WILMOT, Robert John (1784-1841), of Osmaston, Derbys. and Sudbrook Park, Petersham, Surr.

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



Family and Education

b. 21 Dec. 1784, o.s. of Sir Robert Wilmot, 2nd bt., of Osmaston and 1st w. Juliana Elizabeth, da. of Adm. John Byron, wid. of Hon. William Byron†. educ. Eton 1802; Christ Church, Oxf. 1803. m. 6 Sept. 1806,1 Anne Beatrix, da. and coh. of Eusebius Horton of Catton, Derbys., 4s. 3da. (1 d.v.p.). Took additional name of Horton by royal lic. 8 May 1823 in accordance with will of his fa.-in-law. kntd. 8 June 1831; GCH 22 June 1831; suc. fa. as 3rd bt. 23 July 1834. d. 31 May 1841.

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state for war and colonies Dec. 1821-Jan. 1828; PC 23 May 1827; gov. and c.-in-c. Ceylon 1831-7.

Capt. Staffs. militia 1805.


Wilmot, who admitted ‘without reserve the object of ultimately holding high political situation’, had sat since 1818 for Newcastle-under-Lyme, where he gave very little ‘personal attention’ to his constituents, relying instead on the declining electoral influence of Lord Stafford and the corporation, with whom he had continued to act following his initial defeat in 1815.2 He ‘maintained stoutly’ that ‘the surer and earlier road to high political office’ was not ‘to oppose diligently and malignantly’, but ‘to support energetically and uncompromisingly any government’.3 A frequent speaker and attender, who took an insatiable interest in the affairs of his own department, his rhetorical skills frequently drew adverse comment, particularly on occasions when, as the radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet put it, 27 June 1821, he gave ‘a very poor speech, and, as usual, ended by a long quotation which, this evening, was in Latin’.4 An assiduous correspondent, guilty of a ‘frightful prolixity’ which ‘I cannot cure’, Wilmot was in regular but not necessarily reciprocal contact with most of the leading political figures of the day, on questions of political economy, currency reform, Catholic emancipation, slavery and emigration.5 His memoranda, pamphlets and printed speeches were legion, but mostly consisted of revised drafts of earlier items. A member of the Political Economy Club from 1829 until 1831, who dubbed Joseph Hume* his ‘natural enemy’, 18 Feb. 1828, he lost no opportunity to attack those who believed that the distresses of the country could be relieved by tax reductions, arguing instead for ‘applying public money specifically to the relief of that distress, under such novel conditions as are in keeping with the soundest views of political economy’.6 His increasing obsession with schemes of pauper emigration, which he saw as the main remedy for distress, along with his outspoken views on Catholic relief and slavery, placed him increasingly at odds with his colleagues and constituents.

At the 1820 general election Wilmot offered again for Newcastle, defending his support for the Liverpool ministry and Catholic claims and refuting the ‘atrocious falsehoods’ circulated by his opponents that he placed his own ambitions above the interests of the constituency and was opposed to the education of the poor, whom he wished to remove to the ‘barren soil of a foreign land’. After a spiteful contest he was returned in second place with a much reduced majority.7 He seconded the address, 27 Apr. 1820, when he inveighed against any ‘sweeping alteration of the constitution’, which was ‘the most perfect of any age or country’. ‘If the inferior orders, in the manufacturing districts, were once convinced of its benefits’, he declared, ‘much of the power of the agitators would be destroyed forever’. John Hobhouse, radical Whig Member for Westminster, called it ‘a miserable performance indeed’.8 Arguing against too rigid an approach to agricultural distress, 31 May, Wilmot stressed limits to David Ricardo’s* methods in the formulation of policy, contending that ‘the principles of political economy serve as beacons to enable us to direct our course, but as in mechanics allowance must be made for friction and resistance, so in legislation reference must be had to the actual situation of affairs’.9 He ‘could see no reason why the Irish should pay ten per cent on imported articles manufactured in this country’, and was in the minority for inquiry into Anglo-Irish trade, 14 June. Defending the government’s conduct towards Queen Caroline, 22 June, he argued that ‘nothing had been more frequently ridiculed than the introduction of so many names of the royal progeny into the liturgy’ and that her omission was ‘no degradation’. He was a government teller on the issue the following day and spoke again in their support, 6, 13 Feb. 1821. He divided with ministers against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, but was in the minority for repeal of the malt tax next day. Attacking misleading press reports that had ‘done him considerable injury at the last general election’, he insisted that ‘he had always been a warm friend to the education of the poor’, 7 July 1820.10 On 12 Feb. 1821 Wilmot recommended giving Grampound’s seats to Leeds, but urged the House not to ‘mix up this subject with the general question of parliamentary reform’. Discussion of this issue, he added, 17 Apr., was ‘dangerous’ and ‘subversive of the real and tried constitution’, and had become erroneously linked to ‘the pecuniary difficulties under which the country now labours’. He duly divided against parliamentary reform, 9 May. He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. On 15 May 1821 he spoke against Burdett’s motion for inquiry into Peterloo, which would be ‘attended by the most prejudicial consequences’. His defence of the magistrates was heavily criticized during an exchange with Burdett the following day. He divided for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May, 4 June, when he spoke briefly in its favour. He argued and voted against Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821.

