GARTH, Charles (c.1734-84), of Brownston House, Devizes, Wilts.

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



15 Jan. 1765 - 21 Nov. 1780

Family and Education

b. c.1734, 1st s. of John Garth. educ. Merton, Oxf. 1750; I. Temple 1752, called 1758. m. 29 Nov. 1764, Fanny, da. of John Cooper of Camberwell, 3s. 4da. suc. fa. 1764.

Offices Held

Recorder, Devizes 1765- d.; Crown agent for Georgia Nov. 1763-Jan. 1765; provincial agent for South Carolina 1762-75; agent for Maryland assembly 1766-75; commr. of Excise Nov. 1780- d.


Garth1 was intended for the bar, and he presumably practised, for in May 1765 his name was included in a list of possible readers sent by the Inner Temple to Clement’s Inn. But before he could ‘shift for himself’ his father asked Newcastle to provide for him in some employment.2 Newcastle was willing to help but awaited suggestions from Garth, who found that vacancies were mostly filled up before he came to know of them. His requests were therefore usually in general terms, while his specific applications ranged from the postmaster at Devizes or keeper of the records at Westminster Abbey to clerk to the Privy Council or commissioner of the victualling office.3 When Newcastle left the Treasury, 26 May 1762, Charles Garth was still unplaced; but in July 1763 his father obtained for him from Grenville the Crown agency for Georgia,4 a sinecure ‘principally confined to receiving and issuing the money granted by Parliament to defray the expenses of the government’.5

Far more vital for Garth’s career was his appointment in June 1762 to the colonial agency of South Carolina, to which he had been recommended by his cousin and its governor, Thomas Boone, as yet on cordial terms with the assembly. He took up his duties with real zeal not free of fussiness which, in the early stages, produced letters of prodigious length. He thoroughly identified himself with the interests of South Carolina; ‘I ... as minister of the province’ was the view he took of his position. ‘I believe few agents have taken more pains or been more indefatigable’ (30 July 1763). His salary was £200 p.a., plus expenses and additional payment for more considerable transactions which ‘generally account one year with another to about £160 more’.6

At first his work was mainly of a commercial and financial character; he usually concerted his measures with merchants trading to America, and had the support of his cousins, Charles Boone and J. E. Colleton who, friendly with Grenville, had promised him ‘all the assistance in his power in parliamentary business’, and of Sir William Meredith, Member for Liverpool. Garth’s position became more difficult when he had to represent the assembly in its conflict with Governor Boone; but they trusted his ‘alertness and diligence as agent’, while he was scrupulously careful in the discharge of his duties—‘in the situation I stand, I had rather be thought to err in doing too much than too little’ (20 July 1764).

In March 1764 Charles Garth, not yet a Member, followed from the gallery the debates on the budget resolutions of which the fifteenth foreshadowed the Stamp Act; but by the time it came up as a bill, in 1765, he had, on his father’s death, been returned for Devizes, after a bitter contest against Thomas Fludyer, who had the support of Government. Writing to South Carolina, 5 Apr. 1765, he could therefore claim to hold an ‘independent seat’, especially as he had resigned the Crown agency, incompatible with membership of the House. On 6 Feb. 1765 he was one of the 49 who voted against the Stamp Act, and on 15 Feb. he presented a petition against it. Over the mutiny bill in March-April 1765: ‘I have taken every opportunity of giving it all the opposition in my power’; and on 4 Apr. he presented a petition against it from Montagu, agent for Virginia.7 On 15 May 1767 he moved that the resolutions passed on the 13th relative to New York for having disobeyed the Mutiny Act be recommitted.8 Further, in March 1769, he moved an amendment to the mutiny bill, approved by Trecothick and Barré, and in May 1770 one to the paper currency bill.9 But most of his activities were of an extra-parliamentary character.

His membership of the House enabled him to watch developments, and make early reports on them to South Carolina. He was very active over the repeal of the Stamp Act, but even then acknowledged the difficulties which arose for him as both M.P. and agent ‘from the diversity of opinions’ on the two sides—the colonial doctrine concerning taxation ‘has not been pleasing to country gentlemen in the House’, while palliatives ‘will be as little acceptable in America’. But he obviously sympathized with the argument put to him by Conway that ‘the great object of solicitude being the repeal’, and many country gentlemen ‘wavering in opinions and others easily inflamed’, the Government’s difficulties should not be aggravated by too much stressing the point of right. Altogether Garth’s reports were objective and moderate, and aimed at healing the breach. He wrote, 6 June 1766, after sittings which ‘turned night into day’: ‘I have given my best attention, time, and endeavours ... I have nothing more at heart than to promote ... the united interest and happiness of the Mother Country and her colonies’—somewhat flat, as he usually was, but sincere.

