EVANS, William (1788-1856), of Allestree Hall, Derbys.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1818 - 1826
1830 - 1834
1837 - June 1853

Family and Education

b. 17 Jan. 1788, 1st surv. s. of William Evans, banker and industrialist, of Darley Abbey and Elizabeth, da. of Jedediah Strutt of Belper. m. 31 July 1820, Mary, da. of Rev. Thomas Gisborne of Yoxall Lodge, Staffs., 1s. suc. fa. 1796.; grandfa. Thomas Evans of Derby 1814. d. 8 Apr. 1856.

Offices Held

Cornet, Derbys. yeoman cav. 1812, capt. 1816; sheriff, Derbys. 1829-30.


Evans inherited a share in the Derby bank, Darley cotton and paper mills, Derby waterworks and Bonsall lead smelting business founded by his grandfather Thomas Evans and his father William Evans, who died when he was eight-years-old.1 It was his stepfather (and uncle) Walter Evans (his father’s younger half-brother, who married William’s widow Elizabeth née Strutt) who ran the cotton mills and created at Darley a model community for his employees, with a school and church.2 Evans’s younger brother Samuel was in charge of the paper mill. Evans was again returned unopposed for East Retford (where he had spent heavily in 1818) at the general election of 1820, evidently with the continued private acquiescence of the anti-Catholic Tory 4th duke of Newcastle. In his first Parliament he had taken an independent line, but in his second he confirmed his liberal inclinations by acting with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry, though he was not a ‘thick and thin’ attender.3 His only known vote in support of Queen Caroline was for restoration of her name to the liturgy, 13 Feb. 1821. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He voted with fair regularity for economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation, but was in the ministerial majorities against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr. 1821, and of some assessed taxes, 10 Mar. 1823. On the army estimates, 14 Mar. 1821, he said that he saw no prospect of relieving distress by the simple remission of taxes, deprecated military expenditure in the colonies and advocated the enlistment of a colonial yeomanry. He was granted ten days’ leave to attend to urgent private business, 18 May 1821. Before voting for inquiry into Sir Thomas Maitland’s† government of the Ionian Islands, 7 June 1821, he condemned Maitland’s arbitrary use of a power ‘too great for any man to be entrusted with’. He presented and endorsed a petition for mitigation of the criminal code and of the punishment for forgery, 20 June 1821.4 His first recorded vote for parliamentary reform was on 25 Apr. 1822, and he supported it in the divisions of 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 26 Feb. 1824, 27 Apr. 1826. He was in the minority of 25 for a fixed duty of 20s. on wheat imports, 9 May 1822, and voted to relax the corn laws, 26 Feb. 1823, 18 Apr. 1826. In the silk trade debates, 5, 19 Mar. 1824, he argued that free trade would be more beneficial to industry and commerce than the remission of direct taxes. He presented an East Retford petition for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Act, 25 Feb. 1823.5 He supported Phillimore’s proposal to moderate the Profane Swearing Act, 18 Mar. 1823. He was named to the committee on the county gaols bill, 13 Apr. 1824, and on 14 May proposed to add a clause empowering magistrates to commit to such prisons.6 He approved the principle of the game bill, 25 Mar., and spoke in favour of the grant for new churches, 12 Apr. 1824.7 He presented petitions in favour of the cruelty to animals bill, 11 Mar. 1825.8 As a mill owner, he recognized the need to improve working conditions and supported the cotton factories regulation bill, 17 May 1825, but he repudiated any comparison between the experiences of factory workers and colonial slaves: shorter working hours would not be injurious ‘even to the interests of the manufacturers’, because children would be able to perform with ‘greater vigour’. On 3 Mar. 1826 he questioned the need to maintain volunteer corps to preserve public order and criticized magistrates for neglect of their duties in this regard.