In the government reshuffle of December 1821 Wilmot accepted the under-secretaryship at the colonial office, which Huskisson described as ‘a very pleasant’ post, rendered ‘more important by the principal not being in the House of Commons’.11 ‘As it does not vacate a seat it will be very convenient to him’, noted the secretary of state, Lord Bathurst, who believed himself ‘mistaken’ in apprehending that Wilmot ‘might be through his friendship with Lord Granville be a devoted to Canning, to which there might be an objection’.12 Mrs. Arbuthnot, however, later related how Bathurst suspected that ‘Wilmot repeated everything to the Canning party’, adding that the duke of Wellington had warned her to ‘be very much on my guard, and take care what I said, for ... there was a system of espionage and of repeating every word that was said before the Canning party to their chief’.13 Wilmot, who regularly fielded questions on colonial issues and acted as a ministerial teller, argued against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 21 Feb. 1822. On 4 Mar. he opposed any ‘further military reduction’ in the colonies and ‘entreated the House to consult petty savings less than the real and prospective advantage of the nation’. The following day Hume suggested that his ‘being a few weeks in office had produced such an effect ... as to make him conceive the saving of half a million a petty, paltry saving’, but Wilmot denied that he had ‘made use of the expressions’ and exposed flaws in Hume’s own calculations. He opposed the reception of a petition blaming distress in Lower Canada on ‘acts of the British legislature’, 13 Mar. On 10 May he welcomed Canning’s Catholic peers bill, which ‘would conciliate the people of Ireland’, but acknowledged that on this issue he ‘had the misfortune to differ with a large and respectable body of his constituents’. Introducing the Canada government and trade bill unifying its two legislatures, 20 June, he asserted that ‘consent’ by the ‘people of the provinces’ to the measure was unnecessary ‘since their present constitution was derived from an Act of the British legislature’. He spoke at length in the bill’s support, 18 July, when the Whig Sir James Mackintosh referred in the House to his ‘very able and perspicacious speech’. On slavery at the Cape, 25 July, he argued that ‘the remedy for it, to be safe, must be gradual’ and that ‘anything like a sudden and general manumission would be ruinous not only to the master, but to the parties it was intended to benefit’. He secured the appointment of a commission of inquiry into the settlements there, and in Mauritius and Ceylon, and successfully resisted calls for the inclusion of Trinidad, 26 July 1822. He refuted Hume’s assertion that the ‘colonies were rather a burden than a benefit to the country’, 26 Feb., and declared that in all of them ‘government had united practical economy with the most extended views of general policy’, 18 Mar. 1823. He defended the governor of Upper Canada, 24 Mar., and the union of Cape Breton with Nova Scotia, 25 Mar. He brought in the Newfoundland laws bill that day, and opposed inquiry into the colony, 14 May. He argued against introducing trial by jury into the penal settlement of New South Wales, 2 July 1823. He voted for repeal of the usury laws, 27 Feb., 8 Apr. 1824, 17 Feb. 1825. He again dealt with departmental questions, 4, 12 Mar. 1824, when he praised ‘the value which the country derived from its colonies’, 2 Apr., 10, 21 May 1824. On 13 Apr. he stated ‘his firm belief’ that ‘on some points’ the House ‘had been grossly deceived’ over the case of the Methodist missionary John Smith, prosecuted for inciting slaves to rebel in Demerara. In a long speech judged ‘very ill’ by the Whig Member Agar Ellis, 1 June, he contended that Smith’s conduct ‘had all the attributes of criminality’ and that he was ‘unequivocally ... guilty of misprision of treason’.14 He fielded opposition questions on the affair, 3 June, and on Barbados, 15 June 1824.

Wilmot, who had been ‘offended’ at being discouraged by the foreign secretary Canning from speaking in debates on slavery during 1824, with the proviso that ‘if I did I had better confine himself to one point’, bridled at further attempts to keep him silent the following year.15 In a letter to Robinson, chancellor of the exchequer, 22 Mar. 1825, he complained:

I feel and have felt very considerable annoyance at the disposition which exists to prevent my saying anything in Parliament on subjects concerned with the colonies ... I am not conscious of ever having got the government, in any single instance, into a single scrape.

Writing again, 5 Apr., he protested against ‘leaving the sole management of one of the most important departments’ to an under-secretary ‘whose tongue is tied, I will not say at the discretion of his superiors, but by their caprice or their impatience to get the business of the day over’. Citing the slavery issue, which Canning ‘took out of my hands’, he asked, ‘Is it fitting that that question should rest entirely in his hands, at a time when he is necessarily ignorant of every one of the details belonging to it?’16 He justified military increases, citing ‘the increased population of our colonial dependencies’, 7, 11 Mar. He introduced the Canada wastelands bill, which was ‘calculated to improve the condition and strength of our colonies in North America’, 15 Mar.17 On 15 Apr. he defended the proposed government grant of £30,000 to aid emigration from Southern Ireland to Canada as ‘an experiment’ of ‘national importance’, which would ‘place settlers in such a situation as to enable them to support themselves by their own industry’. He supported bills on warehoused corn and quarantine, 13 May, and the West India Company, 16 May, when he argued that ‘as the profits of the master increased, so would the condition of the slave under him be ameliorated’. He moved the second reading of the Mauritius trade bill for equalizing sugar duties, 3 June. He opposed inquiries into the deportation of two persons of colour from Jamaica by its governor, 16 June, and the expulsion from Barbados of a missionary whose actions had ‘given offence’ and appeared ‘dangerous to those ... involved in the possession of slaves’, 23 June. He announced that government intended to hold an inquiry into emigration in the next session, 18 June.18 On 5 July he argued against allowing a petitioner to return to the Cape of Good Hope in order to collect further evidence against its governor, Lord Charles Henry Somerset†, whose conduct he defended, 8 May 1826. He was ‘splenetic’ at Liverpool’s initial refusal to appoint a second departmental permanent secretary and bet Lord Granville ‘a thousand pounds’ that Robert Hay, who was ‘at last appointed’, 6 July 1825, would find ‘his half, without Parliament quite as much as he will have time and spirits to manage’.19 He commended the government’s improvements to ‘the condition of the slaves in our West Indian colonies’, but cautioned against further ‘legislative interference’ in Jamaica, 1 Mar. 1826. He answered questions on slavery, 3 Mar., 20, 25 Apr., 9, 19 May, when he spoke against Brougham’s motion for ameliorating the condition of the slaves. ‘Though much shorter’, observed Agar Ellis, his speech was ‘infinitely more tedious’.20 Replying to Hume’s criticism of costs at Sierra Leone, 10 Mar., he complained of the great expense of printing the papers which he and other opposition Members persistently requested. He secured the appointment of a select committee on emigration, which he chaired, 14 Mar. He expressed support for the spring guns bill, provided it led to a law ‘legalizing the sale of game’, 28 Apr. 1826.

