HAWKINS, Christopher (1758-1829), of Trewithen, Cornw.
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Family and Education
bap. 29 May 1758, 1st surv. s. of Col. Thomas Hawkins† of Trewithen by Anne, da. of James Heywood, of Austin Friars, London. educ. M. Temple 1768; Eton 1769-73. unm.; 2da. suc. fa. 1770; cr. Bt. 28 July 1791.
Sheriff, Cornw. 1783-4.
Recorder, Tregony 1796, Grampound 1804, St. Ives.
Maj. commdt. Tregony and Grampound vols. 1798.
James Boswell, who stayed with ‘Kit’ Hawkins at Trewithen in the autumn of 1792 reported of him:
The present representative goes on accumulating. He is said to be exceedingly rich, and he lives on a very economical plan, and very retired, though he has contrived to negotiate with Lord Falmouth for a seat in Parliament for the borough of St. Michael, and thus has been made a baronet.
Bosewell also visited him at his other house of Trewinnard, and liked its ‘air of antiquity and cultivation’ after the ‘bleak eminence’ of Trewithen.1 Hawkins was at home in both, combining the scholarly and scientific pursuits of a Cornish landowner interested in the exploitation of mineral wealth with the greed and duplicity of an ambitious intriguer whom contemporaries learnt to describe as ‘the Cornish borough monger’. His victim at Tregony, Richard Barwell*, wrote of him: ‘his unhappy affection for borough and parliamentary consequence appears to be as much under the stimulus of a blind God as is our vulgar and more common lusts’. Ironically, he had voted for parliamentary reform in 1785, assured Wyvill the reformer that Cornwall needed it (8 June 1791), still showed a polite interest in 1792, but was cool by 1794.2 (In 1791, too, he was reckoned hostile to Test Act repeal.) As a dealer in boroughs, he exceeded Sir Francis Basset* in activity, and although at times the two men did electoral business they were basically competitors and ultimately public enemies: Basset, from whom Hawkins had snatched his seat in Parliament under the aegis of Lord Falmouth in 1784, was the wealthier and more fortunate—securing a peerage after his political conversion to Pitt by 1796 and therefore on the defensive against Hawkins, who had supported Pitt from the start and, though rewarded with a baronetcy in 1791, was disappointed in his hopes of a peerage, which made him a bitter aggressor.
Until 1799 Hawkins continued to sit on Lord Falmouth’s interest at Mitchell, but since 1796 he had become patron of the other seat there by purchase from Basset and commenced the policy which best suited his ambition, that of selling the seat to friends of government. In 1796 he had also intervened at Tregony (where he had sold his property in 1788) and by a stratagem secured the return of two Members against the patron Barwell (their politics were not his, however, and he came to terms with Barwell in 1802—there was an element of prank playing in his electioneering activities). His most important step at this time, however, was the cultivation of Grampound: the ‘hospitable baronet’3 entertained the electors secretly at Trewinnard, secured the return of his nominees in 1796 and in 1798 purchased the manor from the Eliots. A friend had written, 3 Dec. 1794:
Fame speaks loudly of your doings. The borough by her own account, is all your own, and such is certainly preferable to Tregony. The smaller number of voters in one, and the vast number in the other, pulls down the balance in favour of Grampound, and from the continuance of Eliot we may infer that a possession once obtained may last 40 or 50 years.4
Hawkins took care to inform Pitt of his efforts: ‘I have settled those interests in the country, which in my conversation with you I hinted at, as the means of supporting government and your administration’. Thus he wrote on 20 Feb. 1796, after returning to London from Cornwall, whence he had written on 25 Jan.: ‘I have uniformly supported your administration and as I have only taken up interests I was entitled to and was called on to support, I trust I shall, in this, experience your favour and protection’.5
Perhaps because he felt his services were not appreciated, he was one of five signatories of a letter to Lord Moira in 1797 asking him to petition the King for a new administration, and on 9 Apr. wrote to Dundas deploring the continuation of war.6 Moreover, he had joined opposition on Harrison’s motion for departmental economy, 13 Mar., and the same day in favour of Fox’s name being added to the committee on the public debt, as well as in favour of Fox’s motion on Ireland, 23 Mar. On 14 Dec. he opposed the second reading of the assessed taxes bill. He supported Sheridan’s motion on the state of Ireland, 14 June 1798, Bankes’s against sending the militia to Ireland, 19 June, and Lord George Cavendish’s motion on the Irish insurrection, 22 June. In 1799 he puzzled friend and foe alike by vacating his seat at Mitchell to accommodate John Simpson* and came in on an ensuing vacancy at Grampound in the following year on his own interest. He probably meant to forestall Simpson’s ambition to take over the Barwell interest at Grampound. He supported Grey’s motion for an inquiry into the state of the nation, 25 Mar. 1801, although Addington had hoped for his vote. On 23 May he dined with Addington. On 1 July The Times denied reports that he was to have a peerage for offering ministers his electoral influence. He certainly became a friend of the Addington administration. He returned members friendly to it at Grampound and Mitchell, hoping that Addington would reward him.
