ACLAND, Sir Thomas Dyke, 10th bt. (1787-1871), of Killerton, nr. Exeter, Devon

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1812 - 1818
1820 - 1831
1837 - 1857

Family and Education

b. 29 Mar. 1787, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 9th bt., of Killerton and Henrietta Anne, da. of Sir Richard Hoare, 1st bt., of Stourhead, Wilts. educ. Harrow 1799-1804; Christ Church, Oxf. 1805. m. 7 Apr. 1808, Lydia Elizabeth, da. and h. of Henry Hoare, banker, of Mitcham Grove, Surr., 7s. (3 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.) suc. fa. as 10th bt. 17 May 1794. d. 22 July 1871.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Devon 1809-10.

Biography

Acland, who inherited large landed estates in Devon and Somerset from his father, and whose annual income was reputedly ‘£6 or 7,000’,1 had lost his Devon seat in 1818 to the Whig Lord Ebrington. In 1820 he accepted a requisition to stand again and was returned at the head of the poll, with the Tory Edmund Pollexfen Bastard, ousting Ebrington. He admitted in his address that he had ‘not yet learned to espouse party principles, or particular interests, to the detriment of public advantage’, and stated that while he was ‘ardently attached ... to our happy constitution ... in church and state’, he had ‘the misfortune to differ from many of my friends’ in his continued support for Catholic relief.2

He continued to attend and speak regularly, and as an independent supporter of Lord Liverpool’s ministry he was a respected figure among the country gentlemen. He served on several select committees each session. He voted against the additional Scottish baron of exchequer, 15 May 1820. He supported ‘in its broadest manner’ the motion for inquiry into agricultural distress, 30 May, and urged the government not to disappoint the people; he was named to the resulting select committee next day. In June he ‘acted as a sort of connecting link between the Saints and the squires’ over the Queen Caroline affair.3 He warned ministers against ‘precipitation’ in appointing a secret committee to investigate her conduct, 7 June, and hoped that time would be allowed for ‘mediation’. He assisted his friend Wilberforce in drawing up a compromise resolution, 22 June, when he observed that ‘the original omission of the queen’s name from the liturgy was most useless and improper’; he was a member of the Commons delegation whose address was rejected by the queen.4 He argued that the punishment of Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes* for electoral bribery was too severe, given his age, 11 July 1820. By the end of the year his attitude towards the queen had hardened, and he reportedly declared that ministers would ‘deserve not to be turned out but ... kicked out’ if they surrendered the fight to omit her name from the liturgy.5 He supported the proposed financial provision for her, as the wording ‘neither imputed guilt nor asserted innocence’, 1 Feb., and voted to defend the conduct of ministers, 6 Feb. 1821. In what the Grenvillite Charles Williams Wynn* described as ‘one of the most impressive and efficient speeches I ever heard’,6 13 Feb., Acland regretfully differed from Wilberforce and opposed restoration of the queen’s name, maintaining that the House owed it to itself and to ‘the female virtue of the country’ not to pay ‘that personal honour and homage ... which he wished to God he could say that she had deserved’. He thought the petitions in her favour ‘arose from the remains of that unsettled and feverish state of mind which had existed during the last year’. He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb., but dutifully attended when a hostile petition from the Devon county meeting was presented, 23 Mar.7 He dismissed the argument that Catholics would use their political power to harm the Protestant establishment, 26 Mar., and saw greater danger in ‘keeping back that which must eventually be conceded’. He voted against Maberly’s resolution on the state of the revenue, 6 Mar., and repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., but according to a Whig backbencher he divided for reduction of the army, 14 Mar.8 He presented the Devon county petition for retrenchment, tax cuts and reform, 17 Apr., but though concurring in the desire to reduce the burdens on the people, he declared that ‘he never could lend his name to promote what was called reform in Parliament’.9 He voted for the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May 1821.

