KEARSLEY, John Hodson (1785-1842), of Standishgate, Wigan and Higher Hall, Westleigh, Lancs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1 Mar. 1831 - 1832
1835 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 28 Feb. 1785, 3rd s. of Edward Kearsley (d. 1816), cotton manufacturer, of Aspull, nr. Wigan and Ann, da. of John Hodson of Standishgate.1 m. (settlement) 23 Apr. 1811, Mary Anne, da. and coh. of George Bevan, attorney, of Tarbley Street and West Derby, Liverpool, s.p.2 d. 2 Oct. 1842.

Offices Held

Mayor, Wigan 1813-14, 1819-20, 1825-6.

Capt. commdt. Wigan vol. light horse 1819-41.


Kearsley belonged to a family long established at Wigan and in the surrounding area of south Lancashire: they were part of the town’s commercial and municipal elite by the end of the eighteenth century.3 His father, Edward Kearsley, who was possibly the son of James Kearsley of Hulton, near Leigh, became a partner in the Wigan cotton and linen manufacturing business of his brother-in-law John Hodson of Ellerbeck, Member for Wigan, 1802-20. It is not clear whether he was also involved in the Manchester cotton manufacturing enterprise of James, Josiah (his brother), John and Edward Kearsley. John Hodson Kearsley, the third of his five sons, did not enter the trade, but took a partnership in the Wigan brewery of Henry Robinson and Company.4 In 1811 he married the heiress Mary Anne Bevan, who owned property in Wigan, Preston, Liverpool, Ireland and the West Indies, and soon afterwards came into her only sister’s inheritance of property in Wigan, Hindley, Chorley, Adlington and Preston.5 Kearsley’s father, who was the leaseholder of New Brook House, Over Hulton, died in 1816, not long after his uncle Josiah of Manchester. By his father’s will, Kearsley received an equal share with his seven siblings in a trust fund of almost £52,000, and by his great-uncle’s a legacy of £1,000.6 He was one of the prime movers in the formation of the Wigan volunteer light horse to combat unrest in the aftermath of Peterloo, and he commanded the regiment for over 20 years.7

As mayor of Wigan he presided at the general election of 1820, when his cousin James Alexander Hodson (John Hodson’s nephew) and Lord Lindsay, son of the 6th earl of Balcarres, were returned after a contest; and that of 1826, when, Lindsay having succeeded to the peerage the previous year, his cousin James Lindsay came in unopposed with Hodson.8 Shortly before the general election of 1830 the ailing Hodson indicated to his ally Balcarres that he wished to retire from Parliament, but could name none of his relatives as a replacement. He said that Kearsley, an obvious candidate, had ‘become an active partner’ in the brewery and would be too busy; and Kearsley himself was supposed to have assured Balcarres that he would not come forward. Hodson was persuaded to stand again with Lindsay, but on the day of the election, when the sitting Members faced a contest forced by dissidents who wished to extend the franchise to the ratepayers, Kearsley, to universal surprise, nominated himself with Hodson and attacked Lindsay as an aristocratic nominee and supporter of Catholic emancipation. In the ensuing poll Kearsley, who voted for himself and Hodson and received the votes of his brothers James and Thomas, came a distant third.9 He had apparently already canvassed Wigan when Hodson told Balcarres in early November 1830 that he intended to retire. As Hodson’s substitute, he defended the 1830 return against the petition of their radical opponents.10 When Hodson vacated as soon as his election was confirmed in late February 1831 he stood and easily defeated one of the petitioners of 1830 in a poll held before a large hostile crowd. Kearsley, who was reported to have professed support for ending the East India Company’s trade monopoly, was hit in the face by a stone when leaving the hustings.11 He voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, when he was added to the committee on the bill to revise the regulations governing the employment of apprentices in cotton and other factories. At the ensuing general election he stood again for Wigan, but such was the popular fury against him that he ‘did not dare appear for fear of being murdered’. He was returned second in the poll behind a reformer. An angry mob smashed the windows of his town house in Standishgate, which was ransacked and wrecked in another attack three weeks later. He was forced to live thereafter at Higher Hall, six miles south-east of Wigan.12 The story that the rioters ‘got possession of his will, and read it aloud at the market cross’, thereby fomenting ‘dissension in the family’, is almost certainly apocryphal.13

Kearsley proved to be ‘the most singular’ Member ‘for many years past’, as one commentator recalled in 1838:

Mr. Kearsley’s personal appearance is so much out of the beaten track, and is so expressive of his character, that it might be said, whenever he stood up in his full altitude, to constitute a speech in itself. I have seen him occasionally stand for a short time without uttering a word, and yet the eye of every honourable Member has been intently fixed on him as if he had been giving utterance to the most fascinating strains of eloquence that ever fell from mortal lips. And what may appear still more surprising, honourable gentlemen were delighted to see him rise, though they knew that when he did put himself into a perpendicular position, he never delivered half-a-dozen sentences. He had such a comfortable notion of his own senatorial qualifications, and this notion was so vividly imprinted on his little round pug-looking face, that it was impossible to look on him and not be pleased ... Never was man on better terms with himself ... A most expressive look of self-complacency always irradiated his globularly-formed, country-complexioned countenance; while his small bright eyes were ever peering triumphantly over his little cocked-up nose. Then there was his ample harvest of black, bushy hair, with a pair of excellent whiskers to match, not forgetting his well-developed cheeks. He is a little thick-set man, with an inclination to corpulency ... He never made a speech, and yet he often spoke ... A speech, according to the generally received acceptation of the term, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This could not be predicated of anything which ever fell from the lips of Mr. Kearsley. His oratorical efforts had no middle; they were all beginning and end; the end being invariably the same as the beginning. In other words, Mr. Kearsley’s addresses to the House always consisted of a single idea, and seldom of more sentences than one, though the reporters sometimes did such violence to prosody as to divide such sentence into two or three sentences. His ambition as a senator never soared any higher than to throw in, by way of episode to any discussion, some severe solitary observation on ministers, or on some of their supporters ... I never yet knew him open his mouth without setting the whole House in an uproar. Mr. Kearsley ... always contrived to speak at the same hour. That hour was nine o’clock, that being the time he usually returned from dinner ... Nor do I recollect, except when there was to be a division on some important question, seeing him in the House after eleven.14

He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and for at least four of the opposition adjournment motions, 12 July 1831. He voted for use of the census of 1831 to determine the borough disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, to postpone discussion of allocating Chippenham to schedule B, 27 July, and against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. He voted for inquiry into the effects of renewing the Sugar Refinery Act on the West India interest and to go into committee on the truck bill, 12 Sept. He was in the minority for ending the grant to Maynooth, 26 Sept. He presented a petition from Wigan for amendment of the Beer Act, 7 Oct. He voted against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and the motion to go into committee on it, 20 Jan. 1832. He divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. On 6 Feb. he seized on Thomas Duncombe’s complaint that this issue had been raised ‘as a means of tripping up’ the ministry to observe that ‘a government which can be so easily tripped up must be rotten indeed’. Edward Littleton* recorded that on 20 Feb. he travelled to London in the same coach as Kearsley’s brother-in-law, the Rev. Thomas Pigot, vicar of St. Helens, whom he left at Islington but discovered later that day under the gallery of the Commons with Kearsley:

The little brewer, who is a very violent vulgar little fellow, and an immoderate fool, thought he must show off to his relation in his grand character as legislator, and so went into his place, and made a short speech amidst roars of laughter at his language and manner, to the apparently deep mortification of his relation and guest.15

No intervention by Kearsley was reported that day, unless he was the unidentified Member who repudiated the extreme allegations of cruelty to children employed in cotton mills. Littleton may, however, have been referring to an episode on the 21st, when, having apparently responded to a speech by Sheil calling for the complete disfranchisement of Petersfield with certain ‘musical exclamations’ which were sarcastically noticed by Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, he thanked the latter for his ‘handsome compliment’ and assured him that ‘if it please God to spare my life’ he would again hear ‘that musical voice which so peculiarly struck him’. He voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. On 1 Mar. he condemned the government’s handling of the silk industry as ‘most improper’ and asserted that ‘there is not one merchant in the metropolis who places the least confidence in such "a Noodle and Doodle administration"’. In a debate on the reform bill the following day he said that ministers were

capable of saying anything whatever. One says, ‘Wait until this reform bill is passed; be quiet, and we shall have what we want’. A second says, ‘I will swallow anything, in order to support the reform bill’. A third says, ‘I have voted black is white’; and a fourth adds, ‘I have waded through the dirtiest job I ever had to encounter during the whole of my parliamentary career’.

After expressing mock concern that one of the participants in exchanges on Irish education had exhibited ‘the incipient symptoms of cholera’, 6 Mar., he observed, to ‘loud laughter’, that if the king ‘called upon him to give his services, than which many things more unlikely had come to pass, the first thing he would do would be to order the "Rogue’s March" to be beat for both parties’.16 Supporting a Wigan mill owners’ petition against Sadler’s factories regulation bill, 8 Mar., he argued that ‘any legislative interference on the subject will not only be detrimental to the real interests of the lower orders, but an act of injustice to the master spinners’. On the same theme, 16 Mar., he hoped that the measure would ‘not be submitted to the investigation of a packed committee’ and told Lord William Lennox, whom he had earlier interrupted, that he ‘knows nothing whatever about cotton mills, nor indeed about anything else’. Lennox retorted that it would be ‘far more parliamentary’ for Kearsley to ‘expose my mistakes in one of his speeches, so full of eloquence, and infinitely preferable to the unknown tongues of groans he so often indulges in’. Kearsley voted against the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. Next day, ostensibly seconding Waldo Sibthorp’s amendment to preserve the rights of Lincoln freeholders, he denounced ‘this damnable bill’. According to Hawkins, Member for Tavistock, who described Kearsley as ‘the impersonation of vulgarity, known in the House by his singular cheer, and a very un-senatorial addiction to inebriety’, the Speaker ‘stood for five minutes before his chair laughing, before he could summon a sufficient command of countenance to call the orator to order’.17 Kearsley pressed on regardless:

Having carefully examined this bill, I have come to the conclusion that its complexion has very much varied since I had first the misfortune to look upon it. I can perceive in it the colours of black, brown, and grey, but nothing fair. It is an infernal pill, composed of two ingredients, in themselves most pernicious ... One of these venomous ingredients is called ‘the Russell brown’; and the other is found on a certain tree, with a dingy-coloured stem, and a black top-knot, and it is called ‘the Durham mustard’.

He was in the minority of 27. He divided against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. He voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 and 16 July, when he observed that his speeches were ‘like angels’ visits, few and far between’, and not quite pertinently criticized ministers for their ‘frequent desecrations of the Sabbath’. He voted in the minority against Hume’s motion for leave to introduce a bill to disqualify the recorder of Dublin from sitting in the Commons, 24 July. When Burge insisted that he did not wish to ‘take the sense of the House’ on his proposal to reduce the duty on vinegar, 25 July 1832, Kearsley said that ‘all the sense of the House is on this side’ and complained that the reform bill had ‘destroyed my property and done me all sorts of injury’.

He stood for Wigan at the general election of 1832, but finished bottom of the poll behind three Liberals.18 He regained the seat in 1835, but lost it in 1837. He was defeated by two votes in a poll of 520 at a by-election in March 1839, and unsuccessfully petitioned. He decided against standing again in 1841.19 Kearsley, who was widowed in 1837, died childless at Higher Hall in October 1842. By his will, dated 21 June 1842, he devised the Brickhouse estate at Westleigh to Alice, Ann and Jane Finch, who were then living with him, together with life annuities of £100, £100 and £150 respectively. He bequeathed a life annuity of £80 to Ellen Gregory, who also lived with him. He set up a trust fund of £5,000 for his brother Thomas, a recently bankrupt cotton spinner of Tyldesley, and made arrangements for a residuary fund to provide for his three other surviving siblings and the children of his late brother Josiah and sister Mary Anne Pigot.20 An obituarist wrote that

his charity was unbounded, and the never-forgotten recipients of his bounteous liberality, the poor of Wigan and its neighbourhood, may mourn indeed in bitter grief for the loss of their best friend and benefactor. Seldom has an instance occurred in the neighbourhood, where the hand of death has spread a heavier gloom.21

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: David R. Fisher / Stephen Bairstow


  • 1. Lancs. RO, Hindley par. reg.
  • 2. Lancs. RO, Mary Anne Kearsley’s will; IGI (Lancs.).
  • 3. G.T.O. Bridgeman, Hist. Church and Manor of Wigan (Chetham Soc. n. s. xvii), 595.
  • 4. Gent. Mag. (1842), ii. 548; Manchester Guardian, 7 May 1831.
  • 5. Mary Anne Kearsley’s will.
  • 6. Gent. Mag. (1816), i. 570; PROB 11/1580/263; 1584/530; IR26/683/876.
  • 7. G. Derbyshire, Wigan Military Chron. i. 70.
  • 8. NLS, Crawford mss 25/13/348.
  • 9. Ibid. 25/13/353; Manchester Guardian, 31 July, 7 Aug.; Wigan Pollbook (1830).
  • 10. Crawford mss 25/13/352, 354; CJ, lxxxvi. 65, 147-8.
  • 11. Bolton Chron. 5 Mar. 1831.
  • 12. Crawford mss 25/13/356; VCH Lancs. iii. 424; Bolton Chron. 30 Apr., 7, 14, 28 May; Manchester Guardian, 7 May; Liverpool Mercury, 13 May 1831.
  • 13. Moore Jnl. iv. 1462-3.
  • 14. [James Grant], Random Recollections of Lords and Commons (1838), ii. 29-34.
  • 15. Hatherton diary, 20 Feb. 1832.
  • 16. The Times, 7 Mar. 1832.
  • 17. Cornw. RO, Hawkins mss 10/2189.
  • 18. The Times, 11-13 Dec. 1832.
  • 19. Crawford mss 25/13/112-14.
  • 20. Lancs. RO, Kearsley’s will; IR26/1648/114; The Times, 16 Apr. 1842.
  • 21. Gent. Mag. (1842), ii. 548-9.