1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hume, Joseph

HUME, JOSEPH (1777–1855), British politician, was born on the 22nd of January 1777, of humble parents, at Montrose, Scotland. After completing his course of medical study at the university of Edinburgh he sailed in 1797 for India, where he was attached as surgeon to a regiment; and his knowledge of the native tongues and his capacity for business threw open to him the lucrative offices of interpreter and commissary-general. In 1802, on the eve of Lord Lake’s Mahratta war, his chemical knowledge enabled him to render a signal service to the administration by making available a large quantity of gunpowder which damp had spoiled. In 1808, on the restoration of peace, he resigned all his civil appointments, and returned home in the possession of a fortune of £40,000. Between 1808 and 1811 he travelled much both in England and the south of Europe, and in 1812 published a blank verse translation of the Inferno. In 1812 he purchased a seat in parliament for Weymouth and voted as a Tory. When upon the dissolution of parliament the patron refused to return him he brought an action and recovered part of his money. Six years elapsed before he again entered the House, and during that interval he had made the acquaintance and imbibed the doctrines of James Mill and the philosophical reformers of the school of Bentham. He had joined his efforts to those of Francis Place, of Westminster, and other philanthropists, to relieve and improve the condition of the working classes, labouring especially to establish schools for them on the Lancasterian system, and promoting the formation of savings banks. In 1818, soon after his marriage with Miss Burnley, the daughter of an East India director, he was returned to parliament as member for the Border burghs. He was afterwards successively elected for Middlesex (1830), Kilkenny (1837) and for the Montrose burghs (1842), in the service of which constituency he died. From the date of his re-entering the House Hume became the self-elected guardian of the public purse, by challenging and bringing to a direct vote every single item of public expenditure. In 1820 he secured the appointment of a committee to report on the expense of collecting the revenue. He was incessantly on his legs in committee, and became a name for an opposition bandog who gave chancellors of the exchequer no peace. He undoubtedly exercised a check on extravagance, and he did real service by helping to abolish the sinking fund. It was he who caused the word “retrenchment” to be added to the Radical programme “peace and reform.” He carried on a successful warfare against the old combination laws that hampered workmen and favoured masters; he brought about the repeal of the laws prohibiting the export of machinery and of the act preventing workmen from going abroad. He constantly protested against flogging in the army, the impressment of sailors and imprisonment for debt. He took up the question of lighthouses and harbours; in the former he secured greater efficiency, in the latter he prevented useless expenditure. Apart from his pertinacious fight for economy Hume was not always fortunate in his political activity. He was conspicuous in the agitation raised by the so-called Orange plot to set aside King William IV. in favour of the duke of Cumberland (1835 and 1836). His action as trustee for the notorious Greek Loan in 1824 was at least not delicate, and was the ground of charges of downright dishonesty. He died on the 20th of February 1855.

A Memorial of Hume was published by his son Joseph Burnley Hume (London, 1855).