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

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



1818 - 1826
1830 - 17 Sept. 1863

Family and Education

b. 12 Sept. 1783,1 2nd surv. s. of Alexander Ellice (d. 1805), merchant, of Montreal, Canada and London and w. Anne Russell. 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. d. 17 Sept. 1863.

Offices Held

Sec. to treasury Nov. 1830-Aug. 1832; PC 3 Apr. 1833; sec. at war Apr. 1833-Dec. 1834.


Ellice, who was born in London, was his father’s business heir and a successful trader to the North Americas, Canada and the West Indies, where his failure to sell out in time eventually cost him £70,000.2 Drawn into politics in Middlesex as a friend of Henry Brougham*, Robert Byron, Sir Francis Burdett*, John Cam Hobhouse* and his brother-in-law Samuel Whitbread†, he aligned with the ‘Mountain’ before gravitating to the main Whig opposition, led in the Lords by his wife’s brother Lord Grey. Nevertheless, he continued to adopt a radical profile for the Foxites and liberals of Coventry, which had first returned him in 1818. A regular attender, he had spoken frequently on Canada and fiscal policy, criticized the timetable, but not the principle of the resumption of cash payments, and opposed the Liverpool ministry’s repressive measures after Peterloo. As a spokesman for the Coventry silk and ribbon weavers, he had sponsored the 1819 ribbon and silk weavers regulation bill which extended the Spitalfields regulations to Coventry and urged inquiry into manufacturing distress.3 At the dissolution in 1820, he was thought of for London, but persisted at Coventry, where, with Peter Moore, he overcame an ‘awkward’ and highly publicized challenge at the general election by William Cobbett†, who capitalized on his absence from the Coventry Peterloo meeting and caused him to spend £6,000.4 To Cobbett in 1820, Ellice was

a City organ ... By marriage ... related to Lord Grey ... a very tall man, more than six feet high, as big as ... Hume about the shoulders and breast, but with a frame tapering downwards ... a forehead falling back on the sides ... the eye, set in a shallow socket ... large, round dull and of downward cast ... The voice of Ellice is ... soft and fat. He has nothing of the keenness of ‘Change Alley about him. He would seem to have taken lessons to acquire the Bond Street Croak. In short, imagine a great schoolboy of forty, and you have the man fully about your eyes.5

Nicknamed ‘Bear’ Ellice on account of his size and stake in the North American fur trade, or, as Carlyle put it, ‘rather for his oiliness than for any trace of ferocity ever seen in him’, Brougham considered him a ‘clever, sensible and most kindly disposed person, but not always very wise. He had that most pernicious kind of good nature that made him at all times wish to play the part of Mr. Harmony’.6 Preferring business and society to reading, he kept abreast of events through his City contacts, Brooks’s, dinner parties, newspapers and a voluminous correspondence. As with Brougham, most of his letters are undated and ‘difficult to decipher’.7 For Ellice, who also organized financial support for his nephew Samuel Charles Whitbread* in Middlesex, the 1820 election was ill-timed.8 He had tacitly withdrawn from Ellice, Inglis and Company the previous October and his negotiations with Lord Selkirk’s executors, which in 1821 enabled him to effect the merger he had sought since 1803 between the North West Company and the Hudson Bay Company, were at a delicate stage.9 He wrote in June 1821 that he had recovered ‘£4-5,000 a year to myself by it’.10 Caricatured in May 1822 as a ‘Royal Exchange consul general’, he was an early supporter of the Greek Patriots and, as a member of their London committee, instrumental in floating the loans. He bore the brunt of the ferocious newspaper campaign prompted by the second loan’s failure to deliver a Greek navy in 1825 and endured the opprobrium of the London press throughout 1826. He was similarly taunted in the House and in Coventry.11

As a spokesman and occasional teller for the Whig opposition on trade and commerce in the 1820 Parliament, Ellice divided against administration in almost all major divisions, and occasionally in the ‘Mountain’s’ small minorities for lower taxes and retrenchment. He attended the House unstintingly until 1823, when disillusionment briefly set in, but soon rallied on behalf of the silk trade and the Greek Patriots. He was especially active in the select committees on foreign trade (1821-24) and a major contributor to the debates on agriculture, 1821-2, and corn and the currency, 1825-6. He approved and voted for a scot and lot franchise for Leeds under the Grampound disfranchisement bill, 2 Mar. 1821,12 and divided for reform, 18 Apr., 9 May 1821, 20 Feb., 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 13, 27 Apr. 1826, and to curb electoral bribery, 26 May 1826. He capitalized on the Hull freeholders’ petition, 15 Mar., and Sykes’s ‘badly timed’ county franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1826, to draw attention to the unrepresented Coventry freeholders. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and against the attendant Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825.13 He echoed the plea of the London merchants’ petition for easing commercial restrictions to relieve distress, 8 May 1820, but, deliberately differing from the political economist David Ricardo, he pointed to the 30-50 per cent fall in the price of manufactured goods since the return to cash payments and advised the board of trade to consider placing less reliance on the bonded warehouse system and stamp duties to service public debt. He presented a Hawick petition for easing trade restrictions, 16 May, and spoke and was a minority teller that day for inquiry into military expenditure. He was a minority teller against referring the agricultural distress petitions to a select committee, 30 May, and criticized the tactics by which it was conceded; but he withdrew a tabled motion, calculated to prevent its appointment, as he did ‘not want to be linked with anything that made distress worse, or put agriculture before manufacturing’.14

He supported the 1820 parliamentary campaign on behalf of Queen Caroline, but the ‘radical fever’ and uncertainty it generated and the prospect of subjecting the bill of pains and penalties to ‘the labyrinth of Mr. Hume’s cross-examinations, motions of adjournment, committal of non mi ricordo to Newgate, etc.’ in the Commons perturbed him. He observed to Grey’s son-in-law John Lambton*, 14 Sept.:

