NOWELL, Alexander (1761-1842), of Underley Park, Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmld. and Wimpole Street, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 19 Nov. 1761, 3rd s. of Ralph Nowell (d. 1781) of Eccleston, Lancs. and Coverhead, Yorks. and Sarah, da. of Thomas Whitaker of Holme, Lancs.1 m. (1) at Dinapore, 6 Jan. 1793, Maria Theresa (d. 21 Mar. 1824), da. of Thomas Kearnan of London, wid. of Lt.-Col. Henry Watson, chief engineer, E.I. Co., s.p.; (2) 5 Apr. 1825, Charlotte, da. of James Farington of Shawe Hall, Lancs., s.p. d. 17 Nov. 1842.
Cadet, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1782; ensign 6th Eur. Batt. 1785, 2nd Eur. Batt. 1790, ret. 1792.2
Nowell was of the Gawthorp Hall branch of the family and a descendant thereby of the Lancashire Royalist Roger Nowell of Rede, who raised a regiment for the protection of Charles I. He entered the East India Company’s army shortly after his father’s death, but failed to rise above the rank of ensign and resigned in October 1792 to become an indigo manufacturer at Tirhut. Three months later he married Maria Theresa, the widow of the Company’s former chief engineer Henry Watson.3 Although unprovided for in Watson’s will, she had secured the right to administer his valuable dockyard property in Calcutta and benefited also by the wills of her brothers Thomas (d. 1803), an officer in the East India Company’s service, and Peter (d. 1811), a London attorney.4
Nowell returned to England with a fortune in 1805, bought a house in Wimpole Street and contested Liskeard unsuccessfully with another East India Company candidate, Joseph Childs, at the general election of 1806. He liaised with the 1st earl of Lonsdale and Sir James Graham* during the long campaign to clear the name of the Madras civil servant Robert Sherson, who in 1816 named his son Alexander Nowell Sherson in gratitude. He supported the Lowther interest, the Yellows, in Westmorland, where in February 1808 he paid £10,560 for the Underley estate, then worth £170 a year.5 He added to it neighbouring Lowfields, Deansbiggin, Mansergh Hall and Belle View and built a Gothic mansion and racing stables, financed from his inheritance under the will of Maria Theresa (on which limited probate under £12,000 was granted on 24 May 1824) and £10,000 settled on his kinswoman Charlotte Farington of Shawe Hall, Lancashire on their marriage in April 1825.6 His hopes of coming in that month for Carlisle, where Graham’s death had produced a vacancy, were dashed by Lonsdale’s preference for Sir Philip Musgrave.7
Possibly as a stalking horse for Sir Thomas Hesketh, Nowell was put in nomination for Lancashire at the general election of 1826, when others affiliated to the Lowthers declined to oppose the indolent Tory John Blackburn. On the hustings he stressed his Lancashire ancestry and experience in the camps and armies of India, but declined to make electoral promises. His pre-poll retirement was attributed to a reluctance to spend and to collusion.8 The Bolton Express added that his supporters were lower class and very few were freeholders, and the Blackburn Mail that Nowell was ‘unknown’ and had ‘neglected to declare his principles’.9 That summer he pursued a boundary dispute with his neighbour, the Lowther Member for Cockermouth William Wilson Carus Wilson, who had been one of Blackburne’s principal supporters.10 The Lowthers blocked Nowell’s candidature for Carlisle at the 1827 by-election.11 ‘Mortified’ at being passed over by them for Westmorland in 1831, he stood against them as a supporter of the Grey ministry’s reform bill. An agreement secured his unopposed return in absentia with the anti-reformer Henry Lowther.12 Afterwards, his Whig proposer, William Crackenthorpe of Newbiggin, informed lord chancellor Brougham, who had thrice contested Westmorland unsuccessfully, that ‘a gentleman who has taken very little stake in the politics of these parts, and that against the interest, which we have espoused, has by a lucky chance been returned the representative of this county with no other claim certainly than that he lives in it and has pledged himself to support that great measure’.13 Writing to Brougham, 14 May 1831, Nowell endorsed the Lowthers’ claim to one Westmorland seat and lobbied for amendment of the 1830 Beer Act’s on-consumption provisions and renewal of the East India Company’s charter.14
He was not an assiduous attender, but he divided for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, consistently for its details and for its third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept. 1831. He voted for the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept., and for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. In his only reported speech, he defended the decision of the Pembrokeshire election committee, on which he sat, to recommend issuing a new writ, 26 Sept. He paired for the revised reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, and divided steadily for its details, 20 Jan.-5 Mar. 1832. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., the Liverpool by-election writ, 8 Sept. 1831, and the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. 1832. Probably on account of a business visit to the East Indies, no further votes by him are recorded.15
Bereft of party support, Nowell did not stand for Parliament again and passed his later years in Wimpole Street and at his Yorkshire estate of Netherside, near Skipton, where he died without issue in November 1842, predeceased in January that year by his second wife.16 His will, dated 20 July 1842 and proved under £5,000, was resworn at £7,000, 31 Oct. 1844, to take account of Indian property. He entrusted his entire estate, valued in September 1840 at £120,000, to his agent Richard Sylvester Cahill of Brighton, who, for £300 a year, finalized the sale of Underley (authorized by Nowell in agreements of 1 Dec. 1840, 20 July 1842) for £99,000 to his tenant, the Conservative Member for Westmorland, William Thompson*.17 Nowell’s niece Margaret (d. 21 Oct. 1861) and her issue succeeded to Netherside, Rede and his remaining property. As her husband, the Rev. Josias Robinson of Swinton-in-Craven, Yorkshire (d. 20 May 1843), had directed, she assumed the name and arms of Nowell by royal licence, 1 Nov. 1843, ‘in order to testify her grateful and affectionate respect to the memory of her uncle’.18
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. IGI (Lancs.).
- 2. BL OIOC L/MIL/9/255; 10/1.
- 3. V.C.P. Hodson, Officers of Bengal Army.
- 4. Gent. Mag. (1786), ii. 996-8; PROB 11/155/249; 1686/312; Mems. of William Hickey ed. A. Spencer, iii. 145-6, 269-71; E.I. Co. Dir. 1799-1805.
- 5. Add. 29190, ff. 9-12; Cumbria RO (Kendal) WD/U/28/1.
- 6. PROB 8/217; IR26/1013/550; Gent. Mag. (1825), i. 365; Pearson, 56-58; W. Whellan, Hist. Cumb. and Westmld. (1860), 889.
- 7. Carlisle Patriot, 26 Mar., 2 Apr.; The Times, 28 Mar. 1825.
- 8. The Times, 30 May; Manchester Guardian, 3, 10, 17, 24 June; Lonsdale mss, Holmes to Lowther, 13 June, Nowell to Lonsdale, 14 June; The Times, 19 June 1826.
- 9. Bolton Express, 14 June; Blackburn Mail, 21 June 1826.
- 10. Cumbria RO (Kendal) WD/CAT (Addl.) A2354.
- 11. J.R. McQuiston, ‘The Lonsdale Connection and its Defender’, Northern Hist. xi (1975), 168.
- 12. Brougham mss, Nowell to John Wakefield, 1 May, J. Brougham to Atkinson, 12 May, Crackenthorpe to same, 15 May; Wordsworth Letters ed. A.G. Hill (1979), v (pt. 2), 384;