Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barwell, Richard

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BARWELL, RICHARD (1741–1804), Anglo-Indian, was the son of William Barwell, governor of Bengal in 1748, and afterwards a director of the East India Company, and sheriff of Surrey in 1768. His family, which apparently came from Kegworth in Leicestershire, had been connected with the East for several generations. Barwell was born at Calcutta on 8 Oct. 1741, appointed a writer on the Bengal establishment of the East India Company in 1756, and landed at Calcutta on 21 June 1758. After holding a succession of lucrative appointments, he was nominated in the Regulating Act (13 Geo. III, c. 63) a member of council in Bengal, with Philip Francis as one of his colleagues, General Clavering as commander-in-chief, and Warren Hastings as governor-general. The statute is dated 1772–3, but the members of council did not take their seats until 20 Oct. 1774. It is by his constant support of Hastings, in opposition to the party led by Francis, that Barwell's name is known to history. Hastings said of him: ‘He possesses much experience, a solid judgment, much greater fertility of resources than I have, and his manners are easy and pleasant.’ Francis, on the other hand, wrote of him: ‘He is rapacious without industry, and ambitious without an exertion of his faculties or steady application to affairs. He will do whatever can be done by bribery and intrigue; he has no other resource.’ And this character seems to be the more accurate. A scandalous story is told of him in a rare book entitled ‘The Intrigues of a Nabob; or Bengal the fittest Soil for the Growth of Lust, Injustice, and Dishonesty. By H. F. Thompson. Printed for the Author, 1780.’ It appears that Barwell had enticed away the writer's mistress, who passed at Calcutta for his wife, and then discontinued an annuity promised to the writer as the price of his acquiescence. While member of council he was accused of deriving an illicit profit of 20,000l. a year from certain salt contracts. He could not deny the charge, and his prosecution was ordered by the court of directors, but the proceedings fell through. In connection with this affair he fought a bloodless duel with General Clavering. Francis and Barwell were antagonists at the whist-table, where Francis is said to have won 20,000l. at a sitting. In 1780, after a truce had been patched up between Hastings and Francis, Barwell retired from the service. He is said to have brought to England one of the largest fortunes ever accumulated; and it is of him that the well-known story is told, ‘Fetch more curricles.’ In 1781 he bought from the trustees of the Earl of Halifax for the sum of 102,500l. the fine estate of Stanstead in Sussex, and subsequently added largely to his possessions in that county. Stanstead House he ‘enlarged and remodelled in a style of expense which contributed to exhaust the oriental treasures by which it was supplied.’ As architects, Bonomi and James Wyatt were employed on the work for five years, while ‘Capability’ Brown laid out the grounds. In 1781 Barwell was returned as tory M.P. for Helston, in 1784 for St. Ives, and in 1790 and 1796 for Winchelsea. In Dec. 1796 he resigned. He died at Stanstead on 2 Sept. 1804. In 1776 he had married a Miss Sanderson, the reigning beauty of Calcutta; but she died in November 1778, leaving one son. A portrait of Barwell, seated in his library with this son by his side, was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and engraved in mezzotint by Dickenson. Shortly after his death all his estates in Sussex were sold by his trustees, one of whom was Sir Elijah Impey.

[Gent. Mag. lxxiv. 888; Dallaway's History of Sussex; Memoirs of Francis (1867); Echoes from Old Calcutta, by H. E. Busteed (Calcutta, 1882).]

J. S. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.17
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
350 ii 18 f.e. Barwell, Richard: for 1784 read 1781 and for as read as a tory
17 f.e. after for insert Helston, in 1784 for