LUSHINGTON, Stephen (1782-1873), of Mery-hill, nr. Watford, Herts. and 2 Great George Street, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1806 - 20 June 1808
1820 - 1826
1826 - 1830
4 Apr. 1831 - 1831
1831 - 1832
1832 - 1841

Family and Education

b. 14 Jan. 1782, 2nd surv. s. of Stephen Lushington†(d. 1807) of South Hill Park, Berks. and Hester, da. of John Boldero, banker, of Aspenden Hall, Herts. educ. Eton 1789; Christ Church, Oxf. 1797, BA 1802, fellow, All Souls 1802-21, MA 1806, BCL 1807, DCL 1808; L. Inn 1801; I. Temple 1801, called 1806. m. 8 Aug. 1821, Sarah Grace, da. of Thomas William Carr of Frognal, Mdx., 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 5da. d. 19 Jan. 1873.

Offices Held

Adv. Doctors’ Commons 3 Nov. 1808; charity commr. 1818-34; commr. for building new churches 1825; chanc. dioc. of Rochester 1826-56, dioc. of London, judge of consistory ct. 1828-58; judge of ct. of admiralty 1838-67; PC 5 Nov. 1838 (member of jud. cttee.); bencher, I. Temple 1840, reader 1850, treas. 1851; dean of the arches 1858-67.

Capt. Blickling and Gunton vols. 1803.


Lushington, the younger son of an East India Company chairman,1 began his parliamentary career at the age of 24, but it ended abruptly after less than two years as his determinedly independent course alienated his patron, Lord Suffield, who obliged him to vacate his Great Yarmouth seat for a ministerialist. He concentrated on building a reputation as a civil and ecclesiastical lawyer and rose to prominence in 1816, when he acted with Henry Brougham* for Lady Byron in her separation case.2 He maintained his interest in various aspects of reform politics, campaigning from 1813 for the abolition of the death penalty, joining the committee of the Prison Discipline Society in 1816 and urging the importance of county meetings to denounce the Peterloo massacre.3 Identified by the Whig leadership as a talented man worth bringing back into Parliament, he informed George Tierney* in January 1820 that his desire to return had ‘been in great measure subdued’, as he doubted his ability to adapt to the Commons after so long an absence; it therefore seemed ‘not worth a pecuniary sacrifice’. His reluctance was overcome and at the 1820 general election he was returned for Ilchester, after a contest, on Lord Darlington’s interest. Brougham, another of Darlington’s clients, who may well have been instrumental in arranging the seat for Lushington, declared that he was ‘a host in himself’ besides all the other Whig gains.4

He quickly emerged as an active figure in the opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry on all major issues, including parliamentary reform, 18 Apr., 31 May 1821, 25 Apr., 24 June 1822, 20 Feb., 2 June 1823, 13, 27 Apr., 26 May 1826. He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He regularly served on select committees. He criticized the admiralty for issuing instructions to naval commanders which had resulted in the country being ‘burthened with an enormous sum of money to be paid’ in compensation to Portuguese vessels arrested by British warships for engaging in the slave trade, 16 June 1820. That day he supported the grant for the refuge for the destitute, which had ‘saved the country a very considerable sum’ by dealing with juvenile delinquents who would otherwise have ‘spread vice and crime’. He ‘reluctantly’ supported the financial assistance given to Irish country banks, 16 June, as the distress there was so bad that he feared ‘the most dreadful results might occur’ if nothing was done. He moved to recommit the Marriage Act amendment bill and was a minority teller, 30 June. He called for papers regarding the alleged negotiation between France and Buenos Aires for the establishment of a Bourbon dynasty in South America, 11 July 1820, declaring that Britain was ‘imperiously called upon to acknowledge the independence of the states of South America’ and warning of the lost commercial opportunities that would occur if ‘a more ambitious rival’ was allowed to move in first; the motion was withdrawn.

During the latter part of the 1820 session he became a central figure in the Queen Caroline affair. He urged that the coronation be delayed, 3 July, as it was not constitutionally necessary, would be ‘improper’ while the queen was unable to attend and would ‘rouse ... the feelings of the people’. Observing the military preparations being made to suppress disorder, he believed that ‘whatever excesses the people might commit they had been driven to’ by the government’s ‘arrogant and oppressive conduct’ and ‘contempt of public feeling’. He was granted leave to act as counsel for the queen before the bar of the Lords, 12 July.5 In the absence of her solicitor-general, Thomas Denman*, he moved an address to the king requesting the return of her service of plate, 15 July, and complained of ‘the numberless insults ... and indignities that had been heaped on Her Majesty’. The motion was postponed until 17 July, when it was negatived after he had denied that he was trying to ‘inflame the passions of the people’. A Grenvillite Member heard that he ‘got a most handsome and proper dressing’ from Lord Castlereagh, the leader of the Commons.6 He was disinclined to take notice of the ‘atrocious paragraph’ about the queen in Flindell’s Western Luminary, 25 July, but blamed ministers for creating a climate of opinion in which such calumnies could be published. According to a civilian rival, writing in August

Lushington ... now very much presides over the councils of Her Majesty ... in many respects he is well calculated to please her, for he is good-natured and obliging in his demeanour, rash in his advice, and a lover to excess of popular applause. He is everywhere with her now: airs with her, assists her in receiving addresses, etc.7

