Gibson, Thomas Milner- (DNB00)

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GIBSON, THOMAS MILNER- (1806–1884), statesman, was born at Port of Spain, Trinidad, West Indies, 3 Sept. 1806, and baptised on 8 Nov. His father, Thomas Milner Gibson, son of the Rev. Thomas Gibson, of a family settled at Dovercourt-cum-Harwich and Ipswich, was a major of the 37th foot, who after serving in Trinidad returned to England, where he died in May 1807. His mother, Isabella, daughter of Henry Glover of Chester, after the death of her husband, remarried, in July 1810, Thomas Whiting Wootton, who died in 1844. The only child, Thomas, coming to England with his parents in 1807, was after some time sent to a unitarian school at Higham Hill, Walthamstow, kept by Dr. Eliezer Cogan [q. v.], where he had Benjamin Disraeli for one of his companions. He was next at a school at Blackheath, then was entered at the Charterhouse in 1819, and five years afterwards was at a private tutor's in Nottinghamshire. At Trinity College, Cambridge, he came out thirty-sixth wrangler in 1830, when he proceeded B.A. He was returned as member for Ipswich in the conservative interest on 27 July 1837, but two years later resigned, after becoming a convert to the liberal doctrines of the period. He appealed to the electors to receive him in his new capacity, but was defeated at the poll, 15 July 1839, by Sir T. J. Cochrane. He then contested Cambridge, but it was some time before he was again seen in the House of Commons. Like many other able young men, he found in free trade and its development the cardinal point of his political creed. In the intervals of his exclusion from parliamentary life, while the agitation was being organised for the abolition of the corn laws, he entered heart and soul into the movement, and became one of Cobden's most influential allies, and one of the prominent orators of the league. This gave him a seat for Manchester, which he won, 1 July 1841, after a severe struggle with Sir George Murray. On the formation of Lord John Russell's ministry in July 1846, with the object of carrying out a free trade policy, he was appointed vice-president of the board of trade, and became a privy councillor on 8 July. The object of Lord John Russell was to strengthen the government by an alliance with the chiefs of the league. Gibson, although he only held office until April 1848, will always be remembered as one of the first official exponents of free trade. Like Lord Palmerston and Charles Buller, he combined great powers of argument with a happy use of ironical humour. His speeches on the sugar duties in 1848 were marked by a thorough mastery of the whole question, and were some of the best delivered on that topic, and his addresses throughout the anti-cornlaw agitation, both in and out of parliament, convinced his audiences. In March 1857 he seconded Cobden's vote of censure of Lord Palmerston's Chinese policy, but together with his friend and colleague John Bright lost his seat for Manchester, his objection to the Crimean war having proved distasteful to his constituents; however, on 14 Dec. he found refuge at Ashton-under-Lyne, which he continued to represent until 1868, when, being defeated on 17 Nov. by Thomas Walton Mellor, he retired from public life. In March 1869 he was offered but declined the governorship of the Mauritius; he also refused to accept the honour of K.C.B. On the motion for the second reading of Lord Palmerston's bill to amend the law of conspiracy, Gibson moved a vote of censure on the government, which was carried by 234 against 215, and Palmerston resigned 19 Feb. 1858. During Lord Palmerston's ministry, 1859–65, and in the short-lived government of Lord John Russell which followed, 1865–6, Gibson was president of the poor law board, 25 June to 10 July 1859, and president of the board of trade, with cabinet rank, from July 1859 to July 1866, having held the latter place longer than any of his predecessors. He took an active part in the promotion of the commercial treaty with France. The abolition of the newspaper stamp, the advertisement duty, and the excise on paper was, to a very great extent, due to his exertions. In 1850 he became the president of the Association for the Repeal of the Taxes on Knowledge, and took every opportunity of urging on the government the necessity of doing away with the three restrictive duties. This subject was at the same time most ably advocated throughout the country by John Francis [q. v.] The last of these taxes was repealed 1 Oct. 1861, and Gibson's great services were recognised by a public testimonial consisting of a centrepiece and two candelabra, which were presented to him 4 Feb. 1862 (Illustrated London News, 15 Feb. 1862, pp. 162, 176, with woodcuts of the plate). Sampson's ‘History of Advertising,’ 1875, is dedicated to him ‘in recognition of the service he rendered to advertising and journalism.’ Gibson retired from office with a pension of 2,000l. a year, and thenceforth spent his time either at his country residence, Theberton House, Suffolk, or in yachting in the Mediterranean. He was one of the best known amateur yachtsmen of his day, able to navigate his own ship, and at the time of his death was the senior member of the Royal Yacht Squadron. It is curious that he was the last person who cruised in the Mediterranean with a free pass from the dey of Algiers, 1830, and this fact is commemorated on a tablet in the English church there. His knowledge of nautical affairs made him a useful elder brother of the Trinity House, while after his retirement until his death he was one of the most diligent of the public works loan commissioners. He was a J.P. and D.L. for Suffolk, and on 7 Feb. 1839 had by royal license assumed the additional surname of Milner before that of Gibson, in order to testify his respect for the memory of Robert Milner of Ipswich. He died on board his yacht, the Resolute, at Algiers on 25 Feb. 1884, and was buried in Theberton churchyard 13 March (Bury Free Press, March 1884). On the day of his funeral a graceful tribute to his memory was published in the ‘Times’ by Sir T. H. Farrer, permanent secretary of the board of trade, in the name of those who served under him. ‘Many an opposition was disarmed,’ he wrote, ‘and many a struggle in the house or on the platform anticipated and avoided, by the patient good temper with which, in the smoking-room or the lobby, he would discuss while appearing to gossip and lead while appearing to listen. … To us it seemed that the public business of our department never received greater attention than when it was in his hands.’ His portrait in oils by James Holmes, engraved by W. Holl, and dedicated to the members of the Reform Club, is in the possession of Jasper Milner-Gibson, esq., and his portrait in water-colours by C. A. Du Val, engraved by S. W. Reynolds, belongs to Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum, esq.

