COLE, Sir Christopher (1770-1836), of Penrice Castle, Glam.
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Family and Education
b. 10 June 1770, 6th s. of Humphrey Cole, attorney, of Marazion, Cornw. and Phillis, da. of Francis Maugham. m. 28 Apr. 1815, Lady Maria Lucy Fox Strangways, da. of Henry Thomas Fox Strangways†, 2nd earl of Ilchester, wid. of Thomas Mansel Talbot (d. 1813) of Margam and Penrice, s.p. kntd. 29 May 1812; KCB 2 Jan. 1815. d. 24 Aug. 1836.
Midshipman RN 1780, lt. 1793, cdr. 1800, capt. 1802; cdr. yacht Royal Sovereign 1828; col. marines 1830-d.
Prov. Grand Master S. Wales Masons 1821.
Cole, whose brother Samuel was a chaplain to the duke of Clarence, had given up a distinguished and lucrative naval career to marry his old flame, the widow of Thomas Mansel Talbot of Penrice and Margam, who, until her son Christopher Mansel Talbot* came of age in 1824, was empowered with trustees to manage the largest consolidated estate and attendant political interest in Glamorgan.1 Returned for the county following the death of Benjamin Hall in 1817, Cole sat without distinction and stood down in 1818 to avoid a costly poll. He continued canvassing, became foreman of the grand jury, and, confident of the support of the 2nd marquess of Bute and the 6th duke of Beaufort, he tried again in 1820, backed by a £20,000 subscription fund to which the Dowlais Company and Margam trustees were contributors.2 Denounced as the Dissenters’ enemy and lampooned as Talbot’s ‘locum tenens’ and the ‘tool’ of the ‘Coal, Iron and Tin Company’, he defeated the sitting Member John Edwards* and William Booth Grey of Dyffryn in a bitter contest.3 He was stoned as he passed Cyfarthfa ironworks after the election, but quickly forgave the miscreants, and made well-publicized donations towards building Nonconformist chapels.4
Cole, who attributed his ‘muddled and anecdotal debating manner’ to his naval background, delayed giving his views on reform until 1830, but he voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822 (paired), 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and the attendant Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., 9 May 1825, and spoke in favour of granting equal rights to English and Irish Catholics, 6 May 1825.5 A radical publication of that year noted that he ‘attended occasionally and voted sometimes with and sometimes against ministers’.6 He presented petitions from Swansea, 26 Jan., and Neath, 26 Feb. 1821, criticizing Queen Caroline’s treatment and urging the restoration of her name to the liturgy. He divided against censuring the Liverpool ministry’s handling of her case, 6 Feb., but for the opposition’s motion of complaint against the sheriff of Dublin, 22 Feb. He presented several protectionist petitions from Glamorgan’s agriculturists, 21, 27 Feb. 1821. Maintaining a high profile in the county, he was elected grand master of the South Wales Masons in June 1821, consecrated Swansea’s new Cambrian lodge that December, and chaired the St. John the Evangelist Day dinner.7 He divided with government against more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb. 1822, but declared on presenting his constituents’ agricultural distress petitions the following day that he would have done otherwise, ‘had he not thought it mere justice’ to allow ministers further time to bring forward their scheme, for he considered the farmers’ complaints well founded and would ‘strenuously support all measures for their relief’. To this end, and to the satisfaction of the Glamorgan Agricultural Association and the Cambrian, he voted to lower the salt tax, 28 Feb., and for admiralty reductions, 1 Mar., having first stressed his continued attachment to the navy. He also cast wayward votes on the public accounts bill, 13 Mar., and the joint-postmasterships, 2 May. He presented Glamorgan petitions for repeal of the leather tax, 26 Apr., against Ricardo’s financial resolutions, 9 May, and for abolition of the Welsh judicature, 16 May, and one from Swansea against the poor removal bill, 31 May.8 He voted for inquiry into Irish tithes, 19 June 1822. He presented a petition from certain Dissenters for changes in the marriage laws, 12 Mar. 1823.9 He divided with government on the assessed taxes, 18 Mar., the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., delays in chancery, 5 June, and the Scottish juries bill, 20 June 1823. However, he said on presenting an agricultural distress petition, 21 Mar., that he hoped Sir Thomas Lethbridge would persevere with his motion for greater protection, and he cast a wayward vote for inquiry into the duties on East and West Indian sugars, 22 May 1823. With Glamorgan reluctant to