ROWLEY, Sir William, 2nd bt. (1761-1832), of Tendring Hall, Suff. and 34 Lower Grosvenor Street, Mdx.

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



1812 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 10 Feb. 1761, 1st s. of Adm. Sir Joshua Rowley, 1st bt., and Sarah, da. and h. of Bartholomew Burton†, dep. gov. Bank of England, of Petersham, Surr. educ. Harrow 1774. m. 23 Mar. 1785, Susanna Edith, da. of Adm. Sir Robert Harland, 1st bt., of Sproughton, Suff., 5s. (3 d.v.p.) 6da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 26 Feb. 1790. d. 20 Oct. 1832.

Offices Held

Lt. and capt. 96 Ft. 1780, 3 Ft. Gds. 1782-6; lt.-col. commdt. Suff. vol. cav. 1798.

Sheriff, Suff. 1791-2.


Rowley was a pro-Catholic Whig and well-connected country gentleman of Irish descent, whose family had returned Members for Downpatrick and Kinsale and produced five distinguished admirals. He had been kept waiting until 1812 to realize his ambition of representing Suffolk, where he commanded the yeomanry and had rebuilt Tendring Hall. As a silent but steady adherent of opposition, his votes generally cancelled out those of his colleague, the anti-Catholic Tory Sir Thomas Gooch, with whom he was returned ‘by the oligarchy’ for the third time at the 1820 general election.1 He had recently held aloof from an attempt by Sir Henry Bunbury*, who aspired to the representation, to secure a county meeting to protest at the Liverpool ministry’s response to Peterloo, but he declared on the hustings that he would continue to vote for retrenchment and against legislation which threatened ‘the constitutional safeguards of the people’.2 In the 1820 Parliament Rowley appears to have attended regularly and voted consistently with the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry on most major issues, including parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 27 Apr. 1826, and Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He also gave fairly steady support to the ‘Mountain’ and Hume’s campaigns for economy and retrenchment and was commended accordingly by the Bury and Norwich Post.3 He was appointed with Gooch to the select committees on agricultural distress, 7 Mar. 1821, 18 Feb. 1822, and the game laws, 13 Mar. 1823, and added to that on labourers’ wages, 6 May 1824.

He voted against Wilberforce’s compromise motion on Queen Caroline’s case, 22 June 1820, and came under considerable pressure, agitated by Bunbury and the Bury St. Edmunds reformers that autumn, to assist the extra-parliamentary campaign on her behalf. He eventually agreed (24 Dec. 1820) to present a contentious address to her from freeholders in Suffolk’s Lackford Hundred and he acted with her parliamentary partisans in 1821.4 He ‘regretted’ the dismissal of Sir Robert Wilson* from the army for his conduct at the queen’s funeral, 13 Feb. 1822.5 A call of the House had kept him from the county meeting that called for a change of ministry and petitioned for parliamentary reform to alleviate agricultural distress, 16 Mar. 1821, and the tragic death of his 16-year-old nephew Henry Joshua Rowley prevented him from presenting their petition as requested.6 In September 1821 he contributed to the success and attended the celebrations of his brother-in-law Sir Robert Harland, 2nd bt., who outpolled the duke of Wellington at the steward’s election in Ipswich.7 A bad cold prevented him from addressing the January 1822 county meeting which petitioned for reform and measures to alleviate distress, and he was again indisposed when Gooch presented their petition, 7 Mar.8 In March and April he returned to Suffolk for a series of lieutenancy and magistrates’ meetings to consider recent arson attacks and the agricultural committee’s report.9 He was toasted in his absence at the Suffolk Fox and reform dinner in August 1822, having sent them two fat bucks.10 Rowley divided, albeit less assiduously, as hitherto with his colleagues in opposition for the remainder of the Parliament. He attended and agreed to present the reform petition adopted at the county meeting at Stowmarket, 4 Apr. but delegated it to its opponent Gooch, 24 Apr. 1823.11 He presented one for repeal of the coastal coal duty, 30 May.12 As chairman of the grand jury of the liberty of Bury St. Edmunds, he presented a memorial to the home office on the inconvenience of the shared assize system in Suffolk, to which Peel sent a non-committal reply, 9 July 1823.13 He presented petitions for repeal of the excise licence duties, 11 May, and voted against the beer duties bill with his son-in-law, the brewer Charles Calvert, 24 May 1824.14 He voted to condemn the indictment of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. He was a minority teller against the City of London water bill, in which his family had a vested interest, 1 Mar. 1825. He voted to repeal the assessed taxes, 3 Mar., and the window tax, 17 May, for inquiry into chancery delays, 7 June, and against the grant to the duke of Cumberland, 6, 9, 10 June 1825. A radical publication that session noted that he ‘attended occasionally’.15 He was in the minority for referring petitions from the distressed silk traders of London and Suffolk to a select committee, 24 Feb. 1826, and in May backed a deputation of Suffolk maltsters, who lobbied ministers for remission of the duty on malt.16 He favoured some protection for corn growers, presented petitions from the owners and occupiers of Heyland and Cossford against any alteration in the corn laws, 17 Apr., and joined Gooch in opposing the government’s proposals for releasing corn from bond (8, 11 May), a locally important general election issue. On the hustings at Stowmarket, 16 June, and Ipswich, 20 June, he stated only that his political opinions were unchanged, but his sponsors praised his votes against jobbing and taxes affecting the ‘poor and middling classes’ and he was spared the roasting given to Gooch before they were returned unopposed.17 In December 1826 he was among the Whig duke of Norfolk’s shooting guests at Fordham.18

