TOMLINE, William Edward (1787-1836), of Riby Grove, nr. Great Grimsby, Lincs.

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



1812 - 1818
1818 - 1820
1826 - 24 Feb. 1829
1830 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 27 Feb. 1787, 1st s. of Rt. Rev. George Tomline (formerly Pretyman), bp. of Lincoln and later of Winchester, and Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Thomas Maltby of Germans, Bucks. educ. privately; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1804. m. 18 Apr. 1811, Frances, da. and h. of John Amler of Ford Hall, Salop, 3s. 2da. suc. fa. 1827 (but not to the baronetcy of Pretyman to which his claim was established in 1823). d. 25 Mar. 1836.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Lincs. 1824-5.

1st maj. Lindsey regt. Lincs. militia 1809, lt.-col. 1814; col. R. North Lincs. militia 1831, col. 1835-d.


Tomline, the son of Pitt’s confidant and biographer, was returned for Truro on Lord Falmouth’s interest in 1818, but he and his colleague Lord Fitzroy Somerset were again opposed in 1820 by two candidates representing a section of the corporation hostile to the patron. A local newspaper reported that, ‘finding he had no chance of success’, Tomline ‘cut and run, without taking leave’, and that he made an approach to his former constituency of Christchurch. In the event, no opening was available there and he came bottom of the poll at Truro.1 By 1826, however, Falmouth had re-established control over the borough and Tomline and Somerset were returned unopposed.2

His attendance was very poor, and he is not known to have spoken in debate. He divided against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. Early in 1828 he wrote to the new prime minister, the duke of Wellington, claiming that he was entitled to a baronetcy (he had been unable to succeed to the Pretyman title when his father died the previous year), but consideration of his application was postponed.3 He presented petitions from Lincolnshire sheep farmers for a protective duty against imported wool, 5 Mar., and from Stamford against the Malt Act, 20 Mar. He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. His failure to vote on the Penryn disfranchisement bill that session angered Falmouth, and prompted Tomline to clarify his understanding of their political connection. He maintained that he had been ‘brought ... into Parliament as a sincere Tory and an opposer both of parliamentary reform and the Catholic claims’, while on other issues he was ‘free and unfettered’. Although he disliked the Penryn bill and would not vote for it, he also thought it ‘possible that by occasionally yielding to popular feeling in particular cases like the present, an additional power may be gained in the means of resisting all general questions of reform’. He declared himself to be ‘Tory enough to dislike opposing a measure of a government conducted by the duke ... whom I still regard with the same unbounded confidence I ever did’, and who required cordial and steady support in order to resist ‘many measures proposed by persons whose politics you and I equally dislike’.4 In February 1829 he resigned his seat, having changed his mind on the question of Catholic emancipation, to which his patron remained opposed. He explained that ‘when I see Ireland ... without any government at all except the Catholic Association, and see only one man superlatively fit to be at the head of the government in England’, it was clearly impossible for the present arrangements in Ireland to continue and essential that ministers be supported in their ‘exertions to remedy evils which experience proves them no longer able to control’. The only alternative, he argued, was to allow the Whigs to take office, and any emancipation measure of theirs would be ‘carried probably in a manner less conciliatory to the feelings and less consistent with the principles of every zealous Protestant’. In regretfully accepting Tomline’s decision, Falmouth cautioned him against seeking or accepting a peerage, which ‘I think I have heard you say might be desirable to you’, but which would destroy his reputation for integrity.5 There is no indication that any such offer was made.

Tomline briefly reappeared in the Commons as Member for Minehead, where he was returned unopposed at the general election of 1830 with the borough’s patron, John Fownes Luttrell. The Wellington ministry reckoned him as one of their ‘friends’, and he duly voted with them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. He divided against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. The ensuing dissolution marked the end of his parliamentary career. Tomline’s father had accumulated a fortune during his career in the church, leaving on his death in 1827 a personal estate which was sworn under £200,000.6 According to Thomas Raikes, Tomline took ‘great care’ of his inheritance and after his death in May 1836 his personalty was sworn under £400,000. He distributed large sums of money amongst his children and left the residue to his eldest son, George Tomline (1812-89), Conservative Member for Sudbury, 1840-1, and Shrewsbury, 1841-7, and Liberal Member for Shrewsbury, 1852-68, and Great Grimsby, 1868-74.7

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. West Briton, 10, 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 2. Ibid. 9 June 1826.
  • 3. Wellington mss WP1/920/22.
  • 4. Suff. RO (Ipswich), Tomline mss HA 119/562/726, Tomline to Falmouth, 27 Mar. 1828.
  • 5. Ibid. Tomline to Falmouth [n.d.], reply, 13 Feb. 1829.
  • 6. IR26/1151/792; Black Bk. (1820), 83-84; (1823), 225, 301.
  • 7. Raikes Jnl. ii. 371; PROB 11/1865/456; IR26/1432/409.