Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Robinson, Frederick John

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

ROBINSON, FREDERICK JOHN, Viscount Goderich, afterwards first Earl of Ripon (1782–1859), second son of Thomas Robinson, second baron Grantham [q. v.], by Lady Mary Jemima, younger daughter and coheiress of Philip Yorke, second earl of Hardwicke [q. v.], was born in London on 30 Oct. 1782. He was educated at Harrow, where he was the schoolfellow of Lords Althorp, Aberdeen, Cottenham, and Palmerston. From Harrow he proceeded to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he obtained Sir William Browne's medal for the best Latin ode in 1801, and graduated M.A. in 1802. He was admitted a member of Lincoln's Inn on 7 May 1802, but left the society on 6 Nov. 1809, and was never called to the bar. From 1804 to 1806 he acted as private secretary to his kinsman, Philip, third earl of Hardwicke, then lord lieutenant of Ireland. At the general election in November 1806 he was returned to the House of Commons for the borough of Carlow as a moderate tory. He was elected for Ripon at the general election in May 1807, and continued to represent that borough for nearly twenty years. In the summer of this year he accompanied the Earl of Pembroke on a special mission to Vienna as secretary to the embassy.

Robinson moved the address at the opening of the session on 19 Jan. 1809, and strongly advocated the vigorous prosecution of the war in Spain (Parl. Debates, 1st. ser. xii. 30–5). He was shortly afterwards appointed under-secretary for the colonies in the Duke of Portland's administration, but retired from office with Lord Castlereagh in September 1809. Though he refused Perceval's offer of a seat at the treasury board in the following month, he was appointed a lord of the admiralty on 23 June 1810 (London Gazette, 1810, i. 893). He was admitted to the privy council on 13 Aug. 1812, and became vice-president of the board of trade and foreign plantations in Lord Liverpool's administration on 29 Sept. following. On 3 Oct. he exchanged his seat at the admiralty board for one at the treasury (ib. 1812, ii. 1579, 1983, 1987). In spite of the fact that all his early impressions had been against catholic emancipation, he supported Grattan's motion for a committee on the catholic claims in March 1813 (Parl. Debates, 1st ser. xxiv. 962–5, see ib. 2nd ser. xii. 417). Having resigned his seat at the treasury board, he was appointed joint paymaster-general of the forces on 9 Nov. 1813 (London Gazette, ii. 2206). In the winter of this year he accompanied Lord Castlereagh on his mission to the continent, and remained with him until almost the close of the negotiations which ended in the peace of Paris (Memoirs and Correspondence of Viscount Castlereagh, 1848, i. 125–30). On 17 Feb. 1815 Robinson drew the attention of the house to the state of the corn laws (Parl. Debates, 1st ser. xxix. 796, 798–808, 832, 838, 840), and on 1 March following he introduced ‘with the greatest reluctance’ a bill prohibiting importation until the average price in England should be eighty shillings per quarter for wheat, and proportionately for other grain (ib. xxix. 1119, see 3rd ser. lxxxvi. 1086); this was passed quickly through both houses, and received the royal assent on 23 March 1815 (55 Geo. Ill, c. 26). During the riots in London consequent upon the introduction of the bill, the mob attacked his house in Old Burlington Street, and destroyed the greater part of his furniture, as well as a number of valuable pictures (Annual Register, 1815, Chron. pp. 19-26; see also William Hone's Report at large on the Coroner's Inquest on Jane Watson, &c., 1815). He opposed Lord Althorp's motion for the Appointment of a select committee on the public offices on 7 May 1816 (Parl. Debates, 1st ser. xxxiv. 334-8), and supported the introduction of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Bill on 26 Feb. 1817 (ib. xxxv. 722-7). He resigned the post of joint paymaster-general in the summer of this year, and was appointed president of the board of trade on 24 Jan. 1818, and treasurer of the navy on 5 Feb. following (London Gazette, 1818, i. 188, 261), being at the same time admitted to the cabinet. In 1819 he spoke in favour of the Foreign Enlistment Bill, which he held to be 'of the last importance to our character' (Parl. Debates, 1st ser. xl. 1088-91), and supported the third reading of the Seditious Meetings Prevention bill (ib, xli. 1051-4). On 8 May 1820 he asserted in the house that he 'had always given it as his opinion that the restrictive system of commerce in this country was founded in error, and calculated to defeat the object for which it was adopted' (ib. 2nd ser. i. 182-5, see 1st ser. xxxiii. 696). On the 30th of the same month he unsuccessfully opposed the appointment of a select committee on the agricultural distress (ib. 2nd ser. i. 641-51), but on the following day succeeded in limiting the investigation of the committee to 'the mode of ascertaining, returning, and calculating the average prices of corn,' &c. (ib, i. 714-15, 740). On 1 April 1822 he brought in two bills for regulating the intercourse between the West Indies and other parts of the world (ib. vi. 1414-25), and in the same month he spoke against Lord John Russell's motion for parliamentary reform (ib. vii. 104-6).