In 1820 Evans, who was incensed at the determination of foreign governments to continue the slave trade, had become a regular patron of the African Institution. He was appointed a director the following year. He addressed the institution in May 1823, and presented a number of anti-slavery petitions in that and the following year.9 He was closely associated with Zachary Macaulay and the extra-parliamentary abolitionist movement. This association brought him into contact with Thomas Babington Macaulay*, whom he entertained at Allestree in the summer of 1824. Macaulay delighted in his company, though he found Mrs. Evans

the very freezing point of the moral thermometer. Cold water seems warm after raspberry ice. And Mr. Evans gains in the same manner: though indeed he is too honest and amiable to need a foil.10

After privately encouraging Thomas Fowell Buxton* to expose the government’s vacillation on slavery abolition,11 on 16 Mar. 1824 he said in the House that Canning’s proposals to ameliorate the condition of colonial slaves were inadequate and that it was illusory to imagine that slaves could obtain legal redress in cases of oppression. He voted in condemnation of the conviction of the Methodist missionary John Smith for inciting rebellion among slaves in Demerara, 11 June. He served as secretary to the African Institution in 1824 and wrote to lobby Peel, the home secretary, 5 May, against the bill to incorporate the East India Company, since this would hamper the progress of emancipation. He unsuccessfully opposed the West India Company bill on the same grounds, 10, 16 May 1825, and defended missionary societies against imputations of promoting insurrection, 15 June 1824.12 He obtained statistics on the slave trade, 7 Mar., 5 May 1825, 14 Apr. 1826.13 He protested against the principle of giving preference to slave labour in the colonies, 21 Mar., but approved the recently relaxed tariffs as an ‘enormous advantage to the country’, 25 Mar. 1825. He seconded the resolution of the Derbyshire meeting called to petition for the abolition of slavery, 12 Jan. 1826.14 He voted in condemnation of the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., and against colonial military expenditure, 10 Mar. 1826: ‘they heard much of the loss and waste of human life in Sierra Leone in preventing slavery; but there was no mention at all of the excessive waste of life’ in supporting it. He presented more anti-slavery petitions in the ensuing weeks.

Evans’s decision not to seek re-election for East Retford, whose venality he found increasingly distasteful and where his parliamentary conduct was thought to be ‘too independent’ for Newcastle’s liking, was public knowledge by October 1824.15 At the general election of 1826 he came forward for Leicester. According to William Gardiner he was anxious to expose the corporation over the issue of honorary freemen, the nomination of which he condemned on the hustings. He declared himself an opponent of the corn laws and advocated free trade and Catholic emancipation. As an abolitionist he was assiduously supported by his kinsman Thomas Babington† and Zachary Macaulay, but was anxious to secure the assistance of the retiring Whig Member Thomas Pares.16 Anticipating a hard contest, he received the professional services of Thomas Macaulay, who drafted satirical squibs in his favour.17 After a fierce contest, which cost him about £17,000, he was defeated by the corporation candidates, who had coalesced against him.18 Later in the year Evans commended Zachary Macaulay’s decision to prosecute John Bull for printing ‘malicious libels’ in support of the West India interest and offered to share the cost of doing so. At about this time he was hoodwinked by Zachary Macaulay’s nephew into making a large loan in support of their trading house in Sierra Leone under the misguided assumption that Macaulay was cognisant of the application.19 He spoke at a Derby meeting called to petition for relaxation of the corn laws, 9 Nov. 1826.20 In November 1828 Evans was a guest of the Friends of Civil and Religious Liberty at Leicester and agreed to their proposal to nominate him as a prospective candidate for the borough.21 In 1829 he became a shareholder in the new university of London.22 He duly offered for Leicester at the general election of 1830 and received the tacit support of the retiring Member Robert Otway Cave, who did not wish to divide the popular vote and tried elsewhere. Evans, who was supported by Matthew Babington and Pares, alluded to the causes of the July revolution in France, but believed it imprudent for Britain to interfere. He asserted his desire for economies and parliamentary reform, but declined to support ‘every ill-digested visionary proposition to that end’ or to commit himself to the ballot, though he pledged himself to combat municipal corruption at Leicester. He said he had come round to favouring the total repeal of the corn laws. He was returned unopposed.23

The Wellington ministry listed him among the ‘bad doubtfuls’ with the endorsement ‘opposition’; and he voted against them in the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented numerous anti-slavery petitions to the 1830 Parliament, though he supported the proposal not to print repetitious ones, 11 Nov., while reserving the right to move the printing of those ‘more argumentative than the great mass’. Next day he voted to relax West Indian import duties on wheat. He warned the House against the empty promises of West Indian slave owners and protested against the postponement of emancipation in order to consider the question of compensation for their vested interests, 23 Nov. He secured a return of information on the foreign slave trade, 7 Dec., and on the 20th refuted the arguments of Members who exaggerated the obstacles to the immediate abolition of slavery and pressed the Grey ministry to settle the question without delay: otherwise, ‘they will lose my poor support’. Before he presented an Anstey reform petition calling for the ballot, 2 Dec., he corresponded with Pares in order to verify its authenticity and told him:

I hope much from the new ministry, but the state of a large portion of the country is deplorable and alarming, and the mighty question with which ministers have now to deal must render their situation most difficult and serious.24

On 15 Dec. he presented and endorsed the prayer of a Shepshed reform petition and urged Members to reassure the country of their intentions in the forthcoming debate:

I agree with the petitioners in thinking that the operation of the corn laws is injurious to the lower classes, and that several of the taxes, especially those on the necessaries of life, fall with peculiar weight upon their comforts. I, therefore, wish to have many of the existing taxes repealed, and a well regulated property tax imposed in their stead.

He conveyed his apologies to the Leicester reform meeting chaired by Thomas Paget* in January 1831.25 He presented and endorsed a Loughborough petition for reform and relief from distress, 3 Feb., but said he believed that repeal of the corn laws ‘should not be sudden and immediate’. He brought up a Leicester petition for abolition of the truck system, 11 Feb., and declared his support for Littleton’s bill for that purpose, though he doubted whether it would ‘produce any effectual relief to the working classes’. The same day he largely approved of the government’s budget, but condemned the proposed transfer tax and again advocated the imposition of a property tax as a ‘fairer’ alternative. On 17 Feb. he was given leave to bring in a bill to restrain corporations from the abuse of municipal funds for electoral purposes. On the 19th he dined with Jeremy Bentham.26 He presented a Leicester petition in support of the corporate funds bill, 25 Feb., and defended its principle on the second reading, 11 Mar., and in committee, 14 Apr. The measure passed the Commons on 18 Apr., but was overtaken by the dissolution. Evans’s refusal to pledge himself to support the ballot had disappointed some of his constituents, but he indicated in a public letter, 3 Jan., that he was now ‘disposed ... to think more favourably’ of it.27 However, on 26 Feb. he said in the House that he still could not commit himself to support the proposal, advocated in a Leicester petition, as he ‘did not know anything which would throw greater discredit on the country, or be more objectionable to the respectable portion of the community’. Excusing himself from attending the forthcoming Leicester reform meeting, he told Paget in a public letter, 8 Mar., that he considered that with their reform scheme ministers had ‘nobly redeemed their pledge’ and deserved ‘all the support the people can give them’.28 He presented and endorsed reform petitions from Leicester and other towns in the county, 17 Mar., and spoke of his constituents’ disinterested enthusiasm for the reform bill as proof of the ‘rational view which the people take of the proposed measure’. He was named to the select committee on cotton mills, 18 Mar. Next day he presented an individual’s petition complaining of the partisan conduct of Leicester corporation in 1826, but could not find a seconder for his motion to have it printed. He also brought up a Leicester beer sellers’ petition complaining of corporation harassment. He voted for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He was reported to be ‘jubilant’ at the government’s decision to dissolve Parliament and appeal to the country.29

Evans stood again for Leicester as a reformer at the general election, even though he admitted that ‘his anxiety to be in Parliament was not now so great’, and was returned unopposed after a third man gave up at the last minute.30 He obtained leave to reintroduce his corporate funds bill, 23 June 1831. It passed its third reading, 23 July, but foundered in the Lords, 25 July. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and divided steadily for its details. On 25 Aug. he argued that urban tenants who rented on a weekly basis were no less independent than those on annual leases. He presented and endorsed a Leicester manufacturers’ petition for repeal of the corn laws, 18 July. He voted for printing the Waterford petition calling for the disarming of the Irish yeomanry following the massacre at Newtownbarry, 11 Aug., but divided with government against charges of their improper interference in the Dublin election, 23 Aug. At a Leicester dinner to celebrate the coronation, he explained that he had recently taken a week’s rest from Parliament, as constant attendance had damaged his health, but he congratulated his audience on the ‘successful progress’ of the reform bill.31 He was present to vote for its passage, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. Writing to Pares, 4 Oct., he expressed misgivings about the English bill’s prospects in the Lords, but took some consolation from the enthusiasm shown at the Derbyshire reform meeting.32 He voted for the motion of confidence in the ministry, 10 Oct. On 19 Oct. 1831 he presented and backed the prayer of a Northampton shoemakers’ petition for repeal of the newspaper stamp duties. He obtained leave to reintroduce his corporate funds bill, 12 Dec. 1831. It passed the Commons, 28 Jan., and received royal assent, 1 Aug. 1832. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, was again a steady supporter of its details, though he was one of the minority of 32 who refused to accept the enfranchisement of £50-tenants at will, 1 Feb., and voted for the third reading, 22 Mar. He belatedly joined Brooks’s Club, 15 Feb. Next day he voted in the minority of 28 for information on military punishments. He presented a Leicester petition supporting the proposed Leicester to Birmingham railway, 6 Apr. He divided in favour of the Irish registry of deeds bill, 9 Apr. He voted for the address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry undiluted reform, 10 May, and on the 18th presented a Leicester petition for supplies to be withheld until it had been secured. He was in Buxton’s minority for the immediate abolition of colonial slavery, 24 May, having been ‘almost the only person’ among his close friends who had urged him to persevere with it in the face of ministerial hostility, and was a member of the select committee appointed to consider it, 30 May.33 He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June. He divided against Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 6 June, and for an amendment to the boundaries bill designed to prevent aristocratic domination of Stamford and Whitehaven, 22 June. He voted to open inquests to the public, 20 June, and presented and endorsed a Leicester petition calling for the establishment of local courts to facilitate the recovery of debts, 5 July. He sided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July 1832.

