Open main menu

Onslow, George (1731-1792) (DNB00)


ONSLOW, GEORGE (1731–1792), politician, was the eldest son of Lieutenant-general Richard Onslow, M.P. for Guildford, by his second wife, Pooley, daughter of Charles Walton of Little Burstead, Essex. Admiral Sir Richard Onslow [q.v.] was his brother, and Arthur Onslow [q. v.], speaker of the House of Commons, his uncle. He was born on 28 April 1731, and became a lieutenant-colonel in the 1st foot guards on 27 March 1759. He succeeded his father as one of the members for Guildford in March 1760, and continued to sit for that borough until his retirement from the House of Commons at the dissolution in March 1784. At the outset of his parliamentary career Onslow was one of Rockingham's supporters. He was ‘the single member who said that No. 45 was not a libel,’ and he voted against the expulsion of Wilkes (Cavendish, Parl. Debates, i. 124-5, 226-7). He voted for the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766 (ib. ii. 25-6), but subsequently changed his views, and became an adherent of the Duke of Grafton. On the report of the address in November 1767, Onslow ‘diverted the house with proposing, in imitation of the Romans, who used to send senators to inquire into the state of their provinces, to despatch Grenville to America on that errand’ (Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George III, iii. 116-17; The Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1838, vii. 371-373). On 9 Dec. 1768 he brought before the notice of the house ‘a paper of seditious nature’ which had been stuck up at the corner of Bond Street, and for which one Joseph Thornton, a milkman, was subsequently committed to Newgate (Cavendish, Parl. Debates, i. 101-2). On 8 May 1770 he opposed Burke's resolutions relating to the disorders in North America, and called upon him ‘to found the censure upon established truth, not upon vague and general declamation’ (Parl. Hist. xvi. 1007, 1010). In 1771 he took the leading part in the proceedings against the printers for publishing the parliamentary debates (ib. xvii. 58-119), and by these means rendered himself so unpopular that he was hanged in effigy on Tower Hill, on the same gibbet with the speaker (ib. xvii. 1025). On 22 Feb 1775, while opposing Wilkes's motion for expunging the resolution of 17 Feb. 1769 respecting his expulsion, he informed the house that he had been bred a soldier, and went on to declare that ‘though my abilities are as short as my person, yet, if by taking thought, I could add a cubit to them, I would willingly be a grenadier on the present occasion, where the necessary power, the honour, and dignity of the House of Commons are so strongly attacked’ (ib. xviii. 368-74). In December 1777 Onslow protested strongly against peace, insisting that ‘it was better to lose America by arms than by treaty,’ and asserting that the rebellion had been ‘fomented, nourished, and supported by the inflammatory speeches and other means used by the incendiaries in that house’ (ib. xix. 546-7). In February 1780, during the delivery of an extraordinary speech against the petitions for economical reform, he was called to order no less than seven or eight times (ib. xxi. 82-3). In March 1781 he spoke against the Contractors Bill, and said that if it was passed he ‘should not wonder to see some other gentleman start up and propose to bring in a bill to exclude the military’ (ib. xxi. 1390-1). He opposed Sir John Rous's motion of want of confidence in Lord North's ministry in March 1782 (ib. xxiii. 1175-7), and in February 1783 warmly defended Lord North from a personal attack made on him by Thomas Pitt (ib. xxiii. 563-4). Onslow spoke for the last time in the House of Commons on 22 March 1784, when he once more broached his favourite theory that Gibraltar was not worth keeping (ib. xxiv. 768-9). He died on 12 Nov. 1792, at Dunsborough House, Ripley, Surrey, from the effects of a carriage accident.

Onslow, who was ‘a short, round man,’ is happily described by Walpole as ‘one of those burlesque orators who are favoured in all public assemblies, and to whom one or two happy sallies of impudence secure a constant attention, though their voice and manner are often their only patents, and who, being laughed at for absurdity as frequently as for humour, obtain a license for what they please’ (Memoirs of the Reign of George III, ii. 286). He is frequently confused with his cousin, George Onslow (afterwards first Earl of Onslow) [q. v.] Walpole sometimes refers to him as ‘the younger Onslow,’ and to his cousin as ‘the elder Onslow, though the colonel appears to have been a few months older than the earl. In the journals of the day he was known as ‘Little Cocking George’ (Cavendish, Parl. Debates, ii. 377-8). He succeeded his cousin George as outranger of Windsor Forest in 1763.

Onslow married, on 29 July 1752, Jane, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Thorpe of Chillingham, Northumberland, by whom he had four sons—viz. Richard, born 13 Jan. 1754; George, born 7 April 1764; George Walton, born 25 June 1768, vicar of Send (1792) and of Shalford with Bramley (1800), and rector of Wisley with Pyrford (1806), all in Surrey, who died on 13 Feb. 1844; and Arthur, born 30 Dec. 1773, rector of Merrow, Surrey (1812), and of Crayford, Kent, who died on 29 Nov. 1851—and one daughter, Pooley, born 3 March 1758, who married, first, on 23 Jan. 1788, Rear-admiral Sir Francis Samuel Drake, bart.; and, secondly, on 13 June 1801, Arthur Onslow, serjeant-at-law, recorder of and M.P. for Guildford. Some of Onslow's letters to the Duke of Newcastle are preserved in the British Museum (see Index to Addit. MSS., 1882-7). An etching by ‘J. S.,’ dated 1782, is mentioned by Bromley.

[Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III, 1845, ii. 91, 131, 287, iii. 116–17, 286–7; Wraxall's Hist. and Posthumous Memoirs, 1884, ii. 229–30; Trevelyan's Early Hist. of C. J. Fox (1881), pp. 332, 339, 348, 375; Gent. Mag. 1788 pt. i. p. 82, 1792 pt. ii. 1060, 1801 pt. i. p. 571, 1834 pt. i. p. 227, 1844 pt. i. p. 659, 1852 pt. i. p. 105; Collins's Peerage, 1812, v. 476–7; Foster's Peerage, 1883, p. 542; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. iii. 289, 360; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 117, 131, 143, 156, 169.]

G. F. R. B.