At the 1826 general election Wilmot offered again for Newcastle, where, during the rumours of a dissolution the previous autumn, he had promised to ‘give every person within the borough’ the ‘means of judging for himself’ on the Catholic question, which his opponents had ‘raised against’ him, 4 Oct. 1825.21 ‘This pledge’, he later explained to Granville, ‘induced me to write the letter to the duke of Norfolk calling upon the Catholics for "a Declaration"’.22 His Letter to the Electors of Newcastle-under-Lyme (1826) ‘made as much effort as any man ever has, to bring the subject calmly and argumentatively before my constituents’, who he trusted would ‘not be led away by any general declamation against the course which I, in common with some of the first and best men in the country ... have felt it my duty to pursue’.23 In a controversial arrangement, he persuaded his colleague John Denison to withdraw at the last moment, arguing that ‘the proper course to be pursued’ was ‘for each party to return one Member’, and was returned unopposed alongside the popular independent candidate. On the hustings he promised ‘strenuously’ to ‘support the enlightened and liberal policy of the present administration’ and defended himself against taunts of ‘No Popery’ and ‘No slavery’, a subject to which ‘he had devoted days and nights and weeks and months’.24 On 3 June 1826 Wilmot, who had frequently complained of overwork at the colonial office, confided to Stephen Rumbold Lushington* that his ‘health and spirits were breaking down under the accumulated pressure’ of being the only representative of the department in the Commons, where he ‘had to direct all the details, as well as do all the duty’.25 ‘I ought not either in rank or emoluments to be necessarily limited by the analogy of the [other] under-secretaries, who are not ... called upon for such acts of responsibility and duty’, he complained to Granville, 13 Aug.26 Granville concurred, later observing, ‘I marvel how you find time to be under-secretary of a felonious department and be the most voluminous contributor to a review, and the author of pamphlets upon all the interesting questions of the day, and to be the chairman of committees in the House of Commons ... and at the same time faire la crux aux dames’.27 Writing to Huskisson, 10 Nov. 1826, Wilmot argued against continuing ‘the present standard of gold unchanged’ and in favour of Robert Torrens’s* system of ‘concurrent paper and metallic circulation’.28 In the House, 5 Dec., he defended the colonial office against charges of corruption in granting mining concessions in New South Wales. He presented a Glasgow petition in favour of emigration, 7 Dec. 1826. His growing interest in pauper emigration, which he claimed to have studied ‘privately with great assiduity’ since 1822, had increasingly placed him at odds with his ministerial colleagues, whom he lost no ‘opportunities of endeavouring to convert’.29 In a letter to Wilmot, 25 Mar. 1826, Robinson had advised that ‘an extensive emigration effected by the government’ was ‘unnecessary and impracticable’; but Wilmot was convinced that although ‘the government are, I believe, all against me’ and ‘Goulburn considers it farcical’, he had the support of ‘all the leading political economists’.30 Moving the renewal of the emigration committee, 15 Feb. 1827, in what Denison described as ‘a bad speech’, he urged the case for a national scheme of emigration funded from the poor rates, as he did again, 26 Feb., 18 May.31 His suggestion to the committee that some of the costs might be defrayed from the sinking fund prompted an angry response from Peel, who wrote to Robinson, 12 Mar. 1827, asking, ‘how can an under-secretary of state in a matter immediately relating to his own department, strip himself of his official capacity?’ Robinson concurred:

I was as much astonished as you were at seeing appended to a private memorandum submitted by Wilmot to the emigration committee ... a suggestion that the guarantee of the government might be made a charge upon the sinking fund. I lost no time in seeing Wilmot, and protested in the strongest manner against any such principle.32

Wilmot introduced a bill authorizing the sale of clergy reserves in Canada, 20 Feb., and answered questions on colonial slavery, 21 Feb., 13 Mar. 1827. Commenting to Huskisson on the ‘difficulties’ facing the government over Catholic relief, 2 Mar., he advocated a middle course ‘between the two extremes of unqualified concession and unqualified rejection of the Catholic claims’, believing that there was ‘a portion of the Catholic gentry, both English and Irish, who would accept ... a statutory enactment that they should be for ever disqualified from voting in either House ... upon any point deemed ... to affect ... the Protestant church’, and that ‘such securities’ might reconcile the anti-Catholic members of the cabinet to the measure.33 He spoke in favour of relief that day, and divided accordingly, 6 Mar. 1827.

