Colonel Sibthorp: Reactionary Hero
Family and Education
b. 14 Feb. 1783, 2nd s. of Humphrey Sibthorp† (afterwards Waldo Sibthorp) (d. 1815) of Canwick and Susannah, da. of Richard Ellison, banker, of Thorne, Yorks. and Sudbrooke Holme, Lincs.; bro. of Coningsby Waldo Waldo Sibthorp*. educ. Chiswick; Brasenose, Oxf. 1801. m. 21 Feb. 1812, Maria, da. and coh. of Ponsonby Tottenham† of Merrion Square, Dublin, 4s. suc. bro. 1822. d. 14 Dec. 1855.
Cornet 2 Drag. 1803, lt. 1806; capt. 4 Drag. Gds. 1811, ret. 1822.
Lt.-col. R. South Lincs. militia 1822, col. 1852-d.
Colonel Sibthorp (as he was always known) was a colourful and preposterous Member, an excessively hirsute man dressed in a regency frock coat, top hat and Wellington boots, who always carried a magnifying glass. Poorly educated (he did not graduate from Oxford), but possessing ‘an acuteness surpassed by few’, he expressed his unshakeable prejudices with an often comical and sometimes offensive bluntness. He became one of the House’s great entertainers and his ‘peculiarities’ were generally indulged.1 He served in the Penisula with the cavalry, but retired from the army four months after succeeding his elder brother to the old family property at Canwick, on the southern edge of Lincoln, in March 1822. His military bent found a new outlet with his appointment as lieutenant-colonel of a regiment of the county militia in September. He had declined an invitation to stand for Lincoln in his brother’s room.2 He claimed to be ‘perfectly neuter’ in the county by-election of late 1823.3 The following year he fought a duel with the reformer Dr. Edward Charlesworth of the county hospital.4 At the county meeting called to petition against the unhindered importation of foreign corn, 23 Dec. 1825, Sibthorp defended his conduct as chairman of a recent agricultural show dinner in intervening to prevent William Johnson, the radical Member for Boston, from introducing politics and, repudiating a charge that he had been afraid to have liberal views aired, boasted that ‘he had never known fear in his life’. He admitted that ‘his early pursuits had rendered him unfit to offer an opinion on agricultural subjects’, but he advised the agriculturists to ‘confide in the conduct of ministers, to whom the country owed both gratitude and confidence’.5 At the general election of 1826 he accepted an invitation to stand for Lincoln on the Tory and corporation interest which had sustained his father and brother. Professing ‘an honest independence … founded upon a firm attachment to our glorious constitution in church and state’, he declared with ‘emphatic emotion’ his abhorrence of Catholic claims. He was returned in second place after a contest with two men of liberal opinions. At a Lincoln dinner, 11 Nov. 1826, he ‘desired his constituents to observe his very movements in Parliament, for he was no party man, nor slave to any one’.6
Sibthorp presented four Lincolnshire petitions requesting continued protection for agriculture, 27 Feb., spoke briefly in that sense, 12 Mar., 9 Apr., and voted against the corn bill, 2 Apr. 1827. He divided against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He called the revenue commissioners’ report on the County Fire Office ‘unfair … assassination’, 10 Apr. Soon afterwards he gave his constituents the ‘earliest notification’ of Canning’s appointment as prime minister.7 He brought up Lincolnshire agriculturists’ petitions against the importation of foreign wool, 25 May, voted against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, 7 June, and the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June, and opposed the game bill, 21 June 1827.8 He presented two Lincolnshire petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 31 May 1827,9 but he divided against that measure, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. Supporting inquiry into criminal commitments, 5 Mar., he called for close attention to be given to the theft of livestock. He endorsed the Lincoln city freeholders’ petition for a county vote, 6 Mar., supported Sykes’s motion for inquiry into the franchise in counties corporate such as Lincoln, despite being ‘an enemy to abstract reform’, 11 Mar., and welcomed the resultant bill, 20 Mar. In May and June he was a determined opponent of Davies’s borough polls regulation bill, which he said would increase election expenses and curtail ‘constitutional enjoyments’; he was a minority teller in the divisions of 13 and 27 May. He opposed Lord Nugent’s voters’ registration bill, 19 June, and the ‘harsh, ungenerous and illiberal’ corporate funds bill, 8, 10 July, when he was a teller for the hostile minority. He demanded ‘considerable additional protection for domestic agriculture’, 31 Mar., and criticized the Wellington ministry’s proposed corn duties as ‘most unfavourable to the farmer’, 22 Apr. On 28 Apr, he moved resolutions for increased protection for barley, which were defeated by 104-47, and said that if the corn law revisionist William Jacob† ‘had to farm some of the poor soils’ of Lincolnshire ‘he would be very glad to throw his book into the fire’. He alleged that there was ‘a disposition, amongst a large body in this House, to destroy the very best interests of the farmer’, 20 May, and he supported a vain attempt to keep out warehoused foreign grain, 23 May. He presented and endorsed more wool producers’ petitions, 8, 15 May. He was in the ministerial majorities against inquiry into chancery delays, 24 Apr., and on the Ordnance estimates, 4 July, and the customs bill, 14 July. He voted against the provision for Canning’s widow, 13 May, and when seconding Hume’s wrecking amendment to it, 22 May, insisted that he was ‘bound to no party’. He divided against the small notes restriction bill, 5 June, and supported a hostile Lincoln petition, 16 June. He opposed the game bill, 24 June, and unsuccessfully proposed the abolition of legacy duty on small sums deposited in savings banks, 14 July 1828.
