The Other John Key

As it’s  election year here in New Zealand, I thought it might be interesting to tell the story of the other John Key – my 3rd great grand uncle.  This is a story of research and proof that there’s nothing new under the sun!  No similarity to persons living is intended!!  And as far as I’m aware, there is no relationship between either JK.

Fairly early on in my family research I discovered that the uncle of my gg-grandmother Mary Sophia Key had been a Lord Mayor of London – Sir John Key, Bt; brother of my ggg-grandfather Jonathan Muckleston Key.  It helped immensely that he was a ‘Bt’ as the Key family lineage was to be found in various Baronetcy books.  My research into Sir John was limited to these and biographies such as the one found on www.london-city-history.org.uk :

Key, Sir John (1794-1858)

wholesale stationer and reformer was one of the lasts links to City radicalism. Born 16 August, the eldest son of John Key of Denmark Hill, he joined his fathers business in 1818. Originally located at 30 Abchurch Lane as John Key and Sons they moved finally to 97 and 103 Newgate Street. He married Charlotte Green and they had one son and three daughters.

No stranger to the City’s streets, he became an Alderman for Langbourn ward in 1823 and for Bridge Street Without in 1851. He formally retired just two years later, by which time he could look back to an illustrious career in City politics. In 1824 he was Sheriff for London and Middlesex, Master of the Stationers’ Company and in 1830 and 1831, Lord Mayor. Famously, during his second Mayoralty, he advised William 1V and Queen Adelaide not to attend the opening of the new London Bridge fearing violence against the Duke of Wellington and for this decision became the target of popular satire. He went on to be presented with a Baronet at the end of his term of office by the King and was elected to parliament to represent the City between 1832 and 1833, when he finally accepted the Chilton Hundreds. Demonstrating his reformist credentials, he supported the abolition of slavery, the repeal of part of the assessed taxes, abrogation of the Corn Laws, the adoption of triennial parliaments and the vote by ballot. Earlier he had expressed enthusiasm for the extension of the franchise. His most arduous test came, however, when he fought Benjamin Scott for the post of City Chamberlain in 1853. In a bitterly contested election, Key finally won through polling 6,095 and beating his rival by just 275 votes. When he died after suffering for some days with gout on 15 July 1858, Scott succeeded him to that prized office.

A fairly straight-forward life really.  Nothing particularly interesting in it at all – another politician uncle (there are others in my tree).

Thus I moved onto more perplexing things – where had the Muckleston come from in my ggg-grandfather’s name?  It wasn’t a maternal surname and no one else had it in their name.  So I kept searching for him wherever I went.

One day in the National Library in Wellington, I went searching for him in the Times newspaper archive.  The search came up with an article with the enticing title of “First Report from the Select Committee on the Stationery Contract”.  Stationery was the Key family business.  The date – August 26 1833.

The fourth paragraph of the article states that the facts of the allegations are “so notorious that your committee deemed it unnecessary to examine witnesses to that point”.  What….?!!  Fortunately, being a newspaper, they kindly gave a full run down of the allegations which culminated in Sir John “accepting” the Chilton Hundreds after only 2 years as an MP.

So what is the Chilton Hundreds?  Its full title is Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham.  From my research, I like to think of it as “the naughty seat”, although it’s not really a seat.  In Britain, while you can resign your seat, you can’t resign from Parliament.  Instead you are appointed to an “office of profit under The Crown” which disqualifies you from sitting as an MP.  This dates from 1624 when MP’s were often elected “against their will” (see Wikipedia for more information).  The last MP to “accept” the Chilton Hundreds was Eric Illsley who resigned before he was due to be sentenced for dishonestly claiming parliamentary expenses.  Other recent incumbents include Tony Blair and John Profumo.  (okay, I have picked the more scandalous ones – ill health and appointments to more interesting jobs have also been the reason for “accepting”).

So what did Sir John Key, Bt do to end up in the “naughty seat”?  The Select Committee were looking at two things:

  • The contract entered into in June 1832 between the Government Stationery office and Jonathan Muckleston Key, and,
  • The appointment of Mr Kingsmill Grove Key to the situation of the storekeeper of the Stationery office.

