WHITMORE, William Wolryche (1787-1858), of Dudmaston Hall, Quatt, Salop.

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



1820 - 1832
1832 - 1834

Family and Education

bap. 16 Sept. 1787,1 1st s. of William Whitmore of Dudmaston and 1st w. Frances Barbara, da. of John Lyster of White Whitmore. educ. Shrewsbury 1799. m. 29 Jan. 1810, Hon. Lucy Elizabeth Georgiana Bridgman, da. of Orlando, 1st earl of Bradford, s.p. suc. fa. 1816. d. 11 Aug. 1858.

Offices Held

Ensign 1 Ft. Gds. 1804; lt.-col. 3 Salop militia 1808-15.

Sheriff, Salop 1838-9.


Whitmore’s father, a kinsman of the Whitmores of Apley, had succeeded to the Wolryche estate of Dudmaston on the death of Thomas Weld in 1774. The Wolryche baronetcy had been extinct since 1723, and though not required to take that name, he gave it to Whitmore as a baptismal one.2 His mother died in 1792, and he spent his childhood in Shropshire with his nine sisters and a stepbrother and three stepsisters from his father’s second marriage. He was bought a commission in the Grenadier Guards on leaving Shrewsbury, but promotion eluded him and, prompted by concern at his prolonged absence on active service in Sicily, his relations secured him a domestic appointment as second in command of his future father-in-law the 1st earl of Bradford’s militia regiment, with which he served at Dover, Plymouth and in Ireland.3 His wife Lucy (d. 17 Mar. 1840) had a jointure of £10,000 and, under a family settlement of 1 May 1809, land and valuable mineral rights in Leebotswood, Picklescote, Smethcote, and Woolstanson were transferred to Whitmore.4 As his succession to Dudmaston, worth £3,000 a year, was assured, his father left him ‘my love, and the late Colonel Weld’s decorated Spanish gun’ and made his sisters and half-brother John Henry (1797-1853), upon whom Chastleton, the Oxfordshire estate of their kinsman John Jones was settled (he assumed the name Jones after Whitmore, 14 Mar. 1829), the main beneficiaries of his will, which was proved under £30,000, 16 Jan. 1817. Afterwards, Whitmore authorized extensive alterations at Dudmaston and negotiated land sales and exchanges to consolidate his Shropshire holdings.5

He consistently ‘refused to identify himself with the prescribed policy of any particular party’, but his early political views were close to those of his wife’s Whig cousin Lord John Russell*, with whom he travelled in Italy in 1814, and far removed from the anti-Catholic Toryism of Bradford and his cousin Thomas Whitmore of Apley, Member for Bridgnorth.6 The latter nevertheless tacitly endorsed his candidature for the vacant second seat there in 1820, when, professing ‘complete independence’, he saw off his challengers, the Tory Ralph Benson* and the anti-corporation candidate Edmund Lechmere Charlton† of Ludford.7 Whitmore’s early votes and minor speeches were regularly misattributed to Thomas Whitmore, unlike whom he generally divided with opposition and for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He almost certainly voted against the attendant Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825 (a vote attributed to Thomas). He initially held aloof from the controversy surrounding Queen Caroline’s case and joined his relations in supporting the contentious loyal address to the king adopted at the Shropshire meeting, 10 Jan. 1821,8 but he nevertheless supported the parliamentary campaign on the queen’s behalf. In a powerful and well-received maiden speech for the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb., delivered ‘not as a party man’ but ‘from conviction’, he maintained that ‘nothing but danger to the succession of the crown, or injury to the moral character of the country could have justified’ the Milan commission or green bag inquiry, and that the ‘whole conduct of ministers had tended to separate the aristocracy from the body of the people’. He deplored the tendency to interpret loyal addresses, like the one he had signed, as endorsements of government policy and warned that the current economic crisis caused by £850,000 of unredeemed public debt and artificially high wartime prices could only be resolved if all classes co-operated to rectify it.9 He did not vote on the opposition motions on the revenue, 6 Mar., the agricultural horse tax, 5 Mar., the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., and the conduct of foreign policy; but he divided with the radical Hume for the production of detailed ordnance estimates, 16 Feb., and in small minorities for reductions in military and admiralty spending, 14 Mar.-28 May. He also voted to restore 1797 salary levels, 30 Mar., and for inquiry into the currency, 9 Apr. When a committee on agricultural distress petitions was appointed, 7 Mar., he called for ‘economy in all departments of state’ and, citing wartime increases in rents and tithes, advocated the abrogation of all duties which restricted commerce ‘except perhaps that on corn, where perhaps some protection was necessary for the English grower’. He was excluded from that committee, but drafted and presented the report from that on receivers general of taxes, 8 June.10 Seconding Russell’s reform resolutions in a speech which Henry Bankes* considered ‘of better taste than that which he followed’, 9 May, he

assured the House that he was an enemy to radical reform, whether in the shape of annual parliaments and universal suffrage, or in the milder form of it which proposed to give the right of voting to inhabitant householders, because it appeared to him to aim at the total overthrow of the constitution, and would make the House purely and entirely democratical.11

He praised Russell’s plan, ‘easy in its execution and safe in its future consequences’, as a means of ending bribery and corruption and of enfranchising large towns.12 He again divided for reform, 25 Apr 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 26 Feb. 1824, 13, 27 Apr. 1826. He voted to abolish the death penalty for forgery, 23 May, 4 June 1821, and for criminal law reform, 4 June 1822.

