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James Deacon Hume, free-trader, son of James Hume, a commissioner and afterwards secretary of the customs, was born at Newington, Surrey, on 28 April 1774, and educated at Westminster School. In 1791 he became an indoor clerk in the custom house in Thames Street. A report which he wrote for the commissioners attracted the notice of Huskisson, and probably led to his appointment as controller of the customs. In 1822 he first entertained the idea of consolidating the laws of the customs, and at the close of the year the treasury excused him from his ordinary duties for three years in order to enable him to pursue the work. The customs laws, which dated from the reign of Edward I, had reached the number of fifteen hundred statutes. Hume reduced this unwieldy mass to ten intelligible enactments. These ten acts received the royal assent in July 1825. Hume edited them with notes and indices. He was rewarded for his labour by a public grant of £6,000, which he lost by an unfortunate investment.
After thirty-eight years' service at the custom house, Hume was, in 1828, appointed joint secretary of the board of trade, and proved of great help to Huskisson. He was associated as trustee of some private property with Henry Fauntleroy and in September 1824 found that Fauntleroy had forged his name to a letter of attorney by which £10,000 had been abstracted from the estate. The trial and execution of Fauntleroy followed. In 1833-4 Hume sent seven exhaustive letters to the Morning Post, entitled ‘Rights of the Working Classes,’ which were reprinted at the request of Sir Benjamin Hawes, and reached a second edition.
As early as 1824 Hume was employed in preparing a parliamentary bill regulating the silk duties. In 1831 he made an official tour through England, collecting information about silk manufacture, and in March 1832 he gave evidence before a committee of the House of Commons on the silk duties. He gave further evidence before another committee in 1840, and expressed a strong opinion against protective duties. He assisted Thomas Tooke, F.R.S., in establishing the Political Economy Club, and from its commencement in 1821 until 1841 attended its meetings regularly, and spoke repeatedly on free trade.
The Customs' Benevolent Fund, originated in 1816 by Charles Ogilvy, was carried out by Hume, who was the first president, and was presented, upon his removal to the board of trade in 1828, with a handsome testimonial in recognition of his services. He strenuously advocated life assurance, and was one of the founders of the Atlas Assurance Company in 1808, and its deputy chairman to his death. In June 1835 he gave evidence before a committee on the timber duties, which were gradually reduced.
Hume retired from the board of trade in 1840, and took up his abode at Reigate. He received a pension of £1,500a year. In the same year he gave evidence on the corn laws and on the duties on coffee, tea, and sugar, and his opinions in favour of the abolition of these duties were continually quoted by Sir Robert Peel and other members of parliament. Hume lost his savings by unfortunate investments. He died of apoplexy at Great Doods House, Reigate, on 12 January 1842, and was buried in Reigate churchyard. His death was mentioned by Sir R. Peel on 9 February in the House of Commons. He married, on 4 June 1798, Frances Elizabeth, widow of Charles Ashwell of the island of Grenada, and daughter of Edward Whitehouse of the custom house and a gentleman usher at the court of St. James's. She died at East Bergholt, Suffolk, on 31 May 1854, leaving twelve children by Hume.
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