introduce treadmills and other costly changes required under the 1823 Consolidated Gaol Act, Cole joined Thomas Wood in pressing for exemptions for Welsh counties, but the home secretary Peel refused all concessions, 19 Feb. 1824.10 Drawing on his experience as a magistrate and member of the 1820 and 1821 select committees on the administration of justice in Wales, he qualified his support for John Jones’s remedial bill, which had ministerial backing but was unpopular in Glamorgan, by calling for an additional clause, disqualifying Welsh judges from sitting in Parliament, 11 Mar. He presented petitions from his constituents and others for repeal of the coastwise coal duties, 19, 23 Feb., 31 Mar., 31 May, and from Neath, 15 Mar., and Swansea, 26 May 1824, against West Indian slavery. He voted to end the misappropriation of Irish church revenues, 25 May 1824. He had recently agreed to support Bute’s schemes for establishing a society for the relief of shipwrecked mariners and a new market place in Swansea and, amid speculation over the future representation of the county, now that Talbot was of age, and of Cardiff Boroughs, where Wyndham Lewis declined to make way for Bute’s brother Lord James Crichton Stuart*, the Cambrian praised Cole for his ‘sincerity and independence’, ‘assiduous attendance’, attention to the coal duties and the Welsh judicature, and as a presenter of petitions.11 Sir John Nicholl* of Merthyr Mawr also commended his generosity in putting down £5,000 towards election costs.12
He presented further Glamorgan petitions for repeal of the coastwise coal duties, 25 Feb., against corn law revision, 28 Apr., and for tariff reductions on foreign iron, 9 June 1825. He voted that day to abolish flogging in the navy on humanitarian grounds.13 He seconded an unopposed amendment to the East India judges bill, raising their salaries from 58,000 to 60,000 rupees, 13 May. Co-operating with Talbot and the Dowlais Company, he supervised the passage of the contentious 1825 Dyffryn Llynfi Tramroad Act, a cause of subsequent disputes between Margam agents and the Tramroad Company.14 During the recess he patronized theatre productions in Swansea and a ‘Ribbon Concert’ at Neath.15 He presented Swansea’s petition against colonial slavery and for equalization of the duties on East and West Indian sugars, 6 Feb., voted to condemn the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and brought up further anti-slavery petitions, 23 Mar., 8, 11 Apr. 1826. He opposed reductions in the navy estimates, 21 Feb., and in several interventions the next day defended the admiralty’s policy on half-pay and promotions, their achievements in India, and the need for a substantial Mediterranean force to protect commerce during hostilities between Greece and Turkey. He also recommended restoring the half-pay entitlement of naval officers employed as clergymen, 4 Mar. As a majority teller for the Scottish steam vessels regulation bill, 9 Mar., he called for adherence to the navy’s signalling procedures throughout the empire. Cole stood to lose an estimated £1,600 following the collapse of the Swansea bank of Gibbins and Eaton in December 1825. On 27 Feb. 1826, after attending creditors’ meetings, he presented their petition for better regulation of bankruptcy proceedings to prevent a few individuals depriving others of a share in the dividend.16 He presented another opposing corn law revision from the landowners of Glamorgan, 18 Apr., and was instrumental in securing the enactment of the Aberdulais railroad bill, 24 May 1826.17 No serious opposition was raised to his return at the general election in June. On the hustings he described himself as politically ‘independent’, inclined to support ministers ‘not from ties of party, but from the belief that such support was in the best interests of the peace and security of the country at large’. He agreed with his critics that he owed much to Margam, and asserted that Talbot trusted him to be ‘independent in my principles’ and ‘of use to the county’.18 Disagreements among the gentry over the proposed Glamorgan roads bill marred his post-election ball at Swansea in October.19
