WELLESLEY POLE, Hon. William (1763-1845), of Ballyfin, Queen's Co.

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



1790 - Mar. 1795
28 Dec. 1801 - 17 July 1821

Family and Education

b. 20 May 1763, 2nd s. of Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington [I], and bro. of Sir Arthur Wellesley*, Hon. Henry Wellesley* and Richard Colley Wellesley*, Richard Colley Wellesley, 2nd Earl of Mornington [I]*. educ. Eton 1774-6. m. 17 May 1784, Katherine Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Hon. John Forbes, MP [I], 2nd s. of George, 3rd Earl of Granard [I], 1s. 3da. suc. cos. William Pole 1781 and took additional name of Pole; bro. Richard as 3rd Earl of Mornington [I] 26 Sept. 1842; cr. Baron Maryborough [UK] 17 July 1821; GCH 1830.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1783-90.

Midshipman RN 1778-82.

Clerk of Ordnance July 1802-Feb. 1806, Mar.-July 1807; sec. to Admiralty June 1807-1809; PC [I] 24 Oct. 1809, [GB] 18 Dec. 1809; chief sec. to ld. lt. [I] Oct. 1809-1812; commr. of Treasury [I] Aug. 1810-1811, [GB] Jan.-June 1812, Nov.-Dec. 1834; chancellor of exchequer [I] July 1811-1812; master of Mint Sept. 1814-1823; master of the buckhounds Sept. 1823-1830; postmaster-gen. Dec. 1834-1835.

Gov. Queen’s Co. 1784, custos rot. 1823; capt. Deal Castle 1838-43.

Capt. Ballyfin inf. 1796, Mdx. yeomanry 1803.


At Eton, Wellesley was a ‘sound scholar’, but not as brilliant as his elder brother Richard. After four years in the navy, having assumed the name of Wellesley Pole, he sat in the Irish parliament of 1783 for the family borough of Trim, supporting government. In 1790, through his elder brother’s friendship with Pitt, he stood on the government interest at Grimsby, with secret service assistance, but was unsuccessful. He was returned to Westminster instead for East Looe, on the Buller interest, again at the instigation of government. He gave them a silent support. In 1791 he was listed among opponents of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. On 27 Oct. 1793 his elder brother wrote of him to Pitt:

He is grown tired of leading an idle life, and would be very happy to be employed in any way that would give him constant occupation. He says he is perfectly indifferent about remaining in Parliament, and that his seat there is at your disposal; he also says that emolument is not his object—so little his object, that he would be glad to be employed without any salary at all rather than remain idle. He is sensible that he has no sort of claim upon you, but he thought perhaps that his seat in Parliament might be useful to you, and facilitate some arrangement for him. His great ambition is to labour under you, Grenville, or Dundas.

Nothing came of this, and on 1 Jan. 1795 Pole wrote to Pitt applying for the Chiltern Hundreds:

Having been returned to Parliament through your influence, I consider my seat as held in trust for you; and I now resign it, having used it—I hope—according to your wishes, and certainly in conformity to my own feelings, and sentiments.

The newspapers reported that Pole retired ‘as he disapproves of the war ... He did not think himself at liberty to vote against the minister as he had received his seat from him.’ Pole had informed Pitt that it was

unnecessary for me to declare the motives which induce me to take this step: all I am anxious about is, to act honourably towards you: and to retire in the manner you think the least likely to cause embarrassment or difficulty to your administration.

Pitt concurred, asking only for a convenient delay, and Pole went out of Parliament in March 1795.1

Pole, who acted as manager of family affairs during his elder brother’s absence in India, was stirred to political activity for the first time by the proposed union with Ireland, which he opposed, largely because ‘we Protestants of Ireland must have been laid at the feet of the Catholics’, as he subsequently informed his brother. That apart, however, he had in mind a seat for the Queen’s County, and ‘weary of idleness’ and convinced of ‘the folly of not joining some party or other, and giving up my particular opinions to some general system of politics’, he asked Speaker Addington to apply to Pitt on his behalf for office. ‘A train of unlucky circumstances’ prevented this, but on the Speaker’s becoming premier in 1801, Pole offered to serve under him, on the understanding that Pitt supported his administration. Addington held out hopes to Pole, but nothing came of them then. Not surprisingly the Board of Control was mentioned and, failing that, an under-secretaryship to Pelham at the Home Office or an equivalent.2

