Henry Martin – Pioneer Economist

By the time this edition of the Dabchick hits the streets, the Brexit arguments will be at their height. A man who was born in Aldbourne parish over 300 years ago might have relished the current debate about trade policies and ties to Europe etc. In fact, had he been alive now, he may well have contributed to a solution.

Henry Martin (sometimes spelt Martyn), was the eldest son of Edward and Elizabeth Martin of Upham. Edward the father was described in the parish register and elsewhere as a ‘Gentleman’ so we can assume that the family were not of working stock. Henry was born in November 1665 and baptised at St. Michael’s on 28th of that month. He was an ‘able scholar’ and went to Pembroke College, Oxford graduating MA in 1690. Henry was ‘bred to the bar’ and entered Middle Temple in London in 1692 and went on to be an able lawyer but chronic ill health prevented him from attending the courts regularly. However, he took a keen interest in economic affairs and by 1701 was writing articles for ‘The Spectator’ newspaper. One tract in particular called ‘Considerations Upon the East India Trade’ defended the controversial trading policy of the government’s ‘East India Company’ which had started importing finished cotton goods. This had upset the rich UK manufacturers. Henry’s article was so incendiary that he had to write it anonymously. In it, Henry anticipated many of the arguments and benefits for ‘free trade’ policies which later economists, including the famous Adam Smith, would postulate. More ‘tracts’ in the Spectator followed but it wasn’t until the time of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 that Henry’s ‘free trade’ arguments came to the fore. The Treaty set out to resolve hundreds of years of territorial disputes and wars and consequential trading turmoil between European states. In consideration of the trading aspects of the Treaty, British manufacturers favoured a ‘closed market’, importing raw materials and making goods wholly in Britain. Henry argued for ‘free trade’ and importing finished goods from foreign markets where it was economic to do so, releasing labour effort at home for other projects. He was the most influential of several writers who contributed to a paper called ‘The British Merchant of Commerce Preserved’ which argued against a trade agreement made with France in 1713 and which was due to be ratified by Parliament. Henry’s arguments were successful, and the treaty was rejected by Parliament (shades of Brexit!). His ‘success’ was recognised because in 1715 he was made ‘Inspector General of Imports & Exports of the Customs’ by the government. His economic skills were not only recognised then but over the following three centuries his policies have been regarded as ‘ground breaking’ and are often quoted in later studies. He is still held in high esteem by latter day economists. Incidentally, British possession of Gibraltar was one result of Treaty of Utrecht and it is ironic that Gibraltar is still a ‘pawn’ in the current Brexit debate 300 years later!

Henry died (cause unknown) at Blackheath, London in March 1721, aged 55. He was buried in St. Michael’s churchyard on 1st April 1721 which suggests that he had kept some ties with the village whilst living in London. Little is known about his personal life, but he had married and had a son, Bendal Martin, who also took up law, was an excellent musician and wrote fourteen sonatas for the violin. By coincidence, Henry Martin was at the height of his career in the early 1700s in London, the very same time that Thomas Fairchild, another son of Aldbourne, was at his most prolific as an innovative pioneering gardener in London (see Dabchick, Aug 2014). Perhaps these two ‘Dabchicksknew each other!

Henry Martin, lawyer, essayist and pioneer economist once lived in Aldbourne parish.

Alan Heasman