Ralph Payne, 1st Baron Lavington
|The Right Honourable
The Lord Lavington
|Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the Leeward Islands|
|Member of Parliament (MP) for New Woodstock|
|Member of Parliament (MP) for Plympton, Devon|
|Clerk of the Board of the Green Cloth|
|Member of Parliament (MP) for Camelford, Cornwall|
|Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the Leeward Islands|
|Member of Parliament (MP) for Shaftesbury, Dorset|
19 March 1739|
St George, Basseterre, St Kitts
|Died||3 August 1807
|Spouse(s)||Frances Payne, Lady Lavington (1767—1807)|
|Occupation||Politician and Businessman|
Early life and education
Payne was born in St George, Basseterre on the island of St Kitts in 1739 to Ralph Payne (died 1763)—the Chief Justice of St Kitts—and his wife, Alice. His family was wealthy and originally came from Lavington in Wiltshire, hence Payne's future peerage was as Baron Lavington. He was educated in England at Christ's Hospital school in West Sussex. Following the completion of his time at Christ's, Payne returned to St Kitts where he was "elected a member of the house of assembly and unanimously voted speaker."
Return to England and marriage
By 1762, Payne had returned to England as part of his grand tour of Europe as was convention for young men in the eighteenth century. Here he became a representative for absentee landowners in Britain of plantations in the West Indies. He married Frances Lambertine Christiana Charlotte Harriet Theresa, the daughter of a German nobleman on 1 September 1767 at St George's in Hanover Square, London. His wife was well connected and mixed in high social circles, including with Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. Payne therefore made good contacts for his political career through his marriage; however, his time with Frances was not a particularly happy one.
First tenure as Governor of the Leeward Islands
Following his marriage, Payne embarked fully on his political career and became a Member of Parliament for the borough of Shaftesbury; holding this seat from 1768 to 1771. In order to further himself in politics, he always voted according to the government of the time. He thus made many more useful connections which were particularly beneficial to him, including his relationship with the Earl of Mansfield. Horace Walpole observed the verbose style with which Payne made his political speeches, maintaining that such a style could be attributed to amateur dramatic performances in Payne's youth. Nevertheless, Payne became a prominent figure in London society and held a great number of social gatherings which were very popular in the capital.
Payne was created a Knight of the Bath (KB) on 18 February 1771 and was also appointed Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the Leeward Islands later in 1771. Payne had "inherited a considerable estate from his parents" on the islands. The islands endured a hurricane in 1772, leading Payne to become the first Governor to tour the islands in order to work out how to resolve the devastation that was caused. It was during his time as Governor that he became the patron of artist Thomas Hearne who painted several landscapes depicting events on the Leeward Islands. One of these—depicting Payne himself—is currently in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Sir Ralph left the post as Governor in 1775, although he had been very popular during his tenure. Indeed, he was so popular the people petitioned to have him remain as Governor for another term.
Return to England
Sir Ralph returned to England to become MP for Camelford in Cornwall between 1776 and 1780. He then became MP for Plympton in Devon; holding this seat until 1784. He was also Clerk of the Board of Green Cloth between 1777 and 1782. He became a supporter of Fox following the end of the war in America, although his political career was stilted for a period due to the increasing influence of William Pitt who became Prime Minister in 1783. He thus left England in 1788 for another tour of Europe, returning to England in 1790 to contest the seat of Fowey in Cornwall. However, his plight for election was unsuccessful.
Finding it difficult to re-establish himself in the British political system and due to economic issues caused by a decrease in the performance of his plantations on the Leeward Islands, he switched allegiances to become a supporter of Pitt, throwing a party at his house on 15 August 1793 at which the Prime Minister, Pitt, was present. It was due to this switch of allegiance that he became Baron Lavington in the peerage of Ireland on 1 October 1795. Payne was also elected as MP for New Woodstock in October 1795, retaining this seat until 1799. He did not vote on the abolition of the slave trade during this his fourth tenure as an MP. This was likely due to his own need for the continuation of the slave trade in order that his plantations on the Leeward Islands did not cause him further economic issues.
Second tenure as Governor of the Leeward Islands
Lord Lavington was re-elected as Governor of the Leeward Islands in February 1799, arriving in Antigua on 12 August 1801. He was also sworn of the Privy Council later in 1799. Payne remained Governor until his death at Government House on 3 August 1807. He was buried the next day at his plantation, Carlisles, and a marble monument to him was erected in the parish church of St John's in Antigua. He died without children and in a dire economic situation, leaving his wife, Lady Lavington, having to sustain herself on an annual income of just £300; an extremely low amount for the widow of a nobleman and relatively influential politician, although it would have allowed her to keep a servant. Lady Lavington died at Hampton Court Palace in London, UK on 2 May 1830. According to biographer W.P. Courtney, Lord Lavington's "career mirrored the meteoric rise and downfall of absentee sugar planters in Britain."
Styles and honours
- Mr Ralph Payne (1739–1768)
- Mr Ralph Payne MP (1768–1771)
- Sir Ralph Payne KB (1771–1776)
- Sir Ralph Payne KB MP (1776–1784)
- Sir Ralph Payne KB (1784–1795)
- The Rt. Hon. The Lord Lavington KB (1795-1795)
- The Rt. Hon. The Lord Lavington KB MP (1795–1799)
- The Rt. Hon. The Lord Lavington KB PC (1799–1807)
-  NOTE: The biographical sketch for Sir Ralph Payne (later Lord Lavington) in "The History of Parliament," states that "On 1 Oct. 1795 Payne duly became Baron Lavington (after the Wiltshire home of his ancestors), though he had at first chosen the title of Bampton." This has posed a double-problem for family researchers as traditions within the family maintain that they descend from the PAYN's of Jersey, Channel Islands, from which island they had fled at the end of the Civil War. It is said that Sir Ralph's ancestors fled the island and settled for a time in Devonshire (although no evidence for this has been located). Circa 1653, the family is believed to have left England for the St. Kitts and the Leeward Islands. It is therefore a bit of a mystery as to how "Bampton" fits into the picture, particularly when there appears to be very strong record evidence in support of the family tradition in regard to Jersey. The present head of this family (in Scotland), who is in possession of many family heirlooms, paintings, etc., as well as several secondary sources (J.B. Payn's "An Armorial of Jersey; Burkes "General Armory"), trace Lord Lavington's ancestry to Edouard PAYN (1554-19 Aug. 1624) of St. Martin, Jersey, by his wife, Andrie (d. 21 Jan. 1620/1). Other researchers claim that records extant on the island further trace this ancestry back to the 13th-century. Perhaps other researchers can provide information on Lavington's "Wiltshire" and/or "Bampton" connection.[original research?]
- The London Gazette: . 10 October 1795.