On 6 May 1827 Canning, the new premier, renewed Wilmot’s ‘present office with the sanction of privy councillor’, which John Croker* later said was given ‘as a salve to his wounded honour in not being promoted’.34 According to Lord Colchester, he had ‘expected to be chief secretary for Ireland’, but as Edward Littleton* informed Wilmot, 20 Oct., Canning had vetoed this on account of his having ‘spoilt himself for Ireland by his publications’.35 In disclosing this information, Littleton was ‘anxious’ to demonstrate ‘the injury you were doing yourself by constantly striking your ideas off at a heat, and disseminating them by publications and writings’; but an indignant Wilmot was convinced that Canning had ‘felt he must offer up some victims to suspicious Protestantism, and thought that I should make a very convenient one’. ‘I followed him to his grave’, he complained, ‘but in this and other matters I shall ever think he treated me unfairly and unkindly’.36 Wilmot defended his support for Lord Charles Somerset against remarks in a pamphlet recently published by Sir Rufane Donkin, 17 May, 8, 29 June, when, in a veiled attack on Hume, he denounced the ‘extreme expense’ which had been incurred in investigating the charges, none of which had been ‘in the slightest degree substantiated’. On 12 June 1827 he argued against giving ‘people of colour in the West Indies’ the ‘privileges of British citizens’, as ‘time was necessary to remove an evil which centuries had completed’. He spent much of July in Ireland, where, as he informed Colonel Shawe, he became convinced that ‘the most efficient remedy for the moral ills of Ireland’ was ‘the settlement of the Catholic question’ and ‘for the physical evils emigration’.37 Whilst away he complained that Lord Goderich, the new colonial secretary, ‘never communicated with me on departmental business, though there were several important points on which I wrote to him, nor did he ever write me a single line during Canning’s illness’.38 As Canning’s successor, Goderich broached the difficulty of what to offer Wilmot with Croker, 11 Aug., who responded that ‘if the great points of a union with the duke [of Wellington] and Peel could be arranged, all the rest was trash and lumber which might easily be disposed of’.39 Three days later Goderich suggested to Huskisson that Wilmot ‘would wish to make some change in his post’, and proposed either Lord Francis Leveson Gower* or Edward Smith Stanley* to replace him.40 As Thomas Frankland Lewis* explained:

Goderich vacates the colonial office by taking the treasury and it is wished that Huskisson should fill that office and lead the House of Commons. Only two under-secretaries of state can sit in the Commons, and as Canning’s death would leave the House without anyone to speak on foreign affairs, Lord Dudley must have an under-secretary and I expect Stanley will be the man, but this makes it necessary to remove Wilmot and he will succeed [Charles] Grant, who will be promoted to the first seat at the board of trade.41

Goderich duly offered Wilmot the vice-presidency of that board, 16 Aug., which he initially appeared ‘most happy to take’, providing he ‘could have a government seat’ and so avoid ‘the risk of a contest at Newcastle’ where, according to James Macdonald*, he was ‘in great jeopardy’, three candidates having ‘announced themselves against him ... one on anti-Catholic, one on anti-slavery and another on anti-emigration grounds’.42 Privately, however, he was unenthusiastic, later admitting that there was ‘nothing in the situation of the vice-president of the board, with the president in the House of Commons, which could at all make the situation abstractedly desirable’.43 Huskisson was informed of a ‘report’ that he was about to resign, 19 Aug., but to Granville he wrote:

If Huskisson accepts the colonial department and if he personally wished me to remain as under-secretary notwithstanding he as chief secretary was in the House of Commons, to oblige him I would do it, under the fair understanding that I should not lose caste by that decision, and also its being publicly understood that I remained where I was to accommodate him. But very probably Huskisson may wish to have an under-secretary of his own, who may not have all the opinions and impressions which six years’ connection with the department has necessarily imbued me with.44

From 16 to 23 Aug. Wilmot heard nothing from Goderich, to whom he had considered himself ‘more connected ... than with any other man’, and during ‘the latter part of this period’ became ‘very angry’, attributing ‘this total change of system with me’ to John Herries*, the new chancellor of the exchequer, who he suspected had counselled Goderich ‘not to have any communication with me’. ‘I have long known Herries’ indisposition towards me’, he told Granville, ‘and I fancy that his jealousy at my being made a privy councillor was unmeasured in feeling and unrestrained in expression’.45 Wilmot, who was succeeded by Smith Stanley at the colonial office, successfully proposed to Huskisson that he might

remain as under-secretary of state, retaining the West India department, till the 5th January, when, under any circumstances, I should retire from the colonial office. I also propose that Stanley’s salary should commence from the 5th January. I think he is much better off acting as under-secretary for two and a half months without a salary, than attending as an amateur during that period ... If I did now accept the vice-presidency of the board of trade, I might involve the government in a serious difficulty, for having entirely decided not to stand a contest at Newcastle, should such a contest be altogether unavoidable, I should be obliged to remain out of Parliament altogether unless a quiet seat could be found for me.46

In subsequent explanations of his actions he continued to cite the hazard of ‘a re-election at Newcastle’, claiming that ‘there was a proposition of finding me a seat elsewhere, but the opportunity of executing it never arrived’. An ‘offer of Hastings vice Newcastle, on the payment on my part of £1,000’, however, was eventually forthcoming, but he turned it down.47 Sensing that ‘promotion was clearly stopped with respect to me at home’, he now began to ‘apply for it abroad’, and his name was laid ‘before the king for the civil government of Canada’.48 On 7 Nov. 1827 Huskisson told Goderich:

Wilmot Horton has set his heart upon going to Canada ... He considered himself, as far as your consent, tolerably sure of success, till you mentioned to him yesterday the king’s wishes about Burton. I am afraid if the king has a strong feeling in favour of the latter, that it will be impossible to contend against it, upon the ground of preference to Wilmot, though I have no objection to try what can be done.49

His appointment was, as he informed Littleton, 27 Nov. 1827, ‘refused graciously in consequence of the claims and application of another party, but Jamaica was proposed for me, and my present position is that of an accepted or rather accepting candidate’.50 Nothing came of this, however, probably on account of his outspoken views on slavery.

