Rose, George (1744-1818) (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

ROSE, GEORGE (1744–1818), statesman, second son of David Rose, born in his father's house on 17 June (O.S.) 1744, was a nonjuring clergyman of Lethnot, near Brechin, by his second wife, Margaret, daughter of Donald Rose of Westerclune. He was descended on his father's side from the family of Rose of Kilravock in the county of Nairn. When four years old he was adopted by his mother's brother, who lived at Hampstead, Middlesex, and who sent him to Westminster School. At an early age he entered the navy under the charge of Captain James Mackenzie, who from 1758 to 1762 was in command of the Infernal, a 'bomb-ketch' of eight guns (Beatson, Naval Memoirs, ii. App. pp. 106, 123, iii. App. p. 115). He sailed with him to the West Indies, and in June 1758 took part as a midshipman in the expedition against St. Malo. In 1759 he was again in the West Indies, the Infernal being then part of the fleet at the Leeward Islands, and in that year or in the course of the next three years was twice wounded in action. Later gossip, which made him out a natural son of Lord Marchmont [see Hume, Hugh, third Earl of Marchmont] (Wraxall, Memoirs, iii. 457), an apothecary's apprentice (ib. p. 121 n.}, or a purser's clerk (Richardson, Political Eclogues, p. 202), may safely be disregarded. He probably, according to the custom of the time, went to sea as captain's servant, and Mackenzie, acting as his own purser, employed him to keep his book, and he became a midshipman in due course (Diaries, i. 8).

Finding that he had no chance of promotion, Rose left the navy in 1762, when the peace of Paris was impending. His uncle having died intestate, he was disappointed of a legacy of 5,000l. that he expected, and was left without means. He was befriended by William Strahan [q.v.], at whose house he met people of influence and literary distinction. Interest was made for him, and he was appointed a clerk in the record office of the exchequer at Westminster. While holding this place he was in 1767 called upon to attend a committee of the lords with reference to printing the early records of their house. The chairman, Lord Marchmont, finding his services of value, procured his employment by the committee; an office was formed for him, and the whole series of the lords' proceedings was printed under his direction. The keepership of the records falling vacant in 1772, the committee recommended him for it, and he received that office, which he held at first jointly with another, and afterwards alone. The lords' committee praised his work in an address to the king, presented with their report, and in 1777 Lord North appointed him secretary to the board of taxes, an office which brought him about 900l. a year.

During the Rockingham administration of 1782 he gave much help to the chancellor of the exchequer, Lord John Cavendish [q. v.], and on Shelburne's [see Petty, William, Marquis of Landsdowne] accession to power in July, was appointed a secretary to the treasury, resigning his place in the tax office and a small office in the exchequer. He thus gave up a permanent and valuable situation for one that, though more honourable, was exceedingly precarious. As he distrusted Shelburne, whom he disliked personally, he refused to enter parliament, though a seat was offered him by the minister. The income of the secretaries to the treasury was fixed by him at 3,000l. a year, the fees from which it had hitherto proceeded being brought into the general fund for the payment of the salaries in the department. Through the influence of Lord Marchmont and other lords he obtained a grant in reversion of the valuable office of clerk of the parliaments. He went out of office with Shelburne in April 1783, and shortly afterwards had an open quarrel with him (ib. p. 30). He informed Pitt of his dissatisfaction with Shelburne, and did not at the time receive any answer of a confidential character. He was, he says, 'left completely upon the pavement' (ib. p. 28); but he retained his place in the journals office, and had some private income from property in the West Indies, which seems to have come to him by his marriage. While on a tour on the continent, in company with Lord Thurlow, he received a letter from Pitt requesting him to meet him in Paris. They met in October, and Pitt enlisted him as one of his supporters. Rose returned to England after the interview. When Pitt took office, Rose was on 27 Dec. reappointed secretary to the treasury, with Thomas Steele as his colleague, and at the general election in the spring of 1784 was returned to parliament for Launceston in Cornwall, through the influence of the Duke of Northumberland, with whose son, Lord Percy [see Percy, Hugh, first Duke of Northumberland], he was on terms of friendship. Thenceforward Rose was Pitt's intimate friend and faithful follower. Pitt found his industry and remarkable ability in finance extremely useful, employed him largely as a means of communicating with others, and specially in matters of patronage, which were included in Rose's sphere of official duty. Both in and out of parliament Rose gave his chief all the support in his power, and heartily concurred with him in all questions of policy, with the exception of his attempt at parliamentary reform, his efforts for the abolition of the slave trade, and his approval of the peace of Amiens.

