WALSH, Sir John Benn, 2nd bt. (1798-1881), of Warfield Park, Berks. and 28 Berkeley Square, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 9 Dec. 1798, 5th but 1st surv. s. of Sir John Benn Walsh†, 1st bt., of Ormathwaite, Cumb. and Warfield Park and Margaret, da. of Joseph Fowke, E.I. Co. service, of Bexley, Kent, niece and h. of John Walsh† of Warfield Park. educ. Faithfull’s sch. Warfield 1808-11; Eton 1811-13; priv. tutor 1814-17; Christ Church, Oxf. 1816. m. 8 Nov. 1825, Lady Jane Grey, da. of George Harry, 6th earl of Stamford and Warrington, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. to estates of gt.-uncle John Walsh 1819; fa. as 2nd bt. and to Ormathwaite 7 June 1825; cr. Bar. Ormathwaite 16 Apr. 1868. d. 3 Feb. 1881.
Ld. lt. Rad. 1842-75.
Walsh, whose five brothers, including his twin William, died at or soon after birth, was born heir to and named after his maternal great-uncle, John Walsh (1725-95). The latter’s East Indian fortune and estates in Berkshire, county Cork and county Kerry had been bequeathed to his mother in trust until her male heir came of age, provided her husband (his executor John Benn) assumed the name of Walsh. A protégé, through his guardian uncle Dr. William Brownrigge, of the North ministry’s treasury secretary John Robinson†, Benn Walsh represented Bletchingley as a supporter of Addington’s ministry and was created a baronet in 1804. He had amassed an £80,000 fortune and met his wife, a goddaughter of Lady Clive, in India, where she had joined her father and brother, Joseph and Francis Fowke, in the late 1780s and pioneered the collection of Hindustani airs. Tall and imposing, she exerted a profound influence over her son Walsh, who commemorated her in an unpublished six-volume biography.1 He also kept a journal record of his own life from his departure from Faithfull’s school at Warfield for Eton in 1811 until his sight failed in 1871, when he delegated the task to his secretary.2
Walsh recalled his childhood at Warfield and his parents’ London house in Harley Street among East Indian friends and relations as ‘brilliant and happy’.3 He was withdrawn early from Eton, where he was ‘ill and unhappy’, and tutored by a ‘Mr. Wilson’, whom he described as ‘good’, but with ‘no means of control’, and went up to Oxford, where he formed lasting friendships with Panton Corbett*, William Stratford Dugdale*, Sir Roger Gresley* and Edward Protheroe*, ‘deficient in knowledge of the classics’.4 He sought to improve his ‘connections’ through European tours (he made his first in 1816), triennial visits to his Irish and Cumberland estates and introductions to London, Berkshire and Brighton society, and hoped to enter Parliament at the first opportunity.5 His father, who in any case considered the attempt premature, suffered a paralytic stroke in March 1820 shortly after making overtures on his behalf for a treasury seat, and nothing came of his own negotiations with Evan Baillie† for Tralee and Thomas Spring Rice* for Limerick, in the course of which Walsh professed support for Lord Liverpool’s ministry and for Catholic relief.6 ‘Ambitious and discontented’, he afterwards criticized his great-uncle Walsh for spending on elections at Worcester and Pontefract, where he could acquire no proprietary interest, and for purchasing ‘scattered ... tracts of land in remote parts of the kingdom, where there was neither a residence nor a possibility of living’. He dismissed Warfield Park as a ‘mere villa in a county where it was impossible he could ever obtain any extent of ground, or create any considerable county interest ... a mere plaything for which I have no taste’, but appreciated the £3,600 per annum it brought him.7 Eager to ‘join the oligarchies of birth and political influence’, Walsh saw marriage and an independent parliamentary seat as the keys to progress and resolved to live by his father’s mantra, ‘Do as much as I have done John and you will be a peer’.8 Lady Charlotte Charteris, whom he courted from 1823 to 1825, turned him down, but on 11 Sept. 1825, three months after succeeding his father as 2nd baronet and to an estimated £119,000, the Whig Lord Stamford’s daughter Lady Jane Grey accepted his marriage proposal. His annual income was then £7,402.9
