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.”
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.”
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 😉