While the Lords’ proceedings on the bill of pains and penalties were under way, Lushington privately expressed the view that it would be passed ‘whatever may be the evidence produced for the queen’, as ‘ministers ... think they have their places at stake’. However, he believed it could be stopped by systematic obstruction in the Commons: ‘if only a few Members will cordially unite, it is impossible this bill can pass ... it must be a most determined union ... very few would be sufficient to move adjournment upon adjournment, amendment upon amendment, and to divide the House unceasingly until ministers have wearied out’.8 In fact, his largely forensic speech to the peers in his capacity as third counsel to the queen, 26 Oct. 1820, made an important contribution to the defence team’s success in stalling the proceedings there. Brougham, the queen’s principal law officer, reported that a powerful oration by Denman had

made Lushington’s task to follow very difficult. But I was obliged to make him do so, because Denman had made one or two great omissions. Lushington’s was a most admirable speech and has had a great effect. The style was chaste and there were no false ornaments ... His great merit was the wonderful originality of his remarks on so trite a matter, after three speeches. He adhered strictly to directions and even passed from some half dozen topics, changed others as he went on, under my hand. He once kicked when I forced him to leave a point handled to a turn by Denman ... but I brought him to, and he left it.

All three counsellors were subsequently given the freedom of the City of London.9 Lushington was active on the queen’s behalf during the 1821 session, when he effectively assumed the role of her chief legal advisor. In presenting an Ilchester petition to restore her name to the liturgy, 24 Jan., he warned that Parliament must attend to the wishes of the people ‘before the day came ... when a reform would be most hastily resorted to’. He denounced the refusal of the sheriff of Kent to summon a county meeting for similar petitioning purposes, 8 Feb. He presented petitions in support of the queen from King’s Lynn and ten Anglican churchmen, 13 Feb., and observed that if the crown was to be allowed to alter the form of divine worship, ‘who could tell whether [just as James II tried to restore Popery] some future king, in his latter days, having spent his youth in profligacy and debauchery, might not be wheedled and deluded by that class of religious enthusiasts called Methodists’ into introducing dangerous new doctrines. On the vote for the expenses of the Milan commission, 19 Mar., he stated that it would be impossible for the queen to furnish details of all the expenditure she had incurred, adding that ‘some of the items it might be unfit to submit to the public’.10 He was present when the queen died, 7 Aug. 1821, was named as an executor of her will and made the arrangements with ministers for the funeral procession, accompanying the body to Brunswick.11

He criticized the mode of voting for the employment of seamen before the estimates had been submitted, 2 Feb., unsuccessfully moved to reduce the grant for the judge advocate general and his subordinates, 11 Apr., and disapproved of the sums expended in presents to foreign ambassadors on the occasion of the king’s accession, 28 May 1821.12 He was a minority teller against the third reading of the Irish revenue inquiry bill, 26 June. He moved that Thomas Ellis, Member for Dublin, could not adequately discharge his parliamentary duties and act as an Irish master in chancery, 5 Mar., and on being opposed by ministers he reportedly ‘made a very bitter reply and said many things of Mr. Ellis that went near the wind, to say the least’;13 his motion was defeated by 112-52. On 27 Mar. he introduced a bill to exclude all higher Irish judicial officers from sitting in Parliament in future, which gained royal assent, 28 May (1 and 2 Geo. IV, c. 44).14 He described the Newington vestry bill as ‘one of the most objectionable ever introduced into that House’, 5 Mar., as it gave arbitrary powers of patronage, taxation and punishment.15 He persuaded Stuart Wortley to withdraw his motion condemning the Morning Chronicle for breach of privilege in publishing a minority division list, 9 Mar.16 He was a steward of the London Tavern reform dinner, 4 Apr., when he delivered what the radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* considered to be ‘the most violent’ of the speeches, arguing that reform was ‘the all important question’, for ‘if it failed, every popular measure failed’.17 He presented a petition for inquiry into Peterloo, while doubting that anything would be done, 15 May.18 He made what Grey Bennet thought ‘a very good speech’ in presenting a petition from Thomas Dolby, a Strand bookseller, complaining of persecution by the Constitutional Association, 6 June.19 He reportedly made ‘a violent speech’ in support of a petition against the Association’s activities, 3 July, but his incidental ‘abuse of the Society for the Suppression of Vice called up Wilberforce, who made an able and vigorous defence ... and was very bitter against Lushington, saying more than once "he ought to be ashamed of himself"’.20 He supported the motion that day to stop all indictments brought against individuals by the Association, which caused ‘nothing but dissension and ill will’. He thought the magistrates at Ilchester ‘would come purified’ out of an inquiry, 11 Apr., but was inclined to ‘suspend opinion’ about the gaoler’s conduct. He supported Mackintosh’s forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May, believing that ‘the punishment of death did not ... produce that salutary terror which some individuals supposed’ and that it encouraged perjury by juries, which ‘acquitted prisoners of capital charges, rather than subject them to the severity of the law’; he was a majority teller. He suggested that the punishment for forgery ‘ought never to be less than confinement to hard labour for ten years’, with no discretionary power to the judge, 25 May; Mackintosh adopted this as an amendment, which was agreed to. Lushington was a majority teller for the third reading, 4 June, and a minority teller against the subsequent amendment to exclude cases involving banknotes. He was infuriated when ministers engineered the bill’s defeat on the motion that it should pass, and he reportedly threatened that ‘he would come into no arrangement to facilitate business, on the contrary ... he would throw all impediments in the way to punish the government for the base manoeuvre they had practised’.21 He supported the Newfoundland petition for reform of its courts of justice, 28 May. He complained of the ineffectiveness of the London police forces, 29 June, and of ‘the great mischief done ... by the fairs in and about the metropolis’, which were ‘nurseries of vice’. He warned that if the government did not act in the next session to abolish them, he would bring in his own bill.22 He supported a Manchester chamber of commerce petition against an additional duty on East Indian sugar to protect West Indian growers, 4 May, maintaining that the system of slavery ‘must ever be productive of human misery’. He supported Wilberforce’s motion for government action to put pressure on other countries to end the slave trade, 26 June. That day he described Robert Owen’s plan for a colony at New Lanark as ‘the most visionary and the most impracticable he had ever met with’. He opposed the extra post bill, 29 June, as it gave unfair preference to certain places and travelling at 11 miles per hour would lead to accidents; he was a minority teller.23 He approved of Scarlett’s decision to withdraw his poor relief bill, 2 July, when he argued that ‘the effect of the present laws was to oblige the industrious and prudent to support the improvident and thoughtless’; emigration was the only solution. He noted that the Peace Preservation Act was in force in 14 Irish counties and regretted that during the session no time had been found to inquire into the state of that country, 3 July 1821.24 He was present in December at a poorly attended meeting at the Freemasons’ Tavern to organize a public meeting in support of the Greeks.25

