DUNCOMBE, William (1798-1867), of Duncombe Park and Hooton Pagnell, nr. Doncaster, Yorks.

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

Constituency

Dates

1820 - 1826
1826 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 14 Jan. 1798, 1st s. of Charles Duncombe*, 1st Bar. Feversham, and Lady Charlotte Legge, da. of William, 2nd earl of Dartmouth; bro. of Hon. Arthur Duncombe*. educ. Eton 1811-14; Christ Church, Oxf. 1816. m. 18 Dec. 1823, Lady Louisa Stewart, da. of George Stewart†, 8th earl of Galloway [S], 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 2nd Bar. Feversham 16 July 1841. d. 11 Feb. 1867.

Offices Held

Biography

Duncombe was offered a seat for Great Grimsby at the 1818 general election by Charles Tennyson*, who headed the newly established Pink interest there, but his father, a supporter of the Liverpool ministry, declined and unsuccessfully applied to the premier for another for him.1 A renewed offer was accepted in 1820, when he came forward acknowledging his outsider’s status, but promising to protect the town’s interests. Rumours that he was to contest York prompted another address, in which he explained that he had received a deputation from that city which he had rejected. After canvassing jointly with Tennyson, a wavering Tory, he was returned in second place behind him.2

A lax attender, when present he gave general support to ministers.3 It is unclear whether it was he or his father who was granted a month’s leave on urgent private business, 29 June 1820. He divided against economies in tax collection, 4 July 1820. He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct in the Queen Caroline affair, 6 Feb., 19 Feb. 1821. He was granted three weeks’ leave to attend to private business, 26 Feb., and so missed the division on Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He voted against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, when he asserted that he ‘could never consent to hazard the fate of the country upon wild theoretic plans’ and commented that although Pitt had produced plans to reduce the rotten boroughs, he had ‘strongly deprecated annual parliaments and universal suffrage’. On 5 Feb. 1822, in what the Tory Yorkshire Gazette described as ‘a masterly and argumentative speech’, he seconded the address, welcoming the government’s proposed measures to suppress ‘serious disorders’ and defending the existing constitution, which was superior ‘over every form of government in the world’.4 He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb., and was in the minority against relieving Catholic peers of their disabilities, 30 Apr. He welcomed the Yorkshire polls bill, 7 June 1822, and was a majority teller for it that day. He spoke against a Yorkshire petition for parliamentary reform, 22 Apr. 1823, but voted against ministers for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters that day. He was in their majority against inquiry into the currency, 12 June 1823.5 There is no trace of parliamentary activity for 1824. He was granted ten days’ leave on private business, 21 Feb. 1825. He voted against Catholic relief, 21 Apr., 10 May, and the attendant Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., 9 May 1825.

During the rumours of a dissolution that autumn, it was reported that Yorkshire’s anti-Catholic activists were seeking a second candidate and that Duncombe was their preferred choice. On 29 Nov. Henry Allen, agent to Earl Fitzwilliam at Malton, advised Lord Milton* that Lord Middleton had held a meeting, 22 Nov., which was attended by Sir Tatton Sykes of Sledmere and the Rev. Todd, ‘champion of the high church party’, amongst others, at which they had instigated a canvass for Duncombe in the Pickering area and arranged a meeting in York, 2 Dec.6 This unanimously backed a requisition for Duncombe.7 His father told Lord Sidmouth, 3 Dec., that the meeting had gone ‘as prosperously as the most zealous Protestant could possibly wish’, while Lord Althorp* warned his father Earl Spencer, 4 Dec., that he had heard that Middleton was to put up £30,000 to support Duncombe and another Protestant.8 Duncombe, who had received the endorsement of a meeting at Ripon, accepted the requisition, 8 Dec. 1825.9 The Whig James Abercromby* told Althorp, 14 Jan. 1826, that he dreaded Duncombe’s return not only on political grounds, but because he suspected he would be an ‘inefficient’ county Member.10 The Leeds Mercury echoed this fear, saying ‘we believe he has neither the talents, the information, nor the habits to make him an efficient representative’. It conceded that he was ‘statesmanlike’, but criticized him for being little known outside his own neighbourhood and reserved its greatest venom for his anti-Catholicism.11

