HAMILTON, Thomas, Lord Binning (1780-1858), of Tynninghame, Haddington.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1802 - 1806
17 Jan. 1807 - 1807
1807 - 1812
5 Dec. 1814 - 1818
1818 - 1826
1826 - 24 July 1827

Family and Education

b. 21 June 1780, o.s. of Charles, 8th Earl of Haddington [S], by Lady Sophia Hope, da. of John, 2nd Earl of Hopetoun [S]. educ. Edinburgh Univ. 1796-8; Christ Church, Oxf. 1798. m. 13 Nov. 1802, Lady Maria Parker, da. and h. of George Parker*, 4th Earl of Macclesfield, s.p. cr. Baron Melros 24 July 1827; suc. fa. as 9th Earl of Haddington [S] 17 Mar. 1828; KT 28 Oct. 1853.

Offices Held

Commr. Board of Control, July-Nov. 1809, June 1816-Feb. 1822; PC 29 July 1814; ld. lt. [I] Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835; first ld. of Admiralty Sept. 1841-Jan. 1846; ld. privy seal Jan.-July 1846.

Hered. keeper of Holyrood park 1828-43.

Capt. E. Lothian yeomanry 1803; lt.-col. Haddington militia 1808.


Lord Binning’s family were related to the Stanhopes and staunch supporters of Pitt’s administration. Being, as the eldest son of a Scots peer, ineligible for a seat in Scotland, he was provided with an English seat in 1802 ‘under the peculiar protection of Mr Pitt’, by Pitt’s sister’s father-in-law, Lord Eliot. Lord Melville, Binning’s uncle by marriage, writing after the election of 1806, when he ‘failed in all his attempts to obtain a seat’, reported:

Mr Pitt had a sincere attachment to him, and there never was a more enthusiastic worshipper of Mr Pitt’s memory than Lord Binning is. He is unhappy in being out of Parliament, and I am satisfied that his chief cause for being so is his being deprived of that means of manifesting his respect for the character and memory of Mr Pitt.1

As might have been expected, Binning followed Pitt’s line in his first Parliament, voting with him for the orders of the day, 3 June 1803, against Addington, 7 Mar., 13 and 16 Apr. (though on 15 Mar. he did not divide on Pitt’s motion on the navy) and also for Fox’s and Pitt’s defence motions which brought down Addington, 23 and 25 Apr. 1804. He went on to support Pitt’s second administration and voted against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805. He was on the committee which investigated the 11th naval report. After Pitt’s death he was one of the Pittite group led by Canning, Sturges Bourne and George Rose which held fortnightly dinners at White’s, and became a steward of the Pitt Club. He voted against the Grenville ministry on Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar. 1806, and against the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. On 26 June he asked why Scotland was excluded from the training bill; on 3 July, when he was teller against the bill, he was put down by the lord advocate who asked him why he wished to extend to Scotland a bill that his fellow oppositionists had been abusing for weeks; but promised to bring in a separate bill for Scotland.2

Binning found no seat in 1806, though his friend Huskisson reported that he wished Binning’s father had allowed him to contest Dover, where he might have got in at modest expense. Melville secured an opening for him from Viscount Lowther on a vacancy at Cockermouth in January 1807: Melville had suggested that Binning might come in for Haslemere on the same interest instead of Viscount Garlies, when the latter succeeded to the title in November 1806, but Binning had to wait for the next vacancy.3 Cockermouth was only available to him for another year, so at the general election of 1807 he found another seat on Lord Clinton’s interest at Callington, through their mutual uncle Francis Drake.

