John Dunning, 1st Baron Ashburton
He was first noticed in English politics when he wrote a notice in 1762 defending the British East India Company merchants against their Dutch rivals. He was a Member of Parliament from 1768 onward. His career in the House of Commons is best known for his Commons motion in 1780 that "the influence of the crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished". He was created Baron Ashburton in 1782.
He was a younger son of John Dunning of Ashburton, Devon, by his wife, Agnes, daughter of Henry Judsham of Old Port in the parish of Modbury in the same county; and was born at Ashburton on 18 October 1731. After receiving education at the grammar school of the town, he was articled to his father, who practised there as an attorney. He went to London to study for the bar, and was admitted a student of the Middle Temple on 8 May 1752.
While a student Dunning became close to Lloyd Kenyon and John Horne Tooke. He was called to the bar on 2 July 1756, and joined the western circuit. For several years after his call he had little success. In 1762, however, John Glynn, one of the leading counsel on the circuit, suddenly fell ill, and placed his briefs in Dunning's hands. By 1764 he was making £2,000 a year, helped by his pamphlet, drawn up by Dunning on behalf of the directors of the English East India Company. In 1765 he established his legal reputation by his arguments against the legality of general warrants in the case of Leach v. Money.
In 1766 Dunning was appointed recorder of Bristol, and on 28 January 1768 he became solicitor-general in the Duke of Grafton's administration, in the place of Edward Willes, who was raised to the bench.
At the general election in March 1768, Dunning, through the influence of Lord Shelburne, was returned to parliament as one of the members for the borough of Calne. Though solicitor-general, he took no part in the debate on the expulsion of John Wilkes from the house, and was absent from the division. On 9 January 1770 Dunning both spoke in favour of the amendment to the address urging an inquiry into the causes of "the unhappy discontents which at present prevail in every part of his majesty's dominions"; and a few days later tendered his resignation. On 19 March he spoke on the side of the minority in the debate on the remonstrance of the city of London. After some delay Edward Thurlow was appointed solicitor-general on 30 March 1770.
On 12 October 1770 the freedom of the city of London was voted to Dunning. In the debate which took place on 25 March 1771 Dunning made a speech against Welbore Ellis's motion to commit Alderman Richard Oliver to the Tower of London, in which he denied the right of the house to commit in such a case. Dunning opposed the third reading of the bill for regulating the government of Massachusetts Bay on 2 May 1774. At the general election in October 1774 he was re-elected for Calne, and continued to oppose the ministerial policy towards the American colonies. On 6 November 1776 he supported Lord John Cavendish's defeated motion for the "revisal of all acts of parliament by which his majesty's subjects in America think themselves aggrieved". In the next session Dunning, continued to oppose the ministry, and was instrumental in obtaining the insertion of a clause in the bill for the suspension of habeas corpus, which lessened its scope.
On 14 May 1778 Dunning seconded Sir George Savile's motion for leave to bring in a bill for the relief of Roman Catholics; and it was on his amendment that the house unanimously voted that a monument should be erected in Westminster Abbey to the memory of the Earl of Chatham. On 21 February 1780 he supported Savile's motion for an account of crown pensions; and on 6 April moved his famous resolutions that "the influence of the crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished", and that "it is competent to this house to examine into and correct abuses in the expenditure of the civil list revenues, as well as in every other branch of the public revenue, whenever it shall appear expedient to the wisdom of the house so to do". In the teeth of Lord North's opposition, the first resolution (with a slight addition) was carried by 233 to 215, and the second agreed to without a division. Dunning a few weeks later proposed an address to the king requesting him not to dissolve the parliament; he found himself in a minority of 51.
At the general election in September 1780 Dunning was again returned for Calne, and proposed the re-election of Sir Fletcher Norton as Speaker, but Cornwall, the ministerial candidate, was elected by 203 to 134. In February 1782 he supported Conway's motion against the further prosecution of the American war, and a month later announced that arrangements were being made for the formation of a new ministry. On 27 March 1782 Dunning, with Lord John Cavendish, Charles James Fox, Edmund Burke, and Augustus Keppel, was admitted to the privy council, and on 8 April was created Baron Ashburton of Ashburton in the county of Devon. The king retained Thurlow as Lord Chancellor, and Dunning was sworn in as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 17 April. He continued in the cabinet after Lord Rockingham's death, and was consulted by Shelburne in legal matters, but took little part in debates in the House of Lords.
On Shelburne's resignation, Dunning had several interviews with the king, who asked his advice on the formation of a new ministry. Before the act for the reform in the civil list expenditure (22 George III, c. 82) was passed, a pension of £4,000 was granted to Dunning. His health, however, had begun to give way, and he died at Exmouth a few months after the death of his eldest child, on 18 August 1783. He was buried in the parish church of Ashburton, where a monument was erected to his memory.
Dunning was supposed by some to have been the author of A Letter to the Proprietors of East India Stock on the subject of Lord Clive's Jaghire, occasioned by his Lordship's letter on that subject (London, 1764), and also of an Inquiry into the Doctrines lately promulgated concerning Juries, Libels, &c., upon the principles of the Law and the Constitution. The joint authorship of Junius's Letters has also been attributed to him.
Dunning married, on 31 March 1780, Elizabeth Baring (21 July 1744 – 23 February 1809), daughter of John Baring of Larkbear, Devon (born Johannes Baring and naturalized 1723) and his wife Elizabeth Vowler, and sister of Sir Francis Baring, 1st Baronet. In 1805 Elizabeth built to the designs of John Nash a villa rustica country house at Sandridge in the parish of Stoke Gabriel. By her he had two sons:
- John Dunning (29 October 1781 – April 1783)
- Richard Barre Dunning (20 September 1782 – 15 February 1823), who succeeded as 2nd Baron Ashburton, and on 17 September 1805 married Anne, daughter of William Cunninghame of Lainshaw.
On the 2nd baron's death without issue at Friar's Hall, Roxburghshire, in February 1823, the title became extinct. The existing barony of Ashburton was in 1835 conferred on Alexander Baring, the second son of Sir Francis Baring.
- "Dunning, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- A Defence of the United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies and their servants (particularly those of Bengal) against the Complaints of the Dutch East India Company; being a Memorial from the English East India Company to his Majesty on that subject (1762)
- Darryl Landy. John Dunning, 1st Baron Ashburton. The Peerage website. Last edited 22 February 2009. Retrieved 2 October 2009
- thepeerage.com, Elizabeth Baring
- Pevsner & Cherry, Buildings of England: Devon, 2004, p.719
|Parliament of Great Britain|
|Member of Parliament for Calne
With: Thomas FitzMaurice 1768–1774
Isaac Barré 1774–1782
The Earl of Clarendon
|Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
The Earl of Derby
|Peerage of Great Britain|
|New creation||Baron Ashburton