Pole consoled himself by securing conditional support from government for his candidature for the Queen’s County in September 1801, with the promise of the first vacant Irish seat before the dissolution. As it happened, he came in for the county unopposed and with government’s blessing on the death of one of the sitting Members, Sir John Parnell, in December 1801, and prepared ‘to take an active part in Parliament’. While the Irish government were disappointed at Pole’s partiality for the ‘old anti-Union connection’ with Parnell’s son Henry, which led to his refusal to coalesce with General Coote, the friend of government, in the further Queen’s County by-election of April 1802, they could not fault his parliamentary conduct. On 7 May he seconded the amendment against the retrospective censure of Pitt’s administration. On 13 May he seconded Hawkesbury’s amendment in favour of the peace settlement, specifically congratulating ‘the late minister’ on the extinction of ‘Jacobinical principles’ in Ireland, and he was one of the two former anti-Unionists who refused to be influenced by John Foster’s tirade against the Union at that juncture. In June 1802 he was rewarded with the office of clerk of the Ordnance under Lord Chatham and, as he was the only member of the board in the Commons, the presentation of the Ordnance estimates devolved on him. He estimated his salary at £1,200 p.a.3

Pole was spared an embarrassing and possibly expensive contest for his county seat, thanks to the retirement of his colleague Parnell before the poll in 1802. He then took little part in parliamentary debate, apart from an intervention on behalf of his brother in the East India debate, 29 July, and on behalf of the Ordnance department, 5 Dec. 1803, when he denied that the Dublin military were short of ammunition at the time of Emmet’s rising. He remained in office during Pitt’s second ministry, but otherwise intervened in debate only in defence of his brothers in India in June 1805. He had voted against Catholic claims on 14 May. He went out in February 1806 and appeared in the minorities against the Grenville ministry, 3 Mar., 30 Apr. 1806, but apart from some suggestions to amend the Ordnance treasurer’s bill, 24 Mar., he again spoke only in defence of the Marquess Wellesley’s conduct in India. Government were embarrassed: not wishing Pole to become a resolute opponent, they nevertheless overlooked him for minor Irish office. On his brother’s return from India, Pole, while disillusioned with Lord Grenville’s alliance with the Foxites, expressed his wish to act under him in politics, though it would be ‘folly to commit myself during the present state of politics’. His conduct remained uncertain, therefore, but when in December 1806 Grenville considered strengthening his government, he was prepared to offer Pole the secretaryship to the Admiralty, a post he subsequently assured his brother Pole was ‘eminently qualified’ for, being ‘one of the most efficient men that ever filled the station he held at the Ordnance’. Canning also commended Pole in his negotiation for a merger with Grenville in March 1807.4

Pole resumed his Ordnance office under the Portland ministry in 1807, having at once supported them, and was soon transferred to the secretaryship of the Admiralty. The defence of naval measures now extended his range of debate, though he continued to defend the Ordnance estimates and to support his brothers when their conduct or rewards were challenged, even if he privately disagreed with their actions. His brother Arthur being chief secretary in Ireland, he was not a little put out to discover that Arthur would not do his Queen’s County jobs for him, exclaiming, ‘Mr Pole is not the government, he does not guide my sentiments’. But during Arthur’s absence on active service, a degree of Irish responsibility accidentally devolved on Pole which made him an irresistible choice as Arthur’s successor in that office. At the same time he was credited with the instigation of Arthur’s peerage. At the Admiralty he had been ‘admirable from his energy and knowledge of business’ and, so Robert Ward alleged, 31 Oct. 1807, ‘has done more for the Board in three weeks than ten years had done before’. On 2 Oct. 1809 Lord Liverpool recommended Pole, who had no sympathy for Canning’s rupture with the ministry, to the Irish viceroy as ‘an excellent man of business’, and an experienced debater, and the Duke of Richmond’s only quibble was: ‘his temper is rather too warm and he would try to do jobs for the Queens County. The first I can’t get the better of; the latter I can.’ when this was settled, Pole had the additional ‘supreme happiness’ of shepherding his elder brother into the cabinet, though he was thereby the cause, unwittingly as he maintained, of bad blood between Perceval and Canning, when the latter, who was disappointed that Pole did not follow his line, made no secret of the fact that he regarded Wellesley as Perceval’s dupe.5