In December that year Sibthorp’s dirty domestic linen was washed in public with his wife’s uncontested suit for separation a mensa et thoro on account of his adultery since 1826 with Sarah Ward, a woman ‘of low character’. His net annual income from rents was reckoned at £8,536 and he disclosed ready cash of £10,000, though he claimed to have debts equal to that. Alimony was set at £2,200, inclusive of Maria Sibthorp’s existing annuity of £300. Sibthorp appealed against this as ‘rather excessive’, 7 Dec. 1829, but the matter went no further as an amicable settlement was reached.10 Sibthorp’s notorious appetite for rough sex was a key element in an amusing tale related to Greville in April 1829:
Mackintosh … went one day to the House of Commons at eleven in the morning to take a place. They were all taken on the benches below the gangway, and on asking the doorkeeper how they happened to be all taken so early, he said, ‘Oh, sir, there is no chance of getting a place, for Colonel Sibthorp sleeps at the bawdy house close by, and comes here every morning by eight o’clock and takes places for all the Saints’.11
Sibthorp was astonished and outraged by ministers’ ‘unaccountable and unexpected’ concession of Catholic emancipation, which he considered ‘a violation of the constitution’, in 1829, and was permanently alienated from the government by it. He presented numerous hostile petitions and ranted repeatedly against the measure in February and March, voting to the last ditch as one of its diehard opponents. On 6 Mar., when he denounced Peel’s ‘political apostacy’, he provoked laughter with his assertion that emancipation would ‘sap the foundations of the constitution’. His attempts to prevent Catholics from voting on the disposal of Protestant charitable funds, 24, 27 Mar., were unsuccessful; and on 30 Mar. he was defeated by 233-17 when he pressed this to a division. He complained that Irish Catholic prelates had unlawfully appropriated Episcopal titles, 7, 11 May, ridiculed the notion that emancipation had tranquillized Ireland, 21 May, and next day spoke and voted against the Maynooth grant. Being ‘averse to the prevailing cry of reform and retrenchment as unbecoming a great country’, he opposed a reduction in militia staff, 16, 23 Mar., 4 May; he was now sitting on the opposition benches. He was in the minority of 22 against the silk bill, 1 May, and on the 11th said that ‘unless ministers abandoned the horrible system of free trade, the country will be totally unable to pay the taxes charged upon it’. He voted for the issue of a new writ for East Retford, 2 June. Supporting a Blackburn petition for inquiry into distress, 12 June 1829, he deplored the early prorogation and ministerial indifference to anything but their ‘foolish, detestable and atrocious’ Catholic relief bill, and described Irish Catholic priests as ‘devils incarnate’. In October he was counted by Sir Richard Vyvyan*, the Ultra leader, as one of the two dozen ‘Tories strongly opposed to the present government’.
