OTWAY CAVE, Robert (?1796-1844), of Stanford Hall, Leics. and Castle Otway, co. Tipperary

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



1826 - 1830
8 Aug. 1832 - 1832
1835 - 29 Nov. 1844

Family and Education

b. 1 Mar. 1796,1 3rd but 1st surv. s. of Henry Otway of Castle Otway and Sarah, da. and h. of Sir Thomas Cave, 6th bt., of Stanford Hall, sis. and sole h. of Sir Thomas Cave†, 7th bt., of Stanford. educ. Eton 1808; Christ Church, Oxf. 1815. m. 23 Oct. 1832,2 Sophia, da. of Sir Francis Burdett, 5th bt.*, s.p. suc. fa. to Castle Otway 1815 and took additional name of Cave by royal lic. 12 Mar. 1818. d. 29 Nov. 1844.

Offices Held

Capt. Leics. yeomanry 1818.


Otway Cave’s maternal ancestors had long been prominent in Leicestershire politics: his grandfather Sir Thomas Cave, 3rd bt., and uncle Sir Thomas Cave, 5th bt., sat for the county in the eighteenth century. His mother, who had inherited Stanford Hall from her brother in 1792, and with him took the additional name of Cave in 1818, became suo jure Baroness Braye in 1839 after establishing her somewhat tenuous claim as coheir to the title, in abeyance since 1557. Otway Cave was ‘highly distinguished for classical proficiency’ at Eton and Oxford.3 He showed an early interest in county politics and made a favourable impression on the Tory Member George Legh Keck, but was rejected as his prospective seconder at the contested general election of 1818 as this might have exposed him to awkward questions without a transfer of property from his mother’s estate. He went to Paris in the autumn of 1819 and from there to Italy, but was in Leicester to second the successful nomination of Legh Keck for the county in March 1820.4 He appears to have spent the next few years abroad. Charles Longley, the future archbishop of Canterbury, corresponded with him at Vienna on the Catholic question, 3 June 1822, and ‘regretted much’ that he was ‘not coming home this year’. Another correspondent complained of his ‘continental blindness’, 6 Apr. 1823: ‘while poetry instead of politics fill your mind you will never be the man you ought - speeches instead of verses!’. A proposed marriage to a ‘princess’ in Geneva in September 1823 came to nothing. At this time his rent roll stood at £3,500, and his potential inheritance, besides his Irish paternal property, was worth £10,810 per annum. On leaving Europe he stated his intention of residing in Ireland since, as he explained to a French friend, ‘the state of that country grows daily worse’.5 In the event he continued to nurse his political interests in Leicestershire. Longley, reviewing a proposed election address, 30 Jan. 1825, advised him to modify some of its content: there was a danger of alarming his ‘more timid neighbours’ by appearing to advocate ‘some indefinite and sweeping reform in ecclesiastical matters’; the general effect of the whole ‘stamps you decidedly liberal in your politics’, which was a declaration ‘you cannot avoid making whenever you offer yourself to the suffrages of your neighbours’, and it was inadvisable to satirize the ‘prevailing principles and practice’ of the gentry, since this was likely to prove ‘offensive to many of your Leicestershire squires’.6 He was admitted to the Whig pantheon of Brooks’s Club, 19 Feb. 1826, sponsored by Sir Francis Burdett and Sir Ronald Ferguson*, but secured the support of Lord Howe and Charles Godfrey Mundy on condition of remaining ‘neutral with respect to the Catholics’. His friend George de Lacy Evans* assured him that this ‘intermediate course’ would ‘smooth your way to the county and at all events secure your seat for the town’, and would make his election ‘more certain’ and relieve him from heavy expenses:

Hereafter when you are more independent in point of fortune you may be disposed to change your mind ... I doubt whether it will be necessary for you to tell your committee more than that you are to be strongly supported by these persons, and that finding the opinion of your constituents so strongly opposed to the Catholics, you would certainly not give a vote in opposition to their wishes.7

