John Cam Hobhouse

John Cam Hobhouse

John Cam Hobhouse, the son of Sir Benjamin Hobhouse and Charlotte Cam, was born in Bristol on 27th June 1786. Sir Benjamin Hobhouse had inherited a large fortune from his father and after being elected to the House of Commons obtained the reputation as a social reformer. As a staunch Unitarian, Hobhouse was a stronger supporter of religious freedom.

Hobhouse attended the Unitarian grammar school in Bristol and Westminster School where he was bullied for his religious views. Hobhouse went to Trinity College, Cambridge where he met Lord Byron. The two men became friends and after university toured the Middle East together. Hobhouse developed an interested in politics and wrote several articles supporting liberal causes in Europe.

John Cam Hobhouse became friendly with the radical M.P., Sir Francis Burdett who encouraged him to became a candidate in the 1819 by-election for Westminster. He was initially defeated by won the seat in the General Election that followed later that year.

After his election, Hobhouse established himself as one of the leading radicals in Parliament. Hobhouse proudly described himself as a leveller and was a strong opponent of aristocratic privilege. As a result of one pamphlet that he wrote he was arrested and briefly sent to Newgate Prison.

In 1819 Hobhouse carried out his own private investigation into the Peterloo Massacre and in the House of Commons was highly critical of the way the authorities had dealt with the demonstrators. In a debate in the House of Commons on 15th May 1821, Hobhouse argued that the meeting at St. Peter's Fields had been completely peaceful. He also attacked William Hulton and other government witnesses of telling "lies" and providing "misstatements" at the trial of the organisers of the St. Peter's Fields meeting.

In the House of Commons Hobhouse became the leading advocate of parliamentary reform and factory legislation. However, Hobhouse broke with the radicals after the passing of the 1832 Reform Art. Hobhouse joined theWhiggovernment as Irish Secretary. Hobhouse also held ministerial posts under Viscount Melbourne (1835-41) and Lord John Russell (1846-1852). Hobhouse was granted the title Lord Broughton just before he retired from politics in 1852. John Cam Hobhouse died in 1869.

Primary Sources

(1) John Hobhouse, speech at the House of Commons, 15 May 1821.

The soldiers were not attacked. I defy all those around to prove that they were attacked. I defy them to show that any single proof can be given of an attack previously to the horrid assault made by the soldiers on the citizens. That resistance - at least some little resistance, too faint indeed and ineffectual, was made after the slaughter began.

It seems to be that the gentlemen opposite (Tories) are still resolved to believe that some attack was made by the people on the military previously to the charge of the yeomanry upon the crowd. I repeat: the Yeomanry attacked the people without warning, without provocation. I will take this opportunity to observe, that the abettors of this outrage (for so I must call it) have not replied to this charge.

On the contrary, though charged with the misstatements made in 1819, though called upon to give up those misstatements, or to show why they should not abandon those refuted errors, they have not been honest enough to retract. All those who have read the trial, must be aware that Mr. Hulton's evidence was contradicted by a cloud of witnesses.