At the 1826 general election Duncombe duly came forward for Yorkshire, citing his conscientious opposition to Catholic claims and support for a revision of the corn laws and the abolition of slavery, but refusing to be pledged to any specific policy. A contest was averted at the last minute and he was returned unopposed. At his victory dinner he refuted allegations of ‘injustice, intolerance, and persecution’, explaining that his opposition to Catholic claims was not based on personal hostility, but because he believed ‘the interests of the country require that for the welfare of all, it should be subject exclusively to a Protestant government’.12 He was a more conscientious attender in this Parliament and proved to be an assiduous worker on behalf of his constituents, particularly those of the East Riding. On Milton’s presentation of a constituency petition for revision of the corn laws, 29 Nov. 1826, he argued that ‘unless that object were carried the country could never return to a state of prosperity and independence’, adding that he would support any measure that sought to ‘unite the general interest of all classes in one indissoluble tie’.13 During February 1827, however, he presented and endorsed numerous Yorkshire petitions for agricultural protection and against any alteration of the laws.14 When Milton presented another petition for their revision, 21 Feb., Duncombe said he ‘could never consent to advocate measures, which, in his opinion, involved the ruin of the landed interest’. He voted for the government’s alterations, 9 Mar. He presented petitions against the navigation laws, 14, 16, 27 Feb., despite having been granted ten days’ leave to attend to private business, 21 Feb.15 He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and contended that the majority of English people were hostile to any further concessions, 2 May. He opposed the spring guns bill, noting that few landowners could afford to employ numerous gamekeepers to protect their property, 23 Mar. He declared that the refusal of Peel, the former home secretary, to serve in Canning’s ministry was ‘a matter to be most deeply and sincerely to be regretted’ and hoped his absence from government would be short and ‘his return permanent’, 1 May 1827.

On 25 Jan. 1828 Peel, in the process of helping to finalize the composition of the duke of Wellington’s new ministry, wrote to Duncombe saying that he was

guilty of the inadvertence of not writing to you, for whom I have so sincere an esteem and to whom I am indebted for so much personal kindness, at the very first moment that I had anything decided to communicate respecting the formation of the government.

Duncombe replied, 29 Jan., that public affairs could not be placed in better hands, and informed him that

I enter upon the duties of the session with the best wishes towards the government, and with the intention of giving it my cordial support upon every occasion on which my sense of public duty will permit me to do so.16

He presented an East Riding petition against the practice of suttee, 31 Jan. That day, on the address, he praised the conduct of Admiral Codrington at the battle of Navarino, but agreed with ministers that the episode had been ‘untoward’. Either he or his cousin Thomas Slingsby Duncombe presented a petition from Protestant Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts, 21, 26 Feb., but he did not vote on the issue. He brought up petitions for repeal of the stamp duty, 28 Feb., 4 Mar., and for the Aire and Calder canal bill, 29 Feb., when he refuted the assertion of Daniel Sykes that the route of the proposed Wakefield and Ferrybridge canal would be better for commerce. Moving the second reading of the Wakefield and Ferrybridge bill, 3 Mar., Sir James Graham said that the Aire company had seen off a similar plan the previous year by making pledges which they had failed to deliver. Duncombe protested, insisting that they fully intended to carry them out and claiming that over four miles of land had already been purchased by the Aire company, compared to only a few hundred yards by their opponents. He presented a petition against the Malt Act, 11 Mar., and for continuance of the British Fisheries Act, 17 Mar. He believed ministers ought to have explained why they had abandoned their bill for amending the corn laws the previous year, 22 Apr., and presented a petition for a proper scale of duties on corn, 5 May. He presented numerous Yorkshire petitions against further concessions to Catholics in this session. When his fellow county Member, the Whig John Marshall, criticized the method of collecting signatures for one from Leeds, alleging that it did not represent the views of the inhabitants, 28 Apr., Duncombe disagreed, declaring that ‘as in all the other great towns ... the majority ... are decidedly adverse to the claims of the Catholics’. On 9 May he asserted that Burdett’s speech in support of Catholic claims had lacked ‘authority either in point of argument or in point of facts’, argued that the Treaty of Limerick was never intended to give Catholics participation in all the civil privileges of the state, and warned that relief would not solve Ireland’s problems. In his only recorded vote of the 1828 session, he divided against relief, 12 May. He presented petitions against the alehouses licensing bill, 19 May, and the imposition of duty on foreign wool, 23 May. On 13 June he welcomed the sale of game bill, as by legalising its purchase ‘we shall prevent its clandestine sale, and thereby prevent poaching’. He presented a Sheffield petition for the abolition of slavery, 27 June. When the House debated Lord Howick’s motion to transfer East Retford’s seats to Yorkshire that day, Duncombe expressed surprise at the ‘imputation cast upon people connected with the landed interest’ in Yorkshire. He presented a petition from the merchants of Sheffield for compensation for losses suffered at Copenhagen, 4 July 1828.