Disturbed by the opposition’s response to the king’s speech, 5 Feb. 1822, Whitmore requested an immediate interview with Huskisson, the minister who had drafted the 1821 agriculture committee’s report

with a view to consider what steps would be most desirable to take in order to combat the doctrines propounded to the House last night by Mr. Brougham, doctrines not less, as you counselled, founded in error ... [and] pregnant with danger to the best interests of the country if generally adopted and acted upon. Subversive as I consider them of public credit, although I have not the honour of your acquaintance, I will not attempt to apologize for this intrusion, convinced that if the general advancement of the cause of truth and the welfare of the country do not induce you to excuse it, I have no other motive to urge. I have not the least wish to pry into the measures which may be in the contemplation of His Majesty’s ministers in the present arduous crisis.13

Despite his misgivings, he divided for Brougham’s general resolution for retrenchment and tax reductions, 11 Feb., but he opposed Lord Althorp’s itemized proposals for more extensive relief than that announced by government in a speech which Hudson Gurney* summarized as ‘taking a more encouraging view of agriculture, and supporting the sinking fund, ending, however, with an unhappy attempt at eloquence’, 21 Feb.14 Drawing on Malthus’s works and population and price data, he warned of ‘the danger of encouraging farmers to grow ... sufficient ... corn for the whole supply of the country’ and of attributing distress solely to taxation, and suggested rent reductions as a remedial measure.15 He was loudly cheered when he stated that ‘the present distresses arose from a reaction of that extraordinary stimulus which agriculture had received in the last war’, of which every landed gentlemen in the House had experience.16 He repeated his views, which were discussed in his absence by the political economist David Ricardo* and others at the 25 Mar. Shropshire meeting and at branch meetings of the General Agriculture Society in July, in A Letter on the Present State and Future Prospects of Agriculture Addressed to the Agriculturists of Shropshire.17 His much postponed bill to amend the laws on the land and assessed taxes received royal assent, 29 June 1822.18

He divided for the production of detailed estimates, 27 Feb., reductions in the salt duties, 28 Feb., admiralty lordships, 1 Mar., and the victualling office grant, 18 Mar., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May 1822. Before voting to finance naval and military pensions from the sinking fund, 3 May, he explained that

he had voted for preserving the sinking fund at the start of the session because a great financial project was then before the country, the payment of the five per cents, but now that object had been so easily effected it became the duty of the House to consider the best and speediest means of affording relief to the country ... [and] he voted for the amendment on the faith that whatever saving was made should go to the reduction of the national debt.19

He divided for a similar proposal, 3 June. He told Denis Le Marchant† that the proceedings of the agriculture committee, to which he was appointed, 18 Feb., were ‘conducted with much warmth and bad temper’. He also recalled how his surprise when its chairman, Lord Londonderry, ‘manfully stood up for the liberal principles enunciated by Mr. Huskisson, at the risk of offending some of his most zealous supporters’, turned to dismay when the report was delayed and protectionist remedies were advocated.20 In the House, he reiterated his belief that the problem was one of overproduction and his hostility to the 1815 corn law, complained that the sliding scale which Londonderry proposed in the corn importation bill was too high and voted in the minority of 25 for Ricardo’s proposal for a 20s. fixed duty on wheat, 9 May.21 Londonderry opposed his amendment lowering the pivot price from 70s. to 64s., which was defeated by 87-42, 3 June.22 He voted to permit the export as flour of bonded corn admitted for grinding, 10 June. William Wilberforce*, who met him in Shropshire in November 1822, commented:

Our Whitmore loses nothing from a closer view, on the contrary, new features appear which are not often associated with the qualities for which at first sight he seems most distinguished. A kindness and generosity unassuming and great, and a modesty and humility truly delightful to witness in a man whose understanding is certainly good, and who has studied more than most of his own circle of relatives. Poor Lady Lucy was seriously indisposed, but the little we did see of her was quite enough to make us admire and love her, but ... I fear she is not long for this world, if I may use a common but significant expression.23

Whitmore welcomed Huskisson’s transfer to the board of trade and the appointment of Robinson as chancellor of the exchequer in January 1823. As announced, 5 Feb., and supported by a petition from Keating, 21 Feb.,24 he requested leave to introduce a bill to effect a gradual reduction to 60s. in the corn pivot price, which was refused (by 78-25), 26 Feb. His speech was peppered with statistics and citations from Cropper’s recent publication and criticized from both sides of the House. He argued in favour of treating the corn and currency questions separately and highlighted flaws in the way in which corn was taxed, but conceded that free trade in corn remained impractical because of the ‘peculiar burdens’ which the land tax, tithes and poor rates placed on agriculture.25 He reaffirmed his support for corn law revision when the Southampton distress petition was presented, 12 May.26 Advocating equalization of the tariffs on East and West Indian sugars, he presented petitions from East Indian traders, 3 Mar., and Calcutta merchants disadvantaged by the current system, 22 May, but failed that day to have the matter referred to an investigative committee, by 161-34. He had estimated that the ‘species of monopoly’ enjoyed by the West Indian trade cost the country £2,000,000 annually and he praised the United Kingdom’s achievement in importing raw cotton from India and selling back manufactured cloth at lower prices than native Indian producers.27 He opposed sweeping cuts in taxation, 3, 18 Mar., and deliberately confirmed his support for retaining the sinking fund before voting to amend the national debt reduction bill, 17 Mar.28 He voted in a minority of six for amending the merchant vessels apprenticeship bill, 24 Mar., divided against the military and naval pensions bill, 14 Apr., and for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., the Newfoundland fisheries, 14 May, and the taxes on beer and malt, 28 May. Warning that preparations for partitioning Portugal were afoot, he poured scorn on ministers’ claim to be neutral arbitrators in the negotiations with Spain, 29 Apr., and cast a critical vote on the lord advocate’s handling of the Borthwick case, 3 June 1823.