Wilmot retired as arranged, 5 Jan. 1828, having, as he subsequently notified Peel, who regretted that he ‘had not been found in office’ when Wellington and he came to power two weeks earlier, ‘received full salary, and continued to exercise more or less the functions of the situation up to that day’. Having thus ‘inferred’ that ‘the being found in office had furnished a sort of rule for applications being made’, he wrote to ask Peel

whether Huskisson mentioned me and my peculiar position and views to the duke of Wellington? A person called on me the other day, to inform me that ... as I had not made any application to the duke of Wellington respecting coming into office, it could not be expected that any application would be made to me. I told my informant that as Mr. Huskisson was entirely acquainted with my views and feelings, etc., I could not mark my distrust in him, by volunteering a separate communication upon the subject.51

In reply Peel explained that he was unaware ‘of the particular arrangement ... with respect to your ceasing to hold the situation of under-secretary’, having ‘fancied that you had long since resigned that office’, and ignorant of what had ‘passed between the duke of Wellington and Huskisson respecting your position’.52 In private Wilmot protested that he could ‘not in the slightest degree understand Huskisson’s conduct to me’, but publicly he professed himself ‘very glad to be out’, informing Granville that although he had ‘not the slightest intention of Whiggifying myself’, there were ‘two or three leading questions on which I am much committed by overactivity’, and ‘until they are more or less settled ... my belonging to a government would be embarrassing to them, and possibly irksome to myself’. ‘In addition’, he declared, ‘I have no taste for scrub office’.53 On 18 Feb. Wellington warned Peel that they could not ‘consider’ him among their ‘friends’ on the finance committee, to which he had been appointed three days before with other Huskissonites.54 He clarified certain points regarding Herries’s role in the collapse of Goderich’s administration, 18 Feb. He divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and spoke against all laws imposing ‘political penalties on account of religious belief’ two days later. On 27 Feb. he hinted at Hume’s involvement in ‘a gross breach of confidence’ following the publication of secret correspondence between the duke of Manchester, governor of Jamaica, and the colonial office regarding its slave population. Hume denied any wrong-doing, but was ridiculed by Wilmot the following day during a debate on the metropolitan police. He spoke, 9 May, and divided for Catholic relief, 12 May. After a long speech on emigration to an inattentive House, 4 Mar., he postponed his motion to bring in a bill enabling parishes ‘to mortgage their poor rates for the purpose of assisting voluntary emigration’. That day he introduced a bill to revise the Passengers Act, which he guided through the House and received royal assent, 23 May (9 Geo. IV, c. 21). He obtained papers on slavery, 5, 6 Mar., when he spoke of ‘the difficulty and delicacy’ of reconciling ‘the progressive emancipation of the slave’ with respect for ‘the rights of private property’ and advocated ‘some middle course’. The abolitionist Member Fowell Buxton, who considered Wilmot ‘a leading member of the West India body’, remarked that it was an ‘extremely able’ speech, which he ‘listened to ... with feelings of real distress’.55 Wilmot supported the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 21 Mar., but warned of ‘the danger’ that it would be rejected by the Lords. Forced to postpone his motion for an emigration bill a second time on account of the ‘limited attendance’ of the House, 25 Mar., he complained bitterly of the ‘manifest indisposition’ of Members ‘to attend to the subject’. Instead he presented various petitions for ‘aid to emigrate’, 27 Mar., 6 May, on each occasion speaking on the issue, as he did in debates on the poor, 1, 17 Apr., when he brought in his postponed bill enabling parishes to raise funds for emigration. It went no further. He urged Members ‘to devote their serious attention to the subject’, 24 June, when Peel retorted that ‘no part of the empire calls for this mode of relief’. He spoke on issues affecting New South Wales and Canada, 18 Apr., 2 May, 20 June, 7, 14 July. He voted with ministers on delays in chancery, 24 Apr. He presented petitions from the Presbyterian Church of Upper Canada for equal treatment with the Church of Scotland, 6 May, and from Lower Canada for a legislative assembly, 12 May. Speaking against naval cuts, 16 May 1828, he declared that it was ‘unworthy of a great nation to reduce its necessary establishments on account of the pressure on its resources in any one particular year’.

Following the resignation of Huskisson and his associates from the government, Wilmot was described by Wellington in a draft memorandum as one those ‘whose assistance it is very desirable to attain’, 25 May 1828.56 Croker was ‘willing to make way’ for him at the admiralty in the event of his being unable to ‘vacate’ Newcastle, and there were plans to give him the Irish secretaryship. Mrs. Arbuthnot, however, considered him

without any exception, the most unfit man that can be thought of. He is a very violent partisan of the Catholics and has not one grain of judgement or calm sense. He has talent and speaks well, and this latter qualification makes Mr. Peel (the furious Protestant) wish for him.57

Lord Ellenborough agreed, describing him as ‘a bore full of fancies’ and advising the duke against his plan to appoint him as ‘secretary at war, not in the cabinet’, even though he was ‘very anxious to have all he could in the Commons’, 28 May.58 Next day, however, Wilmot took the unusual step of writing to pre-empt ‘any specific proposition’ which it might have been Wellington’s ‘intention to make’, saying he ‘could not in honour or consistency accept office’ under the duke, who in reply regretted ‘very much ... that I had not the pleasure of seeing you, as I think I could have convinced you’.59 Wilmot ‘behaved in true Canning style’, remarked Mrs. Arbuthnot, for ‘he refused, and immediately sent off copies of the duke’s letter and his answer to all his friends!’.60 In a subsequent memorandum, Wilmot stated that ‘the independent opinions which I entertained upon ... the Catholic question, the West India question and emigration made a secession from office advisable, until I had had an opportunity of placing those opinions fairly before Parliament’.61 Yet Mrs. Arbuthnot recorded hearing that he was ‘in despair at not being in office’, and he later admitted to her that he had been ‘wrong in not having spoken instead of sending a letter when the duke requested to see me’, although he defended his refusal of office, ‘a course which I abjure for the remaining term of my natural life’, on the grounds of his belief that Wellington would be unable to settle the Catholic question, to which he was ‘pledged more than deeply’.62 He was twice listed in June as one of the ‘Huskisson party’. On 4 July he voted against the finance committee’s recommendation to abolish the office of lieutenant-general of the ordnance, which was an attempt to ‘procure popularity ... out of doors by pretending to relieve the burdens of the country by the farce of reducing an office, the expense of which is only £1,200 a year’. He argued against cuts in superannuation allowances, 14 July. That day he was in the minority against amendments to the silk duties. He agreed to withdraw his motions on Ireland and slavery ‘for the present’, 8, 25 July 1828.

