PAXTON, Sir William (c.1744-1824), of Middleton Hall, Carm.
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Family and Education
b. c.1744, 3rd s. of John Paxton of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumb. and London. m. bef. 1793, Anne, da. of Thomas Dawney of Aylesbury, Bucks., 6s. 5da. Kntd. 16 Mar. 1803.
Assay master, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1774, factor 1774; private merchant 1782; ret. c.1786.
Sheriff, Carm. 1790-1; mayor, Carmarthen 1802; lt.-col. 3 batt. Carm. vols. 1803.
Paxton returned from India with a fortune about 1786 and bought an estate in Carmarthenshire.1 His first attempt to enter Parliament, however, was at Newark, which he contested on the independent interest in 1790 and again in 1796. His sponsor, William Dickinson of Muskham Grange, informed the Duke of Portland, 18 May 1796, that he had backed Paxton in 1790, because
his politics were moderate and he professed a wish to enlist under your Grace’s banner. He was elected by a majority of 74 votes. The right of election was overturned and he lost his seat, after a serious expense. I was bound by every principle of honour, when my interest in the borough was much more established, to give him the option of standing again.
Dickinson hoped that the Newcastle and Rutland interests would let Paxton in on a compromise in 1796, but they did not and he suffered another defeat.2 Thereafter he transferred his attention to Carmarthenshire and made a name for himself as a local improver— in 1802, as mayor of the borough, he supplied Carmarthen with piped water. In the same year he offered himself for the county on the Blue (Whig) interest and was defeated, after facing bills of over £15,000. He was chaired by his supporters, and after he had petitioned in vain against the return, promised to renew his candidature, 5 Apr. 1803. In December 1803, the Blue leader at Carmarthen, John George Philipps, resigned the borough seat, possibly for a price, in favour of Paxton, who was returned unopposed.3
In Parliament, where he made no particular mark apart from sponsorship of the Carmarthen improvement bill and salmon fisheries preservation in March 1805, he was not recorded as having voted against Addington’s government and went into opposition to Pitt’s second ministry, appearing against the additional force bill in June 1804. In September he was listed a ‘doubtful’ Addingtonian. Further minority votes were recorded against the war with Spain, 12 Feb. 1805, against the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, 15 Feb.; and in favour of Windham’s defence motion, 21 Feb. He voted for the censure and criminal prosecution of Melville, 8 Apr., 12 June, and was listed ‘opposition’ in July. He supported Lord Grenville’s administration and in 1806 transferred from the borough to the county seat, without opposition, although he was criticized for his alleged pro-Catholic sympathies by the outgoing Member, Hamlyn Williams. Paxton defended himself by saying that he had voted merely for an inquiry, not for Catholic relief and, as he had no instructions on the subject, had acted as ‘a friend to civil and religious liberty’. He also repudiated a suggestion that he had not opposed the additional duty on farm horses, claiming to have done so ‘at every stage’.4 He voted for Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the Grenville ministry, 9 Apr. 1807.
At the ensuing county election, he was again attacked for his Catholic sympathies and declined the contest after three days, complaining of the smear campaign against him and of treachery by an agent. He had never been accepted by the local gentry, who regarded him as an upstart nabob, a ‘Scotch herring’ who was ‘heedless of the interests of our native land’. Out of pique they thwarted his proposal to bridge the Towy at Carmarthen at his own expense. Paxton consoled himself by developing Tenby as a watering place. Nothing came of a rumour that he would contest Pembroke Boroughs on the vacancy of 1809.5
Since his return from India he had acted as an East India agent and banker and in 1813 became a partner with his former business associates in India, Sir Charles Cockerell* and Henry Trail*, in a London bank which went out of business in 1820. He was also a director of the Gas, Light and Coke Company. A letter to Lord Liverpool on his behalf, 7 Dec. 1813, suggested that he had hopes of a baronetcy, but the minister discouraged them. In 1821 Paxton was persuaded to come out of retirement as the Whig candidate for Carmarthen borough on the vacancy caused by Lord Cawdor’s death: his defeat did not come as a surprise. He died in Piccadilly, 10 Feb. 1824, aged 80. His Welsh property was sold and his name is remembered in Carmarthenshire today only by the monument he erected to Lord Nelson, which popular philosophy has renamed ‘Paxton’s Folly’.6
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. R. D. Rees, ‘Parl. Rep. S. Wales 1790-1830’ (Reading Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1962), ii. 433; Farington, iv. 36.
- 2. Portland mss PwF3348.
- 3. Hist. Carm. ed. Lloyd, ii. 56-59; Carm. RO, Cwmgwili mss 533.
- 4. Cambrian, 8, 22 Nov. 1806; NLW mss 12169, f. 21, address 17 Nov. 1806.
- 5. Cambrian, 23 May 1807; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 127; Lloyd, loc. cit; NLW mss 12169, ff. 26, 28; Slebech mss 9512; R. Fenton, Tour, 69.
- 6. Hilton Price, London Bankers, 127; Add. 38255, f. 113; Gent. Mag. (1824), i. 475; Cambrian, 12 Mar. 1825; Poole, Carm. Notes, ii. 7.