Rowley voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828. He was obliged to deny reports that he had voted for the financial provisions for the duke of Clarence in February 1827.19 He divided for the production of information on the mutiny at Barrackpoor, 22 Mar., and for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. He voted against Canning’s coalition government for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May 1827. On 26 Feb. 1828 he presented several Suffolk petitions for repeal of the Test Acts and voted for that measure. He presented his constituents’ anti-slavery petitions, 22 May, 23 June 1828, when he voted against the Buckingham House expenditure. He divided for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and presented favourable petitions from Hadleigh and Stowmarket, 11 Mar. 1829. He attended the county agricultural distress meeting requisitioned by the Tories to petition for protection and retrenchment, 6 Feb. 1830, and briefly reaffirmed his commitment to reducing the taxes on malt and beer and removing those which affected ‘the lower classes’.20 No record of his parliamentary attendance that session survives before 12 Mar., when, as until 11 June, he voted steadily in person or paired with the revived Whig opposition. He did not vote on Jewish emancipation (5 Apr., 17 May), but paired for Lord John Russell’s reform motion, 28 May, and for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He voted to amend the sale of beer bill to restrict on-consumption, 21 June, 7 July 1830. He retired, ostensibly on health grounds and in Bunbury’s favour, at the dissolution that month. Critics condemned him as a Member who ‘has voted and paired off and paired off and voted and at last surrenders up the county through the means of an advertisement’.21 He took no part in proceedings at the ensuing election.

Rowley’s eldest son William died without issue, 24 Oct. 1830, but the marriages of Joshua and Charles into the Moseley, Vanneck and Arcedeckne families perpetuated the family’s close ties with the Whig hierarchy in Suffolk. He died in October 1832 at Tendring Hall, recalled as ‘an undeviating supporter of the popular cause’, and was buried in the family vault at Stoke-by-Neyland.22 By his will, dated 25 Dec. 1830, which was proved under £25,000, Tendring passed with the baronetcy to his eldest surviving son Joshua Ricketts Rowley (1790-1857), a naval captain. He bequeathed a life interest in his London house in Wimpole Street to his widow and unmarried daughters and provided legacies for each of his children and his brother, the Rev. Joshua Rowley.23

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 366-7; v. 58-59; W.P. Scargill, Peace of the County (1830), 4-10.
  • 2. Mem. and Literary Remains of Sir Henry Edward Bunbury ed. C.J.F. Bunbury, 85-86; Suff. Chron. 26 Feb., 18 Mar.; Ipswich Jnl. 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. Bury and Norwich Post, 13 Feb. 1823.
  • 4. Suff. Chron. 26 Aug.; The Times, 4 Sept. 1820, 5, 30 Jan.; Bury and Norwich Post, 3, 10 Jan., 7 Feb. 1821; Add. 38574, f. 232.
  • 5. The Times, 14 Feb. 1822.
  • 6. Ipswich Jnl. 17 Mar.; The Times, 21 Mar., 18 Apr.; Gent. Mag. (1821), i. 369.
  • 7. The Times, 9 Sept., 4 Oct. 1821.
  • 8. Ibid. 31 Jan., 8 Mar. 1822.
  • 9. Bury and Norwich Post, 20 Feb., 10, 24 Apr. 1822.
  • 10. The Times, 23 Aug. 1822.
  • 11. Ipswich Jnl. 5 Apr.; The Times, 5, 7, 25 Apr. 1823.
  • 12. The Times, 31 May 1823.
  • 13. Add. 40357, f. 87.
  • 14. The Times, 12 May 1824.
  • 15. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 483.
  • 16. Bury and Norwich Post, 10 May 1826.
  • 17. Ibid. 7, 14, 21 June; The Times, 9 June 1826.
  • 18. The Times, 9 Dec. 1826.
  • 19. Bury and Norwich Post, 28 Mar. 1827.
  • 20. Ibid. 3, 10 Feb. 1830.
  • 21. Ibid. 16, 30 June, 14 July; The Times, 17 June; Ipswich Jnl. 10 July 1830.
  • 22. Suff. Chron. 7 Aug. 1830, 27 Oct. 1832; Gent. Mag. (1830), ii. 476; (1833), i. 83.
  • 23. Suff. Chron. 7 Aug. 1830, 27 Oct. 1832; Gent. Mag. (1830), ii. 476; (1833), i. 83; IR26/1331/89; PROB 11/1813/82.