JOHNES, Thomas (1748-1816), of Hafod, Card.

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

Constituency

Dates

7 Dec. 1775 - May 1780
19 Sept. 1780 - 1796
1796 - 23 Apr. 1816

Family and Education

b. 20 Aug. 1748, 1st s. of Thomas Johnes of Llanfair Clydogau, Card. and Croft Castle, Herefs. by Elizabeth, da. of Richard Knight of Croft Castle. educ. privately at Ludlow; Shrewsbury 1755; Eton 1760-7; Edinburgh Univ. 1767; Grand Tour 1768-9. m. (1) 26 Aug. 1779, Maria (d. 1 Apr. 1782), da. of Rev. Henry Burgh of Park Lettice, Monmouth, s.p.; (2) 22 Aug. 1783, his cos. Jane, da. of John Johnes of Dolaucothi, Carm., 1s. 1da. both d.v.p. suc. fa. 1780; to his mother’s Herefs. estates 1813.

Offices Held

Auditor of King’s land revenues in Wales May 1781-d.; steward of the crown manors, Card.

Sec. of embassy at Madrid June-July 1783 (but did not go).

Ld. Lt. Card. July 1800-d.

Col. Carm. militia 1778-98; brevet col. 1794-8.

Biography

Although Johnes was again returned unopposed for Radnorshire, where he had acquired Stanage Park from his mother, his interest was increasingly concentrated on Cardiganshire, where he built and embellished an extraordinary seat in Moorish and Gothic style at Hafod, finished in 1788. When in 1796 he was hard up and faced with a contest in Radnorshire, he transferred to the seat for Cardiganshire, succeeding his family’s traditional ally Lord Lisburne, who was anxious to keep out other contenders and secured Johnes’s backing for his son’s return for the boroughs seat. Johnes faced ‘a sort of contest’, but it came to nothing and he held the seat unopposed until his death. He was a reluctant parliamentarian and informed his friend George Cumberland, 17 June 1796, from Hafod:

No one ever took less pains for a seat in Parliament than myself, and had I not been so honourably called on, I should have remained here in quiet, planting my cabbages ... I shall hold my Parliament here, for I told my friends I thought I might be more useful to the county at Hafod than at Westminster.1

So he was: a connoisseur with expensive tastes, he made his residence in the wilds a place of fashionable pilgrimage. He was first president of the county agricultural society, a contributor to the Annals of Agriculture, a correspondent of Arthur Young and author of A Cardiganshire Landlord’s Advice to his Tenants, 1800. The latter was printed in English and Welsh on Johnes’s own press at Hafod, which was also the medium for publishing his translations of Froissart and other chroniclers of chivalry dear to the Romantic imagination. He three times received the gold medal of the Royal Society of Arts for his vast plantations, which made him the pioneer of upland afforestation in Wales, though he encroached on 7,000 acres of crown land for the purpose.2 His reluctance to leave Hafod was confirmed by his devotion to his talented invalid heiress, Mariamne, for whose sake he also gave up his militia colonelcy in 1798. His more prudent fellow-connoisseur and cousin Richard Payne Knight* advised him to live abroad at that time, to relieve his financial difficulties, but he stood fast and in 1800 accepted the lord lieutenancy of the county, for which he had applied to government in 1796 in anticipation of Lisburne’s death.3

It seems unlikely that Johnes, given his indifference to politics, took any significant part in debate. Speeches attributed to him in some sources were almost certainly made by Thomas Jones*, a more voluble contemporary. He was regarded as a supporter of Pitt’s administration and his name appears in no minority list, 1790-1801. He is known to have negotiated a pair with an opposition Member on the Oczakov question, 12 Apr. 1791.4 He was listed as an opponent of the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland the same month. He was disappointed by Addington’s indifference to his project of settling a hundred Swiss families in the Welsh mountains, but only on 23 Apr. 1804, on Fox’s defence motion, did he appear in the minority against that minister. He had written from Hafod after his re-election in 1802, ‘I enjoy too much happiness here to be anxious to quit for the turbulent latitude of politics’.5 He did so, all the same. He was considered favourable to Pitt in March 1804. In September 1804 and July 1805 he was listed a supporter of Pitt’s second ministry. He supported Lord Grenville’s ministry too6 and voted for Brand’s motion against their successors. On 5 May 1808 he voted for a larger grant to the Catholic seminary at Maynooth. He further voted with opposition on the Dutch commissioners, 1 May 1809, and on his fellow pioneer Madocks’s motion alleging government corruption, 11 May 1809; so that the Whigs in March 1810 went so far as to call him one of their ‘thick and thin’ supporters. He could not muster for them at the time, having burst a blood vessel, nor during the Regency debates in January 1811 when he was ill. They listed him absent, favourable to Morpeth’s Irish censure motion, 4 Feb. 1812. It may be doubted, therefore, whether he was either regular enough in his attendance or sufficiently committed quite to merit their label. For instance, George Rose* reported, 8 Nov. 1812, ‘Johnes, I think will not attend, but if he does I am not without hope of his being friendly [i.e. to government]’.7 His only other known minority vote was in favour of Burdett’s motion on the Regency, 23 Feb. 1813, although he was listed ‘doubtful’ by government at that time. He was listed absent, favourable to Catholic relief, 2 Mar. 1813, but as having declined to vote on the Catholic bill in May.

Johnes’s later years were saddened by the destruction of Hafod by fire, only partly insured, 13 Mar. 1807; he had already disposed of the Croft Castle and Stanage estates to meet his creditors and he now sold more estates to rebuild.8 When his daughter Mariamne died, 4 July 1811, he lapsed into apathy. Reduced to £900 p.a., he commenced negotiations for the sale of the reversion of Hafod in 1814 and, after a further sale of property, retired, over-corpulent and failing in health, to Langstone Cliff cottage, near Dawlish.9 He died 23 Apr. 1816. Hafod was in Chancery until 1832. It is no more, but the vestiges of Johnes’s plantations remain.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne

Notes

E. Inglis-Jones, Peacocks in Paradise.

  • 1. H. M. Vaughan, Y Cymmrodor, xxxv. 204; Carm. RO, 1 Cawdor 129, Vaughan to Campbell, 5 Mar. 1796.
  • 2. JNLW, i. 98; W. Linnard, Ceredigion, v. 309.
  • 3. Inglis-Jones, 154, 157; PRO 30/8/148, f. 170.
  • 4. See, for instance, Senator, which attributes all Thomas Jones’s speeches 1797-1800 to Johnes; also Inglis-Jones, 141, 148; Senator, xix. 269; Y Cymmrodor, xxxv. 211; Blair Adam mss, Penton to Adam, 15 Apr. 1794; Morning Chron. 14 Apr., 6, 7 Dec. 1797.
  • 5. Blair Adam mss, Johnes to Adam, 26 July 1802.
  • 6. Add. 41856, f. 273; Inglis-Jones, 164.
  • 7. Blair Adam mss, Loch to Adam, 1 Mar. 1810; CJ, lxvi. 22; Morning Chron. 30 May 1810; T.64/261, Rose to Arbuthnot, 8 Nov. 1812.
  • 8. Gent. Mag. (1807), i. 269; Cambrian, 21 Mar., 6 June 1807.
  • 9. R. D. Rees, ‘Parl. Rep. S. Wales 1790-1830’ (Readin