BANKES, Henry (1757-1834), of Kingston Lacy, Dorset and 5 Old Palace Yard, Westminster, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1780 - 2 Feb. 1826
16 Feb. 1826 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 19 Dec. 1757,1 2nd but o. surv. s. of Henry Bankes† of Kingston Lacy and 2nd w. Margaret, da. of Rt. Rev. John Wynne, bp. of Bath and Wells. educ. Westminster 1767; Trinity Hall, Camb. 1773; grand tour. m. 18 Aug. 1784, Frances, da. of William Woodley†, gov. Leeward Islands, 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1776. d. 17 Dec. 1834.

Offices Held

Lt.-col. commdt. W. Dorset militia 1808.


Bankes, a descendent of the royalist Sir John Bankes†, chief justice of common pleas, was a well-to-do country gentleman of scholarly tastes, who throughout his career in Parliament prided himself on his self-proclaimed independence.2 He had at first been a friend of Pitt, and thereafter usually supported ministries of a Tory character, but he was unyielding in his advocacy of economies in public expenditure, despite the discomfiture of sometimes finding himself in the company of Whigs and radicals. Once a supporter of Catholic emancipation, he had altered his opinion diametrically and become ‘Protestant Bankes’. On this subject his views closely coincided with those of his Dorset neighbour Lord Eldon, the lord chancellor, whose daughter had married his son Edward, rector of Corfe Castle. In this period he was usually known as ‘Old Bankes’, a name which reflected his age and distinguished him from his sons George and William, who at different times joined him in the House. In reference to the stubbornness and irascibility of his temperament, it was also used in a derogatory sense by his political allies, who on occasion thought him obstreperous on general issues and yet faint-hearted on important matters. One radical source described him as ‘a proper humbug’.3

He had represented Corfe Castle since 1780, and at the general election of 1820 he was again returned there, on his own interest, with George Bankes. With a house in Old Palace Yard, at times the location of political meetings of his friends, he continued to be an assiduous attender of the Commons. He kept an extensive parliamentary journal, in which he not only summarized many speeches (his own included), but, showing the attention with which he listened to debates, also made shrewd and disinterested comments appraising the abilities of ministerial and opposition speakers.4 He noted how he voted in divisions, which he seems rarely to have missed, though he was sometimes absent if a vote occurred earlier in a sitting than he expected.5 He was an indefatigable committeeman and a frequent, though not always very effective, speaker, who made constant interjections on procedural matters, his favourite topic of retrenchment and allusions to his past conduct.6 A trustee of the British Museum, he invariably moved for its annual grant in the committee of supply and spoke in its support.

Bankes, who thought that ministers had suffered significant losses at the election, sided with them on the civil list, 5, 8 May 1820.7 He spoke against Alderman Wood’s motion for inquiry into the leniency accorded to the informer George Edwards, 9 May, when he noted privately that ‘nothing but the folly of the motion could equal its mischievous tendency’.8 Lord Althorp*, who observed that of the speakers that day ‘Bankes even distinguished himself’, commented on how John Cam Hobhouse had chanced to make a successful maiden speech in reply to Bankes.9 He voted against the appointment of an additional baron of exchequer in Scotland, 15 May, when, according to his own account, he criticized the second opposition resolution, that the appointment should not have taken place until after consideration by the Commons, ‘as it tended to place the executive government under the immediate control of the House’, and declined to offer an amendment to remove this objection.10 The next day he commented to his friend Lord Colchester that ‘what passed last night in the Commons makes me augur well of the new Parliament’, but he nevertheless stated his fear that ‘we are fallen on evil times’.11 He divided with ministers against repeal of the duty on foreign wool, 26 May,12 when he boasted, implausibly, of the British Museum, that a Member ‘might go to the library and call for any work he pleased, and he pledged himself that, within five minutes, the identical book would be brought to him’. He voted for referring the petitions on agricultural distress to a select committee, 30 May 1820, and the following day, having spoken for such a committee (to which he was appointed), voted in the minority against the ministerial amendment to restrict its remit.13

