WALSH, John (1726-95), of Warfield, Berks.
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Family and Education
b. 1726,1 s. of Joseph Walsh, gov. of Fort St. George, by Elizabeth, da. of Nevil Maskelyne, of Purton, Wilts.; cos. of Lady Clive. unm.
Walsh’s parents died when he was a child and he was brought up by his uncle Captain John Walsh of the East India Company’s marine service.2 His father’s affairs were in confusion at his death, and Walsh said later that he had £2,000 ‘to begin the world with’.3 In 1742 he became a writer in the East India Company’s service, and in 1757 was appointed paymaster to the Madras troops, but throughout the Bengal campaign he acted as secretary to Clive, establishing an intimate connexion which lasted till the death of Clive (who appointed Walsh a trustee under his will). In 1759 Walsh returned to England, entrusted with the task of laying before the Company the reports of Clive’s successes in Bengal. At the latter’s request he also presented Pitt with a copy of Clive’s project for reorganizing the administration of Bengal, of which plan, Clive wrote to Pitt, he was ‘a thorough master’.4
Walsh, who had returned with a considerable fortune (a great part of it, £56,250, obtained as his share in the gifts distributed after the fall of Sirajud-Daula),5 now purchased an estate in Cheshire which he soon afterwards sold, buying another in Berkshire. Late in 1760, at Clive’s recommendation, he was invited to stand at Worcester where he was returned in 1761 after a contest. Before the election Clive had informed Hardwicke that there was ‘no man in the world more attached to the Whig interest’ and to Newcastle than Walsh,6 and in Bute’s list of December 1761 he was classed as connected with Newcastle and Powis. In fact Walsh, while personally close to Clive, seems to have followed a more independent line than some of his other supporters. Like Clive, he voted with the Opposition on the peace preliminaries (1, 9 and 10 Dec. 1762), and on Wilkes (15 Nov. 1763), but when late in 1763 Clive, anxious about his ‘jagir’, went over to Administration, Walsh seems at least at first to have remained uncommitted. At the time of the divisions on general warrants he wrote to Clive that he had spoken to Grenville,
and reminding him of what has passed when you introduced me to him, I remarked that it was upon such occasions as the present that he had the most want of assistance from his friends; and that I was apprehensive my being no longer neutral, as I was last year, would instead of being of use to him as I meant it, be of detriment; and that, therefore, I left it to his option, whether I should come down that day or not, upon which, he very handsomely desired me to come down by all means, and be determined by the merits of the cause, and not only that day, but during the whole session. I accordingly was there, and stayed till one in the morning, when the debate, having got among the lawyers, grew excessively dull and tedious, and not being very well at the time, I retired without voting at all.
Walsh’s name does not appear in any of the three minority lists of February 1764 on general warrants. After the formation of the Rockingham Administration he wrote to Clive on 13 Dec. 1765:
As to me I do not propose being absolutely of either party; your interest does not appear to me by any means to require it, nor do my inclinations at all lead me to it. Mr. Grenville, it is true, I consider as entitled personally to all your assistance; but his connexions are no ways justified. The man, therefore, not his party should have your support, and agreeably to what you yourself told him in my presence, that your ministerial attachments would cease for ever with his quitting the Administration, your plan henceforward should be independency.7
And on 25 Nov. 1767 he wrote to Clive:8
I shall go to the Duke of Grafton’s levee, as you desire to show we are not in opposition: every mark of respect though not of servility to his Majesty’s ministers conformable to, nay essential to the independent plan you mean to support.
His only recorded vote during the latter part of the 1761 Parliament was with Opposition on nullum tempus, 17 Feb. 1768.
During Clive’s absence in India, Walsh acted as one of his attorneys, and at all times played a major part in maintaining his interest in Company politics. This involved him in much troublesome work and in difficult negotiations both with the directors and the Government of the day. Before the general election of 1768, when Clive was back in England, Walsh was the most active of his friends in attempting to build up a strong parliamentary interest on Clive’s behalf, working with Chase Price, whose schemes he unsuccessfully urged Clive to adopt. Walsh had already established his own personal interest at Worcester, and in 1766 had acquired, at a cost of £16,000, property at Pontefract which gave him control of one seat. In 1768 he again stood for Worcester, and was returned unopposed, while he nominated Henry Strachey, another of Clive’s followers, for Pontefract. During this Parliament Walsh voted with Opposition on the Middlesex election, 15 Apr. 1769; on the Address, 9 Jan. 1770, and the Middlesex election, 25 Jan. 1770; and was classed by Robinson as an opponent in both his surveys on the royal marriage bill, March 1772; his only other recorded vote was also with Opposition, on Grenville’s Election Act, as Feb. 1774, but he was classed as a Government supporter in Robinson’s electoral survey of September 1774.