He supported the Portland administration, as did his father, a representative peer from 1807 to 1812. On 27 July 1807 he defended the militia transfer bill, taking the opportunity to state his preference for Pitt’s defence measures over Windham’s. In April and May 1808 he was chairman of the committee which reported in favour of sugar distillation and against the use of corn in the manufacture of spirits, and defended the measure against criticism from the agricultural interest. On 25 Apr. 1809 he came to Castlereagh’s defence when the latter was accused of corruption, moving the previous question, though he was induced to withdraw the motion. In July he accepted a place on the Board of Control under Lord Harrowby, who addressed him as ‘one of the few persons in your situation who turns his mind to public business’, and whom he informed that he did not mind the absence of a salary, as there was neither expense nor attendance out of session required and he would be glad to be useful.4 He held the place only until November, being disinclined, like Canning, to serve under Perceval. Writing to Robert Saunders Dundas*, who would have been his new chief, 3 Nov., he claimed that he could not pledge ‘constant support of a ministry essentially different from what that ministry was when I accepted [the situation], and of a system of management which I think so full of danger’. He denied any hostility, though Charles Ellis* had warned him that his resignation would be thus interpreted. Saunders Dundas failed to dissuade him from this step. He voted with government against Porchester’s motion on the Scheldt expedition, 26 Jan. 1810, the only friend of Canning’s to do so. The latter wrote next day: ‘Binning has not made any positive profession yet, but I think he means to do so. He has been indoctrinated by Huskisson.’ On 23 Feb. when he was again the only one of his friends to vote with ministers, Canning thought that Binning would vote ‘with us’ next time the Scheldt expedition was debated, and on 3 Mar. he reported:

Binning called upon me today to make his profession of faith and following, reserving only the question about Lord Chatham against whom he cannot vote for private reasons, Lady B. being Lady C.’s intimate friend, I believe connexion. For the rest he was to follow me, in or out implicitly. This is very satisfactory.

Binning duly went away without voting on 5 Mar. On 30 Mar., however, in the further division on the Scheldt expedition, he outdid Canning, who decided to vote with government after censuring them orally, by voting against them. Canning’s story was that Binning and two other friends were going away, but finding the door locked, came back and voted with opposition.5

The vote caused something of a stir in government circles, but the Whigs rightly continued to regard Binning as ‘against the opposition’. On 5 Apr. 1810 he was a keen critic of Sir Francis Burdett’s conduct and on 21 May he voted against parliamentary reform. He acted with Canning thereafter, agreeing entirely with him during the Regency crisis despite his admiration for Perceval’s role in it, and ridiculing the notion that Canning’s party had no future, though his own seat was certainly put at risk by his adherence to them. Lord Granville Leveson Gower’s wife Harriet had this to say about Binning and his wife in 1812: ‘Lady B. is a gossip and a bore. It is perceptible qu’il a vécu avec elle, but I like him very much. He is sensible, well informed, good humoured, and interests himself about interesting things.’ On 21 May 1812 Binning voted with the majority for Stuart Wortley’s motion in favour of a stronger administration, but on 12 June Stuart Wortley’s wife reported that her husband ‘made Lord Binning and C. Ellis go away last night that they might not vote against government which you see Canning himself avoided’. This was on Stuart Wortley’s further motion, which confirmed the Liverpool administration. Binning, however, approved Canning’s breaking off the ‘uncertain and desultory negotiations’ with the new administration, being unwilling to approve of ‘all their terms’.6 In debate, he had not been particularly active, apart from a very strong studied speech in favour of the Catholic claims, which now that the King’s opposition had been providentially removed, he thought should be given priority, 23 Apr.; a tribute to Perceval, 14 May, and a criticism of the Scottish arrangements in the sinecure offices bill, 15 June 1812.

Nor, according to Canning, did Binning show much enthusiasm about a seat in Parliament at the election of 1812, though he perhaps overlooked the fact that Binning was ill in Scotland at the time. On 9 Nov. he wrote to a mutual friend Charles Bagot*:

Binning is out entirely by his own indolence and shilly-shalliness, and by taking for granted that everything would be done for him, provided he took care to keep out of the way of doing anything for himself. Had he come up to town upon the first positive and certain intelligence which he received of the dissolution, he would have been returned for Arundel: secondly, he might have come in for Lord Clinton’s seat, almost for nothing, for less than £1,000, and failing that, thirdly, I could have brought him in for Honiton, for I believe not more than £1,500 ... I know no chance that he has, unless he can agree with Solyphoeus [i.e. Sir William Manners*].

