HEY, William (c.1733-97), of Coxheath, Kent

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1774 - 31 Oct. 1776

Family and Education

b. c.1733, s. of Thomas Hey, formerly a merchant in Venice, by Elizabeth, wid. of (1) — Markham, (2) Sir Thomas Palmer of Wingham, 4th Bt., M.P.  educ. Eton 1748; Corpus Christi, Camb. 1750; M. Temple 1750, called 1756.  m. (2)1 5 Apr. 1783, Miss Paplay of Jamaica,2 s.p.

Offices Held

Recorder, Sandwich 1763-6; dep. recorder, Dover 1763-6; c.j. Quebec 1766-76; commr. of customs 1776- d.


In July 1763 Sir Wyndham Knatchbull recommended Hey to Lord Hardwicke, nominally steward (i.e. recorder) of Dover for his deputy: he ‘attends always on this circuit’, and is reputed to have ‘very good abilities’.3 Hardwicke’s friends at Dover agreed in thinking Hey ‘the properest person’—‘a gentleman ... with extreme good natural parts, very ready and capable of business, but has not applied to it so much as his friends could have wished’—which he now proposed to do, settling at Canterbury.4 When Hardwicke died in 1764, Hey showed ‘genteel behaviour’ in desiring Charles Yorke to succeed, while he himself might ‘be appointed deputy as before’.5

Early in 1766 Charles Yorke, then attorney-general, recommended Hey for chief justice of Quebec;6 Hey sailed from Plymouth on 23 June and arrived at Quebec on 8 Sept.7 In the absence of a legislative assembly and as first member of the governor’s council, he played a considerable part in organizing the administration and framing the laws of the province, and earned the reputation of an upright and able judge.8 On 10 Apr. 1773 he received permission to return home on leave on account of ill-health.9 In London he assisted Alexander Wedderburn, attorney-general, in framing certain parts of the Quebec Act,10 and on 25 Jan. 1774 submitted ‘A Plan for the Administration of the Laws in the Province of Canada’.11 On 2 June he was examined in the House of Commons on certain aspects of the Quebec bill, especially the system of laws to be established and the question of introducing juries and a legislative council; but professed to have only a superficial acquaintance with the bill as a whole, to be ‘perfectly indifferent to it’ and ‘very unable to form an opinion’.12

At the general election of October 1774 he was returned unopposed for Sandwich on the government interest. On 27 Sept. he had sent in his resignation as chief justice,13 obviously refused by Dartmouth, colonial secretary, who on 10 Dec. had ‘the satisfaction’ to inform the governor of Canada that Hey was

resolved to return to Quebec in the character of chief justice although he should be under the necessity of relinquishing his seat in Parliament, which, however, we hope and think may be avoided.14

In fact, he did not mean to return for long, and his stay was cut down still further: on 28 Aug. he wrote to Lord Chancellor Bathurst on the prospects in Quebec ‘as gloomy ... in point of security and in the ill humours and evil dispositions of its inhabitants ... as can be imagined’; he hoped that

ten years honest, however imperfect, endeavours to serve the Crown in an unpleasant and something critical situation deserve to be compensated with moderate and reasonable means of retirement.

In postscripts of Sept. 11 and 17 he described the province as about to fall into rebel hands: ‘I hold myself in readiness to embark for England where I possibly may be of some use ... I can be of none here.’15 Back in England he resigned his office. On 20 Feb. 1776 he made his only recorded speech in the Commons, in defence of the Quebec Act.

On 3 Oct. 1776 John Robinson wrote to the King referring to a commissionership of customs about to fall vacant, that when Hey ‘came in for Sandwich it was understood that he was soon after to quit Quebec and have office ... he has strenuously pressed for one of the commissionerships of excise or customs especially since he has been superseded in his office of chief justice of Quebec.’16 On 31 Oct. 1776 Hey was appointed commissioner of customs, which vacated his seat.

He died 3 Mar. 1797.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. For evidence as to the first marriage, see W. S. Wallace, Maseres Letters, 1766-8.
  • 2. Caribbeana, v. 40, 41.
  • 3. Add. 35692, ff. 483, 487.
  • 4. Michael Russell to Hardwicke, 15 Aug. 1763, ibid. f. 489.
  • 5. Mayor to Dover to H. V. Jones, 27 Mar. 1764, Add. 35636, f. 443; Hey to Chas. Yorke, 10 Sept. 1764, Add. 35637, f. 29.
  • 6. Add. 35915, f. 334.
  • 7. Wallace, 41.
  • 8. F-J. Audet, Les Juges en Chef de la Province de Quebec 1764-1924; W. S. Wallace, Dict. Canadian Biog.; Le Jeune, Dict. Gén. du Canada.
  • 9. A. Shortt A. G. Doughty, Docs. relating the Const. Hist. of Canada, 1759-91, pt. i, 256, 272, 273.
  • 10. Ibid. 536.
  • 11. HMC Dartmouth, i. 347.
  • 12. Cavendish, Debates on Government of Quebec Bill, 153.
  • 13. HMC Dartmouth, i. 363.
  • 14. Shortt Doughty, ii. 285-6.
  • 15. Ibid. 668-72.
  • 16. Add. 37833, ff. 67-68.