Whitmore thought Robinson had already done as much as was currently practicable to reduce taxation, and divided with administration against repealing the window tax, 2 Mar. 1824, having previously explained that corn law reform remained his priority and that he approved of the government’s policy of keeping a surplus of income over expenditure and reducing tariffs.29 He supported the proposed reduction in the silk duties, 8 Mar., and when a hostile petition was received from the London trade, 18 Mar., he countered that Manchester’s silk manufacturers supported the measure. His arguments against prohibiting wool exports were well received, 21 May.30 Recommending him to lord chancellor Eldon as a possible commissioner to inquire into chancery administration, 22 Mar., the home secretary Peel described him as ‘a clever and independent and gentlemanly man ... who might be serviceable as far as public impression is concerned’, but nothing came of it.31 He voted against the Welsh judicature bill, 11 Mar., and in favour of repealing the usury laws, 8 Apr. (and 19 June 1828.) He presented Bridgnorth’s petitions against the coal duties, 8 Apr., and for repeal of the leather duties, 12 May.32 On 3 May he was elected to the Political Economy Club, of which he remained a lifelong Member, nominated by Zachary Macaulay and Thomas Tooke.33 When the details of the budget were announced, 7 May, Whitmore was dismayed by the decision to restore the tariff on wool exports to finance compensation payments for silk merchants, but welcomed that to retain the sinking fund.34 Citing the case of the infamous South Sea Bubble, and Adam Smith’s finding that each of the 55 joint-stock companies incorporated in Europe since 1680 had failed, he opposed the establishment of a West India Company, which he perceived as a monopolistic threat to ‘the general interest of the sugar trade’, 10 May. He had deferred his motion for inquiry into the drawback duties on sugar, 8, 19 Mar., lest the issue became too closely embroiled with the slavery question and the case of the Demerara Methodist missionary John Smith, and it was rejected without a division, 13 May.35 He presented a petition from Bridgnorth, 1 June, and voted in condemnation of Smith’s indictment, 11 June.36 When Liverpool petitioned for changes in the corn laws, 24 May 1824, he promised to raise the whole grain issue, ‘difficult as it was’, next session, ‘if no one else will’.37

Whitmore voted to hear the Catholic Association at the bar of the House, 18 Feb., and against the bill outlawing it, 25 Feb. 1825. Speaking on the financial state of the country, 28 Feb. (a speech which The Times erroneously attributed to Thomas Whitmore), he called for equalization of the sugar duties, stressed the commercial potential of the East Indies and, taking the ‘monopoly’ of port wine as his example, stated that he hoped to see the tariffs on wine equalized rather than lowered uniformly as proposed. Predictably, he claimed that the corn laws were ‘the heaviest burden’ under which people laboured, and promised to propose their reform should ministers fail to do so. He spoke similarly, 11 Mar., 25 Apr., adding that he had desisted only to make way for the Catholic relief bill.38 He knew of the jibes against him in the press as a correspondent of Mack and Watson, but he was apparently unaware when he introduced his proposals for corn law reform, 28 Apr., that Huskisson, who opposed them, had already persuaded the cabinet to act.39 His call for revision was preceded by supportive petitions and couched in a speech, which he later had printed, that demonstrated statistically that the law jeopardized reserve corn supplies and that farmers no longer needed protection from foreign competition. Gooch, speaking for the protectionists, denied this and Huskisson cautioned against ‘letting the corn laws loose at present and so exciting speculation’. Although defeated, by 187-74, Whitmore promised to raise the issue ‘annually until it was settled satisfactorily’. He claimed that ministers overestimated the potential of Canadian corn imports, called for lower duties under their warehoused corn bill, 13 May, 9 June, and voiced support for Edmond Wodehouse’s alternative proposals, 2 June.40 He was for amending the distillery bill, 13 June. Urging the appointment of an independent stipendiary magistracy, he warned of the additional power over their employees which employers who were magistrates in manufacturing districts would derive under the combination bill, and voted for abortive amendments relating to intimidation and trial by jury, 27 June. His announcement, two days later, that he would introduce similar proposals as resolutions yielded a late concession granting workers the right of appeal, 30 June.41 He divided against the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 27 May-10 June, and for inquiry into chancery arrears, 7 June 1825.

The omission of the corn laws from the 1826 king’s speech prompted Whitmore to state that despite his ‘confidence in the sincerity and good intentions of government’, he perceived influences ‘operating to postpone and avoid its discussion’ which he promised to counter, 3 Feb.42 He refused to be deterred by ministers and a hostile press and, backed by pro-repeal petitions, he introduced his motion, 18 Apr.43 He supported his case for ‘liberalisation’ with statistics from parliamentary returns and citations from William Jacob’s† Report on the Trade in Corn and on the Agriculture of the North of Europe, which government had sponsored; but Huskisson warned that discussion ‘could only terminate in inconvenience and embarrassment’, and the motion was rejected by 250-81.44 He repeatedly endorsed the government’s corn importation bill,45 but, smarting from his defeat and misrepresentations of his views, on 5 May he reminded the House that

ministers had thrown in his teeth, that he had adopted a bad course by agitating the question, after they had decided against any alteration of the law during the present session; but the propositions now before the House bore ample testimony that the course which he had pursued was salutary and proper.46

He welcomed the promissory notes bill and, confining his comments to its committee stage, he recommended extending its provisions to £5 notes, pointed to the inflation generated by paper and argued for ‘enlargement of the metallic base’, 20 Feb. He had conceded the close connection between currency and corn law reform, but considered Ricardo’s scheme for a corn-based bank impractical and suggested issuing mint notes against bullion. Insisting that he was acting ‘disinterestedly’, he again defended government policy, 28 May, when, setting aside his preference for legislating on the currency or raising funds directly through the Bank, he expressed qualified support for their scheme to finance public works by exchequer bills and criticized Attwood’s counter-proposals as tending to national bankruptcy.47 He presented anti-slavery petitions from Colne, 27 Feb., Oswestry, 28 Feb., and Warrington, 20 May, voted to condemn the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and was added to the select committee on the slave trade at Mauritius, 12 May 1826.48 He overcame a late challenge from the ‘No Popery’ recorder of Bristol, Ebenezer Ludlow, to come in for Bridgnorth at the general election in June, after a costly five-day poll that demonstrated his vulnerability. When challenged on the hustings, he refused to modify his views on corn and Catholics.49 At Michaelmas he strengthened the borough’s ‘manufacturing’ vote by partisan burgess creations and published a pamphlet on the corn laws as A Letter to the Electors of Bridgnorth.50 The Times considered it

a clear and able production, giving not merely the substance of recognized arguments against the continuance of these pernicious corn laws, but adding many sound and forcible reflections on the part of the author, and administering, in our judgement, a valuable accession of good sense and knowledge to the common stock of intelligence on a subject which will one day, we trust, be decided on grounds not wholly suggested by intemperance or gratuitous alarm with respect to their influence on the landlords of England.51

