Lord Cornwallis Intervenes With the Lord Chancellor to Obtain a Desirable Appointment For A Close Ally’s Brother

The candidate, Thomas Barlow, was the brother of George H. Barlow, one of Cornwallis’s chief functionaries (and successor) as Governor-General of India

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William Pitt (the Younger) was the youngest British Prime Minister, taking office in 1783 at the age of 24. He left office in 1801, but was again Prime Minister from 1804 until his death in 1806. Thus it fell to him to lead the nation in the Napoleonic Wars. In April 1797,...

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Lord Cornwallis Intervenes With the Lord Chancellor to Obtain a Desirable Appointment For A Close Ally’s Brother

The candidate, Thomas Barlow, was the brother of George H. Barlow, one of Cornwallis’s chief functionaries (and successor) as Governor-General of India

William Pitt (the Younger) was the youngest British Prime Minister, taking office in 1783 at the age of 24. He left office in 1801, but was again Prime Minister from 1804 until his death in 1806. Thus it fell to him to lead the nation in the Napoleonic Wars. In April 1797, the Pitt government was badly shaken by the mutiny of the entire fleet at Spithead with the sailors demanding a pay increase to match inflation. This occurred at exactly the same moment that the French and their Dutch allies were preparing for an invasion of Great Britain, which threw the government into a state of panic.

A Prebend is a senior member of the Church of England, who is normally supported by the revenues from an estate or parish. These offices were much in demand by British clergy, as they brought power and a fine living to the holder, especially if the parish were a large one. The city of Bristol had a population of 68,000 in 1797, while Reading had 9,400.

Lord Cornwallis, who had surrendered at Yorktown in 1781, effectively bringing the American Revolution to a successful conclusion, was named the first Governor-General of India in 1786. He served until 1793. Returning to Britain, in 1798, Cornwallis was given the post of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, where he oversaw the response to the 1798 Irish Rebellion and the Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Reappointed to India in 1805, he died in India not long after his arrival.

George H. Barlow succeeded him as Acting Governor-General of India. Cornwallis had known Barlow for decades, as Barlow was in the Bengal civil service as early as 1778; and in 1788, under Cornwallis, Barlow carried into execution the important tax measure known as the Permanent Settlement of Bengal.

Thomas William Barlow was a church vicar with a notable education, and he was George H. Barlow’s brother. The Barlow family’s friends, especially Lord Cornwallis, lobbied for him to receive a lucrative prebendary. The talk was of Reading, but there was another worthy contestant for that post, which was then up for grabs. But Barlow was offered as an alternative the prebendary of Bristol, a far superior position. It became imperative that he withdraw from the competition for Reading, lest he receive it and lose Bristol.

Alexander Wedderburn served as Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain from from 1793 to 1801. He is remembered for his vicious personal attack on Benjamin Franklin in 1774 (calling him a thief among other slanders), which helped Franklin decide that reconciliation between Britain and the colonies was impossible. All through the American Revolution, Wedderburn consistently argued against compromises with the colonies.

Autograph letter signed, Whitehall, London, March 4, 1797, to Wedderburn as Lord Chancellor, expressing Barlow’s wishes, and couching it in such a way as to remove the burden of the decision from Pitt’s plate. “My Dear Lord, I have seen Mr. Barlow, who says that he shall be perfectly well pleased and thankful for the Prebend of Bristol, and wishes to give no further trouble about the living of Reading. I have taken the liberty of addressing myself to you, as it may hopefully save Mr. Pitt any further trouble about this business, who has, God knows, at present enough upon his hands.”

Barlow received the Bristol living, and remained Prebend of Bristol until 1821, a term of 24 years.

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