DYSON, Jeremiah (?1722-76), of Stoke, nr. Guildford, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. ?1722, 1st s. of Jeremiah Dyson of Bartholomew Close, London. educ. Edinburgh Univ.; Leyden 1742; L. Inn 1740, called 1746. m. June 1756, Dorothy, da. of his cos. Ely Dyson, 3s. 4da. suc. fa. 1730.
Clerk of the House of Commons 1748-62; sec. to Treasury May 1762-Apr. 1764; ld. of Trade Apr. 1764-Dec. 1768; ld. of Treasury Dec. 1768-Mar. 1774; P.C. 9 Mar. 1774; cofferer of the Household Mar. 1774- d.
According to Horace Walpole, Dyson was the son of a tailor.1 But his father was a wealthy man, and Dyson inherited estates in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Bedfordshire.2 He was educated as a Dissenter.3
After having held a subordinate place in the clerical service of the House of Commons, in 1748 he bought the clerkship from Nicholas Hardinge for £6,000. ‘His tenure of the clerkship ... is mainly notable for his memorandum of 1751 which finally regulated the system by which fees on private bills were calculated, and for his contriving to obtain an official residence for the clerk of the House in the precincts of the palace of Westminster.’ On his retirement in 1762 he refused to sell the office, as had hitherto been the custom, ‘which example his successors felt bound to follow’.4 John Hatsell, Dyson’s deputy and later clerk of the House, dedicated to him his Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons (1776), and wrote of his ‘universal knowledge upon all subjects which relate to the history of Parliament’.5
In May 1762 Dyson became one of Bute’s secretaries to the Treasury, and in December was brought into Parliament by Administration. ‘His parts were excellent’, wrote Walpole.6 ‘He was quick, subtle, shrewd, clear both in conception and delivery, and was master of argumentative eloquence.’ Grenville, in a conversation with James Harris on 1 Aug. 1763,7
mentioned Secretary Dyson’s being about to leave us on account of his health. That when he accepted the office from Lord Bute it was on condition that he might quit if he found the fatigue too great ... Mr. Grenville spoke of him with great praise; and mentioned in particular how exactly our minute books had been kept, as well as every other sort of business transacted. He certainly deserves this character, for never was a man of more integrity and knowledge or freer from vanity and official insolence.
Dyson held office continuously during his membership of the House of Commons, and was the great authority on procedure. Harris described him as ‘our great master of order’,8 and the King as ‘so thorough a master of form’;9 while Charles Yorke wrote on 1 Jan. 1766 about a paper by Dowdeswell which required revision:10 ‘If Dyson is well disposed I would settle it with him in two or three hours, as conversant in the forms of Parliament and wording questions for the House.’ A pedant dedicated to the worship of parliamentary procedure, rigid, dry, and unresponsive to ideas or events, he saw the House of Commons as a machine working with almost mechanical regularity—‘There are persons in the world’, said Burke referring to Dyson,11 ‘whose whole soul is a previous question and whose whole life is the question of the adjournment.’ Proud of his knowledge and experience and contemptuous of sciolists,12 he grew irritable if insufficiently courted.13 Except during the Rockingham Administration, he rarely gave an opinion on procedure against the Government.14
Dyson’s situation is said to be doubtful, but I understand that his sentiments are not so, and that whatever may be their determination he will not think himself much obliged to them: if he should stay, I shall be apt to attribute it to Lord Dartmouth’s wish to keep him, which he could not at first succeed in.