In February 1829 Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, listed Duncombe among those ‘opposed’ to the principle of Catholic emancipation. He presented two hostile East Riding petitions, 9 Feb., when he commented that ‘although others have abandoned their principles and acted in direct opposition to them, I see no reason to abandon, or to act in opposition to mine’, and urged ministers to ‘weigh again and again the step they are about to take’. When Sir Edward Knatchbull presented a Kent petition against relief, 12 Feb., Duncombe rebutted Peel’s criticism, defended Knatchbull’s right to arraign the conduct of any minister over a public measure, and stated that Peel ‘had not carried into effect that advice which, as minister of the crown, he has given to the country, to show temper and moderation on this question’. During the next six weeks he presented over 70 Yorkshire petitions against the emancipation bill, including one from Sheffield with 30,000 signatures, 2 Mar. On 4 Mar. he alleged that at the recent Oxford University by-election he had been told by several senior churchmen that they supported Peel ‘not because they approved of his recent change of sentiments, but because they valued his old services as their representative’. He voted and was a minority teller against considering emancipation, 6 Mar., when he said the proposed securities were ‘fallacious, inefficient, and delusive’. He protested that he had heard not one argument which justified the bill and prayed that if it passed, ‘God grant that it may have all the beneficial effects that some persons anticipate’, 19 Mar. He again clashed with Marshall over the true opinions of Leeds, 23 Mar., when he was in the minority for Bankes’s amendment to prevent Catholics sitting in Parliament. He divided against the report, 27 Mar., and paired against the third reading, 30 Mar. He presented a Keighley petition against Crosley’s gas apparatus bill, 1 May, and voted against going into committee on the silk trade bill that day. He stated that he differed ‘totally’ from Lord John Russell about the transfer of East Retford’s seats, 5 May, but ‘cordially concurred in his view of the impropriety of deferring the consideration of the subject’. He spoke and was a minority teller for the issue of a new writ, 2 June. On 22 Aug. Sir Richard Vyvyan, the Ultra Tory Commons leader, wrote to Michael Sadler* asking if he had seen the recently published list of a putative Tory administration in the Morning Journal. ‘It must have been drawn up by a man ignorant of persons and parties’, he claimed, as ‘our friend Duncombe was pointed out as president of the board of trade! He is a staunch and honest man, but the idea was absurd’. Vyvyan included Duncombe in his list of Tories ‘strongly opposed’ to the Wellington administration in October 1829.17

