GURNEY, Richard Hanbury (1783-1854), of Keswick and Thickthorne, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1818 - 1826
1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 2 Aug. 1783, 2nd s. of Richard Gurney, banker and brewer, of Keswick and North Repps, Norf. and 2nd w. Rachel, da. of Osgood Hanbury of Holfield Grange, Coggeshall, Essex; half-bro. of Hudson Gurney*. m. 17 May 1830, Mary, da. of William Jary of Burlingham, Norf., div. w. of Joseph Salisbury Muskett of Intwood Hall, Norf., 1 illegit. da. suc. fa. as partner in Norwich bank 1811. d. 1 Jan. 1854.

Offices Held


Gurney, a keen agriculturist, popular sportsman and ‘lapsed Quaker’, who admitted spending £80,000 on electioneering for himself and his friends, was a member of the Quaker banking dynasty and a partner in the Norwich and Yarmouth banks. The banker and natural leader of the Norwich ‘Blue and White’ party, he had contested the city successfully on their interest at the general election of 1818, and they returned him unopposed and ‘without ruinous expense’ with his fellow Whig, the Dissenters’ parliamentary spokesman William Smith, in 1820.1 On the hustings and in his addresses, he testified to his opposition to Lord Liverpool’s administration and wasteful taxes, expressed disquiet at the recent Cato Street conspiracy and ‘wild visionary schemes of reform’ and called for support for the monarchy.2 Unlike his half-brother, with whom his votes and rare utterances tend to be confused, Gurney, whose love of the chase, firm commitment to his business interests and tendency to gout kept his attendance spasmodic, was a pro-reform Whig and professed political devotee of Lord Althorp*.3 He divided with opposition on the Queen Caroline case, 22, 26 June 1820. On 23 Nov. 1820, at the Norwich common hall which addressed her, he spoke of the damage caused to the royal family by her prosecution and called for parliamentary scrutiny of the Milan commission.4 According to Hudson, at whose house he stayed, Gurney arrived for the session on 23 Jan. 1821

too late for the division ... [and] much resembling a bear poked with a cudgel, to do his duties of dancing to a hand organ. The honourable Member on his hind legs, however, seems in much better spirits, and to have lost much of his discomfiture today, as he stays to vote on Friday.5

Though ‘sick of the queen’s case’, he divided with her partisans, 26 Jan., 6 Feb., before resuming his country pursuits, returning reluctantly to vote for the additional malt duty repeal bill, 3 Apr.6 He received a month’s leave to deal with urgent private business, 19 Apr., and the remaining votes attributed to him that session (23 May, 7, 18, 21 June and 2 July 1821) were almost certainly cast by Hudson.

Gurney divided with opposition on distress, 11 Feb., and the dismissal of Sir Robert Wilson* from the army, 13 Feb., and paired for large tax concessions, 8 May 1822. He voted for remission of Henry Hunt’s* gaol sentence, 24 Apr., parliamentary reform, 25 Apr., and inquiries into the government of the Ionian Isles, 14 May, embassy costs, 15, 16 May, and the conduct of the lord advocate towards the Scottish press, 25 June, having also voted against the naval and military pensions bill, 24 May, and the aliens bill, 14 June 1822. He arrived for the 1823 session on 10 Feb., but on the 28th Hudson wrote that ‘there seems nothing in Parliament which would withdraw him from the foxes - even if he liked it better than he does’.7 He received a fortnight’s leave on account of ill health, 15 Apr.,8 and votes against the naval and military pensions bill, 18 Apr., and for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823, may have been misattributed to him. He divided for repeal of the taxes on windows, 2 Mar., and leather, 18 May, against permitting the export of long wool used in the Norwich worsted trade, 21 May, and in condemnation of the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824. He divided for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. According to Hudson Gurney’s diary, he also voted against the attendant Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., but he is not named in the usual lists.9 He voted to repeal the assessed taxes, 3 Mar., and to consider corn law reform, 28 Apr. 1825. Summoned to Norwich shortly before the December 1825 banking crisis, he dealt adroitly with the repercussions of the failure of Day’s bank and took over much of their business.10 Heeding local interests, he voted in the minority for the appointment of a select committee on the silk trade petitions, 24 Feb. 1826, and returned to London for three days in March but spent ‘the first in the City and the House, the second in bed and the third hobbling’.11 He voted for parliamentary reform, 27 Apr. 1826. His announcement two days later that he was standing down on health grounds at the dissolution also referred to differences with his supporters, whose commitment to free trade and a return to the gold currency he did not share.12 His retirement surprised his relations and left his party little time to find an alternative candidate at the general election, when his nomination in absentia was discounted.13 Family correspondence attributed his decision to misgivings over the Norwich and Lowestoft Port bill and the growing anti-Catholicism of the Norwich mob, for his health soon recovered at Cheltenham and he retained ‘a great leaning for a borough if one should offer’.14

