BROWNE, Isaac Hawkins (1745-1818), of Badger, nr. Shifnal, Salop.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
b. 7 Dec. 1745, o.s. of Isaac Hawkins Browne† of Gt. Russell Street, Bloomsbury, Mdx. by Jane, da. and coh. of Ven. David Trimnell, archdeacon of Leicester. educ. Westminster; Hertford, Oxf. 1763, MA 1767, DCL 1773; Grand Tour 1775. m. (1) 12 May 1788, Henrietta (d. 11 Apr. 1802), da. of Hon. Edward Hay, gov. Barbados, 4th s. of George, 8th Earl of Kinnoull [S], s.p.; (2) 13 Dec. 1805, Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Boddington, W.I. merchant, of Clapton, Mdx., s.p. suc. fa. 1760.
Sheriff, Salop 1783-4.
Browne, after an unsolicited invitation to contest Bridgnorth, near his estate in Shropshire, had headed the poll in 1784 and retained the seat without difficulty until his retirement 28 years later. He continued his independent support of Pitt’s administration, attending regularly and speaking frequently, as well as devoting himself to committees. ‘He neither accepted of either place or pension’ and boasted, like many another Member who liked to be considered ‘an honest, patriotic and independent country gentleman’, that he had never asked for anything for himself. He was a colliery owner and ironmaster and a spokesman for the Birmingham captains of industry, some of whom were Bridgnorth burgesses; after Matthew Boulton of Soho had become a burgess in 1788, Browne informed him, 26 Sept.:
I wish my knowledge and experience were equal to my desire of rendering you and the trade and manufactures of this country all the service in my power. But such as my services are, you may at all times freely command them.
He subsequently did what he could in Parliament to promote Boulton and Watt’s projects.1
Canning described Browne as ‘a very sensible man, though queer in his manners—and a respectable though somewhat tiresome speaker’. His speeches after 1790 show him to have been a keen critic of revolutionary principles (‘although friendly to improvements, he was jealous of innovation’). In April 1791 he was listed hostile to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. After the Birmingham riots, he wrote to Boulton, 20 July 1791, as ‘a very sincere friend to the Constitution both in church and state, which I hope my parliamentary conduct has fully proved’, deploring the ‘blind passion’ displayed by the Tory mob, but also that of ‘a violent republican party’.2 He was a staunch supporter of the war against revolutionary France, which he termed a defensive war, 22 Mar. 1793. On 21 Jan. 1794, supporting the address ‘at some length’, as the reporters usually said of him, he denied that the restoration of the French monarchy was the aim of the war; it was, rather, the security of the civil order of Europe, which the French had jeopardized. On 26 Mar. he rebuked Fox for alleging that the war was not ‘just and necessary’ and was prepared to divide the House rather than have these words omitted from the loyal address to the King in support of the war, until Fox gave way. He opposed Harrison’s motion to subsidize the war effort out of ministers’ salaries, 8 Apr. On 14 May he was appointed to the secret committee on sedition. He favoured the smaller grant of income to the Prince of Wales, 15 May 1795, defending Pitt’s efforts to stabilize the Prince’s establishment and alleging that many of the creditors’ claims on the Prince were unwarrantable and should be disallowed, 1, 8 June. Browne supported the bill curbing seditious associations, 12, 16 Nov. 1795, and the bill for the better security of the King and his ministers, 30 Nov. He informed a Birmingham friend that his intervention was inspired by his indignation at the ‘gross misrepresentation’ of the bills and ‘at the attempts to raise not only clamour and insult, but even rebellion by these misrepresentations’. He added that he would have opposed them if he had thought that ‘they infringed upon liberty’ (he did propose amendments to Pitt privately): ‘I am a great friend to the freedom of political debate but I can’t conceive any debate, for any good purpose prevented more by these bills, than by the present existing law’.3
Nothing came of a report that Browne would oppose the re-election of Sir Richard Hill, the county Member, at the ensuing election. He opposed Fitzpatrick’s motion for the release of Lafayette, 16 Dec. 1796, and ‘at some length’, Combe’s motion for the dismissal of ministers, 19 May 1797, rebuking the mover for priding himself on acting on instructions from his constituents, and asserting that the country owed everything—liberty, tranquillity and general prosperity—to Pitt’s administration, which was the best in Europe. He was a member of the secret committee on the Bank that session and had contributed £1,000 to the loyalty loan.