Bankes was hostile towards Queen Caroline, believing her conduct made it unsuitable to include her name in the liturgy, but he thought it desirable for ministers to reach some discreet accommodation with her. In this he agreed with William Wilberforce, who consulted him about his adjournment motion on 7 June, and he spoke and presumably divided for Wilberforce’s compromise motion, 22 June 1820. He accompanied Wilberforce to present the Commons’ address to the queen, 24 June, when they were jostled by an angry crowd outside her house. Having in private told Lord Castlereagh, the foreign secretary, that he approved his plan for a short adjournment of the Commons while the affair was dealt with in the Lords, he voted for this, 26 June.14 Although Wilberforce’s reported desire to see a change of ministry ‘met with no encouragement’ from Bankes, by late 1820 he certainly followed him in believing that the case against Caroline would have to be dropped in order to prevent further public agitation.15 He disapproved of the matter being raised before the debate on the address, 23 Jan., and sided with ministers against having her name reinstated in the liturgy, 26 Jan. 1821.16 He made a heated speech in defence of ministers’ conduct towards her, 5 Feb., declaring that ‘as long as he had the honour of a seat in that House, so long he should be always ready to support them, while they appeared to him to act compatible with the great interests of the country’. In reply, the Whig Sir James Mackintosh stated that Bankes’s independence ‘was indeed so great, that he always made a boast of it. But what was the proof? Why, unqualified panegyric of one party and perpetual exclusion on the other’. The radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* noted that Mackintosh had ‘scarified him - I never saw a man more exposed or feel the exposure more’.17 Bankes acknowledged in his journal that Mackintosh was

particularly dextrous in that sort of allowable but disingenuous perversion of terms which has always a momentous effect when well managed, and by selecting a word or two which I had made use of, such as ‘effective reform of Parliament’ and ‘disapprobation of the beginning, conduct and termination of the proceedings against the queen’, and ringing the changes upon these, with some invidious allusions to the borough which I represented, and some sarcastic observations upon the glorious peace ... made a reply highly gratifying to his friends, and indeed extremely well calculated to blunt the effect of my arguments as well as to lower my character for impartiality and disinterestedness.18

He divided with ministers, 6 Feb. 1821.

Bankes voted with government on the conduct of the Allies towards Naples, 21 Feb., and for the higher £20 franchise at Leeds if it received Grampound’s seats, 2 Mar. 1821. He divided against Maberly’s motion on the state of the revenue, 6 Mar., but spoke and voted for reducing the size of the army, 15 Mar.19 He was again named to the select committee on agricultural distress, 7 Mar., which he thought sat ‘to little purpose’. He was shouted down when he attempted to speak against Catholic relief, 28 Feb., but voted to that effect. Believing that the proposed securities ‘signify nothing’, he opposed the relief bill, 16 Mar., and, in what Bennet called a ‘feeble’ speech, moved an amendment to exclude Catholics from Parliament, which was defeated by 223-211.20 He voted against repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., and opposed the withdrawal of small notes from circulation, 13 Apr. That month he complained to Colchester of the ‘choice knot of patriots, who, with Mr. Hume as their finance minister, contrive to distract and puzzle the examination of the annual estimates to an extent and with a degree of perseverance which is without example’. Yet he agreed with some of Hume’s points and, as he recorded in his journal, ‘upon more than one occasion, when I happened to be in my place (for I did not attend constantly), I voted with him in small minorities’.21 He divided against disqualifying civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., parliamentary reform, 9 May, and the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May, 4 June. Just before Hume made his motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821, Bankes was hurriedly approached to move an amendment prepared by ministers, who told him that

there was no other Member from whom the motion could so properly originate as from myself, and that if they were obliged to receive a lecture upon economy, they should be much better satisfied to submit to it from me than from Mr. Hume and their determined opponents, assuring me also that they were resolved to set forward in the work of retrenchment without loss of time.

Deciding that he ‘could not well refuse to undertake it’, he duly moved the anodyne amendment, which was criticized as a government trick, but passed by 174-94. Bankes, who was condemned by Bennet for being ‘at all times ready’ to be ministers’ ‘cat’s paw and tool’, acted as a teller.22 He noted that ‘thus closed one of the most fatiguing and vexatious sessions which I remember’. He approved of Peel’s appointment as home secretary at the turn of the year, but deplored Lord Wellesley’s promotion to the Irish lord lieutenancy.23

Bankes, who was reappointed to the select committee on agricultural distress on 18 Feb., voted with ministers against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb., and urged them to retain the element of compound interest in the sinking fund, 21, 25 Feb. 1822.24 On the civil offices pension bill, 27 Feb., he made what Mackintosh described as a ‘more ferocious attack on the inconsistency of [Thomas] Creevey than he usually does’, but in seeking to exclude the exchequer from the proposed economies, he was accused by Bennet of special pleading on behalf of his son George, the cursitor baron.25 He divided against repeal of the salt tax, 28 Feb.,26 28 June, but sided with opposition for reducing the number of junior lords of the admiralty, 1 Mar. He spoke and voted for abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., 2 May, and afterwards confided to Colchester that

we can give no other sort of answer so convincing to the radical reformers as by showing them that, when a strong case is made out, the representative body as at present constituted is able and ready to counteract the wishes and influence of the government. These occasional defeats neither shake nor endanger ministers.27

