RIDLEY COLBORNE, Nicholas William (1779-1854), of West Harling, Norf.

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



8 May 1805 - 1806
1806 - 1807
30 July 1807 - 1812
1818 - 1826
14 Feb. 1827 - 1832
5 May 1834 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 14 Apr. 1779, 2nd s. of Sir Matthew White Ridley, 2nd bt.† (d. 1813), of Blagdon and Heaton, Northumb. and Sarah, da. and event. h. of Benjamin Colborne of Bath, Som.; bro. of Sir Matthew White Ridley, 3rd bt.* educ. Westminster; G. Inn 1795; Christ Church, Oxf. 1796. m. 14 June 1808, Charlotte, da. of Thomas Steele† of Westhampnett, Suss., 1s. d.v.p. 4da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. mat. uncle William Colborne and took additional name of Colborne by royal lic. 21 June 1803; cr. Bar. Colborne 15 May 1839. d. 3 May 1854.

Offices Held


Ridley Colborne was returned again for his local borough of Thetford in 1820 on Lord Petre’s interest. He was a regular attender and frequent speaker who continued to vote with the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry on all major issues, including parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr., 24 June 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 9 Mar., 13 Apr. 1826. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He described the ill treatment of horses bill as ‘wholly unnecessary’ and complained that the House was ‘too prone to legislation upon subjects which did not require it’, 1 June 1821. He similarly spoke against the cruelty to animals bill, 14 June 1821,1 and was a minority teller next day against the cattle protection bill. He questioned the need for legislation against bear-baiting and dog-fighting, 21 Feb. 1826, and asked if some of the sports of the higher orders should not be likewise prohibited. He called for a revision of the beer duties to permit a greater variety to be sold, 14 May, 3 June 1822.2 He was convinced that the game laws were detrimental to the ‘peace and happiness’ of the lower orders, 13 Mar. 1823, but opposed legalization of the sale of game, 11 Mar. 1824, arguing that this would give poachers a ‘certain market’ and end the ‘interchange of civilities’ whereby landlords bestowed gifts of game in return for tenants’ co-operation in its preservation. Unlike most Whigs, he opposed the bill to outlaw spring guns, 21 June 1825, as he considered them preferable to the ‘well organized bands of armed men’ otherwise used against poachers; he was a teller for the minority. He was persuaded to withdraw a clause to allow their use at night, 30 June 1825, but protested against the supposition that opponents of the measure were deficient in humanity. He voted against the third reading of the reintroduced bill, 27 Apr. 1826.3 He maintained that publication of parliamentary debates, by ‘subjecting men to the influence of public opinion’, had ‘done much towards a practical reform’, 22 Apr. 1823. He presented petitions from Newcastle-upon-Tyne ship owners against the reciprocity of duties bill, 30 June 1823, and for repeal of the coal duties, 18 Feb. 1824;4 both reflected family business interests. When presenting a petition against removal of the Norfolk lent assizes from Thetford to Norwich, 24 Feb. 1825, he argued that it was an interference with the royal prerogative; he corresponded with the home secretary Peel on the matter.5 He put his faith in public opinion as a corrective for abuses in private bill committees, 19 Apr. 1826.

It was said of Ridley Colborne that he was ‘better known to the world as a warm and active promoter and encourager of art’ than as a Whig politician,6 and his aesthetic interests were much in evidence during the 1820 Parliament. He supported the grant to the British Museum and approved its open access policy, 26 May 1820, though ‘a system of economy should as far as possible be adopted’. He advocated a new building to house the museum, 16 Feb. 1821, 20 Feb. 1822.7 He approved the amalgamation of George III’s library with the museum’s existing collection, 20 June 1823, when he observed that it was ‘singular’ that alone in Europe, Britain possessed no gallery for paintings. He praised Sir George Beaumont’s† gift of paintings to the museum, 1 Mar. 1824. He suggested the Marlborough House site for a gallery to house the Angerstein collection of paintings (the basis of the National Gallery), 9 Apr. 1824. He spoke generally on the need for a more central location for a picture gallery than the British Museum, 25 Mar. 1825, when he recommended the purchase of Marshal Soult’s art collection. He presented a petition for the encouragement of historical painting from the artist Benjamin Haydon, 23 Feb.,8 and approved additions to the national collection, 19 Apr. 1826. Appointed to the select committee on Westminster public buildings, 24 Mar., he answered criticism of Sir John Soane’s design for the new law courts by supporting the architect’s assertion that his plans had been interfered with by that committee, 21 May 1824. He deplored the heavy expenditure on building work at Buckingham House, which was ‘such a wretched site’, 16 June 1825.9 To his brother’s suggestion that the design of public buildings be opened to competition, 17 Apr. 1826, he countered that senior architects ‘would not have time to make such presentations’. He was left without a seat after the general election that summer, owing to the lapse of Petre’s interest, but the 12th duke of Norfolk returned him on a vacancy for Horsham in February 1827 and he sat undisturbed until 1832.

