YONGE, Sir George, 5th Bt. (1732-1812), of Colyton and Escott House, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. 1732,1 o. surv. s. of Sir William Yonge†, 4th Bt., of Colyton by 2nd w. Hon. Anne Howard, da. and coh. of Thomas, 6th Baron Howard of Effingham. educ. Eton 1742-5; Leipzig Univ. 1750-2. m. 10 July 1765, Anne, da. and h. of Bourchier Cleeve, London merchant, of Foots Cray Place, Kent, s.p. suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 10 Aug. 1755; KB 7 May 1788.
Sec. to Ld. Rochford at Turin embassy 1752, chargé d’affaires 1753; ld. of Admiralty Sept. 1766-Feb. 1770; PC 10 Apr. 1782; jt. vice-treasurer [I] Apr.-Sept. 1782; sec. at war July 1782-Apr. 1783, Dec. 1783-July 1794; master of Mint July 1794-Feb. 1799; gov. Cape of Good Hope 1799-1801; gov. Tortola 1806-d.
Lt.-col. commdt. Hayridge vols. 1803, col. 1803; col. commdt. 8 Devon militia 1808.
In 1790, for the fifth successive general election, Yonge topped the poll at Honiton, where his old family interest depended as much on money as on the proximity of their property. His association with the borough cost him dear. He was in desperate financial trouble for the last 20 years of his life and by 1794 had sold his Devon estates. He is reputed to have said that Honiton alone had swallowed £240,000 of inherited wealth and emoluments, but he was generally extravagant and was also a ‘great loser’ through the failure of his attempt to establish a woollen factory at Ottery St. Mary.2
Yonge was listed among opponents of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791, but almost all his reported speeches in this period were on official business. Wraxall wrote that he ‘maintained his place in a debate, though he possessed no pretensions to eloquence’.3 He led the ministerial opposition to motions on the mutiny bill, 10 Mar. 1791, and arrears of military pay, 12 Mar. 1792, and defended the staff augmentation, 21 Feb., and the barrack system, 22 Feb. 1793. His last known contribution to debate was made on 29 Apr. 1794 when, having called Sheridan to order during his attack on the Prussian subsidy, he lamely explained that he had done so not on account of Sheridan’s language but because he had heard a noise in the gallery, which turned out to be empty.
On the junction of the Portland Whigs with government in July 1794 Pitt asked Yonge to surrender the secretaryship at war to Windham and offered him the mastership of the Mint ‘as an equivalent in point of income’. Yonge acquiesced in the arrangement, but requested a peerage and a promise of ‘a permanent provision for life’ in the event of his ‘being out of employment hereafter’. His claim to a peerage was set aside for the time being, but he was promised a retirement pension of £1,200 p.a., to be extended for his wife’s life after his death.4
He was safely re-elected for Honiton on his appointment to the Mint, but did not in fact resume his seat, being beset by fears that the master’s commission to make coin for the Treasury was a government contract disqualifying him from sitting. There was no move to challenge his eligibility, but the legal position remained uncertain even after a nominal deputy was found. Only Pitt, Dundas and the Speaker were privy to Yonge’s problem, and in 1795 he told the premier that ‘in my present situation it will hardly be possible for me with any propriety, however it has happened now, by accident, to conceal my situation again so far as to offer myself again as a Member of Parliament’. He accordingly stood down at the dissolution of 1796.5
Shortly afterwards, when he was apparently in hiding from his creditors, Yonge asked Pitt for the vacant wardenship of the Mint to supplement his income as master which, he complained, had fallen far below the £3,000 a year he had been led to expect. He was not given the wardenship, but government afforded him some relief by advancing him money against his future emoluments as master.6 In 1798, following an inquiry into the Mint, Pitt decided to replace the master’s variable fees with a fixed salary. Canning, anxious to make the revamped office attractive enough to offer to one of the junior ministers in order to create an opening for himself, attempted to prove that it would be possible, without increasing public expenditure, to pension Yonge off on £2,000 a year and pay his successor a salary of £2,500, but Pitt was not convinced by his arithmetic. When Lord Macartney asked to be relieved as governor of the Cape later in the year the post was offered to Yonge, who at the time was living in Edinburgh, possibly in debtors’ sanctuary at Holyrood. At first he expressed ‘a reluctance insuperable almost to quit my present situation’. Dundas thought he feared he had ‘given some offence in the conduct of his present office’ and would ‘not go unless compelled’; but when the offer was presented to Yonge as ‘a great act of kindness’ on Pitt’s part, by which he stood to make over £4,000 a year, he accepted it. His renewed application for a peerage was turned down.7
Before he left for the Cape, Yonge was returned for Old Sarum as an act of ‘compassion’ by Pitt’s kinsman Lord Camelford, who disregarded their political differences to provide him with immunity from his creditors: ‘he could not before that go beyond the precincts of the palace for fear of being arrested’. His appointment surprised many people, including the King. Lord Bathurst commented that ‘it seems to promise so very ill’, Macartney was said to be outraged by the choice of such a successor and Addington later described it as a disgraceful job which he had tried to prevent.8
Yonge reached the Cape in December 1799, but only ten months later Dundas told the King that he would have to be recalled:
his conduct ... has in such a variety of particulars been so wild and extravagant as to render it impossible to continue him in that government without exposing this country to the imputation of being indifferent to the concerns of that most important settlement.
