WIGRAM, William (1780-1858), of 56 Upper Harley Street, Mdx. and Belmont Lodge, Worcs.
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Family and Educationb. 23 July 1780, 4th s. of Robert Wigram† (d. 1830) of Walthamstow House, Essex and 1st w. Catherine, da. of John Brodhurst of Mansfield, Notts.; bro. of Robert Wigram*. educ. at ‘a good school at Holloway’.1 unm. d. 8 Jan. 1858.
Dir. London Assurance Co. 1806-9; E.I. Co. 1809-54, dep. chairman 1822-3, Apr.-Oct. 1833, chairman 1823-4.
Lt. Epping Forest vol. cav. 1804; maj. 2 R.E.I. vols. 1809, lt.-col. 1812, 1820.
Wigram, a ‘shipping interest’ director of the East India Company since 1809, was the favourite son of an opulent East India merchant and ship’s husband, who lavished a ‘large fortune’ on his numerous children. On his father’s retirement in 1819 Wigram took over the running of his business empire, which included docks and breweries.2 At the 1820 general election he was returned unopposed for Wexford, where his father had sat, 1806-7, on the interest of their kinsman the 2nd marquess of Ely, who had alternate control of the representation.3 An irregular attender, when present Wigram was reckoned to have voted ‘always for ministers’ by a radical commentary of 1823, but during this period he became hostile to their economic policies, especially with regard to the East India trade.4 He voted in defence of their conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821, against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., for raising money by lottery, 1 June, in support of the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June, and against an opposition call for economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821. He divided against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. 1825. He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb., but was in a largely Whig and radical minority of 36 against the new corn duties, 9 May 1822. He defended the East India Company against a Calcutta bankers’ petition complaining of their handling of the debts of the nabob of Oude and was in the minority against a committee of inquiry, to which he was appointed, 4 July 1822. That summer he led a campaign by East India traders for equalization of the duty on East and West Indian sugars, in support of which he was one of the Company ‘chairs’ who unsuccessfully lobbied ministers. On 22 May 1823 he presented and endorsed a Company petition for equalization and was in the minority of 24 for inquiry.5 He divided with opposition for ordnance reductions, 19 Feb., but with ministers against inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. He was in minorities for inquiry into the malt and beer taxes, 28 May, and against the appointment of the London Bridge engineer by the treasury, 20 June. He divided against the usury laws repeal bill, 27 June, and for continuing the proceedings against chief baron O’Grady, 9 July 1823. On 27 Mar. 1824 Stephen Rumbold Lushington, secretary to the treasury, warned Lord Liverpool, the premier, that Wigram and ‘some of the old directors’ intended to oppose his appointment as governor of Madras as he had a ‘repugnance to any person connected with the government’, believing it to be
conducted by persons ‘ignorant of the details of business, especially in the chancellor of [the] exchequer’s department, as shown in the bad arrangements with regard to the silk and wool [duties], which had produced great discontent and injury to the respectable persons engaged in those trades ...’ My impression is that he rejoices in the opportunity of showing his (brief) authority in conflict with the government; and that he rather hails the occasion of gratifying his resentment for the disappointment of the pretensions of his family to a peerage, recently more embittered by our silk arrangements.6
Writing in similar terms to Sir George Robinson*, another company director, next day, Lushington commented:
Wigram I find so hates the government because he cannot get a peerage for his father and because our silk arrangements are not agreeable to his friends ... His language though personally kind to me was very offensive as applied to the government and I am sure that ... the Company will have a good riddance when his time is out.7
Wigram and his supporters hatched a scheme to transfer Lord Elphinstone, the governor of Bombay, to Madras and to appoint Sir John Malcolm* in his place, thereby snubbing Lushington, who was ‘exceedingly mortified both on my own account and for the government not to get through’. On the outbreak of the Burmese war in December 1824, however, the vacancy was put on hold.8 Wigram voted for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824, and suppression of the Catholic Association, 15, 25 Feb. 1825. He opposed a motion by Hume for information on Indian military allowances and ‘vindicated the conduct of the East India directors towards the army’, 24 Mar. He divided for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 6 June, and was in the minorities against the spring guns bill, 21 June 1825, and for relaxation of the corn laws, 18 Apr. 1826. He presented a Wexford petition against slavery, 20 Apr.9 On 9 May 1826 he was appointed to the select committee on the petition of James Silk Buckingham† concerning curbs on press freedom in India.