He offered for Leicester at the general election of 1826 and declared his admiration for the ‘liberal line of policy’ recently espoused by the Liverpool ministry’s foreign secretary Canning. Given his willingness to compromise on the Catholic question, he was more acceptable to the Tory corporation than his rival, the reformer William Evans*. A coalition was proposed to exclude Evans and return Otway Cave with Charles Abney Hastings*, the corporation candidate. ‘In the purity of his intentions’, according to William Gardiner, he initially rejected this proposition, but, when pressed by his friends, he conceded that it was the only way of avoiding defeat. His equivocation over the Catholic question left him open to satire: Thomas Macaulay* called him a knight of ‘partly coloured armour’, and his public pledge not to vote for emancipation earned him the reputation of a turncoat. He repudiated ‘malevolent and unfounded insinuations’ that he had sold himself to the corporation. On the hustings he declared that on this question he had deferred to the majority opinion of the electors. After a fierce contest he and Abney Hastings were returned ahead of Evans and another anti-corporation candidate. At the celebration dinner he spoke of the corporation’s ‘zealous and friendly exertions’ which had enabled him to ‘continue the arduous struggle’; but it was at their insistence that he had coalesced with them, as promoters of Abney Hastings, and their demand for additional election expenses subsequently turned him into their most implacable critic in the House.8 One report put Otway Cave’s costs at £30,000, while William Fremantle*, convinced that he was ‘likely to ruin himself at Leicester’, had tried to persuade him to pull out a month before the election.9

He did not vote in the division on Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He defended the corporation’s conduct against Sykes’s call for inquiry, denying that they had ‘gone to hedges and highways to select honorary freemen’ for the 1826 election, 15 Mar., and he received the unanimous thanks of the corporation for his defence of their interests, 20 Mar.10 He presented a petition calling for a machine tax from the operative sawyers of Leicester, 22 Mar.,11 and voted in Hume’s minority of 16 for a significant relaxation of the corn laws, 27 Mar. He divided for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May. He presented a petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 6 June, and spoke against the Coventry magistracy bill, 8 June.12 He questioned Peel’s defence of the duke of Wellington against charges of interference with government on the question of preventing the release of foreign corn from bond, 18 June; but had a petition from his constituents censuring Wellington’s conduct ruled to be unacceptable, 29 June.13 He rode out the storm over election expenses and denied knowledge of the ‘secret agreement’ entered into by his friends, 15 Dec. 1827. He dismissed the corporation’s demand for an additional £4,000 as being contrary to the letter of that deal.14

He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., but again stayed away from the division on Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He divided for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 21 Mar. He voted for attempts to modify the corn laws, 22, 29 Apr., arguing that the Wellington government’s measure would tax the ‘poor and industrious to fill the pockets of the rich and idle’. On 14 May he moved that the corporation of Leicester be summoned to account for failing to submit a return of their expenditure in accordance with his resolution of 26 Mar.: his object was to show that the new town gaol was ‘totally unnecessary’ and that its construction would ‘saddle the inhabitants with an enormous and oppressive amount of taxation’. He denounced the ‘glaring absurdity and futility’ of the excuses offered by the mayor but accepted the home secretary Peel’s assurances that the accounts would be produced. On 10 June he obtained leave to bring in a bill to restrain corporations from the political use of municipal funds, the ‘malversation’ of which he deemed a ‘flagrant violation of the rights and privileges’ of the House. He outlined his own dispute with the corporation over additional election expenses and criticized the ‘grievous’ rate they had imposed on his constituents. He deplored Abney Hastings’s ‘want of courtesy’ in attempting to present a petition against him on the corporation’s behalf, and vilified Legh Keck, whose alleged support of it was at variance with those ‘frank and honourable feelings’ he had ‘so pompously professed’ on the Penryn election bill. He warned against the House of Lords becoming an ‘insuperable barrier’ to reform and dismissed complaints that the bill had been brought in covertly. An attempt to kill it was defeated by 35-10, 8 July, and it passed its third reading, 10 July, but was defeated on its second reading in the Lords, 17 July. Otway Cave voted against the grant for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels, 6 June, and the Irish assessment of lessors bill, 12 June, and for reduction of the grant to the Royal Cork Institution, 20 June. He supported a motion condemning the misapplication of public funds in the refurbishment of Buckingham House, 23 June, and voted against an excise license for retailers of cider, 26 June. He voted for inquiry into Irish church pluralities, 24 June, and spoke of the country’s ‘strong feeling of hostility’ towards the additional churches bill, 30 June. He voted against a proposal to name and exclude the corrupt voters of East Retford, 24 June, and the modified disfranchisement bill, 27 June, and unsuccessfully moved that the franchise be retained by the freemen in preference to the enfranchisement of freeholders of the hundred of Bassetlaw, 30 June. He presented a petition from his constituents against the Leicester borough rate, 16 July, and in the absence of ministers agreed to delay his proposal to refer it to a select committee. Next day he denounced this ‘unjust tax’ as one of the ‘worst cases of tyranny and petty oppression’ ever brought before Parliament. He refuted Peel’s charge that he was motivated by party feeling, but was required by the Speaker to apologize for impugning Peel’s honesty. He withdrew his proposal but successfully moved for amended returns of the corporation’s expenditure, 22 July. He presented and endorsed an anti-slavery petition, 25 July 1828, observing that it was as futile to expect a change in the attitude of the West India proprietors as to hope for ‘constitutional freedom from Dom Miguel, or for Catholic emancipation from the present ministry’. He announced his intention of bringing in a bill next session to declare free ‘all children born of slave parents’ in British dominions after 1830.

