WILKINS, Walter (1741-1828), of Maesllwch, Rad. and Wallsworth Hall, Glos.
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Family and Education
b. 14 or 15 Nov. 1741, 2nd s. of John Wilkins, attorney, of The Priory, Brecon by Sybil, da. of Walter Jeffreys of Llywel, Brec. educ. Christ Coll. Brecon; Winchester 1754-8; Reeves’s acad., Bishopsgate Street, London 1758. m. 24 Feb. 1777, Catherine, da. and h. of Samuel Hayward of Wallsworth Hall, 1s. 1da.
Writer E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1758; resident, Lakhipur by 1768; sen. merchant and gov. Chittagong 1771; member, supreme council 1772; res. 1772.
Sheriff, Rad. 1774-5, Brec. 1778-9; lt.-col. commdt. Rad. vols. 1803; lt.-col. E. Brecon militia 1809.
Wilkins owed his nomination for the East India Company civil service in 1758 to Lord Camden, to whom his mother was related. After a prosperous career in India, he came home in 1772 and purchased the Maesllwch estate in Radnorshire. His marriage brought him a Gloucestershire estate.1 In 1780 he stood for Radnorshire against Thomas Johnes* and, although the latter was elected, Wilkins claimed the majority of the resident free-holders. He then bided his time until 1796, when he offered again and secured Johnes’s retirement in his favour. He survived with ease a contest in 1802, as well as a petition that ensued alleging treating, and retained the seat for life. Yet he was not sure of it: to quote a Montgomeryshire correspondent (whose letter is undated):
as Member for Radnorshire he is under the necessity of paying much more court to his constituents than the voters of this side the hill are accustomed to receive from their representatives. Radnorshire from the peculiar division of its property must always be a contentious county: at present Wilkins’s wealth gives him an ascendancy, but notwithstanding there is no one who can so well support the expense of a contest as himself, still it is an event which he looks for every election.2
Independence (as well as residence) was Wilkins’s platform in 1796 and he was as good as his word, though he seems never to have figured in parliamentary debates. On 28 Feb. 1797 he joined the minority on the order in council and on 10 May likewise in protest against the delay in seamen’s pay that provoked mutiny. He voted for parliamentary reform on Grey’s motion, 26 May 1797. He voted against Pitt’s assessed taxes, 4 Jan. 1798, and three times against the land tax redemption plan, 9 and 18 May. On 2 Feb. 1801 he was in the minority critical of the address. In his election address of 20 July 1802, he promised continued independence, which involved opposing every measure that encroached on ‘the just liberties of the people’ within ‘our present happy form of government’.3 Listed Addingtonian in May 1804, he seems not to have voted against Addington, though he was in the minority for inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s finances, 4 Mar. 1803. He appeared against Pitt’s additional force bill in June 1804. The Treasury did not know what to make of him in September 1804, listing him initially ‘Fox and Grenville’, then ‘Pitt’, but in July 1805, ‘doubtful Pitt’.
Wilkins did not oppose the Grenville ministry and, although he did not vote on the question of their dismissal, remained independent of the Portland government.4 On 15 and 17 Mar. 1809 he was in the minorities critical of the Duke of York. The Whigs counted him (under the name of ‘Walter Williams’) as one of their supporters in March 1810 and he certainly voted against ministers on the Scheldt question, 5 and 30 March. He was supposed to have rallied to ministers in favour of an adjournment during the King’s illness, 29 Nov. 1810,5 but the Morning Chronicle stated that he voted with the Whigs on the second division and he was in their majority on the Regency proposals, 1 Jan. 1811. He voted against John McMahon’s sinecure, 24 Feb. 1812, as well as against his Regency appointment, 14 Apr., and in favour of Turton’s censure motion, 27 Feb., as also against the orders in council, 3 Mar. On 24 Apr. 1812 he voted for Catholic relief. He did so again on 2 Mar., 20 May, 24 May 1813 (by pair), 30 May 1815 and 9 May 1817.
In the Parliament of 1812, Wilkins was in more pronounced opposition. He voted against the Corn Law revision, against the renewal of war in 1815, against the renewal of the property tax in 1815 and 1816 and steadily for retrenchment. He voted against the suspension of civil liberties in February 1817, as well as a year later. In his election address, 1 June 1818, he boasted that in 20 years he had
never given any vote in favour of measures that tended to protract the miseries of war, to increase the public burdens, to abridge the rights and liberties of my fellow countrymen or to deprive those who have complained of being slandered or oppressed of the means of justification and redress.6
On 3 June he voted for Brougham’s motion to promote popular education.
In the ensuing Parliament Wilkins was even steadier in his opposition. He voted for Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May 1819, and against repressive legislation in November and December. His votes were also favourable to parliamentary and criminal law reform and against state lotteries. He died 17 Mar. 1828.