Langhorne, William (DNB00)
|←Langhorne, Richard||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 32
LANGHORNE, Sir WILLIAM (1629–1715), governor of Madras, son of William Langhorne, an East India merchant, of London, was born in the city in 1629. He was probably a brother of the Captain Langhorne of the royal navy who is frequently mentioned in the 'State Papers' during the reign of Charles II (Dom. Ser. 1666–7, passim). He was admitted to the Inner Temple on 6 Aug. 1664, but does not appear to have practised at the bar (Inner Temple Register). He succeeded to his father's East India trade, made money, and was in 1668 created a baronet. In 1670 he was appointed to investigate a charge of fiscal malpractice which had been brought against Sir Edward Winter, East India Company agent and governor of Madras, with the result that Langhorne himself was made governor in Winter's stead in the course of the year. His appointment coincided with a critical period in the history of the settlement. Colbert had in 1665 projected the French East India Company, and in 1673 the French admiral, De la Haye, landed troops and guns at St. Thomé, on the Coromandel coast. Langhorne maintained a discreetly neutral position between the French, who were at that moment the nominal allies of England, and the Dutch, with whom England was at war. When in 1674 the Dutch stormed and took possession of St. Thomé, he contented himself with expressing sympathy with the French, at the same time strengthening the defences of Fort St. George. In the same year the English settlement was visited by Dr. John Fryer (d. 1733) [q. v.] the traveller, who spoke highly of Langhorne. 'The true masters of Madras,' he says, 'are the English Company, whose agent here is Sir William Laugham [sic], a gentleman of indefatigable industry and worth. He is superintendent over all the factories on the coast of Coromandel as far as the Bay of Bengala and up Haygly river. ... He has his Mint ... moreover he has his judiciaries, but not on life and death to the king's liege people of England; though over the rest they may. His personal guard consists of three hundred or four hundred blacks, besides a band of fifteen hundred men ready on summons; he never goes abroad without fifes, drums, trumpets, and a flag with two bells in a red field, accompanied with his Council and Factors on horseback, with their ladies in palankeens' (Fryer, New Account, p. 38).
In 1675 he successfully resisted an attempt at extortion by one Lingaps, the naik of the Poonamalee district, but only at the unlooked-for expense of what might have proved a perilous misunderstanding with the king of Golconda (see Wheeler, Madras, p. 86). In 1676 he showed his tolerant spirit by firing a salute upon the consecration of a Roman catholic church in Madras, and thereby drew upon himself a rebuke from the directors at home. A strict disciplinarian, he drew up as governor a code of by-laws which helps us to picture the contemporary social life of the settlement. Among his regulations it was enacted that no person was to drink above half a pint of arrack or brandy or a quart of wine at a time; to such practices as blaspheming, duelling, being absent from prayers, or being outside the walls after eight o'clock, strict penalties were allotted.
An over-shrewd man of business, Langhorne fell a victim, like his predecessor, to charges of private trading, by which he was said to have realised the too obviously large sum of 7,000l. per annum, in addition to the 300l., allowed him by the company. He left Madras in 1677, and was succeeded by Streynsham Master, uncle of Captain Streynsham Master, R.N. [q. v.]
On arriving in England Langhorne bought from the executors of William Ducie, viscount Downe, the estate and manor-house of Charlton in Kent (Lysons, iv. 326). Here he settled, became a J. P., and commissioner of the court of requests for the Hundred of Blackheath (1689), endowed a school and some almshouses, and died with the reputation of a rich and beneficent 'nabob' on 26 Feb. 1714–15; he was buried in Charlton Church. By his will he left a considerable sum to be applied, after the manner of Queen Anne's Bounty, in augmenting poor benefices (Hasted, Kent, ii. 263, 285). His first wife, Grace, second daughter of John, eighth earl of Rutland, and widow of Patricius, third viscount Chaworth, having died within a year of their marriage, on 15 Feb. 1700, Langhorne remarried Mary Aston, who, after his decease, married George Jones of Twickenham. Leaving no issue by either marriage he was succeeded in his estate by his sister's son, Sir John Conyers, bart., of Horden, Durham, and Langhorne's baronetcy became extinct.
[Burke's Extinct Baronetage, p. 298; Burke's Extinct Peerage, p. 112; London Gazettes, Nos. 3416, 3453; Hasted's Kent, i. 35; Lysons's Environs of London, vols. ii. and iv.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. pt. v. pp. 80, 124, pt. vi. p. 409, where his name is misspelt Langborne; John Fryer's New Account of East India and Persia, 1698; J. Talboys Wheeler's Madras in the Olden Time, from the company's original records, i. 68–93 (with facsimile of Langhorne's autograph); the same writer's Early Records of British India, pp. 56, 62, 72, and Handbook to the Madras Records; Birdwood's India Office Records, pp. 23, 64.]