This was rather a blunt statement of the situation: the fact was that Binning accepted an opening at Arundel on the independent interest at Huskisson’s instigation, though on condition that the expenses were ‘£2,500 if seated, £200 if not’, because he had heard nothing from Lord Clinton about the seat at Callington. When it transpired that Lord Clinton expected opposition to his interest there, Binning backed out, as was expected of him. He would not treat with Manners for a seat (at Ilchester), presumably because of the expense: it went to John William Ward. The only card up his sleeve was the possibility of sitting for Bossiney in place of James Stuart Wortley if the latter were returned for Yorkshire; but Stuart Wortley gave up the county. By then Binning had been defeated at Arundel: he did not now know ‘where to turn myself or what to do’, but had hopes of an opening in the re-shuffle that followed double returns at every election.7

Had Canning come to terms with administration and obtained the Foreign Office, Binning was expected to have been under-secretary together with Charles Bagot, but he was left in the wilderness when Canning disbanded his party in 1813. Nor did he find a seat and Canning advised him against coming in. When, however, Canning obtained an ambassadorial appointment at Lisbon in 1814, Binning, on his return from Paris, made his peace with the Liverpool administration and accepted the privy councillorship refused by John William Ward in July. Canning hoped he would be awarded a seat at the Treasury board. He was consequently returned for Mitchell as a friend of government by (Sir) Christopher Hawkins* in December, though the prime minister had first tried to secure his return for Bletchingley on an opening there. On 22 Feb. 1815 he supported the revision of the Corn Laws, which he thought should not be a party question but one of the protection of the landed interest of the country and with it of the majority of the population. Canning, complimenting him on his speech from Lisbon, hoped that Binning would continue to ‘draw off the fury of the mob by misdirecting them to Lord Bayning’s’; privately he was disappointed that Binning had not ‘squeezed in’ more speeches.8 On 8 May 1815 he was a government teller. He continued to support Catholic relief,30 May, though not hopeful of achieving anything at present. On 27 Feb. 1816 he defended the property tax renewal, denying that there was any pledge against it and criticizing opposition for their factious handling of this subject and of the army estimates. On 12 Mar. he presented a Berwickshire petition against the tax, but disagreed with its contents and six days later was in the minority in favour of the renewal. On 7 May, opposing Althorp’s motion for a committee on public affairs to secure retrenchment, he pointed out, as head of a newly appointed Treasury commission occupied in ‘diminishing the sum of human salary, and lessening the number of human offices’,9 that government was already proceeding to promote economy in the public departments. It was on this occasion that Lord Milton stigmatized him as ‘not yet a placeman’, but as having ‘some sort of honorary connection with the government’. In December 1816 the government implemented this commission’s report by abolishing offices in the military departments established during the war. He opposed Scottish petitions for parliamentary reform, 10 Mar. 1817, since they came from manufacturing districts where reform was ‘a panacea for every ill in the minds of men suffering under temporary distress’. He voted for the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817, and against its opposition critics next session.

Most of Binning’s speeches were on Scottish affairs. In 1817 and 1818 he introduced bills to establish madhouses in Scotland; in 1819 he defended the Caledonian canal against its critics, 22 Mar. In 1818 and 1819 he defended the Scotch judicial practice of declaring statutes in desuetude. He was balloted, but not chosen, for the secret committee on the Bank, 3 Feb. 1819. He objected to Lord Archibald Hamilton’s motion to reform the burghs, 6 May 1819, and in defending the seditious meetings prevention bill, 7 Dec., and the blasphemous libel bill, 23 Dec., he found their justification in the situation in Scotland.

‘Binny’ did not obtain major office until 1834. There had been a rumour in February 1815 that he was to be a lord of the Admiralty, but nothing then came of it. In July 1815 Huskisson wrote that ‘poor Binning’ had gone to Scotland ‘very much out of spirits’; adding:

with his usual fidgetiness he has persuaded himself that the chance of office is hopeless, and that it would have been better to have stood out for a peerage for his father. The late promotions have convinced him that the latter was unattainable. To the former he sees no opening. He is gone however with a renewed assurance from Lord Liverpool that he would provide for him as soon as he possibly could.