He denounced the ‘obnoxious’ Irish insurrection bill, 8 Feb. 1822, arguing that outrages would be better dealt with by the ‘prompt interposition’ of special commissions, which would ‘vindicate the power of the law by the immediate conviction of its transgressors’, and calling for a ‘searching investigation’ of the underlying causes of the disturbances. He introduced a slave trade laws consolidation bill, 12 Feb., explaining that the existing statutes were ‘much at variance’ with each other and created problems for legal tribunals in the colonies and for naval officers, but that no change was proposed to the principle behind them; it was put off at the report stage, 27 June. He condemned Portugal for failing to fulfil its obligations to stop the trade under a treaty of 1815 and demanded effective measures to prevent ‘such foul enormities’, 27 June.26 He briefly stated his recollections of the tumultuous events surrounding Queen Caroline’s funeral procession, in support of Sir Robert Wilson’s motion regarding his removal from the army, 13 Feb., and supported the motion complaining of the subsequent assault by troops on Alderman Robert Waithman*, 28 Feb. On Bennet’s motion concerning the funeral arrangements, 6 Mar., he gave a long account of his own involvement in negotiations with the authorities and agreed that the preparations had been inadequate: ‘too much had been left to chance ... proper respect had not been paid and the feelings of the country had been grossly outraged’. He expressed regret that no pensions had been given to those holding high offices in the queen’s service, 12 July.27 He presented an Ilchester petition for relief of the restrictions imposed on the radical Henry Hunt*, a prisoner there, 4 Mar., and advised that the local magistrates should draw up new regulations.28 He supported a petition from Essex grand jury for the speedier administration of justice, 27 Mar., hoped that Parliament would consent to appoint more judges if necessary and opined that their salaries ‘were not sufficient to support the dignity of the office’. He moved a successful amendment to the prison laws consolidation bill to allow every prisoner under sentence of death to receive spiritual ministration from a Dissenting minister, 21 June.29 He initially supported the Marriage Act amendment bill, as the grievances arising from the current law were ‘so numerous and so glaring’, 20 May, but he condemned the Lords’ amendments, which rendered parts of the bill ‘wholly unintelligible’ and would produce a ‘train of evils’, 12 July; he moved a hostile amendment and was a minority teller. In response to a London ship owners’ petition complaining of the piracy resulting from Spain’s war with its South American colonies, he renewed his demand for British recognition of their independence, 30 July 1822.

Lushington presented a Sligo petition accusing Lord Kingston of improper interference in the recent county by-election, 11 Feb. 1823.30 He supported the Catholic franchise bill and expressed ‘warm ... feelings in favour of the Catholics generally’, 30 June. He secured an unopposed second reading for the Marriage Act amendment bill from the Lords, 13 Mar., on the understanding that it would be debated in committee;31 it received royal assent, 26 Mar. He supported the motion for papers concerning the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 24 Mar., as he harboured ‘strong doubts’ whether justice had been done. He was a minority teller that day for the motion for information regarding the plot to murder the lord lieutenant. He pressed for further information about the grant to defray expenses incurred by colonial governors to promote abolition of the slave trade, which was promised, 19 Mar.32 He reintroduced his Slave Trade Acts consolidation bill, 10 Apr., which passed the Commons but did not reach the Lords, and supported Wilberforce’s motion for inquiry into the condition of slaves and free Indians in the Honduras, 11 July.33 He approved the Newfoundland laws bill, as ‘there never had been a colony so neglected’, 25 Mar. That day he introduced a bill to facilitate the examination of witnesses in foreign countries, which did not reach the Lords,34 and one to make certain forgery acts penal, which was postponed until the next session. He strongly supported repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., expressing indignation at the ‘slavish doctrine’ that Britain should avoid doing anything to antagonize France, when public opinion was outraged at her intervention in Spain. He supported the abolition of punishment by whipping, 30 Apr., claiming that the victims’ ‘feelings become blunted and their moral characters degenerated in proportion’. He was a minority teller against the Lords’ amendment to the prisons bill to continue flogging, 7 July 1823.

