ONSLOW, Thomas (1754-1827), of West Clandon, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



20 Apr. 1775 - 1784
1784 - 1806

Family and Education

b. 15 Mar. 1754, 1st s. of George Onslow of Imber Court, and bro. of Edward Onslow.  educ. ?Harrow;1 Westminster 1767-71; Peterhouse, Camb. 1771.  m. (1) 30 Dec. 1776, Arabella (d. 11 Apr. 1782), da. and coh. of Eaton Mainwaring Ellerker of Risby Park, Yorks., 3s. 1da.; (2) 13 Feb. 1783, Charlotte, da. of William Hale of King’s Walden, Herts., wid. of Thomas Duncombe, 1da.  suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Onslow 17 May 1814.

Offices Held

Out ranger of Windsor Great Park 1793.


Wraxall writes about Thomas Onslow:2

His predominant passion was driving four-in-hand. He passed the whole day in his phaeton, and sacrificed every object to the gratification of that ‘ignoble ambition’, as he himself called it ... Nevertheless ... his mind was not inactive. If by accident we met he would sometimes stop, descend from the phaeton, and entreat me to listen to a lampoon, or a couplet which he had just composed ... On himself, not less than on his acquaintance, he exercised his satire.

A good deal of his humorous verse is among the Onslow mss at Clandon.3 And this is his self-portrait in an essay on driving:4

I deem myself ... perhaps one of the most competent men in all England to handle this subject; as it requires no talent, and because it would be difficult to find another man in all the British dominions who had been sufficiently idle and stupid enough to have driven four horses nearly every day of his life, for six or eight-and-forty years uninterruptedly!

A month after coming of age, he was returned for a Government seat at Rye5 which a stop-gap had held for a year. In the House Onslow voted regularly with the North Administration appearing in every single division list which names their side. In Robinson’s survey of 1780 a postscript of 31 July notes against Surrey: ‘Lord Onslow says that he has hopes of this county for his son.’ Thomas was a candidate but, out-distanced, withdrew before the end of the poll, having already been re-elected at Rye.

To quote Wraxall once more: ‘Voluble ... in conversation ... and abounding with ideas ... I believe he never made an attempt to rise in either House ...’; which is very nearly accurate: before 1790 only one intervention by him in the Commons is known—on 26 Mar. 1781 he brought up a petition ‘from a numerous body of the innholders of England’ complaining of the billeting of the military on them.6

Onslow was absent from the division on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries; adhered to the Coalition, voting for Fox’s India bill; went with them into Opposition; and left Rye in 1784 for his family borough of Guildford. He was at that time a close friend of the Prince of Wales, but ‘at some uncertain date before 1790 this ... friendship was irremediably broken’. The fifth Earl of Onslow, in a typescript family history, states without entering into details: ‘Tom, actuated by excellent and generous motives, acted in a manner very inconsiderate to the Prince, and the Prince naturally resented it.’7 During the Regency crisis Onslow voted with the Government.

He died 22 Feb. 1827.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. N. Carlisle, Endowed Grammar Schools (1818), ii. 159.
  • 2. Mems. v. 309-10.
  • 3. C. E. Vulliamy, Onslow Family, 216-17, 229-33.
  • 4. Onslow mss; Vulliamy, 231.
  • 5. Among the letters at Clandon from John Butler, later bp. of Hereford, to Geo. Onslow there is one dated 15 Apr. 1775, with a supposed draft of a speech by Thos. Onslow ‘to be made at my election at Rye’. Treated as genuine by Vulliamy, this very amusing paper is reproduced by him in full (pp. 212-13). But Butler’s introductory remarks (omitted by him) suggest that this was an elaborate joke of Butler’s: ‘I hope’, he wrote, ‘this will reach you soon enough to restore to Mr. T. O. a paper, which he seems to have dropped in the street this morning. I would not hazard it by the post in his handwriting, so have taken the pains to copy it. I wish him success and desire to have a line franked by him from Rye. The following is the paper verbatim.’
  • 6. Debrett, ii. 317, 320.
  • 7. Vulliamy, 217, 218.