HARRISON, John (1738-1811), of Norton Place, Lincs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1780 - 11 Apr. 1793
17 Apr. 1793 - 1796
1796 - 1806

Family and Education

b. 1738, o. surv. s. of John Harrison of Norton Place by Elizabeth, da. of William Dealtry of Gainsborough, wid. of Philip Jenkinson of Lincoln. educ. Eton 1753-6; Trinity Coll. Camb. 9 June 1756, aged 18; M. Temple 1760, called 1766. m. 7 Nov. 1766, Catherine, da. of Rev. Robert Pinder of Owston Hall, 3da. suc. fa. 1768.

Offices Held

Dir. Bank of England 1785-94.


Harrison was returned for Grimsby a third time on the interest of Charles Anderson Pelham* in 1790. He had been admitted to Brooks’s Club by the same patron, 20 Apr. 1785. It does not appear that he was a member of the Whig Club. He continued to act selectively with the Whigs in opposition, but he had other roles. As previously, he supported repeal of the Test Act, in Scotland, in 1791. On 11 Mar., 4 and 11 Apr. and 27 May 1791 he was a spokesman for the agricultural interest in criticism of the corn bill: he was respected as an agricultural improver.1 He was also a Bank director and on 25 Mar. 1791 objected to Pitt’s proposal to exploit the unclaimed dividends at the Bank. He supported Grey’s Oczakov resolutions, 12 Apr. 1791, and voted against the Russian armament, 1 Mar. 1792. As a magistrate, he commented on legislative proposals on felony, 12, 13 May 1791. He favoured a committee of inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s expenses in building Carlton House, 3 June 1791.

Harrison was listed a Portland Whig in December 1792 and ‘out of town’ when Fox divided the House against the address, 13 Dec.2 William Windham* thought of him as a possible ‘third party’ recruit, but not, it seems, for long. He adhered to Fox’s line, voting against war with France, 18 Feb. 1793. In April he was re-elected unopposed with his colleague when their election was, after much procrastination, declared void on petition. He voted for parliamentary reform, 7 May 1793. In the session of 1794 he was in steady opposition. On 8 Apr. he introduced a motion, based on one of 1691, to force placeholders to contribute a proportion of their official income to the war effort and thereby reduce the burden on the public. In justification of it, he admitted that his real aim was to make ministers feel the pinch and bring the war to a speedier conclusion. It was defeated by 117 votes to 48. In opposing the émigré enlistment bill, 17 Apr., he asserted that he thought the war unjust and unnecessary; on 29 Apr., opposing the Prussian subsidy, he stated that ministerial conduct had freed him from any promise to support them in wartime. He denounced the suspension of habeas corpus, 16 May, seeing only ‘frivolous pretences’ for ‘so great an infringement on the liberties of the subject’. He failed to secure a rider limiting detention under the suspension next day. He had emphasized that if the bill were passed, its operation could be justified only if Parliament continued to sit and if lists of detainees were furnished. He again voted against the suspension on 23 Jan. 1795 and for peace negotiations, 26 Jan. and 6 Feb. He tried to saddle the navy manning bill with a rider that placemen and pensioners should provide a contingent of seamen, 2, 4 Feb.: Pitt treated it as a joke. He opposed the Austrian loan by speech and vote 4, 5 Feb. He opposed the King’s safety bill, 17 Nov., warning that oppression, combined with famine, was likely to provoke actual rebellion. He seconded Curwen’s bid to obstruct the seditious meetings bill, which he described as ‘abominable’, 25 Nov.; on 10 Dec., opposing the third reading of the King’s safety bill, he claimed that it failed to distinguish between an ‘amiable Monarch’ and a ‘bad ministry’ engaged on a ‘destructive path’ of ‘horrid restraints’.

Meanwhile his patron, having come to terms with ministers, was obliged to drop his Whig nominees and on 29 Dec. 1795 assured the Duke of Portland that Harrison, whom the Treasury was listing ‘con’, had ‘no intention of offering himself again for the borough of Grimsby’.3 In the session of 1796, he voted for inquiry into the state of national finances, 10 Mar., and for the abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar.; opposed compensation for loss of perquisites by government clerks, 26 Apr., and supported the abolition of the Game Laws, 29 Apr.; opposed the Sardinian subsidy, 3 May, the real succession tax, 9 May, and voted against ministers’ conduct of war, 10 May.

