NEPEAN, Evan (1752-1822), of Loders Court, Dorset.

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

Constituency

Dates

1796 - 1802
1802 - 1812

Family and Education

b. 19 July 1752, 2nd s. of Nicholas Nepean of Saltash, Cornw. by Margaret, da. of Evan Jones of Alltygadno, Glam. m. 6 June 1782, Margaret, da. of William Skinner, capt. in the army, 6s. 2da. cr. Bt. 10 July 1802.

Offices Held

Entered RN as clerk; purser 1776-80; sec. to Lord Shuldham, port adm. Plymouth 1782; under-sec. of state for Home affairs Apr. 1782-July 1794, under-sec. of state for War July 1794-Mar. 1795; sec. to Admiralty Mar. 1795-Jan. 1804, chief sec. to ld. lt. [I] Jan.-Sept. 1804; PC 20 Jan. 1804; ld. of Admiralty Sept. 1804-Feb. 1806, gov. Bombay 1812-19.

Naval officer, Grenada, Dominica and St. Vincent Mar. 1783-July 1792; clerk of the peace and chief clerk of supreme ct. Jamaica 1792-1819.

Sheriff, Dorset 1822-d.

Biography

During the American war Nepean served as purser to Sir John Jervis*, who was impressed by his ‘superior talent for business, unremitting diligence, and integrity’. He went on to become one of the most successful civil servants of his day. Lord Shelburne appointed him under-secretary at the Home Office, where he managed the police department and remained 12 years, serving five Home secretaries. By 1791 his chief, Lord Grenville, described him as ‘killing himself by his labour’ and obtained him the reversion of a better West Indian place. In December 1791 he proceeded to the West Indies, hoping thereby to improve his health, until May 1792. In that year he succeeded to the new place, worth £2,000 p.a., which reverted to his son, and his wife was also awarded, 2 Oct. 1792, a pension of £643 contingent on Nepean’s death or losing office. In 1793 William Huskisson*, who became his confidential assistant in his ‘immense occupations’, thought him ‘no less remarkable for his indefatigable attention to business, than for his upright and honourable conduct’. Henry Dundas*, who behind his back was described as ‘the mere funnel of Nepean’, prized him, employing him as a channel of communication with the prime minister, and wrote to Windham, when Nepean, whose health had again broken down, was about to be transferred to the Admiralty, 30 Nov. 1794, ‘I can give no better proof of my earnestness for Lord Spencer’s credit, success and comfort in his situation than by telling you, that I have sacrificed a great deal of my own by giving him Nepean to be secretary.’1

In 1796 Nepean entered Parliament for Queen-borough on the Admiralty interest. He had declined an opening at Berwick ten years before and a renewed invitation in 1791. He subscribed £5,000 to the loyalty loan for 1797. Apart from bringing up the Admiralty accounts, 27 Jan. 1800, he was inconspicuous in that Parliament. His official duties required him to be ‘hic et ubique’. Addington was anxious to retain his goodwill and prompted by Lord St. Vincent, who said Nepean needed a ‘cordial’, made him a baronet in 1802.2 He had just been returned after a contest for Bridport, having three years before purchased a neighbouring estate and canvassed the borough successfully in January; the prospect of Admiralty patronage made him a popular candidate.

Nepean’s preference was evidently for Pitt and his relations with his Admiralty colleagues under Addington were strained: in 1803 there was a report of his remaining there only until another opening occurred, following a quarrel with Markham. In January 1804 Addington, casting about for an Irish secretary to replace Wickham, at least pro tem., fixed upon Nepean as the best nominee for the situation:

The business of Ireland is not now new to him: under Lord North, Lord Sydney, Lord Grenville and Lord Melville, he was under-secretary of state in the Home department; he is acquainted with the names, the system and the projects of the disaffected in the development of which he was at one time peculiarly useful: add to this his mind has been familiarised to military and naval concerns, and he possesses in an eminent degree diligence, judgment, temper and address.

Nepean, whose means were ‘ample’ and whose health was ‘indifferent’, was expected to decline; his acceptance was indeed disastrous. His want of parliamentary experience, the only objection to him anticipated, was discounted because he was expected to spend much of his time at Dublin. He soon irritated Addington by his failure to muster Irish support for him when his ministry crumbled, but Lord Hardwicke at first thought well of him and hoped to retain his services on Pitt’s return to power.3

On 15 May 1804 Hardwicke wrote from Dublin to his half-brother Charles Yorke:

Sir Evan Nepean sailed last night for England in consequence of a letter from Lord Melville proposing to him to return to his former situation or to take a seat at the board of Admiralty. He appears to prefer his situation here but if he is pressed and that his service would be useful there, will certainly not refuse.

Yorke replied on 24 May:

it seems decided that [Nepean] is to remain here and to asssist at the Admiralty: it is both fit and necessary that he should be placed at the board, which in the absence of Lord St. Vincent requires every possible assistance that can be given to it.

