Roberts, John (1712?-1772) (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 48
Roberts, John (1712?-1772)

by William Rees Williams
Contains subarticle John Christopher Roberts (1739–1810).

ROBERTS, JOHN (1712?–1772), politician, was possibly son of Gabriel Roberts of St. Anne's, Westminster, M.P. for Marlborough from 1713 to 1727, and a brother to Lieutenant-colonel Philip Roberts, royal horse guards. The latter's eldest son, Wenman, assumed the name of Coke on inheriting the estates of his uncle, the Earl of Leicester, in 1759. Roberts was born about 1712 (cf. Bromley, p. 268); he early in life came under the notice of Henry Pelham. In June 1735 he received a grant, jointly with Edward Tuffnell, of the sinecure office of collector of the customs at Southampton, and worth 125l. 6s. 8d. per annum (Gent. Mag. 1735; cf. Chamberlayne, Present State, 1741). In July 1743 he became secretary to Henry Pelham, when the latter was appointed first lord of the treasury, and he held that confidential position until Pelham's death in March 1754. During this period Roberts dispensed large sums of secret-service money. It is said that he paid each ministerial member from 500l. to 800l. per annum, and that he distributed these sums in the court of requests on the day of each prorogation, entering the names of the recipients in a book seen only by the prime minister and the king. George II is stated to have burned the volumes after Pelham's death (Wraxall, Memoirs).

Roberts's services were rewarded by a series of sinecures. He was receiver-general of the revenues of the post office from December 1745 to September 1746, when he was appointed principal inspector of the out- port collectors' accounts of the customs, with a salary of 600l. a year. This post he appears to have enjoyed until 1761. In addition he was deputy-paymaster of the forces at Gibraltar from 1745 to 1762 (Court and City Register), and on 16 May 1748, in conjunction with Philip Ludwell Grymes, received a grant of the office of receiver-general of the revenues, duties, and imports in the colony and dominion of Virginia. He was granted a pension of 800l. a year, on the Irish establishment, on 3 June 1754 (Gent. Mag.)

At the general election of March 1761 Roberts, who owned property at Harwich and Esher (Royal Kalendar), entered parliament for Harwich, and represented that constituency until his death. From 23 Oct. 1761 to 28 Dec. 1762, and again from 20 July 1765 until his death, he was a lord commissioner of trade and foreign plantations, with a salary of 1,000l. a year. He died in London on 13 July 1772. A marble monument to his memory was erected by his three surviving sisters, Susannah, Rebecca, and Dorothy, in Westminster Abbey in 1776. To make room for it part of Chaucer's tomb was removed (Walpole, Letters, ed. Cunningham). His portrait was painted, with Pelham, by John Shackleton [q. v.], and engraved by R. Houston (Bromley).

His son, John Christopher Roberts (1739–1810), was for some time a clerk in the secretary of state's office, and was under-secretary of state for the southern department from July 1765 to October 1766 (Cal. State Papers). He was made secretary of the province of Quebec on 12 July 1768, and afterwards commissary-general. He died in 1810.

[Parliamentary Returns; Haydn's Book of Dignities; Foster's Peerage; Brayley's History of Westminster Abbey.]

W. R. W.