SYKES, Daniel (1766-1832), of Raywell and 16 Bowlalley Lane, Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorks.

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



1830 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 12 Nov. 1766, 5th s. of Joseph Sykes (d. 1803) of West Ella, Yorks. and Dorothy, da. of Nicholas Twiggs of Bakewell, Derbys. educ. Pocklington (privately by Rev. Miles Popple, DD); Trinity Coll. Camb. 1784, fellow 1790-5; M. Temple 1787, called 1793. m. Aug. 1795, Isabella, da. of Matthew Wright of Stamford Bridge, Lincs., s.p. d. 24 Jan. 1832.

Offices Held

Recorder, Kingston-upon-Hull.


Sykes’s ancestors, originally from Cumberland, had settled in Leeds in the sixteenth century and become successful merchants. Richard Sykes had been its chief alderman at the town’s first incorporation and one of its first mayors, and had purchased the title of lord of the manor of Leeds from the crown in 1625. It was his grandson, also Daniel, who moved to Hull in the mid-seventeenth century, becoming an eminent merchant there. Sykes’s grandfather, another Richard, produced three sons, including Mark with his first wife, who established the Sykeses of Sledmere and became baronets, and Joseph with his second wife, this Member’s father, who remained in Hull. Both branches were prominent in East Riding politics, but whereas the former were Pittites and Tories, those from Hull were Whigs and, later, Liberals. Sykes’s father and elder brothers John and Nicholas served as mayors and sheriffs of Hull while his sister Mary Ann married Henry Thornton†.1 His father, a staunch Whig and associate of Lord Rockingham, Sir George Savile† and the Rev. Christopher Wyvill, was said to be able to return one Member for Hull, but this exaggerated his influence. He had made his fortune as the exclusive importer of iron from the White Iron Mines in Sweden, whose produce was used by the cutlers of Sheffield, and was one of the few shareholders in the Hull Dock Corporation. It fell to him and his sons to sustain Rockingham’s interest in Hull after his death, in which they were supported by Lord Fitzwilliam and his son Lord Milton*.2 Daniel, who had always been a sickly child, suffered from repeated illness whilst at university, and after three years his father tried to lure him away from Cambridge, but the prospect of a fellowship, to which he was elected, kept him there. When the recordership of Hull became vacant a few years later, his father wanted to secure him the post but he again declined, preferring to persist with his law studies. He took up practice at the bar, only to be struck low by a near fatal illness. This persuaded him to become a provincial barrister and he moved back to his native town to take up practice and assist his father’s business. It was during this period that he took on himself the task of educating the son of his brother Richard; he later founded the first primary school in Hull. In 1802 he took his first known part in elections, canvassing the Hull voters resident in York. By 1806 he was totally engrossed in the Whig cause in the East Riding, where he played a key role at York and Beverley, and in 1808 he helped to establish the Whig newspaper, The Rockingham and Hull Weekly Advertiser. In 1812 he unsuccessfully tried to secure the re-election of Lord Mahon for Hull. He was the principal speaker at a meeting in the town that October held to mark the retirement from the county of his friend and neighbour William Wilberforce*, whose victory in abolishing the slave trade he claimed was greater than any secured by Napoleon or Wellington. Despite Hull corporation being generally opposed to his politics, he was elected recorder in 1817, and the following year he and his eldest brother Richard secured the return of James Robert George Graham*. Around this time he withdrew from legal practice and became an East Riding magistrate.3

At the 1820 general election Sykes received an invitation to stand for Liverpool, which he declined, saying he had no desire to enter the Commons. Prospective candidates were spoken of at Hull, but when none materialized he was urged to offer by a section of the freemen, who offered him upwards of 1,000 votes. At the nomination he agreed to stand, observing that

had a fit and discreet person, in the words of the writ, offered himself, you would not have seen me in this situation ... A seat in Parliament has no charm for me. I do not desire to leave the comforts of private life for a burden I am not fit to bear, but I could not endure to see your state during the last two days.

He was returned unopposed but was obliged to pay a parva consuetudo for the promised votes. At the declaration he insisted that he would be his own man:

I am solely your representative. I will not be found truckling to public offices, bandied from board to board, or attending the levées of the minister or the bureau of the chancellor of the exchequer. I will not attend to private matters out of Parliament, only to private bills in Parliament; and there I will watch every act of the legislature that can effect the meanest subject. I will beg no favours. If you want them you must go elsewhere.

