Colebrooke, Sir George, second baronet 1729-1809, banker and politician, was born 14 June 1729 in Chilham, Kent, the youngest in the family of three sons and seven daughters of James Colebrooke, a London banker, and his wife Mary Hudson. He was educated at the University of Leiden between 1747 and 1749, and then entered the familys banking business.
A key figure in the world of high finance, Colebrooke sat in the Commons as MP for Arundel between 1754 and 1774, and close links with Sir Thomas Pelham-Holles, first Duke of Newcastle [qv.], secured him a number of lucrative government contracts. This led to involvement in a wide range of speculative projects throughout Europe, North America, and the West Indies, and the huge resources at his disposal enabled him to embark on a vigorous attempt to secure control over the affairs of the East India Company. He was elected a director of the rapidly expanding Company in 1767, and was appointed deputy chairman the following year. He served as chairman in 1769, 1770, and 1772, and was thus at the centre of public attention at a crucial stage in Anglo-Asian relations. His decisions and negotiations with the government shaped the manner in which the British Crown extended its control over both the Company and its Indian possessions, a process which culminated in the passing of the Regulating Act of 1773. But this success was tempered by the fact that Colebrookes period in office coincided with the Companys financial collapse. When his own business affairs fell into a state of disarray in 1773, he was forced to withdraw from public life. Bankruptcy followed and he fled to France.
Colebrooke, much lampooned in the press, was a rather pompous, self-important man who considered himself to be the second most influential politician in England. He succeeded his brother James as second baronet in 1761, gained election as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and was appointed as chirographer to the Court of Common Pleas in 1766.
In 1754 he married Mary, daughter of Patrick Gaynor of Antigua. They had three sons and three daughters, the youngest son being Henry Thomas Colebrooke [qv.], who became a noted Sanskrit scholar. Colebrooke died 5 August 1809 in Bath-Easton and was succeeded in the baronetcy by his second son James Edward (born 1761), his eldest son having died in April 1809.
Sir George Colebrooke, Retrospection, 1898
Gentlemans Magazine, vol. lxxix, 1809
Sir Lewis Namier and John Brooke (eds.), The House of Commons, 1754-1790, vol. ii, 1964.
Contributor: Huw V. Bowen