At the county meeting to petition for repeal of the beer and malt taxes, 8 Jan. 1830, Sibthorp concurred in this plan and also condemned the government’s ‘shameful encouragement’ of the consumption of French goods; he spoke to the same effect at a constituency dinner later that day. At a city meeting, 1 Feb., he called for a limited return to a paper currency and attacked pensions and sinecures. The former Tory minister Lord Wallace dismissed these ravings as of ‘no importance’, for Sibthorp did not carry ‘much weight’, being ‘hostile to government generally on account of the Catholic bill’ and under the delusion that ‘the actual state of the country arises … from free trade’.12 Sibthorp was in Hume’s minority of nine to postpone going into committee of supply, 11 Feb. Presenting and endorsing the Lincoln taxation petition next day, he vowed to ‘divide the House to all eternity, till some measures are effected to remove the burdens of the people’. He voted with Hume for tax remissions, 15 Feb., and against the army estimates, 19 Feb., attended the City distress meeting, 22 Feb., and the following day accused ministers of ‘culpable neglect of the concerns of the country’ and asserted that ‘the absurd, the damned system of free trade’ had ruined domestic wool producers. On 26 Feb. he said that he would like to see ‘the statements with regard to the condition of the country … contained in … petitions printed in letters of gold, and hung up in the treasury chambers … for the information of ministers’; but he could not go along with Hume in opposing that day’s grant for the Royal Military College. On 1 Mar. he tried to secure a return of passports issued since 1826, with a view to checking landlord absenteeism, but he was persuaded to desist. He voted for reductions in the navy estimates that day and on 22 Mar., and for ordnance economies, 29 Mar. He obtained returns of lay pluralists and the holders of reversionary places, 9 Mar. Next day he voted against government on British interference in the affairs of Portugal. On 16 Mar. he expressed disappointment at the ‘small amount’ of the tax reductions proposed by ministers. Supporting Davenport’s state of the nation motion, 19 Mar., he said that ‘I have … upon former occasions, declared myself an enemy to reform, but the events which have lately occurred in the country have decidedly induced me to become, though not a radical, yet a moderate reformer’. He supported petitions for reduction of the newspaper stamp duty, 25 Mar., 2, 5 July. He spoke and voted for abolition of the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar. He opposed Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He presented and endorsed Lincoln petitions against the sale of beer bill, 7 Apr., 10 May, opposed its second reading, 4 May, predicted on 3 June that it would ‘make every house in the parish not only a common drinking house, but … a common bawdy house’ and supported unsuccessful attempts to emasculate it, 21 June, 1 July, when he facetiously proposed that it should be entitled ‘a bill to increase drunkenness and immorality and facilitate the sale of smuggled spirits’. He voted to reduce the grants for the Royal Military Academy, 30 Apr., public buildings, 3 May, consular services, 11 June, when he condemned all ‘extravagant expenditure’, and Prince Edward Island, 14 June, and to cut the assistant treasury secretary’s salary, 10 May. He was a vehement critic of the northern roads bill, ‘a mere job’, 20 May, 3 June. He opposed the militia ballot suspension bill, 25 May, when he was in the Protestant minority against the Galway franchise bill, and Littleton’s truck payments bill, 11 June. He divided against the abolition of the death penalty for forgery offences, 7 June. After the king’s death, 30 June, he cautioned ministers ‘how they attempt to recommend a dissolution … when the country has such just reasons to be dissatisfied with their apathy, their neglect and their maladminstration’, and rebuked Peel for ‘the smile of complacency’ with which he acknowledged the cheers of his sycophantic supporters. On 6 July 1830 Sibthorp predicted ‘great pressure’ if not ‘ruin’ from the wretched state of the economy, endorsed the opposition motion on a regency and spoke and voted for a successful bid to reduce newspaper recognizances in libel prosecutions. Next day, however, he opposed Hume’s attempt to lower the new judicial salaries, even though he proclaimed himself ‘the most zealous advocate for retrenchment and economy’.
He enjoyed an unopposed return for Lincoln at the 1830 general election, when he stressed his resistance to Catholic emancipation, was circumspect on the slavery question and promised to ‘watch with a jealous eye the expenditure of the public money’. Nominated for the county without his consent, he demurred, claiming to be a county Member in all but name, as he dedicated himself to scrutinizing ministers’ ‘apathy and rapaciousness’ from an independent stance.13 He was listed by them as one of the ‘violent Ultras’; and he strongly attacked them at a county meeting on taxation, 8 Oct. 1830.14 In the House, 5 Nov., he explained that had he not been ‘detained in the country by particular business’ he would have voted for the amendment to the address on the 2nd, and demanded from ministers ‘some cataplasm … to relieve the agonies of mind of the impoverished people’, though he censured all ‘riotous conduct’. He complained that no minister was present to explain the cancellation of the king’s visit to the City, 8 Nov. A week later he helped to vote them out of office on the civil list. He protested against ‘the country being saddled with any portion of the expenses attending the support of the metropolitan police force’, 18 Nov. From the opposition benches he badgered the new Grey ministry to make ‘a considerable reduction’ in public salaries and pensions, 2, 9, 13 Dec., when he dropped his intended 60-point interrogation on the assurance of the chancellor of the exchequer, Lord Althorp, that they meant to act. He presented but did ‘not entirely concur’ in a Lincoln anti-slavery petition, 8 Dec., and deplored the abolitionists’ wilder allegations and insisted on the right of the planters to compensation, 13 Dec. Presenting a Lincoln petition for the extension of local jurisdiction, 10 Dec., he voiced pleasurable anticipation of lord chancellor Brougham’s promised law reforms. He supported Lincolnshire petitions for repeal of the insurance tax and the coal duties, 15 Dec., and on the 17th said that the farmers ‘must, shall, and will have protection’ and opposed free trade in corn, though he favoured repeal of the taxes on malt, hops, soap and candles, to benefit the labouring classes. He was in the minority of four for printing a petition against abolition of the oath of abjuration, 3 Dec. 1830, when he carped at the length of the impending prorogation but welcomed the ministerial statement of intent on civil list pensions.
