OWEN, John (1776-1861), of Orielton, Pemb.
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Family and Education
b. 1776, 1st s. of Joseph Lord of Pembroke by Corbetta, da. of Lt.-Gen. John Owen† of Bath, Som. educ. I. Temple 1794, called 1800. m. (1) 12 Dec. 1800, Charlotte (d. 1 Sept. 1829), da. of Rev. John Lewes Philipps of Llwyncrwn, Llangynin, Carm., 1s. 4da.; (2) 21 Oct. 1830, Mary Frances, da. of Edward Stephenson of Farley Hill, Berks., 3s. 2da. suc. fa. 1801; cos. Sir Hugh Owen, 6th Bt.* to Orielton and took name of Owen 23 Aug. 1809; cr. Bt. 12 Jan. 1813.
Gov. Haverfordwest Castle 1812, Milford Haven 1821.
Mayor, Pembroke 1813; ld. lt. Pemb. 1823-d.
Owen was the grandson of a heraldic painter, as his enemies liked to point out. His father married Corbetta Owen of Orielton, thanks to whose friendship with Lady Anna Owen, mother of Sir Hugh, this eldest son of a large and impecunious family became heir to the Orielton estate on Sir Hugh’s death in 1809, to the prejudice of the next of kin. He thereby assumed the name and parliamentary interest of the family, although to his foes he remained, to quote Lord Cawdor, ‘Jacky Lord ... a sly little lawyer’, or, to quote another, ‘that puppy Owen’.1 Before inheriting Orielton, he had practised on the Oxford circuit and at Gloucester and Carmarthen sessions. He at once succeeded to his benefactor’s seat for Pembroke Boroughs in 1809, embellished Orielton and added to the estate. In 1811 he advertised for the county, which Sir Hugh had also aspired to, as a champion of its independence against ‘the few great men’. This had been his aim from the start. His pretensions were resisted by Cawdor who put up his son against him in the county and also challenged him in the boroughs, where Owen offered himself again as a security against defeat. He was successful, at great expense, in both contests. He thereby crippled the estate, but was rewarded with a baronetcy by Lord Liverpool: he had already obtained from Perceval the governorship of Haverfordwest Castle. His claims to ‘independence’ were therefore mocked.2
Owen was inclined to government from the start despite his vote with the opposition majority for the Scheldt enquiry, 26 Jan. 1810: both the Whigs in 1810 and the Treasury in 1812 listed him so. In his maiden speech, 5 Mar. 1810, he claimed that the case against Lord Chatham’s conduct of the Walcheren expedition had not been made out and voted with ministers. On 28 Mar., condemning (Sir) Francis Burdett* and opposing the adjournment, he said this subject was ten times more important than the Walcheren expedition, but he did not omit to appear in the government lobby against the censure of the expedition, 30 Mar. On 10 Apr. he favoured the description of Burdett’s breach of privilege as ‘flagrant’; on 16 Apr. opposed the release of the radical Gale Jones and on 21 May voted against parliamentary reform. Writing to the Regent for ecclesiastical patronage for a friend of Owen’s, Perceval referred to his ‘friendly disposition to ... government (though he has not attended in Parliament from ill health this session)’, 20 Feb. 1811.3 He voted against a change of government, 21 May 1812. On 23 Apr. 1812 he had criticized Catholic relief as dangerous per se and not likely to satisfy the Catholics or achieve the aims of its protagonists: yet on 2 Mar. 1813 and 30 May 1815 he voted in favour of it and after 1820 opposed it again, until Peel championed it in 1829.
Owen spoke against government for the first time, 1 and 18 Mar. 1816, on the renewal of the property tax, referring to agricultural distress in Pembrokeshire as the reason for his vote. He had voted for the army estimates on 6 and 8 Mar. On 4 Apr. he presented a county petition begging for retrenchment and reduction of the army. He made it clear, however, that he was confident ministers could promote economy and disbelieved that opposition were capable of doing so. Subsequently his vote went to government on the civil list, 24 May 1816; on the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817; on the ducal marriage grant, 15 Apr. 1818, and against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819. Not until 1830, when he opposed the abolition of the Welsh judicature, did he make any mark in debate.
Owen’s later years were darkened by debt: as early as 1814 he had to raise £11,000 on the Llanstinan estate, purchased three years before, and there was a further mortgage in 1819, but he recovered from these effects of the county contest of 1812 and by a compromise with Cawdor strove to avert future trouble.4 This was in 1816, and it was a check to Owen’s ambitions, for according to Joseph Foster Barham* he ‘openly boasted that he should contest and carry the three seats [in Pembrokeshire] and Lady Owen talks familiarly of the peerage they are soon to have. In the meantime the res angusta domi can no longer be concealed and the selling has already begun.’5 It was the further contests for the county in 1831 and 1832 that finally ruined him. His support of government had secured him the lord lieutenancy in 1823, but he did not get a peerage, his claims to which were recognized by Peel in 1828. By 1840 he was obliged to write begging letters to Peel and in 1842 to abscond abroad. To the expense of elections and that alone can be attributed the dissolution of one of the oldest and finest estates in Pembrokeshire. Owen died in obscurity, 6 Feb. 1861: for the last 20 years he had represented the boroughs, for which he had been obliged to fight with his own son.6
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. R. D. Rees, ‘Parl. Rep. S. Wales, 1790-1830’ (Reading Univ. Ph.D. thesis 1962), ii. 425; J. R. Phillips, Mems. Owen of Orielton ; Carm. RO, 1 Cawdor 129, 1812 election squib; Cymmrodorion Trans. (1948), 439; Creevey mss, Hemington to Creevey, 29 Feb. 1812.
- 2. NLW mss 6108, Owen’s addresses 21 Nov. 1811, 30 Oct., Campbell’s address 9 Nov. 1812; Add. 38250, f. 107.
- 3. Prince of Wales Corresp. vii. 2884, CJ, lxvi. 22, 30.
- 4. See PEMBROKESHIRE and PEMBROKE BOROUGHS. Owen also claimed that he had lost £26,000 through his brother Edward: NLW mss 1075 f. 40, to Arthur Owen, 20 Oct. 1816.
- 5. Carm. RO, 1 Cawdor 225, Foster Barham to Cawdor, 12 Aug. 1816.
- 6. Rees, loc. cit.