Pole was pessimistic about the prospects for Perceval’s ministry in the spring of 1810 and clearly wished Lord Wellesley to be premier and Canning in office; whereas Perceval, he maintained, had no real wish to extend the government and was therefore the chief obstacle to a stronger administration. Nevertheless, he was committed to Perceval and opposed radical agitation and sinecure, criminal law and parliamentary reform, Irish tithe reform and Catholic relief. On 13 Dec. 1810 he was appointed to the committee to examine the royal physicians, and although he expected the Regent to change his ministers, was outraged at any suggestion of his own desertion.6

As chief secretary, although he had advocated a relaxation of coercion in Ireland in 1810, he was ‘not conciliatory’, so the viceroy conceded, and when on 12 Feb. 1811 he issued, without consulting London, a circular to magistrates prohibiting the Catholic committee from proceeding to elect a convention in Ireland, and on 26 Feb. made a bid to break up a meeting of the committee, there was a storm of protest from opposition in Parliament, and Pole received ‘a gentle check’ from his colleagues. He returned to England ‘with his tail between his legs’, but contrived to gloss over his conduct in debate on a Whig censure motion lost by 133 votes to 48, 7 Mar. 1811: opposition lost heart when they saw that they could arraign only Pole, and Perceval let him defend himself as best he could. Subsequently Pole proceeded against the Catholics by proclamation, this time with Perceval’s advice and the Regent’s approbation. He also overcame Perceval’s reluctance to try the ‘experiment’ of amalgamating the Irish exchequer, which had become too independent under the aegis of John Foster*, with the chief secretary’s office as from the end of the session of 1811. This, for which he accepted no additional salary beyond the fees of the exchequer, was, in his view, a decisive step towards restoring the Castle’s authority in Ireland, though the experiment ended with him. Meanwhile, according to an Irish correspondent of Samuel Whitbread’s, 5 Nov. 1811:

Mr Pole is effecting a number of unostentatious and silent, yet signal and salutary reforms in all the public departments. He is cleansing with a sober and well regulated zeal and ability the Augean aggregate of Irish abuses. He is doing much good in the best way.7

On 31 Dec. 1811 Pole submitted a memorandum on the Irish Catholic demands to the Home Office, calling for a decision. The viceroy and Pole’s successor as chief secretary, Peel, subsequently analysed this and found it tended to reject Catholic claims, but at the time it was ignored. In his reply to Morpeth’s motion on Ireland, 3 Feb. 1812, Pole maintained his stand against the Catholic committee. He was weary of Ireland: ‘he received letters threatening his life every day ... signed Pat Pikeman, Kit Killman, and Sam Shootman, true to the last as to Irish humour’. He had no sympathy with Lord Wellesley in his quarrel with the cabinet, over which he had not been consulted, and neither he nor his brother Arthur intended to resign with Wellesley in January 1812; he hoped to be moved to the Admiralty in place of Charles Yorke, with a seat in the cabinet. The Regent objected to this in view of Lord Wellesley’s exclusion and Perceval wished to offer it to Lord Melville, but finding that Pole would not stay in Ireland if the Duke of Richmond left it—which he wished to do—held out a promise. He would remember that the Admiralty was Pole’s ‘ultimate object’; and, after stressing that he wished to have Pole in the cabinet without efficient office to assist in debate, offered him the treasurership of the navy at the end of the session, when the vacation of the Home Office by Ryder might facilitate a re-shuffle. Pole was disappointed at not being offered the Home Office, but it was reserved for one of Lord Sidmouth’s friends. He was also disappointed to gather from Perceval that, despite rumours in the press and hints that public opinion favoured it, he had never been considered for the Admiralty, which the minister regarded as too high an office for a cabinet novice. Pole’s being recalled to office in England nevertheless depended on a ‘contingency’, as Perceval admitted, and the matter was resolved by Perceval’s death. On that occasion Pole tartly informed the viceroy that, not being in the cabinet, he had preferred to vote for provision for Perceval’s heir male, rather than for his family, as the cabinet resolved.8