Out of Parliament, Gurney devoted his time to rural pursuits and banking.15 In October 1829 he caused a sensation by eloping with Mary, the estranged wife of Joseph Salisbury Muskett of Intwood Hall, who in March 1818 had unsuccessfully brought a crim. con. action against him at Thetford assizes.16 Mary was now heavily pregnant, and the bill by which her divorce from Muskett was secured received royal assent, 3 May 1830, five months after the birth of her daughter with Gurney. It followed successful high profile proceedings brought by Muskett in December 1829 in the consistory count and in king’s bench, which on the 21st found Gurney guilty of crim. con. and awarded Muskett damages of £2,000 with costs.17 Several newspapers erroneously reported that the adulterer was Hudson Gurney.18 According to their cousin and partner, the Quaker minister Joseph John Gurney, since January 1830 Gurney had been

at the bank daily; received by everybody as if nothing had happened. I have myself taken the line of silence on the sorrowful event, and of strictly confining our communications to matters of business, in which he continues to be useful and effective. He seems fully resolved to settle in the neighbourhood of Norwich, not being able it appears, to endure living elsewhere. He has been looking at Easton where Micklethwaite used to live, but does not like it. It is melancholy to me to see the standard let down, and a little questionable whether one ought to be so far mixed up with him as we necessarily are on the immediate management of the business. Yet I see for the present no alternative. He looks worn, and by no means happy. Yet I fear it is his unsettlement which grieves him, rather than his sin.19

Gurney and Mary, the daughter of a well-to-do Norfolk yeoman, were married at St. Marylebone church on 17 May 1830.20 His candidature for Norwich at the general election in July, when he was also talked of the county, discomfited the Quakers on moral grounds, but they nevertheless welcomed his return with the Huskissonite Robert Grant.21 Not surprisingly, he had to endure many jibes about ‘muskets’ and wife-stealing during the contest.22 His speeches advocated reform, retrenchment and moderate tax reductions, and he cited the lengthy depression in the Norwich textile industry in justification of his earlier reservations on free trade.23

The Wellington ministry counted Gurney among their ‘foes’ and he divided against them when they were brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. At the by-election following Grant’s appointment as the Grey ministry’s judge advocate, he expressed confidence in the government and voiced his concern at the escalating rioting in Norfolk, 30 Nov. 1830.24 He gave ‘general support’ to the ‘radical’ resolutions adopted at the Norwich reform meeting, 19 Jan. 1831, but called for forbearance and public backing for the ministry in their difficult task of securing the passage of a reform bill in an unreformed House. Nevertheless, he promised to oppose them ‘if I shall find them at any time guilty of a job, or taking to themselves what of right belongs to the people’.25 He presented a petition from the Norwich parish of St. Michael at Plea for repeal of the assessed taxes, 4 Feb., and was awarded a week’s leave for urgent private business after serving on an election committee, 14 Mar. He voted for the ministry’s reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. Although absent and unable to canvass on account of a bad attack of gout, he came in again for Norwich with Grant at the ensuing general election, defeating the anti-reformers Michael Sadler* and Sir Charles Wetherell* in a ‘costly and vexatious’ poll.26

Gurney voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and against adjourning its consideration in committee, 12 July 1831. He generally supported its details, but cast wayward votes against the division of counties, 11 Aug. (according to the local press),27 against giving freeholders in cities like Norwich county votes, 17 Aug., and for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug.28 On 15 Sept. he explained that he wished

to support the present administration in every way I possibly can, but I cannot vote with them against my conscience, and therefore I have been against them on particular clauses. Since my election I have been amongst my constituents, and I declare that they have never said, do this, or do that, but have left me quite unfettered; and unfettered I shall remain, notwithstanding anything that may be said by opposition.

He divided for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. At the Norwich common hall on the 29th, which petitioned the Lords in its favour, he said he ‘sincerely wished such a measure had been carried 30 years ago’, saving ‘upwards of £800,000 a year’ in unnecessary taxes, and discussed prorogation, peer creation and withholding supplies as possible strategies to ensure its passage.29 When they met on 18 Oct., following its defeat, he said he hoped that the next bill would be introduced in the Lords to lessen the strain on Members, and urged the populace ‘to be peaceable in the interests of reform’ and to ‘combine together firmly and steadily and the day is your own’.30 He was cheered at the Norfolk county meeting, 19 Nov. 31 He voted for the revised reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, fairly steadily for its details, and for its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. Illness prevented him from voting on the address requesting the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, and he remained unwell on the 14th, when he addressed the Norwich meeting that petitioned for withholding supplies until it became law.32 He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832.

