WALLACE, Thomas (1768-1844), of Carleton Hall, Cumb. and Featherstone Castle, Northumb.

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



1790 - 1796
1796 - 1802
1802 - 1806
1807 - 1812
1812 - 9 June 1813
27 Nov. 1813 - 1818
1818 - 2 Feb. 1828

Family and Education

b. 1768, o.s. of James Wallace of Asholme, Northumb. by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Thomas Simpson of Carleton Hall. educ. Eton 1777-84; Christ Church, Oxf. 10 June 1785, aged 17, MA 1790, DCL 1793; L. Inn 1785; continental tour 1788. m. 16 Feb. 1814, Lady Jane Hope, da. of John, 2nd Earl of Hopetoun [S], wid. of Henry Dundas*, 1st Visct. Melville, s.p. suc. fa. 1783; cr. Baron Wallace 2 Feb. 1828.

Offices Held

Ld. of Admiralty July 1797-July 1800; commr. Board of Control July 1800-Feb. 1806, Apr. 1807-June 1816, Feb. 1828-Feb. 1830; PC 21 May 1801; vice-pres. Board of Trade Jan. 1818-Apr. 1823; master of mint [I] Oct. 1823-May 1827.


Maj. Edenside rangers 1802, Cumbrian rangers 1803, lt.-col. 1803; lt.-col. commdt. W. Northumb. militia 1824.



Wallace’s father died attorney-general under Lord North and, so his only son always supposed, within reach of a peerage. Wallace, who gave up the law, entered Parliament as an adherent of Pitt. He came in for Grampound on Lord Eliot’s interest, but

the precarious state of his health compelled him, during the first two winters after he became a Member of the House of Commons to seek the benefit of a southern climate, and it was not until late in the session of 1792 that his parliamentary attendance became at all regular.

He was willing to return home, if needed, in the spring of 1792, but paired with Henry Pelham.1

Lord Minto wrote of him in 1798: ‘Wallace has an ugly cough and looks thin, I imagine his constitution is very delicate. He is a sensible, though perhaps not a very pleasant man.’ At Oxford he had befriended Robert Banks Jenkinson and Canning, who assessed Wallace’s character by reference to his quarrel with Charles Ellis, with whom he parted company on a foreign tour. They were gradually reconciled through Canning’s mediation and Wallace conceded that he had been to blame: which, thought Canning, was ‘manly, handsome and candid as could be’, given Wallace’s temper, ‘which though very good and very amiable is rather stern and decided’.2

Wallace seconded the address, 13 Dec. 1792. He defended the landing of Hessian troops in England, 10 Feb. 1794, thinking that the King was acting more properly within his prerogative on this occasion than he had during the American war. Lady Holland commented: ‘Wallace has totally failed in speaking, and his principles out-Herod Herod, for the ministers could not support him in some assertion he made as to the King’s power of landing foreign troops’. If he was no debater, Wallace could and did act as a teller for government and was not disconcerted by his blunders. On 22 Jan. 1795, criticizing a petition for peace from Carlisle, he

got into a sad scrape by mistaking one business for another, and told a long story about a James Smith, a barber of 15 years old, whom he averred to have signed the petition of the democrats, and when the list of signatories came to be examined, lo! there was no such name—so I [Canning] found everybody laughing at Wallace.

On 25 Nov. 1795 he made his point about the uses and abuses of petitions to Parliament and justified the sedition bill by reference to the dissemination of radicalism through the corresponding societies. Pitt reported that he ‘supported ably’ on the occasion. He followed Pitt in voting for the abolition of the slave trade, 26 Feb. 1795.3

In 1796 Wallace was returned for Penryn on the interest of Lord de Dunstanville. Before the election, he had applied to Pitt to succeed Thomas Pelham as Irish secretary. In July 1797 he was placed on the Admiralty Board, for which Canning claimed the credit. He spoke on Admiralty business, without gaining any reputation, and in November 1798 was hoping for another office. Canning thought he might appear to advantage at the Treasury board. His defence of the naval estimates, 12 Feb. 1800, was abler than usual and in May he was transferred to the India Board. It was at Pitt’s ‘express instance’ that he retained his office under Addington in 1801, but Pitt’s more censorious friends were dubious. George Rose, hearing that Wallace had been admitted to the Privy Council in May 1801, thought there was ‘no excuse’ for it, even if Pitt approved, as Wallace was ‘a young man of unexceptionable character, but without useful talents of any sort, of moderate fortune and who does not bring himself into Parliament’. Canning ridiculed him privately for his professed attachment to Henry Dundas, whose ‘favourite opinions’ he now disclaimed, and, suspecting that Wallace might succeed him as paymaster-general, protested:

Wallace, whom I made a lord of the Admiralty, when Dundas had deserted him, whom I procured to succeed me at the India Board last year, when Pitt had another person in view, Wallace now to succeed me, staying in after me at Pitt and Dundas’s desire. I confess it sickens me.