If all parties, as the saying is, had their deserts, the ministers should be taken to Tower Hill, or rather, as they have been merciful to the radicals at York ... transported to Botany Bay, and His Majesty carried to a horse-pond. But guilt or punishment is now out of the question, and the cry is, show us the way out of it, how are we to escape?15

He voted against the prorogation proposed by the queen’s radical partisans, 18 Sept., but stated his future commitment to opposing the bill. Following its abandonment, he watched the queen’s procession to St. Paul’s with Burdett, 29 Nov., and attended the Covent Garden meeting, 7 Dec. 1820, but left early to disassociate himself from its radical address.16 He was consulted that month over Grey’s terms, should he be called to office, and sought London accommodation for him for the 1821 session.17 He supported the 1821 parliamentary campaign on the queen’s behalf and assisted Sir Robert Wilson* following his dismissal from the army for forcing a way through the City for the crowd at her funeral in September. Wilson had been his companion in Paris the preceding day, and in debate, 13 Feb. 1822, Ellice testified to this and to their prior suspicions of a plot implicating Wilson.18

He stressed the high commercial cost of government indecision on the timber duties, but refrained from accusing the vice-president of the board of trade Thomas Wallace I and the select committee of neglect for failing to announce the duties promptly, 14, 15 Feb. 1821.19 A long-term opponent of the 1815 corn laws, he disputed Curwen’s ‘inflated’ claims, 22 Feb., and objected to proceeding with the corn averages bill before the agriculture committee reported, 2 Apr. Opposing the additional malt duty when opposition carried the division, 21 Mar., he explained, in what the radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* termed a ‘tolerable speech with many good points in it’, that his motives for supporting the motion differed from those of its proposer Western, and he ‘admonished the gentry’ that, having rejected currency ‘depreciation’, they might ‘bid adieu’ to high remunerating prices and should ‘bend their attention entirely to the reduction of expenses’.20 On the Bank cash payments bill, he resolutely defended Robert Peel* and the 1819 committee’s decision to restore the gold standard, 19, 20, 29 March, 5, 9, 13 Apr., but he conceded that they had been misled by the ‘apparent price’ of gold in 1818, 19 Mar. He tried to remedy their failure to direct the Bank to issue small notes on demand by securing a rider to the measure, 13 Apr.21 On the budget, 1 June, and again, 22 June, he criticized the ‘farce of borrowing to reduce the national debt’ and the ‘grossly immoral’ state lottery. Dissenting from Hume, he explained that he was against seeking piecemeal reductions in the duke of Clarence’s grant: it would be better ‘openly to take away from the crown the power of granting pensions, than by a side-wind to force claimants upon it’, 18 June. He made representations on behalf of the redundant London customs officers, 22 June, and pressed the case of the Canadian claimants who had not been compensated for wartime damage, 25 June 1821.22 He succeeded in killing the cruelty to horses bill at his second attempt, 20 June.23 Despite his private criticism of Henry Hunt* and the radicals,24 he divided with them for receipt of the Lancaster convict Broadhurst’s petition, 7 Mar., on Peterloo, 16 May, conditions in Ilchester gaol, 21 June 1821, 22 Mar 1822, and for remission of Hunt’s gaol sentence, 24 Apr. 1822.

From Wyke, Ellice corresponded almost daily with Grey during the Dowager Lady Grey’s final illness in the winter of 1821-2.25 He thought the Grenvillite accession to government might help enable them to carry Catholic relief in 1822;26 and when they failed, he wrote of the House: ‘Hume speaks and Castlereagh, it amounts to this ... The debates are almost disgusting. Everyone relying upon some partial effect against a great chimera which they dare not examine, and preaching’.27 He contended, when Edward Curteis brought up the Sussex distress petition, 13 Feb. 1822, that the ‘notion of protecting and prohibitive duties ... still maintained by ... Webb Hall and other visionaries, in their reveries, had long been given up and exploded, both in Parliament and the country’, and suggested that tax reductions were the only remedy. Still publicly defending the 1819 currency change, although privately he conceded that an adjustment was imperative, he pronounced the £4,000,000 exchequer bills loan (which he had known about since January) ‘helpful’, 18 Feb.28 He shared Grey’s belief that ministers would ‘give up [the] sinking fund debt and all to keep their places’ and pressed them to concede a public accounts committee, 22 Feb., 18 Apr.29 He opposed the navy five per cents bill, 4, 8, 11 Mar., and attacked the estimates, 14, 15, 18, 25 Mar. To the annoyance of Brougham, who was ‘on the circuit’, he also called for government assistance for the depressed Canadian timber trade, 13 Mar., and clashed openly with Hume over Canada, 15 Mar.30 Directing Lord Duncannon* to reprimand him and notify the gossips Thomas Creevey* and Michael Angelo Taylor*, Brougham wrote, 20 Mar. 1822:

I am sick beyond all description at reading the newspapers of yesterday, giving accounts of the debate on Monday. Ellice must be plainly told that if he from mere vulgar vanity and flattery will get up and attack Hume, he must expect the most severe punishment. I assure you if I had been in the House I should have made an example of him, which neither he nor the House would have forgotten for a twelvemonth.31