Standing as a Liberal, Gurney was defeated ‘mainly on malt’ at Norwich, where bribery prevailed, at the general election in December 1832, and in East Norfolk in 1835 and 1837.33 He did not offer subsequently, but as a substantial Norfolk landowner, he opposed repeal of the corn laws in 1846.34 His recurrent attacks of gout and paralysis caused his family great concern, but they did not prevent his success in business. He died in January 1854, the senior partner in the bank of Overend, Gurney and Company. His nephew Daniel Gurney recalled him as ‘a person of great strength, both of body and mind, full of sterling sense and kindly feeling, but neither his education nor early associations led to a complete development of either’.35 His will, dated 8 Nov. 1851, provided for his wife (who died 2 Dec. 1857, worth £40,000), servants and relations, but the main beneficiary was his only daughter Mary (Jary), who in 1846 had married her cousin John Henry Gurney, Liberal Member for King’s Lynn, 1854-65; Gurney’s Norfolk and Sussex estates devolved on their issue.36 She died in Paris, 19 Oct. 1872, having in 1860 made over her principal interests in the estate to her husband, whom she had left for his groom, William Taylor.37

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 120; Norf. RO, Gurney mss RQG 357/3; 401/3; 402/69; 571/41; 572/2, 3; Hants RO, Calthorpe mss 26M62/F/C219; W.H. Bidwell, Annals of an East Anglian Bank, 139-41, 143; D.E. Swift, ‘J.J. Gurney and Norwich Politics’, Jnl. of Friends’ Hist. Soc. xlix. (1959), 50, 53.
  • 2. Norf. Chron. 4,11 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. Gurney mss 402/69.
  • 4. Bury and Norwich Post, 29 Nov.; The Times, 1 Dec. 1820.
  • 5. Gurney mss 401/160.
  • 6. Ibid. 401/161; 402/6.
  • 7. Ibid. 402/21.
  • 8. Gurney diary, 15 Apr. 1823.
  • 9. Ibid. 26 Apr. 1825.
  • 10. Gurney mss 402/16; Bidwell, 152-3; Norwich Mercury, 24, 31 Dec. 1825.
  • 11. Gurney mss 402/37.
  • 12. Norwich Mercury, 6 May 1826.
  • 13. Gurney mss 402/40; Gurney diary, 9 June; Add. 40387, f. 248; The Times, 12 June 1826.
  • 14. Gurney mss 334/58; 574/3.
  • 15. Soc. of Friends Lib. Gurney mss Temp 434/3/452.
  • 16. Norf. Chron. 21 Mar. 1818.
  • 17. The Times, 12, 22, 29 Dec. 1829; LJ, lxii. 38, 49, 73, 108-11, 167, 173, 176, 280, 303; CJ, lxxxv. 243-4, 340, 350.
  • 18. The Times, 2 Mar. 1830.
  • 19. Soc. of Friends Lib. Gurney mss Temp 434/3/520.
  • 20. Norf. Chron. 22 May 1830.
  • 21. Surr. Hist. Cent. Howard of Ashtead mss 203/31/53; Soc. of Friends Lib. Gurney mss Temp 434/3/526a; Bidwell, 189.
  • 22. The Times, 19, 30 July; Norwich Election Budget (1830), 38-48.
  • 23. Norwich Mercury, 17, 24, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 24. Ibid. 4 Dec. 1830.
  • 25. Ibid. 22 Jan.; The Times, 24 Jan. 1831.
  • 26. Bidwell, 189; The Times, 28 Apr., 2 May; Norwich Election Budget (1831), passim.
  • 27. Norwich Mercury, 20 Aug. 1831.
  • 28. The Times, 19 Aug. 1831.
  • 29. Norwich Mercury, 1 Oct. 1831.
  • 30. Ibid. 22 Oct. 1831.
  • 31. The Times, 21 Nov. 1831.
  • 32. Ibid. 16 May 1832.
  • 33. Norf. RO, Gurney mss 402/9a, 99; The Times, 13, 14 Dec. 1832; Norwich Mercury, 7, 14 Jan. 1854; Bidwell, 195, 341, 400.
  • 34. Norwich Mercury, 7 Jan. 1854.
  • 35. Soc. of Friends Lib. Gurney mss Temp 434/1/78, 147; 2/431; 3/ 45, 76, 72, 113, 217, 713; A.J.C. Hare, Gurneys of Earlham, i. 29; Gent. Mag. (1854), i. 320-1.
  • 36. PROB 11/2186/113; 2261/893; IR26/1994/93; 2097/954; Soc. of Friends Lib. Gurney mss Temp 434/3/231-6, 877; Norf. RO, Gurney mss 287, 288.
  • 37. Soc. of Friends Lib. Gurney mss Temp 434/2/57; Norf. RO, Gurney mss 284/432-3.