Wallace himself assured Lord Hawkesbury, his best friend in the Addington administration, that having been made a privy councillor, he was indifferent about change of office.4

Returned for Hindon on the Calthorpe interest in 1802, Wallace came to the defence of the East India Company in the House. On 25 Nov. 1802 and subsequently, he maintained that ‘a well regulated monopoly’ was preferable to unrestricted private trading or state control in India. He was chairman of the committee of the House on the Prince of Wales’s finances, 23 Feb. 1803. He objected to the practice of finding scapegoats for corrupt elections, 22 Apr. 1803, with reference to the case against Alexander Davison at Ilchester. On Pitt’s return to power, Wallace offered him a long explanation of his adherence to Addington to the end, despite his private wish to see Pitt back in office. It was accepted, largely because Wallace’s friend Lord Hawkesbury was in the same boat.5 In July 1804 he defended the Indian budget. He was opposed to the prosecution of Melville throughout.

Wallace joined the Pittites who opposed the Grenville ministry in 1806. He was teller for them against Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar. He opposed attempts to discredit the Indian administration of Lord Wellesley, 1 Feb., 10, 17 Mar. He opposed the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., and objected to Windham’s military measures as expensive, useless and, when they were embodied in the mutiny bill (6 June), contrary to the royal prerogative. He opposed the American intercourse bill, 17 June 1806. Owing all his seats in Parliament to government, he was left without one at the ensuing election, arriving ‘too late’ at Dover to contest it. His mother was expected to ‘come down with £3,000 for another seat for the great man’, but he remained out until his friends regained power in 1807. He was then returned for Shaftesbury on the interest of Sir Mark Wood, who later complained that when he brought in Wallace ‘upon the recommendation of the Duke of Portland’, he received ‘the pitiful sum of £3,000 towards the defraying of the expense of a contested election that cost upwards of £10,000 and for this small sacrifice Mr Wallace had the good fortune to hold for a series of years ... a sinecure office under the Board of Control of upwards of £1,500 a year’.6

Resuming his former office, Wallace defended Lord Wellesley against his critics, 15 Mar. 1808, and on 17 May following made the longest speech of his career in defence of the deposition of the nawab of the Carnatic, which ensured ‘the unquestioned predominance of Britain ... without a rival through the Indian world, and the blessings of British justice and government extended to millions of thankful protected subjects’. He thwarted Turton’s motion on the subject, 1 June, and on 17 June carried a vote of approbation of Wellesley’s conduct in India. He defended the Company trade monopoly, 9 June 1809, and withstood interference in the Company’s internal regulation, 19 June. It had been alleged in March that Wallace would succeed Sir Arthur Wellesley as Irish secretary. He did not, and was disappointed when he was not considered for a step up in office when Perceval replaced Portland as prime minister. On 11 Oct. 1809 he assured his friend Liverpool that he had no pretensions and intended to resign if he could not approve of the arrangement; but on 22 Oct. Charles Long reported that Wallace was ‘much disappointed’ at ‘not having the presidency of the Board of Control offered him. He thinks himself qualified for higher offices than he holds, but as far as I know the opinion is very much confined to himself.’7

Soon afterwards Robert Ward quoted Lord Lonsdale as saying that Wallace was

in heroics at the disrespect that had lately been shown him, in consequence of which he had resolved to resign; but was very open to the advice which Lord L. had given him, not to do so. L[or]d L. gave me to understand that, after hearing a great deal of wounded feelings, and what honour demanded, all the grievances he could make out resolved themselves into the want of taste and penetration in the government in not seeing his merit; and L[or]d L. said it was the hardest thing in the world to know how to tell a man he overrated himself.