Walsh was abroad at the dissolution in 1826, ‘irritated and disappointed at the unpleasant conduct’ of his ‘wife’s family and the apparent failure’ of his expectations from the connection.10 By 1830 his confidence had been boosted by the birth of two sons, successful overtures to his Fowke cousins, whose Radnorshire properties he proposed adding to his own with a view to representing the county, and the éclat generated by musical entertainments at his £13,000 house in Berkeley Square and favourable reviews of his pamphlet on Irish poverty.11 ‘Composed without concert, or consultation with any human being, without even reference to books ... my style as well as my ideas was all my own’, it was acclaimed by Edward Smith Stanley*, Sir Henry Parnell*, Malthus, McCulloch, and Lords Limerick and Maryborough, and caused Spring Rice to invite him to testify before the Commons select committee on the Irish poor. (Nothing now came of it, but he was appointed to the revived committee, 11 Nov. 1830).12 His mother encouraged him to seek a seat directly the king’s health deteriorated in April 1830, and he made overtures to Sir Edward Dering*, who invited offers over 5,000 guineas for New Romney and ‘quite rejected any annual consideration’; to Sir Charles Forbes* and through him to the broker Vizard, who suggested openings on the Foster Barham* interest at Stockbridge, or as second man to William Henry Trant* in Dover; and to William Stephens, the attorney handling his Berkeley Square property and an influential figure in Taunton. That seat was under offer, but Stephens sent him to Walter Montriou, an acquaintance of the town clerk of Sudbury Edmund Steadman, who briefed him on the sitting Members and arranged for him to go down to meet the corporation on 28 June.13 Setting aside his family and friends’ concerns over Sudbury’s venality, Walsh grasped the opportunity afforded by the proclamation of William IV during his visit to declare as a ‘church and state’ candidate, and eventually came in unopposed at an initial cost of £4,000 with the 2nd earl of Rosslyn’s son-in-law Bethell Walrond.14 He attributed the general shortage of seats at the election to the ‘aristocracy buying them up, a few disfranchisements, and an oversupply’ of candidates.15 He surmised:
Had I entered Parliament at 21 in 1820, I should have come in a timid bashful unknown youth, I should have found the Tory ministry of Liverpool firm as a rock offering no probabilities of change, no opening for talent, little anxious to bring forward the young, or to recruit its ranks with fresh accessions of talent. In such an atmosphere and at such a time, I should certainly never have stepped forward actively. The title of MP might have assisted me in society, but the moment would have been unfavourable for my acquiring a grain of political importance. I should have acquired a habit and the character of a cypher, and it is difficult indeed to divest oneself of a character once stamped. Had I entered in 1826 the time would have been more favourable. The brilliant genius of Canning had illuminated the dullness of the Tory cabinet, new views, new ideas, new measures were in agitation, the stagnant intellects of Eldon, Castlereagh and Sidmouth no longer weighed down all talent, men’s minds were beginning to ferment and there was the hope that the active and clever might work their way to notice. But yet I see little cause to regret that I did not then come into the House. The sacrifice of money would have inconvenienced me and my nerves and health were not in a state to have fortified my exertions. Since that period we have been steadily and uniformly progressive and single and unaided as we have been, have done much towards rendering our names known and establishing both a solid and a showy position in the world.16
He presented Sudbury’s loyal address to William IV, 4 Aug. 1830.17
The Wellington ministry counted Walsh among their ‘friends’ and he took the seat he recalled as his father’s ‘on the left hand on entering under the gallery ... understanding that this was the neutral ground for those Members who were independent, but inclined to ministers’.18 Returning to Warfield, as he did regularly that autumn, he discussed with his mother, who mistrusted Wellington, how he should vote on the address if the king’s speech mentioned interference in Belgium, which he thought ‘most impolitic’ and likely to ‘light up a general war between governments and people throughout Europe’.19 He considered the speech ‘injudicious’, 2 Nov., but his ambition was whetted by the evident shortage of good government speakers in the ensuing debate. Regrettably for Walsh, who quickly gained a reputation as an excellent attender, energetic politician and party hack, his halting delivery would preclude him from high office.20 According to his journal, he was not as commonly stated absent from the division on the civil list by which the ministry were brought down, 15 Nov. 1830, but voted, ‘rather against my opinion on the particular case’, in their minority, having perceived that Parnell’s amendment was a ‘catching’ one on which they would be ‘run hard’.21 He played a leading part in organizing local resistance to the ‘Swing’ riots in Berkshire that month, and found sitting on the Forfar election committee, 2-11 Dec., a tedious, but useful experience.22 After much prevarication, he chose to make his maiden speech for Newport’s resolutions on Irish grand juries, 9 Dec. 1830, his 32nd birthday. It was, he acknowledged, ‘rather a lame effort ... not altogether a breakdown, though I fear it will not materially increase my reputation’.23 Unwell with a heavy cold, he gave a dinner in Sudbury, where his civil list vote was criticized, 22 Dec. 1830, and was foreman of the Berkshire grand jury in Reading when the ‘Swing’ rioters were tried the following week. There, realizing that his publications were more likely to advance his political career than his speeches, he commenced Popular Opinions on Parliamentary Reform Considered, which, when he developed erysipelas in January 1831, was transcribed by a local schoolmaster to ensure its pre-session publication. It was widely acclaimed.24
Walsh resumed his seat on the ‘neutral ministerial benches’, 14 Feb. 1831, determined to oppose the Grey ministry’s transfer tax, but to ‘see what their reform plan would prove’ before taking any decided line. He witnessed its introduction and the sensation it caused from a ‘seat inside the bar on the opposition side’ to which he had been opportunely summoned by Charles Ross, 1 Mar.25 Next day, drawing on his pamphlet and its argument that ‘an entire remodelling of the constitution’ was intended, he spoke ‘nervously’ and ineffectively against the bill.26 He informed his mother:
I am not quite easy about this reform question. It appears to me that it is making ground very rapidly, and the prevailing opinion is that it will be carried. I look at it with great hostility. The giving Members to counties has caught many, but altogether it seems to me a true Whig scheme, occupying all the avenues to political power and distinction by the high aristocracy on one side and by the radicals on the other and sacrificing all the intermediate classes of the gentry, and placing the nobility in so invidious a position with respect to the rest of the community, that they will speedily be overpowered.27
He voted against the bill at its second reading, 22 Mar., presented a hostile petition from Sudbury, from which it proposed taking a seat, 15 Apr., and divided for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr.28 As privately discussed with Wellington and others, 24 Mar., he countered his incompetence in debate with a new pamphlet, published in April 1831, Observations on the Ministerial Plan of Reform.29 The Times, then pro-reform, dismissed it as useless, but the anti-reformer Lord Ellenborough thought it enough to secure Walsh ‘a good efficient place’ should the Tories return to office.30 Walsh perceived that
newspapers all approached it with the same deference and respect and the Tories were more pleased with it, because, always rather distrusting the Whigs as statesmen, their late radical measures had inflamed me against them; and I infused into the tone of it a certain subdued bitterness and contempt, in place of the strictly impartial dispassionate and philosophical discussion of the first.31
His return for Sudbury at the general election that month was assured; and, denying the former Tory Member John Norman Macleod, whom he disliked, a coalition, he applied to their committee in Charles Street for a second man, so securing the defeat of the reformer Windham and bringing in Lord Aberdeen’s former private secretary Digby Cayley Wrangham as his colleague.32 Afterwards he assisted the anti-reformer Robert Palmer* in Berkshire.33
Partly through Wrangham, whose high connections and recourse to party funds to pay his way he resented, Walsh was privy to the manoeuvring, meetings and private dinners that accompanied opposition policy making and the eventual formation of the Carlton Club in 1831-2.34 He thought the response to the address
very badly managed. None of the great points were dwelt upon: the state of Europe, the squadron at Spithead, the riots at the elections, the subsequent disturbances, the connection between them. Instead ... the whole ... was taken up with little petty frivolous personalities, which it was quite right to bring forward, but not to the exclusion of everything else. I attended a meeting of the Tories and Ultra Tories at Peel’s ... It was there determined that no obstruction should be offered to the bringing in of the [reform] bill, and that the point of the Irish and Scottish bills being simultaneously before the House should be insisted upon. This was conceded. We are in a very critical situation. They seem to think that the peers will be firm, and that the bill can only be carried by a large creation of new ones. In the fashionable world I continue to make a rapid progress, though Jane’s illness prevents its being quite a solid one.35
