BLACKETT, Sir Walter, 2nd Bt. (1707-77), of Calverley, nr. Leeds, Yorks. and Wallington Hall, Northumb.
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Family and Education
b. 18 Dec. 1707, o.s. of Sir Walter Calverley, 1st Bt., of Calverley, Yorks. by Julia, da. of Sir William Blackett, 1st Bt., M.P., of Wallington. educ. Westminster 1717; Balliol, Oxf. 1724. m. 29 Sept. 1729, Elizabeth Orde, natural da. and testamentary h. of his mat. uncle, Sir William Blackett, 2nd Bt., M.P., and assumed name of Blackett, 1da. suc. fa. 15 Oct. 1749.
Alderman of Newcastle 1729, mayor 1735, 1748, 1756, 1764, 1771; sheriff, Northumb. 1731-2.
The Blackett family had long been concerned in coal mining and the coal trade, and were leading men in the business community of Newcastle. Walter Blackett’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and uncle had represented the borough, and Blackett was a great benefactor to the town. Under George II he ranked as a Tory, but from 1747 onwards he stood on a joint interest with Matthew Ridley, a Whig. They were unopposed in 1754, 1761, and 1768, and at the contest of 1774 Blackett topped the poll.1
In the House he took the regular Tory line; appears as Tory in Dupplin’s lists of 1754; and as such was not sent Newcastle’s parliamentary whip in October 1761. In Bute’s list of December 1761 Blackett is classed as a Tory and a ‘Lowther opponent’ (whatever that may mean); and on 13 Nov. 1762 as ‘pro’ by Newcastle who had been told by the Duke of Cumberland that Blackett ‘had declared for us’.2 He did vote with the Opposition on 1 Dec. for postponing consideration of the peace preliminaries; but during the next week was listed by Fox among the Members favourable to them; and he was not of the minority which voted against them. In the autumn of 1763 Jenkinson classed him as doubtful; but his name appears in none of the minority lists on general warrants. In July 1765 Rockingham, having first put him down as ‘doubtful’, next added: ‘most probably pro, made application’. But Blackett voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766. Charles Townshend listed him as doubtful in January 1767, and he voted against Government over the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767.
His first speech in the Parliament of 1761 is thus recorded by James Harris:
Monday Mar. 29 —the game bill came on. The part first canvassed was the several times for killing game, what was too soon, what was too late, what the precise day. Then might you have heard a debate.
Of all such speakers, as did never speak—Sir Blackett, Sir Codrington, Cornish knight Buller etc. The hares could obtain no Sabbath, the limitation for them upon a division of about 50 to 30 was rejected.
15 Dec. 1762: Blackett supported ‘a strange petition about the high price of corn in the North compared with that of the West and praying the bounty for exportation might be taken off—the West [Harris’s country] to be ruined, because the North suffers a present evil’. 25 Feb. 1763: about electoral qualifications. 13 Mar. 1763: against the cider tax. 1 Apr. 1765: against an export tax on coal. 23 Apr. 1765: defended Newcastle corporation from charges of neglecting Tyne navigation. 7 Mar. 1766: for a change in the cider tax.3
In the Parliament of 1768 Blackett voted with Opposition over Wilkes and the Middlesex election, 2, 3 Feb., 15 Apr. 1769; on the Address, and again on Middlesex, 9, 25 Jan. 1770; but refused to present a petition from Newcastle for the dissolution of Parliament. In the summer of 1770 he went abroad for his health; returned on 15 Nov. and went straight to the House; and surprised them ‘exceedingly’ by rising up ‘when there was no question’,4 to speak, as he said,
upon a point which for some months hath greatly disturbed me: and the only apology I can offer for thus abruptly troubling the House with a matter which merely concerns myself, is, that I am conscientiously compelled to it.
Diffident of myself, forsaking my own judgment, and adopting the opinion of others, I voted last sessions that Mr. Wilkes was not incapacitated from sitting in this House, during this Parliament. Reconsidering that vote the night I had given it, and indeed ever since, hath occasioned the greatest uneasiness to me: and whilst I was abroad this summer ruminating upon what I had done, it appeared to me that the only satisfaction I could give to my mind, was, to acknowledge here the error, as I conceive, I had committed, and return to my own opinion, as I now do;—That Mr. Wilkes is incapacitated, constitutionally incapacitated, from sitting in this House during this Parliament.5
‘The surprise of both sides of the House’, reported Bradshaw to Grafton, 16 Nov., ‘prevented a word being said by either party upon the occasion.’6 And Hans Stanley to Lady Spencer: ‘I did not happen to be present but it is said that he spoke admirably well, and affected all who heard him in the strongest manner.’ But according to Walpole, ‘Sir Walter’s scruples were regarded as the effects of a weak head and sick body’.7Blackett subsequently appended the following postscript to the notes of his speech:
N.B. There was a report at Calais that the House of Commons would be adjourned for some time which was an additional inducement to me to get to the House as soon as I could; and to make this acknowledgement was the principal inducement which brought me from France; for Sir John Pringle and Mr. Middleton had advised me to stay abroad for a year or longer; and this resolution I determined upon one morning when I was walking alone in the Tuileries.
Newcastle July 23 1771. Wr. Blackett.
N.B.: executing the above resolution did set my mind at ease.
Over Brass Crosby, 27 Mar. 1771, and the Middlesex election, 26 Apr. 1773, Blackett is listed as voting with Administration; over the royal marriage bill, March 1772, was classed by Robinson first as ‘pro, absent’, and next as ‘doubtful, present’; on Grenville’s Act, as a friend voting with Opposition; and in the survey of September 1774 as ‘pro’. His interventions in this Parliament were again on matters concerning his constituents; also on the Cumberland election. One was characteristic of the old Tory. When on 12 Feb. 1770 ‘Tommy’ Townshend told Charles Jenkinson that his manner was ‘not becoming a gentleman risen from the situation he had done’, Blackett declared: ‘Every man carries his honour in his own hand. Originality is nothing. It shall never strike me that originality signifies anything.8
In the 1770s Blackett lost a great deal of his previous popularity. A radical movement was rising at Newcastle in favour of Wilkes and of America which he would not support. And what weighed even more, Blackett’s espousing the unpopular side over the question of the town moor, hurt his interest at the 1774 election, and caused ‘his princely benefactions to the town to be forgotten. This unfortunate business is