MORRIS, Edward (1768-1815), of 11 Paper Buildings, Inner Temple, London and Bedford Row, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 17 July 1768, 4th surv. s. of Michael Morris, MD, of 26 Parliament Street, Westminster, physician to Westminster hosp. 1761-91 and formerly inspector-gen. and physician to the army, by Barbara, da. of Charles Taylor Ballard of Snow Hill, London. educ. Westminster 1778; Trinity Hall, Camb. 1783, Peterhouse 1784, fellow 1791; L. Inn 1787, I. Temple 1794, called 1795. m. 26 Jan. 1805, Hon. Mary Erskine, da. of Thomas Erskine*, 1st Baron Erskine, 4da.
Solicitor to Ordnance 1806-7; master in Chancery Apr. 1807-d.
Lt. L. Inn vols. 1803.
Like two of his elder brothers, Morris was educated at Westminster school. One of them, George Paulet Morris, followed in his Dublin-born father’s footsteps at Westminster hospital. Edward, who was called to the bar, had fallen under the spell of his father’s friends (possibly kinsfolk), the Sheridans. He had written a farce, The Adventurers (1790) and two comedies called False Colours and The Secret (not performed until 1799), and in 1795 a pamphlet entitled A short inquiry into the nature of monopoly and forestalling. He practised on the home circuit and at Surrey sessions and was on the board of management at Drury Lane theatre. His association with the histrionic branch of the Whig party bore fruit in 1803 when he succeeded Joseph Richardson to a seat for Newport on the interest of the Duke of Northumberland. The duke gave the Prince of Wales, who wanted the seat for Tom Sheridan, to understand that he was reserving it for his son and heir, but Morris obtained it and the heir came in elsewhere.
Morris, who followed his patron’s line in politics, took his seat on 23 June 1803. He opposed Addington’s administration over the conduct of the Irish government, 7 Mar., opposed their Irish volunteer consolidation bill, 16 Apr., and supported Fox’s defence motion of 23 Apr. 1804. Next day in a brief maiden speech, he referred to the lack of confidence of stock holders in the loyalty loan. On the return to power of Pitt, he was listed a friend of the Prince and of Fox and Grenville. He opposed Pitt’s additional force bill in June 1804 and spoke against any alteration in corn prices, which he thought should not be regulated by Parliament, 3 July. He voted against war with Spain, 12 Feb. 1805, and supported Windham’s and Sheridan’s motions against Pitt’s defence measures in February and March. He voted for the continuation of the naval commission of inquiry, 1 Mar., and for the censure and criminal prosecution of Melville, 8 Apr. and 12 June. On 26 June he was named one of the commissioners to draw up the articles of impeachment.
Morris supported the Grenville administration, under which his father-in-law Erskine held office and promised to make him a master in Chancery. His contributions to debate were mostly on legal points, notably in opposition to the election treating bill, which he described as unnecessary and criticized in detail, 21 Mar. 1806. He also justified the witnesses’ declaratory bill, 23 Apr. He voted for the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. He was in favour of the education of the poor, 23 Feb. 1807, but objected to the remainder of the poor relief bill.
Two days before Lord Erskine parted with the seal, [Romilly noted, after the fall of the ministry, 1 Apr. 1807]1 ... he appointed his son-in-law Edward Morris a master in Chancery. Sir William Pepys was prevailed on to make a vacancy by resigning. This is surely a most improper act of Lord Erskine’s. He ought to have considered himself as out of office last Wednesday. Morris, though a very clever and very deserving man, has no knowledge in his profession of that particular kind which is necessary to qualify a man to discharge the duties of a master. This is a matter which will draw reproach on the whole administration: though, in every other department, they have more scrupulously, as I understand, abstained from making any promotions.
Morris voted for Brand’s motion, 9 Apr. 1807, in token of his opposition to the Portland ministry.
On 13 July 1807 Morris said he thought the expense of parochial schools should be met out of the consolidated fund, not out of local rates. On the whole he approved the poor relief bill at its second reading a week later, though he preferred control by overseer to control by vestry, and he was opposed to rewards for industry by the state: ‘the common duties of society brought their own reward’. He was a critic of the Irish insurrection bill, 23, 24 July. On 29 July he sought to amend Perceval’s proposal that Dr Jenner should be rewarded with £10,000 for the discovery of vaccine inoculation, suggesting double the sum, which was approved by the House but ignored by the government. On 23 Jan. 1808 Morris, who had canvassed the Yorkshire freeholders in London for Lord Milton in 1807, was present at a ‘great opposition dinner’ at his father-in-law’s house.2 He differed from them, however, in supporting ministers on the Copenhagen expedition: France had to be prevented from enlisting the Danish fleet against England (3 Feb.). On this, Joseph Jekyll* commented:
Little Morris has disgraced himself totally and I should think wounded Erskine deeply—he was determined to speak as well as vote against his old friends and considering what very inauspicious circumstances attended his mastership it is double ingratitude. The strict line was to have resigned the duke’s seat, and what ulterior benefit can he propose to himself in politics, snugly placed as he has been for life?3
He was a critic of the orders in council bill, 10 Mar. He found there was no case against the Marquess Wellesley on the Oudh charge, 15 Mar. He was for an extension of copyright in the debate on the copyright bill, 22 June 1808.
