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Sir Christopher Hawkins, 1st Baronet (29 May 1758 – 6 April 1829) was a Cornish landowner, mine-owner, Tory Member of Parliament, and patron of steam power. He was Recorder of Grampound, of Tregony, and of St Ives,
Christopher Hawkins was the second son of Thomas Hawkins of Trewithen, a considerable landowner and former MP for Grampound. Thomas Hawkins had a lifelong fear of smallpox and died following an inoculation to prevent it.
Christopher's elder brother John was drowned in the Thames whilst at Eton, whilst a younger brother Thomas died "of a fever in consequence of eating an ice-cream after dancing."
His youngest brother, John Hawkins, survived and became a noted geologist. On his father's death in 1766, Christopher inherited his estates.
Christopher Hawkins followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a member of parliament at the age of 26. He subsequently earned notoriety as the leading commoner engaged in 'boroughmongering', the purchase and sale of rotten boroughs, parliamentary constituencies that had very few electors and as a result could be bought and sold through patronage, influence, and straightforward bribery. At his peak, Hawkins wholly or partly controlled six such boroughs, each returning two MPs, giving him the ability to ensure the successful election of candidates in return for cash or favours. He normally reserved these seats for government (Tory party) supporters.
He himself was MP for several of his own Cornish boroughs, namely Grampound from 1800 to 1807, Mitchell from 1784 to 1799 and again from 1806 to 1807, Penryn from 1806 to 1807 and again from 1818 to 1820, and St Ives from 1821 to 1828. His appearances in the chamber of the house were not memorable. He appears to have spoken just four times: once very briefly in 1807, when charged with bribery he left "his case entirely to the justice and liberality of the house", twice in 1819 with regard to the Penryn Bribery Bill, when, according to Hansard, he was on both occasions "quite inaudible", and once in 1827 when he was "totally inaudible".
Following the 1806 Penryn election, Hawkins was found guilty of bribery by a parliamentary committee and dispossessed of his seat, but unusually was not barred from the House. Since he had also been elected MP for Grampound and for Mitchell, he remained in the House of Commons, albeit it under considerable censure. The Attorney General had been asked to take up the charge and Christopher Hawkins was sent for trial at Bodmin Assize Court in 1808, but was there acquitted. The political reformer William Cobbett attended and reported on the trial, and was less than impressed by its outcome. In 1810, the bribery charge and ensuing bad feeling led to Hawkins fighting a duel with his fellow boroughmonger and former Whig MP for Penryn Lord Dunstanville. Neither party was injured.
Hawkins earned himself a reputation as a miser and it was claimed that, to reduce election expenses, he pulled down the houses of electors on his land thus depriving them of the right to vote. In this way, he was said to have reduced the number of electors at Mitchell to three.
For his loyal service to the Tory government, he was created a baronet in 1791 by William Pitt the Younger and by the time of his death had become Father of the House.
Hawkins inherited considerable estates from his father, but assiduously purchased additional land, eventually claiming that he could "ride from one side of Cornwall to the other without setting hoof on another man's soil." He bought well over a dozen manors, many of them - such as the manors of Grampound, of Mitchell, and of St Ives - in order to gain possession of rotten boroughs.
He acquired the manors of Cargoll and of Trelundra to further his interests in Mitchell, but whilst attempting to improve some wasteland in Cargoll by deep-ploughing, lead ore was discovered. Sir Christopher set up the Old Shepherds Mine to exploit the lead and found additional silver, making the mine a considerable source of profit before it closed in 1820
In 1818 he opened a copper and tin mine at St Ives, later known as St Ives Consols.
At his stream works at Ladock, near Grampound, gold was found as well as tin. A specimen of Ladock gold was presented to the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall by Sir Christopher, who also published observations on the find in their Transactions.
Hawkins was a partner in the Cornish Copper Co which established a smelting works at Copperhouse, built a canal to Hayle and extended the harbour there to export metal and import coal, timber, and other goods. He owned china clay mines in the St Austell area and substantially rebuilt the harbour at Pentewan to serve as a china clay port, connected to St Austell by a horse-drawn tramway.
He obtained the post of Vice Lord Warden of the Stannaries, giving him considerable influence and control over mines and mining in Cornwall.
The family home of Trewithen, near Probus, was purchased by Philip Hawkins of Trewinnard in 1715 and substantially and grandly rebuilt. His cousin, Sir Christopher's father, inherited the house in 1738 and was responsible for much of its landscaping. Sir Christopher, known locally as "Sir Kit", extended the grounds but added little to the house, reinforcing his reputation as a miser among his local tenants. The following verse was said to have been fixed to the gates of Trewithen:
A large house, and no cheer,
A large park, and no deer,
A large cellar, and no beer,
Sir Christopher Hawkins lives here.
Trewithen House, now a Grade I listed building, is still privately owned by a family descendant. It houses a portrait of Sir Christopher and is open to the public.
He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, of what was to become the Royal Horticultural Society, and of the Antiquarian Society. He was also a life subscriber to the Royal Institution.
In 1811 he published a short book entitled Observations on the tin trade of the ancients in Cornwall, concerning his theories on the involvement of the Phoenicians in the mining and trading of Cornish tin.
He was a patron and supporter of the Cornish steam pioneer Richard Trevithick and in 1812 commissioned from him the world's first steam threshing machine, powered by a "semi-portable" barn engine. The machine continued in use till the 1880s and has been preserved by the Science Museum.
In 1813, he brought the Cornish Gillyflower apple, found in a cottage garden in Truro, to the attention of the Royal Horticultural Society who awarded him a silver medal "for his exertions". The apple is still grown today and is commercially available.
Hawkins never married. On his death, his estate passed to his youngest brother, John, and then to his nephew, Christopher Henry Thomas Hawkins.