Edward Colman and the ‘Job for Life’

Edwar Colman sarjent of amrs by Anton HickelEdward Colman held the post of Serjeant at Arms at the House of Commons from 1775 to 1805. Before getting this position he had also been Clerk of the Robes and Wardrobes and  Usher of the Privy Chamber, but Serjeant at Arms was his finest position.  A job for life, the serjeant was required to ‘attend upon His Majesty’s person when there is no Parliament, and at the time of every Parliament to attend upon the Speaker of the House of Commons’. Because he served both the king and the Commons, the serjeant received, in effect, two salaries.

The salaries though were not the most part of the reward; his business included controlling access to the Commons, and at the start of each parliament he was able to collect a further levy from each member. Another part of the job was policeman and gaoler of those deserving parliamentary reprimand or being required to attend the house. For carrying out such a summons an additional fee was charged the summoned and those imprisoned also rewarded the serjeant for their incarceration.

Supplementing his income further – being the gatekeeper of commons – the serjeant was able to charge for access for lobbyists – those wishing to promote a bill or to oppose it. All in all it was a fine earner, and when he did retire from the post in 1805, the knowledge that he had been able to secure it for his son Francis John Colman must have been a comfort to him. This optimism however, proved short lived.

Francis John had served in the 1st Dragoons and in 1805 he retired from the army holding the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, taking up his new role of Serjeant at Arms later the same year.

As much as a life amidst the ritual and splendour at parliament had suited his father, it appears an ill match for his battle hardened son, and in 1809 the Times reported that Francis John was “to relieve the tedium of the vacation serving in the Portuguese army with the rank of Brigadier-General.”

He kept up this unusual second job for just two years, alternating between serving king and country at parliament and commanding the 2nd & 19th Regiments for the Anglo–Portuguese army at Torres Vedras Portugal, but in the end this proved too much and he died at Lisbon in August 1811. As reported in the Gentleman Magazine “from fever and debility brought on by exertions in his profession too great for his constitution” the report added “by the death of this gentleman, the valuable place of Serjeant at Arms at the House of Commons becomes vacant”

Apart from the loss of their son, this represented a big financial loss for Edward and his wife Martha, and their vision of comfortable retirement supported by their son’s ample income vanished.

Using whatever contact and influence he had, Colman set about petitioning the new Serjeant for assistance based upon his assessment of how much the country ‘had profited by the regulation in the office of Serjeant at Arms during the latter part of the time which I held that office’. He had some success, with the new Serjeant pledging a pension of £500 pa from his income.

His petitioning to parliament for a pension continued but was finally unsuccessful in procuring further funds, leading Colman to claim that he would be “distressed to raise money, which must be taken from my wife and daughters fortunes” and that he would be “reduced to putting down my carriage”

Finding it to be cheaper, warmer and almost as fashionable as London, the Colman’s eventually decamped from Mayfair and moved to Brighton where they spent their remaining years.

They were buried at St Nicholas in the Churchyard marked by the following inscription

In memory of EDWARD COLEMAN who departed this life July 29th 18—aged 81 years. Also of MARTHA relict of the above who departed this life on October 26th 1823

Their monument however did not survive the post war clearances.

NPG 745; The House of Commons 1793-94 by Karl Anton HickelWith thanks to Robert Bremner for the background to this story, which was taken from his paper ‘Brigadier Francis John Colman: His Death in Lisbon and its Consequences’ published in the journal of the British Historical Society of Portugal
This entry was posted in Churchyard, Military, Missing Monuments, St Nicholas. Bookmark the permalink.

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