Cole repudiated an ‘unfounded attack’ on navy patronage, when army commissions were considered, 30 Nov. 1826. He divided against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He presented a variety of protectionist petitions, 19 Feb., 8 Mar., and the county’s against the Liverpool ministry’s corn importation bill, 19 Mar. When the latter was considered in committee, 6 Apr., he advocated, as an ‘act of justice towards the agriculturists’, lowering the corn pivot price to 64s., rather than the 70s. suggested in the Glamorgan petition. He complained that the measure was bad for the poor because lower prices would be offset by reductions in wages and poor rate revenues. He presented Swansea’s petitions against slavery, 21 Mar., and the use of steam-powered ships in the coastal carrying trade, 26 Mar., and several from Dissenting congregations for Test Acts repeal, 29 May, 6, 11 June. He was hard pressed to secure the passage of the Glamorgan roads bill, which received royal assent, 14 June 1827.20 He divided with the Canning ministry for the Canadian waterways grant, 12 June 1827. Cole presented favourable petitions 18, 20, 21, 26 Feb., 4 Mar., and explained on 28 Feb. that he had voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828, when the Wellington ministry had opposed it, because ‘English Protestant Dissenters’ should not be ‘subjected to penalties from which the Protestant Dissenters of Scotland and Ireland are exempt’. He presented but felt unable to endorse the vehemently anti-Catholic petition of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists of Glamorgan, 8 May, but he paired against the relief bill, 12 May. Debating the navy estimates, 25 Feb., he joined Sir Joseph Yorke in expressing surprise at the ministry’s decision to exclude army, navy and ordnance personnel from the finance committee, and he objected to Hume’s ploy of comparing the estimates of 1792 with those of the current year, when the service had additionally to police the Straits of Malacca, keep down pirates in the Persian Gulf, and attend to Mauritius, the Cape of Good Hope and North and South America. He considered a passenger regulation bill vital, 24 Mar., and the reduction in the blockade service grant that Hume proposed ‘extraordinary’, in view of the naval expertise which would thereby be lost, 16 May. He argued that the £18,260 spent on the Bombay and Bermuda shipyards was justified in view of the high quality of the teak used, of which he had practical experience, 19 May. Drawing on Swansea’s experience, he backed Hume’s proposals to compel banks to submit quarterly returns to Parliament as a means of protecting the ‘labouring classes’ against the insolvency of country banks, but the chancellor of the exchequer dismissed his comments, and the motion was withdrawn, 26 June. He approved the additional churches bill’s provisions for prohibiting burial in or close to church buildings, but was against carrying the measure unamended, 30 June. He divided with government against ordnance reductions, 4 July. When inquiry was sought into the punishment of soldiers in New South Wales, 8 July, he defended their commander, Darling, ‘an intimate acquaintance’, and attributed allegations of mistreatment by him to exaggerated newspaper reports and misinformation. He presented anti-slavery petitions from Cowbridge, Neath and Swansea, 30 May, 9 June. He failed to carry the 1828 Bridgend (second Dyffryn Llynfi) railway bill.21 That autumn, shortly after hearing that he had been appointed to command the royal yacht, he drafted his testimony to the justice commission, recommending abolition of the Welsh courts and judicature and endorsing Lord Cawdor’s proposals in consultation with Lewis Weston Dillwyn†.22
The patronage secretary Planta classified Cole as ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic relief in February 1829 and expected him to vote against emancipation. However, he declared, 16 Feb., that in view of the Irish situation and the king, Peel and Wellington’s support for its concession with adequate securities, he deemed further opposition impossible and unworthy of his career as a naval officer. He alerted the House to the activities of Bristol agitators in encouraging anti-Catholic petitioning in Cardiff, 27 Feb., and distanced himself from those he presented, 2 Mar., but also called for improved securities. He refused to be deterred by local criticism from dividing for the measure, 6 Mar. He conceded on presenting hostile petitions, 9, 10 Mar., that the securities offered ‘do not go to the extent I could wish’, but he praised the government’s endeavours to pacify Ireland and said that he regarded Peel and Wellington’s sponsorship of the bill as a security and suppression of the Catholic Association as another.23 He confirmed that the measure’s Glamorgan opponents were respectable and genuinely motivated by a ‘deep sense of religion ... and a sincere fear of the pretensions of the Church of Rome to spiritual power’, but refused to endorse their petitions, 24 Mar. Although he hoped to see the relief bill amended to prevent the appointment of Catholic privy councillors, he confirmed his support for its general principle and the government, 30 Mar. Squabbling with Hume over