LOFTUS, William (1752-1831), of Stiffkey, Norf.

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

Constituency

Dates

26 Oct. 1796 - 1802
1802 - 1812
1812 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 1752, 2nd s. of Henry Loftus, MP [I], of Rainham by Diana, da. of William Bullock of Sturston Hall. m. (1) 18 Feb. 1778, Margaret (d. 4 May 1786), da. and coh. of Maccerel King of Lesson Hall, Dublin, 2s. 2da., (2) 7 May 1790, Lady Elizabeth Townshend, da. of George Townshend, 1st Mq. Townshend, 5s. 4da.

 

Offices Held

MP [I] 1796-1800.

Cornet, 17 Drag. 1770, lt. (N. America) 1776; lt. 3 Ft. 1777, capt. and lt.-col. 1784, col. 1794, maj.-gen. 1796; col. 24 Drag. 1801-19, lt.-gen. 1803, gen. 1813; col. 2 Drag. Gds. 1821.

Gov. Dumbarton Castle 1807-10; lt.-gov. Tower of London Aug. 1810-d.

Biography

Loftus, who served with the cavalry in the American war, offered to raise a regiment of light dragoons in 1793. The offer was accepted but he had to obtain a bounty from government to do it.1 While in command of the coastal troops in East Anglia he was returned on his father-in-law’s interest for Yarmouth, on an unexpected double vacancy after the election of 1796. He headed the poll in a contest but was irked by the expense of it.2 He was then Member for Fethard in the Irish parliament and in 1797 was returned for Bannow. He was transferred to a command at Cork that year and served against the rebels. He was a spokesman for the Anglo-Irish union at Westminster, 22 Apr. 1799, and Castlereagh subsequently solicited his attendance at Dublin in support of the Union. In reply (18 Nov.) he stated that he had given it what support he could and had taken steps to retire from the Dublin parliament as attendance there interfered with his official duties; but as his kinsman Lord Ely had not yet replaced him, he was prepared to travel to Dublin.3 On 21 Apr. 1800 he again defended the Union at Westminster, against Grey and Sheridan, correcting then and on 25 Apr. English misconceptions of the Irish franchise and representation. According to Pitt, he opposed Sturt’s motion for inquiry into the Ferrol expedition, 19 Feb. 1801.4 On 18 Mar. he defended the Irish martial law bill, explaining that the rebellion of 1798 had been ‘equal to any war’ and that Ireland was still in great danger. He opposed Whitbread’s attempt to amend it and denied insinuations that torture had been practised on Irish rebels with official condonation. He paid tribute to Sir Ralph Abercromby, 18 May 1801, and solicited provision for his family. On 24 June 1802 he advocated a reward for Dr James Carmichael Smyth for the discovery of nitric fumigation to subdue fever epidemics.

Loftus declined a compromise with St. Vincent, Addington’s first Lord of the Admiralty, at Yarmouth in 1802, even when St. Vincent offered him a seat free of expense.5 In this he was acting in accordance with the wishes of the Townshends, and when he withdrew rather than face a contest they compensated him with a seat for Tamworth which was in their pocket. He remained well disposed to administration and on 6 July 1803 testified to the adequacy of defence arrangements against the threat of French invasion in a speech that was interrupted to exclude strangers. He defended the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland and the Irish martial law bill as necessary precautions which would not be abused, 2, 5 Dec. 1803. He was a spokesman for the army officers in their reservations about the volunteer consolidation bill, but gave it a conditional support, 22 Mar. 1804. On 13 Apr. he defended and was teller for the Irish militia bill. The same day he applied to the Irish secretary for small pensions for his three nephews on the Irish establishment, though without success.6

Loftus was listed as a supporter of Pitt in September 1804 and July 1805. He voted against the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805; but only two minor contributions of his to debate are known during Pitt’s second ministry. On 13 May 1806 he informed the House that he had voted for Pitt’s Additional Force Act in the hope that it would work; as it had not, he was now prepared to vote for its repeal, but he feared that Windham’s new plan was over-optimistic: bounties for recruits would not so readily be done away with, though some form of limited service, if not in wartime, was desirable. He went on to give his support to limited service, 30 May. On 3 July, moreover, supporting the training bill, his only complaint was that it did not go far enough to provide for an armed population. He thought naval supremacy was no security against a surprise landing by means of Dutch fishing boats. On 10 Mar. 1807 he was teller against a tactical delay of the engrossed bill to abolish the slave trade.

