BEST, Hon. William Samuel (1798-1869), of 12 Hanover Square, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 19 Feb. 1798, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of William Draper Best†, 1st Bar. Wynford, of Wynford Eagle, Dorset and Leesons, Chislehurst, Kent and Mary Anne, da. of Jerome Knapp of Haberdashers’ Hall, London, company clerk. educ. Eton 1808; Brasenose, Oxf. 1814; I. Temple, called 1823. m. 21 July 1821, Jane, da. of William Thoyts of Sulhampstead, Berks., 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 2nd Bar. Wynford 3 Mar. 1845. d. 28 Feb. 1869.
Best’s father, after a Commons career in which he abandoned his ‘early politics ... of a liberal tendency’ to become an unbending Tory, achieved his ambition of a seat on the bench in 1818. He was known as the ‘judge advocate’ on account of his political bias, and his conduct in summarily fining Thomas Davison, on trial for blasphemous libel, a total of £100 for contempt of court was noticed in the House, 23 Feb., 19 Apr. 1821. His indifferent professional reputation did not prevent his promotion to chief justice of common pleas in 1824, but lord chancellor Lyndhurst later condemned him as ‘a bad judge, violent and intriguing, and knowing law only by scraps’. He obtained the peerage which he coveted in 1829, in what was widely seen as ‘a wretched job’: ministers, anxious to make James Scarlett* attorney-general, but embarrassed by the pretensions of Nicholas Tindal*, the solicitor-general, persuaded the chief justice to make way for Tindal in return for a coronet. His retirement was officially ascribed to ill health, which entitled him to an annual pension of £3,750 under the relevant statute. Despite being theoretically incapacitated by ‘permanent bodily infirmity’, he was subsequently made a deputy Speaker of the Lords to assist the chancellor in deciding Scottish appeals, for which task he was generally thought to be ‘totally unfit’. Ministers brushed aside a Whig protest against this transaction in the Commons, 1 Mar. 1830. Frequently wracked by gout, he ‘used to be carried into the [Lords] in an armchair, from which he was permitted not to rise whilst speaking’.1
Best was educated for the bar, but did not practise. At the general election of 1831 he was returned for Mitchell in a coup engineered by the Ultra Tory Lord Falmouth, who managed to oust the Member sitting on the Whig interest.2 Lord Wynford, as one of the ‘high flying party who describe reform as revolution and robbery’, became a leading opponent of the Grey ministry’s reform bill in the Lords. Best took the same line in the Commons, without distinguishing himself.3 He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced bill, 6 July, and at least twice for adjournment motions, 12 July 1831. He voted for use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and against the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. In a maiden speech, 29 July, he joined in protests against the same fate being visited on Guildford (which his father had briefly represented), maintaining that ‘a more pure body of electors is not to be found’. He divided against the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., and its passage, 21 Sept. He voted in the minority for the Irish union of parishes bill, 19 Aug. He divided for the motion to censure the Irish administration for its conduct in relation to the Dublin election, 23 Aug. In a noisy exchange on Irish education, 9 Sept., he called Daniel O’Connell to order, and he was one of the diehards who voted to terminate the Maynooth grant, 26 Sept. On the sale of beer bill, 23 Aug., he accused Hume of slandering the bishop of London but was ordered by the Speaker to retract. He voted in the majority for the Liverpool bribery prevention bill, 5 Sept. He divided against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, entering committee, 20 Jan., and the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. 1832. He was in the minority of five for Hunt’s proposal to exempt Preston from the £10 householder franchise, 3 Feb., voted against Wason’s attempt to restrict the duration of polling in smaller boroughs, 15 Feb., and joined in calls for Dorset to be given a fourth county Member, 9 Mar. He divided against the bill’s third reading, 22 Mar. Next day he was a minority teller for Waldo Sibthorp’s amendment regarding the freeholders of Lincoln. He was one of the bewildered and disgruntled Tories who gathered at the Carlton Club after the failure of opposition leaders to form a ministry, 15 May.4 He voted for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 23 May, and against the Irish reform bill, 25 May, 2 July. He suggested that the Isle of Purbeck be added to Wareham in order to make it a viable constituency, ‘for the sake of the agricultural interest’, 22 June. On 7 Aug. he was a majority teller against Evans’s motion for a measure to prevent the possible disfranchisement of urban voters under the registration regulations, and a minority teller for Waldo Sibthorp’s attempt to kill the electoral bribery bill. He divided against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 20 July, when he argued that ‘no economy would be more grateful to the country’. In what was ‘probably the last duty I shall ever discharge’ in the Commons, 6 Aug., he condemned the proposed loan of £800,000 to Greece and divided the House against it; he was defeated by 49-16. Two days later he reiterated his objections to the loan, but his wrecking amendment was negatived. He voted in the minorities against the malt drawback bill, 29 Feb., 2 Apr. On 30 May, declaring that there was great anxiety in the country on the subject of agricultural protection, he persuaded Lord Milton to fix 6 June for his motion on the corn laws, but he gave up his plan to move a call of the House that day when Milton abandoned his motion for the session. He divided against the Irish party processions bill, 25 June, and was a teller for tiny minorities in ten divisions against it, 8 Aug. He divided for Baring’s measure to exclude insolvent debtors from the House, 27 June 1832.
With Mitchell disfranchised by the Reform Act, Best did not seek another seat at the general election of 1832. In 1835 he offered for Shaftesbury as ‘a friend to agriculture’, who desired ‘a fair and equitable commutation of tithes’, as an opponent of certain ‘obnoxious clauses’ of the Poor Law Amendment Act, and as one who favoured ‘the correction of abuses’; he was defeated. He stood for Barnstaple in 1837, describing himself as ‘a Conservative in the strictest sense of the word’, who wanted justice for the Dissenters and the Irish, provided it was not to the detriment of established interests. He confessed that he was ‘not fitted for public life’, but warned that ‘the people ... were rolling about from one change to another like drunken men, led astray from one dreadful speculation to another, awaiting a dreadful blow to stun them into sobriety’, which he ‘wished to avert’; he came bottom of the poll.5 He succeeded to his father’s peerage and modest estates in Dorset and Kent in 1845.6 He died in February 1869 and was succeeded by his eldest son William (1826-99).
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 431-2; Lord Campbell, Lives of Chief Justices, iii. 291, 294; E. Foss, Judges of England, ix. 11-12; Broughton, Recollections, iii. 219-20; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 276-7; Greville Mems. i. 215.
- 2. West Briton, 6, 20 May 1831.
- 3. Holland House Diaries, 91; Three Diaries, 28-29, 31, 78, 94, 131, 136, 138, 143, 216, 274.
- 4. Three Diaries, 257.
- 5. Dorset Chron. 8 Jan. 1835; N. Devon Jnl. 14, 21, 28 July 1837.
- 6. PROB 8/238 (8 Apr. 1845); 11/2017/352.