Over the next six months Wilmot travelled to Paris and Rome and became heavily involved in negotiations on Catholic relief and securities, writing pamphlets, meeting representatives of the Vatican, and corresponding regularly with leading government figures.63 In the House, 12 Feb. 1829, he commended the bill to suppress the Catholic Association as ‘just and politic’ in view of ‘the measure of conciliation which was to succeed it’, which was widely rumoured to be modelled on his own scheme of relief.64 As Greville noted, 5 Feb., ‘many people expect that Wilmot’s plan will be adopted, restraining the Catholics from voting in matters concerning the church, which I do not believe, for Wilmot is at a discount and his plan is absurd and impracticable’.65 That month he was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, among ‘opposition or doubtful men’ who would ‘vote with the government’ for the concession of emancipation, which he duly did, 6, 30 Mar. He spoke in its support, 18, 24, 27 Mar., 21 May, when he saw ‘no objection’ to Daniel O’Connell being allowed to take his seat without swearing the oath of supremacy. He presented favourable petitions from Tutbury, Rolleston and Marston-upon-Dove, 17 Mar., and Newcastle, 26 Mar. He presented a petition for emigration from the Paisley Friendly Society, 10 Apr., when he again pressed for its discussion. Called to order by the Speaker after protesting at the ‘scandalous manner’ in which Sadler, Ultra Member for Newark, had allegedly misrepresented his opinions on the subject, 13 Apr., he apologized but pleaded ‘some excuse for the warmth with which I have expressed myself’. He presented petitions from the Irish Friendly Emigration Society of Paisley and 13 Glasgow emigration societies, 7 May 1829, when he advocated emigration as ‘the only remedy for pauperism’ during a debate on the poor laws and clashed again with Sadler. Resuming a debate on the currency, 4 June, he derided ‘certain pseudo-philosophers and their absurd projects’ and strained the patience of the House with a lengthy lecture on poverty. He divided for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May 1829, 5 Mar. 1830, when he spoke in its support. He urged the necessity of treating Canadian colonists ‘with greater liberality’, 5 June 1829.

Wilmot again attacked the notion of using tax reductions to deal with distress, 19 Feb. 1830. On 4 Mar. he refused Palmerston’s request to postpone his motion for a committee on the poor, which was scheduled for 9 Mar., when he spoke at length of his plans for pauper ‘colonization’. ‘Went for a short time to the House in the evening’, noted Agar Ellis, ‘and found Wilmot Horton prosing away’.66 He voted with opposition for information on the role of British troops in the internal affairs of Portugal, 10 Mar. On 16 Mar. he sarcastically opposed the reception of a petition for assisted emigration, observing that as ‘all hope of relief on this hand seems to be abandoned by the House, the people ought not to be encouraged to look ... to it as a means of relief’, but should instead ‘look to the measure ... last night proposed for ... a reduction of the duty on beer; which no doubt will be an effectual remedy for all their distresses’. He presented petitions from Newcastle against the truck system that day, and against the East India Company’s monopoly, 8 Apr. He objected to the appointment of a committee on the currency but not on colonization, 19 Mar., and stated his intention of introducing an emigration bill, 23 Mar. He supported the principle of separating families in receipt of poor relief, 26 Apr. He was appointed to select committees on civil superannuations the same day, and manufacturing employment, 13 May. He obtained leave to bring in his poor rate annuities bill enabling parishes ‘to raise money for certain purposes’, 4 May, which was presented, 22 May, but deferred, 24 June, and went no further. Speaking on colonial matters, 10 May, he defended himself against charges of ‘being devoted to slavery’ which had appeared in a pamphlet ‘by a Member of this House’, and again, 21, 24, 25 May, 11, 14 June, 8 July. He divided for Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. Presenting a petition from Frome for ‘aid to emigrate’, 15 June, he again dilated on the subject, providing details of a successful pauper emigration scheme in Benenden, Kent, from which ‘every rate-payer’ had gained. In his last known speeches in the Commons, 13 July 1830, Wilmot defiantly returned to the themes which had become his trademark, observing that although emigration had ‘not met with that support in this House upon which I think I ought to have reckoned’, he would continue ‘to pursue, out of doors, those exertions for the success of this measure’, which was ‘a plain and simple remedy’ for poverty. The same day he appealed to the House ‘to avoid irritating the West Indians’:

Whatever may be the inherent guilt of slavery, whatever may be its atrocities, it has been fostered and patronised by the British nation for its own purposes; and it is most unjust to visit on the accidental present holders of that property those inconveniences which ought to be shared by the nation at large, if we are prepared to offer a tardy expiation for our original injustice.

At the 1830 dissolution Wilmot retired from ‘that villainous Newcastle’ and apparently sought no other seat.67 Financial difficulties may have been partly to blame. Principal shareholder in a large South American pearl fishing venture, described as a ‘fraudulent transaction’ by the duke of Bedford in 1825, three years later Wilmot was privately rescheduling his debts to Sir William Call, explaining that he had ‘not been able to find a banker prepared to supply that accommodation’.68 He was a rumoured candidate for the Liverpool by-election, where he had been approached as a successor to Huskisson in 1827, but he did not stand.69 He was nevertheless considered for office by Peel, who was advised by Charles Arbuthnot*, 14 July 1830, to ‘reflect a great deal about the cabinet for Wilmot’, as the duke ‘certainly doubts whether it would not be going too quick’.70 Ellenborough, who thought that Wilmot was neither ‘of cabinet calibre’ nor ‘a gentleman’, noted that Sir Henry Hardinge* preferred him to ‘Frankland Lewis as his successor at the war office’ and that Bathurst ‘rather wished to have Wilmot in office’.71 According to Mrs. Arbuthnot, 8 Aug., William Vesey Fitzgerald* thought that Wilmot ‘would be very useful in a privy councillor’s office out of the cabinet if Peel would only instruct him and encourage him to speak instead of preventing it’.72 On 17 Sept. Arbuthnot reported that the duke

would not like the cabinet for Wilmot Horton because he thinks him so unsteady, and that he must be sobered down before he can be admitted with any safety into your councils. The duke, however, would be most anxious to get office for him out of the cabinet.73

