Warburton, Henry (DNB00)

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WARBURTON, HENRY (1784?–1858), philosophical radical, son of John Warburton of Eltham, Kent, a timber merchant, was educated at Eton, being in the fifth form, upper division, in 1799, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was admitted 24 June 1802, aged 18. He was in the first class of the college examinations as freshman in 1803, and as junior soph in 1804. He was admitted scholar on 13 April 1804, graduated B.A. (being twelfth wrangler and placed next to Ralph Bernal) in 1806, and proceeded M.A. in 1812. George Pryme [q. v.] knew him in his undergraduate days, and both Bernal and Pryme were in after life his colleagues in political action. When at Cambridge he obtained distinction as a ‘scholar and man of science’ (Personal Life of George Grote, p. 76).

For some years after leaving the university Warburton was engaged in the timber trade at Lambeth, but his taste for science and politics ultimately led to his abandoning commercial life. He was elected F.R.S. on 16 Feb. 1809. Dr. William Hyde Wollaston [q. v.] was his most intimate friend, and in the autumn of 1818 they made a tour together on the continent. When Faraday desired to become F.R.S., Warburton felt objections to his election, thinking that he had in one matter treated Wollaston unfairly. Correspondence ensued, and these objections were dispelled (Bence Jones, Life of Faraday, i. 347–53). Warburton was also a member of the Political Economy Club from its foundation in 1821 to his death, bringing before it on 13 Jan. 1823 the question ‘how far rents and profits are affected by tithes’ (Minutes of Club, 1882, pp. 36, 55). David Ricardo was one of his chief friends, and often mentions the name of Warburton in his ‘Letters to Malthus.’ ‘Philosopher Warburton,’ as he was termed, was one of the leading supporters of Brougham in founding London University, and was a member of its first council in 1827.

At the general election of 1826 Warburton was returned to parliament in the radical interest for the borough of Bridport in Dorset, making his first long speech on 30 Nov. on foreign goods, and was re-elected in 1830, 1831, 1833, 1835, 1837, and 1841, all of the elections after the Reform Bill being severely contested. On 8 Sept. 1841 he resigned his seat for that constituency on the ground that a petition would have ‘proved gross bribery against his colleague’ in which his own agent would have been implicated (Personal Life of George Grote, p. 144). It subsequently came out that before the passing of the Reform Bill he himself had paid large sums of money improperly to certain of the electors. A select committee was appointed to inquire into ‘corrupt compromises’ alleged to have been made in certain constituencies, so as to avoid investigation into past transactions, and the question whether bribery had been practised at Bridport was referred to the same committee (Hansard, 13, 20, 27 May and 1 June 1842; Mayo, Bibl. Dorset, pp. 116–18), but nothing resulted from its investigations. Warburton was out of the house until 9 Nov. 1843, when he was returned for the borough of Kendal. At the dissolution of 1847 he retired from political life, giving out that the reforms which he had at heart had been effected.

Warburton was a man of sound sense and judgment and of high personal integrity, though he did continue at Bridport to 1832 the pernicious practices initiated in previous elections. In the House of Commons he was assiduous in his duty, often spending twelve consecutive hours in his place. He worked with Joseph Hume, and after 1832 found fresh colleagues in Charles Buller, Grote, and Sir William Molesworth. The medical reformers selected him as their advocate. He brought forward on 20 June 1827, and Peel supported, a motion for an inquiry into the funds and regulations of the College of Surgeons [see art. Wakley, Thomas]. He was chairman of the parliamentary committee on the study of anatomy, which began its sittings on 28 April 1828, and after one failure, through the action of the House of Lords, succeeded in 1832 in carrying an anatomy bill, which is still in its substance the law of the land. A committee on the medical profession was appointed on 11 Feb. 1834, and Warburton became its chairman. He examined Sir Astley Cooper, Sir Charles Bell, and many others, his ‘perseverance and acuteness being remarkable’ (Bell, Letters, p. 336); but the conclusions of the committee were never submitted to parliament (South, Memoirs, p. 91).

Warburton took an active part in 1831 in debates on bankruptcy, and was then reckoned ‘one of Lord Althorp's most confidential friends’ (Wallas, Life of Place, pp. 278, 325). Early in 1833 he formed a project in conjunction with Grote and Roebuck for establishing a society for the diffusion of political and moral knowledge. He was intent in February 1835 upon arranging a union of the whigs under Lord John Russell with the followers of Daniel O'Connell; and it was he that sent to O'Connell a bundle of circulars from that whig leader, asking his friends to meet him at Lord Lichfield's house in St. James's Square, from which action resulted the Lichfield House compact. Warburton was for the repeal of the newspaper tax, and was active in the work of the Anti-Cornlaw League. On the select committee of the House of Commons on postage in 1837 he resolutely supported penny postage, and was second to Rowland Hill alone in that movement. He died at 45 Cadogan Place, London, on 16 Sept. 1858.

A portrait, painted by Sir George Hayter and engraved by W. H. Mote, is included in Saunders's ‘Portraits of Reformers’ (1840).

[Gent. Mag. 1858, ii. 531–2; Ferguson's Cumberland M.P.s, p. 450; Stapylton's Eton Lists, 2nd edit. pp. 30, 37; Walpole's Lord John Russell, i. 219–23, 273; Pryme's Autobiogr. i. 231–2; Earl Russell's Recollections, pp. 230–232; Grote's Life, pp. 56–125; Baines's Post Office, i. 106–12; Sprigge's Wakley, pp. 206–7, 277–80, 434–7; Wallas's Place, pp. 287, 325, 335–6, 387–91; Leader's Roebuck, pp. 59–60; information from Mr. W. Aldis Wright, Trin. Coll. Cambr.]

W. P. C.