1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ashburton, John Dunning

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ASHBURTON, JOHN DUNNING, 1st Baron[1] (1731-1783), English lawyer, the second son of John Dunning of Ashburton, Devonshire, an attorney, was born at Ashburton on the 18th of October 1731, and was educated at the free grammar school of his native place. At first articled to his father, he was admitted, at the age of nineteen, to the Middle Temple, and called to the bar in 1756, where he came very slowly into practice. He went the western circuit for several years without receiving a single brief. In 1762 he was employed to draw up a defence of the British East India Company against the Dutch East India Company, which had memorialized the crown on certain grievances, and the masterly style which characterized the document procured him at once reputation and emolument. In 1763 he distinguished himself as counsel on the side of Wilkes, whose cause he conducted throughout. His powerful argument against the validity of general warrants in the case of Leach v. Money (June 18, 1763) established his reputation, and his practice from that period gradually increased to such an extent that in 1776 he is said to have been in the receipt of nearly £10,000 per annum. In 1766 he was chosen recorder of Bristol, and in December 1767 he was appointed solicitor-general. The latter appointment he held till May 1770, when he retired with his friend Lord Shelburne. In 1771 he was presented with the freedom of the city of London. From this period he was considered as a regular member of the opposition, and distinguished himself by many able speeches in parliament. He was first chosen member for Calne in 1768, and continued to represent that borough until he was promoted to the peerage. In 1780 he brought forward a motion that the “influence of the crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished,” which he carried by a majority of eighteen. He strongly opposed the system of sinecure officers and pensions; but his probity was not strong enough to prevent his taking advantage of it himself. In 1782, when the marquis of Rockingham became prime minister, Dunning was appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, a rich sinecure; and about the same time he was advanced to the peerage, with the title of Lord Ashburton. Under Lord Shelburne’s administration he accepted a pension of £4000 a year. He died at Exmouth on the 18th of August 1783. Though possessed of an insignificant person, an awkward manner and a provincial accent, Lord Ashburton was one of the most fluent and persuasive orators of his time. He had married Elizabeth Baring, and was succeeded as 2nd baron by his son Richard, at whose death in 1823 the title became extinct, being revived in 1835 by Alexander Baring.

Besides the answer to the Dutch memorial, Lord Ashburton is supposed to have assisted in writing a pamphlet on the law of libel, and to have been the author of A Letter to the Proprietors of East India Stock, on the subject of Lord Clive’s Jaghire, occasioned by his Lordship’s Letter on that Subject (1764, 8vo). He was at one time suspected of being the author of the Letters of Junius.

  1. i.e. of the first creation; for the present title see above.