YOUNG, Sir William, 2nd Bt. (1749-1815), of Delaford Park, Bucks.

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



19 June 1784 - 1806
1806 - Mar. 1807

Family and Education

b. 30 Nov. 1749,1 1st s. of Sir William Young, 1st Bt., of Delaford, lt.-gov. Dominica and Tobago, by 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. of Dr Brook Taylor of Bifrons, Kent.2 educ. Eton 1758-67; Clare, Camb. 1768; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1768; L. Inn 1767; Orleans 1770; Grand Tour 1770-4. m. (1) 12 Aug. 1777, Sarah (d. 6 Jan. 1791), da. and coh. of Charles Lawrence of Red Lion Square, Mdx., 4s. 2da.; (2) 22 Apr. 1793, Barbara, da. of Richard Talbot of Malahide Castle, co. Dublin, s.p. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 8 Apr. 1788.

Offices Held

Agent, St. Vincent 1795-1802.

Gov. Tobago Feb. 1807-d.

Capt. Bucks. yeoman cav. 1795; Mid. Bucks. 1803, maj. 1804.


Young, who in 1788 inherited an encumbered estate, continued to sit on the interest of his friend the Marquess of Buckingham3 and to give an independent support to Pitt’s administration. He was a regular speaker in the House on a variety of subjects but, as a West India proprietor with 1,300 slaves and agent for St. Vincent, was most prominent as the leading opponent of Wilberforce’s campaign for the abolition of the slave trade. His first notable speech in this period was in favour of the postponement of this subject, 10 Dec. 1790. He brought up a remonstrance in the same sense from the Grenada assembly, 7 Apr. 1791, and on 19 Apr. delivered a long speech denouncing abolition as a sacrifice of ‘a considerable portion of British commerce and an ultimate surrender of the British colonies’. Asking whether Pontius Pilate was innocent because he washed his hands, Young denied that Africa provided a suitable alternative field for commercial endeavour, emphasized the futility of unilateral abolition by Britain while other nations were prepared to continue the slave trade, and claimed that, though a gradual end of the trade was desirable, immediate abolition would mean oppression and misery for slaves and masters, as the former were too few in number to cultivate the land and the latter, already largely indebted, would have no security for their property. This speech was published as the answer to the abolitionists’ case and Young regarded himself as being on ‘the side of true humanity’.

Although Young professed doubts as to the commercial future of Africa, he was a member (and later secretary) of the Africa Association and a keen student of the literature of African travel.4 On 30 May 1791 he defended the Sierra Leone bill as a ‘praiseworthy experiment’, though he added that he was ‘no friend to monopolies and he was employing a part of his fortune in endeavouring to break up one monopoly: he meant the Hudson’s Bay Company’: he therefore suggested an amendment. A month before, however, he had been listed among opponents of the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. He was also interested in foreign policy and defended government in the debates on the convention with Spain, 13, 14 Dec. 1790, and on Pitt’s Russian policy, 12 Apr. 1791. He opposed the continuation of the trial of Warren Hastings, 17 Dec. 1790 and 11 Feb. 1793, and wished to see impeachments regulated by statute.

On 30 Oct. 1791 Young, who had been bereft of a much-loved wife,5 sailed for the West Indies, apparently his first visit to his estates on St. Vincent, Antigua and Tobago, which were managed for him by his brother-in-law. Bryan Edwards* subsequently published Young’s journal of his tour:6 he was impressed by the loyalty, dignity and gaiety of the negroes, investigated slaving ships, dismissed an unpopular factor and came away, 8 May 1792, feeling that the negroes were ‘treated as favourite children’. On his return, Wilberforce went to see him, 31 July, but ‘the visit did not turn out to answer any good purpose’, according to Wilberforce’s diary:

Sir William very friendly ... talked of slave trade ... speaks highly of the Moravians and their operations. He himself preached to his slaves on the Ten Commandments, etc. His adherence to his own principles is highly honourable to him.

It appears that Wilberforce gave far more credit to Young than did some of his more heated abolitionist friends, who freely charged Young with ‘insincerity’.7

On 15 Dec. 1792 Young opposed Fox’s motion for negotiations with revolutionary France; though he ‘would never receive place or office under any administration whatever’, he was fully inclined to support government as best he could in defence of the country, especially as there were ‘incendiaries’ at home making trouble. He produced two pamphlets in 1793, favourably comparing the British constitution with that of ‘a democratic republic’: The rights of Englishmen was an answer to Tom Paine’s Rights of Man and was described as being by the author of the History of the Republic of Athens’, which Young had produced in 1786. The second pamphlet, The British Constitution, went into a second edition in a few months. On 26 Feb. 1793, Young led the opposition to Wilberforce’s motion against the slave trade, giving the House the benefit of his observations in the West Indies: his amendment was carried. (The two men clashed again in May on the subject.) He opposed parliamentary reform, which, he thought, would give ‘the commercial influence’ the upper hand, 7 May.