He continued to seek assurances from ministers both privately, 14 Mar., and in the House, 28 Mar., that the operation of the sinking fund would be kept up. He divided against parliamentary reform, 25 Apr.28 He voted against the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr., and presumably again on 10 May, although Canning then recorded that Peel and Bankes ‘both assured me that they should give me no further trouble (Bankes indeed has given me none but his vote, and a certain speachiness of aspect which went off without coming to any explosion)’.29 According to William Fremantle*, the report of the agricultural committee was ‘a miserable performance, concocted by Bankes and offering no benefit of any sort or kind’. In his journal, Bankes disowned the report ‘which, although I had some considerable share in the writing of, was so much altered afterwards that no one was well satisfied with it’. Having failed to persuade the committee to recommend the issuing of £1,000,000 of exchequer bills to relieve distress, he suggested this in the House, 6 May 1822.30 He opposed alteration of the corn laws, 8 May, voted at least twice against government resolutions on the corn duties the following day, and unsuccessfully moved an amendment relating to the time of paying the duty on imported corn, 3 June. Lord Londonderry (as Castlereagh had become) sought his advice about how to handle the business of the remainder of the session in May, when Bankes told him that, although government would survive on questions of economy, the country gentlemen would abandon them if nothing more was done to alleviate distress. He voted with government for the aliens bill, 5 June, and against inquiry into the lord advocate’s treatment of the press in Scotland, 25 June. He again clashed with Creevey about ministerial pensions, 26 June, when he moved and divided in the majority for the orders of the day.31 He was in the minority for limiting the duration of the Irish insurrection bill, 8 July 1822. He approved of Canning’s appointment in succession to Londonderry that autumn, but regretted ministers’ failure to show their support for his son William, whom he was proud to see nevertheless returned in the Cambridge University contest.32

‘That old beast Bankes’, as Hudson Gurney* called him, had been disappointed in his aspirations for a seat for Dorset in 1806 and 1807, but offered again in February 1823, on the death of one of the Members, Edward Portman. He was said to be ‘personally unpopular even amongst his political friends’, and although he received many letters of support, several of these were conditional on his being unopposed. One possible opponent, although he was absent abroad, was Portman’s son and namesake, and Bankes’s old rival John Calcraft* led his campaign at the nomination meeting, 18 Feb. Bankes, who was given a noisy reception when he tried to vindicate his parliamentary conduct as an independent, promised to stand a poll, but withdrew in the face of another contest.33 He believed he had had the majority on the 18th, but wrote in his journal that

to say the truth, what may be called ill luck, for want of a better term, has been so predominant with regard to me in all that relates to this county that I felt an extreme unwillingness to embark again in vexation and charge, particularly with a diminished income and decreasing rents.34

In his parting address, 19 Feb. 1823, he explained that he was returning to London to attend on the Catholic question, so he missed the unopposed election of Portman a few days later.35 He divided against remitting £2,000,000 of taxes, 3 Mar., abolition of the tax on houses under £5, 10 Mar., limiting the sinking fund to the real surplus of revenue, 13 Mar., and repealing the assessed taxes, 18 Mar. He spoke for inquiry into the Irish church and voted against the grant for Irish churches and glebe houses, 11 Apr. He divided against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. He presented an anti-Catholic petition from the diocese of Oxford, 17 Apr., when he briefly insisted that Henry Brougham and Canning should be taken into custody for quarrelling in the House. While refusing to countenance war, he condemned French aggression against Spain, 28 Apr., but was inaudible when replying to his critics the following day.36 He voted against abolition of the death penalty for larceny, 21 May, alteration of the game laws and reform of the Scottish parliamentary system, 2 June, condemning the conduct of the lord advocate in the Borthwick case, 3 June, and inquiry into the currency, 12 June. He divided in minorities for the recommittal of the silk manufacture bill, 9 June, and to abolish the capital penalty for stealing in shops attached to houses, 25 June. At a meeting at his house at which Peel outlined the limited concessions he was prepared to make to Catholics, Bankes protested that he would oppose alteration of the franchise; he duly spoke against relief in the House, 28 May, when Gurney noted that William Bankes was ‘very bad, and old Bankes also’. He reiterated his hostility to allowing Catholics to vote, 18, 23, 30 June, but approved the insurrection bill, 24 June.37 He spoke and acted as a teller for the minority against inquiry into the conduct of chief baron O’Grady, 2 July. At the close of the session, 19 July, he noted his general approval of ministers in his journal. Late in 1823, when he lost his daughter Maria and his wife, he recorded that ‘my own state of health was rendered most precarious by an abscess in the prostate gland’, yet he soon recovered from an operation to cure a stoppage in his bladder.38