When Knatchbull moved his amendment to the address, 4 Feb. 1830, Duncombe, before voting for it, spoke warmly in its favour, highlighting the distress of the country, urging ministers to ‘redeem their pledges of economy’ and suggesting that they start with a reduction of their own salaries. He welcomed the general resolution committing government to reductions, 12 Feb., but still thought that ministers had failed to realize the true extent of distress, warning that ‘the industrial and working classes ... look to us for relief, and we should not send them away empty handed, nor abuse their patience and fortitude’. He presented a Boroughbridge petition for repeal of the malt and beer duties, a reform of licensing laws and an alteration of the corn laws, 11 Feb., when he divided against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham. He voted for Davies’s unsuccessful amendment to limit the army grant to six months, 19 Feb., explaining that in so doing he was supporting the proposition for inquiry. He presented a Doncaster petition for relief and repeal of the malt tax, 26 Feb., having attended the meeting which had produced it, and brought up others against the Dewsbury roads bill, 4, 19, 25 Mar. He divided with opposition for information on the involvement of British troops in Portugal, 10 Mar., and to condemn the filling of the vacant treasurership of the navy, 12 Mar. He presented a number of petitions complaining of distress that month and welcomed ministers’ proposals for relief, 16 Mar. He voted to omit the pensions of Bathurst and Dundas from the civil list, 26 Mar., and to reduce the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 29 Mar. He presented a petition from the ship owners of Whitby for relief from distress, 5 Mar., and when Sykes presented a similar one from Hull, 2 Apr., he praised his speech and entreated Herries, the president of the board of trade, to institute an inquiry into conditions in the shipping industry. He presented a petition from Morley against the use of power looms and one from Whitby for repeal of the house and window taxes, 2 Apr. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May. He steered the Hull and Hedon road bill through the House during April and May. After Milton had presented a Leeds petition of 14,000 signatures calling for economy and reform, 11 May, Duncombe declared:

I am one of those who think that every possible degree of economy is at all times necessary ... It is now not only desirable, but indispensable ... With respect to reform ... I think that there are certain steps in this way which might and ought to be taken; and when such practical measures are proposed, I shall not shrink from my duty ... but if by parliamentary reform is to be understood annual parliaments, universal suffrage and vote by ballot, I shall give to any one of those propositions my decided opposition.

He voted to abolish the Irish viceroyalty that day. He protested that the sale of beer bill ‘as regards the morals and comforts of the people’ was the ‘most objectionable, the most impolitic that ministers have ever presented to this House’, 3 June, and was in the minority to prohibit on-consumption, 21 June. He voted to reduce the grant for South American missions and to abolish the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830.