Sir John had given the Government stationery contract to his brother Jonathan.  Jonathan had turned up to sign on the dotted line, but that was the limit of his involvement.  Sir John provided the bills and wrote all the required correspondence.  Therefore Jonathan was considered the “nominal contractor” and Sir John the real one.

Further research online found the Hansard for August 5 1833 (see Google Books).  Sir Robert Peel (creator of the ‘Peelers’ – the first Police) states:

That Act contained provisions declaring, that no man entering into any contract for the supply of articles for the public use should have a seat in Parliament, and that no man in Parliament should enter into any such contract, and retain his seat; and it further declared, that “in every such contract, agreement, or commission, shall be inserted the condition that no Member of the House of Commons shall be admitted to have directly or indirectly, any share in the gains, profits, or benefits arising there from.”

Oops!

But not content with that, when the position became vacant, Sir John’s son Kingsmill Grove King Key was appointed the storekeeper of the Stationery office.  The storekeeper’s job was to inspect the incoming stationery supplies and ensure they were of appropriate quality.  Sir John told Charles Wood, the secretary to the Treasury who made the appointment that his son was “of age”.

Kingsmill is described to the Select Committee as “a youth of 18 or 19 years of age, not legally competent to give the necessary bonds of security, or qualified to perform the official duties of a situation requiring a knowledge of the that stationery business, only to be obtained by experience.

Oops again!

So how did this all come to a head?  Reports relating to the goings on in Parliament on 5 August 1833 can be found in the Hansard and The Parliamentary Review And Family Magazine (PRFM) (again on Google Books).  PRFM reports that, unlike the important matters of the day, the Sir John Key case “drew crowds of anxiously curious and enquiring members to the House at an early hour”.  Nothing like having one of your local MP’s getting in trouble to attract a crowd!

Hansard reports that Sir Henry Hardinge (MP for Launceston) presented to Parliament a petition by other stationers “twenty-six or twenty-seven in number”.  This petition made the allegations above.   However, from PRFM it would appear that Sir John had already “accepted” Chilton Hundreds and “and a salary, we believe, of ten shillings a-year, or some such magnificent sum”.  It goes on to say “Sir John has, by vacating his seat, tacitly admitted that he values the profits of a Stationery Contractor more highly than the honour of being one of the Representatives of the first City in the world, and a Senator of the Land”.

Sir Henry got his select committee, but PRFM implies that by letting Sir John accept the Chilton Hundreds he got away with it.

Fraser’s magazine for Town and Country (also on Google Books) of September 1833 provides another interesting insight.  “Don” Key (as they refer to Sir John) “was desirous of procuring for his hopeful heir the benefits of the Stationers’ Company, as a freeman of that very rich corporation”.  Stating that his son was 21, the Stationers’ Company checked Sir John’s marriage certificate and came to the conclusion that “Eighteen years and three months, therefore, was the full age of the boy, unless Oh! the Don Key!”  Already annoyed by the contracts going to his brother, the Stationers’ Company had dobbed Sir John in by petitioning Parliament.

All this scandal doesn’t seem to have affected Sir John much (when was Teflon invented?).  Despite Fraser’s suggesting “that the city, if it have any sense of honour left, should strip him of his aldermanic gown and chains”, as detailed in his biography above he continued to hold offices in the City of London until his death in 1858.

His son Kingsmill lived to inherit the Barontcy which died out with his grandson Sir Kingsmill James Key in 1932.  You can read more about the Grove family (Sir John’s gt-uncle), Sir John and his son Kingsmill on the Thornbury House website.

Jonathan (1806-1888) had apparently “retired” from the family business by 1832 (aged 26!).  In the 1861 census his occupation is “Commissioner of the Lieutenant of the City of London for Taxes”.  And I did eventually find the origins of the Muckleston – it came from his godfather and (rich) family friend Joseph Muckleston.