Corn remained Whitmore’s preoccupation, and he revised his pamphlet in an attempt to answer his critics.52 He condoned the government’s decision to authorize imports of oats, oatmeal, rye, peas and beans during the recess by order in council; and, as a prelude to introducing his own proposals, he cited a list of ‘recent infractions of the corn laws’ to demonstrate their obsolescence, for which he was criticized by the late Londonderry’s brother-in-law Thomas Wood, 24 Nov. 1826.53 However, he welcomed comments made by Lord Milton as the presenter of Yorkshire petitions for corn law reform, 21 Feb. 1827. It is unclear which Whitmore presented Bridgnorth’s petition for protection on the 27th.54 Whitmore expressed ‘qualified approval’ of Canning’s corn resolutions and was prevented from detailing his objections to them by ‘loud and general coughing’, 1 Mar. The ‘House was so extremely impatient they would scarcely hear anybody’ when he tried (and failed by 335-50) to secure a reduction from 60s. to 50s. in the corn pivot price, 9 Mar., and his warnings that ‘capital would drain abroad’ at the higher threshold and that greater price fluctuations would prove detrimental to agriculture were ignored. Lord Howick informed his father Lord Grey, 12 Mar, that Whitmore’s was a ‘good speech except his attack upon the landed interest, which was so gross that I could not vote with him without objecting to it’. Grey replied, 14 Mar., ‘if Whitmore’s plan had been carried, I am persuaded it would have ruined the country’.55 His attempts to speak before voting against increasing the protection for barley, 12 Mar., were again opposed from both sides of the House and rendered inaudible by coughing.56 He urged ministers to proceed with their original resolutions in view of the uncertainty generated by Liverpool’s stroke, 19 Mar., and opposed Hume’s amendment for the staggered introduction of a fixed 10s. duty, 27 Mar.57 He voted to postpone the division on supply pending the appointment of a new administration, 30 Mar. He struggled to criticize Canning’s corn bill, and declared that ‘as he had no alternative except between it and the law of 1822, he should support the second reading’, 2 Apr. The following day he was granted a fortnight’s leave ‘because of illness in his family’. He divided against the duke of Clarence grant, 2 Mar., and for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., inquiry into the allegations against Leicester corporation, 15 Mar., and the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. During Canning’s ministry Whitmore introduced but withdrew his motion for inquiry into the India trade, 15 May, on the understanding that the president of the India board Charles Williams Wynn had the matter in hand.58 He spoke of the harmful effects of the 1815 corn law, 15, 26 May. He protested at the Lords’ rejection of Canning’s measure, 18 June, and as Members scrambled from their seats to avoid hearing him repeat his marginal views, he expressed qualified support ‘as a matter of expediency’ for the premier’s makeshift amendments to Western’s proposals.59 He objected to government spending on the national gallery, 11 May, and the Canadian waterways, 14 May, 12 June,60 and condemned their customs bill as a retrograde measure ‘involving an essential departure from the liberal principles laid down early in the session’ by Huskisson, 19 June.61 In November 1827 Tierney, master of the mint in the Goderich ministry, included Whitmore in his list of possible members of the finance committee, but he was not appointed to it. Nothing came of his approaches to Goderich and his successor as premier the duke Wellington on behalf of his brother-in-law, the mathematician Charles Babbage, who sought government sponsorship for his calculating machine.62

Whitmore steered his salmon fisheries bill, which had strong Shropshire support, successfully through its first and second readings, 14, 19 Feb., and presented Bridgnorth’s favourable petition, 12 Mar., but the ministry’s chief commissioner of woods and forests Lord Lowther opposed the measure and killed it by adjournment (32-23), 20 Mar. 1828.63 He presented petitions, 18 June 1827, 25 Feb. 1828, and voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., which he was glad to see carried.64 Perceiving its advantages and difficulties, he prevaricated over whether to support the assisted emigration of the poor, 4 Mar., but he backed Slaney’s poor rates bill and, endorsing his claim that poverty was locally rather than universally severe, insisted that it was impossible to formulate legislation to prevent pressure being placed on the means of subsistence, 17 Apr. On East Retford, he intervened briefly when the testimony of bribed voters was considered, 4 Mar., and divided against sluicing the franchise there, 21 Mar. He thought that the disfranchisement of Penryn would fail to conciliate the anti-reformers unless polling in Manchester, which hoped to receive its seats, was limited to ‘two or three days at most’, 24 Mar., and suggested making short polls obligatory under the cities and boroughs poll bill, 6 May 1828. The delay to the ministry’s corn bill irritated him, 14, 28 Mar., and he took umbrage at its mover, the president of the board of trade Charles Grant’s assessment of Canning’s policy, criticized his decision to cluster the additional duties proposed around the pivot price as ‘unwise’ and ‘complicated’ and added, 31 Mar.:

If corn be excluded except at high prices, I can see no difference between protection which results from duties and that which results from law. If this measure be, as it has been stated to be, a compromise between conflicting opinions, it is a compromise between conflicting opinions in the cabinet, not of conflicting opinions in the country.

Later that day, he announced that he would move for a fixed 10s. duty when prices ranged from 55s.-65s. a quarter, increasing as they fell below and decreasing as they rose above those levels. Citing ‘Jacob’s last excellent report’, he criticized Benett’s counter-resolutions ‘framed upon the high restrictive system’ as harmful to the ‘interests of the country at large and of the agricultural class in particular’, and asserted that although he had then been ridiculed, the principles on which he had based his doctrine of home supply in 1823 remained correct, 24 Apr. He countered the protectionists’ arguments for a steeper tariff scale 28, 29 Apr., and, pointing to the need for cheap food in manufacturing areas, 9, 20 May, he persevered with his original amendment, which was rejected by 132-36, 20 May. He presented a Shropshire petition, 25 Apr., and voted for Catholic relief, 12 May. He criticized the government’s expenditure proposals, 19 May, and divided against them, 20 June, having voted for details of civil list pensions, 20 May. He was against giving the archbishop of Canterbury control over the appointment of his registrar, 16 June. Supporting the bill restricting the circulation of Irish and Scottish bank notes that day, he declared that it was

contrary to common sense to suppose that the Bank of England, or country banks, will, year after year keep a hoard of gold in their coffers when there is no demand for it, except in the event of a panic ... I am convinced we have surmounted the chief difficulties incident to a change in the currency, and that, at the present moment, there is in circulation and in the coffers of the bank, and of individuals an ample amount of gold to satisfy all the demands consequent upon the recall of the one pound notes. I therefore hope no consideration whatever will induce government to pause in the course it has commenced, or tamper with so important a matter as the currency.

