Francis Baring was Member of Parliament for Portsmouth from 1826 to 1865 thereby encompassing the changes to the electoral system brought about by the Reform Act of 1832. By the standards of his day Baring was well suited to represent Portsmouth, for although he didn't live in the town his family estate was at least in Hampshire, and his political leaning as a Whig with liberal tendencies chimed with the electorate largely dominated by the Carter family and a wider group of dissenters. Baring retained the support of the tiny electorate throughout his period in Parliament but the same cannot be said of the working people. Such was his decline in general popularity that the Hampshire Telegraph was moved, during the protracted adoption of the 1848 Public Health Act, to call him "the most hated Member".
Born in Calcutta on 20 April 1796, Francis Baring was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Baring (1772–1848) and his wife, Mary Ursula (nee Sealy) who died in 1846. Sir Thomas was at the time in the East India Company's civil service and was the son of Francis, the first baronet and founder of Baring Brothers & Co.
Francis was educated at Winchester College and Christ Church, Oxford. He graduated with a double first in classics and mathematics in 1817, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1823. On 7 April 1825 he married Jane (1804–1838), daughter of Captain Sir George Grey RN, Naval Commissioner at Portsmouth Dockyard and the brother of the reformist Whig Earl Grey, both factors being of relevance in his selection as Member of Parliament for Portsmouth in 1826, particularly as the electorate in these pre-reform days consisted of around 100 men. In his "Illustrated History of Portsmouth" William Gates remarked that Baring "... thoroughly justified the choice of the electors. Upon all questions of religious belief he invariably voted on the side which conceded liberty of Conscience and upheld political and civil rights. He was a ready and zealous advocate of the suppression of slavery and the repeal of the Corn Laws, and also assisted in the passing of the Reform Bill."
On Monday 12th June 1826 the Hampshire Telegraph reported on the meeting called to select the Parliamentary Representatives, the first being John Bonham Carter who was proposed by Sir George Grey. Alderman Daniel Howard then addressed the meeting and proposed Francis Baring as the other. There being no other candidates, John Bonham Carter and Francis Baring were duly elected Members of Parliament for Portsmouth.
It is worth recording Francis Baring's parliamentary political career which was meteoric before looking at some of the reasons he lost popularity amongst the people of Portsmouth. Elected for the first time in 1826 he was by 1830 a lord of the Treasury in Grey's government (1830–34); he was further promoted to financial secretary to the Treasury (June–November 1834; 1835–9) and eventually became Chancellor of the Exchequer and a privy councillor in August 1839. As chancellor, his financial acumen was crippled by an aversion to income tax; he borrowed and raised all indirect and assessed taxes before lowering selected import duties. In 1841 he proposed to cut the tariff on sugar produced by slave labour but was defeated, and this led to the government's fall on the resulting vote of confidence (27 August 1841).
On the return of the Whigs to power, Baring was offered the Treasury by Lord John Russell but it was refused. Instead he took the chair of a select committee investigating the financial crisis of 1847. By January 1849 he was back in the cabinet but this time as First Lord of the Admiralty, a post that focused his attention once more on Portsmouth. It was a time of unease about the ambitions of the Bonapartist regime in France and a period of transition for the navy as it converted from sail to steam. By all accounts he seems to have managed both skillfully as well as creating a naval reserve to escape the reliance upon the press gang and presiding over a considerable rise in productivity in the dockyards.
Baring's tenure at the Admiralty lasted until February 1852 after which he accepted none of the cabinet appointments offered him. He sympathised with opposition to the Crimean War though, recognising that diplomacy could not prevent it, proposed a motion supporting the struggle which the sceptical Commons could accept. Although he took the chair of the public accounts committee in 1861 and retained an interest in the suppression of slavery, his life as a senior politician was over.
When Francis Baring was first elected to be member for Portsmouth, the franchise was so small that it is difficult to assess his general standing at the time amongst the people at large, but it is assumed that his liberal policies were probably enough for them to accept him. This feeling however was destined to be remarkably short lived when a single incident 20 miles from Portsmouth would significantly undermine his reputation.
1829 was a time of great unrest, especially among the landless poor in the countryside. Riots were commonplace, farm machinery was smashed and landlords were physically threatened if they did not reduce their rents. Often known as the Swing Insurrection, after Captain Swing, it was rooted in the collapse of cereal prices after the Napoleonic Wars which helped create a severe depression, worsened by the failure of three successive harvests. Francis Baring as a magistrate in Winchester found himself at the heart of the troubles.
On November 24th 1829 information reached Baring and his fellow magistrates, one of whom was his cousin William Bingham Baring, that a local gentleman and his wife, Mr and Mrs. Deacle, were encouraging and leading rioters. The magistrates resolved to have them arrested and there being no militia available to carry out the warrants the magistrates took it upon themselves to arrest the Deacles. The events that followed had repurcussions that reached all the way to the House of Commons.
The Deacles were middle class farmers and though surprised by the arrival of the magistrates offered no resistance and yet Bingham Baring insisted on both being handcuffed and thrown into a coal cart for transportation back to Winchester. He was also alleged to have physically carried Mrs Deacle across the muddy yard and hit Mr Deacle with a stick. Mr Thomas Deacle was brought to trial and acquitted of all charges when no witnesses could be produced; Mrs. Deacle collapsed at the court and was never brought to trial. In April both Barings received notice of a summons to court for reparation in respect of the unjustified force used during the Deacles arrest. The case was heard and an order issued for Bingham Baring to compensate the Deacles to an amount of £50, Francis Baring being acquitted despite admitting that it was he rather than Bingham who had carried Mrs Deacle across the yard.
