WARD, John IV (1682-1755), of Hackney, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1710 - 1713
24 Mar. 1714 - 1715
1722 - 16 May 1726

Family and Education

bap. 26 June 1682, s. of William Ward, dyer, of Guisborough, Yorks. by Anne, da. of Thomas Flood of Hackney; bro. of Joshua Ward†.  m. 18 June 1699, Rebecca (d. 1731), da. of Edward Lascells, Grocer, of London. 1s.  ?suc. fa. Sept. 1718.

Offices Held

Commr. taking subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711.1


An ambitious figure who proudly boasted ‘I’m not afraid of angry words’, Ward earned himself a reputation for sharp practice which ensured him celebrity well beyond City circles. His rags-to-riches success as a London merchant was acknowledged by his contemporaries, although one account attributed Ward’s fortune to the devil, ‘who procured him an estate of £6,000 p.a. and made him a Member of Parliament to cover the cheat’. He was reputed to have started his career as a manufacturer of floor-cloths, but by his early twenties his family connexions had already led to his involvement in the Company of Scotland and its trade with the East Indies, as well as the management of an alum mine owned by the Duke of Buckingham. Ward’s overseas enterprise soon led to a clash with the East India Company over the seizure of one of his cargoes, and the ensuing courtroom battle eventually brought Ward to the attention of Parliament for the first time. On 23 Feb. 1708 he sought to publicize the arbitrariness of the company by petitioning the Lords against a bill to repeal the Garbling Act. He had recently ventured into print in an effort to discredit the company for contravening the Act, but his petition failed in its objective. Ever resourceful, he subsequently became a substantial shareholder in the United East India Company, and built up a massive fortune through government contracts and several ‘considerable transactions for great sums of money’ which he undertook at the behest of Buckingham.2

At the 1710 election Ward’s impatient desire to enter Parliament caused him to contest two seats where carpet-bagging London merchants had a good record of electoral success. His identification as one of the successful Tory candidates at Reigate is supported by his ownership of several properties in the town, as well as by the presence of his brother Joshua among the burgage-holders who supported the Tory platform. However, even though he was returned on 6 Oct. alongside a fellow City businessman Sir John Parsons*, he stood only three days later for election at Weymouth and Melcombe Regis. Ward’s status as one of the government’s naval contractors was his principal recommendation for this second contest, but even with the aid of Viscount Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) he could not secure one of the four seats there. However, his petition against the Weymouth return forced a second election, and even while sitting for Reigate he continued to play an active part in the Dorset constituency’s affairs. His interest at Weymouth was confirmed at a by-election in December 1711 by the return of his nominee, the Tory Reginald Marriott*, who had also participated in elections at Reigate. Further evidence of Ward’s influence may have been supplied the following June when he possibly acted as one of the referees to recommend a candidate for a landwaiter’s post at Weymouth.3

While Ward’s Tory sympathies were confirmed by the ‘Hanover list’, the task of ascertaining his activity in the 1710 Parliament is complicated by the presence in the House of John Ward III* and William Ward*. However, his mercantile background suggests he was more likely than either of these namesakes to have become involved with commercial or fiscal legislation. He may, for instance, have been quick to use his new status for personal ends, for on 2 Mar. 1711 his petition, requesting that his case against the Old East India Company be reviewed, was submitted to the Commons. Given his animus against the company, he may be plausibly identified as a teller on 13 Mar. in favour of a clause to debar persons from holding simultaneous directorships at the Bank and East India House. He probably acted as a teller on 22 May in the majority to find the Whig mayor of Weymouth guilty of illegal practices at a recent by-election. However, Ward did pay heed to the views of his Tory supporters at Reigate, he being later cited as one of the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the first session helped to uncover the mismanagements of the previous ministry. His readiness to back the government’s commercial policies was probably displayed on 25 May in the division over an amendment to the South Sea bill, and he was subsequently appointed one of the receivers for the first subscription.

Ward’s first probable mention in the Journals in the second session, on 17 Jan. 1712, was a passing reference in connexion with the forage contracts administered by Robert Walpole II*. His active responsibility for supplying the war effort also suggests that he may have acted as a teller on 15 Feb. in a successful bid to declare void the election of the Member for Durham City, Sir Henry Belasyse*, a controversial figure who had recently been appointed an inspector of forces in the Peninsula. It is impossible to say whether Ward was the Member granted leave of absence on 25 Mar., but he is more likely than his namesakes to have managed the bill to secure an agreement between the Royal African Company and its creditors. Although evidence of Ward’s interest in that trade has not been traced, he may have continued to promote it in the next session, for on 2 June 1713 he possibly acted as a teller to block a clause proposed for an African trade bill. By that date the contentious issue of the French commerce treaty had probably given ample proof of Ward’s current loyalty to the ministry. In a committee of the whole House on 14 May he may well have spoken in support of Arthur Moore* after the latter had proposed the introduction of a bill to confirm the treaty. In the division of 18 June, when several leading Tory merchants deserted the ministry, Ward actually chose to back the bill confirming the 8th and 9th articles of the treaty.

