METCALFE, Thomas Theophilus (1745-1813), of Fernhill, Berks.

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



1796 - 1807

Family and Education

b. 8 Jan. 1745, s. of Thomas Metcalfe, army chaplain, by Margaret, da. of Rev. John Williams. m. 18 Apr. 1782 at Calcutta, Susannah Sophia Selina, da. of John Debonnaire of the Cape of Good Hope, wid. of Maj. John Smith, E.I. Co. (Bengal), 4s. 2da. cr. Bt. 21 Dec. 1802.

Offices Held

Cadet, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1767, ensign 1767, lt. 1767, capt. 1777, maj. 1781; agent for military stores, Calcutta 1782-5; furlough 1786, struck off 1793.

Dir. E.I. Co. 1789-1813, Globe Insurance Co. c.1803-d., chairman 1811-d.

Sheriff, Berks. 1809-10.


Metcalfe served in the first Rohilla war in 1774 and in 1782 obtained the lucrative post of military storekeeper ‘by most perseveringly courting the heads of the government’, according to Hickey, who credited him with an inflated sense of self-importance. He returned from India with a handsome fortune, bought a Berkshire estate and in April 1789 secured his election as a director of the East India Company with Dundas’s backing. In 1793, when Hickey’s correspondent Benjamin Mee described him as ‘time-serving, pompous, and sycophantic’, he applied for the civil governorship of Bombay. He was passed over, but assured Dundas that he bore no grudge and would remain loyal to him and Pitt.1

In 1796, when he appeared on ministerial lists of persons in quest of seats, he secured his unopposed return for Abingdon, whose sitting Member, Edward Loveden Loveden, torn between the borough seat and his ambition to represent the county, eventually opted to contest the latter and abandoned the ground to him. With the aid of his purse he built up a useful interest at Abingdon, but in 1802 and 1806 only narrowly survived challenges from an independent party headed by a local tradesman and backed by Loveden.

Metcalfe supported Pitt, voting in the majority on the loyalty loan, 1 June 1797, and for the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798. He subsequently supported Addington, from whom he obtained his baronetcy, and defended his administration in the debate on Patten’s censure motion, 3 June 1803. Listed as ‘doubtful’ in the ministerial analysis of May 1804, he opposed Pitt’s additional force bill in June, but was placed under ‘Pitt’, though with a query, in the government list of September 1804. In December he was said to be one of ‘Addington’s friends’ who, though they ‘regretted’ his fall from power and had voted with him on the defence bill, ‘would not follow him into opposition’.2 While he evidently supported Pitt’s government after the reconciliation with Addington, he voted to bring Melville to book, 8 Apr. and 12 June 1805, yet was classed as nothing more hostile than ‘doubtful Pitt’ in the government list of July. He seems to have supported the ‘Talents’ as the government of the day, voting for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, but he did not vote for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge, 9 Apr. 1807, and was said to have tried to exploit ‘No Popery’ feeling at the ensuing general election.

Metcalfe spoke almost exclusively on Indian affairs, as a spokesman and apologist for the Company. He voiced objections to details of the Indian judicature bill, 4 and 6 July 1797, acting as teller for the minority of three who divided against the amendments to it on the second occasion; vindicated Lord Teignmouth’s conduct in the Oudh affair, 21 June 1799, and on 25 Nov. 1801 spoke strongly against Pulteney’s motion for an inquiry into the Indian trade, contending that any further violation of the Company’s commercial privileges would destroy the basis of British power in India. He drew attention to himself as the only director holding office between 1803 and 1806 to support Lord Wellesley, whose aggressive policies in India he defended in the House against the attacks of Francis, 3 May 1804 and 5 Apr. 1805. Whether Metcalfe, who wrote a letter of fulsome congratulation to Wellesley on the ‘astonishing success’ of his Mahrattan campaign, 23 Aug. 1804, was motivated by conviction or a desire to ensure his son’s advancement by Wellesley in the Bengal civil service is not clear, but he was the only dissentient from the court’s dispatch criticizing Wellesley in 1805 and lost his chance of the deputy chair as a result. He was on his feet several times to defend Wellesley, ‘the greatest statesman that had ever been in India’, in the debates of 1806, was the only director to attend the dinner in his honour, 20 Mar., and was one of the minority of four in the court who sided with Lord Grenville in favour of the appointment of Lauderdale as governor-general.3 In 1806 he introduced and monitored the progress of a bill to incorporate the Globe Insurance Company, which got no further than the committee stage.

Metcalfe was narrowly defeated at the general election of 1807 by his dogged local rival, and when the latter died in November 1809 was ineligible, as sheriff of Berkshire, to stand for Abingdon. He was alleged to have tried to secure his return for Malmesbury through a bargain with the sitting Member, Sir George Bowyer, who took over the Abingdon seat, but nothing came of it. He died 17 Nov. 1813.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Hickey Mems. ed. Spencer, ii. 277; iii. 164-5; iv. 89; SRO GD51/4/141.
  • 2. E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to bp. of Lincoln, 18 Dec. 1804.
  • 3. Add. 37283, ff. 116, 240; J. W. Kaye, Life of Lord Metcalfe, i. 180-1; Colchester, ii. 46; Farington, iii. 252.