Following his election he sold his stake in the Rockingham.4

A regular attender, Sykes voted steadily with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry on most major issues, including economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation.5 In his maiden speech, 5 June 1820, he called for the freeholders of the county corporate of Hull, who were unable to vote in county or borough elections, to be enfranchised in line with freeholders in other county towns, such as Bristol. (He introduced a bill to this effect in 1826, but abandoned it at its second reading, 2 May.) In early December 1820 he reported to Fitzwilliam that an attempt to organize a county petition in support of Queen Caroline, in which he had been involved, had failed, since many thought its aims too restrictive and would only act if reform was included. He urged Fitzwilliam to abandon plans for a county meeting and suggested that more localized petitions would be preferable. The Whig leader Lord Grey regarded this failure as a significant setback, but although Sykes regretted it, he believed ‘the late unconstitutional proceedings about the queen to be but a small item in the catalogue of grievances for which ministers are answerable’.6 He presented a Hull petition in her support, 24 Jan. 1821, when he denied that the petitioners were ‘radicals’. On 19 Feb. he moved the second reading of the Hull sailors poor rates bill, which sought to make the shipping interest liable for a contribution to the local poor rates.7 He voted for Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 10 May 1825, and spoke against a hostile petition, 26 Mar. 1821. He divided for making Leeds a scot and lot borough if it received Grampound’s seats, 2 Mar., for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr. 1821, when he spoke at length of the need for the Commons to represent ‘the feelings and wishes of the people’, 25 Apr. 1822, 24 Apr. 1823, 27 Apr. 1826, and for reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June 1823. He argued for warehoused corn from abroad to be allowed into the domestic market, 30 Mar. 1821, 17 Feb., 13 May, 7 June 1825. He joined Brooks’s, sponsored by Fitzwilliam and Graham, 10 May 1821. He urged government to extend the law granting bounties to the Greenland fishermen, 1 Feb. 1822.8 He presented four petitions complaining of agricultural distress, 11 Feb., demanded action, 18 Feb., and argued that a reduction in taxation was ‘the only remedy’, 13 May. On 8 Mar. he gave notice of his intention to bring in a bill to repeal the tax on tallow candles. He secured returns of the duty paid, 11 Mar., spoke in support of Curwen’s motion for their repeal, 20 Mar., and presented his own measure, 9 May 1822, but it went no further. He made another unsuccessful attempt, 11 Apr. 1823, brought up petitions in its support, 5, 23 Mar. 1824, 14 Mar. 1826, and returned again to the subject, 28 Apr. 1825.9 He presented a petition from the merchants of Hull against the navigation bill, 6 May 1822, and spoke and voted against the merchant vessels apprenticeship bill, fearing that it would place new constraints upon commerce, 24 Mar. 1823.10 He presented a petition against the liability of ship owners to penalties for smuggling by their employees, 3 June, and urged caution on the reciprocity of duties proposals while the shipping interest assessed their probable impact, 6 June 1823.11

Sykes voted to abolish flogging in the navy, 5 Mar. 1824, 10 Mar. 1826, condemned it as ‘inhuman’ and ‘barbaric’, 11 Mar. 1824, 11 Mar. 1825, and was a minority teller on the issue, 9 June 1825. He presented and endorsed petitions against naval impressment, 18 Mar., 26 May 1824, 13 June 1825.12 He brought up others for the abolition of slavery, 13, 16, 26 Mar., and against the combination laws, 17, 19 Mar. 1824. He welcomed the county courts bill, 26 Mar., 24 May. He spoke and voted for an advance of capital to relieve distress in Ireland, 4 May, and for inquiry into the state of that country, 11 May 1824. On 21 Feb. 1825 he contended that the bill to suppress the Catholic Association ‘would be wholly ineffectual’ and urged the necessity of conceding Catholic claims. He spoke in similar terms, 23 Mar., 4 May. He called for a reduction in the hemp and iron duties, to relieve the shipping interest, 28 Feb., and in a speech against the sugar duties, 18 Mar., declared, ‘I shall never cease to advocate the cause of free trade all over the world’. He predicted that a re-enactment of the combination laws would result in violence, 25 Apr., and brought up a petition against their renewal, 17 May. He presented another from Hull corporation for the Hull docks bill, 11 May, and from Hull merchants for a reduction of foreign timber duties, 16 June, and against the removal of tax on seed rape, 18 June 1825. During the rumours of a dissolution that September Sykes privately told his friend John Smith* that he was undecided about whether or not he would offer again for Hull, where ‘I stand very well with the voters of all classes, but the polling money is a sad stumbling block’. Later that month Smith brought Sykes to the attention of Henry Brougham*, saying that he had ‘a little coterie of liberal friends about him who would subscribe at his bidding’ for shares in the proposed London University. Sykes purchased two shares himself, despite being sceptical of the university’s success, and helped to found the Mechanics’ Institute in Hull, of which he was president until his death.13 On 1 Mar. 1826 Sykes, who was by now chairman of the Hull Anti-Slavery Society, urged ministers to hasten the introduction of measures for the total abolition of colonial slavery. He attacked the Scottish steam vessels bill, saying that more regulations were unnecessary, 9 Mar., and presented a ship owners’ petition against the navigation laws, 26 May 1826.14 He welcomed proposals to consolidate the criminal laws, 9 Mar., 17 Apr. 1826.