Robinson succeeded Vansittart as chan- cellor of the exchequer on 31 Jan. 1823 (London Gazette, 1823, i. 193). The substitution at the same time of Peel for Sidmouth and of Canning for Castlereagh caused a complete change in the domestic policy of the administration, while the appointment of Robinson to the exchequer and of Huskisson to the board of trade led the way to a revolution in finance. The prime mover of these fiscal reforms was Huskisson, but Robinson assisted him to the best of his ability. He brought in his first budget on 21 Feb. 1823. He devoted 5,000,000l. of his estimated surplus of 7,000,000l. to the reduction of the debt, and the rest of it to the remission of taxation. Among his proposals which were duly carried was the reduction of the window tax by one half (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. viii. 194-213). His speech on this occasion is said to have been received with 'demonstrations of applause more loud and more general than perhaps ever before greeted the opening of a ministerial statement of finance' (Annual Register, 1823, p. 180). On 20 June 1823 he obtained a grant of 40,000l. towards the erection of 'the buildings at the British Museum for the reception of the Royal Library ' (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. ix. 1112-1113). He introduced his second budget on 23 Feb. 1824. The revenue had been unexpectedly augmented by the payment of a portion of the Austrian loan. Owing to this windfall he was enabled to propose a grant of 500,000l. for the building of new churches, of 300,000l. for the restoration of Windsor Castle, and of 57,000l. for the purchase of the Angerstein collection of pictures by way 'of laying the foundation of a national gallery of works of art.' He also proposed and carried the redemption of the old four per cent. annuities, then amounting to 75,000,000l., the abolition of the bounties on the whale and herring fisheries, and on the exportation of linen, together with an abatement of the duties on rum, coals, foreign wool, and raw silk (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. x. 304-37, 341-2, 345-6, 353-4). On 14 Feb. 1825 he supported the introduction of Goulburn's bill to amend the acts relating to unlawful societies in Ireland, and denounced the Catholic Association as 'the bane and curse of the country' (ib, xii. 412-21). A fortnight later he brought in his third budget. Having congratulated the house on the prosperity of the country, and invited the members 'to contemplate with instructive admiration the harmony of its proportions and the solidity of its basis,' he proposed and carried reductions of the duties on iron, hemp, coffee, sugar, wine, spirits, and cider (ib. xii. 719-744, 751). Towards the close of the year a great commercial crisis occurred. In order to check the excessive circulation of paper money in the future, the ministry determined to prevent the issue of notes of a smaller value than 5l. The debate on this proposal was opened on 10 Feb. 1826 by Robinson, whose motion was carried, after two nights' debate, by 222 votes to 39 (ib. xiv. 168-93, 194, 354). In consequence of Hudson Gurney's persistent opposition, Robinson compromised the matter by allowing the Bank of England to continue the issue of small notes for some months longer. This concession considerably damaged Robinson's reputation, and Greville remarks: ‘Everybody knows that Huskisson is the real author of the finance measure of government, and there can be no greater anomaly than that of a chancellor of the exchequer who is obliged to propose and defend measures of which another minister is the real, though not the apparent, author’ (Greville Memoirs, 1st ser. i. 81). In bringing in his fourth and last budget, on 13 March 1826, Robinson passed under review the principal alterations in taxation which had been effected since the war. He continued to indulge in sanguine views, and refused to credit the evidence of the distress which was everywhere perceptible (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. xiv. 1305–34, 1340). On 4 May 1826 he opposed Hume's motion for an address to the crown asking for an inquiry into the causes of the distress throughout the country (ib. xv. 878–89). The motion was defeated by a majority of 101 votes, and ‘a more curious instance can scarcely be found than in the addresses of Prosperity Robinson and Adversity Hume of the opposite conclusions which may be drawn from a view of a statistical subject where the figures were indisputable on both sides, as far as they went’ (Martineau, History of the Thirty Years' Peace, 1877, ii. 79).