As a principal speaker and minority teller for ordnance reductions, 25 Mar., Ellice observed that the distressed petitioners’ pleas had been ‘useless’, and he delivered a harsh verdict on the 1822 agriculture committee report, based entirely on the 1821 evidence, 3 Apr. 1822. Replying, Lord Londonderry accused him of changing his views since 1819, which of course he denied. He resumed his criticism of the report and the ‘agricultural bank’, 2, 6, 13 May. Objecting to the report being brought up that day, he expressed support for Huskisson and Ricardo’s ‘suggestions, but not their conclusions’, and attacked the sinking fund as a complicated, ineffectual and outmoded device for taking money from men’s pockets, encouraging loans and foreign investment, that pandered to the City and operated a ‘perpetual transfer of capital’.32 Peel made him concede, during the debate, that he had never been an advocate of an unrestrained paper currency, but he refused to admit that he had failed to grasp the full consequences of the 1819 Act. Changing tactics, he drew on the testimony of Thomas Attwood and Hume and accepted (to cheers) that the current ‘distress ... arose, in a great measure, and indeed chiefly, from paying the interest of the debt in a currency of higher value’ than that in which it was contracted. He and Western lost the division by 153-22.33 Ellice participated in the discussions on the independent South American colonies, 30 Apr., and the navigation laws, 6, 7, 18 May, and voiced qualified support for the colonial trade bill, 17, 18 May.34 Responding to the budget, he made the usual complaints about high expenditure and pleaded for retrenchment and changes in the usury laws, 1 July. He voiced the Coventry silk manufacturers’ concerns over the warehousing bill, 20 May, 21 June, and condemned the barilla duties as a means of assisting the soap manufacturers at Scotland’s expense, 29 July. His late session attendance was motivated by concern for the Canadian government and trade bill (introduced by Wilmot Horton, 30 Mar.), which he had urged on the government. He secured its committal (by 48-14), 18 July, but he was bested that day by the bill’s opponent Sir James Mackintosh, and his speech was misreported to convey the impression that the proposed union of Upper and Lower Canada was a prelude to their annexation by the United States. His remarks on bringing up a favourable petition from the Canada merchants on the 23rd again disappointed, and the bill was timed out.35 Following Londonderry’s suicide in August, Ellice remained in close contact with John Evelyn Denison*, Duncannon and Wilson and briefed Grey on Canning’s succession to the foreign office and as leader of the House. In October 1822 he rented a house in Brighton for the winter.36

To thwart Cobbett and his distress petition, he prepared resolutions for Lord Althorp’s* friend Edmund Lechmere Charlton† to propose at the Herefordshire reform meeting of January 1823.37 Preparing for the session, and depressed by a recent illness and family bereavements, he wrote to Grey (who agreed) of his concern lest opposition treat the Catholic question and Dublin theatre ‘outrage’ concurrently, and decided not to encourage Burdett to attempt a Catholic relief bill that session. He added:

There was at one time a large party of my way of thinking with Burdett at our head. Lord Lansdowne and Mackintosh have now attached many of our supporters, and the only doubt I have on the subject is whether we can make our objection effectual to them, and carry the bill on its presentation or second reading.38

Opposing the national debt reduction bill as a principal speaker and minority teller with Hume, 17 Mar., he acknowledged that they could not object to its provisions for abolishing the old sinking fund machinery, but ridiculed the allusion to a £2,000,000 surplus. He found fault with and was a minority teller against the silk manufacture bill which ended the prohibition on imports, 9 May, 11 June, but maintained that the combination laws and restrictions on artisan emigration were more damaging, 22 May, 9, 11 June. He welcomed the two-year adjustment period secured.39 He expressed support for the reciprocity duties proposed by the president of the board of trade Huskisson and urged their extension to ship building, 6 June. After consulting Canning, 8 July 1823, he agreed to defer a motion he had prepared on French interference in the West Indies.40

Ellice spent November in Durham with Lambton and was unable to avoid that autumn’s endless intrigues over the ‘mad’ Northumberland Member Beaumont, whose seat Grey coveted for his heir Lord Howick*.41 He had difficulty motivating himself to attend the House for long periods in February 1824 and, feeling bored, he complained that ‘the same system is going on’. Nevertheless, he divided fairly steadily with his friends (and in Curwen’s majority criticizing the duke of Atholl’s jurisdiction in the Isle of Man, 18 Feb).42 By March, he had rallied as expected on the silk duties, and he accompanied delegations to Downing Street from the silk towns and succeeded in securing a qualified endorsement of free trade from certain Coventry manufacturers (but not the weavers).43 Ellice was always inclined to be a repetitive speaker, prone to convoluted sentences. Between 1824 and 1826 he frequently tried to represent his personal support for Huskisson’s liberal trade policies and his constituents’ demands for protection in the same breath - generally to little effect. He protested at precipitate tariff changes and inadequate concessions, 23 Feb. 1824. He confirmed his support for free trade on presenting petitions for protection for silk, 5, 8, 9, 10, 18 Mar., and, seeking a middle way, he cautioned Huskisson against singling out silk, which was ‘not native’, for experimental deregulation, 18, 19, 22 Mar. He secured some concessions on stock-in-hand and a two-year ‘trial period’ acceptable to the Coventry manufacturers.44 He tried to discourage Hume from legislating on the sugar duties 8 Mar., and the hide regulation bill, 18 Mar.45 He quibbled over the Windsor Castle grant, 5 Apr., and raised minor points on taxation and a wide range of commercial issues, including the West India Company bill, 10 May, marine insurance, 27 May, and the East India trade bill, which he backed, 11 June. He endorsed the London petition for recognition of the South American republics and moved to receive Captain McNeal’s report, 15 June. On 12 Apr. 1824 he promoted the London Oil Gas Company bill, which Moore, a shareholder in the rival Imperial Gas Light Company, opposed, 12 Apr., 3 May 1824; and their appearance as rival tellers, 12 Apr. 1824, 22 Feb. 1825, created a furore and prompted Hume to demand the annulment of the votes of interested Members.46 He announced a motion to exempt Canadian corn stocks in bond from duty under the warehoused corn bill, 18 May 1824.47

