CLEVLAND, John (1734-1817), of Tapley, Devon

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



19 Nov. 1766 - 1802

Family and Education

b. 1734, 1st s. of John Clevland. m. 3 Jan. 1782, Elizabeth, da. and h. of Richard Stevens of Winscott, Devon, wid. of Robert Awse of Horwood House, Frithelstock, Devon,1 s.p. suc. fa. 19 June 1763.

Offices Held

Clerk at the Admiralty 1753-66; dep. judge of Admiralty 1757-63; agent for the marines, Plymouth 1761-6; commr. for the sale of French prizes 1756-63; commr. and accomptant of sixpenny office c. 1764-1814.


John Clevland jun. wrote to the Duke of Newcastle, from Saltash, April 1754:2 ‘My father being uncertain when he might be here from Sandwich, sent me to conduct the affairs of the election at this place.’ Although early employed in elections, he himself did not stand for Parliament in his father’s lifetime. But subsequently he must have been known to intend doing so, for on the death of Sir George Amyand, M.P. for Barnstaple, 16 Aug. 1766, his brother Claudius Amyand immediately informed Clevland about it, thus enabling him to declare his candidature ahead of anyone else. Clevland now sent an express to the Duke of Grafton ‘to prevent his sending any person, and also to desire the votes of the placemen’, and in a second letter reported the ‘very good success’ he had met with; but he received no reply—‘so I am going on entirely upon my own interest’, he wrote to Thomas Pelham,3 ‘... the country gentlemen now will all support me, which they would not have done ... upon any other footing ... I have great hopes of succeeding and without much expense though there is 350 votes, and some very bad indeed.’ He was returned unopposed. But before the general election of 1768 Clevland had ‘a monstrous deal of trouble as well as expense’, and electioneering which, he wrote to Pelham, 5 Jan., ‘very near cost me my life’;4 and on 3 Apr. 1768: ‘I have taken place of my brother Member, and he seemed very sensible of my assistance in bringing him into Parliament’5—the only evidence which so far has been found of there having been a poll. In 1774 and 1780 Clevland again topped the poll.

In his many and rather empty letters to Pelham, Clevland repeatedly dwells on his solitary turn of mind, his preference for rural retirement, and his indifference to politics: there is no record of his having spoken in the House, and up to December 1781 his attendance in divisions was poor. In November 1766 he was classed by Rockingham as ‘Swiss’, and in January 1767 by Townshend as ‘Government’: he voted with them on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767. Not one vote of his is recorded 1768-72; in Robinson’s two surveys on the royal marriage bill, March 1772, he is listed as ‘pro, present’, and he voted with the Government on the Middlesex resolution, 26 Apr. 1773, and even on Grenville’s Act, 25 Feb. 1774. There are no majority lists for 1774-8, but on 12 Feb. 1779, over the contractors bill, he is listed by Robinson as one of the ‘friends’ who voted against the Government. There are eight division lists in March 1779 and February-April 1780, but Clevland appears only in that over the motion against prorogation, 24 Apr. 1780, voting on the Government side; and was classed by Robinson as ‘pro’ in his survey of 1780. In the new Parliament he voted with North in each of the six divisions December 1781-March 1782: possibly from a sense of gratitude for the service done him over his father’s debt to the Admiralty he stood by North. Robinson wrote in a survey for Shelburne in August 1782:6‘Mr. Clevland comes in by his own interest, aided by the Government interest ... He has always been connected with Government, and generally supported them, though sometimes shy. However, it is thought that he may be reckoned hopeful at least with attention.’ But he voted against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and in March 1783 Robinson classed him as an office holder adhering to North. He was absent from the divisions on Fox’s East India bill, and was again classed as ‘pro’ by Robinson in January 1784 and as ‘Administration’ by William Adam: yet in the ensuing Parliament he regularly voted with the Opposition; only over Impey’s impeachment, which was not strictly a party question, he voted with Pitt.

He died in June 1817, aged 83.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. D. Drake, ‘Members for Barnstaple’, Trans. Dev. Assn. lxxiii. 187.
  • 2. Add. 32735, f. 108.
  • 3. 29 Aug. 1766, Add. 33088, f. 76.
  • 4. Ibid. f. 129.
  • 5. Ibid. f. 217.
  • 6. Laprade, 45.