Peel was still considering Wilmot for office, 23 Oct., but Thomas Gladstone* reported that he was ‘on the continent, or at all accounts has retired from Parliament for the present’.74 He was ‘extremely annoyed’ at ‘being omitted altogether in the list of those private friends of poor Huskisson who were privately informed of the details of his funeral’, but confessed to Granville ‘that the stream has been running against me, and that the folly and irrationality of my views have been the theme of the regret and criticism of many of his friends’, 21 Oct.75 His misgivings, however, quickly evaporated with the impending collapse of the Wellington ministry, Lady Granville remarking, 9 Nov., that he had ‘turned up’ for breakfast ‘like small fish in a storm’ and ‘must think himself lucky in having kept aloof’.76 ‘Every succeeding hour convinces me that the new government will be obliged to adopt my views’, he wrote to Granville, 2 Dec., but ‘what are they to do with me?’:

All home situations are filled up ... I will not accept a subordinate situation here. If a scheme as comprehensive as mine, the result of so much labour, the subject of so much praise from scientific authorities ... is to be adopted by a reluctant government, its author is worthy of a place in the cabinet if he is worthy of any reward. But I have been too much disgusted to look at home office with any degree of zeal and satisfaction, even if such could be offered to me as I could take, and none such exists.77

His lectures to the Mechanics’ Institute, subsequently published in a revised form, ‘on the general theory of labour’, the ‘general theory of taxation’ and ‘of course the efficacy of his own plan of emigration’ were, commented Greville, 23 Dec. 1830, ‘full of zeal and animation, but so totally without method and arrangement that he is hardly intelligible’.78 His pamphlets on ‘negro slavery’ of the same year attacked ‘the abolitionists out of their own mouths’, but ‘it would have been well’, commented Gladstone, ‘if he had abstained from ... throwing ridicule upon them’.79

Wilmot was ‘delighted’ at being offered the governorship of Ceylon, which other contending parties were not aware had become vacant, by the Grey ministry in January 1831.80 He accepted it ‘with perfect satisfaction’, but was reported to be ‘vexed beyond measure at the Age having said that he was going there as a pauper emigrant’.81 He consoled himself with the ‘firm opinion’ that ‘before I have been twelve months in Ceylon, the government, of whatever consistency, will adopt all my views’, finding ‘that nothing can be done in the way of relief from retrenchment and reduction’ and ‘that extensive reductions of army and navy would only tend to throw fresh labourers on a glutted market’. ‘The most contended exile’, who succeeded to his father’s baronetcy and estates in 1834, he remained in Ceylon for six years, continuing to campaign for emigration and commencing a project to collate all his papers with his deputy private secretary, George Lee. After his return, he wrote prolifically on Canada, Ireland, taxation and parliamentary reform.82 He had been party to the destruction of the manuscript ‘memoirs’ of his cousin Lord Byron, which were considered ‘unfit’ for publication, and the compensation of their publisher, John Murray, 1824-5.83 Wilmot died in May 1841 at Sudbrook Park, Surrey, leaving behind an extensive personal archive, which has become much decayed.84 By his will, dated 21 Sept. 1838, his personalty passed to his wife who, under a codicil of 19 Jan. 1839, was named as sole executrix. A second codicil of 12 July 1839 left £3,000 to friends and provided for the education of his godson, Robert Morris of Ceylon, at the Blue Coat School. The baronetcy and entailed Derbyshire estates passed to his eldest son Robert Edward (1808-80).85

