CALLEY, Thomas (1780-1836), of Burderop, nr. Swindon and Salthrop, nr. Wroughton, Wilts.

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



1812 - 1818
1831 - 1834

Family and Education

b. 31 May 1780,1 1st s. of Thomas Browne Calley of Burderop and Elizabeth, da. of John Rowlls of Kingston, Surr. educ. Hackney; St. John’s, Camb. 1798. m. 20 July 1802, Elizabeth Anne, da. of Anthony James Keck† of Stoughton Grange, Leics., 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1791. d. 17 Sept. 1836.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Wilts. 1807-8.

Lt. Wilts. yeomanry 1801; cornet Marlborough troop of Wilts. yeoman cav. 1801, lt. 1804, capt. 1811, res. 1826.


Calley, whose family had been resident at Burderop since the sixteenth century, was born in May 1780 and baptized on 15 July that year.2 He was an unremarkable country gentleman, who established the Burderop races in 1807 and took a close interest in agricultural matters.3 Having paraded his credentials as a local candidate, he was elected for the large freeholder borough of Cricklade in 1812 as a Tory, though he occasionally voted against the Liverpool administration. He was defeated at the general election of 1818, when his Tory colleague, Joseph Pitt*, who controlled one of the seats, was returned with a local Whig, Robert Gordon*, on the weak and ill-defined second interest. He was on the committee of the agriculturist John Benett* at the Wiltshire election in 1818 and, although he may not have voted for him then, he certainly did so at another contest the following year.4

At a Wiltshire county meeting, 17 Jan. 1821, Calley condemned ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, but joked that their actions were not impolitic:

For, if they had not exclusively fixed the public attention upon an alarming measure like that against the queen, they had no possible chance of avoiding a subject into which they dare not look, namely, their own notorious conduct in administering the affairs of the country.

He blamed massive over-expenditure for the prevailing distress, but, attempting to advocate parliamentary reform, was called to order.5 Brought to trial for debt in mid-1821 by his Cricklade agent, he was accused of being one of those men ambitious to enter Parliament, who ‘don’t mind how much money is spent to procure their return, but when called on for that money, they find it not convenient to pay it’. He was ordered to reimburse part of the sum, and received a bankruptcy discharge in 1823.6 He let Burderop in 1824, receiving 1s. in damages when he brought a charge of trespass on behalf of his tenant in 1825, and he presumably soon took up residence at Salthrop, the house of the family of his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Pye Benet, who died in 1826.7 When, in May 1827, his elder daughter eloped with Captain John Neale Nott of the navy, he determined to deprive her of an inheritance, but she, who was already sick, died three months later.8 In 1829 he became senior provincial grand warden of the Wiltshire freemasons.9 That year he signified his ‘entire concurrence’ in and signed the county’s anti-Catholic declaration.10 He attended the Bath election dinner, 31 July 1830, when he declared that

he liked lords very well in their places, but wished commoners to be elected for the House destined for the representatives of the people. Country gentlemen alone were qualified to know the wants of their constituents and the real interests of the country.11

In a printed handbill, dated 20 Sept., William Cozens claimed of Calley that, ‘under the influence of intoxication, he wantonly and grossly insulted me, a total stranger to him and to the county’, at the Burderop race ball, 27 Aug., and had since failed to appear when challenged to a duel. In his reply, 29 Oct., Calley insisted that Cozens was lying and that the county magistrates had instituted proceedings against him.12 He was struck on the head by a stone thrown through the window of the town hall at Wootton Bassett, 25 Nov. 1830, when special constables were being sworn in. He signed the address of thanks to the Marlborough troop of yeoman cavalry, in which he had once served, for its role in suppressing the ‘Swing’ riots.13

On the retirement of Pitt, an anti-reformer, at the dissolution in 1831, Calley was put up on his interest and contested the seat against Gordon and another reformer. In his address of 27 Apr. he made equivocal comments on reform, and stated his serious reservations about the Grey ministry’s bill, particularly that

its provisions went to effect that change in the system of your free and extended and other similar rights of representation which I think unnecessary, such as I believe by far the majority of you are not aware of and would not have approved, and such as in my opinion would have given an unjust preponderance against the agricultural interest.

On 30 Apr. he replied to an address denying that the bill would alter the franchise of Cricklade by promising that ‘reform, sound, practical and substantial, to an extent which should satisfy all reasonable men, I will support; but I will not consent to destroy the votes for which I am now asking you’.14 Despite being described as having a ‘character not such as a Member of Parliament ought to possess’, he was eventually elected in second place behind Gordon.15 In another address, 11 May, he wrote that

reform is necessary, but it must be reform dictated and directed by prudence and moderation, not a reform attended by (or even having a chance of being attended by) anarchy and confusion. In opening the door to reform, we must be careful not to let in revolution.

A ‘reformer and freeholder’ argued that his success was due to his patron’s influence and

in a great measure, to the strong personal attachment that the yeomanry of these hundreds, particularly in his own immediate neighbourhood, have always manifested towards him (but for why, nobody can understand, further than that he is what is commonly denominated a ‘good fellow’).

