Hay, George (1715-1778) (DNB00)

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HAY, Sir GEORGE (1715–1778), lawyer and politician, son of John Hay, rector of St. Stephen's, Coleman Street, London, was born on 25 Jan. 1714–15, and admitted into Merchant Taylors' School in 1724. He was elected to St. John's College, Oxford, in 1731, matriculating on 30 June, and took the degrees of B.C.L. on 29 April 1737 and D.C.L. on 23 Feb. 1742. On 23 Oct. 1742 he was admitted a member of the College of Advocates, and rapidly rose in his profession. His first piece of preferment was the chancellorship of Worcester diocese, which he held from 1751 to 16 July 1764. At the general election in 1754 he was returned for the borough of Stockbridge in Hampshire, and in 1755 he became vicar-general to the Archbishop of Canterbury and king's advocate. Horace Walpole's first impression of Hay's oratory was that his reputation was greater than his merits deserved, but in the course of a month this opinion changed. Hay, as one of Pitt's followers, was appointed a lord of the admiralty in November 1756. Henry Fox caused his re-election at Stockbridge to be opposed, and, although the Duke of Bedford refused to join in the opposition, Hay was defeated. With the exception of the brief interval from April to July 1757, he held a seat at the admiralty board from November 1756 to August 1765. He was a member of that body when Byng was executed (14 March 1757), and, as George II thought that the board had transferred to him the odium of the execution, Hay, with the rest of his colleagues, fell under the royal displeasure, and a seat for treasury borough was refused him. Ultimately he was elected for a Calne (July 1757), and represented it till the dissolution in 1761. In the next parliament (1761–8) he represented Sandwich, and from November 1768 until his death he sat for Newcastle-under-Lyme. Horace Walpole's reluctant praise of Hay's speeches is echoed in the good opinion of others. Alexander Carlyle, when in London in 1758, heard him speak in a debate in the commons on the remodelling of the Habeas Corpus Act ‘with a clearness, a force, and brevity’ which delighted him. In the debates in 1762 on the questions connected with Wilkes he interfered, says Walpole, with ‘much and able subtlety,’ but was attacked by the whigs for his assertion that the law of government was superior to the law of the land. Many years later, on the motion for the repeal of the Stamp Act, he was subjected in the same way to much censure for his ‘arbitrary notions from the civil law.’

Hay resigned his posts of chancellor of Worcester diocese, vicar-general, and king's advocate in 1764, on becoming dean of the arches, judge of the prerogative court of Canterbury, and chancellor of the diocese of London. These offices he retained until his death, and from November 1773, in which month he was knighted, he held with them the judgeship of the high court of admiralty. It was hoped in March 1778 that he would be one of the commissioners to treat with the American colonies, but he ‘positively refused’ the offer. Hay loved company and was lax in application to the duties of his profession. Hogarth, his intimate friend, dedicated to him the fourth print of ‘The Election’ (1 Jan. 1758), and painted his portrait. Hay possessed several of Hogarth's pictures. Garrick admitted that he had passed in Hay's company ‘some of the happiest hours of his life.’ When Hay intervened in the debates on Wilkes, he was taunted with his former intimacy with the agitator, and acknowledged the ‘pleasure and instruction’ which he had received in Wilkes's society. With his irregularities in private life and disregard of his profession his affairs became embarrassed, and under their pressure he put an end to his life on 6 Oct. 1778. Hay was an eloquent speaker and an ingenious advocate. Thurlow, when attorney-general and engaged on the trial of the Duchess of Kingston [see Chudleigh, Elizabeth], called him an ‘able and excellent judge.’ There was printed at Boston, U.S., in 1853 a volume of ‘Decisions in the High Court of Admiralty during the time of Sir George Hay and Sir James Marriott. Edited by George Minot. Vol. i. Michaelmas Term 1776 to Hilary Term 1779.’ Some of his speeches are condensed in Cavendish's ‘Debates,’ i. 401, 503.

[Gent. Mag. 1778, p. 495; J. N[ichols]'s Biog. Anecdotes of Hogarth, pp. 98, 334; Bedford Corresp. iii. 337; Green's Worcestershire, vol. ii. p. cxl; Walpole's George III, i. 112, 368–72, ii. 53, 60, 63, 303, 422; Walpole's Journals, 1771–83, ii. 220, 267; Walpole's Letters, ii. 483–484, 493, iii. 46–7, 68, iv. 208; Garrick's Corresp. ii. 157–8; Grenville Papers, i. 167, 187, ii. 263; Carlyle's Autobiog. p. 336; Coote's English Civilians, pp. 118–19; Bedford Corresp. ii. 220–2, 241; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Robinson's Reg. Merchant Taylors' School, ii. 64.]

W. P. C.