At the same time Wellesley wrote to Dundas from India:
My accounts from the Cape all concur in representing that government to be in a state of great confusion. The imbecility and ignorance of Sir George Yonge entirely disqualify him for his situation ... The importance of the Cape in its relation to India increases every hour ... Yonge is employed in founding theatres and masquerade rooms. He dances with more grace and perseverance than Lord Keeper Hatton; and the fame of his brawls has not only reached the kaffirs, and animated every kraal from the Cape to the desert of Sahara, but extended to the Indus and the Ganges.9
Yonge, who was replaced as Member for Old Sarum in February 1801, did not receive official notice of his recall until April, though hints reached him at the turn of the year. His enemy Lady Anne Barnard, a Cape resident, told Wellesley that:
the Lofty Twaddler has had the lofty tumble I foresaw ... [he] was petrified at the event. He is so conceited of his own abilities that nothing was farther from his expectation than being blamed for anything.
On the other hand the King, according to Glenbervie, had some sympathy for Yonge, who
had received his recall in a better temper than he expected, and had said in his despatch that he hoped so old a servant of the crown would not be suffered to starve ... [The King] added that he never was a man of business, that his circumstances were desperate ... but that means must be found to prevent him from starving.10
He was refused a naval ship to take him home and had to charter a private vessel to carry him via St. Helena, where he was delayed for several months. On his arrival in England in December 1801 he found that his governorship was under investigation by a commission of inquiry. Its report, completed in March 1802, largely confirmed the allegations of outrageous corruption and extravagance which had led to his recall, but as the Cape was returned to Holland by the Peace of Amiens it was thought prudent to drop the matter.11
In May 1802 he was in Germany, hopeful that the King at least had not forsaken him, but fretting because ‘les absents ont toujours tort’ and because he had not had a chance to explain the ‘whole truth’ to the King. He came to England to contest Honiton at the general election, but finished bottom of the poll and made himself so unpopular by trying to administer the bribery oath that one woman set fire to his wig. Shortly afterwards he claimed to have enjoyed a ‘gracious reception’ from the King at Weymouth and to have been ‘assured of his entire approbation of my conduct and services’.12 Provided with a refuge from his creditors in Hampton Court, he began to bombard government and the King with claims for compensation and reward for his services, but his demands for reimbursement of the expenses of his homeward journey from the Cape were rejected. He also insisted on his right to a pension, in accordance with the promise of 1794, and to a peerage, claiming that he had been encouraged to expect both by the first ‘private official intimation’ of his recall. A peerage was clearly out of the question, but government seem to have been willing to consider means of relieving his financial distress. He discussed the problem with Addington early in 1803 and, after rejecting on ‘cooler reflection’ one ‘transient idea which suggested itself’, expressed willingness to settle for a pension of £1,000 a year. Whether he received it is not known, but in 1807 he was given the nominal governorship of Tortola, which presumably afforded him a pittance.13 He died at Hampton Court, 25 Sept. 1812.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: P. A. Symonds / David R. Fisher
- 1. According to his memo of 4 Nov. 1802 (Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2672). He may have meant 1732 Old Style, but in Nov. 1796 he claimed to be approaching 65 (PRO 30/8/193, f. 106).
- 2. Diary of Walter Yonge (Cam. Soc.), p. xiii; Public Characters (1799-1800), 418.
- 3. Mems. iii. 208.
- 4. PRO 30/8/193, f. 78; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 732/2, Yonge to Pitt, 7 July 1794; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2672.
- 5. PRO 30/8/193, ff. 80-98.
- 6. Ibid. ff. 104-114.
- 7. PRO 30/8/120, f. 149; 193, ff. 122-8; 195, f. 198; Dacres Adams mss 2/45-46.
- 8. Geo. III Corresp. iii. 1932; Wellesley Pprs. i. 89-90; Glenbervie Jnls. i. 148.
- 9. Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2264; Add. 37282, f. 195.
- 10. Add. 37308, f. 329; Glenbervie Jnls. i. 235.
- 11. Recs. Cape Colony, iii. 484; iv. 11, 84, 221-74; G. M. Theal, Hist. S. Africa since 1795, i. 71-75.
- 12. PRO 30/8/193, f. 130; A. Farquharson, Honiton, 45; Cape Recs. iv. 336.
- 13. Cape Recs. iv. 346, 352, 462; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2672; Sidmouth mss, Yonge to Addington, 19 Oct. 1802, 14 Feb. 1803, Yonge’s memoranda, 26 Dec. 1802; Farington, iv. 89.