WATSON, Hon. Richard (1800-1852).

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

Constituency

Dates

1830 - 1834
1852 - 26 July 1852

Family and Education

b. 6 Jan. 1800, 4th s. of Lewis Thomas Watson†, 2nd Bar. Sondes (d. 1806), and Mary Elizabeth, da. and h. of Richard Milles† of North Elmham, Norf. and Nackington, Kent. educ. Eton 1808. m. 21 Dec. 1839, Lavinia Jane, da. of Lord George Quin, 3s. 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. bro. Hon. and Rev. Henry Watson to Northants. estates 1849. d. 26 July 1852.

Offices Held

Cornet 10 Drag. 1817, lt. 1820, capt. 1825; half-pay 1830-48; brevet maj. 32 Ft. 1848.

Biography

Watson, whose maternal grandfather sat for Canterbury, 1761-80, as did his uncle George Watson from 1800 to 1806, was the youngest brother of the 3rd Baron Sondes, who held considerable landed property at Rockingham Castle, Northamptonshire, and Lees Court, Faversham, Kent, and used his electoral interests in the Whig cause.1 He served with the army in Portugal in the mid-1820s, but during election speculation in late 1825 an approach was made to Sondes by a group of Canterbury freemen who were interested in supporting an independent candidate against the sitting Members.2 Watson gave up any thought of the seat and hoped instead to be returned for one of Lord Fitzwilliam’s boroughs.3 Yet John Chalk Claris, editor of the Whig Kent Herald, wrote on 17 Apr. 1826 to urge him to stand on principles of liberty and reform, in order to be returned with Lord Clifton*. Although the Tory Kentish Gazette thought he would be frightened off by the expense, and despite his being absent with his regiment, a meeting in Canterbury resolved to support him and an election committee was established.4 He came a distant third, amid allegations that his candidacy had only succeeded in weakening Whig support for Clifton, at the general election that summer. Arriving just as the poll closed, he stated that ‘though nominated entirely without the concurrence of himself or his family, he felt highly flattered by the spontaneous act of those who had brought him forward and those who voted for him’.5 On rumours that the sitting Member Stephen Rumbold Lushington had accepted an Indian governorship, Claris advised Watson, 29 Nov., that if he immediately declared his candidacy all opposition would be quashed and his interest permanently established. He declined, perhaps because of a difference of opinion with his brother, as he apparently accused Sondes of failing to support him. Sondes angrily replied, 8 Dec. 1826, that he had never offered any assistance:

You pretty plainly accuse me of having taken an active part for you during the last election at Canterbury which always was furthest from my thoughts and to which I never gave the smallest encouragement, always giving a negative to every application ... I never used the expression (in your letter) ‘you was determined to spare no expense to bring me in’.6

Though privately informed by Claris of Watson’s decision, his name was brought forward in April 1827 and a requisition was sent to him in Portugal. He again refused, and was annoyed with Claris for having caused a good deal of needless speculation and public embarrassment.7 Expectations were again raised when Watson returned to England early the following year. He attended a dinner in favour of greater religious liberty at Maidstone, 22 Dec. 1828.8

Another approach was made to Sondes, 1 Mar. 1830, to elicit Watson’s candidature.9 In an undated letter to his brother, he stated that he would scotch rumours of his standing, but added as a postscript that

the above was written this morning. I have since been told that it is fully expected at Canterbury that I am going to stand and that no opposition of any consequence is likely to be offered. I can scarcely believe it, but confess that it revives all my former wishes on the subject. It appears to be an opportunity that one might lament hereafter having lost. My own property has been embarked in regimental commissions and I have literally nothing at this moment. Consequently if the sum exceeded what you mentioned in a former letter, I should be left in a disgraceful state, not able to pay.10