On 19 May 1812 Pole asserted his independence by refusing to serve Lord Liverpool at the War Office, owing to the failure of the negotiation with Lord Wellesley and Canning, which he regarded as heralding ‘external exclusion to the Catholics’. He admitted that this conclusion might seem startling, as he was regarded in Ireland as ‘the greatest bigot of them all’, but explained that, though he had remained staunch to Perceval, he had not shared his views on the question. Nor could he accept ‘the fallacy of this reasoning’ when Liverpool assured him that Lord Wellington ‘placed more confidence in me than any of his brothers, and that my going to the war department would be a pledge of carrying on the war with vigour, and .... would give general satisfaction’. All he was prepared to concede was that he would remain where he was for the time being, but this was unacceptable. He was about to change his mind and accept the War Office when the details of Liverpool’s negotiations with his brother convinced him that the latter had been cavalierly treated and that to take office would be ‘an eternal breach ... between me and my brother’. He accordingly resigned, 21 May 1812, before the division on Stuart Wortley’s motion, which he voted against, having agreed to remain in office until the end of the session. The viceroy deprecated Pole’s decision, which they continued to argue about while negotiations for a new administration were under way.9

Pole evidently had no objection to the War Office in an administration projected by Lord Moira in which Lord Wellesley and Canning were included, and he was one of Moira’s most eager advisers; but on the failure of Moira and the restoration of Lord Liverpool he refused another offer, this time by Lord Bathurst, to open the War Office to him, on the grounds that he was now committed to his brother’s politics and wished only to get the remaining Irish business off his hands. The viceroy commented that ministers had lost Pole by the ‘folly and vanity of his brother’, who would not be subordinate. Arbuthnot agreed that Pole was ‘irrevocably lost’. This seemed confirmed by his speech in favour of Canning’s pro-Catholic motion of 22 June 1812, which pained the viceroy and led to further embarrassing correspondence between them. Pole maintained that the time was now ripe for sympathetic consideration of the Catholic claims and ridiculed the viceroy’s insinuation that he was one of those Irish Members who turned pro-Catholic to save their seats. Both Arbuthnot, who regarded himself as Pole’s only remaining friend in office, and Canning, in his negotiations with Liverpool that summer, tried to get office for Pole: in July the War Office, which Lord Bathurst now vetoed, and subsequently the treasurership of the navy and vice-presidency of the Board of Control, with a place in the cabinet. To Pole’s disappointment, the negotiations failed. Meanwhile, he had wound up his Irish business having, as usual, so he wrily informed the viceroy, had to shift for himself in debate.10

Pole was now expected to drift into opposition. Canning had to restrain his partisan zeal in that direction, which could only eliminate them as a political force if it led to ‘regular opposition’. Pole’s younger brother, Wellington, was also anxious to prevent an irrevocable break between Pole and the ministry and secured Liverpool’s admission that he regretted the train of events that had excluded Pole from office. Pole’s hostility in debate to the Irish government in the session of 1813 did not improve his prospects. On 1 Mar. 1813, in his speech in favour of Catholic relief, which he supported throughout the session, he had justified himself by reference to his previously mentioned memorandum of 31 Dec. 1811, which the Castle exhumed and alleged would not bear any interpretation of consistency. The viceroy could find no excuse for Pole: ‘it was generally known that had Mr Perceval lived you would have opposed Canning’s motion’. Pole, who was also critical in debate on Irish education, the Irish budget and the suppression of illicit distillation by collective fine, which he had suspended while in office, was now faced with a potential ‘Protestant’ opponent in the Queen’s County, Lord Henry Moore*, and the Castle was disinclined to recognize his established claim to the custody of the county on Lord Drogheda’s death.11

It was at Pole’s instigation that Canning dissolved his party connexion, with Lord Wellesley’s concurrence, in July 1813. Canning found that Pole ‘avowed an anxiety to open a communication with the government’. Pole’s ‘reconciliation with the Household’ was attributed to his having been called on by the Regent to organize the fête for his victorious brother Wellington and the army. Canning, not wishing ‘to stand in anyone’s way’, emancipated everybody. Pole hastened to inform Liverpool, who received the news civilly but coolly and offered nothing, even when Pole officiously hinted that Canning no longer insisted on precedence in the House of Commons as a sine qua non of office. Pole’s manoeuvre was therefore a failure, and it was to his brother Wellington’s prestige rather than to Canning, who disliked his tactics, and not at all to Lord Wellesley, that he remained in the running for office. He now took no part in the House until, at Wellington’s ‘most earnest desire’, he was included in the government reshuffle of July 1814, as master of the Mint, with a seat in the cabinet. Canning, who obtained offices for his protégés at the same time, disclaimed any credit for this and Pole made the same point in debate when taxed with it. The treasurership of the navy had been mentioned for him, but George Rose would not give it up. Despite some grumbling at the prodigal’s return, Pole soon re-established himself by trouncing the opposition in debate, and Chief Secretary Peel, no friend of Pole’s, commented ‘He was short sighted who wrote the epitaph

Here lies W.W.
Who never more will trouble you, trouble you’.

But he noted that in Dublin ‘Pole is the theme of universal ridicule. All his choice sayings are stored up and repeated with malicious accuracy.’ He was also chaffed in the House by the Whigs, who regarded him as a self-important busybody and self-constituted spokesman for the cabinet. His speeches, not confined to Mint business, though he was involved in the issue of new coinage with his initials on it, were now wide-ranging, thanks mainly to his anxiety to vindicate his brother Wellington and the triumphant conclusion of the war. He had been a member of the select committee on the corn trade appointed in March 1813 and was a champion of the corn bill, 8 Mar. 1815. He remained a friend to the consideration of Catholic claims. In 1816 he was particularly active in debate in defence of the military estimates. Although Lord Henry Moore ceased to threaten him in the Queen’s County, another more disturbing challenge ruffled his ‘nervous temper’ in 1816, when Sir Charles Coote offered as a friend of government, upsetting Pole’s established alliance with a political opponent, Parnell. Having failed to fob Coote off with an unsuccessful bid for an Irish peerage for him, Pole hit on the expedient of applying for a United Kingdom barony for himself, 17 Apr. 1817, but Liverpool could not oblige.12

Pole was vexed at the premier’s ‘total neglect’ of him, and although he headed the poll at the election of 1818 could ill afford further contests. He played little part in the Parliament of 1818, though he succeeded in his bid (29 Jan. 1819) to talk himself into the Bank committee, and endorsed its report, 24 May. The repetition of the contest for Queen’s County in 1820, though he survived it, made him determined to obtain a peerage to relieve the situation. With it, his political fortunes waned. He had already written off the Liverpool administration before it sent him ‘to the dogs’ in 1823: Liverpool, as premier, was ‘totally ignorant of the arts of party government’. As for government control over finance and the House of Commons, he remarked: ‘we shall do very well if we can but keep Brighton in order’.13 He died 22 Feb. 1845.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 426; W. M. Torrens, Wellesley, 71; PRO 30/8/168, f. 13; 188, f. 58; 195, f. 122; Bristol Jnl. 17 Jan. 1795.
  • 2. Add. 37308, ff. 325, 344; 37416, f. 74.
  • 3. Sidmouth mss, Abbot to Addington, 19 Sept., Pole to same, 27 Sept., 9 Dec.; PRO 30/9/1, pt. 2/1, Addington to Abbot, 5 Dec., reply 9 Dec. 1801; Add. 35713, ff. 46, 48, 92; 35731, f. 329; 35771, f. 225; 37308, ff. 359, 361.
  • 4. NLS mss 12914, Grenville to Elliot, 1 Apr. 1806; Add. 37309, f. 148; 41852, ff. 277, 279; HMC Fortescue, viii. 206, 415; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 7 Mar. 1807.
  • 5. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 254-6; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 319, 345, 367; NLI, Richmond mss 65/795, 796; 72/1517, 73/1643; Colchester, ii. 234; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 31 Oct. 1807; Perceval (Holland) mss 2, f. 17; 3, ff. 4, 8; Add. 38243, f. 147; 38737, f. 333; Grey mss, Lauderdale to Grey [9 Nov. 1809]; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 251.
  • 6. Richmond mss 73/1649, 1685, 1687, 1710, 1718; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 22 Dec. 1810.