When in March 1825 he received a £200 demand from Harriette Wilson to keep his name out of her Memoirs, Ellice forwarded it to the press.48 In the House, where the political gap between him and his erstwhile allies was now evident, he preferred to quibble over differential duties with the chancellor Robinson than to engage in the discussions on the sinking fund, suggested by Hume, 28 Feb. Nor, although sympathetic, did he share Moore’s commitment to securing the immediate repeal of the Bubble Act, 22, 29 Mar. His speech on the Peruvian Mining Company bill, 16 Mar., was wary and reflected his private unease over the ‘new schemes and companies and committees’ which took up so much of the House’s ‘time that one scarcely knows which way to turn or how to find time to attend to anything’.49 He welcomed the partial restoration of the combination laws, 3 May, 14, 23, 27 June. On corn, as with silk, his expressed opinions were confused. He declined to endorse the City’s petition for a 20s. duty and release of corn from bond, duty free, 28 Mar., silently presented a protectionist petition from Aberdeenshire, 5 May, and pressed for concessions for Canadian corn, 9 June. He declined to ‘join the Whigs’ in opposing the Mauritius trade bill, 6, 29 June.50 He was vice-president of the Shipowners’ Association, 1825-6, and a director of the newly incorporated Van Diemen’s Land Company, which memorialized Huskisson stating their concern at the short-term commercial damage to shipping caused by the recent relaxation of the navigation laws and colonial policy.51 He agreed with the banker Hudson Gurney’s assessment that bullion was ‘too susceptible to panic and fluctuations’ and maintained that the ‘small notes bill, like the corn laws, was devised to protect certain great interests from the losses which Peel’s bill had inflicted on all other debtors’ and to ‘conciliate them to that measure’, 27 June 1825.

That summer Ellice took a Norfolk mansion, Snettisham, near King’s Lynn, which provided refuge for his family and Hobhouse while the furore generated by the Greek loan was at its height. Creevey, an early guest, predicted that the scandal would bankrupt Ellice.52 He had anticipated and suffered little personally by the December 1825 banking crisis, which he attributed to ‘poor regulation’ and ‘overuse of paper’. Drawing parallels with 1814 and 1819, he noted the ‘calm before the storm’ when he returned to the City in January 1826. He also speculated about a silver standard.53 On the address, 2 Feb., he reiterated his views on distress, South America and the currency and cautioned against precipitately adopting the Scottish banking system in England. He approved the decision to end the circulation of small notes and criticized the ‘continued madness of ministers’ experiments with the manufacturing industry’, corn and silk.54 He endorsed the principle of the Bank charter and promissory notes bills, which Alexander Baring and the Whig country bankers opposed, divided for it, 10, 13 Feb., and made further supportive interventions, 7, 13, 17, 21 Mar. He also seconded John Maberly’s amendment for a select committee on banking and a metallic currency, 20 Feb., causing Peel to accuse him of inconsistency. He replied that the small notes bill was a ‘virtual repeal’ of the 1819 Bank Act: ‘It gave power to the Bank, a temptation to increase its issues, which with the best intentions, that body would not always be able to withstand’. Additionally, he declared against free trade in corn as long as the national debt remained high. He presented distress petitions, 9, 14 Feb., preparatory to seeking inquiry into the silk trade, 23 Feb., when, with John Williams seconding, he described the grievances of different branches of the trade and criticized the proposed 30 per cent duty. He said he had hoped to secure an ‘internal prohibition of foreign silk’ and welcomed similar concessions announced on dyes and soap.55 Mrs. Arbuthnot attributed his heavy defeat (222-40) to Huskisson’s superior reply.56 Laying the ground for Tierney’s speech on the exchequer loan, 28 Feb., he accused ministers of ‘making half-baked proposals they cannot substantiate with returns or accounts’. He voted to increase the president of the board of trade’s salary, 6, 10 Apr., after seeking prior guarantees that equivalent savings were possible, and for corn law revision, 18 Apr., and harried ministers over the sudden economic downturn in manufacturing, 1, 19 May. Speaking on 4, 9, 12, 13, 26 May, he made the late banking crisis the scapegoat for all recent commercial failures. Grey, who had consulted him over the Northumberland elections, when Howick was twice defeated, ignored his advice to seek a cheaper alternative seat.57 Ellice was suggested for Middlesex at the dissolution in May 1826, but he refused to spend more than £2,500 and contested Coventry, where he and Moore were defeated by the corporation candidates.58 His ‘bad press’ from the Greek loan fiasco persisted.59

Out of Parliament, Ellice communicated regularly with Denison, Grey, Hobhouse and Wilson, started to put his own and Lambton’s finances in order and advised Grey on land sales following Howick’s defeat in Northumberland.60 He tendered for Appleby, but considered the asking price too high, and vainly took soundings elsewhere through Burdett and Taylor.61 He attributed his failure to unseat the Coventry Members on petition to political in-fighting in the wake of Liverpool’s stroke, the narrow anti-Catholic majority in the Commons, 6 Mar., and the composition of the committee:

Two good ‘No Popery’ men cannot be spared out of a majority of four, and more especially where two Catholics will help repeal them, and these are the principles of justice on which one has to rely in such a tribunal.62

The political turmoil of the next twelve months convinced him that any seat would have been a bad investment, although he again toyed with the idea when considering an alignment with Althorp in July 1827 and with the liberal Tories when Huskisson was leader of the House in Lord Goderich’s short-lived ministry.63 Differing from Grey, he continued to write flatteringly to Lord Durham (Lambton) of Huskisson.64 He lobbied, but failed to persuade the Lords to carry the Coventry magistracy bill, introduced in the wake of the election committee report, and testified (on Coventry elections) before the committee on borough polls, 10 May 1827.65 Between January 1828 and the dissolution in 1830 Ellice lived mainly in Dawlish. He travelled on the continent with his son Edward, watched the political situation and monitored the progress of Howick and others of the 1826 intake. He twice failed to secure the election of his brother Russell as an East India Company director: a ‘useless battle of "independence" against the chairs, and all the agency money, and with troops who do not understand successive defeats’ (7 Apr. 1830).66 In January 1830, when the duke of Wellington was expected to ‘send for Grey’, Ellice observed:

There appear to be four distinct parties preparing for Parliament. First government. Second, a direct and entire opposition led by Lord Palmerston in the Commons and Lord Melbourne in the ... Lords, with Charles Grant and the ex-liberals, etc. ... [and] a large support from our friends, who have only made the condition that Huskisson is not to lead, or as others will have it, to have anything to do with the party and on this point they willingly give up their leader Lord Lansdowne. The third party are what they call the Watchers, under ... Althorp in the ... Commons, and to this I fear Brougham proposes to attach himself. The fourth, the discontented and still more bitter old Tories, who will make no peace with Peel, and are probably the most formidable, backed as they will be by the distress and loud complaints from every part of the country.67

Largely through Howick, he also monitored attendance that session at Brooks’s and at meetings of the revived opposition in Althorp’s rooms.68 Despite Lord Hertford’s hostility, he came in for Coventry at the 1830 general election with the Ultra Fyler after a token poll.69 Afterwards, he reported regularly to Grey on reactions to the political situation in the City and at Brooks’s, where he noticed that there was ‘great jealousy of Brougham’s assumption of the office of leader’.70

Ellice was of course listed among the ministry’s ‘foes’ and voted to bring them down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. Offering to assist Grey in office, 19 Nov., he advised:

What you have most to avoid is the appearance before the public, of rather providing places for worn out, useless people than providing proper and efficient persons, even for the lowest office. For God’s sake, have none of the followers and retainers of the last 20 years’ governments, where it is possible to do without them. They will always be jealous of newcomers; and their diminished hope of advancement [means that they will be] incessantly endeavouring in concert with their old allies and the press, to undermine all your arrangements.71

Grey made him his patronage (treasury) secretary at £2,500 a year, and he was immediately lampooned as ‘Mr. Jobbery’ and as one of Grey’s family cabinet.72 He repeatedly cautioned Grey against making further ‘family’ appointments.73 It was reported in the City that Ellice and Poulett Thomson, the vice-president of the board of trade, would make half a million pounds if they remained in office for two years.74 Ellice was also appointed with Auckland, Brougham and Durham to Grey’s new committee ‘to regulate the public press, as far as regards government’.75 As patronage secretary he had the management of elections, oversaw the trade in seats and attended the House frequently but rarely engaged in debate. He covered for or assisted ministers as necessary, and ordered or brought up returns and bills. His votes indicated the government’s line, and with Duncannon and occasionally Sheil and even O’Connell for the Irish and Thomas Kennedy and others for the Scottish Members, he drew up lists and acted as a whipper-in. Liaising with Brougham, who as lord chancellor was Speaker of the Lords, he briefed the leader of the Commons Althorp and Grey on morale and warned of possible difficulties and defections. He discussed the House’s business schedules and occasionally compared lists with the Tory whip Holmes, and entertained colleagues and likely defectors at his house, then 3 Richmond Terrace. Early doubts about his suitability were assuaged and he was seen as ‘no mean’ judge of the Commons.76 He recommended an immediate dissolution and, when this was vetoed, tried to allow for losses at by-elections generated by the change in ministry by leasing William Russell’s* Saltash seats, which he found difficult to manage effectively. He engineered a vacancy at New Windsor for the Irish Secretary Smith Stanley following his defeat at Preston in December 1830.77 He deputized for Althorp during his father’s illness, 10 Dec., and opposed, to Tory taunts, a motion for printing the evidence on the Evesham election petition, 14 Dec. He presented returns and ordered accounts on imports and exports, 15 Dec., and carried the third reading of the patents bill, 17 Dec. 1830.

He was named to the public accounts committee, 17 Feb., assisted with the contentious seaborne coal bill, 16, 21 Feb., brought his knowledge of Canada to the debate on emigration, 22 Feb. 1831, and was directed to bring in the assisted emigration bill with the colonial under-secretary Howick. He had John Stuart Wortley added to the East India Committee that day and dealt with irregularities in the Liverpool-Leeds railway bill, 23 Feb. When he presented petitions for parliamentary reform, 26 Feb., The Times maliciously commented: ‘There is one person, in particular, unfavourably known in the City for his connection with the celebrated Greek loan. This person should have shrunk from public life altogether, but particularly he should not have been placed in a situation connected with the revenue of the country!’ He decided against treating it as a libel. He brought up two Coventry petitions favourable to the government’s reform bill, 15 Mar., and thereby succeeded in marginalizing local concern over the voting rights of serving apprentices and a third Coventry petition, for the ballot, entrusted to Hunt. He presented further reform petitions, tabled several reports and accounts and had the sugar duties bill deferred, 19 Mar. He had had it circulated privately that the timber duties would probably not be carried.78 Before the details of the reform bill were announced, he had predicted a majority for it of 67, but the second reading was carried by only a single vote, 22 Mar.79 According to Brougham’s private secretary Denis Le Marchant†, Ellice heard beforehand that John Calcraft would ‘switch’ to them. By April he counted his brothers-in-law Sir Charles and Walter Burrell among the likely Tory defectors, and was monitoring the Lowthers. (He later became the government’s agent in distributing honours to those whose nomination boroughs the Reform Act abolished.)80 He correctly predicted the bill’s defeat on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., and prepared for a dissolution.81 He has been variously credited with raising £15,000 in subscriptions by the 23rd (£25,000 overall), purchasing ‘Tory’ boroughs with £10,000 of secret service money to assist candidates and binding a party together by the cry of ‘The Bill! The whole bill, and nothing but the bill!’82 His correspondence reflects the problems he faced in finding candidates and making them pay their own way.83 After first ensuring the co-operation of the Coventry Political Union, he came in at a personal cost of £2,500, with a new colleague, Henry Lytton Bulwer, after defeating Fyler in a five-day poll.84 During it he wrote:

Everything is put upon me, and I am blamed for anything that goes wrong, or rather that does not accord with the particular wishes or feelings of any person connected with the government ... I cannot find candidates, and what is still more difficult, the persons exactly suited to the particular places requiring them, and above all, men that know their own minds with money to fight any borough and almost any county in the kingdom ... All is going right where we have people of nerve and determination to deal with, something wrong where we have undecided and weak candidates on our hands ... I must go back in the mail to Coventry tonight to prevent mischief.85

Forwarding the returns to Brougham before leaving London, 17 May 1831, ‘partly for a holiday, but more especially to avoid dunning for money’, he reckoned on a ‘majority of 150 at least. Tolerably good accounts from Scotland - 13 of 15 burgh returns, 9 gains altogether’.86 Lord Dudley, who met him in Paris shortly afterwards, informed William Ord*, ‘I know very well what fault may be found with him [my friend the Bear] "minus aptus acutis naribus horum hominum"(Horace), but he has an active vigorous understanding, a cheerful temper and more than all he is a generous kind-hearted man’.87

Deputizing for Althorp, Ellice ordered papers for the public accounts committee and announced the Irish tobacco bill, 23 June 1831. He naturally divided steadily with his colleagues for the reintroduced and revised reform bills and was dismayed by their defeats on Saltash, 26 July,88 and Lord Chandos’s amendment enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He also faced a rebellion over Saturday sittings. The anti-reformers Henry Goulburn, Frederick Hodgson and Sir Charles Wetherell tried to embarrass him by taking up the cause of the unfranchised apprentices and freeholders of Coventry, 13 July, and the radicals deployed the same tactic when he presented Coventry’s petition for corn law revision; he endorsed it as the ‘next important subject after reform’, 12 Sept.89 That month, the Irish lord lieutenant Lord Anglesey, having heard Ellice praised by the Irish Members, suggested him as a possible replacement as Irish secretary for Smith Stanley.90 He was not tempted. He advised Grey on appointments to the royal household and coronation honours and kept a close watch on the intrigues of Lord Wharncliffe and the reform bill’s prospects in the Lords.91 Assisted by the Preston Member John Wood, he carried the Waterloo Bridge bill, 16 Sept., and he was a majority teller for authorizing public spending on improving Windsor Castle and Buckingham House, 28 Sept. He had anticipated the reform bill’s Lords defeat, and mustered support for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct.92 He also sought Ebrington’s assistance to keep ‘Althorp up to the mark’, 26 Oct.93 He came to the assistance of Poulett Thomson when papers on smuggling were ordered, 15 Dec. 1831. Le Marchant recalled that when Peel’s brother-in-law George Dawson* told Ellice that the revised final reform bill was ‘a damned deal worse than the last’, he ‘justly answered that a greater compliment could not be paid it’.94 Keen to avoid another dissolution, he refused to delay the bill’s committee stage beyond 20 Jan. 1832 and hoped that Grey’s visit to the king in Brighton that month and the threat of peerage creations would be enough to ease its passage through the Lords.95 He and Duncannon had to act precipitately to avoid defeat on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and he complained to Grey that they had received too little support from Althorp.96 The premier’s speech affirming the government’s determination to enforce the payment of Irish tithes, 7 Feb., ‘set all the Papists and radicals furious with Lord Grey and the Bear’, who was now reported to be looking ‘gloomy’.97 Discussions with Lord Powis’s son Robert Clive* had reassured him that the reform bill’s passage in the Commons, 22 Mar., was not in doubt.98 In April he suggested making ‘about five or six’ new peers to carry it. (The diarist Greville inflated the figure to 56.)99 He doubted whether he could secure a respectable majority on their confidence motion following its Lords’ defeat, 10 May, and repeatedly warned that attendance would fall off following its passage, leaving the ministry vulnerable.100 He was a teller against a Conservative amendment opposing the dismemberment of Perthshire by the Scottish reform bill, 15 June 1832. To the annoyance of Smith Stanley, who contemplated resignation, he advised Grey against attempting an Irish tithe bill.101

By June, preliminary arrangements for the 1832 general election were in place for England and Wales, but the lord advocate Francis Jeffrey* complained that he had been ‘warning Ellice of trouble in Scotland in vain for the last couple of months and that government may suffer’.102 Grey, partly on Althorp’s advice, and to avoid trouble, had paid little heed to Ellice’s pleas, first voiced in March, that he be permitted to resign on account of his own deteriorating health and his wife’s terminal illness.103 Between March and June, he sent Grey several letters of resignation, and, justifying his ‘fixed determination to get out of office the moment I can’, he wrote, 30 June:

It may have its attractions for younger people, or other men having higher views than I aspire to. It has none for me and I would not have the last 12 months over again, if you will give me the choice of all the offices under the government. But possibly any change will have a bad appearance during the remainder of the Parliament. Whether I go or stay, I will manage the next election for you, it being also understood that George Ponsonby is to assist in the management of the present House during the remainder of the session. In the state of Hannah’s health, I must be considered a free agent to go and come, as I am able. My retirement will eliminate all objections to [Charles] Wood’s* appointment to either situation ... You must have an infusion of younger, more active, and intelligent men, who will take an interest in what is going on in the House, make themselves acquainted with the newcomers and lay themselves out to conciliate and satisfy them. There is not a single soul except Duncannon who ever speaks to or takes the least notice of any of our most zealous and steady supporters.104