Bankes voted against the usury bill, 27 Feb. 1824. He complained about the destruction and unsuitable rebuilding of parts of the Palace of Westminster, 1 Mar., and secured a select committee, 23 Mar., when he was a teller for the majority in its favour and was appointed its chairman. He raised similar doubts over the repairs to Windsor Castle, 5 Apr., and presented his committee’s report, 14 May.39 He sided with opposition for ensuring proper use of Irish first fruits revenues, 25 May, but with ministers against condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, and for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June. He opposed the superannuation fund bill on the ground of economy, 12, 17, 21 June 1824.40 Bankes, who was relieved at the return of prosperity and government good fortunes by the start of the following session, was appointed to the select committee on the state of Ireland, 17 Feb., and divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. He voted against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., when he observed in his journal that ‘I know no great question which has suffered so much from a want of adequate defence and from all the considerable speakers among the Commons being ranged on one side’. Charles Long* reported to Lord Lonsdale, 23 Mar., that Bankes, ‘who by the way is I fear very unwell’, relied on the Lords to defeat the measure.41 According to Daniel O’Connell*, he ‘was not listened to by the House’, 19 Apr., when he moved the unsuccessful wrecking amendment (for which he voted on the 21st) against the second reading of the Catholic relief bill.42 On 26 Apr. he called the Irish franchise bill (which he had also attacked on the 22nd), ‘a harsh, unnecessary and unconstitutional infraction of the privileges of the people’, but his wrecking amendment was also defeated. He deemed the securities ‘quite inadequate’, 6 May, and, as he wrote in his journal on the 10th, when he voted against the third reading:

I moved as amendments, solely for the purpose of placing them upon the Journals, that Roman Catholics should not sit in either House of Parliament and that the commission composed of Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland should issue only if His Majesty should think fit and not compulsorily. The bill would in fact have been less objectionable without these precautions.

He divided in the minority to confine the use of the grant for the education of Prince George to Britain, 27 May, but otherwise voted with ministers on the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 30 May, 6, 10 June 1825.43

In September 1825 William Morton Pitt, the other county Member, announced his retirement and, as there was no risk of a contest, Bankes immediately offered for Dorset in his place. Pitt left the House early the following year and Bankes was returned unopposed, 16 Feb. 1826, when he declared that ‘I have never been a party man and never will be a party man’.44 He voted for a select committee on the importation of foreign silks, 24 Feb. He divided with ministers against condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., but against them on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr. He voted against alteration of the corn laws, 18 Apr.,45 spoke in this sense, 2, 11 May, and divided in the minority for his own wrecking amendment against the corn bill, 11 May. He voted against Russell’s resolutions on electoral bribery, 26 May 1826. As expected, he was returned without opposition for Dorset at the general election that summer, when he advocated continued protection for agriculture and exclusion of Catholics from political power. He thought that the new Parliament would differ from the old and was particularly anxious about the Catholic question.46

Bankes deplored the expense of British involvement in Portugal, 12 Dec. 1826. He presented a Dorset petition against Catholic relief, 2 Mar., and voted accordingly, 6 Mar. 1827.47 Having on 1 Mar. asked Canning what he believed would be a fair medium corn import price between producers and consumers, he moved an amendment to raise it from 64s., 8 Mar., dividing in the minority for this. He again spoke and voted against the corn bill, 2 Apr. He approved the resignation of Peel and others on Canning’s appointment as prime minister that month, and opposed the additional grant for the forces in Portugal, 8 June. However, as he felt that the 1822 Corn Act required some amendment, he voted in the majority with ministers against Western’s attempt to bring it into operation, 18 June.48 He said that the East Retford disfranchisement bill should be deferred to the following session, 22 June 1827.