He regarded continued objections to the duke of Clarence’s grant as ‘ungracious’, 19 Feb. 1827. He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He questioned the use of solitary confinement at Millbank penitentiary, 10 Mar.10 He opposed the Wakefield and Ferrybridge canal bill on behalf of the Aire and Calder Canal Company, whose service he claimed would be duplicated, and acted as a majority teller, 15 Mar. (and again, 3 Mar. 1828).11 He voted for inquiry into the allegations made against Leicester corporation, 15 Mar., and for information regarding the conduct of the Lisburn magistrates, 29 Mar. He divided next day for Tierney’s amendment to postpone the committee of supply, and for inquiry into the Irish miscellaneous estimates, 5 Apr. He joined Lord Althorp in offering ‘a very handsome and disinterested support’ to Canning’s ministry, while admitting differences over reform and Catholic relief and remaining in opposition, 7 May; he also criticized the ‘want of temper’ shown by the Ultra Tories. However, he voted against the government for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May. He accepted the need for a new Middlesex asylum, 13 June 1827, though he denied that conditions in the existing one were as bad as portrayed. He divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 20 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. After attending a meeting of backbenchers at Henry Bankes’s house, 7 Mar., he supported the appointment of a select committee to investigate the public building department of the office of works, 24 Mar., arguing that it would be a restraining influence on extravagant expenditure.12 He voted against extending East Retford’s franchise to Bassetlaw freeholders, 21 Mar. He believed that election committee proceedings should remain behind closed doors, 3 Apr. He criticized the distinction drawn in Slaney’s poor relief bill between the able-bodied and the sick poor, 17 Apr., observing that ‘if an able-bodied man is refused relief, in 48 hours he becomes weak and helpless’. He believed the operation of the settlement laws made it imperative that the unemployed be provided with work or relief. He expressed concern at the casualization of labour, 21 Apr., preferring to see ‘an attachment between master and servant’. He voted against the duke of Wellington’s ministry for inquiry into civil list pensions, 20 May, to omit the salary of the governor of Dartmouth, 20 June, and to reduce that of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July. He accepted the need for a grant for repairs at Windsor Castle, 6 June, but voted to condemn the misapplication of public money for building work at Buckingham House, 23 June. He withdrew his opposition to the game bill, 13 June, acknowledging that ‘the country calls on us to make an alteration and will not be satisfied without it’; he nevertheless opposed an ambiguously worded clause on the property qualification, 10 July. He voted for inquiry into pluralism in the Irish church, 24 June, and against the additional churches bill, 30 June 1828. He divided for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He advised the House not to be too scrupulous when validating petitions, given the ‘great division’ of opinion on the subject, 12 Mar. Though he supported the disfranchisement of Irish 40s. freeholders, 18 Mar., he regretted the implication that relief was ‘not granted as a boon, but as a matter of barter’. He opposed an amendment to apply emancipation retrospectively and thus allow Daniel O’Connell to take his seat, 21 May. He quizzed ministers over the renewal of the Assessed Taxes Composition Act, 16, 24 Mar. He regarded the proposed democratization of select vestries as a disincentive to the involvement of ‘gentlemen’ in local government, 28 Apr. He professed himself to be ‘no greater admirer’ of Buckingham House ‘than any other Member’, 25 May 1829, and while it was ‘too late to interfere’ he voted against the additional grant for the sculpture of the marble arch. He divided against Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform motion, 18 Feb., but for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. 1830. He acted with the revived Whig opposition on all major issues that session. He broadly accepted emigration as a means to relieve distress, 23 Mar., but was sceptical about a proposal to give magistrates the power to set a minimum wage, 6 Apr. He argued that consumption of beer rather than spirits would ‘improve the morality and well being of the people’, and considered the qualms felt over the removal of the beer duty to be unduly alarmist, 21 May. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. He favoured amending the Church Building Act to give surplus revenues to minor church officials, 20 May, 8 June 1830.