At the county reform meeting, 28 Jan. 1831, Sibthorp expressed ‘great confidence in the present ministry’, advocated repeal of the malt and assessed taxes, opposed shorter parliaments, universal suffrage, the ballot and the enfranchisement of large towns, but came out for ‘a moderate, gradual, and sound reform’, including the extinction of rotten boroughs, an enhanced county representation and a copyholder franchise.15 When the petition was presented, 26 Feb., along with one from Lincoln which, given Sibthorp’s hostility to radical reform, had been entrusted to the county Member Amcotts Ingilby, he reiterated his support for sensible reform to end ‘the shameful abuse of public money’ and ‘of patronage’. He felt ‘extreme disappointment’ with the tax cuts proposed by Althorp, 11 Feb., though he welcomed those on tobacco, coals, candles and printed calicoes. He fixed the blame for the ‘improper expenditure’ on Windsor Castle and Buckingham House improvements on the Wellington administration, 15 Feb. He objected to augmenting the army with fresh recruits, 21 Feb., said that much Irish distress could have been alleviated by adoption of his cherished absentee tax, 23 Feb., and protested against the proposal to make the treasurer of the navy temporary paymaster of marines, 25 Feb. He urged repeal of the ‘odious and unjust’ assessed taxes, 7 Mar., when, appalled and enraged by the scope of the government’s ‘partial, unjust, and … tyrannical’ reform bill, he accused its framers of political bias in the selection of boroughs for disfranchisement and called for use of the pending 1831 census to frame the schedules. He wanted compensation for calico manufacturers affected by repeal of the duties, 9 Mar. On 11 Mar. he denounced the corporate funds bill (he was a minority teller against proceeding with it, 28 Mar.) and, complaining of misrepresentation by the government press of the basis of his hostility to the reform bill, denied being any man’s nominee. He refused to join in Hume’s opposition to the garrisons grant, which included pensions for deserving officers, 14 Mar., and on 16 Mar. moved an unsuccessful wrecking amendment to the rabies bill. Next day he asked Althorp to extend the period for presenting petitions as he was being unfairly abused in Lincoln for not having brought some up. On 19 Mar. he presented reform petitions from the inhabitants and the corporation, dismissed as ‘absurd’ the report that he was ‘not a radical, but a root-and-branch reformer’ and therefore an ‘apostate’ and said that the corporation’s decision to support the bill had at least ‘released’ him from ‘one difficulty’. He voted against the second reading, 22 Mar., and insisted next day that while he could not accept ‘any measure which goes to invade the constitution’, he was ‘prepared to go beyond temporizing reform’. He supported grants for the Royal Military Asylum and Chelsea Hospital, 23 Mar., but criticized the civil list contingent fund and accused ministers of ‘another abandonment of principle’ on public salaries, 25 Mar. He spoke and voted, in a minority of 17, for Hume’s bid to reduce civil list pensions, but opposed his amendment to reduce the grant for the royal dukes, 14 Apr. On 30 Mar. he claimed that his demonstration that the reform bill would reduce the Lincoln electorate by two-thirds had prompted a reaction against it among his constituents. He conceded that the government’s changes to the measure had made it ‘less objectionable’, 12 Apr., but said that far more substantial modifications were required before he, ‘a great reformer’, could support it. He voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. Next day he applauded the reinstatement of some freemen’s voting rights, but he endorsed Hunt’s assertion that ‘the people of England are not content with this bill’. On 21 Apr. he voiced ‘astonishment and disgust’ at the activities of the Parliamentary Candidate Society and called for an extension of the franchise to ‘honest farmers’. Although he was burnt in effigy at Lincoln for his opposition to the reform bill he defied his critics at the ensuing general election, delivered ‘a flaming speech’ and, thanks to the local reformers’ failure to find a third man, came in unopposed. When the reform question was raised at a Lincoln dinner to mark the king’s birthday, 28 May 1831, he and his cronies walked out.16
Sibthorp pronounced the speech from the throne ‘a decided humbug’, 22 June; said that heavy taxes on the agricultural interest made protection ‘imperative’, 24 June; criticized aspects of the military estimates, 27 June, and spoke and voted, in a minority of 13, for a reduction of public salaries to 1797 levels, 30 June 1831. He alleged that there had been a popular reaction against free trade, as well as reform, 1 July, when he reiterated his wish for an absentee tax and queried the cost of refurbishing Holyrood House. He supported the grant for Oxford and Cambridge professorships, but objected to that for Dissenting ministers, 8 July, and complained of delays in the distribution of the Deccan prize money, 11 July. He opposed the militia ballots suspension bill, 14 July, demanded a reduction in the ‘enormous brigade of consuls’, 18 July, and pressed for stringent regulation of the ‘execrable’ and ‘desperate set’ of London hackney coachmen, whose ‘filthy’ contraptions were likely to spread cholera, 19, 20 July. His eminently sensible suggestion that cabs should be required to carry a table of fares was dismissed, 1 Sept. He approved a government amendment to the game bill to increase fines for poaching, but failed to effect other changes, 8 Aug., and on 2 Sept. he damned the whole bill. Having lost two relatives in the Rothesay Castle steamboat disaster, he urged ministers to investigate and to introduce a bill for ‘summarily punishing’ negligent operators, 22 Aug. He continued to harp on this subject, 26 Aug., 5 Sept., and on 6 Sept. he secured the appointment of a select committee of general inquiry, which he chaired. He promised legislation, 20 Sept., and endorsed an individual’s handy method of improving safety, 28 Sept. He voted to censure the Irish government for interference in the Dublin election, 23 Aug., and attacked the increase in the grant for the Irish secretary’s office, 29 Aug. 1831.