At the subsequent general election Ward’s attempt to gain a seat at Weymouth was again frustrated by a determined Whig campaign, although the dubious tactics employed by their rivals encouraged all four Tory candidates to petition the House. While this matter lay unresolved, Ward seems to have played an important role in trying to bring the City into a working accommodation with the ministry. At the general court of the South Sea Company on 24 Feb. 1714, it appears that he gave vocal support to Arthur Moore* when the latter sought to persuade the stockholders to accept the ministry’s latest settlement regarding the company’s exclusive trading rights. The ministry quickly overcame opposition on this matter, and Ward was to score a more personal success on 3 June when the Tories obtained a favourable ruling from the Commons on the Weymouth election. However, by that time Ward had already withdrawn his petition, having taken advantage of a vacancy at Ludgershall to secure election to the House. Like Reigate and Weymouth, the Wiltshire constituency had earned a reputation as a refuge for ambitious London merchants, and Ward’s uncontested victory on 24 Mar. was clearly engineered by the local proprietor John Richmond Webb*.4

Even though Ward was returned on a Tory interest, doubts over his political allegiance were aired within weeks of his re-entry into Parliament. On 22 Apr. 1714, when described as ‘an eminent merchant’, Ward raised ‘the most material objections’ to the French and Spanish commerce treaties by warning of the danger of leaving proposed customs duties ‘loose and undetermined’. Such pragmatic considerations appear to have animated his parliamentary activity in the remainder of the session. On 7 May, he may have acted as a teller to commit a bill to crack down on the fraudulent import of foreign goods. He almost certainly acted as a teller four days later to reject a clause in a bill to encourage the tobacco trade, having on a previous occasion shown great interest in securing the lease of the tobacco duties. In a similar vein, on 20 May he may well have moved that the customs commissioners supply the House with information concerning the past yield of the duty on goods imported by foreign merchants. It is likely he was also the ‘Mr Ward’ appointed to several committees to draft bills relating to commercial issues.5

Ward’s political career after the advent of Hanoverian rule was spectacularly controversial. In 1718 he failed to win a by-election at Aldeburgh, even though he had enlisted the considerable local influence of Sir Henry Johnson* and had declared his readiness ‘to be at any expense’ to secure victory. Four years later he finally managed to win a contest at Weymouth, only to be ignominiously expelled from the House in May 1726, and later sentenced to the pillory, after the Upper House had recommended that he be prosecuted for forgery in connexion with the Duke of Buckingham’s alum contract. Such was Ward’s notoriety that Pope twice cited him as an exemplar of nefariousness, and after years of trying to elude his creditors Ward was finally imprisoned in 1732 on surrendering himself to the bankruptcy commissioners. His goods were seized on the orders of Chancery after he had been convicted of embezzling some £50,000 of South Sea funds, and long before his death in July 1755 he had been forced to sell up and leave his Hackney mansion. His bullish attitude towards life is most effectively conveyed by the ‘prayer’ which was discovered among his papers: ‘Keep my friends from sinking and preserve me from thieves and housebreakers, and make all my servants so honest and faithful that they may attend to my interests and never cheat me out of my property, night or day.’

Ward’s son Knox had purchased Sir John Vanbrugh’s office of Clarenceux King of Arms for £3,000 in 1726, and tried to gain entrance to Parliament on three occasions. However, his father’s reputation played no small part in ensuring that his electoral hopes were dashed at Weymouth in 1727 and 1730, and at Ipswich in 1741.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Perry Gauci


  • 1. IGI, London; Case of John Ward, Appellant [1725]; Gent. Mag. 1731, p. 266; Pittis, Present Parl. 352.
  • 2. Add. 29569, f. 340; Heraldo Memoriale ed. Wagner, 85–86; W. Robinson, Hackney, i. 123; Case of John Ward of Hackney [1708]; HMC Lords n.s. vii. 569; Bodl. Rawl. D.747, ff. 368–74; Egerton 3359 (unfol.); Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiv. 112, 537; Case of Duke of Buckingham and Others, Respondents [1725].
  • 3. Add. 36153, f. 141; Surr. RO (Kingston), 445/1, Reigate polls, 1698, 1710; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 358; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 26, f. 174; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvi. 311.
  • 4. Hist. Jnl. iv. 195; Rapin, Hist. Eng. ii. 315; Boyer, Pol. State, vii. 176.
  • 5. Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 1348; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxv. 456.
  • 6. A. R. Wagner, Heralds of England, 362; Add. 19154, ff. 200–2; 22248, f. 60; Pope, Dunciad (1728), line 26; Epistle to Allen, Ld. Bathurst (1732), line 20; Robinson, 124–5.