DOWDESWELL, John Edmund (1772-1851).

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



1812 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 3 Mar. 1772, 6th s. of William Dowdeswell of Pull Court, Worcs. by Bridget, da. of Sir William Codrington, 1st Bt, of Dodington, Glos.; bro. of William Dowdeswell*. educ. Westminster 1779; Christ Church, Oxf. 1789; I. Temple 1794, called 1796. m. 4 Sept. 1800, Caroline, da. of Charles Brietzcke of St. James’s Place, Mdx., 2s. 1da. suc. bro. William to Pull Court 1828.

Offices Held

Recorder, Tewkesbury 1798-1833; commr. of bankrupts 1806-20; master in Chancery 1820-50; commr. of lunacy 1832-6; bencher, I. Temple 1834, reader 1841, treasurer 1842.


According to his obituary, Dowdeswell was offered an East India Company writership by the 3rd Duke of Portland, a friend of his late father, while he was still at Oxford, but on the advice of Dr Jackson of Christ Church he declined it and opted instead for a legal career.1 After his call to the bar in 1796 he practised in London as an equity draftsman until he became a bankruptcy commissioner in 1806. In 1798 he was chosen recorder of Tewkesbury, where his family had a strong electoral interest and where his elder brother had vacated his seat the previous year. When Portland formed his ministry in 1807 Dowdeswell’s mother solicited his appointment as counsel to one of the government boards, but apparently without success.2

On 27 July 1811 he wrote to his cousin Christopher Bethell Codrington, who had replaced his brother as Member for Tewkesbury in 1797:

in case of your retiring I should be very ambitious of becoming your successor, not from any expectation of deriving any immediate advantage from a seat in Parliament, but from thinking the time will come when the seat will be highly advantageous to me, and ... also that great difficulties might be placed in the way of my ever representing the borough if I did not come forward at the moment of your retiring. So convinced am I of this that I should either succeed you, or I should retire with you by my throwing off my aldermanic gown. Indeed it has only been from the prospect of my eventually becoming the representative of the borough and from a wish to keep up the family interest, that I have continued a member of the corporation. Should you retire, and any other person succeed you I should not think it necessary to retain my recordership, which is attended with considerable inconvenience inasmuch as it prevents my disposing of myself in the long vacation in the way I should otherwise do.3

In the event Bethell Codrington did retire at the dissolution of 1812 and Dowdeswell came in without opposition. He retained the seat until his own retirement.

He was listed as a supporter of government after the election, but on 20 Jan. 1813 the Whig scout John Goodwin wrote to Lord Grey:

I am well informed ... [that Dowdeswell] (who you will perceive I returned you in my list as doubtful) is strongly inclined to enlist under your banners. He expressed himself in the very handsomest manner concerning you in a circle of terrible Tories last Saturday night, where there were three of Liverpool’s and Perceval’s steadiest friends—to their great annoyance.4

For his own part, Dowdeswell claimed in 1818 to have supported ministers, but to have ‘invariably withheld that support whenever the measures introduced by them have appeared to my judgment inconsistent with the public welfare’.5 His voting record in the 1812 Parliament bears out this statement, but indicates that he was not an assiduous attender. He voted with ministers on the army estimates, 6 Mar.; the civil list, 24 May 1816; the composition of the finance committee, 7 Feb.; against Admiralty economies, 25 Feb.; and for the renewed suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817; and against them on the corn exportation bill, 23 May 1814; the new Corn Laws, 3 and 10 Mar.; the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment, 30 June and 3 July 1815; the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, and the Duke of Clarence’s marriage allowance, 15 Apr. 1818. He opposed Catholic relief, 2 Mar. and 24 May 1813 and 9 May 1817. In the 1818 Parliament he voted with government against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, and paired in favour of the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June 1819. He is not known to have spoken in the House before 1820.

Martin died 11 Nov. 1851, after a distinguished career as a master in Chancery.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1851), ii. 651.
  • 2. Portland mss, PwV114, patronage book 1807-9.
  • 3. Glos. RO, Codrington mss D 1610 X 17.
  • 4. Grey mss.
  • 5. Gloucester Jnl. 8 June 1818.