Sibthorp was a determined and sometimes splenetic opponent of the reintroduced reform bill. After presenting a Hitchin agriculturists’ petition for the enfranchisement of yearly tenants, 6 July, he opposed the second reading of the ‘most abominable’ measure, a ‘chaos of nonsense and absurdity’, riddled with blunders, anomalies and inconsistencies, which could not be final, as O’Connell and the radicals were well aware:
I contend that this project of reform is little better than a dream … that it is concocted in ignorance, and that even according to its advocates it is at least but a cataplasm to allay public irritation and enable an incompetent ministry to retain their places.
He took exception to Lord William Lennox’s subsequent remark that ministers had reduced the bill ‘to the level of his understanding’, but after hurried negotiations upstairs Lennox, who recalled that Sibthorp had ‘looked as if he could eat me alive’, furnished a satisfactory explanation.17 He voted five times (once as a teller) for the adjournment, 12 July, denying ‘factious motives’ in doing so. He divided for use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and next day claimed that in rural areas ‘many persons … who were formerly as hot as pepper for the reform bill, are now cooling down, and becoming convinced that it will prove dangerous, unless it be greatly modified’. This spurious notion of a popular reaction against reform became one of his constant themes. On 21 July he avowed that he would ‘rather go out of this House with a few having justice on my side, than be one of the phalanx who obey the sic volo sic jubeo mandate of ministers’. His allegation next day that reports of debates and meetings on the bill were distorted by a biased and ‘venal press, paid by ministers’, provoked uproar. He claimed that there were at least 20 crucial errors in the 1821 census returns and voted against the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He opposed that of Grimsby, 28 July, and Maldon, 29 July, when he professed indifference to ‘the groans, the smiles, or the frowns’ of ministerialists. He alleged that ‘partiality’ had ensured preferential treatment for county Durham at the expense of the agricultural interest elsewhere, 10 Aug., and said that the division of counties would increase ‘bribery and corruption’ and ‘party feeling’, 11 Aug., and that the proposed division of Lincolnshire would ‘render it a direct nomination county’ in at least one district, 12 Aug. He was opposed to giving the Isle of Wight two Members, 16 Aug. On 18 Aug., at some length, he proposed to a deliberately inattentive House an amendment to clause 16 to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will. However, he blundered in his timing and the question could not be put at that time; and later in the debate he was beaten to it by Lord Chandos, who moved an almost identical amendment. Sibthorp was furious, complaining that Chandos had taken ‘by force my adopted child’; but he stayed with a bad grace to vote in the majority of 232 (to 148) for the plan. When ministers acquiesced in the amendment next day Sibthorp admitted to ‘great disappointment at not being the leader instead of the follower’, but Chandos laughed in his face. Thus the celebrated ‘Chandos clause’ could easily have become known as the ‘Sibthorp clause’; and Sibthorp bore his grudge about this to the grave.18 He asked an incomprehensible question about the votes of freeholders of counties corporate, 20 Aug. Supporting an attempt to exclude borough freeholders from the counties, 24 Aug., he said that the ‘odious tendency’ of the bill was to harm the agricultural interest. When interrupted and heckled he protested that ‘ministers … do not wish me to be listened to, because I always thrust it home’. When the debate grew even rowdier he tried to secure an adjournment. Defending his conduct next day, he observed that the £10 householder franchise would give the vote to ‘a set of people … who will not have a shirt and a half among the whole company’. He spoke and voted in small minorities for the preservation of freemen’s rights, 27, 30 Aug. He objected to the powers given to the boundary commissioners and the inclusion of the Members Littleton and Gilbert among them, 1 Sept., and to the lord chancellor’s control over the appointment of revising barristers, 3 Sept., when he admitted that he wished to retard the bill in order to expose its ‘gross inconsistencies’. On its last clause, 6 Sept., he bade ‘farewell to all the existing institutions of the country’ and, becoming heated, swore eternal opposition to the bill; he was ridiculed. On 12 Sept. he got seven votes to 73 for his motion to have the printer and publisher of The Times charged with breach of privilege in a report of these proceedings. He