Pelham, George (DNB00)


PELHAM, GEORGE, D.D. (1766–1827), bishop successively of Bristol, Exeter, and Lincoln, born 13 Oct. 1766, was third son and seventh and youngest child of Thomas Pelham, first earl of Chichester [q. v.] He was at first in the English army, holding a commission in the guards, but soon changed his vocation to the church. After he had been trained by James Hurdis [q. v.] at the family seat of Stanmer, near Lewes, from 1784, he was sent to Cambridge, graduating B.A. at Clare College, Cambridge, in 1787. As the younger son of a leading whig family, he was quickly promoted. On 28 Oct. 1790, when he was only twenty-four, he was installed as prebendary of Middleton and canon residentiary in Chichester Cathedral, and held that preferment until his death. In 1792 the vicarage of Bexhill in Sussex was given to him by the bishop of the diocese; in 1800 he was appointed by his family to the vicarage of Hellingly, and from 17 Nov. 1797 to 1803 he was prebendary of the eleventh stall at Winchester. Hurdis, who acknowledged many good qualities in his pupil, wrote to William Cowper, the poet, that young Pelham had ‘just turned of five and twenty, and is already in possession of two livings’ (Village Curate, 1810 ed., p. xi). Pelham was consecrated bishop of Bristol on 27 March 1803 in the chapel at Lambeth Palace, and at the same time received from the archbishop of Canterbury the degree of D.C.L. When the see of Norwich became vacant, he wrote (8 Feb. 1805) from his house in Welbeck Street, London, to Mr. Pitt, stating that he had heard ‘from so many quarters’ of his nomination for that bishopric, that he could ‘no longer refrain expressing his gratitude,’ as it would be ‘a lasting obligation.’ A dry answer was immediately sent back by Pitt, that the report ‘had arisen without his knowledge, and that he could not have the satisfaction of promoting his wishes’ (Stanhoope, Life of Pitt, iv. 253–4). In 1807 he was transferred to the diocese of Exeter, being installed on 28 Sept. 1807, and holding with it the archdeaconry of Exeter and the treasurership of the cathedral, to which was annexed a residential stall. In this position he ‘continued for thirteen years, expecting higher preferment.’ His desires were realised in October 1820, when he was made bishop of Lincoln. An epigram on his greed for lucrative office is given in Gronow's ‘Reminiscences’ (1889 ed. ii. 80–1), and attributed to Canning; but the diarist is mistaken in saying that it was penned on Pelham's attempt to succeed Tomline at Winchester, as the see was not vacated by that divine until the close of 1827. ‘Winton,’ in the epigram, is probably a mistake for ‘Lincoln.’ Pelham was also clerk of the closet to the king. He caught cold while attending the funeral of the Duke of York in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, on 19 Jan. 1827; died of pleurisy at Connaught Place, London, on 7 Feb., and was buried in the family vaults at Laughton in Sussex on 15 Feb.

Pelham was the author of two sermons and a charge. He is described as urbane in his manners, punctual in the discharge of business, and impartial in the distribution of patronage. When raised to the episcopal bench he nearly went down on his knees to George III to be permitted to dispense with his wig, but the king was inexorable (Hayward, Essays, 1873 ser., ii. 40).

He married, on 14 Dec. 1792, Mary, third daughter of Sir Richard Rycroft. She died, without issue, at Connaught Place, on 30 March 1837.

Jekyll notes that the bishop and his wife were in 1818 daily attendants at the dinners given by the prince-regent in the pavilion at Brighton. She was haughty in her style, and in the palace at Exeter ‘never rises from her seat to receive the visitors’ (Letters, p. 67). His portrait, by Joseph Slater, was lithographed by Isaac Slater.

[Gent. Mag. 1827 pt. i. p. 269, 1837 pt. i. p. 553; Oliver's Bishops of Exeter, pp. 166, 274, 287; Le Neve's Fasti, i. 221, 280, 283, 383, 397, 416, 432, ii. 29, iii. 42; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. ii. 213; Richard Polwhele's Reminiscences, i. 137, 155.]

W. P. C.