The same observer commented that the supporters of the losing candidate should not be too despondent as there appeared to be some truth in the rumour that Calley was a reformer at heart.16

Indeed, Calley voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and against Gordon’s motion to adjourn the proceedings on it, 12 July 1831. He asked how the grant of £4,000 for foreign and other secret services would be spent, 18 July, when he stated that ‘considering the opulence and importance of the country, I do not object to paying any proper sum of money to advance its interests’. He divided against reducing the grant for civil list services that day, and also expressed to Hume his wish that ministers be allowed to proceed without interruption

and pass their most valuable and highly necessary measure. They are going on very rightly and, after the reform bill is passed, I, for one, shall be very happy to listen to the arguments of the honourable gentlemen opposite, night after night, for 40 nights together if they like.

He defended the yeomanry, 2 Aug., saying that ‘no body of men has ever acted with greater forbearance and a greater desire to propitiate the people’. He voted steadily in favour of the reform bill’s details, but divided for Lord Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He sided with ministers against Gordon’s motion condemning the interference of the Irish government in the Dublin election, 23 Aug. In his last known speech in this period, 1 Sept., he described as too parsimonious the grant for the coronation expenses. He voted for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept. He signed the requisition for a Wiltshire county meeting on reform, and there, 30 Sept., expressed his confidence that the Lords would eventually pass the bill. In relation to the Cricklade election, he explained that

to some gentlemen he certainly had said, that he could not go to the extent of the reform bill, but that was before he had thoroughly examined it. Having since been present in the House of Commons, having heard it sifted in all its bearings, he arrived at the conviction that no honest man ought to refuse his assent to it.17

He voted for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831.

Calley divided in favour of the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and going into committee on it, 20 Jan. 1832. He voted in minorities for Hobhouse’s vestry bill, 23 Jan., and against the malt drawback bill, 29 Feb., but with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. He again divided regularly for the reform bill’s details, and voted for its third reading, 22 Mar. His wife, who may have separated from him because of mistreatment, died at Bath, 10 Apr.18 The following month a local paper recorded that it was

authorized to state that Mr. Calley ... was prevented, from a severe domestic affliction, from attending in his place to support Lord Ebrington’s motion on reform [for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the bill unimpaired, 10 May], which he otherwise would have done, and that he still remains a firm supporter of the great measure.19

He was listed among the ‘reformers absent’ on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July. At the general election in December 1832 he was re-elected as a Liberal for Cricklade with Gordon, this time after a threatened contest with an anti-reformer, Lord Porchester*, whose wife described Calley to her mother as ‘a very respectable drunkard’.20 Having left the House at the dissolution two years later, he died of a ‘nervous fever’ at Cannstadt, Württemberg, 17 Sept., and was buried at Chisledon, near Swindon, 18 Oct. 1836.21 He left his entire estate to his only surviving son John James (1810-54), a hard-drinking army officer, who ended his days a lunatic.22

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Not 31 Aug. 1780, as given in HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 361.
  • 2. Wilts. RO, Calley mss 1178/475, 476; Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxxi (1900), 194-5; J. Badeni, Past People in Wilts. and Glos. pp. x, 1-15.
  • 3. VCH Wilts. iv. 381; Devizes Gazette, 31 July 1828.
  • 4. R. Moody, Mr. Benett of Wiltshire, 57, 70, 74, 83; Wilts. Pollbook (1819), 66.
  • 5. Devizes Gazette, 18 Jan. 1821.
  • 6. The Times, 8 Aug. 1821; Wilts. RO, Mullings mss 177/27.
  • 7. Devizes Gazette, 1 Apr. 1824, 28 July 1825; Wroughton Hist. iv (1988), 65.
  • 8. Calley mss 1178/302, 303; Badeni, 15-19.
  • 9. F.H. Goldney, Hist. Freemasonry in Wilts. 47.
  • 10. Glos. RO, Sotheron Estcourt mss D1571 X114, Long to Bucknall Estcourt [?11 Feb. 1829].
  • 11. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 2 Aug. 1830.
  • 12. Mullings mss 374/680; Badeni, 19-20.
  • 13. Wilts. N and Q, ii. 94; Salisbury Jnl. 6 Dec. 1830.
  • 14. Wilts. RO, Keary mss 415/420.
  • 15. Wilts. RO, Radnor mss 490/1375, Boucher to Radnor, 13 May 1831.
  • 16. The Times, 9, 27 May; Salisbury Jnl. 16 May; Devizes Gazette, 19 May 1831.
  • 17. Devizes Gazette, 6 Oct. 1831.
  • 18. Gent. Mag. (1832), i. 380; Badeni, 20.
  • 19. Devizes Gazette, 17 May 1832.
  • 20. Ibid. 19 July, 20 Dec. 1832; Hants RO, Carnarvon mss 75M91/M3.
  • 21. Calley mss 1178/305, 478; Gent. Mag. (1836), ii. 669; (1837), i. 205.
  • 22. Gent. Mag. (1854), i. 332; Badeni, 20, 22-23.