HALSEY, Joseph Thompson (1774-1818), of Gaddesden Park, Hemel Hempstead, Herts.

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



1807 - 10 Feb. 1818

Family and Education

b. 27 June 1774, 3rd s. of Rev. Joseph Whately, DD, of Nonsuch Park, Surr., rector of Widford, Herts. and preb. of Bristol, Glos. by Jane, da. of William Plumer of Gilston Park, Herts. educ. Harrow 1786-c.1791; St. John’s, Camb. 1792; I. Temple 1795, called 1800. m. 3 Aug. 1804, Sarah, da. and h. of Thomas Halsey of Gaddesden Park, 1s. 4da. Took name of Halsey 22 Feb. 1805.

Offices Held

Lt. Herts. yeoman cav. 1807.


Whately was born at Blakesware, the other Hertfordshire seat of his maternal grandfather William Plumer, Member for the county. After being called to the bar he occupied chambers at 10 Crown Office Row in the Temple and practised on the home circuit and at Hertford and Chelmsford sessions, until his marriage to the heiress of a county family, the Halseys of Gaddesden, whereupon he took her name. Mrs Nicolson Calvert described them thus: ‘he is a very well conducted man; she is a good tempered, merry little creature, but would not set the Thames on fire’.1

Halsey’s ambition to be in Parliament proved embarrassing when he offered at St. Albans in 1806. As a third man he threatened the entrenched coalition of Lords Spencer and Grimston; as a ‘warm friend to the present government’, of which Lord Spencer was a member and to which Grimston was believed hostile, he would have split them had not Spencer decided to make no concessions to his politics. His uncle, the Whig county Member William Plumer, was reproached for allowing him to interfere.2 The reproach was palliated by Halsey’s defeat. Plumer assured Spencer, 10 Nov. 1806:

The plan of Mr Halsey’s being a candidate for St. Albans was undertaken, not only without any advice and approbation but without my privity or knowledge ... Mr Halsey having by marriage become the head and representative of a family of ancient name and long standing in the county, having obtained a fortune and possessions much larger and more valuable and important than my own, being a young man of honourable principles but of high spirit and enterprise and being as completely free and independent as any other gentleman in the county, I doubt much whether I have any fair right to expect that he should consult with me to ask my advice as to the public and political measures which he might choose to pursue in his progress through life. He did not communicate with me respecting this plan and therefore in fairness and candour I do not feel myself in any degree answerable for the commencement or the prosecution of the contest which was carried on at St. Albans.

Spencer replied, 13 Nov.:

The explanation is perfectly satisfactory to me, though it cannot surprise you that I should have thought that your nephew would hardly have taken such a step without your knowledge, more especially as I know that he was at St. Albans and in consultation with Mr Kingston of that town, previous to the dissolution of Parliament.

On 1 Jan. 1807 Halsey wrote to Spencer on hearing that Poyntz, his nominee for St. Albans, intended to contest Sussex next time, asking for his support as Poyntz’s replacement; but Spencer at once replied that even if Poyntz’s mind had not been changed as to Sussex, he must decline this application.3 So it was that Halsey confronted Spencer’s nephew, Viscount Duncannon, and Grimston at the election of 1807. Once more he made overtures for a junction with Spencer and directed his attack against Grimston;4 but it was Duncannon who tailed the poll and Halsey who headed it, sharing more votes with Duncannon than Duncannon did with Grimston.

Halsey, who dined with the Whig opposition after the election and joined Brooks’s Club on 1 Aug. 1807,5 was a staunch, if silent, supporter of theirs in his first Parliament and so listed by them in March 1810. Illness caused him to miss the division of 5 Apr. 1810 and he was absent as a voter from February 1811 until the end of the session, not necessarily ill, for he was involved with the county Member, Brand, in the movement for parliamentary reform. He had supported Cochrane’s motion for inquiry into Members’ places and pensions, 7 July 1807, and both motions against ministerial corruption, as Apr. and 11 May 1809, but did not oppose Curwen’s bill or Burdett’s motion for reform, 12 and 15 June. He supported the release of Gale Jones, 16 Apr. 1810, and Brand’s motion for reform, 21 May. On 30 Mar. 1811 he joined Brand in a meeting with the Burdettite reformers to concert action, being appointed a steward; perhaps, like Brand, he decided to shun the general meeting of 10 June.6 His votes in the session of 1812 were either selective or affected by illness: he opposed the King’s household bill, 27 Jan., and supported Morpeth’s Irish motion, 4 Feb., the abolition of McMahon’s sinecure, 24 Feb., Turton’s motion, 27 Feb., and Brougham’s motion against the orders in council, 3 Mar. He further voted with opposition against McMahon’s appointment as private secretary to the Regent, 14 Apr., for Catholic relief, 24 Apr., and for Brand’s amendment on the tellerships of the Exchequer, 7 May—his last known vote that session.

Halsey survived a contest in 1812, when the Spencer interest was no longer hostile to him. He continued to support Catholic relief and to vote, though not steady in attendance, with opposition. On 21 Apr. 1814 he made his only known speech: merely to ask if it was true that Princess Charlotte was married and only to be told the question was improper. He favoured retrenchment and opposed the address on the resumption of war with Buonaparte, 25 May 1815. He took leaves of absence for illness, 23 Feb. and 7 Mar. 1816, but paired; his last known votes were against the address, 29 Jan. 1817, and for a committee on the Bank of England, 19 Feb. On 3 June he took a month’s leave of absence for illness. He died ‘of an apoplectic fit’ 10 Feb. 1818, leaving his affairs in disarray.7

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Warrenne Blake, Irish Beauty, 112.
  • 2. Fortescue mss, Townshend to Grenville, 31 Oct.; Spencer mss, Isted to Spencer, 2 Nov., Baker to same, 4 Nov. 1806.
  • 3. Spencer mss.
  • 4. Ibid. Halsey to King, 26 Apr. 1807.
  • 5. Was he the ‘James Whately of the Temple’ who joined the Whig Club, 7 Nov. 1797?
  • 6. M. Roberts, The Whig Party 1807-12, pp. 287-8; Morning Chron. 7, 11 June 1811.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1818), i. 379; Fitzwilliam mss, X1607, Plumer to Milton, 6 Jan. 1818.