ELIOT, Hon. Edward James (1758-97), of Broomfield, Clapham, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1780 - 1784
1784 - 20 Sept. 1797

Family and Education

b. 24 Aug. 1758, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Edward Eliot (afterwards Craggs Eliot), 1st Baron Eliot, by Catherine, da. and h. of Capt. Edward Elliston, E.I. Co. service, of Gestingthorpe, Essex; bro. of Hon. John Eliot* and Hon. William Eliot*. educ. Liskeard sch.; Pembroke, Camb. 1775; to France 1783. m. 24 Sept. 1785, Lady Harriet Pitt, da. of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, sis. of William Pitt*, 1da.

Offices Held

Ld. of Treasury July 1782-Apr. 1783, Dec. 1783-June 1793; commr. Board of Control Apr. 1793-d.

King’s Remembrancer, Exchequer 1785-d.

Capt. Cornw. fencibles 1794.


Eliot held office under his brother-in-law Pitt from the commencement of his administration until his death and was much in his confidence: ‘Mr Pitt entertained for his amiable brother-in-law the strongest attachment of which he was every way worthy’. The turning point in his life was the death of his wife in childbed a year after their marriage (1786): contemporaries believed that his ‘natural temper’ was ‘ill calculated for bearing up against such a stroke’ and ‘he mourned her loss with an affection, a deeply-rooted melancholy and regret which probably conduced to his own premature dissolution’. Writing shortly before his death to condole with his friend Wilberforce, he said of his bereavement, ‘When a similar calamity befell me, I now think I was little better than an infidel, but it pleased God to sanctify his visitation and gradually to draw me by it to a better mind’. His became ‘a life of virtue’: he devoted himself to assisting Wilberforce in his philanthropic schemes, serving on the committee of the Proclamation Society, interesting himself in prison reform, the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor and the abolition of the slave trade, for which he voted in Parliament.1

He continued to sit for Liskeard on the family interest, though in 1790 he was at first returned for St. Germans. He was listed hostile to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791. On 18 Mar. 1793, as chairman of the Stockbridge election committee, he proposed a bill to prevent bribery and corruption there: he resisted a petition of Stockbridge electors against it at the second reading, 11 Apr., alleging that they had no right to be heard, since they had abused the trust of voting: but the bill was rejected, 27 May. On 26 Mar. 1795 he supported a bill for better Sunday observance. He sometimes acted as government teller, but Wilberforce wished he had more influence over Pitt, particularly in December 1794 when the ‘saint’ and the minister were at loggerheads.2

In 1793 Eliot had become joint commissioner for Indian affairs with Charles Jenkinson, having resigned the Treasury board owing to ‘delicate health’. He and his brother John invested in East India Company stock. In February 1797 Wilberforce and others pressed for his nomination as governor-general of India. He was said to have the support of Dundas and Cornwallis; but he had to decline because of a return of the ‘spasmodic affection of the stomach’ that led to his death on 20 Sept. 1797. ‘The effect produced on Mr Pitt by the news’, which surprised him, was according to George Rose, an eye-witness, ‘beyond conception’. Lord Granville Leveson Gower wrote to his mother, ‘it is hard upon Mr Pitt to have this great private calamity to oppress his spirits at a moment when the failure of the Lille negotiation [for peace] requires all the exertion and vigour of his mind’. Wilberforce wrote to Lord Muncaster, 27 Sept., ‘perhaps no one but myself knew him thoroughly. He was so modest, retiring and unassuming, that neither in point of understanding, nor of religious and moral character, did he generally possess his proper estimation.’ To Hannah More Wilberforce wrote, ‘We were engaged in a multitude of pursuits together and he was a bond of connexion, which was sure never to fail, between me and Pitt’.3

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1797), ii. 896; Life of Wilberforce (1838), i. 125, 137, 373, 374; ii. 235.
  • 2. Kent AO, Stanhope mss 731/11, Wilberforce to Eliot, 22 Dec. [1794].
  • 3. Gent. Mag. loc. cit.; Geo. III Corresp. ii. 1621; Stanhope, Pitt, iii. 63; Life of Wilberforce, ii. 192, 236-8, 417; Leveson Gower, i. 175.