By one account, Hawkins came to town in April 1802,
on purpose to repeat his general offer of nomination to all his seats—and is ready to give them without reserve upon the easiest terms upon which such advantages can be conferred ... It is important to H. to know whether his offer will be accepted or not ... as he has had many applications, and it will be necessary for him to listen to some of them, if his offer is not, as he wishes it may be, accepted. His desire is to prove himself the friend of the minister and accept of no nomination but through him.
By 8 Apr., the minister had
accepted of the nomination to Grampound and Mitchell, and of one member to Tregony if matters there [were] amicably arranged. Having previously disposed Lord E[liot] to give up all further pretension to Grampound and to declare his intention to give Sir C.H. no further trouble there, in order to show his respect for the minister. This communication made to Sir C.H. was received by him with great pleasure ...
On 15 June, at a county meeting, Hawkins proposed an address to the King welcoming the advent of peace. Yet Addington wrote, 29 Aug.:
With respect to Sir C.H., I can only say, that whilst I acknowledge thankfully his friendly and fair conduct towards government, I find myself compelled to adhere to the line I observed in conversation with him last spring ... I mean that of holding out no encouragement or expectation whatever of an official appointment. My means bear no proportion to the claims upon me: and ... the arrangements with Sir C.H. were made upon the ground of my having been perfectly explicit on this subject.7
This disappointment did not prevent Hawkins from expanding his electoral activities: in 1802 he made a survey of the Cornish boroughs from the patronage viewpoint;8 in 1803 he stepped into the vacuum left by the Duke of Leeds at Helston and, declining to re-elect one of the sitting Members for money to suit Pitt’s government, was patron there until 1806; in 1804 he prepared to intervene at Penryn when Lord de Dunstanville (the former Sir Francis Basset) relaxed his hold there. After the fall of Addington, Hawkins, who was said to have little to thank him for, was at first reported to have voted against Pitt’s additional force bill, 8 June 1804. This was followed by a contradiction. Yet Addington noted, 12 June, ‘Sir C. Hawkins and his friend were with us in each division’.9 A month later, after failing to obtain an interview with Pitt, Hawkins wrote (19 July) of ‘having in the fullest confidence given my best support’ to Pitt’s administration, and wished to have ‘proofs of the good disposition of government to enable me more effectually to facilitate or perhaps increase my endeavours for its support’. To the same correspondent he wrote, 20 Sept., having been by then listed as a supporter of government by them, thanking him for
the means you have afforded me of being reconciled to Mr Pitt, and as I hope the support I have given him will be considered a proof of my confidence and of my future intentions you will permit me to request your friendly offices to complete what you have so fortunately begun, in order that by a general arrangement the possibility of future misunderstandings may be prevented.
