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Lavington, Ralph Payne, baron, 1738-1807



  • Existence: 1738 - 1807


Ralph Payne was born in Basseterre, St. Kitts, in 1739, the surviving son of Ralph Payne (d. 1763), chief justice of St. Kitts, and his first wife Alice Carlisle, the only surviving child and heiress of the Antiguan planter Francis Carlisle.

Like many of the West Indian elite, Payne divided his time between England, especially London, and the Caribbean plantations from which he derived his wealth and power. Educated at Christ's Hospital, Payne returned to Antigua in 1759, where he was promptly elected to the House of Assembly and unanimously voted Speaker of the House.

Payne returned to England in 1762 and embarked on a lengthy and expensive Grand Tour of Europe. In 1767 he married Françoise Lambertina Kölbel, daughter of Henry, Baron Kölbel of Saxony; she was a close friend of Queen Charlotte. Shortly after his marriage, Payne entered English politics, and was M.P. for Shaftesbury from 1768 until 1771, when he was made Knight of the Order of the Bath and set sail for Antigua as the newly-appointed Governor-General of the Leeward Islands.

Payne was popular with the plantation owners. He supported Lord North's government in its struggles with the North American colonists, reporting in 1774 that his islands were free of "mischievous sparks of the Continental flame." He was the first governor in over fifty years to visit every one of the Leeward Islands, after the "Great Hurricane" of 1772. (At the time, the colony consisted of Antigua, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, St. Christopher's (St. Kitts), Nevis, Anguilla and Dominica.) He also patronized the artist Thomas Hearne. In 1775, the Paynes left for England "to reestablish Lady Payne's health," and the Assembly petitioned for his speedy return and presented him with a diamond-encrusted sword as a token of their affection. Payne was to remain in England for the next twenty-four years.

He spent many years in various elective and appointive offices, becoming a supporter of Fox after 1780. Payne and his wife also became known for their elaborate parties, despite the rumored unhappiness of their marriage. In 1788 he traveled again on the Continent, and conducted secret but unsuccessful negotiations with Charlotte, Duchess of Albany over the possible return of the Stuart crown jewels to England.

Payne, whose wealth was declining rapidly due to his lavish spending and to the sharp decline of sugar profits after the American Revolution, seceded from the Whig Club and allied with William Pitt and Henry Dundas. In fact, the dinner at which Dundas and Lord Loughborough first broached the idea of an alliance between Pitt and the Duke of Portland was held at his Grafton Street house. His reward for changing parties followed quickly; he was created Baron Lavington of Lavington in the Irish peerage in October 1795.

In 1799 he was re-appointed Governor-General of the Leeward Islands, and arrived in Antigua in August, 1801. He moved into the just-completed Government House, and remained on that island until his death in August, 1807. Payne was buried on Carlisles, his Antigua plantation. His estate was thoroughly encumbered by debts, mortgages, and liferents, and his widow was left so poor that the Antiguan assembly voted her a pension of L 300 a year "in affection and esteem." She returned soon after to England, and died at Hampton Court Palace in 1830. See "Payne, Ralph, Baron Lavington" in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004) for further information.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Lavington papers: Stuart negotiations

Call Number: OSB MSS 43

The papers include correspondence and copies of legal documents relating to Lavington's secret commission to negotiate with the daughter of the Young Pretender for the return of the jewel of the Order of the Garter, which Charles I had given to Bishop Juxon and which had descended to the Young Pretender.

Dates: 1771-1799

Ralph Payne, Baron Lavington family papers

Call Number: OSB MSS 138

The papers document the West Indian portions of the economic fortunes and political career of the sugar planter and politician Ralph Payne, first Baron Lavington.

Dates: 1679-1855, bulk 1730-1790

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