ORDE, Thomas (1746-1807).

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



1780 - 1784
1784 - 1796

Family and Education

b. 30 Aug. 1746, 2nd s. of John Orde of East Orde and Morpeth, Northumb. by Anne, da. of Ralph Marr of Morpeth.  educ. Eton 1755-65, King’s, Camb. 1765, fellow 1768-78; L. Inn 1769, called 1775.  m. 7 Apr. 1778, Jean Mary Browne Powlett, illegit. da. and in 1794 h. of Charles, 5th Duke of Bolton, 2s. Took add. surname Powlett 1795; cr. Baron Bolton 20 Oct. 1797.

Offices Held

M.P. [I] 1784-90.

Auditor, duchy of Lancaster 1772-4; receiver-gen. 1774- d.; under-sec. Home Office Apr.-July 1782; sec. to Treasury July 1782-Apr. 1783; sec. to ld. lt. [I] Feb. 1784-to end of 1787; P.C. 23 Nov. 1785; member of Board of Trade Aug. 1786- d.; gov. I.o.W. 1791- d.; ld. lt. Hants 1800- d.


Orde was of an old Northumbrian family (his great-uncle, John Orde, sat for Berwick-on-Tweed 1713-15). Information about him before he entered Parliament is scant. The record of his attendances at congregations (meetings of the governing body of King’s College) suggests that he only resided there regularly for a short time in the first year of his fellowship.1 In 1772 he travelled in France and Switzerland, and in 1774 in Flanders, Holland, and Germany.2He was appointed to the two duchy of Lancaster offices under the chancellorship of Lord Hyde, later Earl of Clarendon, a friend of his (in a letter to Lord Shelburne, 25 Dec. 1783, Orde wrote that ‘according to annual custom’ he was ‘to pass tomorrow and the next day at Lord Clarendon’s’).3

There is only indirect evidence to show how Orde came to stand for Aylesbury, a venal and expensive borough. On 10 Dec. 1779 John Robinson wrote to Lord Sandwich4 that at Aylesbury he could put Sandwich’s friend Lord Chesterfield ‘in a way to bring in a Member of his own very easily’; and though Orde was not Chesterfield’s first choice,5 on 7 Sept., the day of the poll, he was described by an Aylesbury elector as ‘thought a man qualified by Earl Chesterfield’.6 As candidate he was joined, presumably through Robinson, to Anthony Bacon, a government contractor; and in a ‘state of representation’ sent to Shelburne on 7 Aug. 1782, Robinson wrote that they were ‘brought in by themselves on Mr. Bacon’s popular interest there’. In his ‘election account from 1779 to April 1782’ Robinson records two secret service payments ‘on account of Aylesbury’ (£1,500 on 8 Dec. 1780, and £115 on 25 Mar. 1781).7

In the House, Orde, seconding the Address, 27 Nov. 1781, defended the Government’s American policy;8 and he voted with them in all the six divisions before the fall of North for which lists are extant. Sandwich, wishing him to speak in defence of the Admiralty, wrote to Robinson, 13 Jan. 1782:9 ‘if Administration gets well through the naval inquiry, Mr. Orde must gain credit by taking a leading part, and showing his abilities on such an occasion.’ But he was engrossed by ‘East India business’;10 and although Sandwich persisted,11 Orde did not speak in any of the naval debates: altogether he was an infrequent speaker. Hard-working, able, and persevering, he was valued by his chiefs, but was not popular, and, like the typical civil servant, ill-suited for the parliamentary arena. It was over his ‘East India business’ that he gained credit.

After the Government had through North’s negligence lost the direction of the select committee on Indian affairs, Robinson hand-picked the members of the secret committee set up on 2 May 1781 to investigate the causes of the war in the Carnatic.12 Henry Dundas was its chairman, Jenkinson his chief assistant, while Orde, ‘a new "man of business" took over the detailed work of the committee’:13 he thus became one of the inner circle of administrative experts. Wraxall writes that to Orde ‘was attributed the fifth report from the committee of secrecy, one of the most able, well-digested, and important documents ever laid upon the table of the House of Commons’.14

When the Rockingham Administration was formed, Orde, who had stood by North to the end, became Shelburne’s under-secretary at the Home Office, whose province included Ireland, and the colonies. A letter from Burke to Rockingham, 27 Apr. 1782, gives one reason for this surprising appointment:

Lord Shelburne ... is furnished with the most active member of the committee of secrecy (Mr. Orde) which not only gives him the means of accomplishing his ends, but connects him with the advocate [Dundas] whose peculiar object (I know) is to be a principal governor in that department.