Bankes, though relieved by the return of his friends to office under the duke of Wellington in early 1828, was nonetheless concerned that the exclusion of Eldon indicated a weakening of anti-Catholic support in the cabinet. He condemned the battle of Navarino and the treaties leading up to it, 29 Jan., and on the vote of thanks to Admiral Codrington on 14 Feb., as he recorded in his journal, ‘for fear of such a matter being so abruptly concluded, I began the debate in opposition to the prospective vote which was not in intention’.49 Although George Tierney’s* list for the proposed finance committee, prepared the previous autumn, had included ‘G. Bankes’, it was Henry who was named to it, 15 Feb. Herries, the previous chancellor of the exchequer, commented to Peel that of the ‘opponents or reformers’ on the committee, ‘[Alexander] Baring and Bankes would not lean to the subversion of our financial system although they would press the reduction of establishments’.50 He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May. After agreeing a plan with his friends on the 7th, he again secured a select committee on public works, 21 Mar., although he had to rebut allegations that this trenched on the work of the finance committee, 24 Mar.; he presented the report to the House, 19 June.51 He divided against condemning chancery administration, 24 Apr. He spoke and voted against making provision for Canning’s family, 13 May, on the grounds that he disagreed with his policies and regretted the accommodation costs he had incurred at the foreign office. John Backhouse, the under-secretary, reported to Lady Canning, 15 May, that ‘Bankes’s speech, which the House heard with constant murmurs, has sunk him deeper than any previous act of his life: there never was a shabbier speech delivered within the House of Commons’.52 Lord Seaford commented that it ‘was a nasty cantankerous speech as ever was delivered, but he caught it handsomely from Huskisson’.53 Bankes voted against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 2 June.54 He steadily opposed the withdrawal of small notes in Ireland and Scotland, including on the 16th, when, according to Lord Palmerston*, he was furious at Peel’s calling his suggestions ‘the most ridiculous that anybody had ever dreamt of’.55 He secured an amendment to the operation of the sinking fund, 23 June, when he substituted ‘the surplus of the revenue actually obtained’ for the ‘fixed sum’ repayments.56 He sided with ministers against criticizing the misapplication of public money on Buckingham House, 23 June, but spoke and voted with opposition for reduction of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828.57

Bankes, who was of course listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as ‘opposed to the principle’ of the government’s Catholic emancipation bill, took the opportunity of speaking on the address, 5 Feb. 1829, to ask ministers what their intentions were. He made a furious speech against Peel, in which he also accused him of failing to suppress the mounting agitation for relief, 10 Feb., because, as he wrote in his journal that day

for myself, this abandonment of all principle and consistency vexed and grieved me, as lowering the standard of all public men in the estimation of the people and leading them to conclude that professions and declarations cannot be depended upon, and that whenever a doubt occurs between office and principle, the latter will inevitably kick the beam.58

He was, however, completely put down by Peel, who quoted Bankes’s speech of 22 June 1812, in which he had argued that political expediency was an honourable justification for a change in government policy. Hobhouse noted that ‘Bankes tried to explain and called Peel "the honourable Member", but it would not do. The odious man was defeated altogether’; and Greville commented that Peel ‘severely trimmed old Bankes, which gives me great pleasure, so much do I hate that old worn-out set’.59 Sometime in February 1829, as Mackintosh recorded, ‘some wag ... excited a general roar by putting a paper with O’Connell’s name on Bankes’s place’ (his acknowledged seat on the cross benches).60 Bankes, who presented numerous anti-Catholic petitions from Dorset and elsewhere, was delighted by the (in fact only temporary) resignation of his son George from office and the provision of a seat at Marlborough for William by the anti-Catholic Lord Ailesbury. One of the leading opponents of emancipation, he was present in the House for what he described as the

repeated and lengthened discussions, in several of which I bore a part: for in some previous meetings, which were held at the marquess of Chandos’s* house, I was desired to take the chief conduct of this important business and to manage the proceedings, adjournments and divisions, in which some of the Members did not attend to my advice so exactly as could have been wished.

He was delighted by the size of the minorities (which included himself) on the first two main divisions: 160 against the original resolution for emancipation, 6 Mar., and 173 against the second reading of the relief bill, 18 Mar., when he made a major speech on the dangers to church and state of extending political power to Catholics.61 He spoke and divided against the Irish franchise bill, 19 Mar., and the following day Lord Ellenborough noted that ‘Palmerston, Bankes and Herries, each with his little band of people, voted in the minority’ of 19 in favour of an amendment to it.62 He moved an amendment to exclude Catholics from Parliament and high office, his two principal reservations, 23 Mar., when this was defeated by 207-84. According to Gurney, on 27 Mar., when Bankes divided against bringing up the report on the Catholic bill, a ‘frantic’ Sir Charles Wetherell spoke, ‘throwing his doubled fists around like a madman and gave Bankes who was sitting by him such a [?cuff] on the head as nearly knocked him off his seat’.63 He described as ‘foolish’ the attempt of the Ultras, who were plotting to replace the ministry, to postpone the third reading, and as the division was in fact taken early on 30 Mar. (and before he had had a chance to deliver his prepared speech), he was listed in the respectable minority of 142 against it.64 He spoke and voted for inquiry into distress in the silk trade, 14 Apr., and divided against going into committee on the silk bill, 1 May. He again voted against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, and the issuing of the writ, 2 June. He condemned the expense of the sculpture of the marble arch, 25 May 1829, his motion to reduce the grant being defeated by 91-61.65