Lonsdale, unable to get this message through to Wallace by hints, brushed aside his offer of allegiance to him (in case it was ‘for the purpose of obtaining something’) and asked Ward to tell Perceval that Wallace was ‘out of humour’. Perceval’s reaction was that he ‘thought well of his talents’, but ‘that his temper and want of conciliation were such as made it difficult to place him in a lead’, not least from ‘the very circumstance of his being underrated’. The presidency of the Board of Control had been earmarked for Saunders Dundas, so it was out of the question for Wallace and ‘would not perhaps suit so well his disposition’. Perceval had intended Wallace to become judge-advocate, ‘though not a lawyer’, but ‘the place required a person agreeable to the King’ and Manners Sutton was preferable.8

Wallace, who attended regularly in support of administration in the session of 1810, was a spokesman against petitions in favour of Sir Francis Burdett, 9 May, 13 June: he was added to the committee on Burdett’s conduct. He voted against criminal law reform, 1 May, against parliamentary reform, 21 May, and against sinecure reform, 17 May 1810 (also 21, 24 Feb. and 4 May 1812). He voted against Catholic relief, 22 June 1812 (and again in 1816 and 1817). As chairman of the committee on Indian affairs, he paved the way for the renewal of the Company charter and defended the loan to defray the Company deficit, June-July 1812. Wallace, who had voted against a broader based administration, 21 May 1812, now expected to have the ear of the prime minister, his friend Lord Liverpool. In July 1812 he asked him if he was to be promoted in office. If not:

I have really continued so long in a situation comparatively so subordinate and have been so often passed by ... that I feel a wish to avail myself of any means of being creditably removed out of the line of political service at home if I have no prospect of being advanced beyond my present station.

He hinted at the government of Madras, and Liverpool, who admitted that he had nothing to offer Wallace at home, thinking that the renewal of the East India Company charter was important enough business for him, engaged to support his pretensions in future.9

Wallace was returned for Weymouth on the Johnstone interest in 1812, after a severe contest, only to be unseated on petition. While the petition was pending, the Speaker gave him ‘free ingress and egress to and from the under-gallery seat’ during debates on East India Company affairs. He was considered by some a candidate for Irish office: it was alleged that his ‘great wish’ was to be chief secretary: if so, he did not inform Liverpool of it, and when he forfeited his seat in June 1813 his ambitions remained oriental. He had tried to secure the creation of a vice-presidency of the Board of Control (for his own benefit, no doubt) in the East India bill, but his chief Lord Buckinghamshire objected. On 19 July he informed Liverpool that he had had ‘the mortification of being constantly passed by’ and now applied for Madras, in place of Sir George Hilaro Barlow whose conduct he had often defended in the House. He had no ‘pecuniary motive’: Liverpool had known since 1807 that his ambition was the peerage of which a premature death had cheated his father. Liverpool agreed to promote Wallace’s wish, 23 July, but informed him roundly that he had himself to blame for his disappointment at home: he had

never manifested a disposition to make that species of exertion either in Parliament, or out of it, as could entitle your friends to say that you had a claim for your services to government or to your party to be preferred to others.

Liverpool complained that applications for advancement were the only confidences his friendship with Wallace had reaped and could not admit his claim to a peerage: membership of the Madras council would suffice. When Wallace applied for a red ribbon, he was denied that too. A further blow was the rejection of his bid for Madras. Sir George Dallas, his competitor, had alleged that the court of directors would not willingly accept such ‘a man of straw’: but Buckinghamshire backed him, and Robert Thornton, Stephen Rumbold Lushington and John Sullivan canvassed the court in his favour. Charles Grant, spurred on by Tierney, was determined to thwart him and, as Francis Horner reported, 5 Nov. 1813:

The East India directors ... decided yesterday by a majority of 15 to 9 to negative the appointment of Wallace as governor of Madras. The ministers had made a great effort to save him from this disappointment and disgrace: originally it was proposed to the directors as a nomination by the Board of Control, but they rejected him by 23 to 1. Then the ministers made it a cabinet measure, and in that pure and upright body they contrived to gain over eight voices, but that was not enough.