When on Rockingham’s death, 1 July 1782, Shelburne took over the Treasury, Orde became its secretary; and Robinson was helping them with lists and information.15 ‘I perfectly trust in your friendly assistance to aid as much as possible’, wrote Orde to him, 21 Aug.16 And on 12 Oct. Robinson to Jenkinson from the New Forest:17

You will find the Parliament is fixed to sit on the 26th of November. I have here received a letter of the 9th from Mr. Orde wishing to see me to talk on several subjects. I yesterday answered it, chalked out what struck me to be done about circular letters etc., and assured him that I will wait on him the moment of my return and give them every assistance that I can, which I will very sincerely do.

Little correspondence between Shelburne and Orde survives for their time at the Treasury—perhaps there never was much, Orde having taken a house in Park Place ‘exceedingly well situated to improve my means of paying attention to my duty, but especially in attending upon your Lordship’.18

In April 1783 Orde left office with Shelburne, and when Dunning died in August and Barré fell ill, became his principal political correspondent and representative; showing ‘the sincerity and warmth’ of his attachment to Shelburne, who was not kept informed nor consulted by his previous associates even while they were forming a Government to replace the Coalition. Orde expected a dissolution of Parliament to stop his parliamentary career for a time, as he could ill afford the expense of re-election at Aylesbury, and would have to wait till the death of the Duke of Bolton might give him some opening;19 yet, though staunch in support of Pitt against the Coalition he refused to connect himself with Pitt’s Administration without Shelburne’s approbation—Pitt wished him to resume his place at the Treasury, or alternatively offered him a seat at its Board or at the Admiralty, the post of surveyor-general of Crown lands or of governor of the Isle of Wight; while Sydney asked for his assistance ‘for a short time’ at the Home Office, or ‘in framing a new India bill’.20 But Orde declined all offers till the Duke of Rutland, when appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, approached him through Shelburne:21

I should feel myself most particularly obliged to your Lordship if you would use your interposition with Mr. Orde to prevail on him to accept the office of secretary. It is an object of the last importance to the country in the present crisis, that a person of his character and ability should be employed in that situation.

On 18 Feb. Orde went with Rutland to Ireland; and there he learnt on 27 Mar. from George Rose that he would be returned for Harwich, a safe Treasury borough.

Ireland was now Orde’s dominant concern even when he attended the House during visits paid to London to discuss Irish affairs with ministers. Thus he wrote to Rutland, 3 June 1784:

I have avoided taking my seat to-day as Sawbridge threatened a question upon reform of Parliament, and I was afraid of misconstruction upon my conduct, in whatever way I might direct it, if it found its way into a Dublin newspaper.

And when the question came up on 17 June: ‘I did not attend because I was anxious to avoid interpretation of my conduct in Ireland.’ ‘Orde stalks in and out of the House, sometimes like a ghost’, reported Daniel Pulteney to Rutland, 26 June.22 His only speech during that session was on z July, on the Irish Post Office bill.23

In Ireland Orde became ‘the first instrument of Administration’ and its principal spokesman in Parliament, at a time when a remodelling of Anglo-Irish relations seemed imperative. This Pitt attempted by his ‘Irish propositions’, which were to admit Ireland to full commercial equality with Britain in return for an Irish contribution to Imperial expenses. This bill, introduced in the Dublin Parliament by Orde on 6 Feb. 1785, was passed with dubious amendments; and when next modified by the British Parliament to Ireland’s disadvantage, met in August with an opposition at Dublin which forced the Government to drop it. ‘Never was a ministerial defeat more signal’, writes Wraxall.24 The numerous and powerful enemies Orde had even in the ministerial camp,25 tried to put the blame on him. Accounts imputing ‘irresolution and timidity’ and suspecting him ‘even of duplicity’, reached Pitt who on 28 Oct. 1785 raised with Rutland the question of a change of secretary:

I give Mr. Orde credit for considerable abilities and industry, and for perfect good intention ... But I am sensible that his manners do not lead him to be direct and explicit in doing business, and that his temper is not decisive ... Occasions might arise in which the same want of address or vigour might be fatal.

