- 37. Three Diaries, 45-46, 49, 57, 109.
- 38. Dorset Co. Chron. 5 May 1831.
- 39. Bankes mss, Ponsonby to Bankes, 4 May; The Times, 13, 18 May 1831; Dorset Pollbook (1831), 59.
- 40. Dorset Co. Chron. 26 May, 9 June 1831.
- 41. Ibid. 29 Sept. 1831; Wellington mss WP1/1195/24; Dorset Pollbook (Sept.-Oct. 1831), 96; Shaftesbury mss SE/NC/5/25, 35.
- 42. Dorset Co. Chron. 2 Aug., 20 Sept. 1832.
- 43. Ibid. 25 Oct., 6, 13, 20 Dec. 1832.
- 44. V. Bankes, 185-6.
- 45. The Times, 8 July; Dorset Co. Chron. 10 July 1856; DNB; Oxford DNB.