In April 1784 Rose supplied the king with information as to the progress of the general election, and gained his goodwill; indeed the regard which the king showed for him, and the confidence with which he afterwards treated him, have caused Rose to be reckoned, not quite accurately, among those personal adherents of George III who were called 'the king's friends.' Pitt took an early opportunity of rewarding him by the grant of the office of master of the pleas in the court of exchequer for life (ib. i. 15). About this time Rose purchased of the heirs of Sir Thomas Tancred a house and place called Cuffnells, near Lyndhurst, Hampshire, which thenceforward became his principal residence (Brayley and Britton, Beauties of England and Wales, vi. 178). He also had a small house at Christchurch, and gradually obtained complete possession of the borough (Wraxall, Memoirs, iii. 455). In March 1788 he was elected verderer of the New Forest, and in June succeeded to the place of clerk of the parliaments {Annual Register, 1788, xxx. 228-9). This vacated his seat in parliament, and, as his friendship with the new Duke of Northumberland was broken, he accepted a seat for Lymington, Hampshire, for the remainder of the session. The journals office which had been created for him was absorbed into his new department, and he received in exchange for its emoluments a pension to his wife for life of 300l. a year. The king paid him a short visit in June 1789 on his way to Weymouth. At the general election of 1790 he was returned for Christchurch, and held that seat during the remainder of his life. In April 1791 he was sued in the court of king's bench by George Smith, a publican of Westminster, for 110l. 5s. for payment for work done for him as secretary of the treasury in discovering proofs of bad votes polled at the late Westminster election for Lord John Townshend, and was ordered to pay that sum. As it was then not unusual for the treasury to take means of this sort to prevent the return of an opponent, there was nothing discreditable to Rose in the business, though it was of course used against him (Trial of G. Rose, Esquire). Lord Marchmont, who died in 1794, made him his executor, and, besides a money legacy, left him a fine collection of books, which he lodged at Cuffnells.

A letter from Pitt, dated 5 Feb. 1801, made Rose the first person to receive the news of the minister's intended resignation, which Rose considered 'absolutely unavoidable.' He declined Addington's offer that he should continue at the treasury; and, on receiving a promise that he should be made a privy councillor, replied that he could not accept that honour except through Pitt. He was much with Pitt during the next few I weeks, and on 21 March retired from office with him. The king again visited him at Cuffnells on 29 June, and stayed four days at his house on his way to Weymouth. He was occupied in July and the following months with a scheme for the payment of Pitt's debts, and contributed 1,000l. for that purpose. During the autumn he made strong efforts to persuade Pitt to withdraw his support from Addington's administration, representing to him his conviction that there was a systematic plan to lower him in the esteem both of the king and of the public (Diaries, p. 436). The offer that he should be made a privy councillor was renewed in December, and as Addington allowed the communication to pass through Pitt, he accepted it, and was sworn on 13 Jan. 1802. During the two following years he constantly offered Pitt advice on the political situation.

On the formation of Pitt's second administration in 1804 Rose took office as vice-pre-sident of the board of trade in March, and on 7 July as joint paymaster-general with Lord Charles Henry Somerset. He was vexed at Pitt's political reconciliation with Addington, and their constant communication with each other was for a short time interrupted. It was, however, resumed by September 1805, when Pitt was at Cuffnells, and during Pitt's ensuing visit to Weymouth Rose again ineffectually represented to the king the necessity of strengthening the government by the admission of some members of the opposition. He saw Pitt for the last time on 15 Jan. 1806, and was deeply affected by his death. On the 27th he gave an account in a speech in the House of Commons of Pitt's last hours and dying words (Parl. Debates, vi. 58). Lord Holland afterwards described this account as fabricated by Rose, whom he calls an 'unscrupulous encomiast' (Memoirs of the Whig Party, i. 207-8). It was, however, substantially correct. He eagerly forwarded a scheme for the payment of Pitt's debts by private contribution. On 3 Feb. he resigned the offices of joint paymaster-general and vice-president of the board of trade.

