Biography

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John Cam Hobhouse, Baron Broughton (1786-1869)

This article was written by George Fisher Russell Barker and it was published in 1891


John Cam Hobhouse, a statesman, was the eldest son of Sir Benjamin Hobhouse, bart., by his first wife, Charlotte, daughter and heiress of Samuel Cam of Chantry House, Bradford, Wiltshire. He was born at Redland near Bristol, on 27 June 1786. His mother was a dissenter, and Hobhouse was sent at an early age to the school of the unitarian, John Prior Estlin, at Bristol. He was afterwards removed to Westminster School, whence he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he obtained the Hulsean prize in 1808, and graduated B.A. 1808, M.A. 1811. While at Cambridge he founded the ‘Whig Club’ and the ‘Amicable Society’, and became the close and intimate friend of Byron, with whom he afterwards travelled across Portugal and Spain to Gibraltar, Albania, Greece, and Constantinople.

Hobhouse returned to England in 1810, and in 1813 followed the track of the French and German armies through Germany, and was present at Paris in May 1814 when Louis XVIII entered the capital. In January 1815 he acted as ‘best man’ at Byron's wedding. Upon Napoleon's escape from Elba, Hobhouse again went to Paris, and in the following year he published an account of the ‘Hundred Days’ in which he displayed his marked dislike of the Bourbon dynasty and his sympathy with Napoleon. The book was severely criticised in the Quarterly Review and the French translation of it was seized by the government, and the printer and translator sentenced to imprisonment, as well as to the payment of a fine.

In the autumn of 1816 Hobhouse visited Byron at Villa Diodati, near Geneva, and they subsequently visited Venice and Rome together. During this period Hobhouse wrote the notes for the fourth canto of Childe Harold, which was afterwards dedicated to him by Byron. In February 1819 Hobhouse contested the seat at Westminster, which had become vacant by the death of Sir Samuel Romilly in the previous year. Though he stood in the radical interest, and was supported by Sir Francis Burdett, who gave £1,000 towards the electioneering expenses, he was defeated on a severe contest by George Lamb, the brother of Lord Melbourne, by 4,465 votes to 3,861.

Hobhouse became a member of ‘The Rota,’ a political dinner club for the discussion and promotion of radical reforms, to which Bickersteth, Burdett, Douglas Kinnaird, and others belonged. At this time he wrote several political pamphlets, and a reply written by him to an anti-reform speech of Canning attracted considerable attention. For an anonymous pamphlet published in 1819, entitled A Trifling Mistake, &c., Hobhouse was held to be guilty of a breach of privilege by the House of Commons and was committed to Newgate on 14 December in that year. To the question ‘What prevents the people from walking down to the house and pulling out the members by the ears, locking up their doors, and flinging the key into the Thames?’ he answered that ‘their true practical protectors are to be found at the Horse Guards and the Knightsbridge barracks’. On 5 February 1820 the court of king's bench refused to interfere with the speaker's warrant and Hobhouse had to content himself with a long protest in the Times, the first part of which appeared on the 8th, and was continued daily until it was concluded on the 15th. He remained in Newgate until the dissolution of parliament on 29 February. Previously to his release he issued his address ‘to the independent electors of Westminster’. This time he succeeded in beating his old antagonist Lamb by a majority of 446 votes, and was returned to parliament as the colleague of Sir Francis Burdett.

Hobhouse made his maiden speech in the House of Commons on 9 May and thenceforth took an active share in the debates, and for some years was a strenuous supporter of every measure of reform. At Pisa in September 1822 he met Byron for the last time, who on parting touchingly said, ‘Hobhouse, you should never have come, or you should never go.’ In 1823 he became one of the most active members of the Greek committee in London. In July 1824, as one of Byron's executors, he proved the will and superintended the arrangements for the funeral at Hucknall Torkard, Nottinghamshire, and it was upon his advice that Byron's ‘Memoirs,’ which had been given to Moore, and sold by him to Murray, were destroyed. In consequence of Byron's death the Greek committee was seriously embarrassed, and Hobhouse resolved to go to Greece himself in order to manage the loan, but ultimately Henry Lytton Bulwer went out in his place. Though the two members for Westminster were among the staunchest supporters of reform in the House of Commons, they were not included in the administration formed by Lord Grey in November 1830.