He accepted a late invitation from William Holmes* to open the debate on the reform bill’s second reading, 4 July, and moved to kill it by adjournment in a 40-minute speech that capitalized upon the recent riots in Banbury, Merthyr, Rye and Wigan and condemned the measure as a threat to the constitution and social and class harmony.36 It was easily trounced by the bill’s architect Lord John Russell, who compounded Walsh’s woes by claiming that his pamphlets showed him to be ‘grossly ignorant of the history of England’. He realized soon afterwards that he was being deliberately excluded from the Charles Street subcommittee organizing opposition to the bill.37 He considered their attempts to adjourn its committee stage ‘injudicious. I divided the first time with the ministry and then left the House’, 12 July.38 He chose not to divide on the schedule A boroughs, but voted to postpone consideration of the partial inclusion of Chippenham in schedule B, 27 July. He also presented a hostile petition from the corporation and freemen of Sudbury that day, and set out their case for removing the borough from schedule B in speeches, 29, 30 July, 2 Aug., when he and Wrangham lost the division by 157-108.39 It hinged on the inaccuracy of the 1821 census returns and the accuracy of archive evidence which he had discovered, and Russell refuted, proving that the suburb of Ballingdon (its inclusion made depriving Sudbury of a Member untenable on population grounds) was legally part of the parish and borough, and administratively distinct from the county of Essex in which it was geographically situated.40 He travelled regularly over the next ten weeks between London and his family in Ryde.41 He voted to retain existing voting rights, 27 Aug. Arriving in London, 13 Sept., he was vexed to find that Peel’s decision to waive unnecessary opposition to the bill in the Commons had cost him a fortnight’s sailing and would probably deprive him of an opportunity to propose an amendment creating university representation for Scotland. Ignoring Sir George Murray, who prepared a similar proposal, Walsh had liaised only with the mathematician Chalmers, a family friend.42 He voted silently against the English bill’s passage, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and announced his clause for Scottish university representation after voting to end the Maynooth grant, 26 Sept. It called for two University Members for Edinburgh and St. Andrews, and two for Glasgow and Aberdeen, and became a casualty of the bill’s adjournment, 4 Oct. 1831.43
Walsh found a place by the throne to hear the Lords debate the English bill, 7 Oct. 1831, and stayed there to witness its defeat.44 In conversation afterwards with Philip Pusey*, he agreed that Peel ‘retired too much into himself, and did not enough bring forward the young men of his party’.45 He attended the Marylebone reform meeting and dined at the Travellers with George Johnson on his way to the House, 10 Oct., where Lord Porchester* informed him ‘that the committee in Charles Street had determined ... to adopt the most conciliatory language, to avoid attack upon the ministers with a view of not increasing popular excitement out of doors’.46 Walsh ‘quite disapproved’:
Ebrington’s resolution reasserted the principle of the reform bill, and expressed general confidence in the ministry. Now I would have wholly passed over the question of reform, but upon that of general confidence in the ministry, I would have arraigned their policy upon the various other assailable points. The ministry are not popular in the country, though the reform bill is. By attacking them upon different ground, we should have put them on the defensive, without at all increasing the excitement out of doors.47
With bad grace, he attended a Sudbury dinner (21 Oct.) to celebrate the bill’s defeat with Wrangham, whose superiority to him as a speaker and ‘overweening ambition and conceit’ he resented.48 After a week assisting the Tory Charles Philip Yorke’s* London committee during the Cambridgeshire by-election, he returned to Berkshire, where he ultimately failed to procure an anti-reform address.49 While there, he assisted Steadman with further inquiries concerning Sudbury, which, as he had hoped, retained two Members under the revised reform bill, announced, 12 Dec. 1831.50
Walsh had resolved to make a concerted effort to revive his political career through publications, ‘little dinners and entertainments’ when Parliament reassembled; and as his confidence grew he became increasingly aware of the infidelities and individual foibles and idiosyncrasies of his colleagues and recorded them in his journals: thus he noticed when opposition met at Peel’s after the king’s speech, 6 Dec. 1831, that John Croker seemed ‘restive and likes to move parsi parssu’.51 He regretted not responding in debate to the Irish secretary Smith Stanley, 15 Dec., but although his interest in Irish issues persisted (24 Feb., 8 Mar. 1832), his mind was full of his next pamphlet on parties and reform,52 for which he gleaned ideas during the debate on the bill’s second reading, 17 Dec. 1831. He described Smith Stanley’s speech for government that day as ‘brilliant’ and the division ‘a poor one for opposition’.53 He attended the House assiduously, but divided sparingly, voting against