PROTHEROE, Edward (1774-1856).

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



1812 - 1820

Family and Education

b. 19 Jan. 1774, 1st s. of Philip Protheroe of Bristol and Over, Glos. by Mary, da. of Moses Brain of Bristol. educ. ?Harrow 1785; Magdalene, Camb. 1792, Christ’s 1793. m. 10 Oct. 1796, Anne, da. of John Waterhouse of Halifax, Yorks., 1s. d.v.p. suc. fa. 1803.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Bristol 1797-8, mayor 1804-5.

Ensign, Bristol vol. inf. 1799.


Protheroe’s father was a Bristol West India merchant and shipowner, in partnership with one Robert Claxton. In 1794 he became a founding partner in the Bristol City Bank (Ireland, Protheroe & Co.). By the time of his death, 30 Aug. 1803, he had acquired landed property in Gloucestershire, as well as in his ancestral counties of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, and in his will made cash bequests in excess of £112,000. Edward Protheroe’s share was £20,000, plus real estate in the vicinity of Bristol and a small property at Westbury-on-Trym. The Welsh property was divided between his younger brothers Sir Henry (knighted 16 Mar. 1803), Philip and Lewis (a minor), who in addition received sums of £3,000, £25,000 and £10,000 respectively.1

Edward Protheroe was apparently never a partner in the City Bank and the extent of his active involvement in the West Indian trade after his father’s death is unclear. He was evidently in partnership with his brother Philip and Claxton in 1806 and 1807, but seems soon afterwards to have left the business, which became Protheroe and Savage in about 1809 and was later in the hands of Philip and George Protheroe, a cousin. By 1811 he was living in London, at 39 Harley Street. A subscriber in 1809 to the bill from which emerged the Severn and Wye Railway and Canal Company, he bought collieries in the Forest of Dean, at a cost of 20,000 guineas, from his uncle John Protheroe in 1812. It was in this sphere, and the closely related ones of iron mining and smelting, that he was later to develop an extensive industrial empire.2

The Protheroes and some of their business associates had long been active in Bristol politics on the Whig side. Late in 1811, when it was confirmed that one of the sitting Members, Evan Baillie, whom they had supported since 1802, would not seek reelection at the next general election, Edward Protheroe offered himself, in opposition to the ‘official’ Whig candidate, the eminent lawyer Sir Samuel Romilly*. In the ensuing canvass Protheroe made much of his local origins and interests and trusted that the electors knew ‘how to distinguish the mild influence of genuine Whig principles, blending loyalty with the love of liberty, from the inflammatory spirit of those who would subvert’ the constitution. At the 1812 general election, when there was a four-cornered contest between Protheroe, Romilly, the ministerialist Richard Hart Davis and a radical no-hoper, he made a statement to the effect that he would ‘rejoice to promote the destruction or diminution of that aristocratic borough-influence which at present disgraces our system’. For his second place in the poll, well ahead of Romilly, he was heavily indebted to second votes from supporters of Davis.3

He was initially ‘marked for’ in a ministerial analysis of the new House, but Rose told Arbuthnot, 8 Nov. 1812, that he understood Protheroe ‘will be against’, and he was accordingly omitted from the final list of Members expected to support government. The Whig scout John Goodwin commented to Lord Grey, 1 Nov., that although Romilly had been beaten, Protheroe ‘was under the necessity of declaring himself a Whig to save his election’, but he never joined Brooks’s and opposition were no more able than government to take his support for granted.4

In his maiden speech, 7 Dec. 1812, Protheroe approved the grant of £100,000 to Wellington, but advised ministers to practise ‘rigid economy’ in other areas. He is credited with a vote to rescind the resolution of May 1811 affirming the legality of bank-notes as tender, 11 Dec., but he supported the gold coin bill in the subsequent debate. He voted against the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb., spoke against the copper exportation bill, 25 Feb., and spoke and voted for the sinecure bill, 29 Mar. 1813. He opposed consideration of Catholic relief, 26 Feb., admitting that his constituents were strongly hostile to it, but insisting that he would follow their instructions ‘so far only as they are consistent with the dictates of my own conscience’. He voted against relief, 2 Mar., but for the first clause of the relief bill, 24 May 1813. He was an opponent of relief in the divisions of 21 May 1816 and 9 May 1817. He called for repeal of the leather tax, 18 May, but supported government’s relaxation of the East India Company’s trading monopoly, 1, 3 and 16 June, 1 Dec. 1813. He was in favour of Christian missionary activity in India, 22 June and 1 July 1813.

Protheroe reluctantly accepted the proposed brandy duties, 30 Nov., but added his voice to Whitbread’s protest against the long recess, 20 Dec. 1813. He supported Wilberforce’s address on the slave tade, 2 May 1814, pressing government to enforce its acceptance by the Allies. He had mixed feelings about the election expenses bill, 9 May, and opposed the apprentice laws bill, 13 May 1814, when he called for a general reform of the apprenticeship system. On 21 June 1813 he had announced his determination to oppose any measure which raised the price of corn. He accordingly opposed the corn resolutions of 16 May 1814, presented a Bristol petition against alteration of the Corn Laws, 19 May, when he clashed with spokesmen for the agricultural interest, supported inquiry into the corn trade, 20 May, on the ground that the original report had been based on defective evidence, and voted against the corn exportation bill, 23 May. He claimed to have had no communication from his constituents on the subject of Exchequer bills, 14 Nov., but on their behalf, 1 Dec. 1814, expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of protection afforded to merchant ships against American raiders.