He retired when his wife died, 27 July, and after her funeral he ‘set off for a wandering expedition anywhere, to the North in the first instance ... and with the intention of not returning to town, if I can avoid it, for the next six months’.105 For six weeks in August and September 1832, before setting out for the continent, he canvassed and sent reports on the Scottish constituencies to Grey and the first lord of the admiralty Sir James Graham.*106

Ellice contested Coventry successfully in December 1832 and retained the seat for the Liberals for life. He was severely challenged at the by-election following his appointment to the cabinet as secretary at war in April 1833, and became a veteran of six further polls. He resigned with Lord Melbourne in December 1834 and did not hold office again, but he remained a confidential adviser to successive Liberal ministries and was instrumental in founding the Reform Club. Noting Ellice’s high political connections, Creevey portrayed him unflatteringly in 1836 as ‘very vain (who is not?), he is a sieve, and so much the more agreeable for those who squeeze him’. His second marriage in 1843 to Thomas William Coke I’s widow ended tragically with her death in late pregnancy the following year. Ellice died in his sleep (of angina) at Ardochy, Inverness-shire, in September 1863, a week after presiding at a dinner to mark the completion of the Northern Railways. Obituarists recalled him as a gentleman of the ‘Old School’, as ready to advise on affairs of love as affairs of state.107 To Le Marchant, he was

a general favourite in the House, his readiness to oblige being as remarkable as the extent of his influence and connections. Never, perhaps, had there been a more efficient and popular (political) secretary of the treasury. He was always a firm and consistent Liberal of the radical school ... His knowledge was not derived from books, for he was too fond of society to be a deep reader, but he had picked up much useful information on the questions of the day that most engaged public attention, and he could speak readily, fluently, and plausibly on them. Courage and dexterity supplied his deficiencies. A pleasant address, and an exemption from the social prejudices of the Whigs, told also in his favour. Altogether he was a most valuable member of the party. Careless of his own personal interests, his sagacity and independence gave him deserved weight, especially when out of office, with men in power. He suggested most of Lord Melbourne’s appointments, and was concerned in many of Lord John Russell’s.108

