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George Onslow, first Earl of Onslow 1731-1814

This article was written by George Fisher Russell Barker and was published in 1894

George Onslow was born on 13 September 1731. He was the only son of Arthur Onslow by Anne, daughter of John Bridges of Thames Ditton, Surrey. He was educated at Westminster School and Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he was created M.A. in 1766.

Onslow represented Rye in the House of Commons from April 1754 to March 1761, and at the general election in April 1761 he was returned for Surrey, which he continued to represent until his accession to the House of Lords. During the debate on the Regency Bill in May 1765 he seconded Rose Fuller's motion for making the queen regent, and opposed Morton's motion for reinstating the princess-dowager's name. Though hitherto one of Lord Temple's most devoted followers, Onslow accepted the post of a lord of the treasury on the formation of Lord Rockingham's first administration in July 1765, and was admitted to the privy council on 23 December 1767.

In spite of his former friendship with Wilkes, Onslow on 14 April 1769 moved that Wilkes's fourth election for Middlesex was null and void, and on the following day carried a resolution by a majority of fifty-four that Colonel Luttrell ‘ought to have been returned’. On 14 July 1769 he was accused in the Public Advertiser by Horne Tooke (then the Rev. John Horne, vicar of Brentford) of having accepted £1,000 to procure a place for a person in America. Onslow denounced the story as ‘a gross and infamous lie from beginning to end,’ and brought an action for libel against Tooke. The trial took place before Mr. Justice Blackstone at Kingston on 6 April 1770, and Onslow was nonsuited. It was tried again before Lord Mansfield at Guildford on 1 August following, when Onslow obtained damages for £400 but judgment was arrested by the court of common pleas in Easter term 1771, on technical grounds.

On 25 January 1770 Onslow opposed Dowdeswell's resolution that the House of Commons was bound on matters of election ‘to judge according to the law of the land and the known and established law and custom of parliament'. In the same session he introduced a bill taking away all privileges of parliament from the servants of members, which, with the aid of Lord Mansfield in the House of Lords, became law.

During the debate on Serjeant Glynn's motion for an inquiry into the administration of criminal justice on 6 December 1770 Onslow warmly defended Baron Smythe, whose conduct had been attacked by Sir Joseph Mawbey. When the members of the House of Commons were turned out of the House of Lords on 10 December 1770, Onslow, in retaliation, immediately proposed that the House of Commons should be ‘cleared of strangers, members of the House of Lords, and all,’ but he did not move for a committee to inspect the journals of the House of Lords, as is stated in Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III. This motion was made by Dunning, and Onslow voted against it.

On 7 February 1771 Onslow opposed Sir George Savile's attempt to bring in a bill for ‘more effectually securing the rights’ of electors. In the same session he took an active part with his cousin, George Onslow (1731-1792) in excluding strangers from the gallery of the House of Commons, and in calling the printers of newspapers to the bar of the house for publishing the debates.

In April 1772 Onslow supported a motion for leave to bring in a bill for the relief of protestant dissenters, and strongly advocated the propriety of granting them relief in the matter of subscription. He was created Baron Cranley, in the county of Surrey, on 20 May 1776, and took his seat in the House of Lords on the following day. On 8 October in the same year he succeeded his cousin Richard as fourth Baron Onslow and Clandon, and on the 30th of the same month was sworn in as lord-lieutenant of Surrey. He spoke for the first time in the House of Lords on 16 April 1777, when he urged that some provision should be made for the discharge of the king's debts, and ‘launched into encomiums of the personal and political virtues of the sovereign’.

Resigning his seat on the treasury board, Onslow was appointed comptroller of the household on 1 December 1777. On 13 May 1778 he voted against the attendance of the House of Lords at Chatham's funeral, though he ‘formerly used to wait in the lobby to help him on with his great-coat’. In December 1779 Onslow became treasurer of the household, but resigned that office on his appointment as a lord of the bedchamber in September 1780, a post which he retained until his death. He appears to have spoken for the last time in the House of Lords on 19 March 1788, when he supported the third reading of the East India Declaratory Bill.

Onslow was one of the Prince of Wales's friends who were sent on that extraordinary mission to Mrs. Fitzherbert, to tell her that the life of the prince was in imminent danger, and that only her immediate presence could save him. He was also present at the marriage of the prince to Mrs. Fitzherbert in December 1785. Onslow was in the royal coach, in his capacity of lord-in-waiting, when the king was mobbed on his way to open parliament on 29 October 1795. Tierney's motion in the House of Commons for an inquiry into Onslow's conduct with regard to the manner in which the act to provide for the defence of the realm had been carried into effect in the county of Surrey was negatived by 141 votes to 22 on 8 May 1798. Onslow was created Viscount Cranley and Earl of Onslow on 19 June 1801. He died at Clandon Park, Surrey, on 17 May 1814, aged 82, and was buried in Merrow Church.

Walpole describes Onslow as ‘a noisy, indiscreet man’, while ‘Junius’ calls him a ‘false, silly fellow. He held the posts of outranger of Windsor Forest from 1754 to 1763, and of surveyor of the king's gardens and waters from 1761 to 1764; he was created D.C.L. of Oxford University on 8 July 1773, and served as colonel of the Surrey regiment of fencible cavalry from 23 May 1794 to 27 March 1800.

Onslow married, on 16 June 1753, Henrietta, eldest daughter of Sir John Shelley, bart., of Michelgrove, Sussex, by whom he had four sons and one daughter.

His eldest son, Thomas Onslow, second Earl of Onslow 1755-1827, commonly known as ‘Tom Onslow,’ was M.P. for Rye from 1775 to 1784, and for Guildford from 1784 to 1806. He married, first, on 20 December 1776, Arabella, third daughter and coheiress of Eaton Mainwaring-Ellerker of Risby Park, Yorkshire; and secondly, on 13 February 1783, Charlotte, daughter of William Hale of King's Walden, Hertfordshire, and widow of Thomas Duncombe of Duncombe Park, Yorkshire, and died on 22 February 1827, aged 72. He was a man of eccentric humour, with an absorbing passion for driving four-in-hand, which is commemorated in one of Gillray's caricatures , and in the lines

What can little T. O. do?
Why, drive a phaeton and two!!
Can little T. O. do no more?
Yes, drive a phaeton and four!!!!

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