They must have come to an arrangement, since Watson declared his candidacy, 3 July. He maintained that he was unconnected with any party, supporting Whig demands for retrenchment and reform, but disclaiming any hostility towards the duke of Wellington’s government.11 The initial speculation was that, in the continued absence of Lushington, Watson and Clifton would unite their interests and be returned together. But Watson refused any overt collusion with Lord Fordwich*, who replaced Clifton as the main Whig candidate. Fordwich’s mother, Lady Cowper, was worried by this indifference, but was satisfied with a letter, obtained from Sondes by Lord Holland, in which it was denied that Watson would join the Tories.12 Yet Watson did seek an accommodation with the government, making a private arrangement with the Tory candidate Henry Bingham Baring*, who condemned Fordwich for attempting to split votes with Watson and, at the same time, told Watson that he would find ‘my London committee every way disposed to assist you in any quiet way you may wish’.13 Watson’s conduct was ridiculed in the press:

A laughable shifting and uncertainty attended the hues of Mr. Watson’s insignia. They changed like the chameleon with the passing hour: first blue [Whig], which after a time changed to blue and pink; then came blushingly a tinge of purple (the church colour) [Tory], which by the way roused a furious schism among his many-coloured partisans and was withdrawn, when pink (the neutral) was finally declared to be the distinguishing colour of the mutable candidate.14

However, his careful positioning allowed him to obtain mainstream Whig support and a substantial element of the Tory interest, in the form of split votes with both other candidates. Elected a freeman, 21 July, he was returned at the head of the poll ten days later, with what he boasted was the highest number of votes ever recorded at Canterbury. According to his accounts, the election cost him £4,500.15 In fulfilment of an election pledge not to neglect his constituents, he resigned from active service in the army, 10 Sept. 1830.16

Watson, who had been elected to Brooks’s, 31 Mar. 1830, was listed by ministers among the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’ that autumn. He later recorded that he had been inclined to support the administration, but, after Wellington’s anti-reform speech on 2 Nov., was proud to have voted against it on the civil list, 15 Nov.17 He presented anti-slavery petitions from Canterbury, 3 Nov., 7 Dec.18 He spoke briefly for repeal of the partial and unjust coal duties, 21 Dec. 1830, when presenting a petition to that effect from the corporation of Canterbury. He was closely involved in the preparation of the Herne Bay pier bill in February 1831.19 He expressed his perfect concurrence with the pro-reform petition of Henry Cooper, mayor of Canterbury, which was presented by Fordwich, 4 Feb. When bringing up a similar one from the city’s inhabitants, 7 Mar., he said that he would support ministers over their bill, and that ‘the measure is not what it has been characterized, revolutionary and radical, but ... is conservative and constitutional in its principle and necessary to the salvation of the country’. He praised the corporation of Canterbury for offering to surrender their privileges on presenting its petition, 10 Mar. He was given a fortnight’s leave of absence because of illness after having served on an election committee, 10 Mar., but returned to the House to vote for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. He defended it at a county meeting at Maidstone, 24 Mar., and proposed a petition to the Lords in its favour. For his support of the bill, he was publicly applauded when he attended the theatre at Canterbury, 9 Apr.20 Having voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., he stood again at the ensuing general election, explaining that he had supported reform only after deliberate and mature reflection had convinced him that, despite its minor defects, the bill was ‘founded upon the principles of the constitution and calculated to give securities to the liberties of the people’. He also called for the alleviation of distress, attention to the interests of agriculture and the gradual emancipation of slaves. Baring declined to enter another expensive contest, so Watson and Fordwich were returned unopposed, each claiming to be the more popular candidate.21 Watson only incurred about £700 in expenses.22 He nominated Thomas Law Hodges* at the Kent election, 11 May 1831, stating that the county was split on the subject of reform, but that Hodges was firmly in its favour.23

