SCOTT, Hon. William Henry John (1795-1832), of 126 Park Street, Grosvenor Square, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 25 Feb. 1795, 4th but 2nd surv. s. of Sir John Scott†, 1st Bar. Eldon, of Bedford Square and Elizabeth, da. of Aubone Surtees, banker, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb. educ. Eton; Univ. Coll. Oxf. 1813; M. Temple 1810, called 1816. unm. d.v.p. 6 July 1832.
Commr. of bankrupts 1816-21; recvr. of fines 1816-d., sec. of decrees and injunctions 1816-21, clerk of patents and registrar of affidavits, ct. of chancery 1819-d.; cursitor and commr. of lunacy 1821-d.
Scott, described to Farington in 1817 as ‘a young man of no promise’, was a disappointment to his redoubtable father lord chancellor Eldon, who prayed in 1829 that he would be led to ‘right ways of thinking, and by them, to that happiness which no man ever wished a son to enjoy more than I have’. Yet, as Horace Twiss* noted, his ‘eccentricities seem not to have abated his father’s interest in him’; and ‘his agreeable qualities and natural talents rendered him an especial favourite’ with Eldon, who indulged him.1 Scott’s elder brother had died in 1805, but left an infant son as heir to Eldon’s peerage. The chancellor compensated William Henry with a clutch of chancery sinecures worth about £2,800 a year, and with the reversions to the 3rd Earl Bathurst’s clerkship of the crown and the office of bankruptcy patentee after the lives of Edward, 2nd Baron Thurlow, and his brother the Rev. Thomas Thurlow. These were conservatively estimated at about £1,000 and £4,500 respectively, but the latter was a dubious prospect, as Thomas Thurlow was only seven years older than Scott.2
At the general election of 1820 he was returned for the treasury borough of Hastings at a reputed cost of 4,000 guineas. The Whig lawyer John Campbell II* later wrote that although he was ‘disqualified for steady application to business by his sinecures’, he had ‘much natural cleverness’ and ‘a considerable share of dry humour’:
He once told me that, while a Member of the House of Commons, he made it a rule to be always present at the division, and never at the debate; adding, ‘I regularly read the arguments on both sides in the newspapers next morning, and it is marvellous that I uniformly find I have been right in my votes’.3
Certainly he made no mark in the House, where he continued, when present, to give apparently silent support to his father’s ministerial colleagues.4 He voted in defence of their conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb., and presented a petition from Hastings ‘complaining of agricultural distress’, 22 Feb. 1821.5 He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. 1825. He mustered for the divisions on the revenue, 6 Mar., repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., the army estimates, 11 Apr., and the disfranchisement of ordnance officials, 12 Apr. 1821. He divided against mitigation of the penal code, 23 May, for the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June, and against retrenchment, 27 June 1821. In his capacity as a baron of the Cinque Ports he was a canopy bearer at the coronation of George IV, by whom he had been ‘quite graciously received’ the previous year. Eldon reported that he cut ‘a capital figure’ in the uniform, ‘looked amazingly well, and performed his duty well’.6 His attendance seems to have fallen away during the following sessions of the 1820 Parliament. He voted against reduction of the salt duties, 28 Feb., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822, inquiries into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and chancery delays, 5 June, the Scottish juries bill, 20 June 1823, and parliamentary reform, 26 Feb. 1824. He divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., and for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 30 May, 10 June 1825. Three months later Brougham was told that Scott had ‘made himself ill by perpetual hard living’, but ‘would be well enough if he would keep himself sober’.7
At the general election of 1826 he came in for Newport on the Holmes interest. It is not clear whether it was he or his cousin William Scott who voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. His father’s long tenure of the great seal ended with the formation of Canning’s ministry the following month. He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828, and was one of the steadfast opponents of Catholic emancipation in 1829. He was in the minority in favour of issuing a new writ for East Retford, 2 June 1829. Like his father, Scott was alienated from the Wellington ministry by their concession of emancipation, and in 1830 he acted with the disaffected Ultras in opposition to them. It is uncertain whether it was he or his cousin who divided for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address, 4 Feb., but he definitely voted against government in favour of economy and retrenchment, 12, 22, 29 Mar., 7, 11 June. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May. His last recorded votes were against the sale of beer bill, 1 July, and the libel law amendment bill, 9 July 1830. He left the House at the ensuing dissolution, though he had been rumoured as a candidate for Maidstone.8
In 1825 Eldon had reported that ‘W.H.J. seems in good spirits, but not quite well’, being ‘plagued’ by hostile comments on his sinecures, which grossly exaggerated their value to £10,000 a year.9 By the Bankruptcy Act of 20 Oct. 1831, Thomas Thurlow’s patentee office was abolished and replaced with an annuity of £11,734, with reversion to Scott. The following year it was alleged that Scott, who had so far received over £3,600 in compensation for his loss of fees as a cursitor incurred by the Act of 5 July 1825, and was ‘entrenched chin-deep in sinecures and reversions’, would have ‘an income of £14,000 a year for doing nothing’ if he survived Thurlow.10 In the Commons, 6 Mar. 1832, Spring Rice, the Grey ministry’s secretary to the treasury, responded to an opposition attack on the Irish lord chancellor Plunket’s avaricious nepotism by comparing it favourably with Eldon’s, making particular reference to the six sinecures which he had bestowed on Scott. Eldon was ‘much irritated’ and on 12 Mar. 1832 replied indignantly in the Lords to his critics, pointing out that contrary to the ‘wicked and diabolical’ story that his son was currently in receipt of £12,000 a year from the bankruptcy patent, he had as yet derived nothing from the reversions and was unlikely ever to do so.11 Scott was now terminally ill, and he died intestate and v.p. at his London house in July 1832, to the considerable grief of Eldon, who survived him by almost six years.12 His effects were valued for administration under £30,000.13 Twiss wrote that
death had thrown his failings into the shade and brought his virtues into relief, in the view of his sorrowing father. ‘Well’, said Lord Eldon, ‘I must say of him, that whatever faults he had, and however unfortunate they were for me, he had the best heart of any man I ever knew in my life’ ... In society he indulged a sly humour, of which the effect was much heightened by a handsome countenance, and an appearance of shyness, under which however he maintained the most complete self-possession.14
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Farington Diary, xiv. 4995; Twiss, Eldon, iii. 94.
- 2. Black Bk. (1820), 37; (1823), 191-2.
- 3. Campbell, Lives of Lord Chancellors, vii. 588.
- 4. Black Bk. (1823), 191; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 484.
- 5. The Times, 23 Feb. 1821.
- 6. Twiss, ii. 363-4, 428.
- 7. Brougham mss, J. Smith to Brougham, 6 Sept. 1825.
- 8. Maidstone Gazette, 25 May 1830.
- 9. Twiss, ii. 556.
- 10. Extraordinary Black Bk. (1832), 331, 529, 568-9, 577.
- 11. Twiss, iii. 170-1; Campbell, vii. 555-7.
- 12. Twiss, iii. 185-6, 272-3.
- 13. PROB 6/208/220.
- 14. Twiss, iii. 185-6.