Sir Richard Vyvyan*, the Ultra leader, did not place Bankes on his list of adherents in the autumn of 1829, perhaps because he had found him disinclined to support an amendment to the address, and was concerned that ‘if he were to be consulted by others of our party upon the course which ought to be followed on the first day of the session, opinions like his might neutralize our exertions’.66 In fact, Bankes was critical of the address and voted in the minority for Knatchbull’s amendment on distress, 4 Feb. 1830. He divided against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb.67 Commenting on the government’s tendency to grant concessions on taxation when under pressure, Edward John Littleton* told Ralph Sneyd on 3 Mar. how

yesterday they caught a rumour that Bankes meant to move an amendment on [Edward Davies] Davenport’s motion on Friday [the 5th] to the effect that ‘a select committee should be appointed to revise the taxes, and recommend such reductions and modifications of the system of taxation, as might relieve the country, without breach of the public faith’. All parties would have supported him. Goulburn immediately summons a cabinet, and the result is a determination to reduce some taxes and to give notice of his budget without delay.68

Bankes sided with opposition for information on Portugal, 10 Mar., but he gave his vote, as he wrote in his journal, ‘with some doubt and indeed hesitation’ against condemning the affair at Terceira, 28 Apr. He spoke and voted for reducing the admiralty grant, 22 Mar., and inquiry into the revision of taxation, 25 Mar. Although he divided frequently with opposition for economies and retrenchment that session, he recorded in his journal several occasions when he voted with ministers on such matters.69 He voted against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He voted against the abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. He divided twice with ministers on the sugar duties, 21 June, when he voted for Knatchbull’s amendment to prohibit the sale of beer for on-consumption. He voted in both minorities with Brougham on the address to the king about regency arrangements, 30 June, and intervened on this, 6 July. He divided against Brougham’s motion on colonial slavery, 13 July 1830.70 He was again returned unopposed with Portman for Dorset at the general election that summer.71

By the autumn of 1830 Bankes, who was listed by ministers among the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’, had decided that Wellington should be removed from office:

I detest the means by which it is effected, but it will be for the public good in the present moment of excitement, discontent and insubordination bordering upon insurrection, that the government should be changed, and the sooner the duke resigns, it will be the better for his own safety and character and for the tranquillity of the nation.

Having made a speech which, according to Lord Howick*, ‘did a great deal more for us than any other’, he voted for a select committee (to which he was appointed) on the civil list, 15 Nov.72 He recorded in his journal that the motion ‘appeared to me so reasonable and so much in conformity to the usual practice of the House that I took a prominent part in supporting, and contributed, in no inconsiderable degree perhaps, to determine the inclination of the House’.73 Ellenborough, one of the outgoing ministers, noted that it was Bankes who ‘did us most mischief’ that day.74 He condemned the removal of the lord chancellor of Ireland on the formation of Lord Grey’s government, 9 Dec., and supported Chandos’s amendment against issuing the Evesham writ, 16 Dec. 1830. He did not in the end move a censure motion on the alteration of the barilla duty, but contented himself with complaining about it, 7 Feb. 1831. On the 9th the Ultras met at his house to try to agree a united policy on parliamentary reform.75 As the government’s proposals, announced on 1 Mar., were ‘of so revolutionary a character’, he regretted that, like Peel, he had not conceded alterations on cases like East Retford in order to reduce the pressure for radical changes. He voted against the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., when he was gratified to receive many congratulations on his son William’s hostile speech.76 He stated his opposition to altering the proportion between the number of Irish or Scottish and English seats, 24 Mar., and voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to this effect, 19 Apr. He made his last reported interventions, in favour of economies on the civil list, 25, 28 Mar. Lord Lowther* wrote to his father Lord Lonsdale, 3 Apr. 1831, that there were three elements of Ultras in the Commons that session: the groups of Newcastle, Vyvyan and Bankes, ‘who likewise has his own particular view of every question that comes on the tapis’.77 Bankes, who was one of the targets of the Parliamentary Candidate Society,78 was opposed by Calcraft for Dorset at the ensuing general election, but stood a lengthy and violent contest on behalf of the anti-reformers. Eventually given a hearing on the hustings, he condemned ministers for their dictatorial conduct over the bill, which he opposed in general and because it would halve the representation of the county. Having trailed behind Portman and Calcraft from the start of the poll, he resigned on the sixth day. The Dorset reformers rejoiced, but his affecting farewell speech, in which he called for the re-establishment of cordial relations and assured the electors ‘that my constant and warmest wishes will be for the welfare and happiness of my native county’, was heard in respectful silence.79 The Whigs were delighted at the defeat of ‘that arch rogue and impostor old Bankes’, as the duke of Bedford called him, and Mrs. Arbuthnot was similarly pleased at the ‘great smash’ of such an Ultra.80 Bankes, whose election expenses amounted to £14,000, thus left the Commons after over 50 years’ consecutive service.81