Protheroe was one of the leading opponents of the 1815 corn bill, which he denounced in the House, 17 and 22 Feb. He commended ministers for their temperate handling of the bill, 23 Feb., but moved an unsuccessful amendment to reduce the price at which the ports could be opened from 80s. to 76s.; on 2 Mar. he complained that they now seemed bent on rushing it through the House, a process which he failed to arrest by forcing a division against the third reading, 10 Mar. He voted against government on the civil list accounts, 14 Apr. and 8 May, and the Regent’s expenditure, 31 May; but on 19 Apr., in defiance of majority opinion in Bristol, he supported renewal of the property tax, though he paid lip service to the principle of economy in public expenditure. He was a teller on the government side in the division, but on 1 May, in what was probably a gesture of appeasement towards angry constituents, he voted for Milton’s motion to empower the committee to amend the tax. He supported receipt of the City petition the same day. He was satisfied with Castlereagh’s defence of the government’s negotiations with Naples, 2 May, but opposed the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment bill, 28, 29, 30 June, 3 July: to consent to it ‘would be to sacrifice the moral character of the House’. He supported the bill to exempt dissenters’ chapels from parochial rates, 1 and 16 June, but thought Wilberforce’s bill to prevent the illicit importation of slaves into British colonies, 13 June, would prove unacceptable to the colonial legislatures and advised Wilberforce to settle for inquiry into the practice, which he professed anxiety to stop.

Protheroe was willing to go into committee to consider the army estimates, 28 Feb. and 4 Mar. 1816, but condemned several items as extravagant, accused ministers of ignoring commercial distress and voted against details of the estimates, 6, 8 and 11 Mar. He remained in favour of the property tax as ‘a most judicious measure for the purpose of winding up the expenses of the war’, 26 Feb., and voted for its continuance, 18 Mar., later explaining, 4 Apr., that he had made this ‘great sacrifice of popularity to a sense of duty’ in the conviction that ministers ‘would feel more strongly the importance of attending to economy while disposing of money so hardly raised, than it was to be expected they would while they went on borrowing’. He opposed repeal of the leather tax, 9 May, but was listed among the minority in the division. He objected to the soap excise bill, 22 May, and the same day supported a Bristol West India merchants’ petition against the proposed registry of slaves, reminding the House that they had voluntarily abandoned the slave trade before its official abolition. He voted with government on the civil list, 6 and 24 May; but against them on public offices, 7 May; unconstitutional use of the militia, 13 May; the treasurership of Greenwich Hospital, 12 June, and clauses of the public revenues bill, 17 and 20 June 1816.

When Lord Cochrane presented a Bristol parliamentary reform petition, 29 Jan. 1817, Protheroe said it was unrepresentative of general sentiment in the city. He supported the suspension of habeas corpus, 28 Feb., because ‘in certain manufacturing districts the most extensive combinations existed, for the worst purposes, which were carried on with a degree of system, of method, and of caution, which the existing laws could not reach’. He voted against government on the composition of the finance committee, 7 Feb., and for Admiralty reductions, 25 Feb., but with them on the question of the Admiralty secretary’s salary, 17 Feb. He spoke against Tierney’s attack on the third secretaryship, 29 Apr., but the same day he voted for inquiry into the salt duties, and he was one of the minority who voted for Williams Wynn as Speaker, 2 June. On the reappointment of the secret committee on sedition, 5 June, he spoke and voted against its nomination by government, and he voted against the renewed suspension of habeas corpus, 23 and 27 June, when he explained that he had supported it in February out of genuine alarm, but had come to believe that the danger of insurrection had been exaggerated. He called for inquiry into and financial relief for the Newfoundland trade, 17 June and 3 July.

Protheroe, who on balance was hostile to Williams Wynn’s election bribery bill, 2 Mar. 1818, voted with government in defence of the use of spies, 5 Mar., and on 9 Mar. spoke in favour of the indemnity bill, notwithstanding his opposition to the renewed suspension of habeas corpus. In the same speech, he agreed with the attorney general that ‘revolution and anarchy’ would follow from universal suffrage and annual parliaments, but he professed a belief in the sincerity and respectability of some reformers, sentiments which he repeated when presenting Bristol reform petitions, 2 Apr. He voted for Admiralty economies, 16 Mar.; against the message concerning the ducal marriage grants, 13 Apr. (when he secured a call of the House for the 24th); and to reduce the provision for the Duke of Clarence, 15 Apr. He spoke and voted against the Duke of Kent’s grant, 15 May. The previous day he had voted for the ministerial proposal for a commission to inquire into the prevention of banknote forgeries in preference to the select committee sought by Mackintosh, but opposed extension of the inquiry to the bills and bonds of merchants. He supported the aliens bill, 15 May, and opposed Brougham’s motion for inquiry into the education of the poor, 3 June 1818.