In July 1831 Francis Baring, seeking to further clear his name, brought the whole matter before the House of Commons which debated it at great length on 21st July, the 22nd and 29th August 1831. The matter was allowed to lie on the table. Petitions then came in from all sides and the case dragged on until February 1833. Parliament very wisely decided that it should not take the role of an appeal court and the issue was dropped. Although Francis Baring had not quite achieved his goal he would probably have been reasonably satisfied, particularly as the Hampshire Telegraph, whilst reporting the case in general terms, had not sought to castigate him.
There the matter may have ended had not the renowned William Cobbett previously recounted the full story in glorious detail in his pamphlet 'Two-Penny Trash'. If the ordinary people of Portsmouth had not heard much of the incident beforehand they would have been fully acquainted with it after publication of the tract. And yet this still had no deleterious affect on the progress of Baring's political career, despite the issue of the Deacles' case being used at the next election in 1832 as a reason to suggest that Francis Baring was not fit to represent Portsmouth.
This was the first election since the passing of the Reform Act which had increased the local electorate from around 100 to over 2000. This in turn opened the way for challengers to make their appearance, the most vociferous of them being Captain Charles Napier, who not only used the Deacle affair to discredit his rival but also curiously alleged that as a sitting Member of the Government, Baring was ineligible to stand. Baring responded vigourously in the Hampshire Telegraph (10th Decembere 1832) and was subsequently elected, the returns being:-
John Bonham Carter, 826, Francis T. Baring, 571, Sir C. Rowley, 707, Charles Napier, 258.
For the next three years Francis Baring raised no hackles in Portsmouth save those of the now Admiral Charles Napier who once again stood for election in 1835. To be fair to Baring he would have had to spend much of this time on matters related to the Treasury and seems to have spent little time in Portsmouth. The result of the election was as follows:-
J. Bonham-Carter, 643, Francis T. Baring, 571, Sir C. Rowley, 557, Admiral Charles Napier, 335.
The 1837 election went much the same way but in 1838 John Bonham Carter died and was replaced by Sir George Staunton. In August 1839 Francis Baring was appointed to the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer and on the 26th the Hampshire Telegraph congratulated him, drawing attention to the honour that it bestowed on Portsmouth. In accepting the role Baring was required to seek re-election as an MP. Rather than visit individual electors at their homes, a pratice he had adopted for previous elections, he chose this time to call a public meeting and submit himself to their scrutiny. He was elected unopposed. Baring and Staunton held their seats unopposed in 1841 and 1847 whilst in 1849 Baring had to submit to re-election again on being appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. The elections of 1852, 1857 and 1858 saw Baring re-elected, albeit with a variety of partners.
On 3rd May 1841 the Hampshire Telegraph published an effusive appraisal of Francis Baring declaring him 'clear-headed' and 'stout-hearted' with 'true native courage in his blood', the occasion being his budget proposals of that year. Baring continued to get supportive articles in the newspapers for much of the next decade and yet his popularity seems to have been in terminal decline until in 1851 he was accused by Thomas Ellis Owen of sabotaging the Public Health Act of 1848 in respect of it's application to Portsmouth.
The Act was a long overdue recognition that the state of the country's towns left a lot to be desired with few having any general provision for clean water or the disposal of sewerage. The Bill lacked teeth however in that it's powers were not mandatory, meaning that individual towns had to apply to the Board of Health to be included. This tentative approach to public health was understandable given that any services introduced into a town would have to be paid for by the local ratepayers, who were to a large degree the landowners. Though many baulked at this cost they could have been brought on board had all government property in the town been made rateable, so committing the government to support the cost of sanitising the town. The Town Council petitioned Parliament for this to made law but at the last moment the action was reversed forcing the Council to withdraw the Bill. Thomas Ellis Owen identified the culprit as being Francis Baring who as First Lord of the Admiralty would have been well aware that the Admiralty had introduced a clause exempting government property from local rates and chose to side with them rather than look after the interests of his constituents.
Owen's condemnation of Baring was strongly echoed by Councillor Sheppard who declared that it would be better if Portsmouth were disenfranchised rather than have Baring as their MP and that Portsmouth should never send such a useless member to Westminster again. As a consequence of the Bill's failure, it's opponents rallied and ensured that it would be another decade before Portsmouth was adopted by the Act. In these circumstances it was hardly suprising that Sir Francis Baring was indeed elected as Member for Portsmouth in 1852, 1857 and 1859, his career in Parliament not ending until 1865.
Baring inherited his father's baronetcy and estates in 1848 and became Baron Northbrook (4 January 1866), on the recommendation of his old friend Lord John Russell, shortly after retiring from the Commons. He died at Stratton Park, Micheldever, his Hampshire seat, on 6 September 1866 and was buried at Micheldever parish church on 13 September. Baring's first wife Jane had died in 1838 leaving him with five children and on 31 March 1841 he married his second wife Lady Arabella Howard (d. 1884), daughter of Kenneth Alexander Howard, first earl of Effingham; they had one son.
Tim Backhouse
September 2011
The Dictionary of National Biography (Article by David Steele)
"Two-Penny Trash" by William Cobbett
The Hampshire Telegraph
"Muckabites v. Sanitisers" by Norman Gordon.
"Thomas Ellis Owen" by Sue Pike
History of Parliament Online