Otway Cave was feted and addressed as the enfant perdu of oligarchy by the Leicester Friends of Civil and Religious Liberty, 25 Nov. 1828, when, returning thanks, he endorsed their condemnation of the corn laws, but said that as long as ‘landowners make the men who make the laws’ he saw ‘little prospect of their repeal, or even of their amelioration’. He denounced the ‘ignorant rapacity’ of landlords and warned of ‘dreadful acts of retribution, when a starving and despairing population shall be driven to insurrection’. In an allusion to the failure of his corporate funds bill, he condemned the ‘crying and monstrous abuses’ associated with such bodies:

Bad as was the political morality of the Lower House, no man of any note could latterly be found in it with the effrontery to stand up to their defence. It was quite otherwise amidst the hereditary legislators.

He spoke of his ‘anxious desire’ to see a library and mechanics’ institute established at Leicester: ‘tyrants alone have cause to dread the march of intellect’. He advocated parliamentary reform and the establishment of national associations to oppose the Brunswick clubs. He insisted that he had no wish to see a repetition of the Peterloo massacre, but the time had arrived

when every Englishman possessed of a heart, should come straight forward and unite and associate ... They should make the table of the House of Commons ring from side to side with long, loud, and deep imprecations against the feudal barbarity of the game laws ... the scandalous monopoly of accursed corn laws, but above all ... against the abuses of this rotten borough system, which have made the House of Commons ... a mere taxing machine, and nothing better than a branch and excrescence of the House of Lords.15

Despite his ostensible neutrality on the Catholic question he received the plaudits of the Catholic Association for his ‘splendid services’ to that cause in England.16 At a Leicester meeting, 4 Feb. 1829, he renounced his pledge not to vote for emancipation and offered to resign his seat, but the gathering endorsed his decision.17 He presented petitions in favour of emancipation, 6, 24 Feb., and questioned whether ‘the general feeling of the country was hostile’ to it, 16 Feb. He condemned the hostile Bristol petition as a ‘gross abuse of the right of petitioning’, 26 Feb., objected to a similar one from Clifton because it was ‘signed by a large portion of charity children’, 27 Feb., and denied that the petition presented by Legh Keck spoke the ‘sense of the county of Leicester’, 3 Mar., when he alleged that Legh Keck had compromised his independence by accepting patronage from the Goderich ministry. The same day he presented a number of petitions on behalf of Daniel O’Connell* and said that to accompany relief with disfranchisement of the Irish 40s. freeholders would justify ‘even the forcible resistance of Irishmen’. He presented a further petition in favour of emancipation from the Society of the Friends of Civil and Religious Liberty, 11 Mar., and duly voted for the measure, 6, 30 Mar. He was astonished that Tennyson should consider postponing his motion on the disfranchisement of East Retford as an accommodation to government, 5 May, and he voted for the issue of a new writ, 2 June. He divided against O’Connell’s exclusion from the House for refusing to swear the oath of supremacy, 18 May. He presented several Irish petitions in support of the Subletting Act and for the introduction of a system of poor laws. He voted for a fixed duty on corn imports, 19 May, and presented and supported two anti-corn law petitions from Leicester, 2 June, when he also successfully moved for the printing of the return of expenditure submitted by Leicester corporation (though Abney Hastings prevented the publication in them of individual names) and voted for Lord Blandford’s motion to extinguish rotten boroughs as a measure of reform, even though Blandford himself intended it to prevent the increase of Catholic power in the House. He attended the Westminster purity of election anniversary dinner, 25 May (and again, 23 May 1830).18 He was actively engaged in the extra-parliamentary anti-slavery campaign and submitted his resolutions designed to secure the freedom of slave children, 4 June 1829, but was unable to find a seconder. He gave notice of his intention to renew this motion, 19 June, but was warned by a correspondent that it would be side-tracked by the appointment of a select committee to consider West Indian slavery only.19 He obtained an order for amended returns from Leicester corporation, 22 June, and presented a petition from his constituents calling on the House to restrain them from levying a crippling borough rate, 24 June. At the same time, he took the opportunity of ‘utterly disclaiming’ the behaviour of ‘the opposition side of the House’, who seemed determined to impede ‘all important business’ and stifle ‘every inquiry into abuses’. He asserted that the government’s foreign policy, culminating in the Terceira incident, was a ‘stain on the honour, and a prejudice to the interests, of this country, that all the victories of our armies never can wash away’. He gave ministers due praise for the accomplishment of Catholic emancipation, but said they had done nothing since to ameliorate distress. Alluding to the defeat of his corporate funds bill, he alleged collusion between ‘the leading persons of both sides of the House’ and accused ‘some opposition Members’ of intriguing for office. In August he chaired and addressed a Leicester reform dinner.20 On 15 Sept. 1829 a dinner was held in his honour at Clonmel, county Tipperary, and O’Connell, though unable to attend, wrote to one of the organizers that the House did not contain ‘a man of more pure, honourable, and patriotic mind’: Otway Cave was ‘one of the most unaffectedly honest public men in the British dominions’, who if he became the representative of Tipperary would ‘cause the magistracy to be purged, or at least expose the delinquencies which the improper part of them may commit’.21 He was gaining a reputation as ‘a Tipperary radical’ and, in the eyes of ministers, a potential trouble maker.22

