GLADSTONE, Thomas (1804-1889).

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



2 Dec. 1830 - 1831
1832 - 1834
1835 - 1837
3 June 1842 - 30 July 1842

Family and Education

b. 25 July 1804, 1st s. of John Gladstone* and 2nd w. Anne, da. of Andrew Robertson, provost of Dingwall, Ross. educ. Rev. Rawson’s sch. Seaforth; Eton 1817; Christ Church, Oxf. 1823; I. Temple 1828. m. 27 Aug. 1835, Louisa, da. of Robert Fellowes† of Shottesham Park, Norf. 1s. 6da. (5 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 7 Dec. 1851. d. 20 Mar. 1889.

Offices Held

Ld. lt. Kincardine 1876-d.; lt. Kincardine rifles.


Gladstone, the eldest of the four sons of the wealthy Liverpool merchant John Gladstone, who had great political ambitions for them, enjoyed a happy childhood at Seaforth House, Lancashire, being especially close to his elder sister Anne, who was fated to die young, and to his younger brothers, Robertson and John Neilson Gladstone†. However, his upbringing was overshadowed by a domineering father and ineffectual invalid mother, and his early education both at home and the local school was strongly Evangelical.1 He found Eton thoroughly alienating, partly because of the unfamiliar robustness of public school life and also because, beyond his intellectual abilities, he was put straight into the fourth form. He failed to live up to expectations, and loneliness led to increasingly unruly behaviour for which he was nearly expelled twice, much to the disgust of his parents. He eventually settled and took his brothers under his wing, but left having risen no higher than the fifth form.2 At Christ Church he continued to make modest academic progress, perhaps in part because he was subject to frequent bouts of ill health.3 In the Christmas vacation of 1824-5 he travelled to Paris, and he returned there the following summer, taking up the foreign secretary George Canning’s offer of residence with the family of the British ambassador, where he was employed as a copyist. He completed his BA in 1827, but poor health led to a prolonged sojourn on the continent from the autumn of that year, which included visits to Paris, Florence, Naples, Rome and Milan.4 Having finally recuperated, he intended to enter Lincoln’s Inn in November 1828, but finding that he was too late to start the required legal dinners there, he instead enrolled at the Inner Temple, became the sole pupil of Serjeant Henry Alworth Merewether and began to attend lectures at University College. However, his languid nature and the attractions of London society, as a member of the Windham and Athenaeum Clubs, put paid to his putative legal career.5 Although it was principally Robertson who assisted in his father’s business activities, Gladstone occasionally reported news from the City and sometimes handled the family’s affairs while he was resident in London. He also defended his father’s business interests by monitoring the various political attempts to end colonial slavery, the existence of which he justified on commercial grounds.6

Gladstone had long been destined by his father for a political career, perhaps the more so as John Neilson was intent on pursuing advancement in the navy; and although he was already being eclipsed by his youngest brother, William Ewart Gladstone†, their father was willing to use all his influence to get him into Parliament.7 Gladstone himself exhibited an interest in politics from an early age, and followed his father in admiring Canning and William Huskisson*, with whom John Gladstone was associated at Liverpool. Congratulating his father on the outcome of the 1818 election there, the fourteen-year-old Gladstone recorded that ‘I have read all Canning’s speeches, and can safely say that I never admired anything of the sort half so much’. He followed his father’s electoral and parliamentary affairs closely, and by 1827 he had begun to attend Commons debates and to report detailed accounts of political news and speculation to his father.8 His illness, together with the death of Canning in August 1827 and the resignation of Huskisson in May 1828, which removed much of John Gladstone’s influence, delayed his entry into Parliament. However, as George IV’s death approached, he began to make enquiries for a seat that his father might purchase on his behalf.9 One possibility was Chippenham where the proprietor, Joseph Neeld*, was looking for someone to be returned with himself, at an estimated cost of only £500, if a contest was avoided. Huskisson approved of this plan, and suggested that Gladstone also follow up Edward John Littleton’s* offer of a seat at Stafford, which could be had for under £4,000. He rejected this second option as he had no experience of fighting expensive elections. Through Huskisson, Gladstone was also offered Leominster cheaply, but he decided against it when it became clear that, in the unlikely event of success, the cost would be about £5,000, and that he would in any case be liable for at least £1,000. Huskisson and Sir Stratford Canning* urged him to accept another, unidentified, seat which was available for 5,000 guineas, but due to a misunderstanding he was just too late in applying for it. Commenting on the high price of seats, he wrote that ‘the Catholic candidates added to the Protestants, who are of course as numerous as ever, make a material difference in the market and ... they offer very liberally’. He continued to follow up possibilities elsewhere, including in Ireland and Cornwall, until finally settling on Queenborough in mid-July 1830.10

Gladstone was introduced there by Merewether, who had previously acted as a legal representative of the freemen in their struggle to wrest control of the local fisheries from the select body of the corporation. A popular candidate was needed at the general election of 1830 to accompany John Capel* in his opposition to two men put forward on the ordnance interest, William Holmes* and Admiral Sir Philip Durham†, who had threatened to pay whatever was necessary to win back both seats. Although Gladstone knew he would have to contribute to providing for the poor of the town, the estimated cost of £1,500 to £2,000 proved very enticing. Capel* undertook to support his candidacy by introducing him to the electors, and in addresses of 16 and 19 July Gladstone pledged himself to the cause of independence against both the ordnance and the select body.11 As his list of freemen makes clear, he canvassed assiduously, even pursuing individual out-voters, and he also exploited his family’s City and shipping influence and his father’s ‘venerable’ reputation. While he calculated that he would be narrowly elected, he was also aware that he was not treating the freemen as lavishly as the other candidates.12 At meetings in Queenborough, 23, 31 July, he agreed to forward an address of grievances against the select body if he were elected. On the hustings, 2 Aug., he attacked Durham for undermining the independence of the electors, and declared that he stood ‘not as the opponent of government, but of the ordnance’.13 He came fourth in the poll, with Holmes elected outright, and Durham and Capel* involved in a double return for the second seat. Gladstone’s support from the independent burgesses was underlined when a meeting of resident freemen thanked him for his conduct during the contest, 3 Aug. 1830.14

The government candidates attempted to ward off a challenge to their election by having seats provided for Capel* and Gladstone elsewhere, but the latter was rightly suspicious of Holmes’s hints to this effect, and anyway thought that a government seat ‘would not quite suit’.15 Capel* took charge of the campaign to overturn the result, and Gladstone was careful to co-operate with him, placing his colleague’s hopes of success before his own.16 Meanwhile he spent the autumn in Lancashire, and witnessed the fatal accident of Huskisson, whose loss he much lamented, 15 Sept. 1830.17 He thought that there was sufficient support in Liverpool to warrant John Gladstone attempting to regain the seat, but his father was not finally convinced by his optimistic soundings.18 He spent a good deal of his time in consultation with his legal advisers, Merewether and Henry Hall Joy, the electoral agents Comyn and Saunders, of 1 Queen Anne Place, Southwark Bridge, and Scott James Breeze, who was one of the leading independent burgesses and had chaired his committee. He was reluctant to stand alone, despite various calculations that by objecting to several non-residents he could establish a legal majority in the poll.19 He therefore followed his father’s advice to couple his cause to that of Capel*, whose property and popularity in the town would give him a controlling interest if the non-residents were excluded, although he did wonder whether Capel* would always wish to retain him as a colleague. They petitioned to be returned together, 9 Nov., and John Gladstone used his influence to secure the attendance of his friends in his son’s favour.20 Gladstone peremptorily refused to make a last minute deal with Holmes which would have given him one of the seats in return for paying his opponent’s expenses. He was seated, 2 Dec., and was again congratulated by the freemen for his independence. He took his seat, 6 Dec. 1830, and immediately began what was to be an almost constant attendance in the House by listening to the decision on the Liverpool election.21

Elected as an independent, Gladstone was ambivalent in his attitude to Lord Grey’s newly installed ministry. After the resignation of the duke of Wellington, he had written that

at the same time that all must feel the late administration’s inadequacy to the task before them, I cannot but look forward with a want of confidence to their successor, unless the Huskisson party has a strong voice in the cabinet. We are now on the eve of a new era in the principles that govern this country; and who can say where the spirit of innovation will stop.

He wished that Sir Robert Peel*, whose speeches he much admired, was still in office. He objected to Tennyson’s proposed bill to enfranchise men paying rates for three years prior to an election, because it would deprive property of its due influence. He was, however, summoned by Lord Althorp, the government leader, to attend the meeting of Parliament, 21 Jan. 1831.22 He kept his father fully informed on business issues and promised to send him regular bulletins from the House. He reported on the progress of Thomas Fowell Buxton’s intended anti-slavery motion and related matters, the West India planters’ lobbying against the planned reductions in the sugar duties and the proceedings on the Liverpool by-election. Although initially in favour of the Liverpool and Leeds railway bill, he decided to oppose it because it conflicted with the interests of other lines. On 8 Feb. 1831 he wrote that ‘although ministers have disappointed many in the House, I think they will also have conciliated many by their conduct’; but four days later he thought them foolish to risk weakening themselves over the abortive tax proposals in Althorp’s budget, ‘when the great question is so near at hand, and for which all their force will be required at least’.23

As early as 10 Feb. 1831 Gladstone had heard a rumour of what the schedules in the reform bill, though not the numbers in each, would be, and he was dismayed by the prospect that Peel might oppose it in its entirety and so cause its defeat. He intended to vote against Lord Chandos’s plan to enfranchise Birmingham at the expense of Evesham if it came to a division, 18 Feb., but only because all those proved guilty of bribery there had been non-residents. He also thought the existing privileges of resident freemen ought to be continued for life. He was ‘caught’ on the Oxford election committee, 22 Feb.24 Prior to Lord John Russell’s statement on reform, 1 Mar., he agreed with his father on the gloomy prospects for the country if it was not carried; but he was staggered by the scope of the proposals, and wrote that ‘were it not expediency, or perhaps necessity, I should not hesitate in aiding to damn so bold a change in our constitution’. He now hoped Peel might endeavour to scupper the bill with a view to introducing a more moderate measure of his own. He wished for concessions from government, but thought that if Peel moved for its immediate rejection, he would have to support him rather than appear to sanction such immense changes. He liked his father’s idea of uniting boroughs, and wanted voters in disfranchised towns to be able to vote for county Members during their lifetimes. On 9 Mar. he recorded: ‘I find a great many Members whose views are similar to mine; that is, who will not vote for the second reading, unless prospects of concession are held out by ministers’. He believed that rejection was preferable to the irrevocable adoption of hasty and large-scale reforms and claimed that he would assign his reasons if he felt compelled to vote against the bill’s committal.25 He was appointed to the Londonderry election committee, 8 Mar., and was in the majority of six which voted to unseat Sir Robert Ferguson, 14 Mar. He voted against reduction of the sugar duties, 11 Mar., partly in order to show sympathy with the West India planters who wanted their sugar to be admitted for use in British distilleries. He successfully avoided appointment to other committees in order to leave himself free to attend that on Liverpool. He voted in the majority against government on the reduction of the timber duties, 18 Mar. 1831. When Capel* presented an anti-reform petition from Queenborough that day, Gladstone, despite being unwilling to commit himself publicly, ‘said something on the subject, but there was a noise in the House and ministers paid me no attention’. Because Queenborough was in schedule A, he knew he was unlikely to be returned again there, and this no doubt coloured his opinion of reform. He was, however, prepared to present a petition from Sheerness requesting that the two Queenborough seats be transferred to the whole Isle of Sheppey, if any was forthcoming.26

The government’s indication that the reform bill would be revised in committee allowed Gladstone to support it, but he reported that its loss seemed certain. When its second reading passed by only one vote, 22 Mar. 1831, he recorded:

I voted in the majority and, if any one turned the balance more than another, I did, for up to the moment of the division itself I was in hopes that some person, in whom I could place confidence and who might have weight in the House, would pledge himself to bring forward a substantial but moderate measure of reform, and, if such had been the case, it would have decided me in voting, without hesitation, against the bill. As it was, in spite of my own feelings and prejudices, I could not make up my mind to do what was tantamount to saying ‘I will have no reform’. And I consider that I am still as unpledged to the details of the bill as I was this time yesterday.

He was unable to speak in the debate because of the number of Members trying to get a hearing. He thereafter believed that the bill could only survive if it was substantially altered in committee.27 In letters to the editor of the Morning Herald, 24, 26 Mar., he categorically denied any corruption in Liverpool elections involving Canning and Huskisson, which his father thought was imprudently overstating the case. With Buxton’s motion imminent, Gladstone was active in circulating his father’s Statement of Facts on slavery.28 He was again summoned by Althorp, 7 Apr., in order to support the reform bill in committee. He regretted not having risen to correct Lord Morpeth’s misrepresentation of his father’s views on the ultimate emancipation of the slaves, 15 Apr. He objected to any reduction in the number of English and Welsh seats, and therefore voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to this effect, 19 Apr. The next day he wrote that

I was the more reconciled to doing so because ministers had up to last night declared that they did not consider the point a vital one and because I could not see why it should be made so, unless they were sufficiently wrong-headed to be determined on having nothing but their own plan of reform.

He wanted Peel to become prime minister and hoped that moderate reform might still be pursued. He spoke in denial of any past electoral malpractice at Liverpool, 21 Apr. 1831.29

Gladstone’s standing in Queenborough had considerably deteriorated in the past year. He was far less generous than Capel* in forwarding patronage applications, contributing to the alleviation of distress within the town or assisting in the freemen’s legal proceedings. Although desirous of a settlement between the select body and the burgesses, he sided with the former and thought the actions of those rebellious fishermen who had violently extorted concessions at a court leet were indefensible. He was angered by repeated demands for charitable and other financial contributions, with which he only grudgingly complied. His reluctance was heightened by the realization that Capel’s property and standing in the town made it highly unlikely that he would ever be returned if Queenborough became a single Member constituency; by the end of February 1831 he had decided to follow his father’s advice and make no further outlay, since his hold on the borough was so weak.30 He recognized that his vote in favour of the reform bill, and thus for disfranchising Queenborough, had ruined his chances, even with his supporters among the resident freemen. His subsequent vote against the bill was not enough to undo the damage, and Breeze candidly told him, 23 Apr., that ‘the general feeling with regard to you is by no means favourable, so much so that I can by no means recommend you to come forward again as a candidate for this place’.31 A quarrel had long been brewing between Capel* and the Gladstones over how they were to divide their election costs and the row was made public when one disaffected supporter, John Hall, alleged that Capel* had bought Gladstone’s seat for him, at a cost of £2,000. Without government or Capel’s assistance, Gladstone’s position was hopeless, and although rumours did circulate that he wanted to come forward again, he refused to pledge himself to the cause of parliamentary reform. Queenborough had cost John Gladstone an enormous outlay for so short a Parliament, and with a similarly brief one expected, neither father nor son had much enthusiasm for another immediate attempt. In April 1831 Gladstone did consider other possibilities, including Reigate, but by then it was too late.32

Even when he had ceased to be a Member, Gladstone occasionally attended the House on matters affecting his father. He was thoroughly disillusioned with the Whig ministers, whom he once described as a ‘set of miserable wavering inconsistent asses’, and he became one of the founder members of the new Conservative club, the Carlton, in March 1832. He spent much of his time preparing the ground at Portarlington, where he was returned as a Conservative at the 1832 general election. He never achieved security in any of his subsequent constituencies, and did not sit again after being unseated for electoral corruption at Ipswich in 1842.33 Throughout his life he remained a staunch Conservative and Evangelical, and so came to differ, at times bitterly, with his brother William, the Liberal prime minister and high churchman. He inherited a 45,000-acre estate at Fasque from his father in 1851, and thereafter lived the life of a country gentleman and devoted himself to Kincardine affairs.34 He died in March 1889, and was succeeded by his only son, John Robert (1852-1926).

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. S. Checkland, The Gladstones, 91-93.
  • 2. Ibid. 132-5, 138-9, 201, 409-11; Gladstone Autobiographica ed. J. Brooke and M. Sorenson, 23.
  • 3. Checkland, 163-4, 167.
  • 4. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 192, T. to J. Gladstone, 18 May, 28 Nov., 14 Dec. 1824; 193, same to same, 2, 25 June, 6 July, 10 Oct. 1825; 194, same to same, 12 Oct., 26 Nov. 1827, 12 Jan., 18 Mar., 11 Apr., 7 May 1828; Checkland, 167-70.
  • 5. Glynne-Gladstone mss 192, T. to J. Gladstone, 21 Nov. 1828; 452, Llewellyn to T. Gladstone, 28 Mar. 1829; 453, Magrath to same, 13 July 1830; 1360; Checkland, 231.
  • 6. For example, Glynne-Gladstone mss 196, T. to J. Gladstone, 18-20 Nov. 1830; Checkland, 193-4.
  • 7. Checkland, 167, 205.
  • 8. Glynne-Gladstone mss 192, T. to J. Gladstone, 5 July 1818, 14 Feb. 1821; 193, same to same, 20 Mar. 1825; 194, same to same, 3, 17, 22 Feb., 12, 16 Mar. 1827.
  • 9. Ibid. 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 5 May 1830; Checkland, 170.
  • 10. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 26, 28, 29 June, 3, 5-9, 12 July 1830.
  • 11. Ibid. 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 12 July 1830; 1308; 1311.
  • 12. Ibid. 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 19-23, 26-28 July, Pennall to T. Gladstone, 20 July; 453, Merewether to same, 20 July 1830; 1309.
  • 13. The Times, 28 July, 3 Aug.; Morning Chron. 5 Aug. 1830.
  • 14. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 8 Aug. 1830.
  • 15. Ibid. 195, T. to A. Gladstone, 4 Aug., to J. Gladstone, 5-7 Aug. 1830; Kentish Gazette, 21 Jan. 1831.
  • 16. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 6, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 17. Checkland, 232; Add. 38758, f. 292.
  • 18. Glynne-Gladstone mss 196, T. to J. Gladstone, 17, 18, 20, 27, 28 Sept., 1, 2 Oct. 1830.
  • 19. Ibid. 453, Merewether to Gladstone, 25 Aug. 1830; 521.
  • 20. Ibid. 196, T. to J. Gladstone, 25-27 Oct., 3 Nov. 1830.
  • 21. Ibid. 196, T. to J. Gladstone, 19, 20, 26 Nov., 3, 6, 7 Dec.; 1311, Queenborough freemen to T. Gladstone, 21 Dec.; The Times, 3 Dec. 1830.
  • 22. Glynne-Gladstone mss 196, T. to J. Gladstone, 18 Nov., 8, 21 Dec. 1830; 544.
  • 23. Ibid. 197, same to same, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 15-20, 22 Feb. 1831.
  • 24. Ibid. 197, same to same, 10, 18, 22-24, 26 Feb. 1831.
  • 25. Ibid. 197, same to same, 1-5, 8-10 Mar. 1831.
  • 26. Ibid. 197, same to same, 9, 10, 12, 14-19, 21 Mar. 1831.
  • 27. Ibid. 197, same to same, 11, 14, 19, 22-24 Mar. 1831.
  • 28. Ibid. 197, same to same, 24-26, 28 Mar.; 454; Morning Herald, 25, 28 Mar. 1831; Checkland, 234.
  • 29. Glynne-Gladstone mss 198, T. to J. Gladstone, 14, 16, 19-22 Apr. 1831; 454.
  • 30. Ibid. 196, same to same, 8 Aug., 24 Nov., 3, 12, 16 Dec. 1830; 197, same to same, 22, 24, 26 Feb., 10 Mar.; 521, same to Capel, 2 Jan., to Breeze, 27 Jan. 1831.
  • 31. Ibid. 197, T. to J. Gladstone, 24, 25 Mar. 1831; 521.
  • 32. Ibid. 197, same to same, 17, 29 Mar.; 198, same to same, 22-24 Apr., 7 May 1831; 521, J. Gladstone to Capel, 15 July, 17, 19 Aug. 1830; Maidstone Jnl. 26 Apr. 1831.
  • 33. Glynne-Gladstone mss 199, T. to J. Gladstone, 1, 6, 9, 11, 27 Feb., 12, 16, 19 Mar., 16, 19 Apr. 1832; 200; 522; Checkland, 238, 258-9, 285, 332.
  • 34. Checkland, 240, 260-1, 358, 368, 375, 377-8; Gladstone Autobiographica, 17; Fortunes Made in Business, ii. 139-40.