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. IGI (Derbys.). HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 599 erroneously gives 1 Sept.
  • 2. TNA 30/29/9/6/42; Derbys. RO, Catton mss D3155 WH2932, Wilmot to Goderich, 18 Oct. 1827; S. M. Hardy and R. C. Baily, ‘Downfall of Gower Interest in Staffs. Boroughs’, Colls. Hist. Staffs. (1950-1), 271-8.
  • 3. Hatherton mss, Wilmot to Huskisson, 22 Jan. 1828; Add. 38751, f. 325.
  • 4. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 108.
  • 5. TNA 30/29/9/6/41.
  • 6. Hatherton mss, Wilmot to Littleton, 17 Aug. 1830.
  • 7. Language, Print and Electoral Politics ed. H. Barker and D. Vincent, 232-40; Staffs. Advertiser, 11, 18 Mar.; Birmingham Chron. 9 Mar. 1820.
  • 8. Broughton, Recollections, ii. 126.
  • 9. Pol. Econ. Club Minutes (1921), 359; B. Gordon, Political Economy (1976), 85, 207.
  • 10. The Times, 15 June, 6, 8 July 1820.
  • 11. TNA 30/29/9/3/9.
  • 12. Harrowby mss, Bathurst to Harrowby, 28, 29 Nov. 1821.
  • 13. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 210-11.
  • 14. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 1 June 1824.
  • 15. TNA 30/29/9/6/18.
  • 16. Catton mss WH2932.
  • 17. The Times, 12, 16 Mar. 1825.
  • 18. Ibid. 19, 27 May, 4, 7, 14, 17, 20 June 1825.
  • 19. TNA 30/29/6/32.
  • 20. Agar Ellis diary, 19 May 1826.
  • 21. Bodl. G. Pamph. 2736 (13), Speech by Robert Wilmot Horton ... in the Town Hall of Newcastle-under-Lyme, on the occasion of his attending the Election of the Mayor (1825), 3-4.
  • 22. TNA 30/29/9/5/41; Bodl. 26.494, Letter to Duke of Norfolk on Catholic Question (1826).
  • 23. Catton mss WH3027/1912 and Bodl. 26.493, Letter to Electors (1826), 3-4, 15.
  • 24. Staffs. Advertiser, 3, 10 June; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Acc. 636, Denison diary, 6 June 1826; TNA 30/29/9/6/59; Catton mss WH2932, Wilmot to Goderich, 18 Oct. 1827.
  • 25. Catton mss WH2932.
  • 26. TNA 30/29/9/6/40.
  • 27. Catton mss WH3029, Granville to Wilmot, 26 Jan. 1827.
  • 28. Ibid. WH3027, Wilmot to Huskisson, 10 Nov. 1826.
  • 29. TNA 30/29/9/6/41.
  • 30. Catton mss WH2796, Robinson to Wilmot, 25 Mar.; WH3027/1968, Wilmot to Blake, 10 June 1826.
  • 31. Denison diary, 15 Feb. 1827.
  • 32. Add. 40392, ff. 267-9.
  • 33. Canning’s Ministry, 38.
  • 34. Catton mss WH2760; Add. 40320, f. 49.
  • 35. Colchester Diary, iii. 486; Catton mss WH2932.
  • 36. Catton mss WH2932, Wilmot to Littleton, 22, 27 Nov. 1827.
  • 37. Catton mss WH2932, Wilmot to Col. Shawe, 22 July 1827.
  • 38. TNA 30/29/9/6/54.
  • 39. Croker Pprs. i. 384.
  • 40. Add. 38750, f. 22.
  • 41. NLW, Harpton Court mss C/621, Frankland Lewis to wife, 20 Aug. 1827.
  • 42. TNA 30/29/9/6/51; Lansdowne mss, Macdonald to Lansdowne, 21 Oct. 1827.
  • 43. Catton mss WH2932, Wilmot to Granville, 11 Dec. 1827.
  • 44. Add. 38750 f. 36; TNA 30/29/9/6/51.
  • 45. TNA 30/29/9/6/54.
  • 46. Catton mss WH2932.
  • 47. Ibid. Wilmot’s memorandum, 6 July 1828; TNA 30/29/9/6/59.
  • 48. Catton mss WH2932, Wilmot to Littleton, 27 Nov. 1827.
  • 49. Add. 38752 f. 38.
  • 50. Catton mss WH2932.
  • 51. Ibid. Wilmot to Peel, 28 Jan. 1828.
  • 52. Add. 40395 f. 148.
  • 53. Hatherton mss, Wilmot to Littleton, 22 Jan.; TNA 30/29/9/6/65.
  • 54. Add. 40307 f. 50; B. Hilton, Corn, Cash, Commerce, 247.
  • 55. Buxton Mems. 202-3.
  • 56. Wellington mss WP1/980/30.
  • 57. Croker Pprs. i. 420; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 190.
  • 58. Ellenborough Diary, i. 122-4; Wellington mss WP1/980/30.
  • 59. Catton mss WH2932, Wilmot to Wellington, 29 May 1828; Wellington mss WP1/934/18; 935/59.
  • 60. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 190.
  • 61. Catton mss WH2932, memo. 6 July 1828.
  • 62. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 194; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Arbuthnot mss, Wilmot to Mrs. Arbuthnot, 18 June 1829.
  • 63. Bodl. 28.292, Protestant Securities Suggested (1828); 29.524, Protestant Safety compatible with the Remission of the Civil Disabilities of Roman Catholics, (1829); TNA 30/29/9/6/69; Add. 38757 f. 160; Wellington mss WP1/992/18; Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U190 C355, Pusey to Mahon, 2 Jan. 1829.
  • 64. Grey mss, Durham to Grey, 3 Feb. 1829.
  • 65. Greville Mems. i. 247.
  • 66. Agar Ellis diary, 9 Mar. 1830.
  • 67. Hatherton mss, Wilmot to Littleton, 17 Aug. 1830.
  • 68. Add. 51668, Bedford to Lady Holland, 27 Jan.; Hatherton diary [Mar. 1825]; Catton mss WH2932, Wilmot to Call, 17 July 1828.
  • 69. TNA 30/29/9/6/70; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 1 Nov. 1830.
  • 70. Add. 40340, f. 228.
  • 71. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 297-9, 306.
  • 72. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 378.
  • 73. Add. 40340, f. 236.
  • 74. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 393; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 196, T. to J. Gladstone, 18 Sept. 1830.
  • 75. TNA 30/29/9/6/70.
  • 76. Countess Granville Letters, ii. 65.
  • 77. TNA 30/29/9/6/71.
  • 78. Catton mss WH2932, Wilmot to Brougham, 11 Dec. 1830; Greville Mems. ii. 95-98.
  • 79. Glynne-Gladstone mss 196, T. to J. Gladstone, 18 Sept. 1830.
  • 80. Three Diaries, 43.
  • 81. Add. 61937, f. 123; Edgeworth Letters, 524.
  • 82. For example, Exposition and defence of Earl Bathurst’s administration of ... Canada (1838); Ireland and Canada (1839); Correspondence ... upon ... Ireland and Canada (1839); Reform in 1839, and reform in 1831 (1839); Observations upon Taxation (1840).
  • 83. Broughton, Recollections, iii. 334; TNA 30/29/9/6/73; Catton mss WH2828-2829, 2949-52, 2960; Add. 31037, ff. 47-60.
  • 84. Oxford DNB erroneously gives 8 June.
  • 85. Gent. Mag. (1841), ii. 90-91; PROB 8/234; 11/1947/425.