ONSLOW, Arthur (1759-1833), of Send Grove, nr. Guildford, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1812 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 3 Aug. 1759, o.s. of Arthur Onslow, collector of customs, of Liverpool, Lancs. by Alice née Sumersett. educ. Trinity Hall, Camb. 1775-76; M. Temple 1775, called 1780. m. (1) 9 Apr. 1793, Mary (d. 14 May 1800), da. of Francis Eyre of Hassop, Derbys.; s.p. (2) 13 June 1801, Pooley, da. of George Onslow of Dunsborough House, Surr., wid of Sir Francis Samuel Drake, 1st Bt., s.p. suc. fa. 1807.

Offices Held

Commr. of bankrupts 1781-1800; serjt.-at-law 16 June 1800; King’s serjt. 1816; chairman, Surr. qtr. sessions 1807; recorder, Guildford 1819-29.

Lt. Guildford vol. inf. 1804.


Arthur Onslow’s connexion with the Onslows of Clandon was remote, but he linked himself more closely to them by his second marriage. In 1806 he was assessor at the Guildford poll and in 1812 was himself returned there with the 1st Earl of Onslow’s grandson. The family did not command both seats and he must have had the acquiescence of Lord Grantley, the co-patron. At the next election he was the only Onslow and he reinforced his position by becoming recorder of the borough in 1819. The growing indifference of the family at Clandon to public affairs gave him a free rein and on 15 July 1820 he denied in the House that Guildford was under aristocratic patronage.

Onslow was listed a Treasury supporter after his return. Unlike the Clandon family he did not make a point of opposing Catholic relief in the crucial divisions of 1813, being characterized as neutral. (He went the home circuit every spring and on 3 Mar. 1813 obtained leave of absence to do so.) Nevertheless he voted against Catholic claims in 1816 and 1817. He voted for Christian missions to India, 22 June 1813, and tolerated the exemption of chapels from parish rates, 1 June 1815. He spoke chiefly as a serjeant-at-law. The first subject that engaged him was the obsolete legislation on apprenticeships, already undermined by judicial decisions, to which he rose to the challenge to give statutory sanction, without altogether repealing the Elizabethan regulations, 3 May 1813. His bill, introduced on 27 Apr. 1814, was a source of ‘great clamour’, as Romilly observed:

Associations have been formed to resist it, in different terms, by the apprenticed journeymen, who are anxious to retain the monopoly. Numerous petitions against the bill have been presented, signed by a great many thousand persons ... I have myself been eagerly canvassed against it by a very large body of artisans and manufacturers in Bristol who voted for me at the last election, and by a London association.

Despite this commotion, Onslow secured his bill. He had seconded efforts to reform the borough of Helston in November 1813 and to prevent child stealing, 17 May 1814. He also supported the foreign slave trade bill, 3 May 1815.

Onslow next turned his attention to the defects of habeas corpus, regretting that in law vacations only the lord chancellor could compel obedience to a writ. To remedy this he introduced a ‘bill for more effectually securing the liberty of the subject’, 22 Nov. 1814. It passed the Commons but was rejected in the Lords at Eldon and Ellenborough’s direction. On 6 June 1815 he tried again, securing a committee under his chairmanship to make recommendations. Their report (20 June 1815) was the basis of the bill he introduced on 14 Feb. 1816, which passed both Houses, but was handicapped by a technical omission.

Onslow’s further efforts in the legislative field were not well received. On 9 Apr. 1816 he attempted to interest the House in the registration of deeds and the protection of creditors from fraudulent devises, but his most ambitious endeavour was the repeal of the obsolete usury laws. He first tried on 22 May 1816. At length, on 21 Apr. 1818, he secured a committee and its report was the basis of a bill he introduced on 10 Feb. 1819, but he gave it up after a second reading. He admitted that the moment for it was not ripe, 9 June 1819.

Onslow was a steady opponent of the amendment of the Corn Laws in February and March 1815 and, having presented his constituents’ petition against the continuation of the property tax, 9 Feb., voted against it, 19, 20 Apr. 1815. He supported exemption from it for officers serving abroad, 1 May. He opposed the salary rise of the Irish master of the rolls, 7 and 19 June, and voted against the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill, 30 June, 3 July 1815. On 28 Feb. he made a solemn protest against the renewal of the property tax and, breaking into his circuit leave, presented his constituents’ petition against it, 18 Mar. 1816, on which day he paired with opposition. He opposed the leather tax, 9 May. He rebuked ministers for pretending that Sir Thomas Thompson need not vacate his seat on accepting the treasurership of Greenwich Hospital and voted against them on it, 12 June. He further joined opposition on the composition of the finance committee, 7 Feb., and Admiralty salaries, as Feb. 1817, on which day he told the House that he approved retrenchment, but not parliamentary reform. Despite his ‘superstitious reverence’ for habeas corpus, he consented to its suspension, 27 Feb. 1817. On 5 June, however, he opposed the reappointment of the secret committee on sedition. He voted for the suspension again, 23 June, but against making it of indefinite duration, 26 June. Named after Speaker Onslow, he revered the Chair, proposing an increase in salary for the Speaker, 14 July 1814, and supporting his friend Charles Williams Wynn in the election of 2 June 1817. On 7 July 1817 he applauded Brougham’s investigations into impediments to the education of the poor. He opposed the ducal marriage grants, 13 and 15 Apr. 1818, the Bank restriction, 18 May, and the imprisonment of sellers of radical books, 21 May.

Onslow was placed third in the first ballot for the secret committee on the Bank, 3 Feb. 1819, having voted for it the day before, but he was not included in the final ballot. He voted for the addition of Brougham to it. Acting at this time under the observation of his friend Williams Wynn, he voted for economy in the royal household, 22 Feb., 19 Mar. Having supported the county Member Sumner’s campaign against the building of a new London prison at the expense of the orphans’ fund, 24 Feb., 21 May 1818, he also objected to doing so at government expense or by means of the tax on sea coal, 1 Feb. 1819. (On 20 May he voted for the repeal of the sea coal duties.) He voted for burgh reform and supported the electors oath bill, 6 and 7 May, but objected to the abolition of plural voting and preferred to reform corrupt boroughs like Penryn by the tried expedient of extending the franchise into the adjoining hundred, 17 Dec. 1819. He was in the minorities against the navy estimates and the foreign enlistment bill, 2 and 21 June. He objected to the language of a Reading petition against the conduct of the magistrates at Peterloo, 30 Nov. 1819, being confident that the meeting there was ‘directly illegal, seditious, and dangerous to the public peace’. He also defended the newspaper stamp duties bill as a preventive necessity.

Onslow remained in Parliament until he went blind. He died 8 Oct. 1833.

J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 254; Woolrych, Eminent Serjeants-at-law, ii. 772; Romilly, Mems. iii. 134-5; Buckingham, Regency, ii. 323; The Times, 10 Oct. 1833.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne