GORDON, Hon. William (1784-1858).

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



17 Oct. 1820 - Aug. 1854

Family and Education

b. 18 Dec. 1784, 2nd s. of George Gordon, Lord Haddo (1st s. of George, 3rd earl of Aberdeen [S] and d. 1791), and Charlotte, da. of William Baird of Newbyth, Haddington. educ. Harrow 1795-7. unm. d. 3 Feb. 1858.

Offices Held

Entered RN 1797, lt. 1804, cdr. 1807, capt. 1810, r.-adm. 1846, v.-adm. 1854; c.-in-c. at Nore 1854-7.

Ld. of admiralty Sept. 1841-Feb. 1846.


Gordon was six when his father, Lord Haddo, heir of the lascivious 3rd earl of Aberdeen, whose determination to provide for his several bastards created considerable problems for his legitimate successors, died suddenly in October 1791.1 Lady Haddo quarrelled with Aberdeen and removed herself and her seven children, who included Gordon’s elder brother George, now Lord Haddo and heir to his grandfather, from Gight Castle, Aberdeenshire, to London. On her death in October 1795, when Gordon and Haddo had entered Harrow School, the orphans were taken up by her friend Henry Dundas†, the premier Pitt’s right hand man and manager of his ministry’s Scottish interests. Gordon was started in the navy in July 1797. The following year Haddo, exercising his right under Scottish law, chose Pitt and Dundas as his and his siblings’ legal guardians. On Lord Aberdeen’s death in 1801 Haddo succeeded to the earldom and the entailed Aberdeenshire estates, but he inherited substantial debts and discovered that his grandfather had shown great ingenuity in providing money from the estates for his bastards. Gordon’s nominal share of the spoils was £2,000, but he remained largely dependent financially on his brother, who was sometimes helped out by Dundas (now Lord Melville). Aberdeen embarked in 1801 on the distinguished diplomatic career which earned him election as a representative peer in 1806, a green ribbon in 1808 and a United Kingdom peerage (Viscount Gordon) in 1814, when, as ambassador to Austria, he signed the Treaty of Paris.2 Gordon, whose next brother Alexander, lieutenant-colonel of the Scots Guards, was killed at Waterloo, served throughout the war on a variety of stations and achieved post rank at the Cape in 1810.3 He was on the Aberdeenshire electoral roll by 1811 and attended the county meeting which voted a loyal address to the regent in the aftermath of Peterloo, 23 Nov. 1819.4 On the death of the sitting Member in September 1820 he offered for the county on the interest of his brother Lord Aberdeen, now a prominent supporter of the Liverpool ministry, whose Scottish manager Lord Melville (Dundas’s son), first lord of the admiralty, endorsed his candidature. A potential rival withdrew and Gordon, who declared that he would ‘on all occasions be guided by constitutional principles’, walked over.5

A reliable attender, he gave general but not undeviating support to the ministry.6 He voted in defence of their prosecution of Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821, and against parliamentary reform, 9, 10 May 1821, 20 Feb. 1823. He divided for repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., but spoke and voted against it when ministers forced the issue, 3 Apr. He cast wayward votes for partial repeal of the house tax, 10 Mar., against the grant for Irish churches and glebe hoses, 1 July, and, in a minority of 15, against the third reading of the trade reciprocity bill, 4 July 1824. He was absent from the division on Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, but voted against the removal of Catholic peers’ disabilities, 30 Apr. 1822, and relief in general, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. 1825. He presented constituency petitions against alteration of the timber duties, 26 Feb. 1821, for the free export of Scottish spirits, 29 Apr., and against the navigation bill, 6 May, and the stamp duties bill, 25 July 1822, and for relief from agricultural distress, 24 Feb. 1823.7 Opposing inquiry into the royal burghs, 26 Mar. 1823, he said that whatever money had been spent by the magistrates of Aberdeen had been ‘laid out for the benefit of the town’. He defended the system of naval promotions, 19 June 1823, the use of impressment as a matter of ‘necessity’, 10 June 1824, and the naval pensions arrangements, 21 Feb. 1826. He applauded the government’s proposals to curb illicit distillation, 8 July 1823, 25 Apr. 1825.8 He presented petitions from Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire against relaxation of the corn laws, 28 Apr., 2 May 1825.9 He was in a minority of seven for an amendment to the ministry’s bank restriction scheme, 13 Feb. 1826, and in the following weeks presented and endorsed numerous petitions against interference with the Scottish banking system.10 He said that ‘no good’ could come of the select committee on the circulation of small Scottish and Irish bank notes, 16 Mar. As a member of it, he concurred in Peel’s report recommending no change for the time being;11 and he extolled the virtues of the existing system in the House, 26 May. He presented Aberdeenshire anti-slavery petitions, 27, 28 Feb., 13 Apr., and one from there and another from Kincardineshire against any reduction of agricultural protection;12 he probably voted against the second reading of the government’s corn bill, 27 Apr. He spoke and voted against the spring guns bill, 11 May. He complained that the policy of reciprocity had seriously damaged British shipping interests, 13 May 1826. At the general election that summer he was returned unopposed for Aberdeenshire, where his resistance to the government’s currency proposals had gone down well.13