Rose again took office in the Duke of Portland's administration in 1807, as vice-president of the board of trade on 30 March, and treasurer of the navy on 15 April. In 1808 the Duke of York appointed him deputy-warden of the New Forest. Being in accord with Canning in April 1809 as regards the necessity of a change in the business of the war department, and the substitution of Lord Wellesley for Lord Castlereagh as war secretary, he promised Canning that if he was not satisfied on these points he would resign with him. Canning's resignation in September, however, seemed to him to proceed from disappointed ambition, and to be an attempt to break up the government, and he therefore refused to follow. Owing largely to the wishes of his wife and family, he continued in office under Perceval conduct, which his friendship with Canning rendered distasteful to his feelings (ib. pp. 354, 376). Perceval on 23 Oct. offered him the post of chancellor of the exchequer. Rose declined on the ground that he was too old to take cabinet office for the first time (Diaries, ii. 414, 423-4). He was a warm advocate of vaccination, and promoted the establishment of the National Vaccine Institution in 1809 (ib. pp. 338-9). In 1811 he exerted himself to redress the grievances of the Spitalfields weavers, who warmly acknowledged their obligations to him. In the early spring of 1812 he resigned—office probably from displeasure at the admission into the government of Lord Sidmouth (Addington) and some of his friends.

On Perceval's death Rose resumed his place as treasurer of the navy, to which no appointment had been made on his retirement (Book of Dignities, p. 269). Complaints were made of neglect in Rose's office. Rose defended himself, but he apparently was attempting to fulfil the duties of his office at Cuffnells rather than in London. He opposed the proposals to alter the corn laws in a weighty speech on 5 May. While declaring that free trade in corn would be equally mischievous to the grower and consumer, he contended that a protecting duty should not be greater than would enable the grower to pay a fair rent and make a reasonable profit (Parl. Debates, xxvii. 666). On the other hand, he took an unpopular line in advocating the property tax. He did much, specially in 1815, to forward the foundation of savings banks, and promoted legislation securing the property of friendly societies.

He died at Cuffnells on 13 Jan. 1818, in his seventy-fourth year, and was buried in Christchurch minster. He left children by his wife Theodora, daughter of John Dues of the island of Antigua, his elder son being Sir George Henry Rose [q. v.], and his younger William Stewart Rose [q. v.]

Rose was a man of high personal character, amiable, and benevolent; an indefatigable, accurate, and rapid worker, with a clear and sound judgment; and, though he was not brilliant in other matters, his financial ability was remarkable. His opponents accused him of double dealing, and a political satire asserts that