While Browne supported Pitt’s taxation proposals in general, 2 Nov. 1797, he thought time should be given for their detailed consideration; he preferred further indirect taxation and, though invited to confer with Pitt on 17 Dec., he unsuccessfully attempted to secure relief for small farmers, which Pitt refused, 22, 28 Dec. He voted for the assessed taxes, 4 Jan. 1798. He favoured the land tax redemption bill, 2, 5 Apr., 19 Dec. 1798, and answered Thomas Jones’s attacks on the income tax, 27 Dec. He was again chosen for the committee on sedition, 24 Jan. 1799. He supported the Irish union, but was unable to interest Pitt in his proposals to reduce the number of English borough Members in anticipation of the addition of Irish Members, 14 Feb., 22 Apr. 1799.4 Moreover, claiming to have remained favourable to a measure of parliamentary reform hitherto, he opposed Grey’s motion in its favour, 25 Apr. 1800, claiming that Parliament had never been so independent and that the Irish union would not endanger it. On 17 Apr. he had denied that Pitt had ‘any influence in the House besides what arose from superior talents and attention to business’. Replying to Tierney’s motion against the restoration of the French monarchy as a war aim, 28 Feb. 1800, Browne alleged that although this was not the original intention, it would probably be the best outcome for France: the Bourbons had not been so bad as their successors. He opposed premature peace negotiations, 9 July, claiming that the enemy was implacable and would not yet do justice to English victories. He likewise gave ‘a hearty negative’ to Sheridan’s peace motion of 20 Nov. A member of the select committee on Irish disaffection, he defended martial law in Ireland, 27 May 1801, admired Castlereagh, to whom he was described as ‘an excellent country gentleman’, and justified the erstwhile suspension of habeas corpus in England, 5 June. He was a member of the committee on the Prince of Wales’s revenues, 17 Feb. 1802.5
Browne professed himself satisfied with the conduct of the Addington administration, 9 Dec. 1802, and commended their precautions against the breakdown of the peace of Amiens, which he had favoured. Against Burdett he defended the record of Pitt’s government. As chairman of the Nottingham election committee, he brought in the Nottingham peace bill, 20 Apr. 1803, and carried it against Fox’s attacks—the riots in the borough were ‘founded on French principles which produced French practices ... It was our comfort that such principles had but little root in this country’ (3 May). He spoke for the adjournment, 6 May, and defended the resumption of war, 3 June, as inevitable. On the imminent collapse of Addington’s government, 25 Apr. 1804, in the debate on the army of reserve suspension bill, he
endeavoured to vindicate, at length, the chancellor of the Exchequer, but was so much interrupted by the impatience of the House in calling for the question that [according to the reporter] we could not collect the drift of his argument.
On Pitt’s return to power, Browne was listed ‘Addingtonian’ and in September 1804 a ‘doubtful’ Pittite. He had voted against the additional force bill, though he was shut out of one division, on 11 June.6 On 1 Mar. 1805 he spoke and voted in favour of Giles’s motion for the continuation of the commission of naval inquiry, and on 8 Apr. voted for Whitbread’s censure of Melville; a member of the committee to inquire into the tenth naval report, he refused to support impeachment, 11 June, thinking Melville sufficiently punished. In July, although Sidmouth claimed his support,7 he was listed by the Treasury a friend of Pitt, on whose death he attempted to deliver an encomium in the House, 27 Jan. 1806, which was interrupted by ‘loud coughing’.
Browne was not a friend of the Grenville administration and voted against them on the inclusion of Ellenborough in the cabinet, 3 Mar., and on the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806. He deplored Paull’s campaign against the Marquess Wellesley’s Indian administration, 22 Apr., and disliked the iron duty bill, 28 Apr. On 5 Mar. 1807, while opposed to concession after concession to the Catholics, the spirit of whose religion he thought ‘hostile to the liberties of his country’, he conceded his support of the Catholic army and navy service bill and thought English Catholics should have the same privileges as those in Ireland.
