Basset, Francis (1757-1835) (DNB00)

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BASSET, FRANCIS, Baron de Dunstanville of Tehidy and Baron Basset of Stratton (1757–1835), patriot, political writer, and patron of science, literature, and art, was son of Francis Basset, M.P. for Penryn from 1766 to 1769 (Mrs. Delany, iii. 450, 455, and Gent. Mag., 1769, xxxix. 558), and Margaret St. Aubyn, his wife. He was born at Walcot in Oxfordshire 9 Aug. 1757, and was educated at Harrow, Eton, and King's College, Cambridge, where he took his M.A. degree when twenty-nine years of age. Dr. Bathurst, afterwards bishop of Norwich, acted a tone time as his private tutor (Memoirs of Dr. Bathurst, 1837, i. 20). A tour on the continent, made with the Rev. William Sandys, son of a former steward of the family, and who had been specially trained for the purpose, completed his education, and he at once started in public life with every advantage that talents, education, and position could confer. Amongst his various political treatises are ‘Thoughts on Equal Representation,’ 1783; ‘Observations on a Treaty between England and France,’ 1787; ‘The Theory and Practice of the French Constitution,’ 1794; and ‘The Crimes of Democracy,’ 1798. His agricultural tracts included ‘Experiments in Agriculture,’ 1794; ‘A Fat Ox,’ 1799; ‘Crops and Prices,’ 1800; ‘Crops in Cornwall,’ 1801; and ‘Mildew,’ 1805; most of which appeared in Young's ‘Annals of Agriculture.’ He was chosen recorder of Penryn in 1778, and in 1779 he was created a baronet, and was M.P. for Penryn 1780–96. On his entrance into political life he joined Lord North's party, and was hurried into the coalition. The outbreak of the French revolution considerably modified his political views, and some angry correspondence in 1783 took place between him and the Duke of Portland (Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 21553, art. 34) in consequence of one of Sir Francis's protégés having been superseded as warden of the Stannaries. Mrs. Delany records some of his electioneering experiences in June and October 1784. In June 1782, though the two men were personally unknown to each other, he moved an address for ‘a lasting provision’ to be made for Admiral Rodney (Life and Correspondence of Lord Rodney, ii. 312, 335), but, at the instigation of the government, ultimately withdrew it. Rodney, however, wrote to him a very handsome letter of thanks on 1 Oct. 1782. Sir Francis opposed the peace with America with great energy, and in the same year seconded the address to the king's speech, declaring his confidence in the administration. In 1779, when the combined French and Spanish fleets threatened Plymouth, Sir Francis Basset marched into that town a large body of the Cornish miners' militia, and, with their aid, rapidly threw up additional earthwork batteries for the defence of the port; he also constructed about the same time some defences for the little harbour of Portreath on the north coast of Cornwall. His patriotic services on this occasion gained him his first title—his baronetcy, dated 24 Nov. 1779. On 17 June 1796 Pitt created him Baron de Dunstanville, and Baron Basset on 30 Oct. 1797; and he ultimately became we should now term a conservative. In 1807 a private act was passed (47 Geo. III, sect. i. cap. 3) to relieve him of the disabilities which he had incurred by taking his seat in the House of Peers before taking the oaths. His princely income, derived mainly from the mines which lay almost within sight of his mansion of Tehidy, enabled him to devote considerable sums towards developing the mining interests of Cornwall and the moral and social welfare of the miner; he also improved the means of locomotion in that county, and, in 1809, laid the first rail of the tramway designed to connect Portreath on the north with Devoran on the south coast. He was also a liberal patron of the fine arts; and his edition of Carew's ‘Survey of Cornwall,’ enriched with Tonkin's notes and published in 1811, is one amongst many instances of his services to literature. The friend and patron of John Opie, R.A., he was one of the eminent Cornishmen who acted as pall-bearers at the great artist's funeral at St. Paul's in 1807 (Rogers, Opie and his Works, 1878, p. 71); and his own collection of pictures was extensive and valuable. He was seventy-seven years of age when he was seized with paralysis, at Exeter, on his way to parliament, and died at Stratheden House, Knightsbridge, on 5 Feb. 1835 (Davis, Memorials of Knightsbridge, 1859, p. 110); but he was buried at Illogan, the journey homewards of the funeral procession occupying no less than twelve days. There is a bust of him by Westmacott on his monument in Illogan church; a fine oil portrait in the Royal Institution of Cornwall at Truro; and a tall granite obelisk to his memory stands on the summit of Carn Brea hill, which overlooks the bulk of his mining estates, and commands views of the English and the Bristol channels. His first wife was Frances Susannah Coxe, of Stone Easton, Somersetshire (Gent. Mag. 1823, xciii. ii. 274); his second, whom he married 13 July 1824, and who survived him for nearly thirty years, was Miss Harriet Lemon of Carclew, Cornwall. His monumental inscription truthfully records that he was ‘an elegant scholar, the patron of merit, and a munificent contributor to charitable institutions throughout the empire,’ and that ‘he proved himself the friend of his country and of mankind’ (Gent. Mag. 1835, iii. 655, and Annual Biography for 1836, p. 35). He was succeeded in his estates by his only daughter (by his first wife) Frances, who, on her father's decease, became Baroness Basset of Stratton. She died at Tehidy on 22 Jan. 1855, in her 74th year—the last direct representative of her race (Gent. Mag. 1855, xliii. 304).

[Gent. Mag. (1865), xviii. 257; Redding's Past Celebrities (1866), i. 133; Wraxall's Historical Memoirs of his own Times (1836), iii. 133; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub.]

W. H. T.