In December Robinson expressed a wish to be promoted to the House of Lords, and to exchange his post at the exchequer for some easier office. At Liverpool's request, however, he consented to remain in the House of Commons, though he desired that ‘the retention of his present office should be considered as only temporary’ (Yonge, Life of Lord Liverpool, 1868, iii. 438–42). When Liverpool fell ill in February 1827, a plan was discussed between Canning and the Duke of Wellington, but subsequently abandoned, of raising Robinson to the peerage, and of placing him at the head of the treasury. On Canning becoming prime minister, Robinson was created Viscount Goderich of Nocton in the county of Lincoln on 28 April. He was appointed secretary of state for war and the colonies on 30 April, and a commissioner for the affairs of India on 17 May. At the same time he undertook the duties of leader of the House of Lords, where he took his seat for the first time on 2 May (Journals of the House of Lords, lix. 256). He was, however, quite unable to withstand the fierce attacks which were made on the new government in the House of Lords by an opposition powerful both in ability and numbers. On 1 June the Duke of Wellington's amendment to the corn bill was carried against the government by a majority of four votes (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. xvii. 1098). Goderich vainly endeavoured to procure its rejection on the report, but the government were again beaten (ib. xvii. 1221–9, 1238), and the bill had to be abandoned.

On Canning's death, in August 1827, Goderich was chosen by the king to form a cabinet. The changes in the administration were few. Goderich, who became first lord of the treasury, was succeeded at the colonial office by Huskisson; Lansdowne took the home department, and Grant the board of trade. The Duke of Portland succeeded Lord Harrowby as president of the council, Lord Anglesey became master-general of the ordnance, the Duke of Wellington commander-in-chief, while Herries, after protracted negotiations, received the seals of chancellor of the exchequer on 3 Sept. Goderich's unfitness for the post of prime minister was at once apparent, and his weakness in yielding to the king with regard to the appointment of Herries disgusted his whig colleagues. In December Goderich pressed on the king the admission of Lords Holland and Wellesley to the cabinet, and declared that without such an addition of strength he felt unable to carry on the government. He also expressed a wish to retire for private reasons, but afterwards offered to remain, provided a satisfactory arrangement could be made with regard to Lords Holland and Wellesley (Ashley, Life and Correspondence of Lord Palmerston, 1879, i. 119; see also Lord Melbourne's Papers, 1890, p. 115). Embarrassed alike by his inability to keep the peace between Herries and Huskisson in their quarrel over the chairmanship of the finance committee, by the disunion between his whig and conservative colleagues, and by the battle of Navarino, Goderich tendered his final resignation on 8 Jan. 1828. Nevertheless, he appears to have expected an offer of office from the Duke of Wellington, who succeeded him as prime minister (Buckingham, Memoirs of the Court of George IV, 1859, ii. 359). On 17 April 1828 Goderich spoke in favour of the second reading of the Corporation and Test Acts Repeal Bill (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. xviii. 1505–8), and on 3 April 1829 he supported the second reading of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill (ib. xxi. 226–43; Ellenborough, Political Diary, 1881, ii. 4). At the opening of the session on 4 Feb. 1830 he spoke in favour of the address, and announced that if ever he had any political hostility to the Wellington administration he had ‘buried it in the grave of the catholic question’ (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. xxii. 18–25). On 6 May he brought before the house the subject of the national debt ‘in a good and useful speech’ (ib. xxiv. 428–41; Ellenborough, Political Diary, ii. 240–1). Later in the session he reviewed the state of the finances, and urged both a reduction of expenditure and a revision of the system of taxation (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. xxv. 1081–8).