Morris voted with opposition against the address, 23 Jan. 1810, and against the conduct of the Scheldt expedition, 26 Jan., 23 Feb., 5 Mar. and 30 Mar. He defended his brother-in-law’s role in negotiations with the United States, 13 June 1809, 25 Jan., 15 May 1810, and his father-in-law’s bill against cruelty to animals, 13 June 1809. The Whigs were ‘hopeful’ of him in their 1810 list. He voted against Burdett’s committal to the Tower, 5 Apr. 1810, for Parnell’s motion on Irish tithes, 13 Apr., and for the release of Gale Jones, 16 Apr. He was opposed to the excessive use of capital punishment, 1 May, and pointed out how judges and juries alike tried to resist it where they could. He was in favour of the Middlesex petition for the release of Burdett being heard, as the rejection of it would do no credit to the public image of the House, 3 May. He took a distinct line, though he voted with opposition, over the Regency bill in January 1811, objecting to the restrictions placed on the Regent and suggesting that the King should resume his authority at the behest of Parliament, rather than that of the Privy Council: feeling, however, that he was in the minority in this view, he withdrew this proposal lest it provide a mischievous precedent. Brougham, who thought Morris’s speech ‘dull’, admitted it ‘a very good point to argue, though not to vote’ and guessed that it was inspired by the Duke of Northumberland’s desire to stand well with the Regent.4 He opposed the election bribery bill in detail, 25 Mar. 1811, laudable as its object was, but favoured the dwelling house robbery bill, 29 Mar., reiterating his distaste for capital punishment. He was in favour of the foreign ministers pensions bill, 5 Apr., as it ‘merely restored to the crown a part of its prerogative’. In the debate on the London theatre bill, 9 May, he paid tribute to Sheridan, and when Marryat complained that the best human performers were being ousted by the quadrupeds, he is credited with the Johnsonian reply that ‘there was always a security in the good sense of the public for their coming back again to the drama’. He opposed Vansittart’s resolutions on the findings of the bullion committee, 13 May, having given his own views six days before, and voted against the gold coin bill, 9 July.
Morris was embarrassed by his patron’s going over to administration with the Regency and on 23 Feb. 1812, while supporting ministers against the attempt to abolish the paymastership of widows’ pensions, he claimed there were many questions on which he could not agree with them. He opposed the bankers embezzlement bill, 25 Feb., 9 Mar., doubting whether it was the duty of the state to defend the imprudent investor. He supported Turton’s motion on the state of the nation, 27 Feb., and Brougham’s against the orders in council, 3 Mar. On 26 Mar. he objected to and was teller against the gold coin and bank-note amendment bill, as the multiplication of paper currency encouraged fraud and forgery. On 14 Apr. he allegedly voted for Williams Wynn’s motion critical of McMahon’s appointment as secretary to the Regent. His patron the duke remonstrated with him for this, whereupon Morris alleged that he had been wrongly reported as voting in the minority. He attributed delays in the Chancery court to the great increase in business, 6 May, and deprecated inquiry, 17 May. Despite Romilly’s objections, he was placed on the committee to investigate them.5
When he went on to support Milton’s amendment to Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration on 11 June, the duke could stomach it no longer and wrote ‘a very strong letter’ to Morris, who did not at once reply. The outcome was that he lost his seat at the dissolution and remained out of Parliament until his death, 13 Apr. 1815, aged 47. His obituary described ‘the sudden death of this amiable and excellent man’ as ‘a public misfortune’, speaking of his natural talents, extensive erudition, and mild manners.6
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Mems. ii. 198.
- 2. Farington, iv. 185; Fitzwilliam mss, X516/13/1; Romilly, Mems. ii. 239.
- 3. Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 9 Feb. 1808.
- 4. Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey [2 Jan. 1811].
- 5. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 430-1; Geo. IV Letters, i. 63; Romilly, iii. 13.
- 6. Geo. IV Letters, i. 124; Gent. Mag. (1815), i. 380.