The ministry naturally regarded Ridley Colborne as one of their ‘foes’, and he voted against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. He gave lukewarm support to Lord Nugent’s labouring poor bill, 19 Nov. He opined that the ‘deluded peasantry’ involved in recent agricultural disturbances should be tried by special commissions rather than by the magistrates who had committed them, 7 Dec. He considered it ‘bad economy’ to underpay government clerks, 9 Dec. 1830. He maintained that Parliament would never agree to a property tax, 17 Feb. 1831. He divided for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced bill, 6 July, and many of its details in committee, but he was against the disfranchisement of Downton, 21 July, and St. Germans, 26 July, and for the Chandos amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., and Hughes’s amendment against giving county votes to urban copyholders and leaseholders, 20 Aug. He confessed his surprise at the initial omission of Horsham from the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, but denied that any favouritism was involved and noted that the extended franchise would so reduce Norfolk’s influence as to render his own re-election unlikely. He believed ‘the country imperiously demands some reform’, and while the government’s proposals ‘may not exactly suit my views, I think we were forced to take strong measures ... as nothing else would have satisfied the people’. He defended the disfranchisement of his patron’s borough of Steyning, 26 July. He voted for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He drew attention to the decrepit condition of the National Gallery’s temporary home in Pall Mall and expressed his ‘hearty concurrence’ with the grant for a new building, which would encourage further bequests, 1, 8 July. He spoke in favour of issuing the Dublin election writ, 8 Aug., acting as a majority teller. He voted to prosecute only those guilty of bribery at the Dublin election and against the motion condemning the Irish administration for exercising undue influence, 23 Aug. He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and for its details, except the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. 1832. He voted for the third reading, 22 Mar., and the address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May. He divided for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 23 May, and Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from the House, 27 June. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July. He favoured conferring additional powers on parish officers to combat the cholera epidemic and corroborated an anecdote which ‘proved’ the disease was contagious, 28 Mar. He renewed his opposition to the Norfolk assizes bill, 3 Apr., 23 May, 4 June. He defended lord chancellor Brougham against a charge of sinecurism, 27 July 1832.

The partial disfranchisement of Horsham by the Reform Act left Ridley Colborne without a seat. He unsuccessfully contested Wells as a Liberal in 1832 but was returned for that borough in 1834 and sat until his retirement in 1837. Raised to the peerage by Lord Melbourne’s ministry in 1839, he was appointed to the fine arts commission in 1841 and to the metropolitan improvements commission the following year. He died in May 1854 and left his West Harling estate to his daughter Charlotte, the wife of Sir George Nugent*. He bequeathed eight paintings including two Rembrandts to the National Gallery, of which he had been ‘a most active trustee’ since 1831. According to a fulsome obituary, he was ‘open-hearted’ and ‘of a nature singularly kind and conciliatory’, and was

one of those valuable members of society - a highly cultivated English country gentleman, enjoying the world’s goods with gratitude to the giver of all good, but enjoying them at the same time for the welfare and enjoyment of others.13

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Howard Spencer / Terry Jenkins


  • 1. The Times, 15 June 1821.
  • 2. Ibid. 4 June 1822.
  • 3. Norf. RO, Gunton mss 1/21.
  • 4. The Times, 1 July 1823, 19 Feb. 1824.
  • 5. Ibid. 25 Feb. 1825; Add. 40356, f. 58; 40366, f. 27; 40372, f. 37.
  • 6. Gent. Mag. (1854), i. 645.
  • 7. The Times, 21 Feb. 1822.
  • 8. Ibid. 24 Feb. 1826.
  • 9. Ibid. 17 June 1825.
  • 10. Ibid. 11 Mar. 1827.
  • 11. Ibid. 16 Mar. 1827.
  • 12. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 7, 24 Mar. 1828.
  • 13. PROB 11/2192/438; C. Holmes and C. Baker, Making of Nat. Gallery, 28; Gent. Mag. (1854), i. 645.