Otway Cave appears to have missed the first three weeks of the 1830 session, but was present to vote in the minority of 25 who divided for Harvey’s proposal to prevent Members from voting in committee on bills in which they had a vested interest, 26 Feb. He voted for inquiry into the Newark petition complaining of the duke of Newcastle’s electoral interference, 1 Mar., to give East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar., and to abolish the offices of treasurer of the navy, 12 Mar., and lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 29 Mar. He presented a petition from Leicester complaining of distress, 16 Mar., and observed that the proposed reduction of beer duties ‘would only be prospectively beneficial’, whereas the problem was ‘urgent’ and required a ‘direct remedy’. The same day he presented a petition from Carrick-on-Suir for repeal of the Irish Vestry Act, and he voted for O’Connell’s motion for a bill to amend it, 27 Apr. He voted for an explanation of British foreign policy in Portugal, 10 Mar., and in condemnation of the violation of sovereignty in the Terceira episode, 28 Apr. He divided for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, against the grant for the Royal Military Academy, 30 Apr., and to abolish the lord lieutenancy of Ireland, 11 May. He presented petitions from Sussex against the sale of beer bill and from Leicestershire complaining of distress and calling for parliamentary reform, 4 May. At the Westminster meeting called to petition against renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 8 May, he moved the first resolution against its ‘most mischievous monopoly’.23 He presented anti-slavery petitions, 12, 17 May, when he also presented petitions for mitigation of the punishment for forgery, reform of the Marriage Act and a revision of the law of landlord and tenant. He divided in the minority of 12 for inquiry into the preparation of criminal cases for trial in Ireland, 12 May, and voted for a re-evaluation of Irish first fruits in order to prevent ‘additional charge on the people’, 18 May. He presented petitions censuring the ‘wasteful expenditure’ of Londonderry corporation, 21 May, gave notice of motions to prevent the misappropriation of corporate funds for electioneering purposes, 27 May, 11 June, and spoke in the debate on Irish corporations, 16 July. He voted for reform of the divorce laws, 3 June, paired in favour of abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, and voted thus, 7 June, and opposed increased recognizances for publishers and printers, 6, 9 July. He defended the efforts of the inhabitants of Rye to protect their harbour from despoliation by neighbouring landowners, 27 May, and condemned the introduction of troops by the magistrate, arguing that the borough patron wished to ‘keep the people as poor and as dependent as possible’, for ‘if they were in comfortable and affluent circumstances, they might prove a little troublesome in the assertion of their rights’. On 16 July he repeated the allegation that the petition of Rye corporation against the Commons election committee’s decision in favour of a ratepayer franchise there (which had secured the seat for de Lacy Evans, 17 May ) was supported by the treasury. He supported inquiry into the administration of justice among slaves in the colonies, 13 July, and pledged himself to ‘disprove the many false assertions that have been made on the subject of colonial slavery’. He trusted that at the forthcoming general election all electors would ‘vindicate their national character’ by supporting abolitionists irrespective of party considerations. He presented anti-slavery petitions, 16, 20 July, when he stated his intention of taking the issue further in the next session and confirmed that he had no confidence in ministers in consequence of their foreign and domestic policies.