On 6 Feb. 1824 he gave notice of the reintroduction of the slave trade laws consolidation bill, which passed, with another bill for making trafficking in slaves piracy incorporated into it, and gained royal assent, 24 June (5 Geo. IV, c. 113).35 During this session he became immersed in the revived campaign against slavery, which preoccupied him for the remainder of his parliamentary career. He enjoyed a ‘peculiarly close connection’ with Thomas Fowell Buxton, becoming a member of his ‘anti-slavery cabinet’, and ‘every idea ... every plan, was originated and arranged between them’. He was also a vice-president of the Anti-Slavery society and a director of the African Institution.36 With Wilberforce, he waited on the foreign secretary, Canning, 14 Feb., only to be disappointed by the government’s unambitious plan of action, and the following month he privately urged Buxton to expose their vacillation and broken promises.37 He welcomed the statement of ministerial intentions for ameliorating the condition of slaves in the West Indies, 16 Mar., but urged Canning to hold out the prospect of emancipation in the near future, doubted whether colonial legislatures would co-operate with the ameliorative measures and repudiated the claim that the abolitionists were responsible for the recent insurrections; these were entirely owing to ‘the melancholy condition of the negroes’. He objected to the principle of the bill to incorporate the West India Company, 10 May, and was a teller for the minority. He presented a petition from Lecesne and Escoffery, coloured freemen of Jamaica who had been seized and transported to St. Domingo without trial, 21 May, and declared that he ‘would not rest until he had rescued the character of the British nation from the foul disgrace of having participated in an act of such odious oppression’. He presented several petitions denouncing the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 1 June.38 A Whig Member recorded that he ‘spoke for two hours ... argumentatively but dully’ in support of Brougham’s motion on this subject, 11 June 1824, when he was a minority teller.39

He welcomed Peel’s jury laws consolidation bill, 19 Feb. 1824, observing that ‘the multiplicity and confusion of our statutes constituted one of the greatest grievances conceivable’. He supported the county courts bill, 4 Mar., as he was concerned about the practice of selling offices to unsuitable persons. He secured a select committee on the consolidation of the criminal law in England and Wales, 16 Mar. He gave his ‘cordial support’ to George Lamb’s motion to permit defence by counsel in felony cases and was a minority teller, 6 Apr. He supported the cattle ill-treatment bill as ‘a necessary adjunct’ to previous legislation aimed at stopping ‘atrocities which had so long disgraced the national character’, 9 Mar. He thought that ministers had made out ‘a clear case of necessity’ for financial assistance to the civil establishment in Upper Canada, 12 Mar. As ‘a determined advocate for unfettering trade in every branch to the greatest possible limit’, 28 May, he was a majority teller for the marine insurance bill. He recommended the Equitable Loan Company bill as ‘advantageous to the public’, 1 June, but said he would not vote as he was a vice-president.40 He supported the proposed grant for building churches as ‘a measure of justice’ to the established church, 9 Apr.; but he successfully opposed the Londonderry Cathedral bill, 10 May, seeing no reason why Parliament should pay for the ‘criminal neglect’ of the responsible authorities. He approved of the superannuation fund bill and incidentally agreed with the claim that ‘the chief officers of state were underpaid’, 17 June 1824.

