OSBORN, Sir John, 5th bt. (1772-1848), of Chicksands Priory, Beds.

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



15 Sept. 1794 - 1807
21 July 1807 - June 1808
1812 - 1818
1818 - 1820
21 Mar. 1821 - Jan. 1824

Family and Education

b. 3 Dec. 1772, o.s. of Sir George Osborn, 4th bt.†, and 1st w. Elizabeth, da. and coh. of John Bannister. educ. Westminster 1781-6; Christ Church, Oxf. 1790. m. 14 Sept. 1809, Frederica Louisa, illegit. da. of Sir Charles Davers, 6th bt.†, 5s. 3da. suc. fa. as 5th bt. 29 June 1818. d. 28 Aug. 1848.

Offices Held

Ld. of admiralty Oct. 1812-Feb. 1824; commr. of audit 1824-d.

Capt. Beds. yeomanry 1797, Beds. vols. 1803-5; col. Beds. militia 1805.


Osborn, who had regained his county seat in 1818 through the default of one of his opponents, stood again in 1820, heedless of his substantial election debts. He was alleged to have created the impression that if he was returned in 1818 he would resign his office at the admiralty; and his failure to do so lost him support, as did attacks on him in The Times, where he was denounced as a placeman whose professions of ‘independence’ were manifestly bogus and who had no right to occupy a county seat. Yet he bragged of his connection with a government which had defeated French tyranny and revolutionary doctrines. His two Whig opponents stood firm on this occasion and, despite the interference of government on his behalf and financial assistance from leading county Tories, he was beaten into third place amid public recriminations with the Whigs.1 Four months later Osborn admitted to a friend that he had little chance of being able to pay his share of the costs or settle his election debts; and it was not until 1831 that the latter were paid off.2

A year elapsed before government created an opening for him by providing Lord Galloway’s brother, who sat for his group of Scottish burghs, with a customs place. As ‘one of the treasury phalanx’, Osborn naturally voted unswervingly with his colleagues in office;3 and he was a ministerial teller in at least 27 divisions in this period. He voted against criminal law reform, 23 May 1821, and the removal of Catholic peers’ disabilities, 30 Apr. 1822. He was ‘disposed’ to support Richard Martin’s bill for the prevention of cruelty to horses, 1 June 1821.4 On 22 Feb. 1822, before he submitted the navy estimates, he clashed with Hume over a blatant case of government pensions held in plurality. He had the worst of the exchange and Hume raised a laugh against him by observing that he ‘could not doubt, after the specimen which the House had received of ... [Osborn’s] arithmetical abilities, that the navy estimates would be admirably expounded’.5 He extolled the reduced estimates, 1 Mar., as evidence of the ‘disposition of government to reduce, in a considerable degree, the public expenditure’; and he replied to Hume’s criticism of the cost of the dockyard improvements at Sheerness, 22 Mar. 1822. When detailing the following year’s estimates, 14 Mar. 1823, he stressed the ‘prudent reductions’ which had been made in the dockyards and boasted that the navy ‘was never in so efficient a state as it was at the present moment’.

Osborn surrendered his office and seat in Parliament in return for a place in the audit office early in 1824 and remained there for the rest of his life. His salary was £1,200 a year but, with his large family and accumulated election debts, he had difficulty in making ends meet. In September 1842, harking back to his devoted support of Pitt some forty years earlier, he asked Sir Robert Peel to find a civil service place for his second son, who was proving too delicate for the army:

It would in a great measure relieve me from a great load of anxiety; and would indemnify me for a great deal of vexation I have suffered, and tend materially to the comfort of the few years that may remain to me.

Peel could not oblige him.6 Six months later, on the retirement of Francis Larpent from the head of the audit commission, Osborn, tentatively advancing his own pretensions to the post, but correctly suspecting that Sir William Herries would be promoted over his head, sought provision for his son as compensation for this disappointment

in consideration of my long standing in this office, and of having spent nearly fifty years in parliamentary and civil service ... If Lord Liverpool’s health had been spared for a very little longer time [in 1827] I should have received an appointment in addition to that which I now hold. But these are not days for pluralities.

Peel again dashed his hopes:

I must claim an unfettered right to make that selection for the appointment in question, which I may deem most advantageous for the efficient conduct of the business of the department and I cannot admit the claim which you urge for consideration in some other way in the event of your not succeeding Mr. Larpent ... The civil patronage of the government is so totally inadequate to meet even a small portion of the claims upon it that I cannot hope to have the pleasure of finding suitable employment for your son.7

Osborn died in August 1848 and was succeeded in the baronetcy and family estates by his eldest son George Robert (1813-92).

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Add. 38458, f. 283; 51676, Lord G.W. Russell to Holland, 13 Mar.; The Times, 9, 17, 21, 22 Mar. Cambridge and Hertford Independent Press, 4, 11, 18, 25 Mar.; Beds. RO, Russell mss R 767, Bedford to Brown, 22, 26 Mar. 1820.
  • 2. Beds. RO, Wrest mss L 30/11/204/9; Beds. RO M 8/11, 12, 14, 16, 19.
  • 3. Black Bk. (1823), 181.
  • 4. The Times, 2 June 1821.
  • 5. Ibid. 23 Feb. 1822.
  • 6. Add. 40516, ff. 106, 108.
  • 7. Add. 40525, ff. 333, 335.