Gordon presented and endorsed Aberdeenshire agriculturists’ petitions against further interference with the corn laws, 21 Feb., brought up several more, 26 Feb., 23 Mar., and spoke and voted against the second reading of the corn bill, 2 Apr. 1827.14 His attempt to amend the corn averages bill to include Irish returns in the calculations was defeated by 23-14, 31 May.15 He divided against Catholic claims, 6 Mar., and Lord Althorp’s election expenses bill, 28 May 1827. His duties as captain of the Briton, to which he was appointed in March 1827, apparently kept him away from Parliament in 1828, when his brother become, first, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, and then foreign secretary in the duke of Wellington’s administration.16 Planta, the patronage secretary, who had mentioned Gordon as a possible mover or seconder of the address, expected him to vote ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, and he duly did so on 30 Mar. 1829, having defaulted on a call of the House on the 5th.17 Under instructions from his constituents, he opposed the Whig Kennedy’s tailzies regulation bill in May 1829; he was a minority teller against its report on the 25th.18 Paid off from naval service on 27 Apr. 1830, he voted with Peel and other ministers against the Galway franchise bill, 25 May, was a minority teller for an amendment to the Perth navigation bill, 28 May, and divided for the grant for South American missions, 7 June 1830. At the general election in August he was returned unopposed. He expressed some alarm over the revolution in France, for which he blamed the French king, but hoped there would not be a war.19

Ministers of course counted him as one of their ‘friends’, and he was in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. On 26 Feb. 1831 he gave credit to the Grey ministry’s professed ‘principles of economy, retrenchment and non-intervention’, but said that ‘they only follow in the steps of their predecessors’ and warned that he was ‘not prepared to support any great change in the established forms of the constitution by the adoption of theories which may shake the whole fabric’. He duly voted against the second reading of their English reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr.1831, after signing the Aberdeenshire anti-reform petition and denouncing the scheme in a public letter to his constituents.20 At the ensuing general election he stood again, professing support for the ‘temperate reform’ of blatant abuses but condemning the ministerial plan as too dangerous. In a boisterous contest he defeated a reformer with reasonable comfort, but was shouted down by the unfranchised mob and forced to sneak away to avoid physical harassment.21

Gordon voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, for use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, against the inclusion of Chippenham in B, 27 July, and against the passage of the bill, 21 Sept. 1831. He was in the Tory majority against issuing the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept. He voted against the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept., and on 3 Oct. 1831, while admitting that the Scottish representative system was ‘not of a popular character’, objected to the proposed increase in burgh Members and extension of the franchise to ‘a class of persons ... which it is not desirable should continue to influence the return of Members’. He divided against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July. He voiced concern over the ‘extensive’ powers conferred on the authorities by the Scottish cholera prevention bill, 16 Feb., said that the malt drawback bill would encourage illicit distillation, 17 Feb., and thought the factories regulation bill should be referred to a select committee, 20 Feb. He voted against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. On the Scottish measure, 22 June, he advocated the selection of a more central polling place for his county than Aberdeen; he preferred Dalkeith to Edinburgh for Midlothian, 27 June. He presented a clerical petition against the government’s Irish education scheme, 8 June 1832.

At the general election of 1832 Gordon defeated, at considerable expense to his brother, his Liberal opponent of 1831.22 He resigned his place at the admiralty in Peel’s second ministry in order to vote against repeal of the corn laws in deference to the wishes of his farming constituents.23 He held his county seat until his appointment to the Nore command in 1854, when Aberdeen was prime minister. He died a bachelor at Exmouth in February 1858.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1791), ii. 971.
  • 2. M.E. Chamberlaine, Lord Aberdeen, 18, 20-21, 25, 79-81.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. (1858), i. 340.
  • 4. Pol. State of Scotland 1811, p. 12; Aberdeen Jnl. 24 Nov. 1819.
  • 5. Aberdeen Jnl. 13 Sept., 18 Oct. 1820; NAS GD51/1/198/1/23; 51/5/749/1, pp. 279-80.
  • 6. Black Bk. (1823), 158; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 465.
  • 7. The Times, 27 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr., 7 May, 26 July 1822, 25 Feb. 1823.
  • 8. Ibid. 9 July 1823.
  • 9. Ibid. 29 Apr., 3 May 1825.
  • 10. Ibid. 25, 28 Feb., 17, 21, 22 Mar., 8, 15, 19, 22, 29 Apr. 1826.
  • 11. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Acc. 636, Denison diary, 19 May [1826].
  • 12. The Times, 28 Feb., 1 Mar., 14, 19 Apr. 1826.
  • 13. Aberdeen Jnl. 28 June 1826.
  • 14. The Times, 22, 27 Feb., 24 Mar. 1827.
  • 15. Ibid. 1 June 1827.
  • 16. Gent. Mag. (1858), i. 340.
  • 17. Add. 40398, f. 85.
  • 18. Aberdeen Jnl. 6 May 1829.
  • 19. Ibid. 7 July, 25 Aug. 1830.
  • 20. Ibid. 23 Mar., 13 Apr. 1831.
  • 21. Ibid. 27 Apr., 25 May 1831; Wellington mss WP1/1184/25.
  • 22. Chamberlaine, 256-7.
  • 23. Parker, Peel, iii. 336; Disraeli Letters, v. 2051; Dod’s Parl. Companion (1847), 172-3.