deemed the concession to allow freemen who resided within seven miles of their boroughs to vote ‘a complete mockery’, 13 Sept., when he moved but was prevailed on to withdraw a proposal to redistribute Lincoln freeholders in the county according to their location north or south of the River Witham. He voted against the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., although ‘bodily indisposition’ restricted him to hoping that ‘the greatest blow ever aimed at the liberties of this country’ would be deflected by the Lords. He divided against the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. On 26 Sept. he spoke and vote against the Maynooth grant, lamenting ‘the march of imbecility’ away from the established church and towards repeal of the Union. Next day he disputed O’Connell’s allegation of English indifference to the Irish reform bill: he claimed to have missed no more than 14 days’ attendance since he became a Member. He spoke and voted, in a minority of 12, with Hume, ‘that Cerebus of the revenue’, to postpone the grant for Windsor Castle and Buckingham House repairs, 28 Sept. He presented a Lincoln petition against the general registry bill, which he felt would ‘put the small landowners to great and increased expense’, 4 Oct. Opposing the motion of confidence in the government, ‘a trick of … disappointed ministers’, 10 Oct., he attacked Macaulay and rejoiced in the ‘destruction’ of the reform bill by the Lords. On 12 Oct. he said that he had been harangued in the lobby by a delegate from a political union who had mistaken him for a reformer: ‘I have been hooted as I have gone along the streets, as an anti-reformer, but I have told the people … that I am one, and will continue one’. He quoted letters from Stamford and Hull to illustrate his argument that popular opinion had turned against the bill, 17 Oct. 1831. Drakard’s Stamford News, a thorn in his flesh, reported that ‘Don Whiskerandos’, conscious of his unpopularity in Lincoln, had let Canwick for the hunting season; but this was categorically denied by Sibthorp’s nephew John Hawkins, reforming Member for Tavistock, who told his father:
He is heartily sick of his steam navigation committee, and very wrath with his fellow committee men … He seems to have undertaken the job under the impression that the chairman of a parliamentary committee has nothing to do but sit in the chair and listen to the evidence. The committee say that when they met to arrange their proceedings he had not a single proposition to make, or a single idea to offer. I fear he now finds himself in the situation of a man who has no amusement but business, and [has] not application for that.19
Sibthorp was ‘very lame from rheumatism’ that winter;20 and in the House, 12 Dec. 1831, when he again berated Chandos for stealing his ‘plumes’, he said that he had been ‘for some weeks past tortured with excessive bodily pain’. He had to explain himself to Chandos on 14 Dec. He attacked the ‘newly improved edition’ of the reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec., though he acknowledged that some improvements had been made, arguing that it still gave ‘an unfair preponderance … to a class of persons who are fit representatives neither of the property nor the intelligence of the community’, would destroy the agricultural interest, ‘reduce the country to the greatest distress’ and ‘be the cause of general confusion’. He expressed his ‘continued detestation’ of the measure, 24 Jan. 1832 when he spoke and divided the House (64-195) against the proposed division of Lincolnshire. Hawkins reported, 28 Jan., that ‘the Colonel … looks wretchedly’ and ‘complains’ of “sciatica” in his hip’: ‘he is more quiet in conversation, but as vehement in his parliamentary declamation as ever’.21 To prove this point, Sibthorp proclaimed on 27 Jan. that Lincolnshire had ‘not only been anatomised and cut up, but actually burked’ by the reform bill. He opposed Hume’s bid to expunge the Chandos clause, observing that the ‘healthy yeomanry’ were more deserving of votes than ‘that multitudinous assemblage which we see coming out of St. Giles’s and out of those cholera morbus places’, 1 Feb. He quarrelled with Amcotts Ingilby over the state of opinion in Lincolnshire, 2 Feb. On 8 Mar. they clashed again over the recent premature dismissal of the South Lincolnshire militia. Hawkins told his father that Amcotts Ingilby’s comment that Sibthorp ‘growls and grumbles like Mount Etna’ but issued ‘nothing but smoke and rubbish’ had ‘elicited the loudest and longest peals of laughter I ever heard in the Honourable Assembly’. Sibthorp retorted that Amcotts Ingilby could not tell a gun from a bayonet, was an expert only on smoking his filthy cigars and had been put up to this attack by Drakard’s.22 Laughter drowned his speech of 9 Mar. when he remarked that the absent Amcotts Ingilby was probably ‘snugly smoking upstairs’. He voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. On 14 Mar. he unsuccessfully divided the House (162-16) to adjourn debate on the reform bill, but he found no seconder for his similar motion on the third reading, which he duly voted against, 22 Mar. 1832. Next day, on the pretext of proposing redistribution of the Lincoln city freeholders (rejected by 169-27), he ranted against the ‘unintelligible and absurd’ measure and castigated the ‘imbecility’ of ministers for ignoring ‘the universal stagnation which prevails’; he was admonished by the Speaker for replying to speeches made on earlier occasions. During the whole of this performance the House resembled a bear garden, as Hawkins reported:
