Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Holroyd, John Baker

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HOLROYD, JOHN BAKER, first Earl of Sheffield (1735–1821), statesman, was second son of Isaac Holroyd (1708–1778), the representative of an old West Riding family which had migrated to Ireland in the reign of Charles II and acquired large estates there. His mother was Dorothy, daughter of Daniel Baker of Penn, Buckinghamshire. He was born in 1735, entered the army in 1760; and became captain in the regiment of light dragoons known as the Royal Foresters which was disbanded in 1763. Between the last year and 1766 Holroyd travelled on the Continent. In 1768 he assumed the additional name of Baker on succeeding to the estates of his mother's family. In 1769 he purchased from Lord de la Warr for 31,000l. the estate of Sheffield Place in Sussex. In 1779 he raised at his own expense a regiment of light dragoons, called the 22nd or Sussex regiment, of which he was the colonel. In February 1780 he was elected M.P. for Coventry on a casual vacancy, and in September of the same year stood again for that city with Mr. Yeo as his colleague. The proceedings at this election were marked by great violence, and the conduct of the sheriffs in making no return led to their being committed to Newgate by order of the House of Commons. On a new election taking place in November, though Messrs. Holroyd and Yeo had a large majority, their opponents were returned by the influence of the corporation officials; but on petition Messrs. Holroyd and Yeo were declared duly elected (Parl. Hist. xxi. 867; Poole, Hist. of Coventry, p. 388). When the famous petition from the Protestant Association was presented to the House of Commons by Lord George Gordon on 2 June 1780, Holroyd laid hold of Lord George, saying: ‘Hitherto I have imputed your conduct to madness, but now I perceive that it has more of malice than madness in it;’ adding at the same time that if any of the mob made an entrance into the house he would instantly inflict summary vengeance on his lordship as the instigator. Holroyd, at the head of a detachment of the Northumberland Militia, was active in suppressing the riots that sprang from Lord George's action. On 9 Jan. 1781 Holroyd was raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Sheffield of Dunamore in the county of Meath, and on 17 Dec. 1783 as Baron Sheffield of Roscommon. While an Irish peer he sat as M.P. for Bristol, and took an active part in debate, especially in the opposition to Wilberforce's motion for the abolition of slavery in 1791 (Parl. Hist. xxix. 358), and in favour of union with Ireland, 22 April 1799 (ib. xxxiv. 936). On 29 July 1802 he was raised to the peerage of the United Kingdom as Baron Sheffield of Sheffield, Yorkshire. Finally he was created Earl of Sheffield and Viscount Pevensey in the peerage of Ireland on 22 Jan. 1816. He was president of the board of agriculture in 1803, a privy councillor and a lord of the board of trade in 1809. Sheffield died on 30 May 1821.

He married, first, in 1767, Abigail, only daughter of Lewis Way of Richmond, Surrey; by her he had a son, who died young, and two daughters; she died in 1793; secondly, on 26 Dec. 1794, Lucy, daughter of the first Earl of Chichester; she died without issue in 1795; thirdly, on 9 Jan. 1798, Anne, daughter of the second Earl of Guilford, K.G., by whom he had one son, George, second earl, and a daughter.

Sheffield was one of the leading authorities of the time on matters relating to commerce and agriculture, and his estate at Sheffield Place was regarded as a model of farming. He made the acquaintance of Gibbon at Lausanne in 1764, became his most intimate friend, and edited his posthumous works. Gibbon said of him: ‘The sense and spirit of his political writings have decided the public opinion on the great questions of our commercial intercourse with Ireland. He has never cultivated the arts of composition; but his materials are copious and correct, and he leaves on his paper the clear impression of an active and vigorous mind’ (Gibbon, Memoirs, ed. 1837, p. 109). The greater part of Gibbon's published correspondence was with Sheffield. The friends are both buried in Fletching Church, in which parish Sheffield Place stands. His numerous writings justify Gibbon's praise. Many of his pamphlets are contained in ‘The Pamphleteer.’

He wrote: 1. ‘Observations on the Commerce of the American States,’ 1783; 6th edition, 1784. This was written in opposition to the bill introduced by Pitt in 1783, proposing to relax the navigation laws in favour of the United States. It was the beginning of a long controversy, and finally led to the abandonment of the proposal. ‘The Navigation Act, the palladium of Britain, was defended and perhaps saved by his pen’ (Gibbon, Memoirs, p. 108). 2. ‘Observations on the Manufactures, Trade, and Present State of Ireland,’ 1785 (intended to prove that Irish prosperity could only be maintained by a friendly connection with Great Britain). 3. ‘Observations on the Project for Abolishing the Slave Trade,’ anon., 1790; 2nd edit., with additions and author's name, 1791. 4. ‘Observations on the Corn Bill now depending in Parliament,’ 1791. 5. ‘Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works,’ edited, 1796; other editions in 1814 and 1837. 6. ‘Speech on the Union with Ireland, 22 April 1799.’ 7. ‘Remarks on the Deficiency of Grain occasioned by the Bad Harvest of 1799,’ 1800. 8. ‘Observations on the Objections made to the Export of Wool from Great Britain to Ireland,’ 1800. 9. ‘Strictures on the Necessity of inviolably maintaining the Navigation and Colonial System of Great Britain,’ 1804. 10. ‘The Orders in Council and the American Embargo beneficial to the Commercial and Political Interests of Great Britain,’ 1809. 11. ‘On the Trade in Wool and Woollens,’ 1813. 12. ‘Report at the Meeting at Lewes Wool Fair,’ 1813 (a similar report also in 1816). 13. ‘Observations on the Impolicy, Abuses, and False Interpretation of the Poor Laws,’ 1813. 14. ‘On the Trade in Wool and Woollens, including an Exposition of the Commercial Situation of the British Empire,’ 1813. 15. ‘A Letter on the Corn Laws,’ 1815. 16. ‘Remarks on the Bill of the Last Parliament for the Amendment of the Poor Laws, with observations, &c.,’ 1819. 17. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Edward Gibbon’ (published posthumously), 1826.

A portrait of Sheffield, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, and a view of Sheffield Place, will be found in Horsfield's ‘Sussex,’ p. 378. His portrait was also painted by M. A. Shee for the Province Hall of New Brunswick in 1806.

[Gent. Mag. 1821, p. 563; Annual Register, 1821, p. 237; Gifford's Life of Pitt, iii. 36, iv. 489; Horace Walpole's Letters; Lord Brougham's Men of Letters; Mathias's Pursuits of Lit.; Burke's Peerage; Lodge's Peerage of Ireland (1789), vii. 204–212.]

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