At the 1826 dissolution Sykes, after some hesitation, announced his retirement from Hull, citing his objection to having to pay in order to do fulfil a role that was deleterious to his ‘health, strength and leisure’. A requisition signed by over 1,000 freemen urged him to reconsider, however, and on 10 June he accepted, stating that he would pay no polling money, but advising Milton that he would spend up to £3,000 for another seat if defeated. The Hull Advertiser criticized him for having supported Lord John Russell’s motion to curb electoral bribery, but he was not listed as such, 26 May 1826, and the Rockingham defended him against all charges. Unpopular with the ‘lower order of voters’, he issued a defence of his past conduct, describing his support for tax reductions, Catholic relief, the abolition of slavery, a revision of the corn laws and ‘the extension of your docks, the promotion of your commerce and the support of your shipping’. His hopes for an unopposed return were dashed at the last minute, but after a close contest he was returned in second place. A celebratory dinner was held in Hull in early July 1826, but he was unable to attend, again because of ill health. It would appear that he paid for the votes he received.15 He called for measures to end impressment, 12 Feb., and for the abolition of corporal punishment, 12 Mar. 1827. He voted against the grant to the duke of Clarence, 16 Feb. He presented and endorsed Hull petitions for Catholic relief, 16, 27 Feb., and divided accordingly, 6 Mar. He was appointed to the select committee to investigate Northampton corporation, 21 Feb., and moved and was a minority teller for inquiry into Leicester corporation, which he claimed had illegally created freemen and used corporation funds for electoral purposes, 15 Mar. He was in the minority to lower the corn duties, 9 Mar. He welcomed proposed reforms of the navigation laws, 19 Mar. He voted for information on the Barrackpoor mutiny, 22 Mar., and for the spring guns bill next day. He was in the minority for information on the Lisburn Orange procession, 29 Mar. He divided for Tierney’s amendment to withhold the supplies, 30 Mar. Following the accession of Canning as premier next month, Sykes informed a friend:

Altogether I cannot make up my mind on the late changes. I believe that I must go with the rest of my friends; but still my old opposition feelings stick to me; and strongly disliking Canning, I cannot cordially support his administration. However, there are cases in which what is strictly right must give way to what is strongly expedient.

He presented a Hull petition against the Malt Act, 8 Feb. 1828. He brought up others from the Protestant Dissenters against the Test Acts, 14, 19, 22, 25 Feb., and voted for their repeal, 26 Feb. He called for army reductions, 25 Feb. He presented petitions for the Wakefield and Ferrybridge canal bill, 29 Feb., and spoke at length of its superiority over the Aire and Calder navigation bill and the likely benefits to Hull, 3 Mar. During the debates on the East Retford disfranchisement bill, he defended the banker Foljambe, saying he was sick and would give a satisfactory explanation of himself when well, 4 Mar., and his friend Henry Compton Cavendish* from the charges made by Daniel Whittle Harvey, 10 Mar. He presented a Hull petition against the stamp duties, 11 Mar. He resurrected the plight of Hull’s disfranchised freeholders that day, and obtained leave to bring in a bill to enfranchise freeholders in corporate counties, 20 Mar., which was read a first time, 24 Mar., but was lost in committee. He secured returns on British shipping, 17 Mar., and drew attention to the economic difficulties facing that industry, 20 Mar. He divided against extending East Retford’s franchise to Bassetlaw, 21 Mar. He was in the minority for a reduction of the corn duties, 29 Apr. He presented a petition from Hull corporation against Catholic claims that day, but of course voted in favour, 12 May. On 2 May he presented and endorsed a petition complaining of the conditions in Horsham gaol. He brought up others for the abolition of slavery and against the friendly societies bill, 12, 16 May, 2 June. He supported plans to introduce summary convictions for petty felonies, 13 May, and called for inquiry into the usury laws, 15 May. That day he welcomed a bill to shorten the duration of polls. Next day he called for a voluntary scheme to replace impressment. He presented and endorsed a petition for the repeal of restrictions on the circulation of county bank notes, 19 May. He was in the minority for information on the civil list, 20 May. He brought up Hull petitions for measures to cultivate the science of anatomy and against the alehouse licensing bill, 21 May, and for repeal of the assessed taxes, 4 June. He spoke against the corn importation bill, 23 May 1828.

Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, predicted that Sykes would support their concession of Catholic emancipation, for which he brought up petitions, 16, 27 Feb., 10 Mar., and duly voted, 6 (as a pair), 30 Mar. 1829. He criticized the methods by which a hostile Hull petition presented by his colleague had been got up, 10 Mar., and endorsed Sir William Amcotts Ingilby’s complaints of malpractice by anti-Catholic petitioners, 20 Mar. He called for a repeal of the game laws, 17 Feb. He brought up Hull petitions against the stamp and house duties, 23 Feb., and one from Kilkaranmore against the Irish Subletting Act, 10 Mar. He advocated removal of the silk import duties, 10 Apr. He welcomed elements of the juvenile offenders bill that would speed up convictions, 12 May, and proposals to exempt horses employed in husbandry from taxation next day. He presented and endorsed a constituency petition for the equalization of duties on East and West Indian produce, 19 May. On the 28th he rejected claims that free trade had caused distress. He brought up a petition for the speedier recovery of small debts, 1 June 1829, and spoke in the same sense, 17 Feb. 1830. He urged a reduction of the duties on imported hemp and timber that day, when he was in the minority to reduce the former, and gave notice that he would introduce a motion to lower the latter next session, 2 June 1829. That day he argued that ‘the evidence is not sufficient to warrant the conclusion that East Retford should be deprived of its franchise’ and was in the minority for the issue of a new writ. He divided for Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform resolutions, 2 June, when he objected to the proposed tax on merchant seamen for the support of Greenwich Hospital. He presented Hull petitions against the East India Company’s monopoly, 2 June 1829, 3, 8 Mar. 1830. He was in the minorities for more extensive tax cuts, 15 Feb., and military reductions, 19 Feb. He voted for Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 18 Feb., for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, 23 Feb., and Russell’s motion for reform, 28 May. He secured returns of Baltic timber imported by British ships, 24 Feb. He was in the minority for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5, 15 Mar. Throughout March he supported the Leeds and Selby railway, promoting it as the essential link for the wool trade between Leeds and Hamburg via Hull. He voted steadily with the revived opposition for economy and reduced taxation from that month onwards. He presented a Hull petition against the poor law removal bill, 16 Mar. Next day he presented but dissented from a petition for the abolition of the death penalty in all cases except murder, stating his belief that ‘many cases may happen where the security of society would require the infliction of death, even where murder has not been committed’. He brought up more petitions against the East India Company’s monopoly, 19 Mar. He insisted that free trade would result in the greatest extension of imports and exports into and from every country in the world’ and thereby benefit the shipping interest, 2 Apr. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr. (as a pair), 17 May. He advocated repeal of the usury laws, which were ‘equally absurd and impolitic’, 6 May. He divided for abolition of the Irish viceroyalty, 11 May. That day he argued that the reduction of the duty on soap and tallow candles was ‘absolutely essential to the comfort of the poor’ and far more imperative than any reduction of the duty on beer. He presented petitions against the sale of beer bill and for the abolition of slavery next day. He paired for the abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June, and spoke against the practice, 3 June. He voted for a reform of the divorce laws that day. He was in the minority of 17 for repeal of the Irish Vestry Acts, 10 June 1830.