the bill’s committal, 20 Jan., the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., when he was delighted to see the government’s majority reduced to 20, and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832.54 He quibbled briefly over the proposed three Member counties (Berkshire was one) as being conducive to ‘unfortunate struggles and great expense’, 27 Jan., but ‘felt embarrassed and did not acquit myself well’.55 He compensated with his judiciously distributed pamphlet, the Present Balance of Parties in the State (published, 26 Jan. 1832), which was highly praised in Tory circles, and responded to by Montague Gore for the Whigs.56 It made Walsh a popular dinner guest and committee member, and he took particular pride in his work at the Carlton Club, where he was instrumental in securing Jephson’s appointment as secretary, and was an active member of the subcommittees on ‘newspapers’ and ‘candidate selection’.57 To Walsh, Parliament comprised ministerial Whigs, liberal Tories and radicals, the old Canning-Huskisson opposition, High Tories and independents. Each party’s essence rested on ‘political principles peculiar to itself’. The Whigs had been destroyed by the shock of the French revolution, the ‘diminution of party spirit after the peace of 1815’, and ‘liberal policies and the threat of subversive reform’, for the interests of aristocratic Whigs and popularists were incompatible. Lord Grey’s administration could not be based on the three Whig principles of ‘economy, non-interference with foreign affairs and reform’.58 Denouncing his Conservatism and moderate reform, ‘Philo-radical’ wrote in The Times, 26 Mar. 1832:
Walsh takes the lead and because he writes well and with facility, considers he writes wisely and constitutionally. He represents his own thousands, and though he condemns corruption by his pen, yet stoutly supports it by his vote. He certainly becomes the venal borough of Sudbury better than he would do any of the proposed enfranchised towns.59
Privately, meanwhile, Walsh assessed his situation thus:
I have now a firm and a flattering position in society and I will own that I enjoy it. I have learned to value it, to understand it. I have acquired by my long experience a certain tact ... [and] become more at my ease.60
He believed that further Lords’ defeats made peerage creations to carry the bill inevitable, and knew before the division on Ebrington’s resolutions, 10 May, that Peel would refuse to serve in the quasi-reform ministry contemplated in the king’s overture to Wellington.61 With its outcome still uncertain, he divided his time between London and Berkshire, where, having secured the writ, he canvassed for Palmer, the successful candidate at the June by-election. He also now learnt that he risked disqualification for treating, should he attempt Sudbury again.62 He voted against the Irish reform bill at its second reading, 25 May, and, withdrawing his amendment to the Scottish bill, 4 June, he said that university representation would have not have been enough to counter the measure’s ‘oppressive’ evils and that he was no longer prepared to risk inciting strong feelings by pressing it. He divided against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, and although he agreed with Peel that it would be ‘wrong to turn out the ministers on the issue’, he was disappointed when Hume and the radicals deserted them before the latter division.63 He had turned down an invitation from Sir Richard Vyvyan* in June 1832 to join an ‘Old Tory’ or ‘sort of country party independent of the duke and ... the Whigs’.64
Walsh had repeatedly sought and grudgingly received confirmation from Wrangham of his superior claim to the corporation and Conservative vote in Sudbury, which returned him with the Whig veteran Michael Angelo Taylor* at the general election in December 1832 after Wrangham retired during the poll.65 He stood down there at the dissolution in 1834 when his prospects were poor, but following defeats in Radnorshire (1835) and Poole (1837) and unsuccessful forays in Abingdon (1836) and Birmingham (1837), he topped the Sudbury poll in dubious circumstances in 1838.66 In 1840 he realized his ambition to sit for Radnorshire, which he retained for the Conservatives until his elevation to the Lords by Lord Derby in April 1868. He was made lord lieutenant of Radnorshire on Peel’s recommendation in 1842 and was instrumental in quelling the 1843 Rebecca riots there. On his death at Warfield Park in February 1881 the barony and estates passed to his elder son Arthur (1827-1920), Conservative Member for Leominster, 1865-8.67
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. HP Commons, 1754-90, iii. 602-3; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 174-5; Oxford DNB sub Fowke and Walsh; NLW, Ormathwaite mss FE5/1-6; FG1/43, pp. 115, 123; G. Parry ‘Intro. to Ormathwaite Pprs.’ (NLW, 1990), pp. i-vi.