Nepean himself informed Lord Redesale, 17 June, ‘I have always considered myself a servant of the public, and I hold myself perfectly ready to go where ever it may be conceived my services may be most useful’. On 28 June he wrote to Hardwicke ‘Lord Melville wishes me to go to the Admiralty immediately and Mr Pitt wishes me to return to Ireland—I told him yesterday that he and Lord Melville might settle it as they pleased’. On 11 July he saw the King, who finding him ‘equally ready to return to Ireland or to be placed at the Admiralty’, desired him to choose the latter.4

Meanwhile, having resumed his seat on 23 May, Nepean had agreed to handle Irish business in the House until his successor was appointed. On 27 June for instance he brought in the Irish additional force bill. When he resumed his seat as a lord of the Admiralty, 15 Jan. 1805, he at once handled both the navy estimates and the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland. Pitt conceded that he lacked House of Commons talents, but no replacement for him as Irish secretary appeared. Hardwicke, who suspected that he himself rather than Nepean might be removed, grew restive: he discovered that in the summer of 1804 Nepean had had secret negotiations with the Irish Catholics, which had not only failed to prevent them from petitioning Parliament for Catholic relief, but had been based on the pledge that nothing should be divulged to the lord lieutenant. On 23 Jan. 1805 Hardwicke wrote of Nepean’s being ‘positively the most unfit man that ever was appointed. ... From his choosing to do everything himself without any communication.’ He recalled that Nepean had left Ireland on 14 May without ordering the release of suspect detainees in prison, who had accordingly languished there until November. By 15 Feb., the viceroy was complaining to Richard Ryder* that Nepean’s ‘principle seemed to be to do nothing ... His habits of business, his education and mind are far below such a situation as that which he has unfortunately held for the last twelve months.’ A week later, Hardwicke nailed him as ‘the most severe visitation that Ireland has ever had’.5 He was not alone in thinking Nepean would not do. Redesdale saw that his ignorance was such that John Foster’s* power there grew apace and that Hardwicke, Nepean and Marsden, the under-secretary, were irreconcilably disunited.6 Pitt would not hear anything against Nepean, despite Hardwicke’s cold shouldering of him, but in March 1805 Vansittart was announced as his Irish successor, which stopped the viceroy’s abuse. On 3 Dec. 1805 William Dacres Adams wrote of Nepean that he

certainly never took a worse step than going to Ireland. I believe he was truly miserable all the time he was there, and when he came back returned to a situation of less efficiency and emolument in his old office, than he had before. He is besides quite on as bad terms with Lord Barham as he was with Lord Hardwicke.

Nor could he even obtain Admiralty patronage for Bridport constituents.7

On Pitt’s death Nepean faded out. He voted with the minority on Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar. 1806, and against the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. Lord Grenville promised not to be hostile to him at Bridport at the ensuing election and in 1807 he returned himself and a friend, but in the House he remained a nonentity. He could evidently be counted on to support ministers, though he refused Perceval’s offer of a lordship of the Treasury in October 1809, giving as his reason the ‘inconvenience and expense of a new election’. He offered to ‘lend any assistance he could to prevent the King being forced into the hands of the opposition’. This he did during the Scheldt debates January-March 1810, the Regency debates December 1810-January 1811 and those on sinecures in February 1812; but by vote only, for his one brief contribution to debate was on an Irish petition, 24 June 1811. In 1812 he gave up Westminster to become governor of Bombay, leaving England before the dissolution.8 He remained in India until 1819. He died 2 Oct. 1822.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne

Notes

  • 1. St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lv), 368; Spencer Pprs. (Navy Recs. Soc. lix), 8; Auckland Jnl. ii. 410; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, ii. 188; Morning Chron. 28 Apr. 1814; PRO 30/8/157, f. 256; 368, f. 28; Debrett (ser. 3), v. 478; Add. 38734, f. 77; 37848, f. 71; 37874, f. 171.
  • 2. NLS mss 9370, f. 16; Add. 38735, f. 194; St. Vincent Letters, ii. 86-87.
  • 3. Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 161; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 4/87; HMC Fortescue, vii. 137-8, 206; Sidmouth mss, Addington to Yorke, 5 Jan.; cf. Glos. RO, Redesdale mss X15, Addington to Redesdale, 8 Jan. 1804; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2826; Add. 35704, ff. 276, 286, 337.
  • 4. Add. 35706, ff. 25, 39; 35715, f. 101; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2912.
  • 5. Rose Diaries, ii. 172; Add. 35706, ff. 108, 156, 162; 35710, f. 9; 35756, f. 225; 35778, f. 99; PRO 30/8/328, ff. 117, 119, 123, 127, 143, 147, 149, 298.
  • 6. Add. 35718, f. 14; 38241, f. 18; 49188, ff. 179, 189; PRO 30/8/330, f. 13.
  • 7. Add. 35710, f. 40; PRO NI, Caledon (Hardwicke) mss D.2433/D/5/81, 85; Dacres Adams mss 11/18; PRO 30/8/157, f. 93.
  • 8. HMC Lonsdale, 171; Add. 49188, f. 57; Parl. Deb. xxiii. 97.

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