Again over the Townshend duties, Hillsborough told the agents in December 1768 that a request for repeal would be well received if placed on grounds of inexpediency only, but must be rejected if an exclusive right of taxation was claimed for the colonies. This proposition, wrote Garth to South Carolina, must await their decision, as agents must not waive a point which ‘their constituents appear to adhere to’; still, ‘if a repeal of this law can be obtained on any ground, it would be a right measure for both countries and tend to heal the unhappy breach ... after a repeal of a second Revenue Act, future legislatures would be tender of the like attempt’. In March 1769 the agents in fact asked Franklin to prepare the draft of a petition ‘to be as near as might be agreeable to the sentiments of America, and yet not exceptionable at home’; Garth favoured it, but finally ‘it seemed prudent to wait for the sense of our constituents’. He sent them the draft, and received a severe rebuke: they were ‘almost to a man ... extremely concerned to find’ that he should have thought himself warranted to give his assent to such a petition. After that Garth seems to have performed his day-to-day duties in an un-political manner.

A thorough change was also coming over his position in the House. At no time does he seem to have enjoyed the esteem of the Opposition: although he voted with the Rockinghams over American problems 1765-6, and over the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, he was listed as ‘Swiss’ (prepared to vote with any Administration) by Rockingham in November 1766, and as ‘Administration’ by Newcastle in March 1767. He voted again with the Opposition on the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768, and on the Middlesex election, 8 May 1769 and 25 Jan. 1770; but was absent from the divisions on the naval captains’ petition, 9 Feb. 1773, and on the Grenville Act, 25 Feb. 1774, in which even many regular followers of Administration voted with Opposition. On the eve of the general election of 1774 John Robinson listed him as ‘pro’ Administration. When Burke refused to wait on Lord Dartmouth with the petition from the American congress, which he and other agents were asked to present, William Baker, trying to secure a sufficient representation, wrote on 22 Aug. 1775: ‘Consider further, that Mr. Garth (a dependant of the ministry) will hardly attend’;10 which, in fact, he did not. Garth’s name does not appear in any of the minority lists 1774-80; but he is known to have voted five times with Government 1778-80; and over the contractors bill, 12 Feb. 1779, is listed by Robinson as ‘pro, absent’, with the mark of ‘placeman’ against his name: he held a secret service pension of £500 p.a. which ceased ‘on his quitting Parliament and being provided for in the Excise’ (the date of its commencement is unknown).11 Robinson wrote in his electoral survey of July 1780: ‘Mr. Garth will not come in again as he expects to take office.’ But apparently to make sure of getting it he stood again, and was returned. On 21 Nov. 1780 North sent the King the warrant appointing Garth commissioner of the Excise, and the King, having signed, instantly returned it ‘as it may be useful to have his seat vacated this day’.12 About the middle of December 1783 Robinson noted against Devizes: ‘Mr. Garth must be seen and talked to about this at the proper moment’13—by now he obviously could be expected to serve any Administration.

He died 9 Mar. 1784.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. This biography is largely based on Namier ‘Charles Garth and His Connexions’, EHR, July and Oct. 1939; on transcripts of Garth’s letter-books in the possession of Mr. A. Godsal at Haines Hill, Berks.; and on corresp. between Garth and the assembly of S. Carolina published by J. W. Barnwell and T. D. Jervey in S. Carolina Hist. Gen. Mag. xxvi, xxviii-xxxi, xxxiii.
  • 2. 15 May 1755, Add. 32854, f. 530.
  • 3. See among others, Add. 32864, ff. 60 and 263; 32870, f. 95; 32916, f. 214; 32926, f. 59; and 32934, ff. 229, 365.
  • 4. Add. 34713, f. 120.
  • 5. Garth to committee of corresp. of S. Carolina, 7 Jan. 1764.
  • 6. Garth to Maryland, 14 Feb. 1767.
  • 7. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 8. W. S. Johnson to Gov. W. Pitkin, 16 May 1767, Trumbull Pprs. (Mass. Hist. Soc. Colls. ser. 5, ix), 232-3.
  • 9. Garth to S. Carolina, 17 Mar. 1769 and 14 May 1770.
  • 10. Burke, Corresp. (1844), ii. 46.
  • 11. Laprade, 50.
  • 12. Fortescue, v. 154.
  • 13. Laprade, 112.