Lushington moved for details of the committal of two Catholics and two Presbyterians to gaol in Londonderry for alleged violation of the Irish Marriage Acts, 8 Feb. 1825, as he was anxious to ensure that the ‘sacred institution of marriage ... was no longer perverted into a source of national disquietude and party exasperation’. He was a minority teller for two adjournment motions against the introduction of the bill to suppress the Catholic Association, 11 Feb. He declared amid much interruption that the bill would be ‘productive of great mischief’ in Ireland and that emancipation was the only antidote, 14 Feb. According to one account, he had not originally intended to speak ‘but stood up at an unfavourable moment’ and ‘did not do himself justice’.41 He warned that the grant to the Irish linen board would ‘create a factitious trade and finally leave many hands out of employment’, 18 Mar., but refrained from pressing a division. He supported the ‘extremely necessary’ attempt to limit plurality of benefices in Ireland, 14 Apr., as non-residence was ‘a great cause of the increase of Dissenters’ there. He supported inquiry into the Norfolk assizes, seeing no reason for holding them in Thetford, 24 Feb. He welcomed Peel’s juries regulation bill, 9 Mar. He supported the Dissenters’ marriages bill, allowing Unitarians to take a modified oath, 25 Mar., and observed that the general subject of marriage law required consideration: ‘some civil form should be adopted’. He regretfully differed from many of his usual friends by supporting the proposed increase in judges’ salaries, which would raise the ‘dignity of the bench’ by allowing them to retire at an appropriate age and by making the judiciary attractive to barristers, 16 May, 2 June. He defended the delay in producing the report of the commission inquiring into delays in chancery, of which he was a member, 31 May, and warned that too much should not be expected from it as its remit was only to consider the practices of the court, not the law governing its decisions. He supported the motion to publish the evidence already taken in order to stimulate public discussion, 7 June. He supported the grant to the commission for suppressing the slave trade, commending its work at Sierra Leone, 11 Mar., and said that he would oppose the ministerial plan to amend his Slave Trade Act unless a clause was inserted to prevent refugee slaves from being returned to their colony, 15 Mar.42 He urged the government to end the ‘rank injustice’ of differential sugar duties between the East and West Indies, ‘upon the obvious principles of political economy’, and denied that he was motivated by hostility to the West India planters, 21 Mar. He opposed the West India Company bill, fearing that the slaves would be ‘subjected to many new sufferings’, 16 May. He moved for inquiry into the deportation of Lecesne and Descoffery, 16 June, but withdrew in the hope of a full investigation next session. He supported Buxton’s motion condemning the expulsion of the Methodist missionary Shrewsbury from Barbados, 23 June. He strongly supported the cotton mills regulation bill, which would ‘remove a most crying evil’, 16 May, arguing that children needed to be protected from excessive hours of labour although ‘adults might be permitted to do as they pleased’. He opposed the grant for the duke of Cumberland’s son unless he was educated in England, 27 May, and objected to the way Parliament was conceding control of the money to the king, 30 May. In the debate on the smuggling prevention bill, 10 June, he warned that if Britain claimed the right to search foreign vessels near her shores other countries would do the same, causing ‘much trouble and inconvenience’.43 He accused the duke of Wellington, a trustee of the Deccan prize money, of showing ‘contempt and disregard’ for the claimants, 28 June, 1 July 1825. His absence through illness in the early part of the 1826 session contributed, in Peel’s opinion, to the slackness of the opposition.44 He supported Denman’s motion condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and pleaded with the House to abide by ‘those principles laid down by eternal providence for the good government of man’ and ‘endeavour to impart to the negro a sense of justice and a knowledge of his God’. He refuted Alexander Baring’s charges that the abolitionists were guilty of exaggeration, 20 Apr. He supported Brougham’s motion on colonial slavery, 19 May, and expressed concern that ministerial indecision was encouraging the planters to resist change; he was a minority teller. He defended the work of the chancery commissioners, 18 May, but was not ‘sanguine’ that the recommended reforms would greatly facilitate business, although they were a prudent first step from which ‘bolder remedies’ might follow. He personally favoured separating the bankruptcy business, which caused ‘infinite delay’. At the general election that summer he stood for Tregony, a borough supposedly controlled by Darlington. There was a double return, settled in favour of Lushington and James Brougham, 29 Nov. 1826.45

He divided for Catholic claims, 6 Mar. 1827. He voted for a 50s. import duty on corn, 9 Mar., against increased protection for barley, 12 Mar., and for reduction of the corn duty to 10s. by 1833, 27 Mar. He supported a motion to abolish corporal punishment in the army, 12 Mar., declaring that the subject was one requiring agitation ‘until we should arrive at that minimum of human suffering which would be compatible with the preservation of discipline’. On 13 Mar. he drew attention to the case of an Anglican clergyman in Jamaica who had incited an attack on the meeting house of a Methodist missionary, which showed that ‘the spirit of illiberality was spreading’. He voted for information about the Barrackpoor mutiny, 22 Mar. He divided for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar., and urged acceptance of the Lords’ amendments, 17 May, as ‘justice and humanity called for the total abolition of the practice’. He welcomed the writ of right bill, which offered ‘some amelioration in the practice of transferring real property’, 27 Mar. He pronounced a ‘most decided negative’ to Taylor’s motion to separate bankruptcy cases from chancery jurisdiction, 22 May, arguing that it would ‘destroy ... uniformity of decision on all points relating to the property of the subject’; some specific measure of procedural reform should have been proposed. He voted for information regarding the Lisburn Orange procession, 29 Mar. He firmly opposed a petition from Norwich weavers and master manufacturers for wage regulation, 31 May. He presented petitions from Jamaica and Honduras for coloured freemen to be given the legal rights and privileges of British subjects, 12 June 1827. During the recess he devoted much of his time to aspects of the slavery question, meeting regularly to discuss tactics with Buxton, Brougham, Zachary Macaulay and others, and communicating with ministers on the issue of coloured freemen. He wrote to Buxton in November:

We have had warm work since you left London, and it seems likely to continue; however, I am high in spirits. We have Brougham in full energy, strength and determination, and we have a case in all points impregnable. Would I had more leisure! for my appetite is whetted by all the follies and iniquities of the planters.46

Brougham was furious that the king’s hostility had apparently prevented Lushington from being offered a judicial appointment by Lord Goderich’s coalition ministry, and thought he had behaved ‘admirably’ in the circumstances by promising his continued support, although he felt his exclusion ‘bitterly’, as ‘an insult as well as a wrong’, and ‘hate[d] them properly’.47

