DEVAYNES, William (?1730-1809), of Pall Mall and Dover Street, Mdx.

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



1774 - 1780
1784 - 1796
13 Dec. 1796 - 1802
1802 - 1806

Family and Education

b. ?1730, 2nd s. of John Devaynes, peruke maker, of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Mdx. by Mary, da. of William Barker, City remembrancer. m. (1) Jane Wintle, 1s. 1da.; (2) 3 Feb. 1806, Mary, da. of William Wileman, s.p. suc. bro. John 1801.

Offices Held

Liverpool commr. Africa Co. 1770-8; dir. E.I. Co. 1770-1805, dep. chairman 1777-8, 1779-80, Nov. 1783-4, Dec. 1788-9, 1790-1, chairman 1780-1, 1785-6, 1789-90, 1793-5; dir. French hosp. 1770-d., London Dock Co. c.1802-d., Globe Insurance Co. c.1804-d.


Devaynes was of Huguenot extraction and had spent some of his earlier years in Africa: supporting the Sierra Leone bill, 30 May 1791, he boasted that ‘few men’ had had ‘an opportunity of knowing so much of the country as he did’. By 1790, when his wealth enabled him to retain his seat for Barnstaple at the contested general election, he was firmly established as a leading figure in the City and at East India House, where he supported Dundas and acquired a reputation as a placemonger.1 He had evidently become senior partner in the Pall Mall banking house of Devaynes, Dawes, Noble & Co. (previously Crofts, Roberts, Devaynes and Dawes) by 1797, when the firm invested £30,000 in the loyalty loan. A large government contractor, he continued to support Pitt, though he made little mark in the House. In 1791 he was listed hostile to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. On the Indian trade regulation bill, 24 May 1793, he spoke against two proposed additional clauses which he construed as threats to the Company’s power and acted as teller for the hostile majority in the division on the second of them. It was later said that he had frequently chaired parochial meetings called to strengthen the hand of government in the 1790s; and at a St. James’s meeting convened by local Whigs, 24 Nov. 1795, he spoke in favour of the current repressive legislation.2

He was defeated at Barnstaple at the general election of 1796, but obtained a seat for Winchelsea on the Barwell interest soon afterwards. He voted for the assessed taxes augmentation bill, 4 Jan. 1798, and was teller for the minority who divided against the compulsory clause of the London dock bill, 28 June 1799. As a subscriber to the proposed London bread and flour company, he was compelled on a point of order raised by Sheridan in the debate on the incorporating bill, 5 July 1800, to declare his interest, and his vote in the earlier division was accordingly nullified. An active philanthropist, he welcomed the bill raising an additional rate in Marylebone and St. Pancras, 1 July 1800, as a necessary contribution towards the relief of the poor.

Devaynes, who in 1801 inherited £50,000 from his elder brother the King’s apothecary,3 is not known to have opposed the Addington ministry. At the general election of 1802 he again contested Barnstaple, this time successfully. He supported Pitt on his return to power and was listed among those who voted against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805, though it was later reported that he had in fact ‘retired without voting’.4 In his last known speech, 30 May 1804, he drew on his African experiences to support his case against the abolition of the slave trade. His attitude to the ‘Talents’ is not known, but he was defeated at Barnstaple by two government supporters at the general election of 1806. His failure to be re-elected as a director of the East India Company in 1807, when ‘there was some story against him which made him very unpopular’, was exceptional in this period.5

In 1806 he married a woman said to be ‘60 years younger than himself’ and Farington later heard that ‘he made a settlement upon her which was every year that he lived to have some increase, thereby making it her interest to keep him alive as long as she could’. She succeeded for almost four years and he died 29 Nov. 1809, ‘aged 79’. The terms of the will, in which he made provision for a mulatto daughter and the son of his own illegitimate son, one Benjamin Devaynes of Liverpool, suggested that his personal wealth was considerable, but the bank had been courting disaster for some time and it failed within a year of his death.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. C. H. Philips, E.I. Co. 26, 45.
  • 2. J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 166; Oracle, 25 Nov. 1795.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. (1801), i. 93.
  • 4. Wilson (1806), 167.
  • 5. NLS mss 11087, f. 38; Philips, 41.
  • 6. Farington, v. 140; vi. 213; Manning and Bray, Surr. iii. 299; PCC 15 Collingwood.