HUSSEY, William (1725-1813), of Upper Eldon, Hants, and Salisbury, Wilts.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
bap. 1 Jan. 1725, s. of John Hussey, mayor of Salisbury in 1737, by his 2nd w. Margery, wid. of Richard Rumsey of Salisbury. m. (1) 9 Oct. 1752, Mary (d. 21 May 1754), da. of John Eyre of Landford Lodge, Wilts., 1da., (2) 5 Apr. 1758, Jane, da. of Robert Marsh, London merchant and gov. of Bank of England, 1s. 1da. (who m. 1778 William Drake jun.). suc. fa. 1739.
Hussey, who as a boy inherited considerable property in Wiltshire and Dorset from his father, became a clothier at Salisbury and made a fortune to which he added by his two marriages. In 1755 he became a common councillor at Salisbury, in 1756 an alderman, and in 1759 mayor. At the general election of 1761 he contested Hereford, but was overwhelmingly defeated. He declared himself a candidate at the Salisbury by-election of January 1765, but withdrew before the poll. Later the same year Hussey was recommended by Grenville to Edward Eliot for St. Germans, Lord Sandwich having persuaded Philip Stanhope to resign in favour of ‘a very good friend to Government’ who would pay him £500 compensation, and also ‘the usual consideration’ of £1,000 to the borough.1 In Parliament Hussey seems at first to have followed Grenville; appears in Sir William Meredith’s two lists of Members voting against the repeal of the Stamp Act, 22 Feb. 1766, though not in the printed list; was classed by Rockingham in November 1766 as ‘Grenville’, and as ‘doubtful’ by Townshend in January, and by Newcastle in March 1767.
At the general election of 1768 Hussey seems to have been invited to contest Hindon by an independent group in the borough, and was returned after a contest. In 1774 he achieved his ambition and was returned for his native borough of Salisbury which he continued to represent till his death.
Hussey now followed an independent line; he opposed North’s Administration from the beginning, and strongly disapproved of the American war. ‘In his political principles he is by no means violent’ wrote the English Chronicle in 1781, ‘but no man is more active against the measures of Administration, whom he opposes with vigour, but without rudeness or enthusiasm.’ He supported Rockingham’s Administration, declaring on 29 Apr. 1782 that ‘he had the fullest reliance on the integrity of the present ministry; and as they came into place on a thorough conviction of being averse to the destructive measures which had for many years been pursued, those abuses, he trusted, would soon be abolished’. He voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. After the formation of the Coalition he continued to criticize North, but voted for Fox’s East India bill, 27 Nov. 1783, stating, however, that he did so merely because ‘he thought some bill immediately necessary’. In Robinson’s electoral survey drawn up in December 1783 he was classed as ‘doubtful’, and in the list of January 1784 as ‘contra’. He was a member of the St. Alban’s Tavern group which attempted to bring about a union between Pitt and Fox, and on 11 Feb. 1784 urged ‘gentlemen on both sides ... by such concessions as they could make, cordially and manfully [to] give way not to each other only, but to the calls and exigencies of their country’. And on 27 Feb. as ‘one of those independent country gentlemen, who had never attached themselves to any party’, again called for union.2 After the failure of these attempts Hussey regularly voted with Opposition, though he seems always to have been considered completely independent.
During his first years in the House Hussey spoke on several occasions, and towards the end of North’s Administration became one of the most frequent back-bench speakers, concentrating mainly on financial matters. Wraxall, who found him ‘a dull debater, destitute of all the graces of elocution, tedious, and labouring under impediments of enunciation’, conceded that he ‘thoroughly understood all financial questions’; and was ‘of recognized integrity’, and ‘exceedingly tenacious of the national purse’.3 The English Chronicle also commended his abilities as financier, adding:
The minister [North] always gives the strongest testimony on the communication of his taxes, by addressing himself to Mr. Hussey with pointed attention, watching his approbation, and replying by anticipation to such objections as this Member by the taciturn indications of his countenance seems to convey.
And on 31 Jan. 1781 North, replying in the House to Hussey’s financial criticisms, ‘acknowledged that he had frequently received great assistance and information from his abilities’. But though Hussey constantly advocated strict economy and supervision of all Government expenditure, he pressed for generous treatment of the navy which should be increased and strengthened, not ‘by driblets’, but by as many as 20,000 men. He thought that the House should ‘know something of its management and its state’; and he himself had ‘made it his business to go into the opportunities, and the efforts of the naval department’. He vigorously attacked the principle of fortifications; and pressed for the encouragement of the fishing industry—‘an excellent nursery for the navy’.4
Hussey, who was a shareholder in the East India Company, frequently intervened in debates on its affairs; constantly criticized their management; opposed high dividends; and on 28 May 1782 ‘wished the whole of the direction and management of the East India Company was fixed in the hands of the ministers, that responsibility and influence might go together’: ‘it would be better for this country, if they had no possessions in the East Indies, than that they should remain governed as they were’. On 21 June 1786, he advocated throwing open the whole of the East India Company’s trade.5
Hussey, who in 1780 was a member of the Wiltshire Committee of Association, declared on 3 June 1784 that he was ‘a sincere well-wisher to such a reform as would give the people a more complete representation within these walls’.6 Yet he did not vote for either of Pitt’s reform proposals, 7 May 1783 and 18 Apr. 1785.
Hussey’s ‘spirit, consummate probity, and ... independence’7 seem to have gained him general respect, and he was described by Burke in 1790 as ‘one of the most upright, able, and industrious members of the House’.