BEAUFOY, Henry (1750-95), of Great George St., Westminster.
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Family and Education
b. Nov. 1750, 1st s. of Mark Beaufoy, vinegar brewer, of Cuper’s Bridge, Lambeth by Elizabeth, da. of Capel Hanbury of Bristol and Pontymoyle. educ. Hoxton Acad. 1765-7; Warrington Acad. 1767-70; Edinburgh, Grand Tour (France, Italy). m. Elizabeth, da. and coh. of William Jenks of Shifnal, Salop, s.p. suc. fa. 11 Feb. 1782. His sis. Maria m. 1773 George Durant of Tong Castle, Salop.
Sec. Bd. of Control [India Office] 1791-3.
Beaufoy, of a Quaker family, was sent to nonconformist schools, and though he joined the Established Church retained throughout life a close connexion with the Dissenters.1 In 1775 he entered his father’s firm of vinegar distillers, but seems to have taken no very active part in its business and apparently severed his connexion with it after his father’s death.2 Determined to enter Parliament, he hoped to find a seat at the general election of 1780, but, he wrote later:3
Restricted to a line of cautious procedure by the smallness of my fortune, which, including the produce of my wife’s estate, afforded but £1,600 a year; yet very desirous of representing a borough, in which the suffrages of honest men have at least a share, I resolved to ask the advice of some leader of a party, who might be willing to give me the assistance that is considered as due to a man, who will not indeed relinquish his independence, but from whom the sort of aid may be expected that similarity of principle affords.
He therefore asked his former tutor, Dr. Andrew Kippis, to introduce him to Shelburne, to whom Kippis wrote on 20 May 1780:
From his earliest youth it has been his ambition to make a distinguished figure in Parliament, and to this end have all his studies been directed. His education has been liberal ... With regard to the talents for public speaking which is his prime object, he has a copious invention, extensive knowledge and great readiness and force with correctness of language. The proprieties of elocution and language he has long learned under Mr. [Thomas] Sheridan, and three days in the week he speaks in my presence on some historical, constitutional or commercial subject. He is a true friend to religious and civil liberty and wholly disapproves of the measures of the present Administration.
But though Shelburne suggested Beaufoy as a candidate to an (unnamed) patron of a Cornish borough, his application was too late, nor did a meeting with Fox prove any more effectual, and Beaufoy did not stand at the general election. During the next two years he continued to search impatiently but unsuccessfully for a seat. After Shelburne had taken office Kippis again wrote about Beaufoy, 20 July 1782:
Since I had the honour of introducing him to your Lordship he hath acquired a large accession of fortune by the death of his father and another relation, so that any expense attending an election would be a matter of no consequence to him. By the happy change of his Majesty’s counsels Mr. Beaufoy would be an active and cheerful supporter of Government. ... I would pawn my reputation on Mr. Beaufoy’s making a figure in the House, both as a speaker and as a man of business.4
At length, in March 1783, Shelburne arranged that Beaufoy should pay £3,000 to Francis Fownes Luttrell to vacate his seat at Minehead. Beaufoy wrote subsequently:
No arguments were necessary to prove that this mode of obtaining a seat ... however mortifying to my pride, or discordant to my ideas of the spirit of the constitution, was not only more consistent than any other plan I could possibly pursue with that perfect independence which I had always determined should form the basis of my political character, but was in fact the only way in which, in my unconnected situation, an independent seat was likely to be obtained at all.5
In Parliament Beaufoy opposed the Coalition, and his speeches show a strong dislike of North. In a maiden speech6on 7 May 1783, he supported Pitt’s parliamentary reform proposals, and argued that the present advantages of the constitution were ‘not the benefits of the ancient British constitution but of innovations on that constitution ... No constitution can long remain unaltered that is not adapted to the circumstances of the times and the general disposition of the people.’ He was one of the reforming group which surrounded Pitt and supported his Administration; but, according to Wraxall, though he was ‘strongly attached’ to Pitt ‘he nevertheless preserved his independence of character, and might be esteemed rather a friend than a follower of the minister’.7
At the general election Beaufoy was invited to stand for Great Yarmouth in opposition to the Townshend interest. He was supported by a party of independent townsmen who were mostly Dissenters, and achieved such success on the canvass that he was returned unopposed. As a hedge he was re-elected for Minehead, but chose to sit for Yarmouth.
Beaufoy was a frequent speaker on a wide range of subjects, and, writes Wraxall, was ‘among the Members who occupied throughout the session no inconsiderable portion of notice ... On all subjects connected with commerce he displayed a great variety of information and his intentions were always directed to national benefit.’8 As a member of a committee to inquire into the receipt and expenditure of public revenue he pointed out, 4 May 1786, the ‘absurdity of employing persons in offices of great trouble and temptation without a salary adequate to the comforts or even support of life’, and advocated the removal of corrupt officials and the addition of their salaries to those of the more deserving.9 He spoke at length and with obvious knowledge on various commercial subjects, particularly the fishing industry, and in 1785 was chairman of a parliamentary committee to inquire into the state of the fisheries. He campaigned for a reform of the excise laws; condemned them in half a dozen speeches, and, 14 June 1785, introduced a bill to codify the existing laws and permit trial by jury for excise offences, emphasising the abuses arising from summary trials by magistrates.10 In 1787 he was asked by the Dissenters to move the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. Wraxall writes that his speech of 28 Mar.
comprehended every argument which ingenuity or reason could suggest, clothed in language of no ordinary elegance and energy, tempered throughout by judgment as well as by moderation, and delivered with his characteristic oratorical cadence ... I have indeed seen few more luminous displays of intellect in Parliament.11
He continued the campaign for repeal after this attempt had failed; moved for it again on 8 May 1789 and seconded Fox’s motion of 3 Mar. 1790. He also introduced a bill to enforce the reading of the Bill of Rights in church in commemoration of the 1688 Revolution.12 In a speech on 17 June 1788 he supported Sir William Dolben’s measures for regulating the slave trade.13
He died 17 May 1795.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Mary M. Drummond
- 1. G. Beaufoy, Leaves from a Beech Tree, 137, and Debrett, xxi. 530.
- 2. Debrett, xx. 335.
- 3. In a memoir about his entry into Parliament, excerpt in Aspinall Smith, English Hist. Docs. xi. 242.
- 4. Lansdowne mss at Bowood.
- 5. English Hist. Docs. 241-3.
- 6. Debrett, ix. 714-22.
- 7. Mems. iv. 139.
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Debrett, xx. 163-5.
- 10. Ibid. xvii. 502-13.
- 11. Mems. iv. 436.
- 12. 17 July 1789, Stockdale, xviii. 86-87.
- 13. Ibid. xv. 203-12.