SHARP, Richard (1759-1835), of Park Lane, Mdx. and Fredley Farm, Mickleham, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1806 - 1812
1 Mar. 1816 - Feb. 1819
1826 - 22 Feb. 1827

Family and Education

b. 1759 at Newfoundland, 1st s. of an English officer of the garrison by his American w. educ. by Rev. John Fell, dissenting minister, of Thaxted, Essex.1 unm.

Offices Held

Dir. Hand in Hand Fire Office 1813.


Sharp was ‘bred to trade from infancy’2 and started as a hatter. He was in business with his brother-in-law on Fish Street Hill, London and the firm subscribed £15,000 to the loyalty loan for 1797. He became a partner about 1800 in the West India firm of Boddington & Co. of 17 Mark Lane, subsequently of Mansion House Place (Boddington, Philips, Sharp & Co.). He was described after his entry into Parliament as ‘ci-devant hatter, but now philosopher, senator and Patriot’. By then he was ‘Conversation’ Sharp, a well-known figure in the intellectual and literary life of London. His clubs ranged from the Crown and Anchor and Clifford Street debating societies to the Unincreasable, the Athenian and the King of Clubs. In 1806 he founded the London institution for the improvement of science and literature. He was host and critic of the literati, a friend of Lord and Lady Holland and of Sir James Mackintosh and the future author of Letters and Essays in Prose and Verse. Byron described him in 1813 as ‘a man of elegant mind and who has lived much with the best—Fox, Horne Tooke, Windham, Fitzpatrick, and all the agitators of other times and tongues’. At the same time, John William Ward* thought him ‘one of the most thoroughly amiable, good-tempered, well-informed sensible men that I have ever become acquainted with’. Francis Horner* could not have enough of his society.3

Sharp set out in politics as a dissenting radical, a member of the Society for Constitutional Information (1788) and promoter of the Friends of the People (1792). In 1802 he visited Paris and doffed his hat to Napoleon.4 By 1806 he was ‘a very stout Whig’, anxious to be in Parliament. After ‘labouring for some months’ at Seaford, he gave it up for a snugger seat. Lord and Lady Holland, through George Tierney, procured his return for one in Lord Cholmondeley’s pocket (though another seat was at first intended for him) on payment of £4,000 into the Whig election fund. The story was that he might have come in without expense, or, had he chosen, offered for London or Westminster. He was more fortunate than his business partners, Samuel Boddington and George Philips, who did not then find seats. His support of his friends in office was unobtrusive: Mackintosh assured him, 14 Mar. 1807, ‘You have no enemies but your modesty and your taste’. On 10 Feb. he had been named to the finance committee. On 25 Mar. he joined the Whig attack on the offer of the duchy of Lancaster for life to Spencer Perceval, and he voted for Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the Grenville ministry, 9 Apr. 1807. On 24 Apr. he was an advocate of popular education. At the ensuing election he was prepared to give up his seat for the benefit of Viscount Howick to whom he wrote, 23 May, that he saw no prospect of effective opposition to the Portland ministry, and added: ‘my love of leisure is so strong, that I should give up Parliament with no regret, under any circumstances ... I shall be ready to purchase a seat again, that I may have the gratification of supporting your government.’5 The offer was not taken up.

Sharp was urged by Henry Brougham* to assist the Whig press attack on the new ministry, if possible to write ‘a separate tract’ and to rally his literary friends. When he was ousted from the finance committee by the ministry, 30 June 1807, he had the satisfaction of hearing Henry Bankes deplore the omission of ‘one of the most active, the most eminently useful servants to the public’ and of seeing his replacement by Hugh Leycester become a matter for a division of the House. He himself warned ministers that he was in possession of ammunition to use against them and assured his friends, ‘The ministry must be licked up’. To this end he was prepared to support the plan for national defence devised by Lord Sidmouth’s friend Lord Selkirk and to promote its adoption by the city of London under the aegis of (Sir) William Curtis*, though his Whig attachments prevented him from doing so publicly.6 He also threatened (10 July) that he would raise the question of public lotteries in the House. On 15 July he joined Brooks’s Club, sponsored by Lord Cholmondeley.