He spoke, 6, 31 Mar., and presented petitions against colonial slavery, 9 June. Citing arguments previously used by Bishop Heber, he failed to carry his resolution for equalization of the sugar duties, 9 June. He refused to ‘rush in’ with a new motion, when the Calcutta merchants’ petition urged it, but he spoke at length on the indigo trade and the condition of the natives, on which he had been briefed by his brother-in-law, the Calcutta judge Sir Edward Ryan, 16 June.65 He ordered accounts of trade with the East Indies, China and Mauritius, and announced that he would seek inquiry early next session, 19 June 1828, but deferred doing so pending the passage of Catholic emancipation, for which he divided, 6, 30 Mar., voting also to permit Daniel O’Connell to sit without taking the oath of allegiance, 18 May 1829. Backed by petitions from the manufacturing districts, he urged inquiry into the India trade in a speech crammed with statistics from recent returns and accounts of the cotton, indigo, silk and sugar trades and tried to demonstrate the advantages of encouraging ‘secure settlers’, expanding the ‘stagnant’ China trade and legislating to end the East India Company’s monopoly, 14 May. He withdrew the motion, at ministers’ request, and published an extended version of his speech, which was strongly criticized in letters to the press.66 He presented a petition from Leith against renewing the Company’s charter, 19 May, and raised the issue again when opposing the radical Waithman and the protectionist Benett’s arguments for a return to a paper currency, 4 June. He praised William’s Wynn’s speech for the extension of jurors’ rights to Muslims and Hindoos, 5 June. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, for Lord Blandford’s reform resolutions, 2 June, and against additional expenditure on the marble arch, 25 May. He supported the sugar duties bill which Grant proposed from the opposition benches the same day. He addressed the Liverpool East India Association dinner chaired by James Cropper, 15 Sept., and at the bailiff’s dinner at Bridgnorth, 29 Sept. 1829, he promised to devote his ‘most strenuous endeavours’ to the East India question and expressed his conviction that ‘greater freedom in trade would act to revive the distressed state of the manufacturing trade and commerce’.67

Whitmore was one of 28 ‘opposition Members’ who voted against Knatchbull’s amendment to include reference to distress in the address, 4 Feb. 1830. He conceded, though few stayed to hear him, that he did so reluctantly as he believed distress to be general, and said that he could ‘not vote for the establishment of a depreciated currency’ or massive reductions in taxation.68 Peel’s announcement on the 9th of the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the East India Company’s affairs deprived Whitmore, who was named to it, of his intended mission and, doubting the impartiality of government, ‘or at least the cabinet’, he repeatedly complained that the committee’s judgement was distorted by overreliance on the testimony of Company officials. He called for the state of the law, the question of colonisation and the rights of half-castes to be added to the committee’s remit, brought up and endorsed mercantile petitions against renewing the Company’s charter and ordered returns and gave notice, preparatory to seeking inquiry into the China trade early in the next Parliament, 6 July. He presented a paper on the subject to the Political Economy Club, 1 Mar.69 He divided for Blandford’s reform proposals, 18 Feb., to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 5, 15 Mar., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He voted for tax reductions, 15 Feb., and divided with opposition on the estimates, 19, 22 Feb., 1, 9 Mar. Contributing to the debate on the state of the nation, 18 Mar., he refused to attribute the worsening distress to currency change in itself, and argued that cyclical factors, disruptions to supply markets and trade restrictions, including the East India Company’s monopoly, were largely to blame. He pointed to the buoyant markets in silk and cotton as indicators that the situation would improve, and cautioned against replacing gold with a bimetallic or silver standard. He voted to reduce the admiralty grant, 22 Mar., and against the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., and the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 29 Mar. He regarded the ordnance department as an unjustifiable monopoly, ‘a burden, not a saving’ to the country and, opposing its award, 2 Apr., he embarrassed ministers by citing irrefutable evidence of its commercial inefficiency, supplied to him by connections in the Birmingham manufacturing trade. He continued to divide steadily with the revived Whig opposition until July, including for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and to end capital punishment for forgery, 24 May. He protested at the continuing differentiation in the levies on East and West Indian sugars when a general reduction was announced, 30 June. Having decided that it posed no threat to free trade, he belatedly declared his support for the labourers’ wages bill ‘with all its flaws’, 3, 5 July, despite Bridgnorth’s opposition to the measure. Announcing his candidature there, 1 July, he appealed to his parliamentary record:

Economy in the public expenditure, a diminution as far as was practicable in the burden of taxation, and the advancement of the interests of trade and commerce have been the objects I have kept constantly in view, satisfied that I was thereby contributing what lay in my power to the prosperity of the agricultural and the augmentation of the wealth and power of the commercial part of the empire.70

With opposition certain, his political ally and business connection, the Stourbridge ironmaster James Foster*, encouraged manufacturers and East India Association members to rally publicly for Whitmore. His declared opponent Ludlow made way for the Tory Richard Arkwright*, who was supposedly backed by the East India Company but was soundly defeated.71 Whitmore shared election costs of £7,700 with his cousin, but on the hustings he insisted that they were ‘of the same name but not the same family’, stressed their political differences as proof of his independence and claimed that he had secured the Bridgnorth interests of Sir Ferdinand Richard Acton of Aldenham and Charles Hanbury Tracy*.72 He and Babbage visited Liverpool at Foster’s instigation, 13 Sept., and he used his speech at the Bridgnorth bailiff’s dinner, 29 Sept. 1830, to quash reports that he had been requisitioned to stand for the vacancy there occasioned by Huskisson’s death.73