And thanks to one of John Key’s descendents, we have a political caricature of Sir John, Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington.  I don’t think it’s a true likeness of Sir John 😉

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19 thoughts on “The Other John Key

  1. Victor Veronesi

    Sorry, if you’re a Key, dont’you know something this painting : http://www.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/php/makepage.php?db=wapaintings&view=llisti&all=&arti=&titl=Rest+on+the+flight&mat=&prov=&sour=&acno=&park=&strt=1&what=Search&cpos=1&s1=artist&s2=mainid&s3=&dno=25 . It was sold in XIX century by a famous artist of Milan to Sir John Key at the time Esquire of LOndon. I dont’ know exactly to which Key part of the family belonged and when did he entered the collections of Ashmolean at Oxford. Thanks.

    1. Hi Victor,
      It’s a lovely painting. Unfortunately, as Sir John was a uncle way back in the family, I don’t know much about his life other than what is publicly available. Hopefully, a descendant will make contact who may know more.

      The Ashmoleon may have more information. They should have documentation on its provenance.

      Sarah

  2. JOHN BROWNRIGG

    Sir

    I am a direct descendant of Sir John Key, Bt., and am interested in your story about the government stationery contract, having often wondered why he was an M.P. for such a short time. My knowledge of him otherwise is much the same as yours although his career does seem to have been quite meteoric. You may be aware of the caricatures about Don-Key of which I have one showing him with the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. You may not know however that the best known portrait of Sir John, painted by a pupil of Sir Thomas Lawrence, is hanging in the Stationers Hall in London, having been presented to the Company of Stationers on permanent loan by our family about twenty years ago. Sir John took the title of Baron Key of Thornbury and Denmark Hill.

    I would be pleased to share some of my other information about the Key family with you. My great grandmother, Louisa Marion Key, was one of the daughters of Sir Kingsmill Grove Key, 2nd Bt., who lived at The Rookery, Streatham in South London. His eldest son, John Kingsmill Causton Key, 3rd Bt.,was a missionary in Africa, and his youngest son (by another marriage) was Kingsmill James Key, 4th Bt., a prominent county cricketer in his day.
    He only had a daughter, Esmé, so the title lapsed.

    I would be interested to know more about your Key comnnections and may be able to fill in some of the gaps in your knowledge.

    Best wishes

    John Brownrigg

    1. Hi John,
      Great to make contact with one of my Key cousins! Found one in American once, but after some serious research, he came to the conclusion he wasn’t related after all!

      I have seen some of the caricatures in Google Books – in the Gentleman’s Magazine off the top of my head. He must have made quite an inpression! Especially to be called “Don-Key”. There was one comment in reports of the scandal that implied his baronetcy might not have been for services rendered or length of service but for cash paid. But given others were mentioned, it seems that it wasn’t an unusual occurence!

      For my research, I started with the lineage done for Sir John on his baronetcy but haven’t gotten much farther back on the Key branch. However, his mother Marianne Jones’ branch led to all sorts of interesting ancestors.
      I’d just found a Throckmorton on my tree when I read a book on the Gunpowder Plot and the family was mentioned. This led to the discovery that we’re related either directly or through marriage to all of the Gunpowder Plotters except Guy Fawkes – no one knows where he came from. Most of this is from published pedigrees such as Burkes which I know is not always correct (I believe there’s even a mistake on the Key one – Elizabeth Tamer Mrs John Garrett is probably Elizabeth Tarver) but it’s still interesting.
      She is also descended from Elizabeth Woodville (queen of Edward IV, mother of the Princes in the Tower, and grandmother of Henry VIII) from her first marriage to John Grey. And of course, the second you get into an aristocratic family you end up being descended from a King or two hundred. It’s nice to know I can “prove” a royal descendency rather than have it be a statistical likelihood!

      I am happy to share what I have with you. I think there’s details of my email somewhere on the blog so you can contact me directly.

      Sarah

    2. There is a branch of the Key family that left London in 1810 and did not respond to the 1900-1932 advertisement for the July 2, 1810 Key Coat of Arms.
      The 1st baronet was only 16, so this is his uncle or grandfather.
      I would love to communicate via email with you.
      Julie Marie (Key) Pappa
      pappajm@earthlink.net

  3. JOHN BROWNRIGG

    Hello Sarah

    Good to make contact!

