Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Palmer, George

PALMER, GEORGE (1772–1853), philanthropist, born on 11 Feb. 1772, was eldest son of William Palmer of Wanlip, Leicestershire, and of London, merchant (1768–1821), by Mary, the only daughter of John Horsley, rector of Thorley, Hertfordshire, and sister of Dr. Samuel Horsley, bishop of St. Asaph. John Horsley Palmer [q. v.] was his younger brother. George was educated at the Charterhouse, which he left to enter the naval service of the East India Company. He made his first voyage in the Carnatic in 1786. In 1788 the narrow escape from drowning of a boat's crew under his command directed his attention to the equilibrium of boats and the means of preventing them from sinking. When commander of the Boddam in 1796 he received a complimentary letter from the court of directors for his conduct in an encounter with four French frigates. Palmer's last voyage was made in 1799.

In 1802 he entered into partnership with his father and brother, Horsley Palmer, and Captain Wilson as East India merchants and shipowners at 28 Throgmorton Street, London. In 1821 he held the office of master of the Mercers' Company, and in that capacity he attended the lord mayor, who acted as chief butler at the coronation of George IV on 19 July 1821, carrying the maple cup from the throne (Times, 20 July 1821, p. 3).

In 1832 he was elected chairman of the General Shipowners' Society. He first became connected with the National Lifeboat Institution in 1826, and thenceforth devoted much time to its interests, and his plan of fitting lifeboats was adopted until 1858, when it was superseded by the system of self-righting lifeboats. Lifeboats on his plan were placed by the institution at more than twenty ports. He was deputy-chairman of the society for upwards of a quarter of a century, and never allowed any of his own ships to go to sea without providing them with the means of saving life. In February 1853 he resigned his office, when the committee voted him the gold medal with their special thanks on vellum.

In 1832, when South Shields became a parliamentary borough, he was a candidate in the conservative interest for its representation, but was not elected. He afterwards sat in parliament for the southern division of Essex from 1836 to 1847, being successful in three severely contested elections. In 1845, after encountering much opposition, he obtained legislative enactments prohibiting timber-laden vessels from carrying deck cargoes.

He served as sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1818, and afterwards as sheriff of Essex. For many years he supported at his own cost a corps of yeomanry, and acted as colonel of the corps. He died at Nazeing Park, Essex, on 12 May 1853, having married, on 29 Dec. 1795, Anna Maria, daughter of William Bund of Wick, Worcestershire. She died on 13 Oct. 1856, having had five children: George, born on 23 July 1799, captain West Essex Yeomanry; William (1802–1858) [q. v.]; Francis, born 17 Sept. 1810, also a barrister, 5 May 1837; Anna Maria, who died young; and Elizabeth, who, in 1830, married Robert Biddulph, M.P.

He was the author of ‘Memoir of a Chart from the Strait of Allass to the Island Bouro,’ 1799, and of ‘A New Plan for fitting all Boats so that they may be secure as Life Boats at the shortest notice,’ 1828.

[The Life Boat, or Journal of the National Shipwreck Institution, July 1853, pp. 28–32; Illustr. London News, 21 May 1853, p. 402; Gent. Mag., June 1853, pp. 656–7; Times, 24 Oct. 1872.]

G. C. B.