Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Denison, John Evelyn

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DENISON, JOHN EVELYN, Viscount Ossington (1800–1873), speaker of the House of Commons, was the eldest son of John Denison of Ossington, Nottinghamshire, by his second wife, Charlotte, daughter of Samuel Estwick. He was born at Ossington on 27 Jan. 1800, and was educated at Eton. From school he went to Christ Church, Oxford, where he obtained the degree of B.A. in June 1823 and of M.A. in May 1828. In July 1823 he entered parliament as one of the members for the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and in the following year went on a lengthy tour through Canada and the United States, in company with the late Lords Derby, Taunton, and Wharncliffe. At a bye election in December 1826 he was returned for Hastings without opposition, and on 2 May 1827 was appointed one of the council of H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence, the lord high admiral in Canning's administration. Upon the accession of the Duke of Wellington to power early in 1828, Denison resigned the post and never again took office. At the general election of 1830 he unsuccessfully contested his old constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and was defeated by Mr. Ewart at the bye election at Liverpool in November of the same year, which was occasioned by Huskisson's death. At the general election of 1831 he was elected both for Liverpool and the then undivided county of Nottingham. He chose to sit for the latter, and in the two following parliaments of 1833 and 1835 was returned for South Nottingham without opposition. At the dissolution in 1837, feeling that his views on some of the political questions of the day were not in accord with the opinions of the majority of his constituents, Denison did not offer himself for re-election. After being out of the house for four years, he was returned unopposed at the general election of 1841 for the borough of Malton, which constituency he continued to represent in the two following parliaments of 1847 and 1852. In March 1857 he was elected without opposition for North Nottinghamshire, and this seat he held until his retirement from the House of Commons. On 30 April 1857, at the opening of the new parliament, he was unanimously chosen speaker, in succession to Charles Shaw Lefevre, who, after eighteen years' service, had been created Viscount Eversley. Denison was three times re-elected to the chair, viz. in May 1859, February 1866, and December 1868. Having filled the office of speaker for nearly fifteen years, on 7 Feb. 1872 he requested leave to withdraw in consequence of his failing health, remarking that ‘the labour of the house has of late years been very great, and last year it was excessive.’ On the next day he received the thanks of the house for his services, the motion being proposed by Mr. Gladstone and seconded by Mr. Disraeli, and on the 9th Mr. Brand (now Viscount Hampden) was elected as his successor in the chair. He was created Viscount Ossington of Ossington, Nottinghamshire, on 13 Feb. 1872, and took his seat in the House of Lords on the same day. He refused, however, to accept the usual retiring pension, stating in a letter to the prime minister that, ‘though without any pretensions to wealth, I have a private fortune which will suffice, and for the few years of life that remain to me I should be happier in feeling that I am not a burden to my fellow-countrymen.’ He died at Ossington on 7 March 1873, aged 73, and was buried on the 13th in the family vault at Ossington. On 14 July 1827 he married Lady Charlotte Cavendish Bentinck, third daughter of William, fourth duke of Portland, who long survived him, and assumed the surname of Scott in lieu of Denison. There was no issue of this marriage, and the title therefore became extinct upon Denison's death. In politics he was a moderate whig, and his parliamentary career was neither brilliant nor conspicuous. His maiden speech in the House of Commons was delivered against Lord John Russell's motion for parliamentary reform (Hansard, new series, xv. 664–79), but he afterwards both spoke and voted for the Reform Bill of 1832. He was a man of considerable culture and intellectual refinement, thoroughly impartial in office, and never lacking in personal dignity. As speaker he obtained the respect of both sides of the house, but owing to a certain diffidence of manner he was sometimes wanting in firmness. He was admitted to the privy council on 6 May 1857, and in 1870 the university of Oxford made him honorary D.C.L. He was president of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1857. It was at his suggestion that the ‘Speaker's Commentary’ (1871–81), edited by Canon Cook, was undertaken. There is a full-length portrait of him, by Sir Francis Grant, at Ossington.

[Burke's Extinct Peerage (1883), p. 164; Annual Register, 1873, pt. ii. pp. 132–3; Men of the Time (1872), pp. 736–7; Ward's Men of the Reign (1885), p. 691, Daily News, 8 and 14 March 1873; Standard, 8 March 1873; Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, 3rd ser. cxlv. cols. 4–13, cliv. 4–13, clxxxi. 4–18, cxciv. 4–13, ccix. 90–2, 148–53; Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii, pp. 291, 309, 331, 332, 344, 355, 390, 407, 424, 435, 451, 467, 483; private information.]

G. F. R. B.