Walsh is reported to have spoken several times during this Parliament, mainly on East India Company affairs: on 19 May 1773 he spoke in defence of Clive; on 2 June he criticized the small size of the council provided by the East India Company regulating bill; and on 8 June the superintendence of the governor and council over the other presidencies.9 He told his nephew Francis Fowke: ‘I have opposed the measure as strenuously as I could in Parliament, but the Act is passed, and there is nothing now left but submission to it.’10
In February 1774 Walsh talked of not standing again for Parliament,11 and had even consented to sell his share in Pontefract to his partner, Lord Galway, ‘but’, he wrote to Fowke on 30 Mar., ‘[Galway’s] death [2 Mar.] has prevented the execution and perhaps I may now determine on keeping it’. He now thought of standing for Pontefract, but in the end successfully contested Worcester. His reason was partly financial. As early as 1773 he was trying to cut down his expenses; on 30 Mar. 1774 he told Fowke: ‘I spend much more than I can afford and have in consequence contracted my scale of life.’ It was said that his ‘great expenses arise from ambition and liberality’ and a ‘debt with [Robert] Mackintosh’, described as ‘a monument of great improvidence and credulity’.12 His difficulties were increased by the expense of withstanding petitions in 1774 both at Pontefract and Worcester, particularly the latter, which his secretary D. Davies called ‘the most tedious and troublesome of all that have come to be tried by the Grenville Act’. As a result, ‘it will require a reduction in expense and a rigid economy to preserve his fortune entire.’13
Walsh does not appear in any of the minority lists between 1775 and 1778; was listed as ‘pro, absent’ on the contractors bill, 12 Feb. 1779; voted with Administration on Keppel, 3 Mar. 1779; with Opposition on economical reform, 21 Feb. 1780; the abolition of the Board of Trade, 13 Mar. 1780; and Dunning’s motion, 6 Apr. 1780, but with Administration on the motion against prorogation, 24 Apr. 1780; and in Robinson’s electoral survey of July 1780 he was classed as ‘doubtful’.
Before the general election of 1780 Walsh told a nomination meeting at Pontefract that he had ‘dropped all intentions of again returning to Parliament’.14 He did not stand at Worcester in 1780, and began once more negotiating for the sale of his interest at Pontefract to Lord Galway. These, however, broke down, and when in April 1783 a select committee of the House of Commons determined that the right of election at Pontefract was in the resident householders and not the burgage owners, thus annihilating Walsh’s interest, he, in an attempt to uphold the burgage interest and salve his property, stood himself at the general election of 1784, but was defeated and his petition was rejected. He did not stand in 1790, but in a final effort to reestablish his interest contested the by-election of 1791; was again defeated, and again petitioned unsuccessfully.
Though an excellent man of business, Walsh expressed his preference for a retired life and was an enthusiastic fellow of the Royal Society, to which he presented the results of various experiments, the most striking of which were inquiries into the properties of electric eels. A letter on this subject to Benjamin Franklin, printed by the Society in 1773, was awarded its Copley Gold Medal. Devoted to the interests of his relatives, he kept and educated at his own expense the three children of his sister, Mrs. Joseph Fowke, treating them generously but strictly; and he exercised his influence effectively to further their interests in India.
He died 9 Mar. 1795, aged 68.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: Mary M. Drummond
- 1. Jos. Walsh to his bro. John, 19 Sept. 1726, Ormathwaite mss, India Office Lib.
- 2. Ormathwaite mss.
- 3. E. Fowke to F. Fowke, 24 May 1773, Fowke mss.
- 4. Chatham Corresp. i. 391.
- 5. Commons Reps. 3rd Rep. sel. committee 1772.
- 6. Add. 35596, f. 204.
- 7. J. Malcolm, Clive, 242, 243.
- 8. Clive mss.
- 9. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 247, p. 28; 249, pp. 49-50, 182-3.
- 10. 30 Mar. 1774, Fowke mss.
- 11. Hen. Strachey to Clive, 8 Feb. 1774, Strachey mss.
- 12. E. to F. Fowke, 8 Nov. 1776, Fowke mss.
- 13. D. Davies to F. Fowke, 23 Dec. 1774, Fowke mss.
- 14. Galway Pprs., quoted C. Bradley, ‘Parlty. Rep. Pontefract, Newark East Retford’ (Manchester Univ. M.A. thesis).