Payne, Ralph (DNB00)


PAYNE, Sir RALPH, Lord Lavington (1738?–1807), politician, was born at Basseterre, St. George parish in St. Christopher's, on 19 March 1737–8 or 1738–9. His father, Ralph Payne (d. 1763), chief justice and afterwards governor of St. Kitts, came of a family which had long been resident at St. Christopher's, whither it had migrated from Lavington in Wiltshire. His mother, whose ancestors came from Bridgwater in Somerset, was Alice, daughter and heiress of Francis Carlisle. After being educated in England, Payne returned to his native island, where he was at once elected a member of the House of Assembly, and at its first meeting unanimously called to the chair. In 1762 he was again in England, and he then made the tour of Europe. On 1 Sept. 1767 he married, at St. George's, Hanover Square, Françoise Lambertine, daughter of Henry, baron Kolbel of Saxony; he was then spoken of in society as ‘a rich West Indian.’ His wife had lived, before her marriage, with the Princess Joseph Poniatowski, and was one of the few charming women on terms of intimacy with Queen Charlotte. After his marriage Payne plunged into politics, and from 1768 to 1771 sat in parliament for the borough of Shaftesbury. In 1769 he made his maiden speech as the seconder of Blackstone's motion, that the complaint of Wilkes against Lord Mansfield was frivolous and trifling. He is said to have been connected with Mansfield, and to have been inspired by him with legal arguments, the speech being received ‘with much applause, although the language was wonderfully verbose.’ Later in the session he made another elaborate oration, on which occasion, according to Horace Walpole, after protesting on his honour that the speech was not premeditated, he inadvertently pulled it out of his pocket in writing. Payne had ‘a good figure, and possessed himself well, having been accustomed to act plays in a private set;’ but his language was turgid, and he became ‘the jest of his companions and the surfeit of the House of Commons,’ so that he soon became dissatisfied with his parliamentary prospects. On 18 Feb. 1771 he was created at St. James's Palace a knight of the Bath, and in the same year was appointed captain-general and governor-in-chief of the Leeward Islands, where he inherited a considerable estate from his parents. Thomas Hearne (1744–1817) [q. v.] spent some time with him there, and was employed by him in making drawings.

Payne's appointment was very popular, and his recall in 1775 was much against the wish of the inhabitants, who petitioned for his continuance in office, and, by a unanimous vote of the assembly, presented him with a sword set in diamonds. He entered once more on political life, sitting for Camelford in Cornwall from November 1776 to 1780, and for Plympton in Devonshire from 1780 to 1784.

From June 1777 until the suppression of the office in 1782 Payne was a clerk of the board of green cloth. He was one of Fox's political allies, and for many years his house in Grafton Street was known, through his love of hospitality and the personal attractions of his wife, as the favourite resort of the whig leaders. Erskine, when taken ill at one of Payne's banquets, replied to Lady Payne's anxious inquiries with the lines—

'Tis true I am ill, but I need not complain;
For he never knew pleasure who never knew Payne.

It was rumoured in 1783 that Payne might be the secretary to Lord Northington, the new lord lieutenant of Ireland; but the post was given to Windham. In 1788 he made a lengthened tour on the continent, visiting Vienna, Zurich, and Lyons (Smyth, Memoir of Sir R. M. Keith, ii. 198–200). With the support of the Prince of Wales as Duke of Cornwall, he contested the borough of Fowey, in the whig interest, in 1790, when a double return was made, Payne and Lord Shuldham being credited with a majority of votes; but they were unseated by the House of Commons. At a by-election he was returned for Woodstock (21 Oct. 1795), and represented it until 1799.

But after his election disappointment in 1790 he wavered in his attachment to the whigs, and on 15 Aug. 1793 he gave a ‘considerable dinner’ at his house, at which Pitt was a guest. Windham was also invited, but did not go, and thought that Payne should have told him of the invitation to the premier (Windham, Diary, pp. 198, 288, 310). This change of politics was rendered necessary by the shrinking of his resources, and it soon bore fruit. He was created Baron Lavington of Lavington in the peerage of Ireland on 1 Oct. 1795, and a privy councillor on 30 Oct. 1799. In February 1799 he was reappointed as governor of the Leeward Islands, and the assembly voted him an allowance of 2,000l. a year, that he might the better support the dignity of the position. His Christmas balls and his routs were magnificent, and were distinguished by the observance of the strictest etiquette. He was attended by an army of servants, but he would not allow any of the black servitors about him to wear shoes or stockings, their legs being rubbed daily with butter so that they shone like jet; and he would not, if he could avoid it, handle a letter or parcel from their fingers. To escape the indignity, he designed a golden instrument, like a tongs, with which he held any article which was given him by a black servant.

Lord Lavington died at Government House, Antigua, on 3 Aug. 1807, being then the senior member of the order of the Bath. He was interred on his mother's estate of Carlisle. The tomb was still visible in 1844, but the garden was overgrown with weeds, and the walls were falling into ruins. An elaborate monument of marble was erected to his memory by the legislature of Antigua, in St. John's Church in that island. As his widow was left all but destitute, a compassionate allowance of 300l. a year was voted to her by the assembly, for her life. Her married life appears to have been unhappy, and Sheridan once found her in tears, ‘which she placed, with more adroitness than truth, to the account of her monkey, who had just died.’ He thereupon exclaimed:

Alas! poor Ned,
My monkey's dead;
I had rather by half
It had been Sir Ralph.

Payne's speeches are in the ‘Debates’ of Sir Henry Cavendish, i. 133, 368–70, 372, and many letters from him are among the Rosslyn MSS., two being printed in Lord Campbell's ‘Lives of the Lord Chancellors,’ vi. 161–2, 359.

[Burke's Extinct Peerage; Gent. Mag. 1763 p. 97, 1776 p. 94, 1807 pt. ii. pp. 889, 974; Jesse's Selwyn, ii. 166; Corresp. of George III and Lord North, i. 56, ii. 75; Oldfield's Parl. Hist. iii. 207; Courtney's Parl. Rep. of Cornwall, pp. 108–9, 351; Malmesbury's Diaries and Corresp. iv. 385; Campbell's Chancellors, vi. 229, 686; Wraxall's Memoirs, ed. Wheatley, iii. 410–11; Corresp. of Right Hon. J. Beresford, i. 239; Antigua and the Antiguans, i. 113–14, 131–7, 226–7, ii. 346–7; Walpole's George III, ed. Le Merchant, iii. 321–2, 359.]

W. P. C.