MARTIN, Sir Thomas Byam (1773-1854), of 8 Somerset Place, Mdx.

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



1818 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 26 July 1773,1 4th but 3rd surv. s. of Henry Martin† (d. 1794) of Little Farm, nr. Tooting, Surr. and Elizabeth Anne, da. of Harding Parker of Passage West, co. Cork. educ. by Mr. Batchelor, Freshford, nr. Bath 1780; Southampton g.s. 1781; by Mr. Coles, Guildford 1782; Portsmouth naval acad. 1785. m. 22 Aug. 1798,2 Catherine, da. of Robert Fanshawe† of Stone Hall, nr. Plymouth, Devon, commr. of Plymouth dockyard, 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. KCB 2 Jan. 1815; GCB 3 Mar. 1830. d. 21 Oct. 1854.

Offices Held

Entered RN 1786, lt. 1790, cdr. 1793, capt. 1793, r.-adm. 1811, v.-adm. 1819, adm. 1830, v.-adm. of UK 1847-9, adm. of the fleet 1849-d.

Controller of navy 1816-31.


Martin, who inherited £3,000 from his father in 1794,3 served with distinction throughout the French wars and was appointed controller of the navy at £2,000 a year in 1816. He was elected for Plymouth on the admiralty interest in 1818 and was returned unopposed with Sir William Congreve in 1820, when he declared himself to be ‘sincerely and ardently attached to the constitution’.4 He gave steady support to Lord Liverpool’s ministry in the 1820 Parliament, speaking in defence of the naval estimates. He maintained that, contrary to radical complaints, the government was more open to the charge that it had been ‘too hasty in diminishing the strength of our navy’, 9 June 1820. He offered explanations concerning seamen’s wages, 6 Feb., private contracts for the disposal of old stores, 20 Feb., the working hours of dockyard employees, 4 May, and the ‘great danger’ of postponing ship repairs, 7 May 1821.5 He divided against Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar. (as a pair), 21 Apr., 10 May, and the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825. He presented constituency petitions against the corn averages bill, 26 Mar. 1821, the coastwise coal duty, 9 Feb. 1824, and in favour of the debtor and creditor bill, 10 Apr. 1826.6 He pointed to the large reduction in the naval estimates and claimed that the opposition was ‘quibbling about trifles’, 18 Mar. 1822. He declared that ‘the British navy had never been in a more efficient state than ... at the present moment’, 14 Mar.,7 and defended the system of promotion, which was ‘unconnected with parliamentary influence’, 19 June 1823. He asserted that there was ‘less dry rot in the navy at present than at any former period’, 20 Feb. 1824, and argued that it would be impossible to carry out the work of the navy office with fewer staff, 21 Feb. 1825.8 At the general election of 1826 he was again returned unopposed for Plymouth.9

He ‘utterly denied’ that the unpopularity of naval service made impressment necessary, 13 Feb. 1827. He divided against Catholic claims, 6 Mar., and presented a hostile Plymouth petition, 16 Mar.,10 when he voted for the Clarence annuity bill. He divided with Canning’s ministry against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, 7 June 1827. He warned that the service would suffer if the grant for seamen was delayed any longer, 12 Feb. 1828, but thought the debate provided an opportunity for ‘correcting the exaggerations’ of Hume; he was a teller for the Wellington ministry’s majority against reduction. He maintained that great progress had been made in reducing naval salaries, 16 May, and voted against reducing that of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July. He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and paired against Catholic claims, 12 May. He voted against the Whig motion condemning delays in chancery, 24 Apr. 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that he would side ‘with government’ on Catholic emancipation, and he voted accordingly, 6, 30 Mar. He said he was at a loss to know when the navy estimates would be low enough to satisfy Hume, 27 Feb., and argued that comparisons with the position in 1792 were misleading because of ‘the immense increase of business’ in the navy departments and the effects of high food prices on dockyard wages. He presented petitions from Plymouth tradesmen against renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 28 Apr. 1829, 12 Feb. 1830. He voted against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., Lord Blandford’s reform motion, 18 Feb., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. and the Galway franchise bill, 25 May. He strongly refuted the implication in a pamphlet published by Sir Henry Parnell, chairman of the finance committee, that he and the navy board had obstructed admiralty attempts to achieve economies, 26 Feb., and claimed that the estimates would ‘reflect credit upon the government for its moderation’, 26 Mar. He presented Plymouth petitions against the death penalty except for murder, 17 Mar., and the death penalty for forgery, 26 Apr., and voted in this sense, 7 June. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May 1830. At the general election that summer he was returned unopposed for Plymouth with Sir George Cockburn, a lord of the admiralty.11