He voted to repeal the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and paired in favour of Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He supported the motion for copies of all the public Acts of colonial assemblies and the orders in council issued for regulating the colonies, 27 Feb., as Parliament and the country were being kept in a ‘state of ignorance’. He maintained that Parliament and the government were already committed to the ‘ultimate abolition’ of slavery, 5 Mar., and thought no one could ‘refuse the expense consequent upon maintaining a police, even for the whole world’, to combat the trade, when they remembered ‘the debt we contracted in consequence of the enormities [committed] in times past ... by ourselves’. He said he would not oppose the Slave Trade Act continuance bill, 1 July, on the understanding that the Wellington ministry would adhere to the principles of their predecessors until the whole issue had been properly considered. On the home secretary Peel’s motion for inquiry into police and crime in the metropolis, 28 Feb., he suggested that the Old Bailey sessions should be extended to deal with cases in Kent and Surrey to achieve a speedier administration of justice. He introduced a rights of executors bill to define their powers over the undisposed residues of personal estates, 2 Apr.; it passed but did not reach the Lords. He gave an ‘unexpected’ vote against the pension for Canning’s widow, 13 May,48 and supported the motion for information on civil list pensions, 20 May, warning of the threat to the judiciary’s independence if judges were partially dependent on financial favours from the crown. He expressed his ‘hearty concurrence’ in Peel’s bill to abolish church briefs, 22 May, as ‘the mischief will be infinite and beyond all calculation’ if more places were not provided for the poor. He supported the additional churches bill, 30 June, and opposed the benefices resignation bill, 17 July, arguing that every clergyman should hold his living independently of another person’s favour and warning that it would ‘tend to multiply pluralities’ and ‘have the effect of loosening the bond which ought to subsist between the pastor and his flock’. That day he made a vigorous defence of Sir John Nicholl*, judge in the prerogative court of Canterbury, against ‘unfounded, frivolous and malicious ... charges’, telling Hume that he was being made the tool of ‘disappointed suitors’. He praised Canning’s achievement in recognizing the South American republics, which ‘marked his attachment to the cause of right and liberty’, 3 July 1828.

Lushington defended the Catholics of England and Scotland from ‘false and unfounded aspersions’ cast by certain Members and praised the ‘unexampled patience’ with which they had borne their exclusion from public life, 16 Feb. 1829. He extolled Peel’s courage and sincerity in recognizing that circumstances in Ireland had changed and that Catholic emancipation was the best means to ‘preserve the integrity of the Protestant church’. He voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. He rejected the demand for an immediate dissolution, 9 Mar., declaring that ministers would ‘deserve impeachment’ if they complied. He had qualms about the bill to disfranchise Irish 40s. freeholders, 20 Mar., but felt it was justified ‘on the principle of reciprocal advantage’, as their loss would mean that ‘the gates of the constitution are open for the admission of the whole people of Ireland’. He supported the proposed new oath for Catholic Members, 23 Mar., and opposed the amendment requiring Catholics to disavow the doctrine of having no faith with heretics, 27 Mar. He approved of the rights of executors bill, 10 Mar., and hoped that lord chancellor Lyndhurst would carry out an extensive reform of chancery, including its bankruptcy proceedings, 25 May. He supported the ecclesiastical courts bill, 21 May, acknowledging as a judge himself (since 1826) that they were not conducted in a satisfactory way. He did not oppose a motion for information on them, 12 June, but warned that procedural reform ‘cannot be accomplished by any effort of human wisdom’ and that it was ‘extremely dangerous to pull down before we are prepared to build up’. He thought the government should be accountable in the courts for vessels damaged by the king’s ships, 22 May. He supported the bill requiring Members to vacate their seats if appointed to East India Company posts in India, but saw difficulties in making it retrospective, 6 May. He presented a Jamaica petition for the extension of the order in council removing the disabilities of the coloured population of Trinidad, 1 June. He believed that an inquiry into the condition of the slaves in Mauritius was ‘absolutely necessary’, 3 June. He was consulted by the foreign secretary, Lord Aberdeen, on the proposal to extend the deadline for ending the Brazilian slave trade in return for a right to seize ships equipped for the trade, but he reportedly feared that Britain would thereby ‘permit the transportation of a very large number of slaves, of whom many might be destroyed by ill-treatment’; this view was accepted by ministers.49 He gave notice, 19 June 1829, that next session he would introduce a bill providing that slaves brought to Britain should thereafter be free in all British dominions.

He divided for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830, explaining next day that his real objection was to the government’s foreign policy, including its apparent intention of recognizing Dom Miguel’s usurpation of the Portuguese throne and its failure to prevent Spain from threatening Mexico. He was ‘averse’ to war, but considered it ‘the duty of England, when called upon by the ties of treaty and of public honour, to assume the attitude of defiance and ... unfurl the banners of war’. He paired for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., after stating that his experience in the House since 1806 had ‘fully strengthened [his] early impressions respecting the propriety of parliamentary reform’, warning that ‘a heavy pressure of distress has come upon the country and ... measures infinitely wider in their extent and more severe in their operation ... must be speedily adopted’, and advising ministers to ‘appeal to the well-educated, the well-informed, the moral people of this country’ for support. He paired for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar., and voted for Russell’s reform motion, 28 May. He supported the Jewish emancipation bill, acting as a majority teller, 5 Apr., and voted for the second reading, 17 May. He supported Lord Ellenborough’s divorce bill, 6 Apr., explaining that he had presided over the case, had no doubt that Lady Ellenborough had committed adultery and believed that Ellenborough’s ‘general unpopularity’ was the cause of Members’ hostility towards him. He advised against burdening the ecclesiastical courts commissioners, of whom he was one, with the task of considering the question of allowing divorce for adultery in the law courts, 3 June, and suggested that a practical proposal should be submitted so that the complicated issues involved could be debated. He defended the established churches in England and Ireland, 27 Apr., declaring that he could ‘never consent’ to a redistribution of church property in England and arguing that the Irish church was now performing its duties ‘more decorously and more beneficially than before’, though he admitted the need to end pluralism and non-residence. He voted for Mackintosh’s amendments to abolish the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. He judged the time was not yet ripe for granting representative government to the Cape of Good Hope, 24 May, as Britain needed to retain ‘efficient control’ in order to ensure that steps were taken to improve the condition of the African natives. He was ‘perfectly satisfied’ with the ‘utility’ of the settlement at Sierra Leone, 15 June, maintaining that ‘no other place could be fixed upon which is so favourable for our benevolent purpose’ of ending the slave trade. He voted to reduce the grants for diplomatic missions, 7, 11 June, and against the pension for the governor of Prince Edward Island, 14 June. At the dissolution that summer he was obliged to find a new seat, as his patron, now marquess of Cleveland, had deserted the Whigs for the government. He offered at Chichester in early July, but withdrew after a disappointing canvass. He stood for Reading, where he focused on economy and retrenchment, linking these to the need for reform, but was attacked for supporting subsidies for church buildings and the anatomy bill. He ostentatiously refused to resort to bribery and came bottom of the poll after a ‘desperate’ contest in which, he told Brougham, ‘the church and a large portion of the party called semi-Evangelicals ... united against me’, although ‘the old Dissenters ... stood firm by my side’.50 His abolitionist supporters backed a petition against the result, which was presented, 16 Nov. 1830, but not pursued.51