- 2. Ormathwaite mss FG1/1-43.
- 3. Ibid. FG1/1, pp. 5, 97, 193; 1/5, p. 25.
- 4. Ibid. FG1/1, pp. 103, 141; G35, f. 2.
- 5. Ibid. FG1/1, 97, 253; FG1/43, pp. 62-74, 76-79, 81; J.S. Donnelly, ‘Jnls. of Sir John Benn Walsh relating to management of his Irish Estates, 1823-64’, Jnl. of Cork Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxix (1974), 86-123; lxxx (1975), 15-42.
- 6. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, p. 61; G15, ff. 4, 5, 14-16, 22, 27-29, 36-39, 61-71, 83, 88.
- 7. Ibid. FG1/3, pp. 253-65.
- 8. Ibid. pp. 266-74; FG1/4, pp. 20-29, 40-80, 110-30.
- 9. G. Parry, intro. to Ormathwaite mss [NRA 33331], pp. i-viii; FG1/4, pp. 107-201.
- 10. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, p 61.
- 11. Ibid. pp. 25, 30-40, 52-62; Walsh, Poor Laws in Ireland Considered.
- 12. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 22-24, 30, 31, 33, 39.
- 13. Ibid. pp. 68-77; G35, ff. 78, 103-4; G37, ff. 3-4.
- 14. Ibid. FG1/5, pp. 78-92; G35, ff. 90-102, 107-21; G36, f. 18; G37, ff. 3-8; The Times, 12 July; Bury and Norwich Post, 4 Aug. 1830.
- 15. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 67-68.
- 16. Ibid. pp. 64-65.
- 17. The Times, 5 Aug. 1830.
- 18. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 117-22.
- 19. Ibid. pp. 123-4, 130-3.
- 20. Ibid. pp. 126-7.
- 21. Ibid. pp. 133-4; Bury and Norwich Post, 24 Nov. 1830.
- 22. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 135-44.
- 23. Ibid. pp. 142-3.
- 24. Ibid. pp. 145-67.
- 25. Ibid. pp. 168-9.
- 26. Ibid. pp. 169-70; The Times, 3 Mar. 1831.
- 27. Ormathwaite mss G39, f. 43.
- 28. Ibid. FG1/5, p. 171.
- 29. Ibid. p. 172.
- 30. The Times, 11 Apr. 1831; Three Diaries, 77.
- 31. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, p. 174.
- 32. Ibid. pp. 176-80; Bury and Norwich Post, 27 Apr., 4, 11 May 1831.
- 33. Ormathwaite mss G39, f. 54.
- 34. Ibid. FG/1/5, pp. 183-4, 192.
- 35. Ibid. G39, f. 59.
- 36. Ibid. FG1/5, p. 189; The Times, 9 July 1831.
- 37. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 189-90.
- 38. Ibid. p. 191.
- 39. The Times, 3 Aug. 1831.
- 40. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 193-5.
- 41. Ibid. pp. 195-9.
- 42. Ibid. pp. 199-202; G39, f. 74.
- 43. Ibid. FG1/5, p. 203; G39, f. 98.