Loftus was clearly unsympathetic to the Grenville ministry’s plan for Catholic relief: he claimed (26 Mar. 1807) that their proposals went far beyond those contained in the Irish relief bill of 1793, which they claimed as a model, and were unnecessary since the great body of the Irish Catholics enjoyed the same advantages as the Protestants. He supported the Irish insurrection bill, 24 July 1807, and welcomed Henry Grattan’s unexpected speech in favour of it. He thought the militia transfer bill ‘highly expedient’, 5 Aug. It is very difficult to believe that he was in the minority critical of the Copenhagen expedition, 8 Feb. 1808, though so listed. He had recently received a governorship. His wife’s step-mother, Lady Townshend, said to be excessively partial to him, had asked the Duke of Portland to make him barrack master general if possible.7 He questioned witnesses on behalf of the Duke of York in February 1809 and made it clear that he thought no good would come of the duke’s resignation as commander-in-chief, though he was not present at the Officers Club when they addressed the duke to withdraw his resignation. He protested against Lord Cochrane’s motion against Gambier, 29 Jan. 1810, and regarded a pension for Lord Wellington as well-deserved, 16 Feb. As a ‘private friend’ of the Earl of Chatham, he had a role to play in the debates on the Scheldt inquiry, in which he stood by ministers throughout.8 It was he who on 16 Feb. moved for the production of Chatham’s apologia to the King, which was duly produced on 19 Feb. He defended Chatham not only against the charge of maligning the naval commander of the expedition, Sir Richard Strachan, but on all counts, 23 Feb., 2, 5 Mar. On 30 Mar. he described the expedition as the ‘bounden duty’ of government and glossed over its failure. He obtained the lieutenancy of the Tower of London. On 22 May he unsuccessfully attempted to obtain exemption from the property tax for officers and subalterns in the militia. He defended the Duke of Cumberland against the charges brought against him by Captain Foskett, 18 Apr., 10 May, 7 June 1810. He was in the government minority on the Regency, 1 Jan. 1811, and on 22 Feb. defended the Irish secretary’s circular prohibiting the Catholic convention. He could not support the abolition of flogging in the army, much as he disliked it, as it was ‘absolutely necessary ... for the sake of example’. He voted against the abolition of McMahon’s sinecure, 24 Feb. 1812, and against the sinecure regulation bill, 4 May. On 13 May he approved provision for the family of the late Spencer Perceval. He voted against a more comprehensive administration, 21 May, and against Catholic relief, 22 June.

At the election of 1812 Loftus resumed his seat for Yarmouth on the Townshend interest. He was listed a Treasury supporter, but he was not such an active one in that Parliament. He voted against Catholic relief throughout in 1813 and again in 1816 and 1817. On 23 Feb. 181 6 he presented his constituents’ petition against the property tax, but he voted for its continuation, 18 Mar. He defended the record of the Guards during the debates on the army estimates, 11 Mar. 1816. No other speeches are known. On 24 Mar. 1816 he took a month’s leave for illness and no votes of his are known after 23 June 1817, when he supported the suspension of habeas corpus. He was defeated at Yarmouth in 1818 and nothing came of a report that he would contest the subsequent by-election:9 with him, the Townshend interest in the borough expired. He died 15 June 1831, ‘aged 80’.10

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne

Notes

  • 1. PRO 30/8/108, f. 179; Prince of Wales Corresp. ii. 883.
  • 2. Add. 33103, f. 410.
  • 3. Castlereagh Corresp. iii. 19.
  • 4. Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2367.
  • 5. See GREAT YARMOUTH.