BALDWIN, William (?1737-1813), of Hanwell, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

21 Jan. 1795 - June 1798
1802 - 1806

Family and Education

b. ?1737, o. surv. s. of John Baldwin, attorney, of Halifax, Yorks. by Sarah, da. of John Prescott, surgeon and physician, of Calico Hall, Halifax.1 educ. M. Temple 1760, called 1770. m. 2s. 2da.2 suc. fa. 1779.

Offices Held

Bencher, M. Temple 1797, reader 1801, treasurer 1810.

Counsel assisting the sec. of state having the dept. of the colonies 1796-d.; counsel in all questions relating to the criminal business of the Home Office 1796-d.; receiver of the seven public offices 1799-1802.

Biography

The son of a Halifax attorney who became insolvent in 1767, Baldwin was himself admitted an attorney in 1759, before being called to the bar in 1770. From chambers at 4 Lamb’s Buildings, Middle Temple he practised both as a barrister and a special pleader. The memorial erected by his only surviving son John described him as ‘formed to business by activity of mind, a clear intellect, and an intimate knowledge of mankind’. Part of this flair for business he devoted to the service of the Whig party. He corresponded with Portland on a private matter as early as 1771, was a founder member of the Whig Club in 1784 and assisted in the Whig electoral campaign of 1790. He was clearly a financial expert and played a major part in the Whigs’ efforts to raise loans for the Prince of Wales and the royal dukes in 1790: Portland told William Adam on 30 Apr. ‘Baldwin is the keystone of all our business and if he declines we shall all fall to pieces’, and on 26 Sept. informed the Prince that the proposal for a loan of £300,000 from a firm of Antwerp bankers had been ‘settled under the authority and by the advice of Mr Baldwin, whose caution and zeal have been as conspicuous in this as his knowledge and abilities are on every occasion’.3

When the Whig party split in 1793, Baldwin followed Portland. Early in 1794 he succeeded Richard Burke as auditor of Earl Fitzwilliam’s estates and, while visiting Wentworth on 4 Aug. 1794, wrote to Portland:

I understand that the new peers are to kiss hands on Wednesday; may I venture to remind your Grace, in case there should be any vacancy during the recess of Parliament? I know that I need not, therefore I must apologise for doing so.

Within a week arrangements had been made for Baldwin to succeed Richard Burke as Fitzwilliam’s Member for Malton. Edmund Burke and his friends were, in their high-minded way, critical that a man of business should have been preferred to their own favourite French Laurence*. Burke advised Walker King on 28 Aug. that someone should caution Portland and Fitzwilliam ‘against disgracing and ruining themselves by this Baldwin’, and William Elliot confessed himself to be ‘very sorry for the preference which Lord Fitzwilliam has given to Baldwin, first because I know it hurts Burke ... and in the next place ... because I by no means think Baldwin a very proper object of Lord Fitzwilliam’s patronage’. Fitzwilliam, however, was willing to put his trust in Baldwin and, for example, left in his hands the decision as to whether he should contribute to the voluntary subscription in December 1796.4

At first Baldwin seems to have had little difficulty in following Fitzwilliam’s political lead. They corresponded on the subject of the seditious meetings bill in November 1795 which Baldwin, after initially thinking it might go too far, supported on the second and third readings.5 But Fitzwilliam’s differences with Portland, especially on Irish questions, severely strained his loyalty, and his voting record 1796-8 was not similar to that of other Members returned by Fitzwilliam. He did not support the motions critical of Irish policy, 3 and 23 Mar. 1797, although he appeared in the Morning Chronicle list of the Members who joined opposition on 13 Mar. on Sheridan’s motion to add Fox’s name to the finance committee. On 12 May Burke reported that Baldwin had visited him and ‘spoke something, though indistinctly and confusedly of a strong desire that he supposed the Duke of Portland to have to be reconciled to my Lord Fitzwilliam’, but Burke’s deep-seated dislike of him probably prevented anything coming of the conversation and he confided to Laurence, ‘You know he does not see very far, nor combine very much’. Baldwin was able to act in a more modest way as an intermediary between Portland and Fitzwilliam during the negotiations for Fitzwilliam’s appointment as lord lieutenant of the West Riding early in 1798. Like other followers of Fitzwilliam, he supported the third reading of the assessed taxes bill, 4 Jan. 1798, and, in obedience to his promise to Fitzwilliam, voted for Sheridan’s motion for inquiry into the state of Ireland, 14 June. The following day, however, he wrote to Fitzwilliam to qualify his action:

My own honour in my promise was at stake; that I hope and trust will ever remain unshaken, but lest I should at some period hereafter, find myself in the like situation at a time when, by excusing myself from such a promise your lordship may be prevented from securing a voice in my stead, when my own discretion and opinion may be as full as contrary as they were last night upon a measure the precise tendency whereof may be as unknown to me as was that last night until the moment of its being brought forward, I feel myself bound to request the favour of your lordship to accept my most sincere thanks for the honour you have done me at Malton and to entreat that you will signify to me when I may apply for the opportunity of vacating my seat.6

Fitzwilliam accepted his resignation, but there appears to have been no break in their friendship, nor any interruption of Baldwin’s business engagements with Fitzwilliam, for whom he was still working during the Yorkshire election of 1807.7

Baldwin who had been named joint guardian and trustee of the estates of the 5th Earl of Abingdon in the 4th Earl’s will in 1800, was in 1802 returned for Westbury, where all the burgages were owned by his ward. Only one vote of his is known for that Parliament, against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805. He was classed ‘Pitt’ in the government lists of September 1804 and July 1805. In 1806, acting on behalf of Abingdon now come of age, he offered both seats for sale at 10,000 guineas, but in 1807 told Fitzwilliam that he had not been consulted about their disposal. His only known contributions to debate apart from the presentation of petitions and reports from several committees, were in defence of the St. Pancras workhouse bill, 4 Apr. 1803, and in opposition to the Camberwell waterworks bill, 31 May 1805.8

From the time of his first election to the House, Baldwin reduced his private legal practice to concentrate on government business. Since at least 1786 frequent payments had been made to him in connexion with crown proceedings when he was presumably acting as one of the Treasury counsel assisting the attorney-general. There are hints in Baldwin’s letter to Portland of 4 Aug. 1794 that Portland had offered him some form of employment at the Home Office. Yet on 27 Jan. 1796, alarmed by newspaper reports that he had been appointed law clerk at the Home Office, Baldwin wrote to Fitzwilliam:

Nothing can be more false, absurd and ridiculous. The office of law clerk is a patent place under the crown and would vacate the seat. I should be most unworthy indeed of your lordship’s patronage if I should ever do any act to produce such an effect. You may be assured that I am incapable of it. I have not seen the least effect of what I mentioned in my last, namely that it had been reported to me that papers would be directed to be laid before me from the office as counsel, and that is the very same thing which was intimated to me twelve months ago, not at all inconsistent but very consistent with my character as a barrister and to be paid for in fees. It has also been suggested that I should in my professional character advise as to the regulation of the police which under the present acts may afford new cases. On a presumption that these things might take up more of my time than with the attendance at Westminster Hall I could spare, I gave up that which for some time past has been irksome and disagreeable to me and from the reports of these things having happened a year or a year and a half ago my business there had been affected to a considerable degree. I do not quit the profession, but that part of squabbling business.

In 1796, however, his position at the Home Office became more clearly defined when he succeeded Richard Selwyn as colonial counsel, with the duty of reporting on the acts of colonial legislatures, and was appointed counsel for criminal business. For the former office he received a fee of 3 gns. per act; and for the latter a salary of £800, reduced to £500 in 1799 when he also became receiver of the seven public offices with a salary of £300. After his return to the House in 1802 the receivership was held by his two sons George Thomas and John. In 1802 Felix McCarthy, who had approached Baldwin on the prospect of bringing Portland and his friends over to the Prince, referred to him as ‘Portland’s secretary’ and Baldwin’s obituary notice called him ‘for many years’ secretary to the duke. But the Portland manuscripts do not reveal if or when he formally held this position.9

Baldwin died 10 Oct. 1813, aged 76, ‘occupied in public affairs to his latest hour’.10

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. M. Collinge

Notes

  • 1. C. D. Webster, ‘Halifax Attorneys’, Trans. Halifax Antiq. Soc. (1969), 120.
  • 2. PCC 534 Heathfield.
  • 3. Webster loc. cit.; Esdaile, Temple Church Mons. 147; Portland mss PwF240; Ginter, Whig Organization, 81, 160, 222; Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 531.
  • 4. Portland mss, PwF243; Burke Corresp. vii. 574; ix. 146; NLS mss 11138, f. 79.
  • 5. Fitzwilliam mss.
  • 6. Burke Corresp. ix. 333; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F52h.; Fitzwilliam mss.
  • 7. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. E, Baldwi