ELLICE, Edward (c.1783-1863), of Wyke House, nr. Brentford, Mdx.

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



1818 - 1826
1830 - 17 Sept. 1863

Family and Education

b. c.1783, 2nd surv. s. of Alexander Ellice, merchant, of Montreal, Canada, and London by w. Anne Russell; bro. of William Ellice*. educ. Winchester; Marischal Coll. Aberdeen 1797. m. (1) 30 Oct. 1809, Lady Hannah Althea Grey (d. 28 July 1832), da. of Charles, 1st Earl Grey, wid. of Capt. George Edmund Byron Bettesworth, RN, 1s.; (2) 25 Oct. 1843, Lady Anne Amelia Keppel, da. of William Charles, 4th Earl of Albemarle, wid. of Thomas William Coke I*, 1st Earl of Leicester, s.p.

Offices Held

Sec. to Treasury Nov. 1830-Aug. 1832; PC 3 Apr. 1833; sec. of state for War Apr. 1833-Dec. 1834.


Ellice’s father, a partner in the Schenectady, New York firm of Phyn, Ellice & Co., was a loyalist of Aberdeenshire origin who emigrated to Montreal in 1774 and to London in 1779. He then headed the London branch of his firm, Phyn, Ellice and Inglis of 27 Mark Lane, which traded to America and the West Indies, being chiefly involved in the Canadian fur trade. Edward, rather than his eldest brother William, became his father’s business heir, obtaining the American and Canadian assets on his death in 1805. By then he had spent two years in Canada, entrusted with such ambitious projects as buying out the Hudson’s Bay Company, in which he did not succeed (1803), and promoting a union of the XY and North West companies, in which he did (1804). After his father’s death he returned to London and successfully carried on the business, with John Inglis as principal partner.1 He invested in East India Company stock. In 1809 his marriage to the 2nd Earl Grey’s widowed sister made him brother-in-law of the Whig leader. He had been admitted to Brooks’s Club on 3 June 1809. Henry Brougham at that time, calling him by his nickname of ‘Bear’ Ellice, characterized him glibly as ‘large and rich and stupid, and comes down with £1,500 a year’.2

Ellice did not at once become, as Lord Byron prognosticated, ‘a bitter politician’. In 1812 he declined an offer to contest Grimsby in succession to his brother. He was at that time commercially vulnerable.3 But he corresponded regularly with Grey on matters of public credit, the state of trade, peace prospects, relations with the United States, business investments and family matters4 and by 1817 he was clearly ready to enter Westminster. His friend William Williams* interested him in Weymouth and he attempted through Whig channels to get himself appointed a trustee of the Johnstone interest there. The bid failed, being seen by opponents of the scheme as one ‘to make four Members for the Whigs’.5 He did not at once give it up, although he found a seat for himself elsewhere.

Ellice partnered Peter Moore at Coventry, where they succeeded, at his expense of over £5,000. He signed the requisition to Tierney to lead the Whig opposition in the House. Before Parliament met, he got into a scrape by his strenuous support of John Cam Hobhouse as candidate in the Westminster by-election. He thought Hobhouse ill-treated by the Whigs and complained of it to Grey, 11 Dec. 1818, describing his friend as ‘as good a Whig as I am’. Hobhouse admitted, however, that Ellice overstated his case in his wish to do good and Ellice subsequently admitted his mistake. He had acted out of zeal for a popular front against ministers at the opening of the new Parliament.6

Ellice’s role as a steady attender on the opposition benches in his first Parliament was predetermined by his known hostility to ‘the present abominable system of finance’. In his maiden speech, 3 Feb. 1819, he expressed his hopes that the proposed committee on the Bank would help to counteract this. On 8 Feb. he characterized government’s financial policy as follows: ‘to borrow one day for the purpose of raising the price of the public funds, and to issue paper merely for the purpose of producing a temporary prosperity’. Even so, he pointed out, his constituents employed in manufacture could earn no more than 6 shillings a week. His debut was ‘very much praised and seems to have had great effect’, but he admitted that he was ‘not very distinct’ and therefore ill-reported.7 On 19 Feb. he showed his approval of the international abolition of the slave trade. Apropos of the Bank committee’s proposal to resume cash payments, he remarked, 5 Apr., that it was a pity that the committee was not appointed two years before. On 13 May he supported his colleague’s ribbon and silk weavers regulation bill, noting that it was the only way of preventing their constituents from starving: if the landed interest had received parliamentary support, so should they, in view of the peculiar difficulties of the silk trade. The same day he opposed Grenfell’s sinking fund motion, indicating that he would oppose any new taxes, and he opposed the foreign enlistment bill, being ‘a decided friend to the cause and object of the people of South America’. On 18 May he voted for Tierney’s censure motion. He favoured the equalization of coal duties, 20 May. On 24 May he produced three resolutions in amendment of the proposals for the resumption of cash payments by the Bank: forced to admit that he himself had formerly been one of a deputation which had advised the chancellor against a hasty resumption, he withdrew them next day, as he had no objection in principle: but on 2 June he threatened and on 14 June brought in a clause to amend the intermediate timetable of resumption. It was defeated on a division by 166 votes to 21, but on 25 June he welcomed the Lords’ amendment deferring the Bank’s option of resumption for a year. He supported Daniel Whittle Harvey’s campaign against excise prosecutions and supported the repeal of the Combination Laws, 22 June. He paired in favour of Burdett’s reform motion, 1 July, after supporting burgh reform on 1 Apr. and 6 May, the delay of the Camelford writ, 8 Apr., and the extension of the franchise at Penryn, 22 June.