He attended the Devon county meeting on tax reductions and reform, 1 Feb., when he endorsed the need for retrenchment while remaining unpledged as to the ‘precise mode’ of achieving it, and refused to support reform; he presented the resulting petition, 25 Feb. 1822.10 He presented several Devon petitions for relief from agricultural distress that session.11 He divided against more extensive tax reductions, 21 Feb., but for reduction of the salt duties, 28 Feb., and the junior lords of the admiralty, 1 Mar., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 2 May. He voted for the public house licensing bill, 27 June 1822. He hoped the government would show its friendly intentions to the agriculturists by repealing the taxes on lime and culm, 25 Feb. 1823.12 He voted against further tax reductions, 3 Mar. Acting in concert with Wilberforce, he vindicated the activities of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, 26 Mar.13 He divided against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiries into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and delays in chancery, 5 June. He voted against Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June, and the Scottish juries bill, 20 June. He supported the sale of game bill, 2 June 1823, as the ‘existing laws were so bad’ that their continuation would give ‘sanction to a system of crime and bloodshed’. He presented and concurred in several Devon petitions for repeal of the coal duties, 20 Feb., and hoped the government’s plans for reduction would lead to total repeal, 1 Apr. 1824. He voted against the usury laws repeal bill, 27 Feb. He divided against the motion accusing lord chancellor Eldon of a breach of privilege, 1 Mar. He defended the grant to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels in the colonies, 12 Mar. He presented several anti-slavery petitions, 16 Mar., 14 Apr., and others condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 24 May, 1 June;14 he voted in this sense, 11 June. He supported the game laws amendment bill as he thought it ‘necessary to give landlords some protection’, 25 Mar. 1824. He divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., and Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He supported the cruelty to animals bill, 11 Mar., as he believed popular sports were ‘calculated to form such heartless, cold-blooded characters as had assembled in Cato Street’. He presented Devon petitions for maintenance of the corn laws, 22, 28 Apr., 4 May.15 He divided against the financial provision for the duke of Cumberland, 27 May, 6, 10 June. He rejected claims that the Western ship canal bill was a ‘fraudulent speculation’, 3 June 1825. During this session he advised Sir Robert Inglis, Tory Member for Dundalk, not to oppose Newport’s Irish church rates bill, but to rely on the Lords to ‘throw it out’.16 He voted to condemn the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., but successfully carried the previous question against Brougham’s motion on colonial slavery, 19 May 1826, as he ‘wished to leave the question entirely in the hands of the government’. In presenting a Tiverton weavers’ and labourers’ petition for the restoration of magistrates’ power to fix wage rates, 10 Mar., he said he had advised them that ‘considering the policy ... recently ... adopted by ministers ... there was little chance that their petition could be granted’.17 He divided against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. 1826. At the general election that summer he was again returned for Devon with Bastard, after an attempt by certain Protestant Tories to promote an opposition to him came to nothing.18

He was not prepared to ‘condemn in toto’ the conduct of committees on private bills, 4 Dec. 1826, but accepted that a court of appeal was needed. He gave notice next day of a motion for the production of correspondence between the British and foreign governments regarding the slave trade, but this did not come on.19 He divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He voted for the duke of Clarence’s annuity bill, 16 Mar., explaining that circumstances had changed since 1818, when he had opposed the grant, and that ‘no economy could be more false or illiberal’ than to reduce the income of the heir to the throne. He divided for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. He advised the agriculturists not to press their demand for a higher level of protection in the corn duties bill, 2 Apr., as this would place them ‘in a worse situation’. He voted with Canning’s ministry against the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, and for the grant to improve water communications in Canada, 12 June. He complained that the Dissenters’ marriages bill was making marriage ‘altogether a civil contract’, 18 June 1827, and tried unsuccessfully to postpone the third reading. Sir Walter Scott considered him at this time to be ‘the leader of the religious party in the ... Commons in succession to Wilberforce’.20 A recent scholar has placed Acland among those Canningites who were ‘inclined to an independent position’ when the duke of Wellington formed his government in January 1828. Ironically, his proposed appointment as chairman of the committee of finance was blocked by Huskisson.21 He presented several petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 18, 20, 25 Feb., and ‘spoke with some effect’ on this issue next day,22 when he argued that ‘no practical evil’ would arise from the removal of a legitimate grievance. He proposed as an ‘experiment’ that the Indemnity Act be dropped and the operation of the Test Acts suspended for one year; the leader of the Commons, Peel, was apparently tempted by this suggestion as a means of extricating the government from its difficult position.23 However, Acland opposed unconditional repeal and wanted a new oath to provide some security for the established church, 28 Feb. He shared the objections to the Lords’ amendments to the repeal bill, but thought it best to pass the measure as it stood rather than risk rejection, 2 May. He divided for Catholic claims, 12 May. He introduced the division of counties bill, to allow magistrates to select the most convenient venues for quarter sessions sittings, 27 Feb.; it gained royal assent, 15 July. He was a minority teller for the motion to abolish the legal fees charged for turnpike bills, 21 Apr. He was ‘satisfied’ with the new corn law sliding scale and advised the agriculturists not to oppose the government, 25 Apr. He defended the appointment of clergymen as magistrates, 13 May. Next day he regretted the opposition to the pension for Canning’s widow. He introduced the prisoners’ conveyance bill, which aimed to ‘lessen its expense’, 10 June, but it did not pass. He argued that cider shops were really ‘small public houses, free from all control’, 26 June, but wished the government to postpone its plan to impose a license duty on them for fear of the effect on cider consumption. He maintained that the savings banks had ‘done much to encourage habits of industry and economy amongst the lower classes’, 3 July 1828, but warned that further regulation might weaken them as they were not yet ‘deep rooted’ in the country. Lord Palmerston* (but not Lord Colchester) included him on his list of Canningites at this time, and Viscount Sandon* later referred to him as belonging to ‘our party’.24