On the formation of Lord Grey's administration, Goderich was appointed secretary of state for war and the colonies (22 Nov. 1830). In supporting the second reading of the second Reform Bill, in October 1831, Goderich assured the house that he ‘had not adopted his present course without having deeply considered the grounds on which he acted,’ and that he ‘had made a sacrifice of many preconceived opinions, of many predilections, and of many long-cherished notions’ (Parl. Debates, 3rd. ser. vii. 1368–77). His scheme for the abolition of negro slavery did not meet with the approval of the cabinet, and, after considerable pressure from Lord Grey, he resigned the colonial office in favour of Stanley, and accepted the post of lord privy seal (Greville Memoirs, 1st ser. ii. 365–366, 367; Journal of Thomas Raikes, 1856, i. 175; Croker Papers, 1884, i. 208; Memoirs of Lord Brougham, 1871, iii. 379; Times, 31 Jan. and 2 Feb. 1855). He was sworn into his new office on 3 April 1833, and ten days later was created earl of Ripon. On 25 June he explained Stanley's scheme for the abolition of slavery in the colonies. Though he broke down several times, he managed to get through his speech, and to carry a series of resolutions which had been previously approved by the commons (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. xviii. 1163–80, 1228).

On 27 May 1834 Ripon (together with Stanley, Graham, and the Duke of Richmond) resigned office in consequence of the proposed appointment of the Irish church commission, believing that ‘the effect of the commission must be to alter the footing on which the established church stood’ (ib. 3rd ser. xxiv. 10 n., 260–6, 308). The Grey ministry broke up, and after Melbourne had filled Grey's place (July–November), Sir Robert Peel became prime minister. When the new parliament met on 24 Feb. 1835, Ripon, although he supported the address, disclaimed ‘an unqualified confidence’ in Sir Robert Peel's administration. When Melbourne formed his second administration in April 1835, Ripon was not included. Though he opposed Lord Fitzwilliam's resolution condemning the corn law of 1828, he declared that ‘there were very few persons who were less bigoted to the present system of corn laws than he was’ (ib. xlvi. 582–92). He viewed the penny-postage scheme as a rash and heedless experiment, and considered ‘the bill objectionable in the highest degree’ (ib. xlix. 1222–7). In January, and again in May, 1840 he called the attention of the house to ‘the alarming condition in which the finances of the country stood’ (ib. li. 497–505, liv. 469–479). On 24 Aug. 1841 he carried an amendment to the address, expressing the alarm of parliament at the continued excess of expenditure over income, and declaring a want of confidence in the Melbourne administration (ib. lix. 35–54, 106). On 3 Sept. following he was appointed president of the board of trade in Sir Robert Peel's second administration (London Gazette, 1841, ii. 2221). On 18 April 1842 he moved the second reading of the Corn Importation Bill, by which a new scale of duties was fixed (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. lxii. 572–89, 627, 635), and on 5 July following he explained the provisions of the Customs Bill, the first principle of which was the abolition of prohibitory duties (ib. lxiv. 939–54, 976–7). On 17 May 1843 he was appointed president of the board of control for the affairs of India in the place of Lord Fitzgerald and Vesey (London Gazette, 1843, i. 1654), and was succeeded at the board of trade by Mr. Gladstone. He moved the second reading of the bill for the abolition of the corn laws on 25 May 1846, when he once more assured the house that he always had ‘a great objection to the principle of any corn law whatever,’ and that for many years he had endeavoured ‘to get rid as speedily as circumstances would permit first of prohibition and then of protection’ (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. lxxxvi. 1084–1100). Ripon resigned office with the rest of his colleagues on the overthrow of Sir Robert Peel's administration in June 1846. He spoke for the last time in the House of Lords on 14 May 1847 (ib. xcii. 804–5). He died at his residence on Putney Heath on 28 Jan. 1859, aged 76, and was buried at Nocton in Lincolnshire. He was made a trustee of the National Gallery on 2 July 1824, and a governor of the Charterhouse on 10 Sept. 1827. He was elected president of the Royal Society of Literature in 1834, and was created D.C.L. of Oxford University on 12 June 1839. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 17 April 1828, and held the post of recorder of Lincoln.

