PRATT, John Jeffreys, Visct. Bayham (1759-1840), of The Wilderness, Kent.

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



1780 - 18 Apr. 1794

Family and Education

b. 11 Feb. 1759, o. surv. s. of Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Nicholas Jeffreys of the Priory, Brecon. educ. Fawley, Bucks; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1776-9. m. 31 Dec. 1785, Frances, da. and h. of William Molesworth of Wembury, Devon, 1s. 3da. Styled Visct. Bayham 1786-94; suc. fa. as 2nd Earl Camden 18 Apr. 1794; cos. John Pratt of Bayham Abbey to Suss. and Kent estates 1797. KG 14 Aug. 1799; cr. Mq. Camden 7 Sept. 1812.

Offices Held

Teller of Exchequer 1780-1834; ld. of Admiralty July 1782-Apr. 1783, Dec. 1783-Aug. 1789; ld. of Treasury Aug. 1789-May 1794; member of Board of Trade, June 1793; PC 21 June 1793; ld. lt. [I] Mar. 1795-June 1798; PC [I] 31 Mar. 1795; sec. of state for War and Colonies May 1804-July 1805; ld. pres. of Council July 1805-Feb. 1806, Mar. 1807-Apr. 1812.

Capt. W. Kent yeomanry 1794, col. 1797; col. Woodgate vols. 1803, Cranbrook and Woodgate regt. Kent militia 1809; col. W. Kent militia 1827.

Master, Trinity House 1809-16, 1828-9. 1831-7; dir. Greenwich Hosp. 1815; chancellor, Camb. Univ. 1834-d.

Ld. lt. Kent 1808-d.; recorder, Bath 1794-1835.


Lord Chancellor Camden’s heir, Viscount Bayham, had shown no parliamentary ability, but he was ‘an intimate friend of Pitt’, ‘very pleasing and gentlemanly in his manners’ and ‘very much liked and well spoken of’ in government circles, according to Canning, writing in 1793. He held minor office in Pitt’s administration, and was listed among opponents of the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791. He spoke, it seems, only in presenting the report of the Seaford election committee, 19 Mar. 1792. Yet he was prepared to make himself useful as Pitt’s go-between in negotiations with Earl Spencer and William Windham to join the government in 1793. In June of that year, the Speaker informed him that Pitt thought him ‘a very proper person’ to succeed Westmorland as viceroy of Ireland and in July, when Pitt confirmed this, they discussed ‘the sort of government’ Bayham’s should be. A year’s delay was agreed upon. Meanwhile Bayham feared that becoming a peer for the purpose in his father’s lifetime would court criticism and urged Pitt not to regard himself as engaged to him. In April 1794 his father’s death made him available, but the junction of the Portland Whigs with Pitt intervened and when he went to Ireland in 1795, it was as a reluctant successor to the hapless Earl Fitzwilliam.1 Pitt wrote, 8 Mar. 1795, ‘I am sure you never can do anything which I shall feel as a stronger proof of your friendship to me’ and assured him of the King’s and Portland’s goodwill.2

On Camden’s arrival in Dublin he was described by Lord Charlemont as

a plain, unaffected, good humoured man, of pleasing conversation and conciliatory address, and though in understanding he be not exactly his father’s son or his sister’s brother, yet he does not seem to be in any way deficient.3

His Irish administration began with a riot and ended in rebellion: he soon wished himself out of it and the combination in his successor Cornwallis of the civil and military government was what he had himself urged as the logical conclusion of the coercive policy he was expected to pursue. On his return he was retained as a cabinet minister without portfolio though desirous of specific office and equally desirous of its being understood that he had declined a marquessate, which he believed his due. He defended his Irish administration and the Union in the Lords and resigned with Pitt in 1801 on the failure to carry Catholic relief.

Camden resumed office on Pitt’s return to power in 1804, but as an ‘official drudge’, which he thought infra dig. He made himself useful to Pitt as conciliator of the refractory Lords Lonsdale and Stafford when Sidmouth was admitted to the government and was allowed a more dignified office, but as a makeweight. He would not consider resuming the lieutenancy of Ireland in 1805. He became a member of the dissident Pittite group during the Grenville ministry, though not easily won to open opposition. In Portland’s ministry he resumed office, but became something of a liability. His part in Portland’s policy of concealment in the wrangle between Canning and Castlereagh in the cabinet exposed him to obloquy (Castlereagh was his sister’s stepson). By 1812 Canning (whose return to office he opposed) described him as ‘useless lumber in the ministry’. His resignation, repeatedly deferred, was secured by Lord Liverpool, who made him a marquess, a step already agreed on by Perceval in February 1812. In his own view, he had always had to be pressed into taking office.4

On the eve of Camden’s leaving the government the value of his public services was further thrown into question by the scandal over his income as teller of the Exchequer, though the initial impetus was against his fellow teller the Marquess of Buckingham. His income from it had increased tenfold since he was awarded it, to £24,000. On 11 Feb. 1817 Castlereagh informed a cheering House that Camden had surrendered all except the salary of £2,500. For this sacrifice he received public thanks. He died 8 Oct. 1840.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Harewood mss, Canning jnl., 22 Nov.; Spencer mss, Bayham to Lady Spencer [June]; Add. 42058, f. 128; Camden mss C 255/1; O 103; O 256/1; Sidmouth mss, Bayham to Addington, 10 July 1793; Castlereagh Corresp. i. 156-60; PRO 30/8/119, f. 179.
  • 2. Camden mss C 123/2.
  • 3. HMC Charlemont, 264.
  • 4. Camden mss C 209/3; 242, 244/3, 4; O 256/4, 5; PRO 30/8/119, f. 265; Colchester, ii. 180.