Acland attended the Devon county meeting on the Catholic question, 16 Jan. 1829, but was given a hostile reception and could not obtain a hearing.25 In February Planta, the patronage secretary, naturally listed him as being ‘with government’ for emancipation. He dutifully attended when the Devon anti-Catholic petition was presented, 24 Feb., and expressed regret that he differed from many of his constituents, but he presented a counter-petition which he regarded as remarkable proof of a gradual change in public opinion. He divided for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, but advised that the issue be postponed until next session for further consideration. He denounced the county bridges bill, which upset established financial arrangements and would do ‘great injury’, 12 May. He supported the anatomy regulation bill, 15 May. He voted to reduce the grant for the sculpture of the marble arch, 25 May. He urged the government to settle the compensation claims from Plymouth businessmen for money they had advanced to French prisoners of war, 28 May 1829. When he applied to ministers that summer for patronage, Wellington retorted that he was not aware that he supported the government.26 He divided against Lord Blandford’s reform plan, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., but for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. 1830. He supported an inquiry into the coal trade, which he hoped would lead to the ‘total repeal of an unequal and ... very unjust tax’, 11 Mar. He presented several Devon petitions for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 11, 13 May, when he advocated repeal of the duty in Ireland as ‘the small end of the wedge’. He welcomed the reduction of the cider duty, 15 Mar., but thought it would be ‘very hard’ if a license duty on retailers was imposed, 21 May. He concluded from the evidence of expenditure by the committee for the relief of distressed manufacturers, of which he was a member, that the economic situation was improving, 23 Mar. He voted to abolish the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., and found it his ‘exceedingly painful’ duty to oppose the grant for improvements to Windsor Castle until detailed estimates were produced, 3 May. On the other hand, he divided against the reduction of judges’ salaries, 7 July. He voted with opposition on the affair at Terceira, 28 Apr. In presenting the Devon county petition for tithes reform, 11 May, he expressed the hope, as one who was connected with the agricultural interest and the church, that a satisfactory solution could be found. He divided for Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. He introduced a stagecoach proprietors bill, to protect them from ‘unjust demands’ for compensation for items lost in transit, 26 May; it gained royal assent, 23 July. He again defended the grant to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels, 14 June. He favoured suspending the operation of the sale of beer bill for two years, 1 July 1830, warning that Parliament risked ‘producing a ... most undesirable change in the habits and morals of the labouring classes’. He stood again for Devon at the general election that summer and was returned in second place behind Ebrington, on whose split votes he depended to offset the loss of Tory support. He declared afterwards that he had been given ‘as respectable a middle station as a moderate man like myself can desire’.27