On the vacancy created by Calcraft’s suicide in September 1831, Wellington and others urged Bankes to offer in the Conservative cause, but neither he nor William would fight another contest. This disgusted some of the anti-reformers, and Herries complained to Mrs. Arbuthnot that ‘Old Bankes has never done anything but mischief in his life’. However, he gave his support to Lord Ashley*, voted for him and helped raise a subscription.82 Lack of funds may have disinclined him from offering in March 1832, when it was thought Portman would vacate, as, according to Sir John Benn Walsh*, ‘Old Bankes seems quite to shuffle and hesitate and, Mr. William Bankes says, would not engage to come forward and go through with it boldly’.83 Still hopeful that the Lords would block the reform bill or at least salvage part of the existing constitution, he spoke in this sense at a Dorchester dinner held in his honour, 26 July, when he was presented with a silver candelabrum. Noting in his journal that ‘it was indeed a glorious close to a long political career’, he ended his speech by declaring that ‘the last votes which I gave in Parliament were for our old constitution as it stood, and I may almost say that I fell with our old constitution’.84 Bankes, who was glad that William was elected for Dorset at the general election of 1832, saw his son George (who also later achieved this honour) leave the Commons that year following the abolition of Corfe Castle, the electoral patronage of which he had continued to manage until that time. He wrote of the previous Parliament that it had ‘done more mischief than any which has been chosen since the year 1640’, and saw in the composition of the new one ‘every reason to apprehend that whatever was left undone by the last, will be completed by this’. The final few pages of his journal recorded the fulfilment of some of his forebodings.85 He died at Tregothnan, near Truro, the seat of his son-in-law Lord Falmouth, in December 1834.86 By his will, dated 7 Nov. 1833, he made various bequests to his children and left his estates and the bulk of his personalty, which was sworn under £90,000, to his eldest surviving son William Bankes.87

