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Inglis, Sir Robert Harry, second baronetlocked

  • John Wolffe

Sir Robert Harry Inglis, second baronet (1786–1855)

by George Richmond, in or before 1837

Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

Inglis, Sir Robert Harry, second baronet (1786–1855), politician, was born in London on 12 January 1786, the only son of Sir Hugh Inglis (1744–1820), created baronet in 1801, and his first wife, Catherine (d. 1792), daughter and coheir of Harry Johnson of Milton Bryan, Bedfordshire. He had two younger sisters. His father was a self-made man, director and three times chairman of the East India Company, and MP for Ashburton from 1802 to 1806. Robert was educated at Winchester College, and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he matriculated in 1803, took his BA in 1806, his MA in 1809, and his DCL in 1826. At Christ Church, Inglis established a lifelong friendship with Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, and like him became loosely associated with the Clapham Sect of reforming Anglican evangelicals around William Wilberforce. Inglis's religious convictions were to remain a foundational influence on him: his evangelicalism was sometimes obscured by his passionate commitment to the establishment and to church order, but he was never to lose his deep personal faith, and his zeal for the spread of the Christian gospel and for the defence of national morality. On 10 February 1807 he married Mary (1787–1872), eldest daughter of Joseph Seymour Biscoe of Pendhill Court, Bletchingley, Surrey. They had no children of their own, but in 1815 became guardians to the nine orphaned children of Henry Thornton (1760–1815) and his wife, Marianne Sykes, and themselves moved into the Thornton home at Battersea Rise, Clapham. Inglis's eldest ward, Marianne Thornton, was to become the subject of a 'domestic biography' by her great-nephew the novelist E. M. Forster, in which Sir Robert's kindly but rather solemn manner is vividly depicted.

In early adult life Inglis appears to have been something of a dilettante. He was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn in 1806, but was not called to the bar until 1818 and never practised. He travelled extensively, and cultivated literary, historical, and scientific interests, becoming a fellow of the Royal Society in 1813 and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1816. Meanwhile he became increasingly involved in public affairs. He was for a time a private secretary to Lord Sidmouth, and in 1812 was appointed one of the commissioners responsible for settling the troubled financial affairs of the Carnatic. Having succeeded his father as second baronet in 1820, Inglis was at the coronation of George IV in 1821, deputed by the government to perform the delicate task of meeting Queen Caroline at the door of Westminster Abbey to inform her that she was to be denied admission to the ceremony. According to Marianne Thornton, 'the mingled gentleness and firmness of his manner induced her to give up the contest' (Forster, 88).

Inglis was first returned to parliament in May 1824 at a by-election for Dundalk, a pocket borough controlled by his fellow evangelical, the third earl of Roden. He strongly identified himself with tory and Irish protestant interests, seeing himself as linked to the cause of the Church of Ireland particularly through his close friendship with John Jebb, bishop of Limerick. In May 1825 he spoke forcefully in the Commons against Francis Burdett's Catholic Relief Bill. The dissolution of 1826 left him temporarily out of parliament, but his appetite for political life was now considerable, and he was returned again at a by-election in February 1828, this time sitting for Ripon. He spoke against the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, and in May 1828 made a lengthy speech reaffirming his opposition to Catholic emancipation. Following Daniel O'Connell's victory at the County Clare election in July 1828, Inglis urged the government, through Robert Peel, who had been his contemporary at Christ Church and was a perceived political ally, to make a prompt demonstration of strength and determination. In the event, after initial irresolution, the government in February 1829 announced its intention to move for Catholic emancipation. Peel resigned his seat for Oxford University, and then stood at the by-election. Inglis, who had for several years been seen as a potential candidate for the university, stood against him. After a bitterly fought contest, although seemingly without personal animosity between the candidates, Inglis, supported disproportionately by the clergy, defeated the home secretary by a margin of 755 to 609. Thereafter he was to sit continuously for the university for the next quarter of a century.

Naturally, Inglis subsequently strenuously opposed the Catholic Relief Bill, and its passing left him politically disorientated. For the rest of his career he avoided firm party commitments, his natural affinities with the tories weakened by continuing distrust. He denounced the Reform Bill and Wellington's attempt at a compromise solution in May 1832, and in 1833 protested against the Irish Church Temporalities Act. He was only slightly disappointed when Peel did not invite him to join his short-lived first ministry in 1834, consoling himself with the thought that either acceptance or refusal of such an offer would have placed him in a difficult position (Inglis to T. D. Acland, 16 April 1835, Acland MSS, Devon RO). When the recommendations of the ecclesiastical commission set up by Peel began from 1836 to be implemented by the Melbourne administration, Inglis was in the forefront of opposition, perceiving the reforms as despoiliation and Erastianism. On 30 June 1840 he counter-attacked with a motion for a parliamentary grant for building churches, which failed by only nineteen votes. After Peel's return to office in 1841, Inglis hoped that the new government would adopt his proposals, but he was to be disappointed. Indeed in 1845 he was again to find himself firmly at odds with Peel when he led the opposition in the Commons to the prime minister's proposals for the permanent state endowment of the Roman Catholic seminary at Maynooth. Also in 1845 it was Inglis who memorably tagged the government's plans for colleges in Ireland 'a gigantic scheme of Godless education' (Hansard 3, 80, 1845, 378). In the late 1840s he resisted further concession to Roman Catholics, and in 1851 supported Russell's Ecclesiastical Titles Assumption Bill, although he considered it a very inadequate measure. Inglis's political importance at this juncture was confirmed by an invitation from Stanley to join his cabinet during his unsuccessful attempt to form a government in February 1851, but Inglis himself later observed to Stanley that 'you would have found me, I fear, … a more impracticable colleague than you might have expected or could have borne' (Inglis to Stanley, 31 Aug 1852, fourteenth earl of Derby MSS, Lpool RO). On 9 May 1851 Inglis reasserted his independence and the primacy of his protestant loyalties by voting with the whig government against David Urquhart's motion of censure, in order to secure the passage of legislation against the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