the navy estimates, 27 Feb., Cole denigrated switching to contract suppliers as a dangerous and ‘paltry economy’ and secured an assurance from Sir George Cockburn, as the board’s spokesman, that the admiralty had not authorized trading in navy commissions like their army counterparts. He insisted that it was vital to the safety of shipping that lighthouses should remain under the control of Trinity House, 3 Mar. He strongly opposed the government’s decision to disband the militia, 4 May. He took charge of the amended Dyffryn Llynfi railway bill and helped to secure the passage of the 1829 Saundersfoot railway and Merthyr magistrates bills.24 Bute gave him the use of Cardiff Castle for the October race meeting, which Talbot stewarded as a candidate in waiting.25
Cole voted to enfranchise Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and, before voting to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. 1830, outlined his views on representation and reform. He was opposed to any increase in the number of Members but had ‘no objection’ to transferring an existing franchise from a ‘guilty and corrupt borough to a large and populous town’, and maintained that it was impossible for a county Member, attending ‘properly to the general interest of his county’, to represent one. He added:
I have never given, and never will give my sanction to the wild schemes of reform sometimes brought forward; but I think I owe it to myself to state, that although from the moment I entered into the House the support of the government was my leading principle, I should be ashamed of myself, representing as I do a respectable county, if I had not formed my opinion (as I always hope I shall in measures of consequence), and given my vote as an independent man.
He divided against the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 15 Mar. Bringing up petitions from Glamorgan’s iron workers that day, he attacked the truck system as slavery condoned by Parliament, and he seconded Littleton’s motion for a regulatory bill, 17 Mar. He deplored inequalities in the coastwise coal tax, which favoured Monmouthshire at Glamorgan’s expense, 11, 17 Mar., and supported the unsuccessful Irish repeal bill, 13 May. He welcomed the government’s decision to sponsor legislation abolishing the Welsh judicature and reform of the courts of great sessions, 9 Mar., as he could not ‘conceive why a population of 700,000 people should be entitled to separate courts of judicature any more than Yorkshire’. He repeated that the measure was ‘vital’ for the prosperity of Glamorgan and welcomed the decision to compensate serving Welsh judges, 19 May. He presented favourable petitions, 12 May, but left no record of his views on abolishing capital punishment for forgery. He had failed to avoid involvement with the Bute (Cardiff) Canal bill, against which William Crawshay and the Glamorgan Canal Company lobbied strongly.26 The Margam trustees had ceased to fund Cole in 1827, and by 7 June 1830 his stepson’s plans to replace him as Member for Glamorgan at the dissolution had been laid.27 Cole dined the Bretheren of the Indefatigable and Beaufort Lodges, 24 June, and announced his retirement soon after George IV’s death.28 Informing Bute, through whom he also sought patronage for a relation, 5 July 1830, he attributed his decision ‘when no opposition was threatened’ to his wife’s ‘uncertain state of health’ and ‘other causes of a private nature’.29 The sheriff of Glamorgan, William Williams, who now stood unsuccessfully for Seaford, expressed pity for ‘warming pan Cole’, and newspaper columnists urged the freeholders to resist being handed over ‘like a flock of sheep’, but the change was easily effected in Cole’s absence.30
Appointed a colonel of marines, Cole soon resumed the chairmanship of Swansea anti-slavery meetings and masonic functions. Vacating Penrice, he moved to Lanelay, the former seat of the Vaughans near Llantrisant, where he died, worth £40,000-£60,000, in August 1836. As he had willed he was buried in Penrice churchyard. He bequeathed his real and personal estate in trust to his brother Samuel, nephew John Griffith Cole, and Talbot, for the use of his widow (d. 1855), with reversion to Samuel. He also made particular provisions for his unmarried sister Kitty, his nephew the Rev. Francis Cole, his niece Mary Ellis Stephens and servant William Wilkins, while a codicil of 16 July 1835 kept his plate in the Cole family, provided keepsakes for friends and relations and £100 for the poor of Penrice. He bequeathed his armour and books on nautical subjects to Talbot.31
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 482; PROB 11/1546/389; NLW, Penrice and Margam mss 6556.
