Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Borthwick, Peter

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BORTHWICK, PETER (1804–1852), editor of the 'Morning Post,' only son of Thomas Borthwick of Edinburgh, was born at Combank, in the parish of Borthwick, Midlothian, on 13 Sept. 1804, graduated at the university of Edinburgh, and was the private pupil of James Walker, bishop of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and afterwards primus of the episcopal church of Scotland. Notwithstanding his marriage, in 1827, to Margaret, daughter of John Colville of Ewart, Northumberland, he took up his residence at Jesus College, Cambridge; thence, by removal, he became a fellow-commoner of Downing College, and while there was the author of some theological works, having then an intention to take orders in the church of England.

Happening in 1832 to be present at a meeting called for the purpose of opposing the abolition of negro slavery, he made his first essay in public speaking by an address in which he took the side of the slave-owners. Immediately afterwards he was invited to deliver speeches at meetings convened for the object of upholding the existing state of affairs. These gratuitous labours produced an effect far beyond his expectations. Bath contributed a silver dinner service, Cheltenham a silver breakfast service, Dumfries a costly piece of plate, and the university of Edinburgh a cup bearing a flattering inscription expressive of a sense of the honour reflected by his talents upon the university of which he was a member. Borthwick's slavery meetings were-not, however, always of an harmonious nature. In Gloucestershire he was opposed by 'the apostle of temperance and the bondsman's friend,' Samuel Bowley [q. v.], who followed him about from meeting to meeting, and finally beat him off the ground by his statements of facts. His reputation as a speaker being established, he in 1832 contested the representation of the borough of Evesham; but the whig interest was at that time in the ascendency. On 6 Jan. 1836 he was, however, returned in conjunction with Sir Charles Cockerell.

On 2 May 1837 he moved, in the House of Commons, 'that convocation might once more be authorised to exercise the rights of assembly and discussion of which the church had been so long deprived.' This motion was negatived by only a small majority. But the great measure with which his name is identified was the introduction into the poor law of that provision, 'the Borthwick clause.' Under this clause married couples over the age of sixty were not, as heretofore, separated when obliged to enter the doors of the poorhouse. He sat for Evesham until the dissolution, 23 July 1847, and then contested St. Ives in Cornwall, but was defeated. On the same occasion he was also a candidate for the representation of Penryn and Falmouth, but had even fewer supporters than at St. Ives. On 28 April 1847 he was called to the bar at Gray's Inn.

In 1850 he became editor of the 'Morning Post,' but symptoms of decaying health soon began to exhibit themselves, and on Friday 17 Dec. 1852 he was suddenly attacked with acute inflammation assuming the form of pleurisy, from the effects of which he died the following evening at his residence, 11 Walton Villas, Brompton. During his long illness his mental capacity was never impaired, and on the very day before his death an article appeared in the 'Morning Post' vnritten by him on the previous evening with clearness and vigour of intellect. Lord George Bentinck said of him: 'Borthwick is a very remarkable man. He can speak, and speak well, upon any subject at a moment's notice.' He was the author of: 1. 'A Brief Statement of Holy Scriptures concerning the Second Advent,' 1880. 2. 'The Substance of a Speech delivered in Manchester in reply to Mr. Bowley's Statements on British Colonial Slavery,' 1832. 3. 'Colonial Slavery: a Lecture delivered at Edinburgh,' 1833. 4. 'A Lecture on Slavery,' 1836.

[Gent. Mag. xxxix. 318-20 (1853); Illustrated London News, with portrait, ii. 8 (1843), xxi. 563 (1852), and xxii. 11 (1853); Times, 14 Oct. 1884, p. 7.]

G. C. B.