PETRIE, William (1747-1816), of 14 Hanover Street, Hanover Square, Mdx.

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



1796 - 1802

Family and Education

b. 11 May 1747, 3rd s. of Rev. Robert Petrie, and bro. of John Petrie*. educ. by John Murray, schoolmaster of Canonbie, Dumfries. m. 15 Nov. 1792, Margaretta Aurora née Munro (d.1819), wid. of George Smith of Madras, at least 1s.1

Offices Held

Writer, E.I. Co. (Madras) 1765, factor 1771; paymaster to army 1772; sec. military dept. and translator 1773; jun. merchant 1774, sen. merchant 1776; home 1776-8; resident, Nagaur 1778; home 1782-5 and 1789-90; member of council ad. int. 1787, 1791-2; home 1793-8; member of council 1799-Aug. 1810; pres. board of revenue 1800; acting gov. 1807; gov. Prince of Wales Island Nov. 1811-d.

High steward, East Retford 1796.


Petrie returned from Madras with a ‘modest fortune’ in 1792.2 His elder brother John had done better in Bengal. Like John, he became a merchant and a partner (with James Strange*) in a London bank soon after his return3—the partners, who also included James Walwyn*, subscribed £20,000 to the loyalty loan of 1797. Petrie also held East India Company stock, but had no vote for the directorate. In December 1794 he treated the freemen of East Retford, where he proposed offering at the next election. Though ‘an entire stranger’ he was successful at the expense of the Newcastle interest in 1796,4 entering Parliament at the same time as his brother. Although he had not applied to Pitt for government countenance,5 he silently supported administration. He voted for the bonus to subscribers to the loyalty loan, 1 June 1797, after offering to abstain if his bonus of £75 disqualified him; also for Pitt’s triple tax assessment, 4 Jan. 1798. By then he had given up his banking partnership, being in debt to the tune of £10,000 after investing imprudently, and had applied to return to India, hoping to be appointed second in council in Madras.6 Not long afterwards he set sail for Madras, leaving his wife in England with nearly £2,000 p.a. He did not vacate his seat until the dissolution.

The Marquess Wellesley who, prompted by Henry Dundas, rehabilitated Petrie in India, thinking him ‘a man well fitted for business in critical times ... very useful, able and well meaning’, soon repented of his confidence in him: he turned out to be ‘a black sheep’ and ‘a dangerous man’.7 Addington demurred at the suggestion that Petrie should become governor of Madras in 1802.8 He was nevertheless, as senior in council in 1807, acting governor until Sir George Hilaro Barlow arrived. Some of the directors thought that his concurrence with native hostility towards Christian missions made him a fitter man than Barlow for the office. In 1810 he was dismissed the council for his opposition to Barlow’s policies. The court of directors, with Petrie’s friend Sir Hugh Inglis* as deputy chairman, becoming hostile to Barlow, Petrie was rehabilitated in 1811 as governor of Penang. He needed the appointment to recoup his losses. On his return to India he had borrowed the wherewithal to repay his English creditors. To repay this loan he invested in Carnatic bonds amounting to £80,000 which turned out to be forgeries. He was accompanied to Penang by his mistress Mrs Eleonora Warren, who refused to abandon him in his misfortunes. In his will, dated 24 June 1814, he paid tribute to her ‘heroic courage’. His affairs had remained ‘deranged’ and his health deteriorated. He died at Penang 27 Oct. 1816, aged 68. His son William was then deputy commissary general at Calais.9

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. A. Symonds


  • 1. India Office Lib. J/1/5, ff. 248-254; 15, f. 244; Reg. St. Marylebone, v. 21; Gent. Mag. (1819), i. 282.
  • 2. N. and Q. (ser. 10), vi. 401; PCC 468 Cresswell.
  • 3. Hilton Price, London Bankers, 160.
  • 4. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC 6046; Portland mss, PwF2970.
  • 5. Portland mss, PwV110, Portland to Amcotts, 4 Feb. 1796.
  • 6. Scott Corresp. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3, lxxvi), 121.
  • 7. SRO Two Views of British India ed. Ingram, 108, 120, 152, 169.
  • 8. SRO GD51/1/66/1.
  • 9. Philips, E.I. Co. 161, 171, 172, 174; Parl. Deb. xvi. 836; PCC 468 Cresswell; Gent. Mag. (1817), i. 369, 472.