On the formation of Lord Grey’s ministry in November 1830 Lushington urged Buxton to resume his public duties, as he foresaw

a fearful crisis for many of the great objects you have at heart. Without great exertion both slavery and capital punishment will be almost unaltered. I have but little confidence in the merely voluntary good will of the new government, and feel strongly that they should be taught that the voice of the people will not admit of dilatory or half measures.52

His own opportunity to return to Parliament came early in April 1831, when Cleveland, who had reverted to the Whigs in the hope of obtaining a dukedom, created a vacancy for him at Winchelsea.53 He delivered what a Tory West India Member considered an ‘excessively violent and malignant’ speech for Buxton’s slavery motion, 15 Apr., contending that ‘the introduction of slavery into our colonies has been the cause of the demoralisation and distress which prevail there’ and that ‘the present situation of the colonists is a punishment inflicted upon them by Providence for their departure from good principles’.54 He divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the ministry’s reform bill, 19 Apr., and two days later made a rousing speech in favour of an immediate dissolution to strengthen the hand of ‘those who have advocated the great measure of national restoration’. He was returned unopposed for both Winchelsea and Ilchester at the ensuing general election, but chose to sit for the latter. He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and voted steadily for its details in committee. He defended the use of the 1821 census for the purpose of scheduling boroughs, 14 July, observing that the bill was based on the simple principle of ‘the annihilation of all those boroughs in which nomination prevails’. He voted for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. On 23 Aug. he opposed the punishment for bribery of Dublin voters, many of whom were ignorant and ‘poor wretches’, but argued that ‘the person who offers a bribe assails the very foundation of the morals of the poorer voters and is guilty of a trespass upon all the laws of justice and honour’; he was a teller for the successful government amendment that only those found guilty of bribery should be punished. He voted to print the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug. He argued that Parliament was bound to pay compensation to Lecesne and Escoffery and deplored the long delay involved in another inquiry, 18 Aug. In his capacity as a church building commissioner, he took charge of the Church Building Act amendment bill, 26 Sept., 3 Oct., and the augmentation of benefices bill, 26 Sept., 4 Oct. 1831.

He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and voted for its details, the third reading, 22 Mar., and Ebrington’s motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May 1832. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. On 15 Mar. he supported an inquiry into Peterloo, which would ‘teach a great moral lesson to persons in possession of political power’, that ‘they shall ever be answerable for their misdeeds’. He was aware that he had ‘spoken with some degree of warmth on this subject, as ... I do on most occasions’. He opposed Herries’s resolution against the use of public money to repay the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., concluding that Britain was clearly bound by its treaty obligation regardless of the conduct of the Netherlands. He accused Herries of ‘consummate cunning’ in his mode of reviving the issue, 12 July, and again sided with ministers, 16, 20 July. He voted with them on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He declared that Britain should not interfere in the affairs of other nations ‘unless we are justified by the law of nations and by treaties’, 18 Apr., but felt that the people’s ‘utter detestation and abhorrence’ of Russia’s conduct in Poland must be clearly expressed. He gave the government his ‘zealous support’ for their course on slavery, 9 Mar. In May he and Buxton were privately urged by ministers not to embarrass them and obstruct the progress of the reform bill by pressing the issue, but he encountered fierce resistance from campaigners outside Parliament to the idea of showing restraint. Fearing that a ‘violent’ anti-slavery motion might drive ministers into the arms of the West India interest and persuade them to ‘suspend or revoke the orders in council’, he used his ‘utmost personal influence with Buxton to induce him to adopt a wiser course’, that of moving for an inquiry into the means of facilitating the early abolition of slavery.55 He divided against the government’s temporizing amendment to Buxton’s motion, 24 May, vindicating the abolitionists’ campaign, pressing for the implementation of the resolution of 1823 and denying that emancipation would lead to the destruction of the sugar plantations. He approved of the grant to compensate West Indian islands for hurricane damage, 29 June, but protested at the assistance also being offered to the Jamaican colonists in the aftermath of the insurrection, which they had brought on themselves. He supported financial relief for the West Indian crown colonies, 3 Aug., since they were subject to direct authority from the British government, unlike the chartered colonies, and were therefore obliged to respond to the order in council on slavery. He supported the bill to abolish capital punishment for certain forms of theft, 27 Mar., and pressed ministers to abolish the death penalty for forgery, 17 May. He supported their determination to uphold the law in Ireland by enforcing the payment of tithes, 30 Mar., arguing that ‘the whole frame of society will be disturbed’ if nothing was done to combat the present conspiracy. However, he recognized that tithes were unjust to the Catholic population, thought they should be commuted in some way and indicated his support for lay appropriation of surplus Irish church revenues. He supported the motion for information on plurality of benefices in England and Wales, 8 May, rejecting the claim that church property was private on the ground that ‘tenure subjects the holders to the performance of certain duties’. He supported the ecclesiastical courts contempts bill, extending the courts’ jurisdiction to cover peers and Members, 3 Aug. 1832.

