BANKES, Henry (1756-1834), of Kingston Lacy, Dorset.
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Family and Education
Robinson in his survey of 1780 expected Bankes to be a friend to Government, but about his first speech, I June 1781, Walpole wrote to H. S. Conway, 3 June: ‘A still newer orator has appeared in the India business, a Mr. Bankes, and against Lord North too; and with a merit that the very last crop of orators left out of their rubric—modesty.’ Bankes strongly opposed the American war: denied that it was a popular war—‘The nation had been deceived into it, and the Americans had been compelled, on principles of self-defence, to have recourse to arms’; while the ministers who had promoted it had shown ‘their total inability in carrying their own plans, crude ... and defective as they were, into execution’ (12 June 1781).2 In each of the six extant division lists December 1781-March 1782 he appears as voting against Government. George Selwyn wrote to Lord Carlisle, 19 Feb. 1782: ‘Young Pitt has formed a society of young ministers, who are to fight under his banner, and these are the Duke of Rutland, Mr. Bankes etc.’3 On 5 Dec. 1782, seconding the Address, Bankes described peace as ‘the only thing that could save us’ and for which ‘sacrifices must be made’; ‘our debts were at all events to be discharged’; and ‘in the concessions we should have to make, we ought to be anxious to put our pride out of the way’. Economy, even parsimony was required: ‘nay it should be avarice, nothing short of it would do’. He voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, as being ‘highly favourable, and such as we have no reason to expect’. In December 1783, before Pitt’s re-election on taking office, Bankes was authorized by him to tell the House that there would be no dissolution—a statement repeatedly quoted against him during the next few years, although Pitt declared, 12 Jan. 1784, that Bankes had spoken at his request.4
Bankes voted for Pitt’s first parliamentary reform proposals, 7 May 1783, but against those of 18 Apr. 1785, for he disapproved ‘of purchasing the boroughs with public money’;5voted against Richmond’s fortifications plan, 27 Feb. 1786; and in the debate on increases in army estimates, 10 Dec. 1787, asked for assurances that they were necessary.6 He voted with Administration on the impeachment of Impey, 9 May 1788, and the Regency, 1788-9.
Wraxall wrote about Bankes:7
His talents compensated by their calm solidity for the want of brilliancy. His enunciation, slow, formal, precise, and not without some degree of embarrassment, was nevertheless always controlled by judgment, caution, and good sense. No man displayed more rectitude of intention, independence of mind, and superiority to every private object of interest or ambition.
Bankes was the author of a Civil and Constitutional History of Rome. A Member for over 50 years, mostly outside our period, he died 17 Dec. 1834. The Gentleman’s Magazine wrote in his obituary:
Mr. Bankes was an accomplished scholar, intimately acquainted with ancient and modern literature, and of a refined and acknowledged taste in the arts.