Dyson voted against Administration on the Anstruther election petition,16 and opposed the repeal of the Stamp Act. On 5 Feb. 1766 he made a motion against Government on the Stamp Act riots;17 and on 6 Feb. spoke for Grenville’s motion for an address to enforce it.18 On 24 Feb. he moved resolutions against the American Congress and the non-importation agreement—‘Mr. Dyson acted with his usual parliamentary sagacity’, wrote George Onslow to Pitt,19 ‘and endeavoured to embarrass us all he could.’ This kind of sniping, and Dyson’s attempts to trip up ministers on points of order, caused great annoyance; which was aggravated by his opposition, purely on grounds of procedure, to granting an additional income to the King’s brothers.20 After Dyson had forced a division against the Government, 3 June 1766, Rockingham asked for an explanation of his conduct. Here is Dyson’s account of his conversation with Rockingham on 5 June:21
The conference lasted full two hours. It began with expressing great disappointment at the part I had acted, and proceeded to an enumeration in great detail of many of the causes of offence given through the whole session, descending even to such little circumstances of aggravation as had escaped my own observation. Before I entered upon any particulars I begged to know what was meant by the word disappointment. He readily acquitted me of any professions or other engagements than what must be understood to be implied by a man’s continuance in office. This I admitted as amounting to an obligation not to go into Opposition without notice, but that whatever was expected beyond that must depend upon the measures and the degree in which they were communicated. I then went through the particulars one by one. The business of the last day22 had been much misrepresented to him, and upon that article and that only I thought I made some little impression upon him, for ... it was easy for me to show him how much more offensively it might have been handled. He then told me that at the Board too I had always set myself to throw difficulties in the way of Government. This I own was quite unexpected, and I could not answer it without some warmth ... He left the subject of what was past, and said the situation of Government was become such that it was necessary for the King’s servants to know what they might expect or depend upon for the future ... I said that it was impossible for me to make any profession than that of acting up to my principles ... But whether the continuance in office or the removal of a man acting upon those principles would be most for his Majesty’s service belonged more properly to his Lordship’s consideration than to mine.
Rockingham wrote to the King that evening:23
The difference of opinion which Mr. Dyson professes even in regard to the great commercial regulations and improvements which have been so much the object of the business this session, and will naturally both during the summer and at the meeting of Parliament occupy the attention and consideration of his Majesty’s servants, will certainly occasion great want of harmony; and, as Mr. Dyson’s conduct during great part of the session and even to the last day has rendered the cordiality of his intentions towards those now in your Majesty’s service very doubtful, Lord Rockingham can foresee nothing but disquiet and uneasiness in Mr. Dyson’s remaining at this time in his Majesty’s service.
The King consulted Northington, who advised him to dismiss Dyson only if he intended to continue the Administration;24 and Dyson remained in office.
According to Dyson, Chatham, on taking office in July 1766, had intended to remove him, but was dissuaded from doing so by Hillsborough.25 The new Administration, Dyson thought in August, did not promise much stability. At the meeting of ‘the men of business’ on 6 Dec. 176626 he joined with Charles Townshend in opposing the East India inquiry. ‘Mr. Dyson’s behaviour cannot be acquiesced in’, wrote Chatham;27 and Dyson did not attempt to repeat under Chatham the conduct which had provoked Rockingham. As Conway and Townshend disapproved of the Government’s East India policy, it was left to Dyson to introduce the dividend bill into the House of Commons on 8 May 1767 and pilot it through the House.28
Over the Wilkes case Grafton leaned heavily on Dyson. Shortly after Wilkes’s return for Middlesex, Dyson prepared a paper, ‘drawn up with great knowledge of the proceedings of the House of Commons’, wrote the King,29 ‘and an uncommon precision in conveying the most efficacious as well as most proper mode of effecting the expulsion’. At the meeting of the men of business of the House of Commons on 25 April he ‘stated the precedents of expulsion’,30 and after the discussion undertook ‘to settle the mode’ that would ‘best take in all the different opinions’.31 In the debate of 17 Feb. 1769 he foreshadowed the action which was ultimately taken:32
I take the parliamentary law to be this: that no man who has been expelled shall sit again in that Parliament ... It has been supposed that the county of Middlesex will continue to return Mr. Wilkes ... If that county shall think proper to vote for Mr. Wilkes and another is returned by twenty freeholders only, the rest will have given their votes unnecessarily.
