JACOB, William (?1762-1851), of Dartmouth Street, Westminster.

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



1806 - 1807
15 July 1808 - 1812

Family and Education

b. ?1762. m. (his w. d. 18 Mar. 1814),1 1s. 3da. surv.

Offices Held

Alderman, London 1809-11.

Comptroller of corn returns, Board of Trade 1822-41.

?Capt. Loyal Islington vols. 1803.


Jacob was described by Joshua Wilson in 1808 as ‘one of the few English merchants who ever carried on a direct trade with South America’.2 He began to appear in the London directories in 1794, in partnership with John Jacob, at 36 Newgate Street, variously described as linen merchant, warehouseman and merchant. They invested £1,000 in the 1797 loyalty loan. In view of a speech on the salt duties, 30 May 1809, in the course of which he ‘entered into a chemical analysis of the nature of salt’, he can almost certainly be identified as the William Jacob who traded from the Droitwich salt warehouse, Upper Thames Street, c.1800-4. His South American trading interests made him an enthusiastic supporter of the liberation of the Spanish American colonies. On 26 Nov. 1804 he submitted to Pitt ‘a small pamphlet on the subject of war with Spain which will be published tomorrow’, and on 26 Feb. 1806 he wrote to Fox:

if you have any wish for ... any information on the subject of the internal dissensions or the views of parties there—or the nature of the rivers, and the productions of their borders—of the particulars of the winds, seasons and climates—of the depths of waters in the harbours, and the description of the fortifications—or of the number, kind and distribution of the military force I can furnish it to you with an accuracy that may be relied on ... I beg to add that for commercial purposes I have for some years past made it my business to see almost every person, who has arrived in England, from any part of the Spanish American dominions, whether Anglo-Americans, Spaniards or Englishmen, and in general when they have been qualified, have engaged the latter, as agents for the purpose of trade; many are here now, and if at any time, yourself, or any other of his Majesty’s ministers, wish to examine them, I can bring you people, who from having resided in different parts of the continent can give you every information.3

He produced a memorandum on the possibility of an attack on Mexico in July 1806, had regular interviews with Windham, drew up for him on 24 Sept. an elaborate list of suggestions for the government of Buenos Aires after its conquest and was consulted by ministers on the latter project later in the year.4

At the general election of 1806, Jacob came in for Westbury, where according to Tierney the price being asked by Lord Abingdon’s trustees was 10,000 guineas for two seats.5 In the short time available to him in that Parliament he gave a considerable display of his talents. He secured the production of information on captured British ships readmitted to the British register as neutral vessels, 20 Jan.; made a few observations on the capture of Buenos Aires during the debate on the army estimates, 23 Jan., and on 4 Feb. 1807 opposed Perceval’s motion for the production of the order in council relating to neutral vessels, claiming that any diminution of the trade of the British colonies with France would be injurious to the West India merchants and planters and ‘irritating to neutrals’. He had been listed among the ‘staunch friends’ of slave trade abolition after his election and on 27 Feb. 1807 supported it on the ground that its continuance would lead to over-production. On 12 Mar. he denied that either the ‘Talents’ or previous governments had been indifferent to the interests of the colonies. He spoke in favour of the South Sea trade bill, 18 and 24 Feb., and against the calico printers bill, 23 Apr. He did not vote for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr. 1807, and at the general election contested Great Yarmouth with the support of the Portland government and the Townshend interest,6 but was unsuccessful both at the poll and on petition.

Jacob returned to the House in 1808 on a vacancy for the Treasury borough of Rye, but no details of the transaction have come to light. He offered practical criticisms, though not outright opposition, to Romilly’s Bankrupt Laws amendment bill, 29 Mar. 1809, and spoke on details of the measure, 14 and 19 Apr. In the debate on the Martinique trade bill, 26 Apr., he called for impartial arbitration between the inhabitants and planters of Martinique and for the prohibition of the importation of French brandy. During the winter of 1809-10 he travelled in Spain7 and on 9 Mar. 1810 spoke in favour of an increased grant to the Portuguese troops, after giving details of the success of Spanish resistance to France. Classed ‘Government’ by the Whigs in March 1810, he claimed in a speech of 9 May to be independent of ‘a court faction’ and cited in evidence his three votes hostile to the Duke of York, 15-17 Mar. 1809, and his vote against Lord Chatham on Whitbread’s motion, 5 Mar. 1810. This was his only recorded vote on the Walcheren expedition and in this same speech he made it clear that he had objected only to the execution and not the intention of the scheme.

On the subject of Burdett’s breach of privilege he rallied strongly to government. He called for the examination of Burdett’s ‘secret advisers’ in the House, 9 Apr., voted against the release of John Gale Jones, 16 Apr., and on 9 May, in a speech described by Perceval to the King as ‘very good and impressive’,8 opposed the reception of the livery petition and distinguished between ‘the people’ and ‘the populace’, the people being ‘that middle class of the community, among whom resided so much virtue and so much intelligence’. He voted for Williams Wynn’s resolutions on privilege, 8 June. He voted against sinecure reductions, 17 May, and opposed parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810, when he argued that ‘the advantages desirable from a radical reform were much overrated’; denied that the representatives of rotten boroughs controlled the decisions of the House and pointed out that county Members had been almost equally divided on the Walcheren inquiry; but expressed his support for any reform which would reduce the expense of elections. His last known speech in the House was in support of the Admiralty courts bill, 14 June 1810. He considered it ‘a substantial measure of reform, so far as it went, and was therefore surprised at the opposition it experienced from the professed advocates of reform upon the opposite side of the House’. By 1811 Jacob’s mercantile partnership was bankrupt. His only recorded votes in the last two sessions of his career were in support of government on the Regency, 1 Jan. 1811, but against them on Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration, 21 May 1812.

Jacob did not contest any seat in 1812 and at about the same time switched from commerce to farming. He settled at Chelsham Lodge, Surrey and farmed from three to four hundred acres in Kent and Surrey.9 He applied unsuccessfully in 1820 for the secretaryship to the board of agriculture vacated by the death of Arthur Young.10 Both from his own experiences and from tours of inspection on the Continent, he became an expert on the European corn trade and British agricultural protection: his reports as comptroller of corn returns at the Board of Trade provided influential statistical backing for the modification and ultimate repeal of the Corn Laws.11 In addition to his official reports he published several books and pamphlets on economic subjects, contributed to the Quarterly Review and Encyclopaedia Britannica and from 1832-8 served as treasurer of the Royal Society of Literature.12

He retired from the Board of Trade on a pension in 1841 and died 17 Dec. 1851, aged 89.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. M. Collinge


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1814), i. 416.
  • 2. J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 672.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/148, f. 45; Add. 51468.
  • 4. Castlereagh Corresp. vii. 293-302; Add. 37852, ff. 1-6; 37884, f. 159; 37885, ff. 166, 168.
  • 5. Add. 51585, Tierney to Holland [Oct. 1806].
  • 6. C. J. Palmer, Hist. Gt. Yarmouth, 231.
  • 7. His letters from Spain were published in 1811 as Travels in the South of Spain. Geo. III Corresp. v. 4156.
  • 8. Geo. III Corresp. v. 4156.
  • 9. PP (1821), ix. 355; (1836), viii(1), 18.
  • 10. Add. 35652, f. 349.
  • 11. S. Fairlie, ‘The 19th Cent. Corn Law Reconsidered’, Econ. Hist. Rev. (ser. 2), xviii. (1965), 562-75; Lucy Brown, Board of Trade and the Free Trade Movement, 1830-42, p. 23.
  • 12. For lists of his writings see DNB and Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, i. 703, 708.