Young defended the military expeditions to the West Indies, 3 Feb. 1794. On 7 Feb. he opposed the motion on slave trade prevention and had an altercation with Whitbread about the practicability of abolition. He presented a petition from West India merchants against abolition on 25 Feb., emphasizing their fears of insurrection on the islands. He came to the assistance of government in defending the unsuccessful continental expeditions, 10 Apr., and upbraided opposition for their attack on the bill for taking French protestants into British service, 14 Apr. He thought the bill against conspiracy necessary to deal with ‘dangerous and desperate characters’, 17 May. He was called to order, 22 Jan. 1795, when he made personal criticisms of Sir John Jervis and Sir Charles Grey, the commanders of the West Indian expedition. Four days later he seconded Pitt’s amendment to the opposition motion for negotiations with France.

Young, together with (Sir) Robert Buxton* and Thomas Powys*, had been for several years an advocate of Poor Law reform: they were given leave on 9 Feb. 1795 to bring in a bill to reform the statute of 1736 forbidding poor relief outside the workhouse: Young claimed that the present hardship made relief at home desirable for the industrious poor. He shepherded the bill as far as the committee stage, when it was postponed, 9 Dec. 1795, and afterwards wrote a pamphlet against workhouses. Having previously supported them, he opposed the proclamations made by Jervis and Grey in the West Indies, 2 June 1795, ‘in the teeth of the law of nations’. He was averse to a discussion of the Prince of Wales’s debts, 5 June, and opposed Pitt’s motion on the subject three days later: he thought they should be charged to the civil list. He defended the bill for the security of the King and his government, 30 Nov. 1795. His obstruction of the slave trade abolitionists continued: not only would the liberation of the negroes be a danger to the security of the West Indies, 26 Feb. 1795, but it would reduce them to misery, 18 Feb. 1796: why capture French islands and cut off the means of cultivating them? When Wilberforce’s slave trade abolition bill reached the report stage, 15 Mar. 1796, he ‘objected to it in every point of view in which it could be considered: the principle of it was founded in injustice, and every clause was replete with tyranny and oppression ... he felt for the West India merchants and planters and for his own property in the West Indies’. He predicted failure. Young was a friend of the London merchants in their petition for better docks facilities, 8 Feb. 1796, and ‘as a friend of literature and science’ advocated the purchase of the Hunterian museum, 29 Feb. That day he was the cause of a controversy over procedure when, on a censure motion,

the Speaker declared the Noes to have it, but Sir William Young insisted that the Ayes had it, whereupon a second division took place. Ayes 8 Noes 108. And Sir William divided with the Noes. As soon as the division was over, Mr Grey complained to the Chair against Sir William Young’s conduct, and desired the Speaker’s opinion. The Speaker said it was unbecoming and inconsistent with the rules and practices of the House. Sir William Young cited a precedent of Sir James Johnstone, who had done the same thing in 1772 without censure. Mr Whitbread, General Tarleton and others pressed for a vote of censure, but were at a loss how to frame it. Mr Ryder and Mr Pitt maintained the right of any Member to divide the House, whether he voted with or against those whom he had asserted to be in the majority.