‘I should have been justly blameable’, wrote Grafton subsequently,33 ‘if I, who had been ... the instigator of his labours for the public service on the nicest and most important points of business, had left the King’s service without soliciting for him some reward.’ Dyson and Bradshaw, secretary to the Treasury, were the two men for whom Grafton obtained pensions shortly before his resignation in January 1770—for Dyson one of £1,000 p.a. on the Irish establishment for his life and those of his three sons.34 The Irish Parliament, citing a promise made by the King that he would grant no pensions for life on their establishment,35 refused to provide for it; but a Treasury letter of 29 Dec. 1774 authorized payment and the pension was eventually agreed to by the Irish Parliament on 15 Nov. 1775.36
Dyson lost a good deal of consequence when North, a commoner, became head of the Treasury. In October 1771 he was reported ‘extremely ill’,37 and after his recovery spoke much less frequently in the House of Commons. On 14 Oct. 1774 North wrote to the King:38 ‘Poor Mr. Dyson was this morning attacked by a stroke of the palsy, has lost the use of one side, and lies most dangerously ill at his house in Clifford Street.’ He never fully recovered, and, though returned as a Government candidate at the general election, seems henceforth to have taken no part in Parliament.
He died 16 Sept. 1776, aged 54.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. Mems. Geo. III, i. 316.
- 2. These, formerly the property of Sir W. Stanhope (q.v.), are mentioned in Dyson's will, PCC 385 Bellas.
- 3. See letter about Dyson from Geo. Hardinge (q.v.) to John Nicholls, 19 June 1813, Nichols, Literary Anecs. viii. 522.
- 4. O. C. Williams, Clerical Organization of House of Commons, 1661-1850, pp. 64, 66.
- 5. Hatsell, Precedents, i. pp. viii-ix.
- 6. Mems. Geo. III, i. 317.
- 7. Harris’s ‘Memoranda’, Malmesbury mss.
- 8. ‘Debates’, 16 Mar. 1764.
- 9. The King to North, 7 May 1771, Fortescue, ii. 248.
- 10. To Rockingham, Add. 35430, f. 25.
- 11. 25 Feb. 1774, Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 252, p. 212.
- 12. Dyson to Gilbert Elliot, 23 Aug. 1766, Minto mss.
- 13. Calcraft to Chatham, 26 Jan. 1770, Chatham mss; Egerton 3711, pp. 114-16.
- 14. Add. 32966, ff. 55-57.
- 15. Grenville Pprs. iii. 73-74.
- 16. Conway to the King, 1 Feb. 1766, Fortescue, i. 249.
- 17. Ryder’s ‘Debates’, Harrowby mss.
- 18. Conway to the King, 7 Feb. 1766, Fortescue, i. 266-7.
- 19. Chatham Corresp. ii. 394-5.
- 20. For the grounds of his objection, see his letter to Gilbert Elliot of 23 Aug, 1766, Minto mss, and Conway to the King, 3 June 1766, Fortescue, i. 353.
- 21. Dyson to Elliot, 23 Aug. 1766, Minto mss.
- 22. The increased allowances to the King’s brothers.
- 23. Fortescue, i. 354-5.
- 24. Northington to the King, 5 June 1766, ibid. 356.
- 25. Dyson to Elliot, 23 Aug. 1766, Minto mss.
- 26. For this meeting, see Brooke, Chatham Administration, 76.
- 27. Grafton, Autobiog. 110.
- 28. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, iii. 36.
- 29. To Grafton, 16 Apr. 1768, Fortescue, ii. 19.
- 30. Bradshaw to Grafton [25 Apr. 1768], Grafton mss.
- 31. North to Grafton, 26 Apr. 1768 (misdated 28 Apr.), ibid.
- 32. Cavendish’s Debates, ii. 234.
- 33. Grafton to Ld. Townshend, 7 Jan. 1772, Townshend mss in possession of W. S. Lewis.
- 34. Cal. Home Office Pprs. 1770-2, p. 175.
- 35. King to North, 24 Aug. 1774, Fortescue, iii. 124-5.
- 36. Cal. Home Office Pprs. 1773-5, p. 308.
- 37. John Ley to John Hatsell, 7 Oct. 1771, Ley mss.
- 38. Fortescue, iii. 145.