HOLDSWORTH, Arthur Howe (1780-1860), of Mount Galpin, Dartmouth and Widdicombe, Devon

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



1802 - 24 Dec. 1819
26 Jan. 1829 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 26 Nov. 1780, 1st s. of Arthur Holdsworth† of Widdicombe and Elizabeth, da. of Robert Holdsworth, merchant, of Dartmouth. educ. Eton 1796. m. (1) 8 Feb. 1803, Elizabeth Were (d. 1804), da. of Richard Hall Clarke of Bridwell, 1da.; (2) 16 July 1807, Catherine Henrietta, da. of John Eastabrook of Okehampton, 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 1787.1 d. 14 May 1860.2

Offices Held

2nd lt. Dartmouth vols. 1798; lt.-col. Coldridge vols. 1803, Dart and Erne yeomanry 1813.

Gov. Dartmouth Castle 1807-d; mayor, Dartmouth 1821-2, 1824-5, recorder 1832.


Holdsworth, head of the family which dominated Dartmouth life for over a century before the Great Reform Act, was a man of several parts: politician, pamphleteer, inventor, artist, governor of Dartmouth Castle and indefatigable exploiter of the spoils system on behalf of his relatives.3 After vacating his Dartmouth seat in December 1819, supposedly to attend more closely to ‘business’, he remained the leading figure in the borough’s municipal and electoral affairs. He moved the address of congratulation and condolence to George IV at a town meeting chaired by his kinsman Henry Joseph Holdsworth, 28 Feb. 1820.4 At a meeting on 27 Dec. 1820 he proposed a loyal address to the king and drew a parallel between ‘the popular party of the present day’ and the Independents of 1648, warning that ‘unless something is effectually done to arrest in its progress that tide of impiety and sedition, that is flowing through the country and finding its way into the most remote branches of society, England must soon be lost’. He had his speech published and asked the printer to distribute copies ‘in all parts of this and the adjoining counties ... any of the cities, watering places and libraries where you know your men, and particularly to Dock and Plymouth’.5 Three months later, at a Devon county meeting, he moved a petition against Catholic claims, of which he was an unyielding opponent, declaring that ‘he could not conceive that Roman Catholics were the most fit to legislate and advise in a Protestant establishment’.6 In the spring of 1826 he published a Letter to the Members for Devon, in which he defended the landed interest against charges of monopoly and called for the corn law question to be settled, observing that ‘keeping it alive ... tends only to paralyse the exertions of the farmer from a fear of the uncertain state of future markets, and to give the manufacturing labourer a mischievous weapon with which to amuse himself when it suits the purpose of his employer to discharge his men and leave them to the parish for their support’. He attended the Devon meeting to petition against Catholic emancipation, 16 Jan. 1829, when he attacked Lord Ebrington, Whig Member for Tavistock, for flirting with the Catholic Association. After a particularly tedious historical review of the issue, he asserted that ‘it was to the Bible that they were indebted for their liberties ... Did not the priests, who were in obedience to the pope ... endeavour to suppress that sacred book by every means in their power?’7 Ten days later he returned himself for Dartmouth on a vacancy created by the death of one of the sitting Members. He promised continued zeal in the promotion of local interests and remarked that the ‘failure’ of some of his past endeavours had been ‘occasioned in great measure by the violent dispositions of some men, who are ever found ready to maintain or support opposition’.8

He took his seat on 19 Feb. 1829. That month Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, listed him as being ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation, and he proved to be one of its diehard opponents. On the presentation of the hostile Devon petition, 24 Feb., he said the meeting had been ‘as well conducted and as orderly as could be expected from an assembly of 16,000 persons’. He presented and endorsed various hostile petitions and divided against emancipation, 6, 18, 23, 27, 30 Mar. He insisted that ‘those who are anxious for the church and state remaining as they are should be allowed the opportunity of expressing their opinions’, 9 Mar., but was persuaded to drop his attempt to alter the form of the proposed oath so that Members would have to swear to resist the pope’s temporal authority. Peel, who pointed out the dangers of thereby admitting its existence, also dismissed his worries over potential problems arising from the appointment of chaplains to Catholic Speakers and naval captains, 24 Mar. 1829. It is not clear whether it was he or Thomas Houldsworth, Member for Pontefract, who defended county magistrates against Hume’s attack and had something to say on the county bridges bill, 25 Mar. 1829. He complained that Portman’s friendly societies bill would ‘take the jurisdiction now possessed by them out of the hands of all the cities and boroughs in the country’, 15 May. He presented a Dartmouth petition for repeal of the coastwise coal duties, 22 May. He or Houldsworth criticized a detail of the justice of the peace bill, 27 May, and argued against a fixed duty on corn imports, 1 June 1829. The following month he applied to government for the crown living of Stokenham, made vacant by the death of his brother Charles (and which his brother Robert, vicar of Brixham, did not want), for his nephew Henry Taylor, son of the recorder of Dartmouth. Wellington reluctantly complied, though he moaned to Planta that he had had someone else in mind and that it was ‘too much that I should be obliged to give my own patronage for the purpose of government and that I can get nothing even to set that free’.9 In October 1829 the Ultra leader Sir Richard Vyvyan* listed Holdsworth among the ‘Tories strongly opposed to the present government’. However, he is not known to have cast any hostile votes in the 1830 session. He was appointed to the select committee on the London coal trade, 11 Mar., after expressing the hope that a national inquiry would follow. He presented a constituency petition for repeal of the coastwise duties, 16 Mar., and secured a return of information, 30 Mar. Opposing inquiry into the state of the nation as futile and deceitful, 19 Mar. 1830, he argued, on the strength of his recent visit to the industrial areas of West Yorkshire, that ‘the distress lies in the middle class ... not in the lowest of all’. He thought a general investigation of the banking system might be beneficial, as ‘the present depression mainly depends on the want of confidence and credit which exists among small traders and persons engaged in agriculture’. He was returned again for Dartmouth at the general election that summer, defying an attempt by his local rival John Henry Seale† to poll the inhabitant ratepayers.10

