Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thornton, Samuel

THORNTON, SAMUEL (1755–1838), director of the Bank of England, born in 1755, was the eldest son of John Thornton (1720–1790) [see under Thornton, Henry], by his wife Lucy, daughter of Samuel Watson. Henry Thornton [q. v.] was a younger brother. Samuel succeeded to his father's business, which he carried on with credit. In 1780 he was appointed a director of the Bank of England, and continued to hold that position for fifty-three years. On 31 March 1784 he was returned in the tory interest as M.P. for Kingston-upon-Hull, with William Wilberforce [q. v.] as his colleague, and continued to sit for the borough till 1806. In May 1807 he defeated Lord William Russell in the contest for the representation of Surrey, which the latter had held in five parliaments. He was himself defeated at the general election of 1812, but was re-elected at a by-election in the following year. In 1818, having failed to obtain re-election, he retired from public life.

In the House of Commons Thornton was a frequent speaker on commercial questions, and especially championed the interests of the Bank of England. On 15 Dec. 1790 he made a strong protest against taking half a a million from the deposits of the bank for unpaid dividends. He was a member of the select committee of 1793 on the state of commercial credit. He took a prominent part in the debates on the bank restriction bill of 1797, by which the suspension of cash payments was authorised. Repudiating all insinuations as to ministerial control of the private transactions of the bank, he protested that the necessity for the measure was not the result of the bank's operations, and strongly opposed the establishment of a rival bank. In order to check the proposals for a rival bank, Thornton moved in 1800 the renewal of the bank charter, which had still twelve years to run. Thornton had to meet many attacks on the bank in the form of suggestions to limit profits or to produce accounts, especially those made by Pascoe Grenfell [q. v.] in 1815–16. On 10 Feb. 1808 he stated that the public derived an annual profit of 595,000l. from the bank (Parl. Deb. x. 427). In May 1811, when Francis Horner [q. v.] had proposed the resumption of cash payments, Thornton declared that there was no limit to the distress and embarrassment that would follow such a measure (ib. xix. 1163); but on 12 June 1815, in opposing Grenfell's motion with respect to the profits of the bank, he declared himself anxious to limit the issue of notes and to resume cash payments as soon as it could safely be done. At the same time he repeated his objections to the interference of parliament with the bank (ib. xxxi. 769–70). When, on 3 May 1816, he made a further statement as to the intentions of the bank directors, William Huskisson [q. v.] expressed himself satisfied (ib. xxxiv. 248). Speaking on Brougham's motion of March 1817 in favour of changes in commercial policy, Thornton declared in favour of some reduction of tariffs, but supported ministers on the main question. On 15 April of the following year he spoke and voted in favour of a reduction of the Duke of Clarence's allowance, which was carried against ministers. His last important speech (1 May 1818) was in opposition to George Tierney's proposal for a select committee to consider the desirability of a resumption of cash payments. He still thought this inexpedient, owing to foreign loans and bad harvests (ib. xxxviii. 493–4).

Thornton, who was a governor of Greenwich Hospital and president of Guy's, died at his house in Brighton on 3 July 1838. A portrait was engraved by Charles Turner from a painting by Thomas Phillips. By his wife Elizabeth, only daughter of Robert Milnes, esq., of Fryston Hall, Yorkshire, he had three sons and four daughters.

Their eldest son, John Thornton (1783–1861), born on 31 Oct. 1783, graduated at Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A. 1804, M.A. 1809), where he was intimate with Charles Grant (afterwards lord Glenelg) [q. v.] and Robert (afterwards Sir Robert) Grant [q. v.] He was also a friend of Reginald Heber [q. v.] He was successively commissioner of the boards of audit, stamps, and inland revenue, and succeeded his uncle, Henry Thornton [q. v.], as treasurer of the Church Missionary Society and Bible Society. He died at Clapham on 29 Oct. 1861. His wife Eliza, daughter of Edward Parry and niece of Lord Bexley, published ‘Lady Alice: a Ballad Romance,’ 1842, 8vo; ‘The Marchioness: a Tale,’ 2 vols. 8vo, 1842; ‘Truth and Falsehood: a Romance,’ 3 vols. 8vo, 1847. He had six sons and four daughters. Of the former, three entered the Indian civil service. The second, Edward Parry Thornton, is separately noticed.

[Ann. Reg. 1838 (App. to Chron.), p. 218; Public Characters, 1823; Colquhoun's Wilberforce and his Friends, pp. 269, 270; Francis's Hist. of the Bank of England, passim; Parl. Hist. and Parl. Deb. 1784–1818, passim; Ret. Memb. Parl.; Men of the Reign; Evans's Cat. Engr. Portraits, No. 22088; Gent. Mag. 1861, ii. 694; Allibone's Dict. Engl. Lit.]

G. Le G. N.