Ministers of course listed Martin among their ‘friends’ and he voted with them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830, but he remained in office when Lord Grey’s ministry was formed. However, he privately complained that he was ‘much harassed by the disingenuous conduct’ of the new first lord of the admiralty, Sir James Graham, who ‘from political animosity towards those who are gone out has made me in a great degree personally the object of an attack ably drawn up but full of acrimony and ill-intended views’, which would ‘no doubt come before Parliament although he has told me he does not intend to force it forward’.12 Following Graham’s intimation of a scheme of naval reorganization, 25 Feb., Martin defended the navy board’s practice of applying money voted by Parliament for specific purposes to other branches of the service where needed, and on 25 Mar. 1831 he urged the minister to refute the ‘scandalous and slanderous falsehood’ in the newspapers that improper use had been made of public money; he was only partially successful. He dutifully voted for the second reading of the government’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing dissolution he declined Graham’s suggestion that he should stand for Plymouth with a government candidate against Cockburn and stated that he could not pledge himself to an unqualified support of ministerial measures, claiming that he was ‘no party man’ and that his office had ‘never been changed with the change of ministers’. He subsequently rejected a request for him to stand down in favour of the government candidate and retain his office without a seat (a solution approved of by his old naval friend William IV), although letters to his wife suggest that he might have accepted this arrangement had he not felt irrevocably committed to his supporters at Plymouth. He was clearly anxious about the heavy expense of a contested election and, according to his son, was ‘at times very much out of sorts’ and needed encouragement to ‘keep him up to the mark’. He publicly promised to support the ‘principle of reform’ but ‘would not consent to be bound hand and foot’ to ‘any measure which might be proposed’, hinting that he considered the £10 borough franchise qualification too low and that the rights of freemen’s sons should be protected. He was returned at the head of the poll, despite the fact that government influence was turned against him.13 He afterwards wrote that he did not consider it necessary to resign his office immediately but that he would ‘gladly take the first opening to make my escape, with as little damage in point of income as may be consistent with a due consideration of ... character and credit’.14

He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, but Graham complained of his ‘perpetual absence’ from the divisions in committee;15 he paired for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept. 1831. The final straw for ministers was his refusal to attend the division on Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct., and the king reluctantly consented to his dismissal a week later. He reportedly retired with a pension of £830 in addition to his half-pay of two guineas a day.16 He was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, but voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., the third reading, 22 Mar., the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and for the preservation of Irish freemen’s rights, 2 July 1832. He was alarmed by the state of the country during the constitutional crisis in May and relieved when Grey and his colleagues returned to office, believing that there would otherwise have been ‘an immediate explosion’, such was the ‘desire of the lower orders to come to blows’.17 He defended the old navy board against Graham’s charges of disobedience and obstruction, 14 Feb., and said his navy civil departments bill was ‘aiming at economy, and overlooking much more important matters’. He made detailed criticisms of the measure, 27 Feb., declaring that he could ‘conceive nothing more completely at variance with every known principle of utility and simplicity’ and warning against the ‘introduction of machinery which will be utterly incapable of working in time of war’. On 6 Apr. he observed that ‘we are putting down that system which ... had been maintained throughout all the naval glory and success of this ... country’, expressed the ‘earnest hope ... that England may outlive this insanity’ and supported Cockburn’s proposed alternative scheme. He added that his dismissal had come as a relief, since he had ‘no desire to associate with the present government’ and ‘did not think that the policy they were pursuing was calculated to promote the interests of the country’. He ‘heard with great astonishment’ Graham’s statement regarding the appointment of a surveyor of the navy who had ‘no practical knowledge of the building of a ship’, 29 June. He ‘heartily agreed’ with a ship owners’ petition against the Gravesend pier bill, 10 Apr., and moved to reject the third reading; he was defeated by 41-26, acting as a teller. He voted for reduction of the sugar duties, 7 Mar., Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 27 June, and against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832.

At the general election of 1832 Martin, ‘contrary to expectation’, offered again for Plymouth, which had been opened by the Reform Act, in the hope that ‘the intelligent electors’ would ‘join ... in the moderated feeling fast spreading through the country’. He repeated his ‘determination never to degrade myself, or the Parliament, by going there pledged to the support of any specific measures’, but admitted that his prospects were ‘less cheering’ and withdrew before the poll.18 In 1833 he declined the post of commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean owing to his ‘great mistrust in the ... government, and more particularly ... Graham’, and to the ‘probability of being obliged to call upon the government for a greater force than a miserable reformed Parliament would have the spirit or the patriotism to allow’.19 He died in October 1854 and left an estate at Grovewich, near Wantage, Berkshire, to his eldest son, Admiral Sir William Fanshawe Martin (1801-95), who succeeded a cousin to the Martin baronetcy in 1863.20

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. Add. 41364, f. 23; Oxford DNB states 25 July.
  • 2. IGI (Devon).
  • 3. PROB 11/1248/424.
  • 4. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 16 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. The Times, 7, 21 Feb., 5, 8 May 1821.
  • 6. Ibid. 27 Mar. 1821, 10 Feb. 1824, 11 Apr. 1826.
  • 7. Ibid. 15 Mar. 1823.
  • 8. Ibid. 22 Feb. 1825.
  • 9. Alfred, 13 June 1826.
  • 10. The Times, 17 Mar. 1827.
  • 11. R. Devonport Telegraph, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 12. Add. 41368, ff. 5-10.
  • 13. Martin Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. xix), 239-62; Add. 41368, ff. 40, 56, 58, 67, 71-72; Plymouth Herald, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 14. Add. 41368, f. 87.
  • 15. Sir James Graham mss (IHR microfilm XR80), Graham to Grey, 28 July 1831.
  • 16. Holland House Diaries, 69-70; Martin Letters, 262-5; Plymouth Herald, 29 Oct. 1831.
  • 17. Add. 41369, ff. 7-9.
  • 18. Ibid. f. 14; Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 1, 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 19. Martin Letters, 110-17.
  • 20. PROB 11/2200/844; IR26/2005/982.