    It might be easier if you gave me your e-mail address so that I can pass on any Key details. I wonder if you know about ‘Francis Green of Denmark Hill, Surrey, and his Descendants’, a booklet put together in 1926 by the then Lord Bishop of Monmouth for private circulation. It shows various family connections including a Welsh lineage. Mary Sophia Key (née Hahn) was the granddaughter of Francis Green.

    I have some notes about Sir John Key’s brothers and sisters – also some relics of official documents with the King’s signature on Royal Licences -‘George R’ (George IV ?) – and one example of John Key’s signature. I could attach these to an e-mail.

    My research so far has not taken me back beyond the late 18th century so am intrigued by your historical references!

    Best wishes

    John

  4. Tim Matthews

    May I join in the fray? Sir John Key was my gt-gt grandfather. I have a fair amount of family connections I could let me have if you email me.

    Best wishes

    Tim Matthews

  5. eileen

    Hi there! From Island to yours! I am from the family of John Key & Charlotte Green who had a Lucy Wilson Key, she married George Parbury. They had 4 children Douglas Stewart ( another bad boy), Marion, Stanley & Constance…Douglas is where I am related from, he changes his name to Perry later..Eileen McDonald, Vancouver Island, Canada

      1. eileen

        Sarah.. looking through the Key’s I see an Elizabeth who married a George Parbury. Is this the George William Parbury born in Australia andhad daughter Eva, son Norman Cecil? If so they may be on 2 other heritage trees, the Whites and the Muckleston’s

        1. Yes, that’s the one. Elizabeth is the daughter of Sir John’s brother Jonathan Muckleston Key and sister of my gg-grandmother. Having two George Parbury’s gets a bit confusing at times!
          There are quite a few matches on that branch on MyHeritage. I’m a member of the Muckleston tree. Haven’t yet figured out their connection other than a Joseph Muckleston being the god-father of Jonathan Muckleston Key.

  6. eileen

    That would be great. I have a family private group on FB that I set up for family connecting/ sharing the genealogy stuff & new news. eileen

  7. eileen

    I know!.. I have the George who married Mary Anne Deane had 6 kids,then she died and within 3 yrs he married 26yr old Lucy Wilson Key and had 4 children, who one of which was DouglasStewart ( bad boy) he married Lucy Jane Tyzack had 3 boys, and then I found a daughter..Florence Tyzack Parbury! He then met a Mary Anne Deane and 4 kids, changed his name to Douglas Stewart PERRY and they all moved to Canada. I am trying to find out if the petition for divorce was granted for Lucy and the marriage to Mary Anne was documented.. but it doesn’t look like. All the kids from Mary Anne were registered as Deane Perry. This is where my Gran was from.
    Blanche Stuart Perry. I cannot believe how many names are continued through the families..very confusing sometimes. heh heh heh So when I saw the other George I was wondering if he too, was the same scoundrel… But it looks like he is from Australia; George William Parbury… but now I want to find from who he came from…Also do you know of Ishmael Parbury the gold chaser at the UK museum? I am finding he may be of the beginnings of Lucy’s George…

    1. eileen

      Also on my wish list to find information on the george william parbury who married elizabeth key.. jonathan mucklestons daughter… to see if he is related in some way.. he was born in australia, they lived in Kent and he died in sussex apparently.. OH such fun! eileen ps Are you on FB?

  8. Hello Sarah
    I enjoyed reading your entry on John Key and interested in the information from John Brownrigg on 11 January 2012 above. I wonder if it’s possible for you to put me in touch with John? I am part of a team researching The Rookery and its gardens on Streatham Common, where your ancestor’s family lived and we have little information regarding various aspects. It seems like he might be able to help us out! I can’t find an email address for, but I think you have mine through this comment. You’re welcome to share it with John Brownrigg.
    Huge thanks if you can help me!
    Best wishes
    Rachel

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