Wellington’s ministry regarded him as ‘very doubtful’, and he divided against them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. He presented numerous Devon anti-slavery petitions in late 1830 and early 1831. He presented several petitions for repeal of the coastwise coal duties, 16 Nov., 13 Dec. 1830, when he gave notice that he would move on the matter if Lord Grey’s ministry did not. He welcomed their ‘wise, just and beneficent’ plan for repeal, 14 Feb. 1831. On 26 Nov. 1830 he attended the Devon county reform meeting and expressed the view that ‘we should inquire before it was too late whether ... upon the old principles of the constitution’, it was possible to ‘reform abuses that may exist’. He afterwards told his son that he believed reform was ‘quite inevitable’ and that ‘no-one to my knowledge has defended or even palliated the wisdom of [Wellington’s] declaration against it’.28 He supported the resulting petition, 16 Feb. 1831, and trusted that the ministry’s bill would be ‘directed by due and strict caution’ and ‘a careful regard for the ancient institutions of the country’. He divided for its second reading, 22 Mar., but warned that ‘it goes too far’ and that he would seek amendments in committee. He recognized that an ‘ample’ redistribution of seats was needed, but could not accept the total disfranchisement of any borough. He voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, explaining two days later that he considered the proposed reduction in the number of English Members to be an ‘unnecessary interference with long settled ... compacts’ and ‘not at all required to accomplish the main principles of the bill’. He also complained that insufficient time was being allowed for discussion of such an important measure. At the ensuing general election he announced his retirement, as he found it impossible to ‘maintain an independent footing on fair terms’ with either Whigs or Tories, and in a lengthy farewell speech at the Devon nomination meeting he said he had had no choice between ‘giving up my principles or losing my seat’. He repeated his support for moderate reform, but observed that the search for symmetry and perfection risked the ‘destruction of the whole building’, and he justified his vote with Gascoyne on the ground that ‘the independence of the ... Commons was placed at issue’ by ministers’ insistence on carrying the ‘whole bill’.29

In September 1832 Acland declined an invitation to stand for North Devon, lamenting that in ‘the prevailing temper and opinions of these days ... the moderation in sentiment and conduct which I should still wish to observe in the struggles of conflicting parties, is likely for some time to obtain even less indulgence and toleration than heretofore’.30 However, he was returned for that constituency in 1837 and sat as a Conservative until his retirement in 1857. It was said of him that, having been brought up ‘like a little prince’, there was ‘not a little that was autocratic in his management of his estate and his family’, and though he was ‘high spirited and large hearted’, he was also ‘full of unexpectedness and irregularity in his actions’.31 He died in July 1871 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland (1809-98), Conservative Member for West Somerset, 1837-47, and Liberal Member for North Devon, 1865-85 and West Somerset, 1885-6.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins

Notes

  • 1. Farington Diary, xiv. 5031.
  • 2. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 9-23 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. Add. 52444, f. 135.
  • 4. Life of Wilberforce, v. 59-61.
  • 5. Add. 31232, ff. 266-8; Harrowby mss, Harrowby to Sandon, 21 Dec. 1820.
  • 6. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 122.
  • 7. The Times, 24 Mar. 1821.
  • 8. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 36-37.
  • 9. The Times, 18 Apr. 1821.
  • 10. Alfred, 5 Feb.; The Times, 26 Feb. 1822.
  • 11. The Times, 19 Feb., 26 Apr., 8 June 1822.
  • 12. Ibid. 26 Feb. 1823.
  • 13. Life of Wilberforce, v. 171-2.
  • 14. The Times, 17 Mar., 15 Apr., 25 May, 2 June 1824.
  • 15. Ibid. 23, 29 Apr., 5 May 1825.
  • 16. TCD, Jebb mss 6396/226.
  • 17. The Times, 11 Mar. 1826.
  • 18. Add. 40387, f. 94; Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 15, 22 June 1826.
  • 19. The Times, 6 Dec. 1826.
  • 20. A. Acland, Mems. Acland, 15.
  • 21. P. Jupp, British Politics on Eve of Reform, 265; Hatherton diary, 15 Feb. 1828.
  • 22. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 26 Feb. 1828.
  • 23. Ellenborough Diary, i. 43.
  • 24. A. Aspinall, ‘The Canningite Party’, TRHS (ser. 4), xvii (1934), 224-6; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss OsC 67a, Sandon to Denison, 22 Jan. 1829.
  • 25. Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 17 Jan. 1829.
  • 26. Wellington mss WP1/1042/63.
  • 27. Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 7, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 28. Alfred, 30 Nov. 1830; Acland, 35-36.
  • 29. Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post, 28 Apr., 12 May 1831.
  • 30. Devon RO, Acland mss 1148M/21(iv)/5, Acland to Cutcliffe and Smith, 13 Sept. 1832.
  • 31. Acland, 18-21.

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