WILSON, Sir Thomas Spencer, 6th Bt. (1727-98), of Uckfield, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. 25 Jan. 1727, 2nd s. of Sir Thomas Wilson, 4th Bt., by Elizabeth, da. of William Hutchinson of Uckfield. educ. Charterhouse 1737. m. 25 June 1767, Jane, da. and h. of John Badger Weller of Hornchurch, Essex, 1s. 3da. suc. bro. 24 June 1760.
Ensign 8 Ft. 1744, lt. 1747, capt.-lt. Feb. 1755, capt. Oct. 1755; lt.-col. army 1761; col. 1772; maj.-gen. 1777; col. 50 Ft. 1777- d.; lt.-gen. 1782; gen. 1796.
In a letter to Chatham in 1766 Wilson thus outlined his military service:1
I have now strictly attended my duty as commissioned officer near twenty-three years in the war in Flanders, the rebellion in Scotland, most part of the war in Germany (where I was aide-de-camp to Lord Waldegrave, commanding the British infantry at the battle of Minden), and in three expeditions on the coast of France, and have been four times wounded.
‘Having no parliamentary connection’, he requested promotion from Chatham, but in vain; and had to wait until 1772 when he was given the rank of colonel ‘entirely from the King’s knowledge of Sir Thomas’s merit, and from the rank he bore among the lieutenant-colonels’.2
His entry into Parliament was unsolicited and almost malgré lui. On 27 Sept. 1774 a meeting of Sussex freeholders, discontented with the conduct of Richard Harcourt, adopted Wilson as candidate in spite of his declaration, when it was clear there would be a contest, that ‘he would not be at any expense, either in carrying, supporting, or ornamenting any voter, or on any other account, except the legal expenses of the poll’. The freeholders ‘entered into voluntary subscriptions for the support of their cause’; the poll lasted twenty-four days; and Wilson’s expenses amounted to only £720. Yet some items indicate that he did not adhere strictly to his declaration, as well as the contempt he felt for the business:
To some fools, dressed in white, with blue ribbons, who ran before my horses into Findon, and some old women there: £1 18s. 6d.
To some hallowing fools at Rottindean: £1 1s. od.
For other fools at Uckfield... . £1 1s. od.
And in a note to these accounts, dated 1 June 1777, he wrote:
I was at this expense merely as a point of honour, to stand forth in compliment to those who so singularly honoured me with their nomination. I never had the least intent to offer myself as a candidate, having a hearty contempt for the House of Commons, which is at present not much abated.
His only recorded vote, 22 Feb. 1775, was for Wilkes’s motion to expunge the resolutions on the Middlesex election, and he is not known ever to have spoken in the House. His absence from the three minority lists between 1775 and 1777 may indicate that he normally supported the court. In 1777 he went on active service to America; on 12 Feb. 1779 he was still abroad, and was classed by Robinson as a Government supporter but with the note ‘query doubtful’; and seems to have returned to England that year.
‘Lowness of spirits occasioned by severe illness’, he wrote to the Duke of Richmond, 11 Jan. 1780, ‘has prevented my attending business for some time past.’ In a broadsheet, published April 1780, showing the voting record of Sussex members, he is described as absent from the divisions on economical reform (February-March 1780) and as having abstained from that on Dunning’s motion. He refused to present the Sussex petition against excessive Government expenditure and the undue influence of the Crown, and wrote about it to the chairman of the Sussex committee:
Some grievances urged in the petition to exist are what every man not benefitted by their existence must wish reformed, and no man more so than myself. Part of the resolutions (if my health had permitted me to attend the meeting) I never could have joined in, and the latter part of the prayer [to withhold supplies until grievances had been redressed] I most undoubtedly should have objected to.
On the news of the dissolution of Parliament Wilson published a notice declining to stand. ‘Ill state of health’, he wrote, ‘prevented me from attending my duty in Parliament in the manner I could have wished.’
He died 29 Aug. 1798.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. All quotations are taken from the Maryon-Wilson mss in the possession of the Viscountess Gough. Some of them are printed in an article &l