The Speaker was evidently in the right.8

Young was no less active in the Parliament of 1796. He took a keen interest in the militia augmentation bill, 2 Nov. 1796, and, as a volunteer, published a handbook of Instructions for the armed yeomanry (1797). He also sought to restrict the granting of leave of absence to MPs, 15 Dec. 1796. He was still ‘an enemy of every plan he had ever heard suggested’ for parliamentary reform, 26 May 1797, as it would upset the balance of the constitution, 25 Apr. 1800, and as implacably opposed to the slave trade abolitionists, who wished to ‘enact the slavery of the planters’ and cause a ‘revolution’ in the West Indies, 6 Apr., 15 May 1797, 3 Apr. 1798: he had no objection to narrowing the trade, 10 May 1798, but he wished more respect were shown for the liberal measures being introduced by the colonial assemblies, 1 Mar. 1800. He still saw no point in negotiating with France, 2 Nov. 1797: it could only be disadvantageous. As for the income tax, security required it and, apart from being, in his eyes, a fair price to pay for the protection of the West Indies, it was the fairest tax, ‘the true principle of taxation’, 14 Dec. 1798. In February 1800 it was the scarcity of bread that exercised him and he published a pamphlet on the corn trade, proposing the ‘revival of the statutes against forestalling’. He was an advocate of union with Ireland, 22 Apr., 2 May 1800, and answered its critics. He opposed Tierney’s motion for a call of the House, 12 Nov. 1800, objecting that Members who were magistrates had their hands full dealing with privation in the country. That day Pitt disputed with him the credit for having been the first to suggest substitutes for wheaten bread, and when Young suggested that wages should be raised to meet higher prices, Pitt replied that this was not practicable and would destroy the social fabric. He was evidently somewhat out of humour with administration after this and on 18 Nov. said that ‘ministers should not continue to receive his uniform support if they gave way to every motion for the production of papers’. He opposed agricultural premiums, 4 Mar. 1801, as mischievous to agriculture, and on 25 Mar. supported Grey’s motion on the state of the nation: he had supported Pitt, he claimed, but was uncertain about the new (Addington) administration. His pamphlet on the poor rates appeared in 1801, after he had moved for information in the House.

Young’s conduct thereafter showed his association with the ‘new opposition’ of Lord Grenville and Windham. Addington disappointed his wish, as agent for St. Vincent, that the vacant lands there should be disposed of by the crown to settlers. Although he supported ministers’ defence proposals, 14 Apr., 4 May, he objected to the Treaty of Amiens and voted with Windham against a definitive peace treaty, 14 May 1802. He thought it had allowed France too many commercial advantages and that there would never be security as long as she was a military state, 3 June 1803: he accordingly voted for Patten’s censure motion that day. On 27 June Pitt foiled his bid to secure exemption for the Buckinghamshire volunteers. He found much to criticize in the volunteer exemption bill, 13, 14 Dec. 1803, which he thought exempted the wrong class of volunteers: he paid tribute to Windham’s ideas on defence. He repeated his disapproval in stronger language on 8 Feb. 1804, and on 2 Mar. proposed an amendment to the volunteer consolidation bill: on Pitt’s disagreeing with him, he withdrew it, but he voted with opposition on all the defence motions that led to the collapse of Addington’s ministry from 19 Mar. 1804.

On Pitt’s return to power, Young was listed Grenvillite and he opposed Pitt’s additional force bill, disliking particularly the principle of recruitment through parish officers, 11 June 1804. He resumed his opposition to the abolition of the slave trade and on 12 June maintained that the labouring poor in England were worse off than his slaves in the West Indies; abolition would destroy West Indian property, 27 June. He subsequently accused Wilberforce, 28 Feb. 1805, of ignoring new developments in the West Indies and having no experience of life there; the slaves could not possibly have fared better in Africa. He was dismayed at the low attendance on the question. He voted with the minority on war with Spain, 12 Feb. 1805, against the suspension of habeas corpus 15 Feb., and for Windham’s motion for an inquiry into defence, 21 Feb.: he expressed himself dissatisfied with government’s defence policy. He supported Giles’s motion on the naval commissioners, 1 Mar.; Sheridan’s motion to repeal the Additional Force Act, 6 Mar.; twice voted with the majority against Melville, 8 Apr., 12 June, and voted against the Duke of Atholl’s compensation, 7 June: on 21 June his amendment settled the latter problem. When charges were brought later, 28 Jan. 1806, against St. Vincent’s naval administration, he said the latter must be given a fair chance to answer them.