His will was sworn and administered by his only son and heir Edward Ellice (1810-80), Liberal Member for Huddersfield, 1837, and St. Andrews Burghs, 1837-80.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. Oxford DNB.
  • 2. J.C. Clarke, ‘The fortunes of the Ellice family: from business to politics, 1760-1860’ (Oxf. Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1974), 168-76.
  • 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 685-6.
  • 4. NLI, Vesey Fitzgerald mss 7858, p. 169; Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 4, 16 Mar.; NLS, Ellice mss, Grey to Ellice, 20 Mar. 1820; Broughton, Recollections, ii. 121; M.D. George, Cat. of Personal and Pol. Satires, x. 14039-43.
  • 5. Pol. Reg. 25 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. T. Carlyle, Reminiscences ed. C.E. Norton, 136; Brougham mss, autobiog. fragment.
  • 7. Scotsman, 19 Sept. 1863; A. Aspinall, Brougham and the Whig Party, 263.
  • 8. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 16, 31 Mar., 7 Apr. 1820.
  • 9. Clarke, 96, 100-9, 177.
  • 10. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 4 [June] 1821.
  • 11. Westminster Rev. vi (June 1826), 123-31; Add. 36460, ff. 289-93; Broughton, iii. 74-75; George, x. 15146. See also R.E. Zegger, Hobhouse, 114-42.
  • 12. The Times, 3 Mar. 1821.
  • 13. Ibid. 27 Apr. 1825.
  • 14. Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey, 1 June 1820.
  • 15. Lambton mss.
  • 16. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 29 Nov., 7 Dec. 1820.
  • 17. Ibid. same to same, 4, 13, 14 Dec. 1820, 4, 6, 8, 11, 15 Jan. 1821; Broughton, ii. 139.
  • 18. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 25 Sept., 13 Oct. 1821, 1, 14 Feb. 1822.
  • 19. The Times, 15, 16 Feb. 1821
  • 20. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 42; B. Hilton, Corn, Cash, Commerce, 136.
  • 21. The Times, 20, 29 Mar., 6 Apr. 1821; Hilton, 133, 136.
  • 22. The Times, 23, 26 June 1821.
  • 23. Ibid. 21 June 1821.
  • 24. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 4 Oct., 7, Dec. 1819, Apr. 1820.
  • 25. Ibid. same to same, 13 Oct., 6 Nov., 13, 16, 22 Nov., 25, 26 Dec. 1821, 1, 4, 6, 10, 26 Jan., 1, 4, 14 Feb. 1822.
  • 26. Ibid. same to same, 4, 23 Jan. [late Jan.] 1822.
  • 27. Ibid. same to same [Feb. 1822].
  • 28. Ibid. same to same [Jan.]; The Times, 23 Feb. 1822.
  • 29. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [14 Feb. and n.d. 1822]; The Times, 23 Feb. 1822.
  • 30. Ibid. 9, 12 Mar. 1822.
  • 31. Bessborough mss F53.
  • 32. Hilton, 162.
  • 33. The Times, 14 May 1822.
  • 34. Ibid. 7, 8 May 1822.
  • 35. Ibid. 21, 25 June, 24 July; Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 24 July 1822.
  • 36. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [Aug.], 24 Sept., 5 Oct. 1822.
  • 37. Ibid. same to same, 7, 14, 21 Jan. 1823. See HEREFORDSHIRE.
  • 38. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 15, 20, 26 Feb.; Ellice mss, Grey to Ellice, 23 Feb. 1823.
  • 39. Coventry Local Stud. Lib. Coventry Pamphlets, v.
  • 40. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [8 July 1823].
  • 41. Ibid. same to same, 14, 15 Nov. 1823, 3 Feb., 6, 8, 11, 15 Mar., Ridley to Grey, 13 Mar. 1824.
  • 42. Ibid. Ellice to Grey, 4-6 Feb. 1824.
  • 43. Ibid. same to same, 27 Feb., 1 Mar. 1824.
  • 44. Ibid. same to same, 11 Mar.; The Times, 9, 13 Mar. 1824.
  • 45. The Times, 19 Mar. 1824.
  • 46. Ibid. 13 Apr., 4 May 1824.
  • 47. Ibid. 19 May 1824.
  • 48. George, x. 14833; The Times, 14 Mar. 1825.
  • 49. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 9 Feb. 1825.
  • 50. The Times, 7, 30 June 1825.
  • 51. Add. 37863, f. 99.
  • 52. Add. 36461, f. 203; Broughton, iii. 119-20; Creevey Pprs. ii. 93-94.
  • 53. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 5, 18 Dec. 1825, 8, 20 Jan. 1826; Add. 36461, f. 326, 402.
  • 54. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 2 Feb.; Add. 51580, Carlisle to Lady Holland, 5 Feb. 1826.
  • 55. Greville Mems. i. 159-60; Wellington mss WP1/851/4; The Times, 15, 24 Feb. 1826.
  • 56. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii, 17.
  • 57. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 29 May, 5 June, reply, 29 May 1826.
  • 58. Coventry Herald, 9, 23 June; Coventry Mercury, 26 June 1826.
  • 59. Ann. Reg. (1826), Hist. pp. 371-6; Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 1 Jan. 1827.
  • 60. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 13 Aug., 29 Sept., 8 Oct., 1826, 15 Jan.; Ellice mss, replies, 7 Feb., 22 Oct. 1827.
  • 61. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 23, 27 Sept. 1826, 11 June; Brougham mss, J. Brougham to Ellice, 9 Sept. 1827.
  • 62. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 14 Nov. 1826, 8 Mar. 1827.
  • 63. Ibid. same to same, 29 Sept. 1827, 12 Jan. 1828; Lambton mss, Ellice to Lambton, 3 Dec. 1827; Canning’s Ministry, 344.
  • 64. Lambton mss, Ellice to Lambton [13 Feb. 1828]; Ellice mss, Grey to Ellice, 24 Jan. 1830.
  • 65. PP (1826-7), iv. 1117-19.
  • 66. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, Jan. 1828-June 1830, passim.; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 34.
  • 67. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 18 Jan. 1830.
  • 68. Ellice mss, Grey to Ellice, 6, 11, 17 Feb.; Grey mss, Howick jnl. 6, 21 Mar. 1830; A. Mitchell, Whigs in Opposition, 226-7.
  • 69. Grey mss, Grey to Ellice, 14, 18 July; Coventry Mercury, 25 July, 1 Aug. 1830.
  • 70. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [Aug], 28 Oct; Ellice mss, replies, 5, 29 Oct. 1830; Aspinall, 184.
  • 71. Grey mss.
  • 72. Three Diaries, 25.
  • 73. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [Jan.] 1832.
  • 74. Greville Mems. i. 159-60; ii. 75.
  • 75. Agar Ellis diary, 9 Dec. 1830.
  • 76. Life of Campbell, i. 500; Three Diaries, 299.
  • 77. Broughton, iii. 78; Ellice mss, Ellice to Russell, 25 Dec., reply, 27 Dec. 1830, Vivian to Ellice, 9 Jan.; Brougham mss, Ellice to Brougham [4 Apr.] 1831.
  • 78. Three Diaries, 66.
  • 79. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/31D/27; Cockburn Letters, 299.
  • 80. Le Marchant, Althorp, 303; Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [Apr. 1831]; Oxford DNB.
  • 81. Three Diaries, 80.
  • 82. Broughton, iii. 109; Le Marchant, 319; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 325-7.
  • 83. Brougham mss, Ellice to Brougham, Monday [2 May 1831].
  • 84. N. LoPatin, ‘Popular Politics in Midlands’, Midlands Hist. xx (1995), 103-18.
  • 85. Brougham mss, Ellice to Brougham [2 May 1831].
  • 86. Brougham mss.
  • 87. Northumb. RO, Blackett-Ord mss 324/A/33.
  • 88. Hatherton diary, 26 July 1831.
  • 89. Three Diaries, 113.
  • 90. Anglesey mss D619/27B, p. 52; NLW, Coedymaen mss 218.
  • 91. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 31 May, Wed., various [autumn 1831].
  • 92. Agar Ellis diary, 29 Sept. 1831; Three Diaries, 146.
  • 93. Devon RO, Earl Fortescue mss 1262M/FC 87.
  • 94. NLS mss 24762, f. 49.
  • 95. Add. 40402, ff. 2, 181.
  • 96. Three Diaries, 184, 196-7; Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 6 Feb. 1832.
  • 97. Croker Pprs. ii. 150; Baring Jnls. i. 92.
  • 98. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 10 Feb. 1832.
  • 99. Baring Jnls. i. 93; Greville Mems. ii. 282.
  • 100. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 10 Feb., 17 Apr. 1832.
  • 101. Ibid. same to same, 1 July 1832; Le Marchant, 425; E.A. Smith, Lord Grey, 294-5.
  • 102. Add. 51593, Hamilton Dalrymple to Holland, 24 May 1832.
  • 103. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 17, 27 Mar., 17, 24 Apr., 27 July 1832.
  • 104. Ibid. Ellice to Grey, 17, 27 Mar., 17, 24 Apr., 27 July 1832.
  • 105. Add. 51588, Ellice to Lady Holland [3 Aug. 1832].
  • 106. Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 10, 18, 31 Aug., 10, 17 Sept.; Cumb. RO, Sir James Graham mss D/GN3, Graham to Ellice, 21 Aug. 1832.
  • 107. Creevey Pprs. ii. 309; The Times, 19 Sept.; Revue des Deux Mondes, 15 Oct. 1863.
  • 108. Le Marchant, 489-90.