It was clear, however, that Liverpool would not ‘exert himself’ to create a vacancy for Binning. In the autumn of 1815 his refusal to be chief commissioner on a mission to China to preserve the privileges of the East India Company was approved by Charles Bagot: as it was ‘out of your way ... it was nonsense altogether, and you had no choice I think but very civilly to say no to it. Amherst did right to take it.’ (Lord Amherst was in fact refused entry to China.) Binning had weighed the pros and cons and decided against, from dislike of leaving his lonely father and wife on the private side, and publicly from the feeling that he would gain no political credit (he was not being named ambassador) even if the mission succeeded, and that he would lose his parliamentary standing to other contenders. Huskisson agreed, but Canning rebuked Binning, thinking that the refusal must somehow damage his prospects and that ‘a step aside is sometimes a step onwards’.10 Binning also refused a place at the Admiralty board and accepted his old place on the Board of Control under Canning’s presidency in May 1816. As he headed the Treasury commission of April 1816 to promote departmental economy, he continued to lead ‘a bustling committee kind of life’. He evidently found it ‘disagreeable’ and ‘wearing’. On 7 Feb. 1817 his being of the finance committee was put to a vote by opposition. In August 1817, apropos of Peel’s successor as Irish chief secretary, Thomas Grenville reported that Binning had been ‘put aside in consequence of his Catholic opinions’ and Lord Buckingham regarded it as ‘another kick’ against Canning.11 Thus Binning, who at the election of 1818 came in for Rochester on the government interest, remained at the Board of Control, though unwillingly on Canning’s resignation in December 1820, until he resigned in the re-shuffle of 1822. Later that year he declined Canning’s offer to be his under-secretary at the Foreign Office.

He died 9 Dec. 1858. ‘He was of the ordinary height, but unlike his father and grandfather, who were corpulent, he was slight in body. He had a sharp penetrating eye ... He had a clear penetrating voice tinged with a burr.’12

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. HMC Lonsdale, 220.
  • 2. Malmesbury mss, FitzHarris to Malmesbury, 16 Mar. [1804]; HMC Lonsdale, 180; Parl. Deb. vii. 849, 912.
  • 3. SRO GD51/1/107; 51/1/200/26; HMC Lonsdale, 220, 229.
  • 4. Colchester, ii. 179; Haddington mss, Harrowby to Binning, 5, 8 July; Harrowby mss, Binning to Harrowby, 7, 9 July 1809.
  • 5. Haddington mss, Ellis to Binning, 27 Oct., Saunders Dundas to Binning, 30 Oct., 6 Nov., Binning to Saunders Dundas, 3 Nov., 5 Dec., same to Canning, 29 Nov. 1809; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 27 Jan., 23 Feb., 3 Mar., 1 Apr. 1810; NLI, Richmond mss 73/1697, 1710.
  • 6. Richmond mss 64/635; Haddington mss, Canning to Binning, 9 Dec. 1810; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 339; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 18 Jan. [1811]; Letters of Countess Granville, 37; Sheffield City Lib. Wharncliffe mss, Lady C. Stuart Wortley to Lady Erne [12 June]; Malmesbury mss, Malmesbury to FitzHarris [c. 12 June 1812]; PRO 30/29/6/7, f. 1227.
  • 7. Bagot mss, partly pub. in Canning and His Friends, i. 396; Add. 38739, ff. 9, 10, 11, 21, 32, 37, 56, 62, 78, 80; 48220, f. 108.
  • 8. Bath Archives ed. Lady Jackson, i. 442; Haddington mss, Canning to Binning, 1 Mar., 11 July 1814, 1 Apr. 1815, 14 Sept. 1822; Harewood mss, Canning to Sturges Bourne, 19 July 1814; Ward, Letters to Bishop of Llandaff, 53; Add. 38458, f. 197; 38740, f. 170.
  • 9. Harewood mss, Binning to Canning, 19 Apr. 1816.
  • 10. Cornw. RO, Johnstone mss DDJ2104, Swann to Hawkins, 14 Feb. 1815; Add. 38740, f. 197; Haddington mss, Buckinghamshire to Binning, 2 Sept., 10 Sept., replies 6, 15 Sept., Binning to Huskisson, 6 Sept., Huskisson to Binning, 11 Sept., Binning to Canning [17 Sept.], Canning to Binning, 18 Oct., Binning to Liverpool, 24 Sept., Liverpool to Binning, 30 Sept. 1815; Canning and His Friends, ii. 10.
  • 11. Harewood mss, Binning to Canning, 18 May 1816; Canning and His Friends, ii. 17, 18; Haddington mss, Ellis to Binning, 3 Aug. 1817; HMC Fortescue, x. 429; Fremantle mss, Buckingham to Fremantle, 31 July 1817.
  • 12. Sir W. Fraser, Mems. of Earls of Haddington, ii. 358.