Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sebright, John Saunders

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SEBRIGHT, Sir JOHN SAUNDERS (1767–1846), seventh baronet, of Besford, Worcestershire, and Beechwood, Hertfordshire, politician and agriculturist, born on 23 May 1767, was the eldest son of Sir John Saunders Sebright, sixth baronet, by Sarah, daughter of Edward Knight, esq., of Wolverley, Worcestershire. The father, a colonel of the 18th foot and lieutenant-general in the army, represented Bath in three parliaments (1761–1780), and died in March 1794. The family settled in Worcestershire early in the fourteenth century; it came originally from Sebright Hall, near Great Baddow in Essex (see Nash, Worcestershire, i. 78–9). Edward Sebright, who was high sheriff of Worcestershire in 1622, was created first baronet in 1626, and proved himself a zealous royalist; he inherited from his uncle, William Sebright (d. 1620), who was M.P. for Droitwich in 1572, the manor of Besford, Worcestershire, which the uncle purchased.

The seventh baronet served for a short time in the army and was attached to the staff of Lord Amherst. He always took some interest in military matters. He was elected M.P. for Hertfordshire on 11 May 1807, and continued to represent the county till the end of the first reformed parliament. He disclaimed connection with any party, but, while always anxious to support the executive, generally acted with the more advanced whigs. He was a strong advocate of economy in administration, of the abolition of sinecures and unnecessary offices, and of the remission of indirect taxation. He was in principle a free-trader.

Free from most of the prejudices of the country squire, he showed his liberality most signally in his attitude towards the game laws. On 5 April 1821 he seconded Lord Cranborne's motion for an inquiry into the game laws, and supported all subsequent bills for their amendment. In 1826 he attributed the increase of crime chiefly to their influence (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. xiv. 1242–3). In 1824, and again in 1828, he spoke in favour of the repeal of the usury laws, and he ‘detested monopolies of all kinds.’ As a practical agriculturist, owning land in three counties, Sebright gave his opinion (17 Dec. 1830) against any allotments larger than kitchen-gardens, but was willing to try an experiment on a larger scale (ib. 3rd ser. ii. 995).

When, on 1 March 1831, Lord John Russell moved for leave to bring in the first Reform Bill, Sebright, as an independent member, seconded the motion (ib. 3rd ser. ii. 1089; Le Marchant, Althorp, p. 298), and cordially supported this and the succeeding reform bills. On 17 Dec. 1832 he was returned for Hertfordshire, at the head of the poll, to the first reformed parliament, but retired at its close.

In 1809 he published a valuable letter to Sir Joseph Banks on ‘The Art of Improving the Breeds of Domestic Animals’ (sm. 8vo). Sebright was also author of ‘Observations on Hawking, describing the mode of breaking and managing several kinds of hawks used in falconry,’ 1826, 8vo; and of ‘Observations upon the Instinct of Animals,’ 1836, 8vo.

He died on 15 April 1846. A portrait of him was engraved by S. Reynolds from a painting by Boileau. He built and endowed a school at Cheverell's Green, and a row of almshouses for sixteen paupers in the parish of Flamstead, Hertfordshire, where some of the family property lay. He married, on 6 Aug. 1793, Harriet, heiress of Richard Crofts, esq., of West Harling, Norfolk. She died in August 1826, leaving, with seven daughters, a son, Sir Thomas Gage Saunders Sebright (1802–1864), who succeeded as eighth baronet.

[Wotton's Baronetage, 1771, i. 261–3; Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 1893; Walford's County Families; Nash's Worcestershire, i. 78–9 (with pedigree); Cussans's Hertfordshire, iii. pt. i. pp. 106, 113; Parl. Debates, 1807–34; Evans's Cat. Engr. Portraits; Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Donaldson's Agricult. Biography, p. 97.]

G. Le G. N.