In the Parliaments of 1796 and 1802 Harrison was returned for Thetford on the Duke of Grafton’s interest: their politics were congenial. He at once resumed opposition, attacking the imperial loan, 8 Dec. 1796 (promising a motion to effect savings) and the acquisition of the Cape, 20 Dec. He gave notice of his motion on 24 Feb. 1797 and it was at length heard on 13 Mar. His aim was public retrenchment, with the abolition of sinecures. Pitt moved the previous question, promising that the finance committee he intended to set up would consider Harrison’s proposals. Harrison was defeated by 169 votes to 77. French Laurence assured Edmund Burke that this motion was designed only to achieve ‘little savings’, and not to reduce influence, like Burke’s ‘economical reform’. (A year later, Pitt suggested jokingly to Windham that the vacant Privy Seal had better be filled quickly, ‘lest Mr Harrison should discover that we could go on as well without any such office’.) Harrison had to console himself with a place on the finance committee. He attended regularly and helped particularly with its reports on the transport office and on the barrack department.4 He was a critic of prolonged stoppage of cash payments by the Bank, 24 Mar. 1797. On 26 May he voted for parliamentary reform. Thereafter he seems to have been a Whig seceder until the session of 1800, except that he appeared to criticize the customs regulation bill, 20 Mar. 1798, and to oppose the land tax redemption bill, 4, 16, 18, 23 Apr. 1798. In 1800 he voted against the refusal to negotiate peace, the conduct of the Helder expedition and the suspension of habeas corpus, 3, 10, 13 Feb.; criticized increases in Admiralty salaries, 12 Feb.; opposed the Act of Union, 21, 25 Apr., and tried to prove that the revision of income tax assessment doubled the landlord’s liability and would disadvantage the tenant farmer, 20, 26 May. On 6 and 10 Mar. 1801 he attempted to reduce the tax on agricultural horses.

Harrison was unimpressed with the replacement of Pitt by Addington and tried to obstruct the grant of supply until the new ministry was visibly established, 16 Feb. 1801. Thereafter he had little to say, but continued to vote with opposition. He did complain of the prodigality of the Irish master of the rolls bill, 19 Mar., of the burden of the poor rates, 21 Mar. 1801, and of the precipitate, unprofessional nature of the debtors bill, 21 May 1802. He joined in the vote of thanks for the removal of Pitt from office, 7 May 1802. He was an advocate of the application of the duchy of Cornwall revenue to the Prince of Wales’s debts, 23 Feb. 1803, and voted in this sense, 4 Mar. After leaves of absence, he voted with opposition on the resumption of hostilities, 24 May 1803, and silently opposed Addington’s defence measures in April 1804. Listed a Foxite, he opposed Pitt’s additional force bill (though not apparently until 18 June 1804) and voted against the war with Spain, 12 Feb. 1805. He was in the majorities for censure and criminal prosecution of Melville, 8 Apr., 12 June 1805, and opposed the Duke of Atholl’s claims to compensation, 19 June. Next day he accused the law officers of prevarication in calling on the House to define the case against Melville, which he regarded as their professional duty. He played little part in the session of 1806. On 4 Feb. he pointed out a defect in the malt duty bill and he was a spokesman for British wool producers against the bill to permit the import of wool from British America, 4-7 Mar.; after that, nothing. He retired from ‘age and infirmity’ at the dissolution and it appeared that he could not be tempted to return to Westminster.5 He died 7 Feb. 1811.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1811), i. 196.
  • 2. Holkham mss, Wilbraham to Coke, 15 Dec. 1792.
  • 3. Portland mss PwF7412.
  • 4. Burke Corresp. ix. 280; Add. 37844, f. 167; PRO 30/9/32, f. 322; Colchester, i. 111.
  • 5. Gent. Mag. loc. cit.; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F.108/2.