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Sir Richard Rawlinson Vyvyan (1800-1879)

This article was written by William Prideaux Courtney and was published in 1899.

TrelowarrenTrelowarren House

Sir Richard Rawlinson Vyvyan, eighth baronet, politician and student of science, was a descendant from a family resident at Trelowarren in the parish of Mawgan-in-Meneage, Cornwall, since the time of Henry VII. The first baronet was master of the mint at Exeter to Charles I; the third was imprisoned as a Jacobite in September 1715. Sir Vyell Vyvyan, the seventh baronet, died at Trelowarren on 27 January 1820, having married on 14 August 1799 Mary Hutton (d. Trelowarren, 5 September 1812), only daughter of Thomas Hutton Rawlinson of Lancaster. Their eldest son, Richard Rawlinson Vyvyan, was born on 6 June 1800.

Vyvyan was educated at Harrow and at Christ Church, Oxford, whence he matriculated on 22 May 1818, but he did not proceed to a degree. He succeeded to the title and estates on his father's death in 1820, and found sufficient occupation for his energies in the management of his property and in the Cornwall yeomanry cavalry of which he became lieutenant-colonel commandant on 5 September 1820. At a by-election on 27 January 1825 he was returned to parliament for the county of Cornwall, and was re-elected in 1826 and 1830. Throughout his political career he was an unbending Tory. He disapproved of the concession of Roman Catholic emancipation, and early in 1830 announced his intention of weakening the Wellington administration as much as possible. In that year he was a member of the select committee on the East India Company's charter. In the previous October he had explained his views to Palmerston, and had invited him to lead the House of Commons in a Tory administration without the Duke of Wellington, but with the inclusion of a few young liberals. He voted for Sir Henry Parnell's motion for referring the civil list to a select committee, which caused the resignation of the Wellington ministry, but he and the other high tories would not support the new whig ministry. Though he allowed the necessity for some change in the electoral system, he opposed the Reform Bill with vehemence. On its second reading (21 March 1831) he was put forward by the tories as their spokesman to move that it should be read that day six months. The second reading was carried by a majority of one, but a week or two later the government was defeated. When the boom of cannon announced the approach of William IV to dissolve parliament (22 April 1831), Vyvyan was engaged in a furious diatribe against the government, and, excited though he was, the work ‘was very well done.’ He was now at the height of his fame. His fluency of speech was said to be without parallel.

A severe contest for the representation of the county of Cornwall ensued. The expenses were enormous, but after the poll had been open for five days Vyvyan and his colleague in toryism retired, badly beaten. He found refuge on 14 July 1831 in the pocket-borough of Okehampton in Devonshire, and as he thought himself entitled, through the marriage about 1520 of Elizabeth Courtenay to John Vyvyan, to the dormant barony of Courtenay of Okehampton, he purchased the ruins of its old castle. At the general elections in December 1832 and February 1835 he was returned, after expensive victories, for the city of Bristol; but he did not seek re-election in 1837. After the Reform Bill his interest in politics seems to have decayed, and he spoke little, though he strenuously opposed the third reading of the Municipal Corporations Bill. From 1837 to 1841 he was without a seat, and in 1840 he was high sheriff for Cornwall. At the general election on 1 July 1841 he was returned for Helston, a few miles from Trelowarren, and he continued to sit for it until 1857. A protectionist, against free-trade and the imposition of an income-tax, he addressed in 1842 ‘a letter to his constituents upon the commercial and financial policy of Sir Robert Peel's administration.’ Macaulay in July 1843 wrote of the tory party as split into three or more factions, one being ‘represented by Vyvyan and the Morning Post’. He voted against Peel on the repeal of the corn laws, and against the Disraeli budget of 1852 as representing the policy of a set of men still less to his liking.

Vyvyan, who was elected F.R.S. in 1826, lived after 1857 in complete retirement at Trelowarren. He was a geologist, a metaphysician, had formed ‘a most choice library’ of which he made ‘a very scholastic use’, and took special delight in the woods on his domain. Charles T. Pearce, M.D., was ‘for some years engaged with him in scientific experiments and researches on light, heat, and magnetism.’ Vyvyan died at Trelowarren on 15 August 1879, and on 21 August was buried in the family vault in the northwest corner of Mawgan church. He was unmarried, and was succeeded by a nephew.

Vyvyan's scientific writings included:

  1. ‘An Essay on Arithmo-physiology,’ privately printed, 1825.
  2. ‘Psychology, or a Review of the Arguments in proof of the Existence and Immortality of the Animal Soul,’ vol. i. 1831; called in immediately after publication.
  3. ‘The Harmony of the Comprehensible World’ (anon.), 1842, 2 vols.
  4. ‘The Harmony of the Comprehensible World’ (anon.), 1845.

He also published several letters and speeches. His letter ‘to the magistrates of Berkshire’ on their practice of ‘consigning prisoners to solitary confinement before trial, and ordering them to be disguised by masks,’ passed into a second edition in 1845. His account of the ‘fogou’ or cave at Halligey, Trelowarren, is in the ‘Journal’ of the Royal Institute of Cornwall.

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