OSBORN, John (1772-1848), of Chicksands Priory, Beds.

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



15 Sept. 1794 - 1807
12 July 1807 - June 1808
1812 - 1818
1818 - 1820
21 Mar. 1821 - Jan. 1824

Family and Education

b. 3 Dec. 1772, o.s. of Sir George Osborn, 4th Bt., by 1st w. Elizabeth, da. and coh. of John Bannister. educ. Westminster 1781-6; Christ Church, Oxf. 1790. m. 14 Sept. 1809, Frederica Louisa, illegit. da. of Sir Charles Davers, 6th Bt.*, 5s. 3da. suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 29 June 1818.

Offices Held

Ld. of Admiralty Oct. 1812-Feb. 1824; commr. of audit 1824-d.

Capt. Beds. yeomanry 1797, Beds. vols. 1803-5; col. Beds. militia 1805.


Osborn was in St. Petersburg when he was returned unopposed for Bedfordshire in September 1794 through the sedulous efforts of his father, a firm adherent of government, who prepared the ground so well that the Whig Woburn interest was unable to mount an effective challenge. He retained the seat at the next three general elections. Sir George Osborn boasted of his achievement as a victory for electoral independence, but his conception of independence was an idiosyncratic one. A month before the formalities of the election were completed he wrote to Pitt pressing his son’s claim ‘to be employed and brought forward, as much as you may judge proper, under your political banner, as an independent Member of Parliament’, and requesting a military governorship, both as reward for his own labours and to allow him ‘to make over to my son the difference of my emoluments that he may remain an independent Member supporting government’. Sir George’s cousin, John Byng, later Viscount Torrington, took a cynical view of the whole affair:

Sir G. will only move at some high minded politics (by which, however, he expects to be repaid). In thus canvassing and succeeding for his son he has indulged the wish for all his life; and at this sport he would act better than the son, who to be praised must never be seen.

It is not clear when Osborn returned to England: in November 1794 he passed through Stockholm with ‘a female Italian singer’ who, it was surmised, would ‘cut a figure among his constituents’.1

There was little evidence of genuine independence in Osborn’s conduct from the outset of his parliamentary career. He appears to have given silent support to Pitt, although he was not among the majority who voted for the third reading of the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798. He did not oppose Addington’s government initially, but voted for motions pressing the Prince of Wales’s financial claims, 31 Mar. 1802 and 4 Mar. 1803, and on 6 May 1803, with Canning and other ‘decided Pittites’, spoke (while strangers were excluded from the House) and voted against the government in favour of a short adjournment, in view of the likelihood of a renewal of war. As one of the Members whom Canning described as ‘those who think with us most stoutly, and are ready to act almost against P[itt] for P’s and the country’s sake’, he attended a political dinner at Lord Granville Leveson Gower’s on 18 May and voted for Patten’s motion of censure on the government, 3 June 1803, when Canning numbered him among ‘Us, or P’s friends’. Classed as a follower of Pitt in Rose’s list of March 1804, he participated in the final stages of the general attack on Addington’s government the following month and marked his support for Pitt’s second ministry by speaking in favour of the additional force bill, 18 June 1804. He retained his ties with Canning, whom he asked to assure Pitt, 9 Mar. 1805, that militia business made his absence from the debates on the militia enlistment bill, which had his ‘warmest support’, unavoidable. He was back in his place to vote against the motion of censure on Melville, 8 Apr. 1805.2

Osborn opposed the ‘Talents’, voting against them on the question of Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar., the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and the Hampshire election controversy, 13 Feb. 1807. After their fall he moved the orders of the day against Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr. 1807, being ‘determined to give every assistance in his power to the maintenance of that constitution in church and state, in the principles of which he had been educated’, and acted as teller for the ministerial majority in the subsequent division. Osborn’s partisanship alienated some of his most influential supporters in Bedfordshire and, with the backing of the Duke of Bedford, they put up the Foxite Richard Fitzpatrick against him at the 1807 general election. After a protracted and expensive contest he was beaten narrowly into third place, thereby losing one of many bets he placed at White’s Club, But Lord Upper Ossory, one of his former supporters, reported Whitbread’s admission that he had ‘behaved very well and gentlemanlike during the business, and quite in contrast to his father and most of his adherents’, and expressed a personal hope that ‘government will bring him in, for they say it is necessary to him’. His wish was fulfilled by Canning, who recommended Osborn to Lord Lonsdale for the surplus seat at Cockermouth, which he occupied, as a supporter of the Portland government, until he made way for Lonsdale’s son in June 1808.3

His efforts to recover his position in Bedfordshire before the next general election made little headway, but in October 1812 he was appointed to a seat at the Admiralty board and brought in for Queenborough on their interest. Despite substantial election debts, Osborn stood again for Bedfordshire in 1818, when, according to the Marquess of Bute, his ‘friends canvassed for him on the express ground that he would if elected retire from the Admiralty’.4 He was returned when one of the sitting Members took fright at the eleventh hour, but did not relinquish his office. He is known to have made only one speech between 1812 and 1820, briefly opposing Romilly’s motion on the continuance of the embodied militia in time of peace, 28 Nov. 1814, but Liverpool’s government were able to rely completely on his unswerving and regular support in the division lobby, where he frequently acted as a ministerial teller. He consistently opposed Catholic relief. In March 1816 he stood in as chairman of committees for James Brogden during his illness and found the task immensely to his liking.5 He was appointed to the committees on the Poor Laws,4 Feb. 1818 and 9 Feb. 1819. He died 28 Aug. 1848.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. PRO 30/8/164, ff. 187, 189; Torrington Diaries, iv. 77-78; Auckland Jnl. iii. 263.
  • 2. Creevey mss, Creevey to Currie, 7 May; Lansdowne mss, Petty to Lansdowne, 7 May; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 20 May; Morning Chron. 8 June 1803; Add. 38833, f. 149.
  • 3. Add. 51795, Ossory to Holland, 23 [May]; Lonsdale mss, Canning to Lonsdale, 14 May 1807.
  • 4. Add. 38458, f. 283.
  • 5. Essex RO, Sperling mss DSE/17, Osborn to Brogden, 7 Mar. 1816.