It is my intention to give my unreserved support to those whose principles I approve. I will therefore request your friendly interference with Mr Pitt, which I would not take the liberty of doing if from the very honourable conduct I have experienced from you I had not every wish to act conformably to your advice. Another circumstance induces me to write to you at this time; it is the possibility of increasing my political influence in this county, for which, if it was thought proper to afford me the adequate means of attempting I should not object to undertake. I mention this more from the desire of rendering myself useful than from any object or interest of my own.10
Hawkins, who in any case doubted whether he could make his six Members change sides if he became disillusioned with government, expected his nominees to support Pitt unconditionally and obliged Davies Giddy to resign his seat when he acted independently (also because he was offered a higher price for it by Sir John Shelley). In the autumn of 1805 he purchased William Praed’s interest at St. Ives and at the general election of 1806 returned two Members at Grampound, two at Helston, one at St. Ives, one at Mitchell, and one at Penryn—he had returned himself for Grampound, Mitchell and Penryn, but lost the latter seat on petition and fell back on Grampound, which he had planned to sell for the session. His nominees were pledged to the Grenville administration, which had to wait until the petition was determined before he could bring in another friend of theirs.11 On 5 July, John King, secretary to the Treasury, had written to Lord Grenville:
Sir Christopher seems to be secure of all the seats he offers, and says your lordship will find it so, and that he may be depended on ... [he asks] whether you wished to recommend to all the seats proposed ... and whether you should think £3,000 a seat too much?
In return Hawkins had asked for places for his ‘numerous’ friends, which were however thought to be ‘without the sphere of his legitimate patronage’, and was supposed to be aiming at a peerage. The success of the petition against him at Penryn in February 1807 dashed his hopes, for he was charged, on the basis of the evidence proved, with bribery and corruption. He wrote in dismay to Lord Grenville, 16 Feb., as ‘the only friend I have to look to’ for protection and denied the charges.12
On 12 Apr. 1807 he submitted his case to the discretion of the House. Henry Bankes was for expelling him, but to quote Charles Abbot’s diary, 22 Apr.:
Sir Christopher Hawkins, MP, and 18 others were ordered to be prosecuted by the attorney-general for bribery. According to law and usage of Parliament, Sir Christopher Hawkins ought to have been first expelled.
The Speaker, who blamed Perceval for the sequel, added laconically later ‘N.B. In 1808, they were all acquitted’ (19 Aug.).13
Hawkins never recovered from this setback, though his intrigues continued. The general election of 1807 was symptomatic: Fremantle wrote to Lord Grenville, 18 May: ‘Hawkins who returned 8 [sic] last Parliament has now made but one return, and that is Capt. Herbert ... the other seats he has lost, and it is not the government who have gained them’.14 In fact, he seems to have retained two seats, at Mitchell and St. Ives, but he lost his influence at Grampound to the Cochrane family, at Helston to the Duke of Leeds and Sir John St. Aubyn and at Penryn to Lord de Dunstanville. In his embitterment, he pursued a personal vendetta against the latter. Farington reported ‘Lane of Cornwall’ as saying:
Sir Christopher had long acted towards his lordship in a manner the contrary of friendly behaviour.
At a public meeting on some occasion an assertion which had been made by Sir Christopher was directly contradicted by his lordship. This was told to Sir Christopher. On coming home from the opera one evening his lordship found a letter from Sir Christopher requiring him to explain his conduct in having contradicted what Sir Christopher had asserted. Lord de Dunstanville wrote an answer declaring he would give no explanation, and added that Sir Christopher might do whatever his mind dictated. A few days afterwards Lord de Dunstanville received a challenge from Sir Christopher. Lord de Dunstanville got Admiral Sir Edward Buller to be his second and Mr Davies Giddy also knew his situation. Sir Christopher had a military officer for his second.
A duel took place at Westbourn Green, March 1810: ‘two shots were fired by each without effect, and the seconds would not allow the matter to go further’. Hawkins, who had made his will, wrote to his brother John, 17 Jan. 1809 [recte 1810]:
I advise you not to part on any account with Mitchell, not to be the dupe of the magistrates and freemen of Grampound, but to keep on our interest. To part with St. Ives to Mr Praed, he repaying you what I have paid him. I have nothing to say to Penryn. With Mitchell certain and Grampound uncertain you may get a baronetcy and anything you or yours may reasonably want.
Lord Falmouth will I believe agree with you at Mitchell and I believe you may trust in C. Rashleigh with the management.
Notwithstanding the many expensive concerns I have undertaken I think I have more added to than diminished of the paternal property.