On the fall of Grenville’s administration, he described their successors as superior ‘in constitutional feelings and conduct’ and deplored the late ministers’ extremism, 15 Apr. 1807. He opposed state support for the Catholic college at Maynooth, 15 July. He was strongly in favour of the offices in reversion bill, 28 Mar. 1808, believing it would mean tax relief. He defended the seizure of the Danish fleet, 31 Mar. In January 1809 he was proposed by Perceval for retention on the reduced finance committee to which he had belonged since June 1807: he had denounced opposition attacks on its composition as ‘narrow and vulgar’. His attempt to exonerate the Duke of York from all blame on the charge of corruption in army patronage was interrupted by ‘loud coughing’, 17 Mar. He thought Curwen’s parliamentary reform bill could ‘not be rejected too soon’, 4 May, and he opposed Whitbread’s motion against placemen and pensioners in Parliament as a useless palliative: the power of the crown had steadily diminished, 8 June. On 31 Jan. 1810 Perceval failed by 107 votes to 98 to retain him on the finance committee. The Whigs listed him ‘against the Opposition’ that session—he voted staunchly with government on the Scheldt question. He had no sympathy for Burdett’s case and deplored the Middlesex petition in his favour, 2 May. He defended the Duke of Brunswick’s annuity, 14 May. He voted against parliamentary reform, 21 May, and against sinecure reform, 17 May 1810, as also on 7 and 24 Feb. 1812. He voted for the ministry’s Regency proposals, 1 Jan. 1811. He proposed a grant of £60,000 to Spencer Perceval’s family, but found no seconder, 13 May 1812. On 21 May he was in the minority against remodelling the government. His last speeches were in favour of Irish clerical tithes, 7 July, and of the preservation of the peace bill, 16 July 1812.
Browne spoke on most subjects dear to country gentlemen: in opposition to lotteries, 4 Apr. 1792; in support of amendments to the Poor Law; in favour of Sunday observance, 19 Mar. 1795, but against greater rigour in its enforcement, 30 May 1799; against the reform of the Game Laws; in favour of the bill against workers’ combinations, 10 June 1799; in favour of a resident clergy, 19 June 1801; against relief for Quakers, 17 Feb. 1797, but in favour of émigrés, 24 Apr. 1798. He opposed a tax on foreign investors in the funds, 13 June 1809. He expressed sympathy for the plight of the Birmingham manufacturers, while opposing the export of unwrought copper, 4 Apr. 1800, having been on the copper trade committee in April 1799. He was opposed to the remuneration of magistrates, 7 Dec. 1801. He thought the parochial schools bill premature, 21 July 1807. In the Parliament of 1796 he was on the statute revision committees and the public records committee, and in the ensuing one chaired the report of the Highland commissioners and brought in the Highland improvement grant (1803) and the Caledonian canal bill (1804).
Browne retired in 1812. Wilberforce, who prized him as an unfailing supporter of the abolition of the slave trade and vice-president of the Humane Society, though he was wry about Browne’s ‘warlike propensities’, commented, 27 Oct., ‘I am glad our worthy old friend Hawkins Browne has retired, for age is not to be measured by years, but by bodily strength’.8 Browne’s influence at Bridgnorth secured him the nomination of friends of government at the elections of 1812 and 1818. In retirement he edited his Essays, Religious and Moral (1815), which were followed posthumously by Essays on Subjects of Important Enquiry, in Metaphysics, Morals and Religion, etc. (1822). These were described as ‘imbued with the purest religion ... and teeming with benevolence’.
An uxorious man of the utmost regularity and assiduity in his habits, Browne had been a contemporary of Fox at Oxford but, doubtless deterred by the libertine side of Fox’s character, never cultivated him. With his ‘heartfelt cheerful piety’, he had all the virtues: ‘generosity, integrity and respectability’, and ‘the calmness and composure of his mind as well as his intellectual faculties continued to the last, when he expired without a struggle or a sigh’, 30 May 1818.9
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1818), ii. 179; Debrett (ser. 3), ii. 516; Birmingham Ref. Lib., Boulton and Watt pprs. B.5.145-9, 152-5, 158, 159, 162, 168.
- 2. Harewood mss, Canning jnl. 15 May 1794; Gent. Mag. loc. cit.; Boulton and Watt pprs. B.5.151.
- 3. Boulton and Watt pprs. B.5.157; PRO 30/8/116, f. 293.
- 4. Colchester , i. 123; PRO 30/8/264, ff. 219, 295; Trinity Coll. Camb. mss R457/16, Pitt to Browne, 7 Feb. 1799.
- 5. Castlereagh Corresp. iv. 31-32, 223.
- 6. Sidmouth mss, H. to J. H. Addington, 12 June 1804.
- 7. Ibid. same to same, 23 July 1805.
- 8. Life of Wilberforce (1838), ii. 60; iv. 77.
- 9. Gent. Mag. (1818), ii. 179.