LEMON, Sir William, 1st Bt. (1748-1824), of Carclew, nr. Penryn, Cornw.

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



17 Jan. 1770 - Dec. 1772
28 Dec. 1772 - 1774
1774 - 11 Dec. 1824

Family and Education

b. 11 Oct. 1748, 1st s. of William Lemon of Carclew (who d.v.p.) and bro. of John Lemon*. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1765; Grand Tour 1768. m. 3 Apr. 1771, Jane, da. of James Buller of Morval, 2s. 9da. suc. gdfa. William Lemon 1760, cr. Bt. 24 May 1774.

Offices Held

Capt. R. Cornw. militia 1770, maj. 1780, lt.-col. 1798, col. 1803-7.


Sir William Lemon represented his county for half a century, facing only one contest (not directed against him) after 1774. His involvement in the special interests of Cornwall, such as the copper mines, on which his fortune was founded, and the pilchard fisheries, gained him steady approbation.1 (It was he who blocked the British fisheries bill, for the sake of Cornwall, 2 Apr. 1811.) In politics he claimed to be independent, and in practice almost invariably sided with the Whigs.2 He did not, however, espouse their tolerant views on religious sectarianism. He voted steadily against Pitt’s administration, though he did not regularly figure in debate. On 25 Nov. 1795 he opposed the regulations against seditious assemblies, since, while he disapproved of them, he thought the measures too hasty and unpopular: they ‘ought to produce a spirit of constitutional jealousy’. Lemon was one of the ‘armed neutrality’ in 1797. He voted for parliamentary reform in 1793 and 1797, but did not secede from the House with the Foxite Whigs. He warned against government regulation of copper prices, 4 Apr. 1800, as it would diminish the ‘spirit of enterprise and industry’ and ‘once those mines were stopped, no money could open them again’. He had denied that there was any combination in the trade to keep prices up, 24 Mar. He proposed a clause for the clergy residence bill, 22 June 1801, to restrict the agricultural pursuits of the clergy in the cultivation of their glebes for their own immediate use. He was chairman of the committee on the bill in March 1802.

Lemon at first supported Addington’s government, except on the Prince of Wales’s debts, 31 Mar. 1802, 4 Mar. 1803. On 10 and 16 Apr. 1804 he joined opposition over the militia proposals, but was hostile to Pitt’s second administration throughout. He was listed ‘Addingtonian’ at that time (his younger brother John had taken office in the last months of Addington’s administration). His only speech in that year was a defence of the conduct of the under-sheriff of Cornwall at the Liskeard election, 11 June. He privately regretted the loss of ‘such eminent talents’ on Pitt’s death,3 but supported the ensuing Grenville administration. On 2 June he commended Romilly for his speech on the mutiny bill,

the most constitutional speech from the solicitor-general, which, in the course of 30 or 40 years, he had ever heard in that House. The greatest grievance which could attend a free country was a great standing army. If such must be maintained, the most constitutional way in which it could be established, the better.

He had reservations about the militia officers bill, 14 July 1806. He was reckoned a staunch friend to the abolition of the slave trade. He voted for Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the ‘Talents’, 9 Apr. 1807.

Lemon opposed the administrations of Portland, Perceval and Lord Liverpool (he was listed ‘present opposition’ by the Whigs in 1810). In the Parliament of 1807 he voted steadily against sinecures and other abuses and remained a supporter of parliamentary reform, objecting to Perceval’s amendment to Curwen’s bill, 9 June 1809, and voting for Brand’s motion, 21 May 1810, though he could not be rallied to an extra-parliamentary meeting in 1811 of the Friends of Constitutional Reform. In 1808 his votes were favourable to Catholic relief; but constituency pressure may have determined his subsequent abstention on the subject. He nevertheless voted for Morpeth’s motion for an inquiry into Irish affairs, 4 Feb., and also for a stronger administration, 21 May 1812. On 2 Mar. 1813 he ventured to vote for relief, but was hostile on 24 May 1813 and, after further abstention, again on 9 May 1817. He voted against the resumption of war, 28 Apr. 1815, and consistently in favour of retrenchment and tax relief.

He opposed the Ordnance estimates, 8 Apr. 1816, as far as they related to fortifications, recalling his opposition on this subject 30 years before and adding: ‘if fortifications were to be preserved, we must become a military nation’. On 24 Apr. 1816 he presented a county petition for retrenchment and economy and on 31 Jan. 1817 two others which demanded the same, as well as reform of Parliament. In 1817 and 1819 he voted for Burdett’s reform motions. On 17 Feb. 1818, he supported an inquiry into allegations of oppression as a result of the suspension of habeas corpus. He again voted against repressive legislation in December 1819. When he approved the requisition to Tierney to lead the Whigs in August 1818 he was one of those who ‘object only to signing their names to anything, and who ... never will attend party meetings’.4 He voted for Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819.

‘A quiet and gentlemanly old man’, Lemon died 11 Dec. 1824 at Carclew, ‘one of the most beautiful mansions in Cornwall’, which he had embellished. He was then Father of the House. He was described as ‘the old country gentleman, faithful to his King without servility—attached to the people without democracy ... open and unaffected, candid, courteous, benevolent’.5 His memorial in Mylor church commended his ‘zealous support of the principles of constitutional liberty’.6 Sir William had a brother and a son in Parliament who followed much the same line as he, and his son-in-law John Hearle Tremayne, returned with him for the county in 1806, was also thoroughly independent.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. He and his colleagues corresponded with Pitt (PRO 30/8/140, 151), the 1st Earl of Liverpool (Add. 38226, f. 56; 38424, f. 81) and his son the prime minister (Add. 38268, ff. 308, 324) on these subjects, as well as on Cornish patronage. No mss appear to have survived the fire at Carclew in 1934.
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1824), ii. 641.
  • 3. Pole Carew mss CC/L/39, Lemon to Pole Carew, 23 Jan. 1806.
  • 4. Hants RO, Tierney mss 23a.
  • 5. Jnl of Mary Frampton, 160; Gent. Mag. loc. cit.; R. Polwhele, Cornw. iv. 145.
  • 6. H. P. Olivey, Notes on Parish of Mylor, 120.