On 24 June 1819 Ellice’s Canadian interests brought him to his feet in the House, as they were often to do subsequently. He derived about £2,000 p.a. from his 280,000 acres in Beauharnois at that time. Seconding Sir James Montgomery’s motion on the hostility met with by Lord Selkirk in the colonization of the Red River settlement, he justified the North West Company’s animosity against Selkirk, who had mixed trading with colonizing activities. (He had produced a pamphlet on this anonymously in 1817.)8 Speaking also as a shareholder in the Hudson’s Bay Company, he added that Selkirk was ill-advised in proceeding without legal security when the Company had no authority to grant him the land which he was colonizing. Subsequently he played a key role in the amalgamation of the two companies, as also in the statutory trade monopoly conceded to the merger in 1821.

At this time Ellice’s relations with Earl Grey were strained to the point of ‘proscription’, as Mrs Ellice honestly admitted: he himself was reluctant to say so.9 He was among the few Whigs whose reaction to the prevalent popular distress was immediate, and on 9 Dec. 1819 he spoke strongly in favour of Bennet’s motion for inquiry into distress in manufacturing districts. He said he had collected between £1,500 and £2,000 for the Coventry distressed in London:10 distress provoked sedition and the tax on raw materials in the textile trades exacerbated it, but no more than 200 Coventry weavers had attended the local meeting in favour of radical reform. He advocated a limit to the reduction of their wages. On 13 Dec. he was authorized by his friend Hobhouse to reveal in the House that he was the author of the pamphlet A trifling mistake, in order to save the publisher from prosecution: but he exceeded his brief, telling a ‘fib’ about Hobhouse’s whereabouts and answering for his attendance ‘without a struggle’. Hobhouse’s honour was saved when Ellice agreed to his friend’s forcible arrest by the serjeant-at-arms at his own house next day. Not surprisingly Hobhouse refused to entrust him with a motion for his discharge from Newgate two weeks later. Ellice refused to join in a public celebration of Hobhouse’s release, as ‘it would hurt his interest at Coventry’.11 On 21 Dec. he informed the House of the distressed state of Scotland and complained of inadequate proposals by government for its relief. Next day and on 24 Dec. he expressed his fears of a crisis, if ministers treated the current commercial distress as merely a matter for temporary relief measures. He had throughout opposed government’s repressive measures against sedition.

Ellice was out of humour with Coventry elections in 1820,12 but persevered there, despite a defeat in 1826. He took office in his brother-in-law’s administration, being the first merchant to be admitted to the cabinet (1833). He declined a peerage and died 17 Sept. 1863.[13

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. J. C. Clarke, ‘The fortunes of the Ellice family: from business to politics, 1760-1860’ (Oxf. D.Phil. thesis, 1974); R. H. Fleming, ‘Phyn, Ellice and Company of Schenectady’, Contributions to Canadian Economic Hist. (Toronto Univ. Studies), iv. 9; D. E. T. Long, ‘The elusive Mr Ellice’, Canadian Hist. Rev. (1942), 42. The Ellice mss are in NLS.
  • 2. Add. 52178, Brougham to Allen, Fri. [?3 Oct. 1809].
  • 3. P. Quennell, Byron. A Self Portrait, 73; NLS, Ellice mss E17, f. 1.
  • 4. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, passim.
  • 5. Northumb. RO, Wallace (Belsay) mss S76/25/28; 36/2, 3.
  • 6. Add. 47235, f. 33; 56540, ff. 23, 25, 26, 33.
  • 7. Grey mss, Rosslyn to Grey, 10 Feb., Ellice to same, 16 Feb. 1819.
  • 8. Add. 56540, f. 82; The communications of Mercator (Montreal, 1817); DNB (Douglas, Thomas, 5th Earl of Selkirk).
  • 9. Add. 56540, f. 82.
  • 10. Add. 51571, Ebrington to Holland, 24 Sept.; Grey mss, Ellice’s circular, 7 Sept. 1819.
  • 11. Add. 56540, ff. 121, 122, 128, 129; Broughton, Recollections, ii. 121.
  • 12. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [4 Mar. 1820].
  • 13. DNB.