[taken from Chapter 3 Manx Worthies, A.W.Moore, 1901]

JOHN CHRISTIAN CURWEN (b. 1756, d. 1828),

the eldest son of John Christian, of Ewanrigg and Milntown, and Jane, eldest daughter of Eldred Curwen, of Workington Hall, was educated at home till he went to Eton, and from thence he proceeded to Cambridge. But he did not complete his course there, leaving when he was 20, and marrying Margaret, daughter of John Taubman, in 1776. She died m 1778, leaving one son, John, afterwards deemster, and owner of Milntown and Ewanrigg. After his wife's death, he went abroad for four years, returning to marry his first cousin, Isabella Curwen, owner of Workington Hall, whose, father had died in 1778. In 1784, JOHN CHRISTIAN filled the office of high-sheriff, and, in 1786, he was elected M.P. for Carlisle, defeating the Earl of Lonsdale. He embraced the Liberal, or rather the Whig, side in polities, and at once took a high position in Parliament. Being a student of the then new science of Political Economy, and, having a great knowledge of facts and a power of handling them effectually, he was soon looked upon as an efficient speaker. In 1791, he took the name of Curwen. In 1792, he signed a declaration addressed to the people of Great Britain in favour of freedom of election and of Parliamentary Reform, and it should be remembered that he was a consistent men her of the small party who made a determined stand against the Tory autocracy under Pitt. Nor, notwithstanding his Parliamentary labours, did he forget his native island. He was a member of the House of Keys, and took a leading part in opposing the claims of the Duke of Atholl in that House, as well as in Parliament. He spoke at length in the debates in Parliament on this question, both in 1790 and 1805, and his masterly speech at the latter date, though not successful in its object, attracted great attention. In 1809, we find him introducing a Bill for the better securing the independence and purity of Parliament by preventing seats being obtained through corrupt practices, but, notwithstanding his able advocacy, it was rejected. It may be mentioned, also, that, in numerous debates, he continued to exhibit unwearied zeal in favour of peace and reduced taxation. Between 1812 and 1816, he was not in Parliament, but he renewed his connexion with it as member for Carlisle, in the latter year. His chief services at this time were in introducing a Bill to amend the law relating to tithes, which he failed to carry though his main ideas became law some years later. He also endeavoured to have the duties on salt, soap, leather, &c., repealed. When Parliament was dissolved by the death of George the Third, in 1820, Curwen obtained the honour of being elected both for Carlisle and West Cumberland. He decided to sit for the latter, and, in returning thanks for his election, he remarked: " For 35 years I have had to contend against the whole aristocracy of Cumberland. and I have beaten them with the assistance or the people. For the fourteenth time I am about to receive the highest honour that can be bestowed upon an Englishman." In 1821, Curwen, who was regarded by the Whigs as the mouthpiece of the landed interest, made a very able speech on a motion for a committee of the House of Commons to inquire into the causes of agricultural distress, in which he urged a policy of economy and retrenchment. In the following month he carried a Bill, the object of which was to exempt horses engaged in farming operations from duty, against the Government, and, in the following year, he succeeded in getting the salt tax removed. In 1824, he moved for papers relating to the Duke of Atholl's having expelled the Keys from the Court of General Gaol Delivery, and carried his motion by two votes. At this time. he admitted that he had changed his views about the Corn Laws, saying that ho had come to the conclusion that a comparatively small fixed duty was preferable to the prohibitive duty in force. In 1825, he moved and carried the Roman Catholic Relief Bill. It was, however, rejected by the Lords. Long before this time, the greater number of his comrades, such as Burke, Grattan, Sheridan, and Romilly, who had fought with him against Pitt and the Tory party, had been claimed by death, and he had become advanced, not only by seniority, but by the superiority of his claims to the first rank. Not long afterwards, his health began to fail, so that he could no longer take a prominent part in debate. He sat in Parliament, for the last time, in the autumn of 1828.

Let us now glance at his life's work out of Parliament, since he did much for his country in many other ways than as a legislator. As an agriculturalist, he conferred enormous benefits both upon Cumberland and the Isle of Man, not only by founding agricultural societies, but by his experiments, which tested the art of farming in all its branches, and he set a good example to his neighbours by his unwearying efforts to promote drainage and the reclamation and enclosure of waste lands. He wrote a valuable book on agriculture, entitled, " Hints on Agricultural Subjects, and on the best means of improving the condition of the Labouring Classes," which, among other items, contains chapters on agricultural works, the value of land, bargains, tithes, irrigation, choice of stock, &c. Many of his views are now looked upon as well established facts in husbandry, but, when he gave expression to them, they were novelties. In 1807, the " Society of Arts, Commerce, and Manufactures," in London, voted lair their gold medal for various improvements in agriculture, and this was only one among many public recognitions made him by this and other societies for his discoveries. The reports of the Workington Agricultural Society, which had a branch in the Isle of Man originated entirely with him, and they became the recognised exponents of what constituted good farming. In the following year, his Manx admirers presented him with a silver vase in grateful acknowledgement of his " strenuous and successful efforts in Parliament in defence of their country's rights and independence, and of the benefits the rising agriculture has received from his protection and example." As a country squire, his performance of the multifarious duties which pressed upon him was admirable. He instituted a Savings Bank, in the town of Workington, and " Friendly Societies" amongst his own and other workpeople. In many ways he strove to promote economy and thrift among the labouring classes. Invariably considerate and kind to the poor, he was wont, in times of dearth and high prices, to dispose of his farm produce among them at thirty per cent. below its sale price. He was at the expense of a local Sanitary Act-a thing scarcely dreamt of in that day-and he erected a pier at the mouth of the Derwent. In society, he was a great favourite, having an inexhaustible fund of humorous stories. He was master of the West Cumberland Hunt and an accomplished whip. As a man, he was distinguished by philanthropy, practical sagacity, great firmness of principle and good judicial sense. As a legislator, he was thoroughly independent and straightforward. He has filled a distinct niche in the history of the United Kingdom, and his native island regards him as one of her most distinguished sons. His name will remain in the records of the English Parliament, and in the agricultural archives of Great Britain and the United States of America, as a man of mark and a true benefactor to his species.

It may be mentioned that he was twice offered a Peerage, but declined it.*

* For full details see " The Worthies of Cumberland " by Henry Lonsdale, M.D., London. George Rutledge & Sons, 1867.

See also updated references and portraits in my brief biography


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