Ministers of course listed Whitmore among their ‘foes’, and he divided against them on the proposed increases in the wheat duties, 12 Nov., and on the civil list when they were brought down, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented and endorsed anti-slavery petitions, 9, 12 Nov. 1830, 29 Mar. 1831, and deplored what he perceived as the revival of protection, 12, 16 Nov. 1830. When Grant, as president of the India board in Lord Grey’s ministry, announced the reappointment of the East India committee, 4 Feb. 1831, Whitmore was named to it and immediately urged government to legislate to improve the condition of the Indian people. He added that he would proceed with his proposals on the China trade, and sought further information, 4, 9 Feb., but his motion was twice deferred and overtaken by the dissolution. Airing his arguments for free trade and corn law reform, 15 Feb., he cited the achievements of the Arkwrights, Peels and Watts to disprove Waithman’s claim that machinery reduced the demand for labour. He welcomed Waithman’s support for corn law revision but, having previously heard him ‘dilate on the subject’, insisted that he had failed to grasp the difference between real and official values. He criticized the government’s plans to introduce a property tax and foster trade with Canada and disputed Irving’s theory that tax cuts had a damping effect on profits, rents, and ‘the means of the poor’, so exacerbating distress, 15 Feb. He also made it known that he would oppose the colonial under-secretary Lord Howick’s and any other emigration bill, 22 Feb. He endorsed Slaney’s speech attributing distress to poor law abuse and an oversupply of labour, 22 Feb., repeated his call for free trade when the excise duties were considered, 28 Feb., 11, 15 Mar., and opposed the truck system, 12 Apr. He voted for the government’s reform bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., having presented a favourable petition from Bridgnorth, 29 Mar.74 He stressed his support for reform at the general election in May, when he and Foster were returned unopposed for Bridgnorth, where Thomas Whitmore retired and Acton desisted.75 At the county election, Whitmore was almost alone among the Shropshire gentry in delivering a strong endorsement of and plumping for the defeated reformer, William Lloyd of Aston Hall.76 Afterwards he published a pamphlet dedicated to Lord Althorp: Britain Regenerated, or the National Debt shown capable of immediate redemption, with some Remarks on the Electioneering System. He was a steward at the Shrewsbury reform dinner, 1 June 1831, and was invited to stand for the new Kidderminster and Wolverhampton constituencies at the first post-reform election.77

Commercial issues remained Whitmore’s preoccupation in the 1831 Parliament, and he was appointed to the East India committees, 28 June 1831, 27 Jan. 1832, and to that on steam power, 21 July 1831. He is not known to have spoken on reform, but he shelved his inquiry motion on the China trade to make way for it, 28 June. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced bill, 6 July, and generally for its details. He probably cast wayward votes against disfranchising Saltash, which ministers no longer pressed, 26 July, and for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug.78 He divided for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. His views on the establishment (in November 1831) of a branch of the Birmingham Political Union at Bridgnorth are not known, but he later wrote to Babbage:

Speakers and cheerers at such meetings are ever loud and vehement and appear of course to be speaking the sense of the great body of the electors when perhaps they are stating those of a minor party. The more moderate rarely attend radical meetings and their voice would only be heard in the polling booth.79

He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831. Possibly heeding its likely impact on the reformed Bridgnorth electorate, he apparently voted for the amendment against enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, which ministers had conceded, 1 Feb. 1832. Otherwise, he divided steadily for its details, the third reading, 22 Mar., and the address requesting the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June 1832. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831, (but was absent from the division on the censure motion that day), and on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. 1832. His failure to do so on the Russian-Dutch loan in July may have been attributable to ‘a very sharp attack in my stomach’, which kept him out of London for most of that month.80 He voted for the immediate appointment of a select committee on colonial slavery, 24 May 1832.

He called again for an extension of the East India committee’s powers and antagonized the Company by repeating his charge that the committee relied too heavily on evidence from their officials, 28 June 1831, presented petitions against the renewal of their charter, 20 July, and propounded the merits of free trade, ending the Company’s monopoly and reforming the corn laws as means of fostering trade and alleviating distress, in correspondence and speeches within and without doors throughout the session.81 Unlike other reformers with constituencies affected by the depression in the glove trade, he opposed the appointment of an investigative committee, 31 Jan. 1832. He criticized the proposed expenditure on the Swan River colony, developed ‘only because a private individual wished to settle in part of Australia’, 17 Feb., and warned of local opposition to the friendly societies bill, 15 Mar. Dismayed and taken aback by the decision to appoint a committee on the renewal of the Bank’s ‘monopolistic’ charter too late in the session to permit a full review, he called for an interim measure and urged that the matter be held over to the next Parliament, 22 May. He similarly opposed the introduction of the government’s abortive proposals on corn, arguing that to ‘agitate’ the question without a decisive settlement ‘would only tend to throw the landed interests into a worse state of distress’, 1 June 1832.

Reviewing Whitmore’s parliamentary career that month, the Parliamentary Drawing praised him for sacrificing domestic comforts ‘for the tedious acquisition of knowledge upon such subjects as the Bank of England and the East India charters’, on which his ‘perseverance and usefulness ... have deservedly gained him the gratitude of his country ... [so] ranking him among the public men’. It commended the ‘plain, sensible language’ and ‘decision and fluency’ of his speeches, but criticized his failure to hide the fact that they were prepared, and his ‘habit of lifting his arms above his head à la Irving, which often gives a notion of solemnity not well suited to every day matters of business’.82 Discussing the possibility of contesting Wolverhampton in a letter to the ironmaster Joseph Baker, 16-19 May, when Grey’s threatened resignation and the king’s overture to Wellington prompted talk of a dissolution, Whitmore gave his own assessment of his politics, political weight and attributes as a parliamentarian:

First with respect to political sentiments. Those I possess are based on moderation, from a conviction that real liberty shuns violent extremes and that the best way to promote the main interests of the country, especially the great manufacturing interest upon which in my judgement everything connected with the prosperity of the country and the employment of the people turns, as upon a pivot, is by preserving the peace of the country, securing the rights of property and of industry, upholding the laws and avoiding a policy the main feature of which is repeated change. I have ever been anxious to remove acknowledged abuse, but I like not change for change’s sake and being fully convinced that whatever the frame of government may be, there will appertain to it some of that evil which clings to every human institution, I do not consider it either sound policy or real wisdom to quarrel with the institutions of the country, merely because evils may be detected and then by a critical observer. I should, I confess, view with some alarm the continuance and exertion of those Unions, which, necessary perhaps to ensure the great measure of reform, would, I fear if rendered permanent militate against good government and prevent that free discussion and liberty of opinion and judgement which upon all subjects, but especially on the more delicate and intricate, ought to belong to a representative of the people. He is responsible for every word he speaks and every vote he gives and unless his sentiments are in the main in accordance with those of a considerable majority of his constituents, he ought not to be re-elected as their representative, but subject to the account he must thus render, he ought in my judgement to be a free agent, speaking his own sentiments and voting according to his honest conviction, not shackled and pledged as to the line of conduct he is to pursue ... With reference to expense, the system hitherto of elections has been such that no individual of moderate fortune cold come forward as a candidate for a popular representation without entailing upon himself burdens of a serious amount. For myself, I have on a recent occasion been aided in a manner so liberal that it would ill become me to utter a complaint upon this head, but still in looking forward I hope I shall not be considered over cautious in pecuniary matters if I state that in a contest conducted in the usual mode by employing professional agents and keeping open houses I am in no condition to enter, especially where the constituency is so large as more to resemble a county than a borough. With regard to ... personal weight ... I possess no abilities of a superior order. I have no turn naturally for public speaking. I am therefore but ill-calculated to take a prominent part in the discussion of great public questions. The possession of some common sense and common honesty with an anxious desire to discharge conscientiously the duties confided to me as a representative, are the sole qualifications I can pretend to. I am too of opinion that an individual so situated ought not frequently to obtrude his sentiments in debate, the effect of which, if general, would be to retard most inconveniently all public measures, indeed if all were to be speakers and upon all occasions to the business of the country delayed as it now is, never could it be got through at all. Except then when from previous study he may have real information to give upon the subject under discussion, or where the interests of his constituents are more immediately involved, it appears to me the duty of such an individual to abstain from speaking in debate.

Whitmore retired at Bridgnorth, where the loss of the Apley interest and changes under the Boundary Act rendered his return in December 1832 unlikely, and, thwarted at Kidderminster, he declined a late invitation from Birmingham and overcame Conservative and radical opposition to come in for the new constituency of Wolverhampton.83 He did not seek re-election there in 1835 and, tired of London society, in 1844 he gave up the rooms he had occupied at the Babbages’ since 1833.84 As a committed political economist and occasional pamphleteer, he kept up his interest in science and education and experimented with agricultural innovations at Dudmaston, where he died in August 1858.85 His wife and stepbrother predeceased him,86 and, as he had willed, his Shropshire estates, worth an estimated £118,000, or £6,355 a year, and encumbered with a £40,000 mortgage debt, were left to accumulate for five years in trust before his nominated heir, his sister Mary Dorothea’s son, the Rev. Francis Henry Laing of Forthampton, Gloucestershire, succeeded to them in 1864 and took the names of Wolryche and Whitmore.87

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


Draws on the Dudmaston mss, seen by permission of the National Trust at Dudmaston Hall. No biography of Whitmore has been published, but his great-niece Mary Whitmore Jones’s novel The Grinding Mills (1903) is based on his life.