- 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 499-500; iii. 482.
- 3. The Times, 22 Feb.; Cambrian, 11 Mar. 1820; NLW, Bute mss L63/9, 11, 12, 17, 19-22, 43; H.M. Williams, ‘Geographic Distribution of Pol. Opinion in Glam. Parl. Elections, 1820-1950’ (Univ. of Wales M.A. thesis, 1951), 12-23; I.W.R. David, ‘Pol. and Electioneering Activity in S.E. Wales, 1820-1852’ (Univ. of Wales M.A. thesis, 1959), 237-44.
- 4. Cambrian, 15 Apr. 1820.
- 5. E. Ball ‘Glam. Members During the Reform Bill Period’, Morgannwg, x (1966), 16.
- 6. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 457.
- 7. Cambrian, 23 June, 15 Dec. 1821, 12 Jan. 1822.
- 8. Ibid. 29 Mar., 13 Apr., 4, 18, 25 May 1822.
- 9. The Times, 14 Mar. 1823.
- 10. Ibid. 6, 27 Mar. 1824; Add. 40362, f. 77.
- 11. Bute mss L67/13; Glam. RO D/DA11/10, 15, 47; Merthyr Mawr mss L/205/7; 206/37; Cambrian, 8, 15, 22 May, 16, 23 Oct. 1824.
- 12. Merthyr Mawr mss F/51/7.
- 13. Ball, 16.
- 14. Cambrian, 29 Jan., 2 Apr. 1825; H.M. Thomas, ‘Margam Estate Management, 1765-1860’, Glam. Historian, vi. (1969), 27; CJ, lxxx.75, 110, 409, 478, 518.
- 15. Cambrian, 8, 15 Oct. 1825.
- 16. Penrice and Margam mss 9235, W. to T. Llewellyn, 19 Dec.; Cambrian, 31 Dec. 1825, 21 Jan. 1826.
- 17. Cambrian, 1 Oct. 1825; CJ, lxxxi. 164, 349, 377.
- 18. Cambrian, 27 May, 3, 10, 24 June 1826.
- 19. Ibid. 2, 9, 23 Sept., 14 Oct. 1826; E. Ball, ‘Glamorgan: A Study of the Co. and the Work of its Members in the Commons, 1825-1835’ (Univ. of London Ph.D. thesis, 1965), 82-90.
- 20. CJ, lxxxii. 218, 332, 497, 558; Cambrian, 24 Feb., 5 May 1827.
- 21. CJ, lxxxiii. 173, 302, 318, 375.
- 22. PP (1829), ix. 387, 412; Bute mss L71/93-94; Ball, thesis, 143; Cambrian, 15 Nov. 1828, 10 Jan. 1829; NLS mss 2270, f. 267.
- 23. Cambrian, 7 Mar.; Bristol Mercury, 17 Mar. 1829.
- 24. CJ, lxxxiv. 25, 102, 123, 180, 262, 297; Ball, thesis, 146-53.
- 25. NLW, Penllergaer mss, diary of Lewis Weston Dillwyn, 10-14 Oct. 1829.
- 26. Ball, thesis, 126; Cambrian, 20, 27 Mar., 3 July 1830.
- 27. Penrice and Margam mss 9236, Talbot to G. Llewellyn, 2 Nov. 1826, 2 Jan. 1827; 9238, same to same, 7 July 1830.
- 28. Cambrian, 12 June, 3, 10 July 1830.
- 29. Bute mss L73/77.
- 30. NLW, Aberpergwm mss 11; Cambrian, 10, 17, 24, 31 July, 14 Aug. 1830.
- 31. Cambrian, 2 July 1831, 27 Aug., 3 Sept.; Glam. Mon. Brec. and Merthyr Guardian, 27 Aug., 3 Sept. 1836; PROB 11/1866/540; IR26/1413/626.