The moment the colonel rose, he was saluted with a volley of cheers, which were repeated at the conclusion of every sentence, the intervals between being filled up with every variety of laughter and schoolboy noise – the cry of an owl and the mewing of a cat being, ever and anon, heard from the gallery.23
Sibthorp voted silently against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July 1832. He attacked the general register bill, 27 Jan., and criticized Hume’s silence on matters of retrenchment since the advent of the reform bill, 13 Feb. On the grant for Chelsea and Kilmainham Hospitals, 17 Feb., he condemned ‘the paltry and disgraceful deduction of one shilling in the pound from the pension of the poor soldier’ by an Act of George II. He was a forceful critic of Warburton’s anatomy bill, suggesting that horse thieves should be strung up on the spot and used for dissection, 27 Feb., when he was a teller for the minority of 13 against a particularly ‘disgusting’ clause of the bill. He spoke in the same sense when objecting to the cost of transporting convicts who could be more economically executed, 26 Mar., called the bill ‘a measure … to legalize the disposal, joint by joint, of the bodies of the lower orders of society’, 11 Apr., and was a teller for the minority of five against it, 11 May. He defended the ‘excellent conduct’ of the yeomanry at Peterloo when opposing inquiry, 15 Mar., complained of the ‘shameful manner’ in which parliamentary proceedings were reported by ‘a base and profligate press’, 28 Mar., and repudiated some of Hume’s allegations of the horrors of army flogging, 2 Apr. He divided against the government’s resolution for a clergy relief fund as part of Irish tithe reform, 27 Mar. After the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would deliver reform unimpaired had been carried, 10 May, he observed that ‘a hundred ought to be deducted from the majority as expecting to be made peers’. Boasting that ‘I belong to no party’, 14 May, he asserted that the reform bill did not have the king’s blessing and claimed to be ‘a constitutional reformer’. He deplored the Grey ministry’s return to power, 18 May, heatedly ascribed to the Irish reform bill ‘all the leading features of a revolution’, 21 May, and voted against the second reading, 25 May. Dissenting from the Lincoln petition for supplies to be withheld until reform was secured, 24 May, he professed confidence of retaining his seat at the next general election and said that the economy was ruined: ‘there is scarcely a sixpence in the treasury, and we are overwhelmed with debt’. That day he opposed the immediate abolition of slavery. He protested that the Lords had been ‘bullied’ into passing the ‘illegal’ reform bill, 5 June, and pointed to the ‘inconsistency and absurdity’ of the boundary bill, 7 June. He dismissed Alderman Wood’s ‘mongrel’ steam vessels regulation bill, 6 June, moaning that advantage had been taken of his temporary absence; but Wood replied that the committee had been unwilling to entrust a measure to Sibthorp. He voted against the Irish party processions bill, 25 June, but sided with government against the ‘vehement’ opposition of some Irish Members to their tithes proposals, 10 July. He voted for Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from the House, 27 June. He was frustrated in his attempts to get straight answers and accurate information from ministers about the prevalence of cholera, 17, 18, 26 July. He approved of the grant for a national gallery, but spoke and voted, in a minority of 17, against the government’s Irish education scheme, 23 July. He was one of eight Members who divided against the Maynooth grant, 27 July. His splenetic diatribes against the electoral bribery bill, 30 July, 6 Aug., excited much merriment; but his wrecking amendment found no backers, 7 Aug. He accused the government of having achieved ‘nothing at all’ on economy and retrenchment despite their ‘many professions’, 2 Aug., and on the 8th he repudiated their counter claims and asked Hume, ‘the president of a political union’, if he would undertake to press for a general reduction of public expenditure in the next Parliament, to which he himself felt ‘tolerably sure’ of being returned. He was in minorities of 20 and 16 against the crown colonies relief bill, 3 Aug., and the Greek loan, 6 Aug., and was a teller for the minority against printing the Preston petition condemning the use of troops to enforce the payment of Irish tithes, 3 Aug. On 9 Aug. he exulted in ministers’ embarrassment over the possible disfranchisement of large numbers of borough voters by late payment of rates; moved for information on the cost of the reform bill; said that £4,000 was a fair pension for the lord chancellor; condemned railways as ‘a fanciful invention, which may be here today and gone tomorrow’, and, having the previous day divided the House eight times against the Irish party processions bill, moved, though with no intention of pressing, a wrecking amendment to its third reading. Macaulay privately execrated ‘that hairy, filthy, blackguard Sibthorp’ for ‘glorying in the unaccommodating temper which he showed and in the delay which he produced’.24 On 10 Aug. 1832 Sibthorp pressed ministers to settle the Deccan prize money business, damned reckless cabriolet drivers and threatened in the next Parliament to propose measures to curb public disorder: ‘I will not hesitate to avow that I am an anti-reformer’.