Watson divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and usually for its details, though he voted against the proposed division of counties, 11 Aug., to preserve the rights of freemen, 30 Aug., and for the total disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept. 1831. He voted for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., and for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., when he was thanked by the Canterbury freemen for supporting the cause of reform.24 He attended another Kent meeting in favour of reform, 30 Sept., and voted for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct.25 He voted against the grant for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels, 25 July; the Kentish Chronicle commented that in denouncing such a job, he had done himself infinite credit, as ‘this one act is better than fifty flummery speeches’.26 He divided to postpone the Dublin writ, 8 Aug., and for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug. He presented a petition from the landowners of east Kent against the use of molasses in breweries and distilleries, 10 Aug. He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and its committal, 20 Jan. 1832. He generally sided with government on its details, but went with opposition on allowing borough freeholders to vote in county elections, 1 Feb., and against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. He voted for the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar., for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, and against increasing the Scottish representation, 1 June. He was in opposition minorities on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and inquiry into distress in the glove trade, 31 Jan., but in government majorities on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and military punishments, 16 Feb. He reversed his earlier vote by dividing with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 20 July, but cast a hostile one on the Greek loan, 6 Aug. He received the thanks of a court of burghmote at Gravesend, 6 July, for his assistance with its pier bill.27 He was named as a steward for the east Kent celebration of reform dinner, 26 July 1832, but was unable to attend because of his duties in the House.28

As early as June 1831 it had been rumoured that Watson would contest the county at the next election. In May he accepted an invitation to stand for Kent East, but he agreed to continue at Canterbury at the request of a common hall, held on 6 June 1832, and so dropped his candidature for the county.29 He was returned as a Liberal for Canterbury at the general election that year, but was so incensed that the freemen should entertain the candidacy of the lunatic John Thom, who went by the name of Sir William Courtenay, that he refused to stand thereafter. He inherited Sondes’s Northamptonshire estates on the death of another brother in 1849, but he had made his home at Rockingham Castle since 1836. He instituted local improvements, including the Rockingham Flower Show, and was highly respected for his benevolence and piety.30 After an interval of 18 years, he was again returned to Parliament in July 1852, but he died suddenly less than three weeks later, being succeeded by his eldest son, George Lewis Watson (1841-99).

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. For his family background, see T. Hay, Lees Court (Faversham Pprs. lvii).
  • 2. Kentish Chron. 1, 8 Nov. 1825.
  • 3. Fitzwilliam mss 124/2, 3.
  • 4. Watson mss WR 757; Kentish Chron. 2, 9 June; Kentish Gazette, 2, 6 June 1826; Canterbury Pollbook (1826), p. iv.
  • 5. The Times, 12 June; Kentish Chron. 13 June; Kentish Gazette, 13 June 1826.
  • 6. Watson mss WR 757.
  • 7. Ibid. WR 757, Mathers to Watson, 7 Apr., 17 May, Claris to same, 26 June; WR 763, Watson to Claris, 20 July; Kentish Chron. 6, 10 Apr., 4, 25, 29 May, 26 June; Kentish Gazette, 10 Apr., 25, 29 May, 26 June 1827.
  • 8. Kentish Chron. 19 Feb., 30 Dec. 1828.
  • 9. Ibid. 9 Mar.; Cent. Kent. Stud. Harris mss U624 C242, Sondes to Harris [?3 Mar, 1830].
  • 10. Watson mss WR 763.
  • 11. Kentish Chron. 25 May, 6, 27 July, 3 Aug.; Kentish Gazette, 25 June, 6, 27, 30 July; The Times, 30 July, 1830; Canterbury Pollbook (1830), 13-23; Watson mss WR 758, notes for an address [n.d.].
  • 12. Kentish Chron. 27 July; Kentish Gazette, 27 July; Add. 51599A, Lady Cowper to Holland, Thurs., Sat., Thurs. [July 1830].
  • 13. Watson mss WR 761, Baring to Watson, Thurs. [22 July]; WR 763, Peel to Seymour, Tues., Tisdall to Watson, misdated Mon. 4 Oct. 1830.
  • 14. Kentish Gazette, 6 Aug. 1830.
  • 15. Watson mss WR 758, Warren to Watson, 21 July, notes for a speech [n.d.], Watson’s election expenses, 1830.
  • 16. Ibid. WR 795, Wyndham to Watson, 4 July; Kentish Gazette, 14 Sept. 1830.
  • 17. Kentish Chron. 3 May 1831.
  • 18. Ibid. 9 Nov.; Watson mss WR 758, Blomfield to Watson, 26 Oct. 1830.