He was a rumoured candidate for Hastings and Hertford in the weeks before the general election of 1830, but nothing came of the latter speculation.24 He declined an invitation to stand for county Tipperary as an ‘independent’, since in an unreformed Parliament it was impossible for ‘popular representatives’ to have a beneficial impact on Irish affairs. He repudiated violence and pledged himself to assist in the recovery of Irish ‘lawful rights’ from the ‘road-jobbing and ruffian magistrates who first robs you, and then tramples upon you, or from the cess ... you pay for ... the support of a faction against a nation’. He did not seek re-election at Leicester and declined to be put in nomination by the ‘really independent electors’, since he was already under an ‘obligation’ to the disgruntled ratepayers of Hastings, where he was defeated by the treasury nominees.25 His subsequent petition against the return was unsuccessful. In his address to the Leicester electors, 2 Aug. 1830, he condemned the ‘filthy and contaminating petty factions’ of government and commended the ballot as the ‘only sufficient check on the undue and immoral influence of wealth’.26 At the general election of 1831 he was proposed as a candidate for Leicestershire by his future father-in-law Burdett, but he withdrew when Thomas Paget* refused to give way.27 He made a futile bid to overthrow the Buckingham interest at St. Mawes.

Otway Cave maintained his interest in the appropriation of Irish church revenues, the anti-slavery movement and the reform of municipal corporations. He was returned unopposed for Tipperary on a vacancy, 8 Aug. 1832, and was sworn in on the 16th, the last day of the unreformed Commons. In October O’Connell was ‘sure’ of his allegiance to the repeal pledge, but he did not stand at the general election of 1832.28 On his marriage to Sophia Burdett that autumn he received a portion of £30,000. He was returned again for Tipperary in 1835, determined to defy the Conservatives or ‘any opponent of any party to the popular cause’ and held the seat until his death, in his mother’s lifetime, in November 1844.29 On Lady Braye’s death in 1862 the barony again fell into abeyance until it was restored to her only surviving daughter Henrietta Wyatt Edgell and her issue in 1879.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Simon Harratt


  • 1. IGI.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1832), ii. 472. Burke PB erroneously gives 23 Oct. 1833.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 665.
  • 4. Leics. RO, Braye mss 23D57 3524-6; Leicester Jnl. 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Braye mss 3528-32.
  • 6. Ibid. 3542.
  • 7. Ibid. 3536.
  • 8. Leicester Jnl. 5, 12 May, 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 June 1826; W. Gardiner, Music and Friends, ii. 627; Leicester Borough Recs. vii. 403-4.
  • 9. Baring Jnls. i. 46; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/138/16/7.
  • 10. Leicester Borough Recs. v. 474.
  • 11. The Times, 23 Mar. 1827.
  • 12. Ibid. 7, 9 June 1827.
  • 13. Ibid. 30 June 1827.
  • 14. Braye mss 3464, 3465.
  • 15. Ibid. 3502; Leicester Chron. 28 Nov. 1828.
  • 16. Braye mss 3510.
  • 17. Leicester Chron. 7 Feb. 1829
  • 18. Add. 56554, f. 17; Nottingham Rev. 28 May 1830.
  • 19. Braye mss 3512, 3513, 3513d.
  • 20. Leicester Chron. 8 Aug. 1829.
  • 21. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1606.
  • 22. Add. 40327, f. 55; PRO NI Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/102, Meara to Primate Beresford, 7 Oct. 1829.
  • 23. Add. 56554, f. 96; The Times, 10 May 1830.
  • 24. Hatfield House mss 2M, Nicholson to Salisbury, 29 Apr. 1830; NLW, Ormathwaite mss G37, f. 3.
  • 25. Braye mss 3491, 3492, 3511.
  • 26. Leicester Jnl. 6 Aug. 1830.
  • 27. Ibid. 13 May 1831.
  • 28. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1929.
  • 29. Braye mss 3542; Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 201; PROB 11/2010/19; IR26/1700/33.