At the 1826 general election Wigram retired from Wexford, where it was the other patron’s turn to nominate, and was returned unopposed for New Ross on the interest of his brother-in-law Charles Tottenham*, whose family had alternate control of the representation.10 He presented a New Ross petition against Catholic claims, 19 Mar., and voted thus, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828.11 He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828. He was appointed to the committee on the East India prize money bill, 10 June, and defended the Company’s power to restrict re-entry to India on the ground of ‘character’, 16 June 1828. He voted for the Wellington ministry’s ordnance estimates, 4 July, but against their revision of the silk duties, 14 July 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that Wigram would vote ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, but he divided against it, 18, 27, 30 Mar. He voted against allowing Daniel O’Connell to take his seat unhindered, 18 May. He presented a constituency petition against any alteration of the law prohibiting the cultivation of tobacco in Ireland, 13 Apr. He divided for the issue of a new writ for East Retford, 2 June 1829. He voted against Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform plan, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 25 Feb., but was in the opposition minority for ordnance reductions, 29 Mar. 1830. He criticized the inclusion of the lord chancellor’s libel costs in the supplies, arguing that as he had been ‘attacked in his private capacity’ he ‘should defend himself in the same manner’, 4 June. He voted for amendments to the sale of beer bill, 21 June, 1 July 1830, when he presented a New Ross petition complaining of distress.
At the 1830 general election Wigram stood again for Wexford, where his eldest brother Robert had recently been unseated on petition, saying that he was ‘perfectly independent of all parties’ and would ‘vote for all necessary retrenchment in the public expenditure and reduction of taxes’. After a two-day contest he was returned three votes ahead of his brother’s former rival Sir Edward Dering*, whose allegations of illegal conduct he denied. (His opponent later alleged on petition that he had ‘offered to spend £2,000 in building a dock or sluice for vessels’ and had ‘made various promises of places in the East India Company’s service’.) He attended a celebratory dinner of the town’s Wigram Club, which had been established in 1825 to mark his father’s birthday.12 His return was reckoned a gain by the ministry, who listed him as one of their ‘friends’, but he was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. He presented a Wexford petition for abolition of the sugar duties, 7 Dec. 1830. On 21 Feb. 1831 he was unseated on petition. He did not stand at the 1831 general election, and it is not clear what Lord Ellenborough, one of the Tory election managers, meant when he noted that ‘Wigram goes with Hope to Norwich, a capital man’, 25 Apr.13 In August 1831 he offered for a vacancy at New Ross in the room of his nephew, apparently because his brother-in-law wanted to put in a ‘more thorough-going Tory’. He was returned unopposed, whereupon Holmes, the Tory whip, advised Mrs. Arbuthnot that ‘we have carried an anti for New Ross’.14 He voted against the third reading of the Grey ministry’s reintroduced reform bill, 19 Sept., and its passage, 21 Sept. He was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, but voted against going into committee on it, 20 Jan., the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided against the second reading of the Irish measure, 25 May. He voted against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July (as a pair). He was added to the select committee on the affairs of the East India Company, 2 Feb. He presented a petition from the East India merchants against the zemindar of Nozeed bill, which he considered ‘highly injurious to the interests of certain individuals’, 6 Mar. He was in the minority of 20 against inquiry into the relief of crown colonies, 3 Aug. 1832. At the 1832 dissolution he retired from Parliament. In October 1833 he resigned as a director of the East India Company in protest at the ministry’s East India Charter Act.15
Wigram, who later acquired Bennington Park, near Stevenage, Hertfordshire, died at his London residence at 15a Grosvenor Square in January 1858.16 By his will, dated 22 Jan. 1852, he left £10,000 to each of his 11 half-brothers, £2,000 to a half-sister and the children of a second who was deceased, and made ample provision for the families of his late brother Robert and late brother-in-law. His younger sister Maria was given an annuity of £1,000. Control of the substantial residue of his estate passed to his executors, his half-brothers Money Wigram, a director of the Bank of England, Ely Duodecimus Wigram, a retired colonel, Loftus Tottenham Wigram, Conservative Member for Cambridge University, 1850-9, and his nephew Unwin Heathcote.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 557.
- 2. Wexford Independent, 11 Feb. 1831.
- 3. Dublin Evening Post, 1 Apr. 1820.
- 4. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 490; Black Bk. (1823), 202.
- 5. C.H. Philips, E.I. Co. 250-1; The Times, 23 May 1823.
- 6. Add. 38411, f. 233.
- 7. BL OIOC Robinson Coll. MSS. Eur. F. 142. 26
- 8. Ibid. Lushington to Robinson, 20 Mar. 1824; Philips, 252-4; Wellington mss WP1/783/10.
- 9. The Times, 21 Apr. 1826.
- 10. Dublin Evening Post, 29 June; Wexford Evening Post, 30 June 1826.
- 11. The Times, 20 Mar. 1827.
- 12. Wexford Herald, 4, 7, 11 Aug., 1 Sept.; Kilkenny Moderator, 11 Aug. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 29.
- 13. Three Diaries, 88.
- 14. Wexford Herald, 17 Aug. 1831; Arbuthnot Corresp. 148.
- 15. See Philips, 286, 297.
- 16. Gent. Mag. (1858), i. 229.