  • 1. IGI (Salop).
  • 2. Salop Archives, Labouchere mss (deeds and papers relating to the Dudmaston estate of the Wolryche fam.) 2922/12/14.
  • 3. Salop Archives, earl of Bradford’s militia pprs. 190/331-8, 362, 369, 372, 403, 705, 813, 818, 820-4, 920, 926, 986, 1129-1130.
  • 4. Labouchere mss 2292/11/1/209/1-3; 11/1/215; 12/17.
  • 5. PROB 11/1588/54; IR26/727/27; Dudmaston mss DUD/25/5; Salop Archives 2292/11/1/215-216, 219; 14/9/16, 17.
  • 6. Shrewsbury Chron. 13 Aug. 1858; Dudmaston mss 12/14; Walpole, Russell, i. 74.
  • 7. Shrewsbury Chron. 18, 25 Feb., 3 Mar.; The Times, 29 Feb.; Salop Archives, Bridgnorth Borough 4001/Admin/3/6, common hall bk. pp. 11-15; Wolverhampton Chron. 1, 8, 15 Mar.; Salop Archives, Weld-Forester mss 1224, box 337, J. Robins to J. Pritchard, 5, 6 Mar., Pritchard to C.W. Forester, 31 Mar.; Hatherton diary, 21 Mar.; Salop Archives, Morris-Eyton mss 6003/1, Slaney jnl. 5 Mar. 1820.
  • 8. Salopian Jnl. 10, 17 Jan.; The Times, 13, 16 Jan. 1821.
  • 9. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 12; The Times, 6 Feb. 1821.
  • 10. The Times, 9 June 1821.
  • 11. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 128 (9 May 1821).
  • 12. Grey Bennet diary, 76; The Times, 10 May 1821.
  • 13. Add. 38743, f. 38.
  • 14. Gurney diary, 21 Feb. 1822.
  • 15. Le Marchant, Althorp, 205.
  • 16. The Times, 22 Feb. 1822.
  • 17. Shrewsbury Chron. 29 Mar.; Salopian Jnl. 10 July 1822; B. Hilton, Corn, Cash, Commerce, 150-2.
  • 18. The Times, 12 Feb., 10 May 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 73, 78, 82, 438, 471.
  • 19. The Times, 4 May 1822.
  • 20. Le Marchant, 203-4.
  • 21. The Times, 10 May 1822.
  • 22. Ibid. 4 June 1822.
  • 23. Hants RO, Calthorpe mss 26M62/F/C87.
  • 24. The Times, 6, 11 Feb. 1823.
  • 25. Ibid. 27 Feb. 1823.
  • 26. Ibid. 13 May 1823.
  • 27. Ibid. 4, 20 Mar., 23 May 1823.
  • 28. Ibid. 18 Mar. 1823.
  • 29. Ibid. 3 Mar. 1824.
  • 30. Ibid. 22 May 1824.
  • 31. Add. 40315, f. 135.
  • 32. The Times, 13 Apr., 13 May 1824.
  • 33. Pol. Economy Club: Minutes, Members, Attendances and Questions, 1821-1880 (1882), ii. 62-65, 197.
  • 34. The Times, 8 May 1824.
  • 35. Ibid. 9, 19 Mar., 14 May 1824.
  • 36. The Times, 2 June; Salop Archives, Longnor mss 1066/133, diary of Katharine Plymley, 20 June 1824.
  • 37. CJ, lxxix. 404; The Times, 25 May 1824.
  • 38. The Times, 1 Mar. 1825.
  • 39. Ibid. 27, 29 Apr. 1825; Dudmaston mss O8/57; O8/59/50; Hilton, 272.
  • 40. The Times, 3 June 1825.
  • 41. Ibid. 28, 30 June, 1 July 1825.
  • 42. Ibid. 4 Feb. 1826.
  • 43. Ibid. 7, 9, 21, 28 Feb., 2 Mar., 18 Apr. 1826.
  • 44. Ibid. 17, 19 Apr. 1826; Hobhouse Diary, 120; Hilton, 274-5.
  • 45. The Times, 3, 9, 13 May 1826.
  • 46. Parl. Deb. (n.s.), xv. 950.
  • 47. The Times, 1 Mar. 1826; Hilton, 223-8.
  • 48. The Times, 28 Feb., 2 Mar., 20 May 1826.
  • 49. John Bull, 28 May; The Times, 29 May; Wolverhampton Chron. 14 June 1826; Bridgnorth Borough 7/49, 24/14, 26/14-17; box 50, parl. returns; common hall bk. pp. 148-96.
  • 50. Salopian Jnl. 4 Oct.; The Times, 9 Oct.; Bridgnorth common hall bk. pp. 198-208.
  • 51. The Times, 3, 4 Oct. 1826.
  • 52. Hilton, 297-9; Cincennatus, Remarks on ‘A letter to the Electors of Bridgnorth upon the Corn Laws’ (1827); Observations on the Corn Laws addressed to Whitmore (1826-7); Anon, Remarks on the State of the Corn Question addressed to Whitmore (1826-7).
  • 53. The Times, 25 Nov. 1826.
  • 54. Ibid. 28 Feb.; Wolverhampton Chron. 21, 28 Feb., 7, 14 Mar. 1827.
  • 55. Grey mss.
  • 56. The Times, 2, 3, 10, 13 Mar. 1827.
  • 57. Ibid. 17, 20 Mar. 1827.
  • 58. Ibid. 15, 24 Mar., 16 May 1827.
  • 59. Ibid. 27 May, 19 June 1827.
  • 60. Ibid. 12 May, 13 June 1827.
  • 61. Ibid. 20 June 1827.
  • 62. Add. 37184, ff. 114, 299, 304, 306.
  • 63. The Times, 13 Mar. 1828.
  • 64. Add. 37184, f. 114.
  • 65. Oxford DNB (Ryan); NRA 4482; Corresp. of Lord William Bentinck ed. C.H. Philips, i. 585.
  • 66. Salopian Jnl. 20, 27 May 1829.
  • 67. J. Picton, Memorials of Liverpool (1875), i. 416-7; Wolverhampton Chron. 7 Oct. 1829.
  • 68. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 5 Feb. 1830.
  • 69. Pol. Economy Club, ii. 97; C.H. Philips, E.I. Co. 288-9; Dudmaston mss 12/6-8.
  • 70. Wolverhampton Chron. 7 July 1830.
  • 71. NLW, Aston Hall mss C.599; VCH Salop, iii. 283; Salop Archives 840/443; Bridgnorth Borough 7/49; 24/450, box 50, squibs and handbills; common hall bk. pp. 329-76. Wolverhampton Chron. 14 July, 3, 11 Aug. 1830; Dudmaston mss 12/9.
  • 72. Shrewsbury Chron. 6 Aug. 1830.
  • 73. Add. 37185, f. 289; Wolverhampton Chron. 7 Oct. 1830.
  • 74. Shrewsbury Chron. 18 Mar., 22 Apr. 1831.
  • 75. Wolverhampton Chron. 27 Apr., 4 May; Salopian Jnl, 27 Apr.; Shrewsbury Chron. 6 May 1831; Bridgnorth common hall bk. pp. 403-4.
  • 76. Liverpool RO, Parliament Office mss 328/PAR5/1.
  • 77. Dudmaston mss 8/7; Shrewsbury Chron. 3 June 1831.
  • 78. The Times, 19 Aug. 1831.
  • 79. Shrewsbury Chron. 18 Nov. 1831; Wolverhampton Chron. 23 May 1832; Add. 37187, f. 203.
  • 80. Add. 37187, f. 15.
  • 81. Ibid. f. 38.
  • 82. Wolverhampton Chron. 13 June 1832.
  • 83. Dudmaston mss 8/8-17; 8/60/10-14; Add. 37187, ff. 150, 203, 253, 283, 291, 404; Wolverhampton Chron. 20 June, 26 Sept., 17 Oct., 5, 19 Dec. 1832, 11 Jan. 1833; Spectator, 27 Oct. 1832; J. Hardcastle, Old Wolverhampton, ch. 5.
  • 84. Add. 37187, ff. 253, 283; 37193, f. 9.
  • 85. Pol. Economy Club, ii. 146, 168.; Jacobus Veritas, Plea from the Poor (1841); Whitmore, Probable Price of Wheat on Repeal of Corn Laws (1842); Prospects of Agriculture Under Free Trade (1850); Wine Duties (1853); Add. 37021, ff. 599-605; 37189, f. 558; 37191, f. 203; Overstone Corresp. ii. 657-8, 864; VCH Salop, ii. 171; iii. 153; V.J. Walsh, ‘Diary of a Country Gentleman’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. lix (1971-2), 135-6, 158; VCH Salop, iv. 183, 217; Shrewsbury Chron. 13 Aug. 1858.
  • 86. Add. 37191, f. 345; Warws. RO MI 247, Philips mems. ii. 128.
  • 87. IR26/2157/705; Walsh, 135-6; Dudmaston mss 5/12-22; 8/64-70; 24/67, 68; VCH Salop, iv. 209.