WALPOLE, Hon. George (1758-1835), of 14 Queen Street, Mayfair, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 20 June 1758, 2nd s. of Horatio Walpole†, 2nd Baron Walpole of Wolterton, by Lady Rachel Cavendish, da. of William Cavendish†, 3rd Duke of Devonshire; bro. of Hon. Horatio Walpole*. educ. Eton 1769-76. unm.
Cornet, 12 Drag. 1777; lt. 9 Drag. 1780; capt. 12 Drag. 1781, 8 Drag. 1782; maj. 13 Drag. 1785, lt.-col. 1792; maj.-gen. W.I. 1795; col. (Jamaica) 1795; brevet col. 1796; ret. 1797; maj. commdt. Aylsham inf. vols. 1803-4
Under-sec. of state for Foreign affairs Feb. 1806-Mar. 1807; comptroller of cash, excise office 1833-d.
Walpole’s commitment to opposition politics was so indiscreet when he was serving with the army in Ireland in 1785 that the viceroy took credit to himself for not objecting to his military promotion.1 In 1795 he led the operation against the maroon insurgents in Jamaica, and, in making a truce with them, pledged himself to prevent their banishment. The truce was not strictly observed by them and the Jamaican assembly, despite Walpole’s protests, transported the offenders to Nova Scotia. He thereupon refused a gift awarded him by the assembly in such terms that they expunged his letter from their minutes. The episode blighted his military career.
His cousin the 5th Duke of Devonshire came to his rescue and returned him for Derby on a vacancy. He made a spirited debut in the House when he seconded Fox’s motion for an inquiry into the stoppage of Bank payments, 1 Mar. 1797, blaming ministers outright and outrageously imploring his old acquaintance the secretary at war, Windham, to return to the Whig fold. On 6 Apr. 1797, having established that government had no intention of removing the maroon exiles from Nova Scotia, he threatened to expose the breach of faith with them which he was convinced had taken place. Meanwhile he voted for parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797, and on 4 Jan. 1798 attacked the assessed taxes in a bantering manner. On 14 Feb. 1798 he claimed that he had waived the cause of the maroons last session for ministerial convenience, but met with obstructive tactics when on 5 Mar. he drew the House’s attention to the maroons’ petition which he had presented to the Duke of Portland. Ministers first claimed it had been lost and, when Walpole produced a copy, found it inadmissible evidence; but he went ahead with his campaign. It was not until 1 May 1798 that he was granted a hearing and then he was no match for ministers joined by the agent for Jamaica. A bare quorum of the House rejected his case by 35 votes to 5.2
George Tierney had come to Walpole’s defence in the debate and Walpole returned the compliment by seconding Tierney’s motion on home defence, 8 May 1798, and acting as his second in his duel with Pitt on 27 May. On 22 June he objected to the exclusion of strangers from the debate on the Irish revolt, in which he was an opposition spokesman, and on 27 June had his revenge by threatening to clear the gallery when George Rose moved a grant of £240 to the indexer of the Commons Journals. On 21 Nov. 1798 he embarrassed ministers in seconding the grant of a pension to Admiral Nelson by suggesting a peerage for him. He was a solitary opponent of the passage of the bill against seditious societies, 9 May 1799, and (as he had previously informed the secretary at war privately)3 objected to the transfer of militia to the regular army, 12 June. He was admitted to Brooks’s, 21 May 1799, returned to the House in April 1800 to object to the Irish union proposals and thereafter attended steadily. On 2 Dec. 1800 he suggested a reserve of unmounted men for cavalry regiments and on 16 Feb. 1801 pointed out the evils of recruitment by bounty. He obtained on a 2 Mar. an account of Irish Members holding pensions or places, to be prepared by the officers of the House and not by a Members’ committee as ministers and the Speaker preferred. On 15 Apr. he attempted to obstruct the seditious meetings bill. He objected to the establishment of a military college as unconstitutional, 10 June 1801.
Walpole adhered to the Foxite line during Addington’s ministry and, although he ceased to be active in debate, he helped Robert Adair muster attendance in the spring of 1804 for an onslaught on government. He also voted steadily in opposition to Pitt’s second ministry. When his friends came to power in 1806, the Duchess of Devonshire informed her son of his metamorphosis: ‘General Walpole your little skipping cousin, a great man, under-secretary of state to Mr Fox’. As Fox did not observe the clock, his office was ‘very laborious’, but did not call for his voice in debate: his only speech that session was in favour of Windham’s military plan, 17 Apr. 1806. Windham seems to have been prepared to consider employing Walpole as his under-secretary, but there was some doubt about his remaining in Parliament: Windham thought he might consider going to the Cape as deputy governor or secretary, under his patronage. It was clear, however, that Walpole required a permanent source of income and nothing was then done for him. In September Lady Bessborough observed wrily that six months in office had enlightened Walpole:
Buonaparte is no longer his hero; he can believe that there may be something wrong in the government of France, and that all its faults and errors do not arise from the misconduct of the English ministers and that one may, without hypocrisy or shabbiness believe in a report of good news, and wish success to our allies.
At the general election of 1806 his seat for Derby was required for another member of the family and it was only at the last minute that he was sent to Dungarvan as the Duke of Devonshire’s candidate against the Beresford interest. He obtained government support, despite Lord Grenville’s wish not to alienate the Beresfords. They proved hostile and on 13 Feb. 1807 he applied successfully for the patronage of the borough, for which he sat until 1820.4
When Lord Grenville was about to quit office, Walpole wrote to him, 20 Mar. 1807, promising to join him in opposition and asking him for a keepsake place compatible with Parliament: a forlorn hope. Had Fox’s successor at the Foreign Office, Lord Howick, overcome a scruple about granting Walpole the reversion of the patent sinecure of clerk of the signet (£300 p.a.), it would have been his a few months later, the holder of it having died. He was absent on Brand’s motion, 9 Apr., but voted steadily with the orthodox opposition in the Parliament of 1807, apart from absences in March 1809, April and May 1810 and in the spring of 1811. He said only a few words (30 May 1809) throughout. He could be relied on to support Catholic relief. In 1812 there was some talk of inducing him to give up his seat to Tierney, who had not found one, but Tierney was the first to reject the proposal. He informed Lord Grey, 17 Sept. 1812:
I should, from the recollection of a service he once rendered to me, feel particularly hurt by being directly or indirectly the cause of his having even a moment’s mortification, and, however inconvenient to him attendance in the House of Commons may be, I am persuaded he would, and with reason, be mortified to find himself out of Parliament. So far from thinking a seat a matter of indifference to him, I should say that he was just that description of person on whom, especially in the country where he resides, it confers a certain degree of importance, and one which is more gratifying in proportion as other prospects become clouded.
It was supposed that Walpole needed parliamentary immunity from his creditors.5
He remained a Whig stalwart until his retirement in 1820, though he is known to have spoken only four times in debate after 1812, notably against the colonial military establishment, 12 May 1817, and for the amendment against the marriage grants to the royal dukes, 13 Apr. 1818. He signed the requisition to Tierney to lead the party in 1818 and in the ensuing Parliament voted for burgh reform and against repressive legislation until 13 Dec. 1819. He was still ‘unfortunate’, his sureties to Lord Ponsonby’s creditors obliging him to contemplate going abroad in February 1819, but the 6th Duke of Devonshire helped him out.6 He was pointedly excluded from the Norfolk magistracy that year, as his sponsor, Coke of Holkham, complained in the House, 7 Dec. Walpole died in May 1835.