Sharp’s parliamentary fate was decided by his motion of censure on ministers for the Copenhagen expedition, 21 Mar. 1808. He had given notice of it on 8 Feb. and had meanwhile (10 Mar.) ridiculed the City supporters of the orders in council. His set speech of censure dwelt on the moral shortcomings of England’s treatment of Denmark. He was urged to publish it, but his motion was heavily defeated (224 votes to 64). Thereafter he never cut a figure in debate, though he voted steadily with the moderate Whigs and was present at their meeting to endorse Ponsonby’s leadership, 18 Jan. 1809. On 15 June 1808 he dissociated himself from a debate on the exemption of foreigners investing in the funds from taxation. He criticized the lack of progress of the remodelled finance committee, 24 Jan. 1809. He himself gave evidence for their fourth report on prize commissions, 24 Feb. He objected to government interference by bounty to encourage flax growing in Ireland, 22 Mar. 1809. He blamed ministers for the crisis over (Sir) Francis Burdett*, 9 Apr. 1810. He gave up a motion on the exchange of prisoners of war pending current negotiations, 4 May. He voted for parliamentary reform on Brand’s motion, 21 May, though he could not be rallied to the extra-parliamentary meeting to promote constitutional reform in the following year. He failed to secure a debate on the proposal to create a new naval arsenal at Northfleet, 5 June 1810. He was a member of the bullion committee and defended their report, 8 May 1811; also a member of the committee on commercial credit. He regularly supported sinecure reform and Catholic relief. In February 1812 he was an intermediary in the flirtation between Canning and the Whigs, and in April between Canning and Grattan, the Catholic champion.7

Sharp was left without a seat in 1812, Lord Cholmondeley being a friend of the Prince Regent. He was invited to contest Great Yarmouth, Lewes, Evesham and Coventry and might have been tempted by the latter ‘on account of the public grounds on which he had been asked’, but for the expense and his expectation that the Parliament would be a short one. His friends looked out for a vacancy for him.8 In December 1815 an Irish borough became available ‘upon rather easy terms’ and Sharp was awarded it. Tierney informed Lord Grey, 8 Dec., that William Lamb* was not likely to pass the test of Whig orthodoxy and that ‘Sharp I believe will be the new man"and we cannot have a better’. Princess Charlotte commented ‘I see Mr Sharp is come in, which I am glad of. I used to know him and see him at my mother’s and though a vulgar, hideous man, I thought him clever, and very staunch.’9 He resumed steady opposition. On 20 Mar. 1816 he ridiculed the ministry’s failure to carry out their fiscal programme. He objected to the hasty passage of the aliens bill, 29 Apr. On 2 Apr. 1816 and 25 Feb. 1817 he presented petitions from wine merchants asking for a reduction on import duties, and on 4 Mar. 1817 petitions concerning the ill treatment of a merchant in St. Domingo. He supported the reception of a petition for parliamentary reform, even if it was informal, 7 Mar. 1817, and on 20 Mar. reminded the House that Pitt had been a reformer. He voted for reform on Burdett’s motion, 20 May. He supported and was teller for Brougham’s motion for an inquiry into commercial and industrial distress, 13 Mar. He was a critic of the ministerial ‘job’ of Canning’s embassy to Lisbon, 6 May 1817. He spoke against ministers on the ducal marriage grants, 16 Apr. 1818.

Sharp signed the requisition to Tierney to lead the opposition and on 2 Feb. 1819 voted for his motion for a committee on the Bank. Soon afterwards he vacated his seat to let in his friend David Ricardo. He had been defeated in a contest against Lord Anglesey’s interest at Milborne Port at the general election. In July 1819 he was again unsuccessful at a by-election there. Nor did he succeed in the election of 1820, when he contested both Milborne Port and Maidstone. He was unseated after his return on Lord Darlington’s interest in 1826. His later years were devoted to literature, society and his annual visits to the Lake District and the Continent. He died 30 Mar. 1835 leaving a quarter of a million, much of it to his adopted daughter Maria Kinnaird.10

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 133; DNB (Fell, Rev. John). Sharp’s father might have been Horatio or Edward (army lists). His mother settled in London (Clayden, Early Life of Samuel Rogers, 329). He had a ‘kinsman’ named James Hartman Pearson (PCC 263 Gloucester).
  • 2. Wilson, 133. Sharp’s brother William (d.s.p. 1821) was in business with him. Their sister was the wife of George Adams Davis, W.I. proprietor (PCC 263 Gloucester).
  • 3. Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 17; DNB ; C.K.P[aul], Maria Drummond, 29-32; Clayden, 277-80; Moore, Byron Letters (1875), 341; Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 224; Horner Mems. i. 184, 240, 243-4, 283, 298.
  • 4. Add. 51593, Sharp to Lady Holland, 15 June 1802.
  • 5. Add. 40350, f. 28; 51584, Tierney to Holland, Sat. [Oct.]; 51593, Sharp to Lady Holland, Thurs., to Holland, Fri. [1806]; Farington Diary (Yale ed.), viii. 2906; Mackintosh Mems. 337; Grey mss.
  • 6. Univ. of London Lib. A.L. 170/1; Farington, iv. 181; Sidmouth mss, Selkirk to Sidmouth, 16 Sept. 1807.
  • 7. Univ. of London Lib. A.L. 170/2; PRO 30/29/8/5, ff. 586, 588; Wellesley Pprs. ii. 82.
  • 8. Add. 27840, f. 113; Brougham mss 10346; Horner mss 5, f. 391.
  • 9. Grey mss; Letters of Princess Charlotte, 236.
  • 10. Gent. Mag. (1835), ii. 96; The Times, 17 Jan. 1891, p. 10.