While the defence of church and protestantism dominated Inglis's parliamentary life, he also carried an address against the foreign slave trade (May 1838), and in 1842 he sought to limit the extent of income tax. He took a strong interest in Indian affairs and supported Lord Ashley in his campaign for factory reform. His exacting moral standards were illustrated by his vigorous opposition to the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill of 1850. He was an industrious and influential back-bencher, although he was hampered by a poor speaking voice and clumsy delivery. His strong convictions merged at times into prejudice, but his rugged political independence and integrity were softened by great charm and courtesy of manners. He had a rosy, corpulent, beaming appearance, graced with splendid floral buttonholes, and was regarded with affection and respect on all sides of the house. He was sworn of the privy council in August 1854.

Inglis also maintained and developed his intellectual and cultural interests. In 1831 he was appointed a commissioner on the public records and carried out a detailed examination of depositories. He was a trustee of the British Museum from 1834, and was a cogent defender of the maintenance of a broadly based collection 'of everything interesting in literature, natural science and ancient art' (Inglis to Peel, 13 March 1846, Peel MSS, BL). He was president of the British Association in 1847–8, and in 1850 was elected professor of antiquity at the Royal Academy. He was involved with numerous other philanthropic, religious, and educational societies, and published many devotional works and parliamentary speeches. He was hospitable and sociable, and his dinner table was a lively meeting-place for people of very diverse opinions and backgrounds.

Through his mother Inglis inherited the estate at Milton Bryan. In Bedfordshire he was a conscientious landlord, and served as sheriff of the county and chairman of quarter sessions. Nevertheless he was in spirit far more a Londoner than a country gentleman, and after ill health had in 1854 forced his retirement from his beloved House of Commons, it was at his London home, 7 Bedford Square, that he died on 5 May 1855. He was buried in the family vault in Milton Bryan church. The baronetcy became extinct on his death and, on the death of his wife in 1872, Milton Bryan passed to Marianne Thornton.


  • E. M. Forster, Marianne Thornton, 1797–1887: a domestic biography (1956)
  • GM, 2nd ser., 44 (1855), 640–41
  • J. Wolffe, The protestant crusade in Great Britain, 1829–1860 (1991)
  • G. I. T. Machin, The Catholic question in English politics, 1820 to 1830 (1964)
  • G. I. T. Machin, Politics and the churches in Great Britain, 1832 to 1868 (1977)
  • B. Disraeli, ‘Sir Robert Inglis’, Bodl. Oxf., Dep. Hughenden 26/2, fols. 110–11
  • Fraser's Magazine, 34 (1846), 648–53
  • The Times (7 May 1855)
  • diaries, Canterbury Cathedral Library
  • corresp. with Sir Robert Peel, BL, Add. MSS 40182–40603
  • correspondence with T. D. Acland, Devon RO
  • letters to John Jebb, TCD


  • Canterbury Cathedral, corresp., journals, and papers; journal of parliamentary activity and travels in Europe; further travel journals and notebooks; mainly political diaries
  • Holborn Library, Camden, London, Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre, letters
  • BL, corresp. with Lord Aberdeen, Add. MSS 43238–43244
  • BL, letters to Philip Bliss, Add. MSS 34570–34582
  • BL, letters to Stanley Lees Gifford, Add. MS 56368
  • BL, corresp. with W. E. Gladstone, Add. MSS 44352–44378
  • BL, corresp. with Sir Robert Peel, Add. MSS 40182–40603
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to Samuel Wilberforce
  • CUL, Thornton MSS
  • Devon RO, corresp. with Sir Thomas Dyke Acland
  • Lpool RO, letters to fourteenth earl of Derby
  • NL Scot., corresp. with J. R. Hope-Scott; corresp. with John Lee
  • RS, corresp. with Sir John Herschel
  • TCD, letters to John Jebb
  • U. Edin., New Coll. L., letters to Thomas Chalmers


  • G. Hayter, oils, 1833–43, NPG
  • G. Richmond, watercolour drawing, 1836, AM Oxf.
  • G. Richmond, watercolour, 1837, Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham [see illus.]
  • G. Richmond, chalk drawing, 1845, NPG
  • G. Richmond, oils, 1854, Oxford, Examination Schools
  • J. Doyle, caricatures, drawings, BM
  • G. Hayter, group portrait, oils (The House of Commons, 1833), NPG
  • F. Holl, stipple (after C. W. Cope), NPG
  • F. C. Lewis, stipple (after J. Slater), BM, NPG
  • J. Partridge, group portrait (The Fine Arts Commissioners, 1846), NPG
  • J. Slater?, watercolour and pencil, Killerton, Devon

Wealth at Death

£40,000: probate, 1855

Bodleian Library, Oxford
, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
Devon Record Office, Exeter
Gentleman's Magazine