Ministers listed Holdsworth among their ‘friends’, and he voted with them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. Three days later he successfully objected to the reception, while inquiry into Seale’s election petition was pending, of a Dartmouth ratepayers’ petition claiming the right to vote and advocating parliamentary reform. The election committee confirmed him in his seat, 30 Nov. He presented a Brixham petition for repeal of the coastwise coal duties, 23 Nov., and was given a week’s leave on account of the disturbed state of his neighbourhood, 6 Dec. 1830. He voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he was returned unopposed for Dartmouth, though his declaration of continued opposition to reform reportedly earned the ‘disapprobation’ of many of his audience.11 He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and for Gordon’s adjournment motion, 12 July 1831. He was in the opposition minorities for use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He complained that the bill would ‘bestow a preponderating influence upon the towns over the rural electors’, 17 Aug. Although he was granted three weeks’ leave on account of family bereavement, 15 Sept., he was present to vote against the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. He voted to censure the Irish government for interference in the Dublin election, 23 Aug., and for inquiry into the state of West Indian sugar producers, 12 Sept. He was absent from the division of 17 Dec. 1831 on the second reading of the revised reform bill, by which Dartmouth, hitherto unmolested, was condemned to lose one Member. He joined in calls for confirmation of its assignment to schedule B to be postponed, 23 Feb. 1832, claiming that the recent disappearance of a local tax collector had caused a large defalcation in its return of assessed taxes, which would otherwise have been sufficient to warrant its retention of both seats. When Lord John Russell, who disputed this, suggested that Dartmouth’s commerce was in decline, Holdsworth replied that while the Newfoundland traffic had dwindled, the coastal trade was buoyant and increasing. He made further unavailing protests against the borough’s loss of a seat, 2, 14 Mar. He voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar. His only other known vote was against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832.

Holdsworth did not stand for Dartmouth at the 1832 general election, when the extended franchise made a gift of the borough to Seale.12 As he explained to Peel, when encouraged to stand two years later by Conservative party managers:

The expenses which I incurred when I before represented the place, added to the treatment which I personally received from the late government had driven me to give up all idea, for the present, of attempting to recover it ... Justice to my family required that I abstained from entering into a contest ... and I felt confirmed in the propriety of this decision from a consciousness that if the contest terminated successfully I had not the means of supporting the situation as I ought to do.

Yet he professed willingness to try to recover the seat if Peel would give him ‘any situation, however laborious, which would sanction an open avowal of connection with the government and ... enable me to maintain my post as I ought to do’. Peel had nothing for him, and he conceded Dartmouth to Seale at the 1835 general election.13 Shortly before this, he had solicited from Peel a commissionership of tithes under planned legislation, explaining that ‘I feel it of real importance to my family that whilst the energies of my mind and body continue, I should if possible fill some public situation which may keep up my connection with the world’; he was again unsuccessful.14 He encountered frustration in other respects, including his failure in 1841 to have Dartmouth rather than the admiralty’s choice of Falmouth established as the packet station for the new West Indian mail service.15 In 1840 he published Campaign of the Indus, an edition of letters to him from his son Thomas, a lieutenant in the 2nd Foot serving in Bombay, and three years later he sought to explain to a doubtless fascinated public the Advantages which may be derived from working low-pressure marine engines by expansion. Among his several inventions was a system of water-bulkheads for preventing and combating fire in ships, for which he pursued a claim for compensation against the admiralty.16 He died in May 1860 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Arthur Bastard Eastabrook Holdsworth (1808-75), formerly a captain of dragoon guards.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Terry Jenkins / David R. Fisher


  • 1. PROB 11/1158/451.
  • 2. According to the probate reg. Gent. Mag. (1860), i. 646 says the 13th.
  • 3. P. Russell, Dartmouth, 120, 145, 150-2.
  • 4. Alfred, 7 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. A.H. Holdsworth, Speech at Dartmouth (Exeter, 1821); Wilts. RO, Simpson mss 130/75, Holdsworth to Flindell, 11, 17 Jan. 1821.
  • 6. Alfred, 20 Mar. 1821.
  • 7. Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 17 Jan. 1829.
  • 8. Ibid. 31 Jan. 1829.
  • 9. Wellington mss WP1/1031/10; 1042/63; 1048/2.
  • 10. Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 31 July 1830.
  • 11. R. Devonport Telegraph, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 12. Ibid. 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 13. Add. 40405, ff. 131, 134; 40406, f. 71.
  • 14. Add. 40418, f. 155.
  • 15. Add. 40490, ff. 316-23; Holdsworth, Dartmouth: the advantages of its harbour (1841).
  • 16. Russell, 152.