Ripon married, on 1 Sept. 1814, Lady Sarah Albinia Louisa, only daughter of Robert Hobart, fourth earl of Buckinghamshire; she rebuilt Nocton church, and died on 9 April 1867, aged 74. By her Ripon had two sons and a daughter. The elder son and the daughter died young. The only surviving child, George Frederick Samuel, born on 24 Oct. 1827, succeeded his father as second Earl of Ripon; became third Earl de Grey (cr. 1816) and fourth Baron Grantham on the death of his uncle in November 1859; was created marquis of Ripon on 23 Jan. 1871; and held many high political offices, including the governor-generalship of India.

Ripon was an amiable, upright, irresolute man of respectable abilities and businesslike habits. The sanguine views in which he indulged while chancellor of the exchequer led Cobbett to nickname him ‘Prosperity Robinson,’ while for his want of vigour as secretary for the colonies he received from the same writer the name of ‘Goody Goderich.’ Though a diffuse speaker and shallow reasoner, ‘the art which he certainly possessed of enlivening even dry subjects of finance with classical allusions and pleasant humour made his speeches always acceptable to a large majority of his hearers’ (Le Marchant, Memoir of Lord Althorp, 1876, p. 44). In the House of Commons he attained a certain popularity, but on his accession to the House of Lords his courage and his powers alike deserted him. His want of firmness and decision of character rendered him quite unfit to be the leader of a party in either house. He was probably the weakest prime minister who ever held office in this country, and was the only one who never faced parliament in that capacity.

Ripon is said to have written the greater part of ‘A Sketch of the Campaign in Portugal’ (London, 1810, 8vo). Several of his parliamentary speeches were separately published, as well as an ‘Address’ which he delivered at the anniversary meeting of the Royal Society of Literature on 30 April 1835. His portrait, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, passed to his son, the first marquis. It was engraved by C. Turner in 1824.

[Besides the authorities quoted in the text, the following works, among others, have been consulted: Walpole's Hist. of Engl.; Torrens's Memoirs of Viscount Melbourne, 1878, vol. i.; Memoir of J. C. Herries by E. Herries, 1880; Diary and Corresp. of Lord Colchester, 1861, vols. ii. and iii.; Walpole's Life of Lord John Russell, 1889, i. 134–6, 137, 200, 204; Sir H. L. Bulwer's Life of Lord Palmerston, 1871, i. 193–214; Sir G. C. Lewis's Essays on the Administrations of Great Britain, 1864, pp. 417–75; Earle's English Premiers, 1871, ii. 206–8; S. Buxton's Finance and Politics, 1888, i. 15, 17, 27, 126; Dowell's History of Taxes and Taxation in England, 1884, ii. 260–272, 279–80, 290, 303; Georgian Era, 1832 i. 417–18; Ryall's Portraits of Eminent Conservative Statesmen, 2nd ser.; Jerdan's National Portrait Gallery, vol. ii.; Times, 29 Jan. and 1 Feb. 1859; Standard, 29 Jan. 1859; Allen's Lincolnshire, 1834 ii. 262; Brayley and Britton's Surrey, 1850, iii. 481; G. E. C.'s Complete Peerage, vi. 368–9; Doyle's Official Baronage, 1886, iii. 137–8; Butler's Harrow School Lists, 1849, p. 54; Grad. Cantabr. 1856, p. 235; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886, iii. 1212; Lincoln's Inn Registers; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. viii. 187, 294; Official Ret. Memb. Parl. ii. 239, 251, 267, 279, 294, 309; Haydn's Book of Dignities (1890); Brit. Mus. Cat.]

G. F. R. B.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.237
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
10 i 14-13 f.e. Robinson, Frederick J., 1st Earl of Ripon: for the Melbourne ministry consequently broke up and read Grey resigned in July and was succeeded by Melbourne, on whose sudden dismissal by the king (15 Nov.)