In 1817 Protheroe brought in a bill to exempt coal carried on the Severn from the coastal duties, designed to wipe out the advantage enjoyed by the coal producers of Monmouthshire over those of the Forest of Dean, but at the request of government he did not press it that session. He reintroduced it in 1818, and on 6 Apr. wrote to Lord Liverpool seeking ministerial backing for it, but evidently had no success, for the measure made no further progress.5

At the dissolution in 1818 Protheroe was faced with an apparently formidable opposition at Bristol, where a number of his former supporters, including several prominent merchants, joined forces with the local ‘official’ Whigs to support Hugh Duncan Baillie, son of Protheroe’s predecessor in the seat. His support for the property tax had done him much harm, he was open to a general charge of having abandoned the Whig principles which he had professed in 1812 and the more radical elements accused him of reneging on his commitment to support reform. He initially announced his intention of retiring, with a declaration that he would never be a ‘decided party man’, and began to look elsewhere for a cheaper and less vexatious seat. He was eventually persuaded to stand by his brothers and a group of friends, though he apparently only committed himself to do so when Baillie’s own retirement was bruited, and stipulated that his brothers were not to contribute to the expenses of his election, which he understood was to be financed entirely by a subscription organized by his leading supporters. In the event, Baillie was also persuaded to stand his ground, but in the ensuing contest Protheroe comfortably beat him into third place, thanks in large measure to ministerialist second votes. He survived Baillie’s petition, but in March 1819, having received a bill from his committee for the cost of his victory celebrations and in consequence discovered that Philip had in fact paid the bulk of his general expenses, he announced in pique that he would resign at the next dissolution.6

Protheroe voted with opposition for inquiry into Bank restriction, 2 Feb. 1819, and to add Brougham to the Bank committee, 8 Feb. In the debate on the reappointment of the finance committee later the same day, he expressed the view that at the present time a check on paper circulation, a more propitious opportunity to execute which had been missed last year, would aggravate the country’s serious economic problems, but he was hopeful of recovery once the uncertainty over the currency had been removed. He was in the minority of ten on the Westminster hustings bill, 3 Feb., and on 17 Feb. secured the appointment of an inquiry into turnpikes, with a view to improving their regulation and repair. He spoke and voted against the proposed provision for the Duke of York in the Windsor establishment, 22 Feb. and 19 Mar., called for equalization of the coal duties, 26 Feb. and 2 Mar., and supported inquiry into the criminal laws, 2 Mar., repeal of the salt duties, 29 Apr., and of the duty on sea-borne coal, 20 May, when he advocated wholesale tax reform. On the other hand, he voted with government on the Wyndham Quin* affair, 29 Mar., and against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May. He was against them on the navy estimates, 2 June, and the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June, but in the debate on the budget, 9 June, welcomed the restoration of metallic currency and the provision of a real and effective sinking fund as steps towards the creation of ‘a sound and vigorous system of finance’. He voted for inquiry into charitable foundations, 23 June.

In the debate on the seizure of arms bill, 14 Dec. 1819, Protheroe explained that illness in his family had prevented him from attending the earlier debates on the government’s coercive measures. He believed in the existence of a ‘widely spread conspiracy for changing the constitution of the country’, perceived a decline in the morals and values of the manufacturing population, for which he was inclined to blame education, yet in the same breath stated the view that disaffection was confined to certain areas and that the night searches clause of the bill under discussion was ‘utterly inconsistent with freedom, and with the existence of civilized society’. He voted against it on that and the following day.

Protheroe stood down from Bristol at the dissolution of 1820. He tried to regain the seat in 1826, but was beaten at the poll. His son, who joined Brooks’s as Member for Evesham in 1828, contested Bristol unsuccessfully in 1830, was returned there the following year, but held the seat only until the dissolution of the last unreformed Parliament. In the 1820s Edward Protheroe began to expand his interests in the Forest of Dean coal and iron industries. His principal collieries, connected by railways to extensive iron works, were at Parkend and Bilson; and by 1841 he controlled or leased about 30 collieries and about ten iron mines.7 He died 24 Aug. 1856.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Trade of Bristol in 18th Cent. (Bristol Rec. Soc. xx), pp. xviii, 65; C. H. Cave, Hist. Banking in Bristol, 16, 126; PCC 793 Marriott.
  • 2. Caribbeana, ii. 169; Recs. Bristol Ships (Bristol Rec. Soc. xv), 37, 226, 238-9; R. Pares, West-India Fortune, 214; C. Hart, Industrial Hist. of Dean, 227-8.
  • 3. J. Williams, ‘Bristol in the General Elections of 1818 and 1820’, Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. lxxxvii (1968), 176-80.
  • 4. T.64/261; Grey mss.
  • 5. Add. 38271, ff. 99, 101.
  • 6. Williams, 179-92.
  • 7. Hart, 124-5, 127, 129, 149, 227-8, 268-9, 277.