Charles Long reflected, ‘I know not why our friend Wallace is so unpopular, but the fact I fear is so’.10

As a consolation, Wallace was returned to Parliament, on Liverpool’s recommendation, by Lord Lonsdale. He resumed the defence of Indian administration. On 17 May 1814 Thomas Creevey alleged that places on the Board of Control were mere sinecures and asked Wallace if he had ever voted at the Board. Wallace at first said yes, then ‘on recollection ... he could not say that he had voted even once in his life at a Board’, but he had given opinions in writing, as was the custom. This episode caused some amusement in the House. In May 1815 he defended the East India ships registry bill, which was under attack from the supposition that it would damage British shipbuilding interests. He stood by ministers in favour of the resumption of war, 1 May 1815, and the continuation of the property tax, 27 Feb. 1816. That month, when Buckinghamshire was ailing, Wallace had applied to the premier to succeed him as president of the Board of Control, having been leading spokesman on Indian affairs in the House since 1811. Liverpool warned him that Canning was to be Buckinghamshire’s successor. When Canning took over in June 1816, Wallace resigned, not from pique, he alleged, but because Canning’s being his chief in the Commons deprived him of his duties and importance. Canning assured him that he regretted this step and that he had pressed government to promote Wallace to obviate the situation. Wallace, in reply, exonerated Canning of blame, but was privately embittered, informing Lord Clancarty, 5 June: ‘My attachment cannot I am afraid be of much value to anybody but such as it is I transfer it to C[astlerea]gh who I really think the only man in the country to whom any political attachment is creditable’.11

It was to Castlereagh that Wallace gave the credit when in January 1818 he took office again, as salaried vice-president of the Board of Trade. While out of office, his support of government had been silent. Liverpool proposed him to the Regent in these terms, 18 Jan. 1818: ‘Mr Wallace has been nearly 30 years in Parliament, he has filled for a number of years seats at the Admiralty and India Boards, conducted the business of India in the House of Commons for several years’. He added that Wallace would have been recommended for the office of joint paymaster when Canning superseded him, had his original intentions been carried out.12

Wallace had little business except the defence of the salt duties in the Parliament of 1818, in which he recovered his seat for Weymouth: not until 1820, as chairman of the committee on foreign trade, did he gain reputation. His alarmism after Peterloo was notorious; Brougham reported: ‘Wallace at the grand jury at Carlisle tried a set of loyal and alarming resolutions—our party mustered strong and were going to beat him hollow—when even Lord Lowther gave him up and he withdrew his motion’. He was criticized for it in the House, 14 Dec. 1819, and felt obliged to defend his intentions. He was ready to retire in 1820 and remained difficult to pacify, until he received a peerage in 1828. He died 23 Feb. 1844.13

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1844), i. 425; Add. 51705, Pelham to Lady Webster, 8 [Apr. 1792].
  • 2. NLS mss 11052, f. 106; Harewood mss, Canning jnl. 11 June 1794.
  • 3. Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 123; Canning jnl. 22 Jan., 26 Feb. 1795; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1333.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/186, f. 67; Carlisle mss, Canning to Morpeth, 6 Dec. 1797; SRO GD51/1/48; HMC Fortescue, vi. 235, 239; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 28 May; Lonsdale mss, Lonsdale to Lowther, 28 May; Harewood mss, Canning to Rev. Leigh, 9 Feb. 1801; Add. 48219, f. 125.
  • 5. HMC Fortescue, vii. 224; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 5/47; Rose Diaries, ii. 134, 136.
  • 6. HMC Lonsdale, 215; SRO GD51/1/107, 108/1; Brougham mss J1325; Geo. IV Letters, i. 524.
  • 7. Add. 35648, f. 24; 38243, f. 198; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 22 Oct. 1809.
  • 8. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 289-93; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4010.
  • 9. Northumb. RO, Wallace (Belsay) mss S76/285-6; Add. 38248, f. 344.
  • 10. HMC Fortescue, ix. 292; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 24 Nov.; Wallace mss S76/5/23, 66; 6/36, 37; 7/7-11; 9/78; 10/passim; Lansdowne mss, Lady Holland to Lansdowne, 30 July [1813]; Geo. IV Letters, i. 301, 308; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey, 14 Oct. 1813; Horner mss 5, f. 362.
  • 11. Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 19 Oct., 6, 11, 18 Nov. 1813; Wallace mss, S76/17/4, 25, 27, 28, 41; 18/14.
  • 12. Wallace mss S76/21/27; Geo. IV Letters, ii. 738; Add. 38270, ff. 61, 80.
  • 13. Gent. Mag. (1844), i. 425-30; Brougham mss 78; Northumb. RO, Middleton mss B16/V, Wallace to Monck, 9 Feb. [1820].