The quarrel was subsequently pursued in the law courts, public opinion being very much on the side of Lord de Dunstanville.15
At the election of 1812 Hawkins retained his two seats, but failed to revive his influence at Penryn, Grampound or Helston, all of which he contested. His attempt to embarrass the Duke of Leeds at Helston by a petition alleging undue influence at elections there was ironically received and ended in failure, but he gained one seat at Grampound in 1814. At the election of 1818, he retained one of his two seats, being defeated at St. Ives, but gained one for himself at Penryn, failing again at Helston. In Parliament he supported administration, voting with them against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819. On 12 May 1819 he was stopped when reading a speech against the Penryn bribery bill and on 7 Dec. his effort on the same subject was reported ‘inaudible’. He continued active in Cornish elections until his death, 6 Apr. 1829, by which time he was being styled Father of the House. It can have had few odder: the Cornish borough agent, Charles Rashleigh, described him as ‘so very unaccountable a man, that it is impossible to know how to deal with him’.16
A bachelor, he was sought after for one of her daughters by the wife of Sir William Lemon, the county Member. Boswell perceiving this, 29 Aug. 1792, told her, ‘Madam, I’ll send him to you in a box; and as he is a delicate gentleman, I’ll write upon it Glass’. She humoured the fancy, and added (in the wagon or other carriage style) ‘keep this side uppermost’. To one of his illegitimate daughters, known as Christina Hawkins Dutton, he left £20,000: to his sister, the wife of Charles Trelawny Brereton*, he left nothing, thinking her well provided for, though she had cultivated him for many years. He never provided his brother John with a seat in Parliament, or rather offered one on such terms that the latter spurned it. Hospitable to electors, he was frugal in his habits, which provoked the proverbial rhyme about Trewithen:
A large park without deer,
A large cellar without beer,
A large house without cheer,
Sir Christopher Hawkins lives here.
Though greedy for land purchases, he was thought a benevolent landlord, ‘never known to distrain for rent’, and left an encumbered estate.17 He took a keen interest in the ‘development of industrial enterprise’ in Cornwall.18
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Private Pprs. xviii. 142, 148.
- 2. Cornw. RO, Johnstone mss DDJ 2100/4, Barwell to Nicholls [n.d.]; Malmesbury mss, Malmesbury to FitzHarris, 25 May 1804; Romilly, Mems. ii. 206; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 197; N. Riding RO, Wyvill mss ZFW 7/2/72/23; 7/2/77/8; 7/2/88/27.
- 3. Polwhele, the county historian, so dubbed him.
- 4. Rev. J. Whitaker to Hawkins, cited by S. Baring Gould, Cornish Characters and Strange Events, 522.
- 5. PRO 30/8/143, ff. 98, 100.
- 6. Johnstone mss 2098, f. 31; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1565; SRO GD 51/1/524.
- 7. Pole Carew mss CC/G3/3, Pole Carew to Hawkins, 24 Mar. 1801; Buller mss BO/23/70, memo; Johnstone mss 2098, f. 59; Sidmouth mss, Addington to Pole Carew, 29 Aug. 1802.
- 8. Buller mss BO/23/70.
- 9. Pole Carew mss CC/L/37, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 1 Jan.; Morning Chron. 13 June; Sidmouth mss, Henry to J. H. Addington, 12 June 1804.
- 10. PRO 30/8/131, f. 74; 143, ff. 102, 104.
- 11. Cornw. RO, Coode mss CF4776, Hawkins to ?E. Coode, 10 Apr. 1805; Add. 37415, f. 38.
- 12. Fortescue mss; Pol. Reg. 14 Feb. 1807.
- 13. Colchester, ii. 122, 382.
- 14. Fortescue mss.
- 15. Farington, vi. 32, 269; W. Suss. RO, Hawkins mss 7; Sidmouth mss, Vansittart to Sidmouth, 4 Apr. 1810, De Dunstanville to same, 20 Aug. 1817.
- 16. Gent. Mag. (1829), i. 564; Pole Carew mss CC/L/35, Rashleigh to Pole Carew, 17 May 1803.
- 17. Private Pprs. xviii. 141; A. Hill, Trelawny’s Strange Relations, 33; Hawkins mss 7; Baring Gould, 516; F. W. Steet, I am, my dear Sir, 71.
- 18. MI at Probus. Hawkins’s account of the Cornish tin mines appeared in 1811. His corresp. with his brother John mainly concerns his tin, copper and lead mines.