Rutland’s reply is not extant but can be gathered from Pitt’s of 13 Nov.: ‘Every idea of Mr. Orde’s retirement will be totally laid aside in my mind.’26 Orde continued to bear the burden of the Irish government, severely over-taxing his strength. He fell ill in the summer of 1786; went to Spa, and next to Bath, keeping all the time in touch with Irish affairs, but uncertain whether he would be able to resume his duties. He did so at the end of November.27 In the summer of 1787 he had a relapse, ‘suffering from extreme relaxation and nervous affliction.’ Rutland wrote to Pitt, 28 Aug.:

Mr. Orde’s health has been sacrificed to his zealous exertions ... in the service of the public, where ... his diligent and conscientious exertions have not been useless. His conduct has, in no instance, been distinguished by any inclination towards objects of emolument, nor has he shown any aspiration after rewards.28

He asked, if Orde died, for a provision for his widow till she came into the Bolton inheritance. Ill as Orde was, he still continued transacting Irish business in London;29 but on his way to Bath wrote to Rutland, 17 Sept.:30‘All the medical gentlemen ... are unanimous in their opinion of absolute danger to my life from a further prosecution of my present business.’ And Pitt to Rutland, the same day: ‘It seems clear he can never return to the fatigues of his situation.’31 ‘I am now a poorer man than I was at the commencement of my career in a public line of life’, wrote Orde to Rutland from Bath, 14 Oct.32 He retired from the service with a pension of £1,200 p.a. till the death of the Duke of Bolton or Orde’s acceptance of a place of equal value.

In subsequent years he played no important part in Parliament, and died 30 July 1807.

Orde was an etcher and cartoonist of no mean merit, and four volumes of his drawings, assembled by Orde himself in the early 1790s, are preserved at Bolton Hall.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Ex inf. John Saltmarsh, Fellow of King’s.
  • 2. Note-books of his journeys are among the mss of Lord Bolton at Bolton Hall.
  • 3. Lansdowne mss.
  • 4. Sandwich mss.
  • 5. Chesterfield to Sir Wm. Lee, 24 June, Lee Pprs. at Bucks. RO; Robinson’s survey of July 1780.
  • 6. Jos. Stone to Sir Wm. Lee, 7 Sept. 1780, Lee Pprs.
  • 7. Laprade, 45, 58-59.
  • 8. Debrett, v. 3-7.
  • 9. Abergavenny mss.
  • 10. Robinson to Sandwich, 31 Jan., Sandwich mss.
  • 11. To Robinson, 1 and 3 Feb., Abergavenny mss.
  • 12. CJ, xxxviii. 430, 435.
  • 13. L. S. Sutherland, E.I. Co. in 18th Cent. Politics, 363.
  • 14. Mems. ii. 108.
  • 15. I. R. Christie, End of North’s Ministry, 374.
  • 16. Laprade, 49.
  • 17. Add. 38567, ff. 117-18.
  • 18. Orde to Shelburne, 26 Sept. 1782, Lansdowne mss.
  • 19. To Shelburne, 16 Dec., ibid.
  • 20. Orde to Shelburne, 18, 20, 23, 25, 29 Dec. 1783.
  • 21. Rutland to Shelburne, 1 Feb. 1784, Bolton mss.
  • 22. HMC Rutland, iii. 101, 110, 115.
  • 23. Stockdale, ii. 337.
  • 24. Mems. iv. 164-5.
  • 25. HMC Rutland, iii. 136; HMC Charlemont, 4; HMC Fortescue, i. 227; HMC Carlisle, 642; Auckland Corresp. i. 79.
  • 26. Pitt-Rutland Corresp. 125-32.
  • 27. HMC Rutland, iii; Pitt-Rutland Corresp.; Leinster Corresp. ii. 322-323; iii. 399.
  • 28. HMC Rutland, iii. 407, 409.
  • 29. Ibid. 412, 414.
  • 30. Draft in Bolton mss.
  • 31. Pitt-Rutland Corresp. 186.
  • 32. HMC Rutland, iii. 429.