At the general election of 1832 Lushington was returned at the head of the poll for Tower Hamlets. He sat as ‘a reformer ... in favour of the immediate abolition of slavery, the repeal of the taxes on knowledge and of the Septennial Act’, who also supported ‘the ballot ... revision of the corn laws and general reform’, until his enforced retirement in 1841. He was deeply involved in issues of church reform and the continuing campaign against world-wide slavery.56 A parliamentary journalist noted in 1836 that he had ‘no pretensions to genius’ and ‘seldom delights his audience by anything brilliant or original’, but his speeches were ‘always argumentative and forcible’ and rarely relied on ‘declamation’. Unfortunately, his voice was ‘shrill’ and ‘his elocution ... somewhat impaired by his inability to pronounce the letter r’.57 He retired from the bench in July 1867, having become ‘one of the old landmarks of legal and political life’.58 He died in January 1873.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. Who left him £1,000 and £4,000 to be invested in securities; ‘a larger sum of money’ had already been ‘advanced’ to him (PROB 11/1456/130).
  • 2. S.M. Waddams, Law, Politics and the Church of England: the career of Stephen Lushington, 4-5, 100-34.
  • 3. Ibid. 27-30; Add. 51584, Lushington to Tierney, 19 Sept. 1819.
  • 4. Hants RO, Tierney mss 47; Add. 38284, f. 28.
  • 5. The Times, 13 July 1820.
  • 6. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 51-52.
  • 7. Ibid. i. 66.
  • 8. Add. 30109, f. 129.
  • 9. NLS mss 1036, ff. 70-73; Waddams, 135-46; C. New, Life of Brougham, 260.
  • 10. The Times, 20 Mar. 1821.
  • 11. Waddams, 147-59.
  • 12. The Times, 29 May 1821.
  • 13. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 30a.
  • 14. The Times, 28 Mar. 1821.
  • 15. Ibid. 6 Mar. 1821.
  • 16. Grey Bennet diary, 33.
  • 17. Ibid. 50; The Times, 4, 5 Apr. 1821.
  • 18. The Times, 16 May 1821.
  • 19. Grey Bennet diary, 97.
  • 20. Ibid. 115.
  • 21. Ibid. 96.
  • 22. The Times, 30 June 1821.
  • 23. Ibid. 30 June 1821.
  • 24. Ibid. 4 July 1821.
  • 25. Add. 36459, f. 183.
  • 26. The Times, 28 June 1822.
  • 27. Ibid. 13 July 1822.
  • 28. Ibid. 5 Mar. 1822.
  • 29. Ibid. 22 June 1822.
  • 30. Ibid. 12 Feb. 1823.
  • 31. Ibid. 14 Mar. 1823.
  • 32. Ibid. 20 Mar. 1823.
  • 33. Ibid. 11 Apr., 12 July 1823.
  • 34. Ibid. 26 Mar. 1823.
  • 35. Ibid. 7, 19 Feb., 6, 15 May 1824.
  • 36. Buxton Mems. 152-3; Waddams, 63-99.
  • 37. Bodl. MS Wilberforce c. 39, f. 61; Buxton, 145.
  • 38. The Times, 2 June 1824.
  • 39. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 11 June 1824.
  • 40. The Times, 2 June 1824.
  • 41. Merthyr Mawr mss F/2/8, Nicholl’s diary, 14 Feb. 1825.
  • 42. The Times, 12, 16 Mar. 1825.
  • 43. Ibid. 11 June 1825.
  • 44. Wellington mss WP1/850/9.
  • 45. R. Cornw. Gazette, 17 June; Brougham mss, Lushington to Brougham, 27 Aug. 1826.
  • 46. Brougham mss, Buxton to Brougham, 3 Oct. 1827; New, 297; Buxton, 205.
  • 47. NLS mss 24748, f. 47.
  • 48. Harewood mss, Backhouse to Lady Canning, 15 May 1828.
  • 49. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 47.
  • 50. Chichester Election of 1830, pp. 34-35, 92; Reading Mercury, 2, 9, 16 Aug.; Brougham mss, Lushington to Brougham, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 51. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, ff. 188, 227.
  • 52. Buxton, 255.
  • 53. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 29, 30 Mar. 1831.
  • 54. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 198, T. to J. Gladstone, 16 Apr. 1831.
  • 55. Buxton, 287; Brougham mss, Lushington to Brougham [May 1832].
  • 56. Dod’s Parl. Companion (1833), 136; Waddams, 15-22, 41-43, 73-99, 249-69.
  • 57. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons, 265-7.
  • 58. The Times, 21 Jan. 1873.