At the 1830 dissolution Sykes, who had incurred the displeasure of the ship owners for his advocacy of free trade, determined not to offer for Hull again, explaining that ‘advancing years and declining strength render me less able to discharge the constant duties of a representative of a large commercial town’. There was an opportunity to represent the county and many wished him to seek the position, but in the event he agreed to withdraw his pretensions in favour of Brougham, for the sake of unanimity. He initially rejected a requisition from Beverley, but when it became clear that John Wharton* would definitely not stand there he agreed to come forward. Still in York, he proposed Lord Morpeth* for the representation of the county at a meeting of Whig freeholders and seconded Brougham. He was returned in second place for Beverley, but refused to pay the 210 guineas demanded for his freedom by the corporation. At Hull he assisted the return of William Battie Wrightson after abandoning Gilbert John Heathcote*. At his victory dinner he condemned the French government’s conduct and looked forward to the reign of William IV with some optimism. A public dinner was held in Hull during September 1830 to commemorate his services as a representative.16 He presented petitions for the abolition of slavery, 4, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16 Nov. 1830. He was, of course, listed by the Wellington ministry as one of their ‘foes’ and he voted against them in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. Anticipating the formation of a new ministry two days later, he declared, ‘whom it may be composed of I know not, but ... I never shall give my support to any administration which refuses to grant freedom to the slave, real representation to the people, and a large reduction of taxation to the public’. He was solicited to stand for Yorkshire at the by-election caused by the elevation of Brougham to the woolsack, but again made way for another candidate, Sir John Johnstone*, for whom he actively campaigned.17 Early in 1831 his health began to fail and he endured considerable pain, though he continued to be a regular attender. He complained that much unrest in the countryside was caused by the operation of the game laws, 8 Feb. 1831. He concurred with petitions calling for repeal of the stamp duties and secured accounts of soap duties, 14 Feb. He welcomed the Grey ministry’s reform proposals as likely to ‘secure the people’s rights’ and ‘produce peace and satisfaction throughout the country’, 4 Mar. In the timber duties debate, 15 Mar., he defended his position on free trade and the shipping interest, arguing that although ‘the shipping interest ought to receive every protection from the government ... the true way to benefit our shipping is to endeavour to extend our commerce in every direction, by removing all burdens upon it’. In line with this policy he sought leave to bring in a bill, in conjunction with Battie Wrightson and George Schonswar, to alter the method of settlement on apprentice seamen the following day. He paired for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

At the ensuing dissolution Sykes retired from Beverley, explaining that poor health disabled him ‘from the efficient performance of the duties of a Member’. He refused a requisition to stand for Yorkshire, but clearly envisaged returning to the House if his health improved, telling a supporter, ‘if you will return me, in a reformed Parliament, for the East Riding, I may again buckle on my armour’. He actively supported the return of William Marshall* as his successor at Beverley and spoke in favour of the four reform candidates for the county at Hull, where he became embroiled in a bitter dispute with the corporation over the failure of his freeholders in districts bill, which he insisted they had forced him to abandon. He relinquished his recordership of Hull that summer and soon afterwards discovered he had cancer.18 He declined over the winter and died in January 1832. By his will, proved 8 May 1832, his estate was divided between his wife and his brothers Richard and Henry and their families. The Mechanics’ Institute raised a subscription of £300 to erect a seven-foot statue to his memory in Hull.19

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Martin Casey


Unless otherwise indicated, this biography is based on G. Pryme, Mem. Daniel Sykes (1834).

  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1832), i. 178-82; J. Foster, Peds. Yorks. Fams.; R.V. Taylor, Leeds Worthies, 337-41; J.J. Sheahan, Hist. Hull, 400.
  • 2. Fitzwilliam mss, box 39, Rev. R. Sykes to Fitzwilliam, 23 Nov. 1783, 3 May 1784, 4 June, J. Sykes to same, 11 June 1790; Sheahan, 400; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 447.
  • 3. Hull Rockingham, 2 Jan. 1808; Sheahan, 664.
  • 4. Hull Advertiser, 10 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Black Bk. (1823), 196; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 486.
  • 6. Fitzwilliam mss 102/4, 6; A. Mitchell, Whigs in Opposition, 152.
  • 7. The Times, 20 Feb. 1821.
  • 8. Ibid. 2 Feb. 1822.
  • 9. Ibid. 9, 12 Mar., 10 May 1822, 12 Apr. 1823.
  • 10. Ibid. 7 May 1822.
  • 11. Ibid. 4 June 1823.
  • 12. Ibid. 27 May 1824, 14 June 1825.
  • 13. Brougham mss, Sykes to J. Smith, 12 Sept., Smith to Brougham, 16 Sept.; Fitzwilliam mss, Sykes to Milton, 25 Sept. 1825.
  • 14. The Times, 27 May 1826.
  • 15. Fitzwilliam mss, D. Sykes to Milton [1826]; Hull Rockingham, 3, 10 June; Hull Advertiser, 9, 13 June 1826; Add. 37236, f. 72.
  • 16. Hull Rockingham, 24, 31 July, 7, 14 Aug. 1830; Hull Advertiser, 30 July, 6 Aug. 1830; Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss X111/B/5g.
  • 17. Hull Advertiser, 3, 10 Dec. 1830; Hull Rockingham, 4 Dec. 1830.
  • 18. Hull Rockingham, 30 Apr., 6, 14 May 1831; Sheahan, 645.
  • 19. PROB 11/1800/324; Sheahan, 645.