When the Grenville administration was formed, Young who, doubtless from embarrassment at their estrangement in recent years, had gone away before the vote on a public funeral for Pitt, was involved in a manoeuvre of his patron. Buckingham, who wished to have Young’s seat for another protégé, proposed to compensate him with a West Indian appointment, so he wrote to Windham, secretary for the colonies, who knew Young very well and had a ‘good opinion’ of him. Windham settled for him ‘to be named to Dominica’, 7 Feb. 1806. Buckingham, writing to his brother Lord Grenville on 10 Feb., commended Young’s willingness to fall in with his plans, but added that it was ‘absolutely unsafe’ for him ‘to quit Parliament for a moment’ owing to financial difficulties, so he must wait for a West Indian vacancy. Writing to Windham on the same day, however, he explained that Young could not take over the government of Tobago ‘without the risk of his Tobago property being confiscated (upon a peace) by Bonaparte’; or of Trinidad, where there was ‘a real civil war’; as for Dominica, it was ‘for so many reasons ineligible’ that he had only accepted the offer of going there faute de mieux and with the idea that he would soon obtain St. Vincent instead. In any case, the Dominica plan fell through and Buckingham discovered that Windham was not only unable to provide for him, but irked by the fact that Young ‘at the moment when he thought himself governor of Dominica preparatory to his becoming governor of St. Vincent, by my appointment, should never have thought it necessary to use when I met him, the slightest expression of acknowledgment’, 15 Feb. 1806. Windham conceded that Buckingham was seeking the favour, but he did not see that Young, an old friend, could regard his proposed appointment as a ‘strict right’ which rendered any sense of obligation superfluous. He was asked by Buckingham to tell Young that the supposed vacancy for Dominica had never existed and that he was unable to promise him the first vacant West Indian government, 19 Feb. Windham did, however, promise Buckingham that he would try to accommodate Young, 21 Feb. On 30 May, Lord Grenville suggested to Windham that by finding another opening for the present governor of Tobago, Young might be provided for, and that Windham would oblige his brother and himself by agreeing to it: Windham was willing. On 22 June Buckingham informed Windham that he was happy to hear of the Tobago arrangement, but had heard that better governments were now vacant, namely Antigua or St. Vincent. He added that Young had promised ‘not to miss a day’s attendance’.9 He had indeed been an assiduous supporter of the ministry, defending their measures even when, in the past, he had expressed hostility to similar ones: the budget, 28 Mar., the slave importation bill, 18 Apr., 1 May, the iron duty bill, 9 May, the American intercourse bill, 21 Apr., 22 May, 17 June, 8 July, and the training bill, 24 June, all received his backing. Only on the abolition of the slave trade did he remain adamant, 10 June.

Young wrote to Windham, 23 June 1806, grateful for the favour intended him: ‘you will be the first minister I ever asked of, and shall be indebted to for a personal favour’ which, he added, was ‘a real and important’ one to him. There was, however, some delay and he was again returned to Parliament, this time for his patron’s borough of Buckingham, at the ensuing election, while waiting for his Tobago appointment to be realized. Windham finally submitted his name to the King on 9 Feb. 1807 and he vacated his seat, set sail on 10 Mar. and commenced his duties at Government House in April.10 It was during this year that his The West India common place book ... showing the interest of Great Britain in its sugar colonies appeared. The rest of his life was spent in Tobago in such tranquillity that he was dead to the world long before his decease, 10 Jan. 1815.11 Shortly before it, he had the satisfaction of seeing his prophecy fulfilled that Tobago would not be yielded to France in the peace treaty, and of sending ‘a few poems written at different periods’ of his life to his friends.12

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. A Few Poems written at different periods of my life now first collected and printed for presentation to friends (Tobago 1814), 44.
  • 2. Young, whose pat. gdfa. was a Scots surgeon settled in Antigua (V. L. Oliver, Antigua, iii. 282), wrote a ‘Life of Dr Brook Taylor’, his mat. gdfa., as a preface to Taylor’s Contemplatio Philosophica in 1793.
  • 3. A Few Poems, 31.
  • 4. BL cat. under his name.
  • 5. The ‘Laura’ of his poems; he never ceased to lament her loss, HMC Fortescue, ii. 11.
  • 6. ‘Tour through the several islands of Barbados, St. Vincent, Antigua, Tobago and Grenada in the years 1791 and 1792’, in Hist. Survey of St. Domingo (1801), 260 seq.
  • 7. Life of Wilberforce (1838), i. 360; ii. 142.
  • 8. Colchester, i. 38; Sidmouth mss, Hatsell to Addington, 1 Mar. 1796.
  • 9. Rose Diaries, ii. 241; Add. 37847, f. 63; 37883, ff. 62, 82, 84, 96, 98, 104; 37884, f. 42; Windham Diary, 458; HMC Fortescue, viii. 21, 165; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 23.
  • 10. Add. 37884, f. 46; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3372.
  • 11. Add. 37888, f. 165; Gent. Mag. (1811), ii. 90, 294, 494.
  • 12. The BL copy contains a presentation letter to Thomas Grenville*, dated 1 Nov. 1814, referring to 'the happiness I have enjoyed in society with you' and to Grenville's having secured Young's son Charles naval patronage in 1806.