At the 1830 general election he offered again for Yorkshire, where the Tory Leeds Intelligencer reported ‘his return is certain’. Speaking at the Leeds Cloth Halls, 20 July, he declared that he had adhered to his principles through good and evil, called for widespread reductions in expenditure, and defended the existing corn laws, as it was impossible to formulate them to please everyone. Pressed on reform, he asserted that he was not ‘one of those who will always turn my back upon it’, but he could not pledge himself on the subject as there was ‘much division’ about what type of reform was most appropriate, as had been demonstrated in the controversy over East Retford. He professed that he had not changed his views on Catholic emancipation and questioned the benefits it had supposedly brought to Ireland. Sadler praised him for being ‘attentive, zealous’ and ‘anxious to serve’, as well as being ‘in principle, sound, consistent, and independent’. He was returned after a token contest.18 He presented multiple Yorkshire petitions against slavery, 4 Nov., when he called for the ‘utter abolition of that abominable system’, 7 Dec. 1830. He was of course listed by ministers among the ‘violent Ultras’ and, with his brother, he voted against them in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. He welcomed the bill to reform the game laws, 7 Dec. As a member of the committee on the Evesham election, and taking into consideration the state of public opinion on reform, he said the evidence given to it ought to be laid before the House, 13 Dec. He defended the language employed by Herbert Curteis when he called for repeal of the malt duty, 17 Dec. 1830. On the 21st he hoped ‘that no time will be suffered’ before reform and slavery, the two subjects exciting the country, were ‘brought under the consideration of Parliament’, adding that he was ‘not one of those’ who considered that ‘the present system of representation is perfection’ and that he would support any measure that was ‘conducive to the true interests of the country’ and did not yield ‘unnecessarily to public clamour’. He presented a petition for repeal of the assessed taxes, 4 Feb., and welcomed the abolition of the stamp duty on newspapers, 14 Feb. 1831. That day, on the budget, he declared that the proposed tax on the transfer of stock was ‘objectionable’, but approved the repeal of the coal duty and urged the abolition of the malt tax. He deprecated the Grey ministry’s threat of a dissolution if their reform proposals were defeated, 18 Feb. That month it was recorded by Lord Ellenborough that at the Ultra Tories’ dinner to discuss reform Duncombe was ‘for to a certain extent’.19 He moved for returns for all boroughs above 7,000 inhabitants, rather than of the 2,000 proposed by ministers, but was ruled out of order, 3 Mar. Next day he promised to give his ‘unqualified, most uncompromising opposition’ to the ‘revolutionary ... tyrannical and unjust’ ministerial plan of reform, which would disfranchise ‘hundreds of thousands of poorer classes of voters’, who were to be ‘condemned unheard, unconvicted, and untried’, and was full of technical anomalies. On 9 Mar. he condemned the practice that had developed of preventing the printing of petitions for the abolition of slavery, whilst those for reform were accepted, and was a minority teller on the issue. He brought up the report on the Leeds and Birstall road bill and presented a petition from the Calder and Hebble Navigation against the Leeds and Manchester railway bill, 11 Mar. He presented a Barnsdale petition against the Doncaster and Salters Brook road bill and a Belford petition against slavery, 14 Mar. He presented a Whitby petition for protection of the shipping industry, a Selby petition for repeal of the coal duty, a Bradford petition for the regulation of factory hours and eight Yorkshire petitions against the general register bill, 15 Mar. He voted against the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., objected to a favourable Yorkshire petition, since there was a ‘strong feeling against various propositions it contains’, 28 Mar., and divided for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, when he brought up hostile petitions from Leeds corporation, Barnsley, Bradford and Doncaster. Justifying his opposition two days later, he explained that he could not reconcile his sense of public duty with diminishing the number of English Members, predicted that ministers would ‘repent’ of their decision to dissolve, and accused them of reneging on their promises of economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation. At the ensuing general election he offered again for Yorkshire with the support of the local Tories, whom he had addressed in London, saying that he was totally opposed to the proposed bill, but not utterly hostile to some change, believing that towns which had ‘grown into importance’ ought to be represented.20 The Mercury warned him, 30 Apr. 1831, that he would ‘best consult his own personal safety by not going to Sheffield’ during his canvass, while reports circulated of his effigy being burned in parts of the West Riding.21 It was stated that £10,000 had been raised in London and the same in Yorkshire, but following a meeting of his supporters in York he withdrew, citing the failure of their attempts to secure a second Tory candidate and ‘the inconvenience of a contest’, which would ‘possibly bring into serious conflict the passions of an excited people, and produce consequences we should all depreciate and lament’.22

Duncombe topped the poll for the North Riding at the 1832 general election, Charles Wood* having told Sir William Chaytor† that he had been ‘very unwilling to stand in the first instance’, 25 Aug.23 He remained a protectionist, supported factory reform, and sat until he succeeded to his father’s peerage, shortly after his unopposed return in 1841. For many years he was a trustee of the Royal Agricultural Society.24 He died in February 1867 at his London residence in Hyde Park Gate. It was recalled that ‘in the political world he was esteemed for his steady and unwavering adherence to principles’, and that although he was a ‘zealous member and friend of the established church’, he promoted ‘liberty and toleration’ for Dissenters, and had been a good friend to the working classes.25 By his will, dated 9 June 1866, he bequeathed £3,000 to his wife, £5,000 to each of his daughters, and £40,000 and £3,000 in stocks and shares in the Thirsk and Malton railway to his younger son Cecil. The family estates passed to his elder son and successor in the peerage William Ernest Duncombe (1829-1915), Conservative Member for East Retford, 1857-9, and the North Riding, 1859-1867, who was promoted to an earldom in 1868. A monument to Duncombe was erected in the market p