WATSON, Thomas (c.1701-66), of Grindon Bridge, Northumb.
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Family and Education
Mayor of Berwick 1727, 1729, 1732, 1734, 1736, 1739.
Commissary of the musters in south Britain 1732; dep. commissary for Danish and Hessian troops in British pay 1741.
Local connexions, the disposal of Treasury patronage, and Government support at elections enabled Watson to achieve a fair degree of security with regard to his own seat in a borough which was very open to contests. He was a consistent Administration Whig: ‘Sixteen years in Parliament’, he wrote to Newcastle on 29 May 1755, ‘I have never voted but with his Majesty’s ministry.’ And on 19 Mar. 1756, during the controversy over the plate tax: ‘Having considered what your Grace was pleased to say to me this morning that the affair was material, I no longer hesitate but do declare myself attached to your Grace.’ On that he based his claims to employment; thus on 29 Nov. 1756: ‘I am one of those that has not seen the face of one of the new [Pitt-Devonshire] ministry’; and he asked Newcastle (though out of office) to recommend him to the King as surveyor of woods—‘there is no old Member now destitute of favours so much as myself’. And on 19 July 1757, with Newcastle back at the Treasury:
I waited so often about the affair your Grace promised me last year, without any success, and now I think I am rather troublesome to your Grace ... without some further encouragement I am convinced it will be needless to trouble your Grace any more.
The nature of the affair can be gathered from Newcastle’s ‘Memorandums for the King’, 12 Sept. 1756: ‘Mr. Watson of Berwick, 500’; and in the margin: ‘400 if sufficient, private’ (secret service pensions being private were free of land tax). But in fact he drew as from Christmas 1757 a pension of £800 p.a.; it was continued till Newcastle’s resignation in May 1762, the total during those years amounting to £3,400.1
In 1761 Watson was returned unopposed. In Bute’s parliamentary list he was classed as ‘Newcastle, Government’; but Newcastle himself on 13 Nov. 1762 listed him as ‘doubtful’.2 He was not included in Fox’s list of Members favourable to the peace preliminaries; but he did not vote against them. He does not seem to have applied either to Bute or to Grenville for his secret service pension, and over Wilkes and general warrants voted against the Government. He was classed by Newcastle on 10 May 1764 as a ‘sure friend’.
When in December 1764 a vacancy occurred at Berwick, Watson put up his nephew Wilmot Vaughan. The whole weight of Government influence was thrown against him, and Vaughan was forced to withdraw. Writing to Newcastle about that by-election on 22 July 1765, Watson feared that at the general election his own seat would be in danger—he felt ‘at a loss ... what steps to take to retain the borough’. He therefore asked Newcastle to mention him to Rockingham—‘that I may have the appointing of whatever employments belong to Berwick’. When on 12 Oct. Newcastle drew up a list of past recipients of secret service pensions, ‘particularly recommended to the Marquess of Rockingham’, he put against Watson’s name the remark: ‘Mr. Watson is a steady friend. I believe, never received anything since I left the Treasury—I am sure not the last, or two last sessions.’ But Watson’s name does not appear, after all, in Rockingham’s secret service lists.3
He vacated his seat in December 1765, and died 7 Jan. 1766.