Hobhouse succeeded his father as the second baronet in August 1831, and on 1 February 1832 was appointed secretary at war in the place of Sir Henry Brooke Parnell (afterwards Lord Congleton), being admitted to the privy council on the 6th of the same month. He applied himself vigorously to the reform of his department, and, in spite of the opposition of the Horse Guards, succeeded in reducing the charges on the ‘dead list,’ in abolishing several sinecures, and in restricting flogging in the army to certain defined misdemeanors. On finding himself unable fully to carry out his views of war-office reform, he exchanged this post for that of chief secretary for Ireland on 28 March 1833. In the following month he refused to vote with the government against the resolution in favour of the abolition of the house and window tax, as he had frequently urged the abolition of the tax while an independent member. He therefore resigned both his office and his seat for Westminster but though he offered himself for re-election he found that he had lost his popularity by the acceptance of office, and was defeated by Colonel George de Lacy Evans by a majority of 192 votes.

On Lord Melbourne's accession to power in July 1834 Hobhouse accepted the post of first commissioner of woods and forests, with a seat in the cabinet, and was returned at a by-election in the same month for the borough of Nottingham. During his short tenure of this office the houses of parliament were burnt (16 October). On the dismissal of Lord Melbourne in November Hobhouse resigned with the rest of his colleagues. At the general election in 1835 he unsuccessfully contested Bristol, but was returned for Nottingham without opposition. When Lord Melbourne formed his second administration Hobhouse was pressed to resume his old post at the war office, but on his refusal was appointed president of the board of control, with a seat in the cabinet, on 29 April 1835. His first act as Indian minister was to advise the king to cancel the appointment of Lord Heytesbury, who had been selected by Peel to succeed Lord William Bentinck as governor-general of India.

Hobhouse was present at the queen's first council at Kensington Palace on 30 June 1837, and has left an interesting account of this, and of his first interview with her majesty as president of the board of control, in his Recollections of a Long Life. During the Russian intrigues in Central Asia he strongly supported Lord Auckland's policy in India against the remonstrances of some of his own colleagues, and he was one of Palmerston's most energetic supporters in the cabinet on the Turco-Russian question. On the resignation of Lord Melbourne in September 1841 Hobhouse retired, and was succeeded by Lord Ellenborough.
On 10 July 1846 he resumed his post at the board of control, with a seat in Lord John Russell's first cabinet. At the general election in the following year he was defeated at Nottingham, but was returned to parliament again at a by-election in March 1848 for the borough of Harwich.

He was created Baron Broughton de Gyfford on 26 February 1851 and upon his final retirement from office, on the resignation of Lord John Russell in February 1852, was made a K.C.B. From this date Broughton practically withdrew from public life, and attended the House of Lords only at rare intervals. He took part in the debates for the last time during the discussion of the Government of India Bill in July 1858. During his retirement he spent most of his time at Tedworth House, Wiltshire, and at his town house in Berkeley Square, amusing himself in literary pursuits and in the society and correspondence of his numerous friends. He died after a short illness at Berkeley Square on 3 June 1869, in the eighty-third year of his age, and was buried at Kensal Green.

During the earlier portion of his political career Hobhouse was a sincere and uncompromising radical. As he grew older his opinions mellowed with age, and by the time most of the measures which he had strenuously advocated in his younger days had been passed he had become a resting and thankful whig. This change was so evident that upon his return to office in 1846 it was remarked that he was one of the most conservative members in Lord John Russell's cabinet. He was a vigorous debater, more formidable in attack than ready in reply, but by no means an eloquent speaker. He was a good classical scholar, a lively and entertaining companion, and a staunch and chivalrous friend. Hobhouse is said to have been the first to invent the phrase ‘his majesty's opposition’ for the anti-ministerial side of the house.

He was a partner in Whitbread's London brewery. He married, on 28 July 1828, Lady Julia Tomlinson Hay, youngest daughter of George, seventh marquis of Tweeddale, by whom he had three daughters, viz. (1) Julia Hay, who died, aged 18, on 5 September 1849; (2) Charlotte, who married on 27 July 1854 Lieut.-colonel Dudley Wilmot Carleton, fourth lord Dorchester; and (3) Sophia, who married on 31 July 1851 the Hon. John Strange Jocelyn, the fifth earl of Roden. Lady Hobhouse died on 3 April 1835. The barony became extinct upon Lord Broughton's death, while the baronetcy descended to his nephew, Sir Charles Parry Hobhouse, b. 1825.

In 1830, as Byron's most intimate friend, he was anxious to reply to Lady Byron's ‘Remarks,’ but was persuaded by Lord Holland and others not to do so. He, however, drew up, ‘to be used if necessary, a full and scrupulously accurate account’ of the separation. This manuscript and the rest of the ‘Byron Papers’ are in the possession of Lady Dorchester. A collection of Lord Broughton's ‘Diaries, Correspondence, and Memoranda, &c.,’ which was first opened, in accordance with the bequest, in 1900, is at the British Museum.


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