This stance cost him his seat at the 1832 general election, but he regained it in 1835 and topped the poll at the next four elections. He continued his rabid protests against the expansion of the Catholic church in England, goaded to greater fury by his clerical brother Richard’s sensational conversion to Rome in 1841. He was instrumental in securing a £20,000 cut in the grant for Prince Albert in 1840, opposed repeal of the corn laws in 1846 and denounced the Great Exhibition of 1851.25 Dickens poked fun at him in chapter 18 of Sketches by Boz as a
ferocious looking gentleman, with a complexion almost as sallow as his linen, and whose huge black moustache would give him the appearance of a figure in a hairdresser’s window, if his countenance possessed the thought that is communicated to those waxen caricatures … He is … the most amusing person in the House. Can anything be more exquisitely absurd than the burlesque grandeur of his air, as he strides up the lobby, his eyes rolling like those of a Turk’s head in a cheap Dutch clock? … He is generally harmless, though, and always amusing.
The ‘embodiment of honest but unreasoning Tory prejudice’, Sibthorp died at his London house in Eaton Square in December 1855.26 By his will, dated 14 July 1855, he confirmed his former wife’s annuity, left £10,000 in trust for his three younger sons, who were to share in the proceeds of the sale of property in Durham, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, after payment of his debts, and left £1,000 to Sarah Ward (now Bentham).27 He was succeeded at Canwick and in the Lincoln seat by his eldest son Gervaise Tottenham Waldo Sibthorp (1815-61).
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
For an inconsequential sketch see C. Sykes, ‘Colonel Sibthorp’, History Today, i (1951), 14-20.
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1856), i. 84-85.
- 2. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 22 Mar. 1822; Sir F. Hill, Georgian Lincoln, 229, 231.
- 3. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 5 Dec. 1823.
- 4. Hill, Georgian Lincoln, 278.
- 5. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 30 Dec. 1825.
- 6. Hill, Georgian Lincoln, 231; Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 2, 9, 16 June, 17 Nov. 1826.
- 7. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 20 Apr. 1827.
- 8. The Times, 26 May, 22 June 1827.
- 9. Ibid. 1 June 1827.
- 10. The Times, 5 Dec. 1828, 8 Dec. 1829; Sir F. Hill, Victorian Lincoln, 17.
- 11. Greville Mems. i. 287.
- 12. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 15 Jan., 5 Feb. 1830; Northumb. RO, Middleton mss ZMI/S77/3/1.
- 13. Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, 23 July, 6, 13 Aug. 1830.
- 14. Ibid. 15 Oct. 1830.
- 15. Drakard’s Stamford News, 21 Jan., 4 Feb. 1831.
- 16. Ibid. 29 Apr., 6 May, 3 June 1831.
- 17. Lord W.P. Lennox, My Recollections, i. 239-40.
- 18. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 92.
- 19. Drakard’s Stamford News, 21 Oct. 1831; Cornw. RO, Hawkins mss 10/2174.
- 20. Hawkins mss 10/2177.
- 21. Ibid. 10/2179.
- 22. Ibid. 10/2187; Lincs. AO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss H36/49; M.D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, x. 16974.
- 23. Hawkins mss 10/2190.
- 24. Macaulay Letters, ii. 174.
- 25. Oxford DNB; Hill, Victorian Lincoln, 30.
- 26. The Times, 17 Dec. 1855; Gent. Mag. (1856), i. 84-86.
- 27. PROB 11/2229/240; IR26/2078/16.