THORNTON (afterwards ASTELL), William (1774-1847), of Everton House, Beds.

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



1807 - 1832
1841 - 1847

Family and Education

b. 13 Oct. 1774, 2nd s. of Godfrey Thornton, London merchant, of Moggerhanger and Everton by Jane, da. and coh. of Stephen Peter Godin of Cullands Grove, Mdx. m. 15 July 1800, Sarah, da. of John Harvey of Ickwellbury, Beds. and Finningley Park, Yorks., 4s. 4da. Took name of Astell in lieu of Thornton on suc. to Everton estate of his uncle, William Thornton Astell, 9 June 1807.

Offices Held

Dir. E.I. Co. 1800-46, dep. chairman 1809-10, 1823-4, 1829-30, chairman 1810-11, 1824-5, 1828-9, 1830-1; dir. Russia Co. 1802, E.I. Dock Co. 1805-35.

Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1797; maj. R. E.I. vols. 1803, lt.-col. 1805, col. 1820-34; lt.-col. Beds. militia 1841.


The son and grandson of directors of the Bank of England and great-grandson of John Thornton of Hull (therefore kin to the brothers Henry, Robert and Samuel), Thornton was a partner in Godfrey Thornton and Sons’ firm. In March 1800 he was elected an East India Company director after a contest. He was returned for Bridgwater after a contest in 1807, shortly before he changed his name to Astell to inherit the Bedfordshire and Huntingdon estates of his maternal grandmother, Margaret Astell. The year before, he had contested the borough unsuccessfully as an opponent of the ministerial candidates; he was returned as a friend of the Portland administration. His senior kinsman Robert Thornton, like himself an East India Company director, had sat for Bridgwater before 1790, on Earl Poulett’s interest: William benefited from this too, but helped maintain it and himself for 25 years by the distribution of East India Company patronage to his constituents.1

In his first Parliament Astell voted with opposition on Indian affairs, 15 Mar., 17 June 1808, and on the Duke of York’s conduct, 15, 17 Mar. 1809. After voting with ministers for the address, 23 Jan. 1810, he joined opposition for inquiry into the Scheldt expedition on 26 Jan., but reverted to government on that question, 5 and 30 Mar. The Whigs listed him ‘Government’ that session. He opposed the release of the radical Gale Jones, 16 Apr., and voted against parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810. On 1 Jan. 1811 he was in the government minority on the Regency: his last known vote in that Parliament. Listed a Treasury supporter after the election of 1812, he twice opposed Catholic claims in May 1813 (also in 1816 and 1817), but voted in disapproval of the Speaker’s conduct on that question, 22 Apr. 1814. He was against Christian missions to India, 1 July 1813, and opposed the East India ships registry bill, 6 June 1815. He voted against the Corn Law proposals, 23 Feb. 1815. He also voted against the renewal of war, 28 Apr. 1815, and was opposed to the civil list, 14 Apr. 1815, as also on 6 and 24 May 1816. He was in the minorities on the army estimates, 28 Feb., and 11 Mar. 1816, and in the majority against the property tax, 18 Mar. He voted against the restriction of Bank payments, 3 May 1816 (again on 1 May 1818 and 2 Feb. 1819). On 28 Mar. 1817 he was in the minority favouring a time limit on the ban on public meetings near Westminster, and on 5 June opposed the revival of the secret committee on sedition. He voted in condonation of government employment of informers on sedition, 5 Mar. 1818, but opposed the Duke of Clarence’s marriage grant, 15 Apr. In the ensuing Parliament he opposed the Windsor establishment, 22 Feb. 1819, and voted for the reduction of the junior lords of Admiralty, 18 Mar. He paired against the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June 1819.

When Astell was chairman of the East India Company in 1811, Stephen Lushington described him as ‘a vain empty blockhead totally unequal to the situation where he has to sit alone and when he has time to consult, wholly in the hands of Charles Grant’.2 The only subject on which he spoke in the House was East Indian affairs, in reply to the Company’s critics, except for his confession of disagreement with fellow members of the Helston election committee, 25 Mar., 21 June 1813—he wished to pursue the improprieties in the election no further. He died 7 Mar. 1847, then described as ‘a consistent conservative of the old school’.3

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne



  • 1. Key to Both Houses (1832), 303.
  • 2. Kent AO, Harris mss C67/70.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. (1847), i. 546.