No rogue that goes
Is like that Rose
Or scatters such deceit

(Probationary Odes, p. 351), but in truth he was by no means deficient in honour or sincerity. As secretary of the treasury he dispensed government patronage so as to offend as few of the disappointed claimants; as possible (Wraxall, Memoirs, iii. 457-8). The profits that he and his sons derived from various offices were large; Cobbett dwells on them in a brilliant letter entitled 'A New Year's Gift to Old George Rose,' and dated 1 Jan. 1817; he reckons 4,324l. salary as treasurer of the navy, 4,946l., as clerk of parliaments, a post secured to his elder son, 400l. as keeper of the records (a sinecure), and 2,137l. as clerk of the exchequer, a sinecure resigned in favour of his younger son (Selections from Cobbetfs Political Works, v. 72). And Thomas Moore, in an imitation of Horace (Odes, i. 38), makes the poet bid his boy not tarry to inquire 'at which of his places old Rose is delaying' (Moore, Works, p. 171). While, however, he was not backward in promoting the interests of himself and his sons, unlike many of the placemen of his day, he conscientiously rendered valuable services to the nation. He seems to have imbibed something of the patriotic sentiments of his great leader; was always confident as to England's future, even in the darkest days, and was invariably optimistic in his financial reviews and anticipations. As a speaker he was dull and somewhat prolix, but his speeches were too full of carefully prepared and accurately stated calculations to be easily answered. His writings, which are for the most part on financial subjects, are clear and businesslike. In 1804 he was appointed a trustee of the British Museum, and was also a trustee of the Hunterian Museum, and an elder brother of Trinity House. It is believed that he had much to do with the origin of the ministerial whitebait dinner. His friend Sir Robert Preston, member for Dover in the parliament of 1784, was in the habit of asking him to dine with him at the 'fishing cottage' at Dagenham Reach, Essex, towards the end of the parliamentary session. One year Rose asked leave to bring Pitt, to whom Preston thenceforward extended his invitation. The distance from London being inconvenient to Pitt, Preston held his annual dinner at Greenwich, generally on or about Trinity Monday, and Pitt brought first Lord Camden and then Charles Long (afterwards Lord Farnborough). When the company grew in number the guests paid each his share of the tavern bill, and after Preston's death the dinner soon assumed its future character (Timbs, Clubs and Club Life, pp. 495-6). Rose's portrait, painted in 1802 by Sir William Beechey, is in the National Portrait Gallery; another, painted by Cosway, is engraved in his 'Diaries and Correspondence,' and there is also an engraving, with a biographical notice, in the 'Picture Gallery of Contemporary Portraits' (Cadell and Davies).

Rose's published works are:

  1. 'The Proposed System of Trade with Ireland explained,' 8vo, 1785, which called forth answers.
  2. 'A Brief Examination into the Increase of the Revenue, Commerce, and Manufactures of Great Britain since the Peace in 1783,' 8vo, 1793; and
  3. 'A Brief Examination, &c., from 1792 to 1799,' 8vo. 1799. Both these works passed through several editions; the second through at least seven, besides one printed at Dublin; it was translated into French, and called forth replies. The edition of 1806 contains a sketch of Pitt's character.
  4. 'Considerations on the Debt of the Civil List,' 8vo, 1802.
  5. 'Observations on the Poor Laws,' 4to, 1802.
  6. 'Observations on the Historical Work of the late C. J. Fox,' 4to, 1809. Rose's criticisms were founded on the contemporary authorities left him by Lord Marchmont, which were published by his son, Sir George Henry Rose [q. v.], as the 'Marchmont Papers' [see under Hume or Home, Sir Patrick, first Earl of Marchmont]. His work was criticised with some personal reflections, and with more wit than sound learning, by Sydney Smith in the 'Edinburgh Review' in 1809 and 1810 (Sydney Smith, Works, pp. 150-62, 202-13, ed. 1850).
  7. 'Observations on the Public Expenditure,' &c., 8vo, 1810; see Bentham's 'Defence of Economy against Rose' in 'Pamphleteer,' vol. x.
  8. 'A Letter to Viscount Melville respecting a Naval Arsenal at Northfleet,' 8vo, 1810.
  9. 'Substance of a Speech on the Report of the Bullion Committee,' delivered in 1811.
  10. 'Speech on the Corn Laws,' 1814 (see above).
  11. 'Speech on the Property Tax,' 1815.
  12. 'Observations on Banks for Saving,' 4to; 4th edit. 1816.

He also contributed a paper on Domesday to Nash's 'Worcester.'

[Rose's Diaries and Correspondence, ed. L. V. Harcourt, cited as Diaries; Stanhope's Life of Pitt; Wraxall's Memoirs, ed. 1884; Parl. Debates; Lord Colchester's Diary; Jesse's Memoirs of George III; Gent. Mag. 1810 ii. 562, 1812 i. 164, 246-7, 1818 i. 82, 93, 1819 ii. 528- 529; Cunningham's Eminent Englishmen, vol. vii.; Beatson's Naval Memoirs; Haydn's Book of Dignities; Baron's Life of Jenner, vol. ii.; Richardson's Rolliad. Probationary Odes, &c.]

W. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.239
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
226 ii 26 Rose, George (1744-1818): omit second son of David Rose,
27 after was insert second son of David Rose,