Evans was returned at the head of the poll for Leicester at the general election of 1832, but was defeated by two Conservatives in 1835. He declined to contest the borough in 1837, when he came in for North Derbyshire as a supporter of the ballot.34 He vacated his seat in 1853 and died in April 1856. After providing for his wife, sisters and a host of relatives and godchildren, he left all his residual property to his only son Thomas William Evans (1821-92), Liberal Member for South Derbyshire, 1857-68, 1874-85, who was created a baronet in 1887. Evans’s personalty was sworn under £250,000.35

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Simon Harratt


  • 1. PROB 11/1276/302; 1553/127.
  • 2. See Dyott’s Diary, ii. 56.
  • 3. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 462.
  • 4. The Times, 21 June 1821.
  • 5. Ibid. 26 Feb. 1823.
  • 6. Ibid. 15 May 1824.
  • 7. Ibid. 13 Apr. 1824.
  • 8. Ibid. 12 Mar. 1825.
  • 9. Ibid. 9, 15 May, 28 June 1823, 9, 10, 30 Mar. 1824.
  • 10. Macaulay Letters, i. 197-8.
  • 11. Buxton Mems. 145.
  • 12. Add. 40364, ff. 262, 264.
  • 13. The Times, 8 Mar., 6 May 1825, 15 Apr. 1826.
  • 14. Derby Mercury, 18 Jan. 1826.
  • 15. LJ, lxii. 312, 320, 349; Fitzwilliam mss 118/3, 4, 7, 9.
  • 16. W. Gardiner, Music and Friends, ii. 627; Leicester Jnl. 5 May, 9 June; J. Clive, Macaulay, 96-98; Derby Local Stud. Lib. Pares mss, Evans to Pares, 15 May 1826.
  • 17. Macaulay Letters, i. 211-12.
  • 18. LJ, lxii. 352; Leics. RO, Braye mss 3455; Gurney diary, 23 Sept. 1826.
  • 19. E. A. Knutsford, Zachary Macaulay, 403, 417, 436.
  • 20. Derby Mercury, 15 Nov. 1826.
  • 21. Braye mss 3502.
  • 22. UCL, College mss, Evans to Coates, 24 Apr. 1829.
  • 23. Leicester Jnl. 2, 9, 16 July, 6 Aug. 1830.
  • 24. Pares mss, Evans to Pares, 2 Dec. 1830.
  • 25. Leicester Chron. 1 Jan. 1831.
  • 26. Derby Local stud. Lib. Strutt mss, E. to F. Strutt, 11 Feb. 1831.
  • 27. Leicester Herald, 9 Feb. 1831.
  • 28. Lincoln and Newark Times, 16 Mar. 1831.
  • 29. Strutt mss, E. to F. Strutt, 21 Apr. 1831.
  • 30. Leicester Jnl. 29 Apr., 6 May 1831.
  • 31. Leicester Chron. 17 Sept. 1831.
  • 32. Pares mss.
  • 33. Buxton Mems. 291.
  • 34. A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, 232.
  • 35. PROB 11/2232/383; IR26/2063/371