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Not 1756 (as given in HP Commons, 1754-90, ii. 46 and HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 128). 1757 must be correct because Bankes described 19 Dec. 1832 as his 75th birthday in his ms journal (Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 177).
  • 2. J. Hutchins, Dorset, iii (1868), 240; V. Bankes, A Dorset Heritage, 107-23.
  • 3. Black Bk. (1823), 137.
  • 4. The journal, hereafter cited as Bankes jnl., consists of 177 unpaginated notebooks, and has been deposited at Dorset RO as part of the Bankes mss.
  • 5. For example, on the timber duties, 18 Mar. 1831 (Bankes jnl. 173).
  • 6. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 449. It has been assumed that he made the parliamentary speeches attributed to ‘Mr. Bankes’, at least until the late 1820s, when his sons, particularly George, played a more prominent part in debates.
  • 7. Colchester Diary, iii. 124-5; Bankes jnl. 116.
  • 8. Bankes jnl. 117.
  • 9. Althorp Letters, 107.
  • 10. Bankes jnl. 117.
  • 11. Colchester Diary, iii. 134-5.
  • 12. Bankes jnl. 117.
  • 13. Ibid. 117-18.
  • 14. Ibid. 118-19; Colchester Diary, iii. 145-6.
  • 15. Hobhouse Diary, 36; Bankes jnl. 120-1.
  • 16. Bankes jnl. 122.
  • 17. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 13.
  • 18. Bankes jnl. 123.
  • 19. Ibid. 124-5.
  • 20. Ibid. 125-6; Colchester Diary, iii. 213-15; Grey Bennet diary, 45.
  • 21. Bankes jnl. 127; Colchester Diary, iii. 217.
  • 22. Bankes jnl. 128-9; Grey Bennet diary, 106-8.
  • 23. Bankes jnl. 130-1; Colchester Diary, iii. 241-2.
  • 24. Bankes jnl. 133-4; Colchester Diary, iii. 248-9.
  • 25. Add. 52445, f. 36; Creevey Pprs. ii. 34.
  • 26. Bankes jnl. 134.
  • 27. Colchester Diary, iii. 253.
  • 28. Bankes jnl. 135-6; The Times, 29 Mar. 1822.
  • 29. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland mss PwH 436.
  • 30. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 308; Bankes jnl. 134, 136-7; B. Hilton, Corn, Cash, Commerce, 151, 154.
  • 31. Bankes jnl. 137-9.
  • 32. Ibid. 140-1; Bankes mss, Canning to Bankes, 28 Sept., 23 Nov. 1822; Colchester Diary, iii. 280.
  • 33. Gurney diary, 12 Feb.; Western Flying Post, 17, 24 Feb. 1823; Grosvenor mss 9/11/40; Bankes mss.
  • 34. Bankes jnl. 141.
  • 35. Western Flying Post, 24 Feb., 3 Mar. 1823.
  • 36. The Times, 12, 18, 30 Apr. 1823.
  • 37. Bankes jnl. 146-7; Colchester Diary, iii. 281; Gurney diary.
  • 38. Bankes jnl. 148; Wellington mss WP1/775/10; Western Flying Post, 1 Dec. 1823, 16 Feb. 1824.
  • 39. CJ, lxxix. 206, 364.
  • 40. The Times, 14, 22 June 1824.
  • 41. Bankes jnl. 152-3; Lonsdale mss.
  • 42. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1205.
  • 43. Bankes jnl. 153-5.
  • 44. Ibid. 155-6; Dorset Co. Chron. 29 Sept., 6 Oct. 1825, 23 Feb. 1826.
  • 45. Bankes jnl. 157.
  • 46. Ibid. 158; Dorset Co. Chron. 8, 22 June 1826; Colchester Diary, iii. 442.
  • 47. The Times, 3 Mar. 1827.
  • 48. Bankes jnl. 159-161.
  • 49. Ibid. 161-2.
  • 50. Add. 40395, f. 219.
  • 51. CJ, lxxxiii. 191, 451; Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 7, 21, 24 Mar. 1828.
  • 52. Harewood mss.
  • 53. TNA 30/29/9/5/67.
  • 54. Bankes jnl. 164.
  • 55. Southampton Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss BR23AA/5/3.
  • 56. Hilton, 252-4.
  • 57. Bankes jnl. 164-5.
  • 58. Ibid. 165.
  • 59. Broughton, Recollections, iii. 304; Greville Mems. i. 254.
  • 60. Add. 52447, f. 148.
  • 61. Colchester Diary, iii. 594-5, 597-8, 603; Bankes jnl. 166.
  • 62. Ellenborough Diary, i. 402.
  • 63. Gurney diary.
  • 64. Bankes jnl. 166.
  • 65. Ibid. 167.
  • 66. Cornw. RO, Vyvyan mss, Vyvyan to Cumberland, 22 Oct. 1829.
  • 67. Bankes jnl. 168.
  • 68. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss.
  • 69. Bankes jnl. 169-70.
  • 70. Ibid. 171.
  • 71. Dorset Co. Chron. 29 July, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 72. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 16 Nov. 1830.
  • 73. Bankes jnl. 172.
  • 74. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 440.
  • 75. Three Diaries, 47, 49.
  • 76. Bankes jnl. 173.
  • 77. Lonsdale mss.
  • 78. Parl. Candidate Soc. Dorset (1831), 3-7.
  • 79. Bankes jnl. 174; Dorset Co. Chron. 28 Apr., 5, 12, 19, 26 May 1831.
  • 80. Add. 51670, Bedford to Lady Holland, 12 May 1831; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 419.
  • 81. Bankes mss, ‘Dorset election account’, May 1831.
  • 82. Ibid. requisition to Bankes, 15 Sept.; Dorset Co. Chron. 15, 22, 29 Sept. 1831; Bankes jnl. 175; Wellington mss WP1/1195/24, 32; 1197/5; 1213/5; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 432; Arbuthnot Corresp. 149, 150; Dorset Pollbook (Sept.-Oct. 1831), 98.
  • 83. NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG/1/6, p. 48.
  • 84. Dorset Co. Chron. 2 Aug. 1832; Bankes jnl. 176.
  • 85. Bankes jnl. 177.
  • 86. Dorset Co. Chron. 25 Dec. 1834; Gent. Mag. (1835), i. 323-4; DNB; Oxford DNB.
  • 87. PROB 11/1843/144; IR26/1375/140.