There is no record of Gibson having been an author, but the following works refer to his public career: 1. ‘Malt Tax: a Letter to the Members of the House of Commons by J. Fielden, exposing the misstatements of Mr. Milner Gibson,’ 1865. 2. ‘Railways, in a Letter to the President of the Board of Trade: a Plan for the Reform of the Railways of the United Kingdom,’ 1865.

He married, 23 Feb. 1832, Susanna Arethusa, only child of the Rev. Sir Thomas Gery Cullum, bart., of Hardwick House, Suffolk, and granddaughter of Sir T. G. Cullum [q. v.] She was born at Southgate Green, Bury St. Edmunds, 11 Jan. 1814, and was for many years a leader in society, and an advocate of mesmerism and spiritualism when those sciences were in their infancy. Her political and literary salon was opened to many distinguished exiles, Napoleon, Mazzini, Victor Hugo, Louis Blanc, and others, as well as to the leading English literary celebrities, especially Dickens, to one of whose sons she stood sponsor. An account of her salon is to be found in Edmund Yates's ‘Recollections,’ i. 252–3 (1884), and again in Mrs. Lynn Linton's curious ‘Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland’ (1885), ii. 15 et seq. Latterly she became a Roman catholic, and died at 11 Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, Paris, 23 Feb. 1885, aged 71, and was buried in the cemetery, Bury St. Edmunds, 3 March (Bury and Norwich Post, 3 March 1885). By her husband she had a large family, of whom only two survived, Jasper Milner-Gibson of Theberton House, and Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum of Hardwick House, both in Suffolk.

[Francis's Orators of the Age, 1847, pp. 294–300; Evans's Lancashire Authors and Orators, 1850, pp. 101–5; Illustrated News of the World, 6 March 1858, p. 76, with portrait; Grant's Newspaper Press, 1871, ii. 299, 311–19; Nicoll's Great Movements, 1881, pp. 268–331, with portrait; Illustrated London News, 27 Feb. 1858, p. 207, 31 Dec. 1842, p. 541, with portrait, and 8 March 1884, pp. 217, 227, with portrait; Graphic, 15 March 1884, pp. 249–50, with portrait; Times, 26 Feb. 1884, p. 10, and 13 March, p. 4; information from Gery Milner-Gibson-Cullum, esq., Hardwick House, Bury St. Edmunds; Morley's Life of Cobden; J. G. Francis's John Francis, 1888; Men of the Time, 11th ed. pp. 168, 457; Anecdotal Photographs in Truth, 12 May 1881.]

G. C. B.