WELLESLEY POLE, Hon. William (1763-1845), of 3 Savile Row, Mdx.

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

Constituency

Dates

1790 - 12 Mar. 1795
28 Dec. 1801 - 17 July 1821

Family and Education

b. 20 May 1763, 2nd s. of Garret Wesley, 1st earl of Mornington [I] (d. 1781), and Hon. Anne Hill, da. of Arthur, 1st Visct. Dungannon [I]; bro. of Sir Arthur Wellesley†, Hon. Henry Wellesley† and Richard Colley Wellesley, 2nd earl of Mornington [I]†. educ. Eton 1774-6. m. 17 May 1784, Katherine Elizabeth, da. and coh. of Adm. John Forbes, MP [I], of Castle Forbes, co. Longford, 1s. 3da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. cos. William Pole of Ballyfin, Queen’s Co. 1781 and took additional name of Pole; cr. Bar. Maryborough [UK] 17 July 1821; GCH 1830; suc. bro. Richard as 3rd earl of Mornington [I] 26 Sept. 1842. d. 22 Feb. 1845.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1783-90.

Midshipman RN 1778-82.

Jt.-remembrancer of exch. [I] 1797; clerk of ordnance July 1802-Feb. 1806, Mar.-July 1807; sec. to admiralty June 1807-Oct. 1809; PC [GB] 18 Oct. 1809 and [I] 24 Oct. 1809; chief sec. to ld. lt. [I] Oct. 1809-Aug. 1812; commr. of treasury [I] 1810-11 and [GB] Jan.-June 1812, Nov.-Dec. 1834; chan. of exch. [I] July 1811-Aug. 1812; master of mint Sept. 1814-Sept. 1823; master of buckhounds Sept. 1823-Nov. 1830; postmaster-gen. Dec. 1834-May 1835.

Gov. Queen’s Co. 1783,1 custos rot. 1823; capt. Deal Castle 1838-43.

Capt. Ballyfin inf. 1796, Mdx. yeomanry 1803.

Biography

Throughout his long political career Wellesley Pole was overshadowed by his celebrated brothers Lord Wellesley and the duke of Wellington, who secured his admission to Lord Liverpool’s cabinet as master of the mint in 1814. This office handsomely supplemented his income from his Irish sinecure.2 In January 1820 his colleague Robert Ward* found him nursing a cold ‘in his library - candles lighted, a roaring fire, and his reading-desk, most like a statesmen, but his book was Ivanhoe ... We laughed, but immediately fell upon other business’. His conversation revealed his satisfaction at the recent rout of radicalism and the discomfiture of the Whig opposition.3 At the general election a few weeks later he faced his second contest for Queen’s County in under two years. He topped the poll, but could ill afford the expense, which sharpened his desire, keen since 1816, to effect his removal from the Commons through a United Kingdom peerage.4 Shortly before the new Parliament met he complained ‘as usual’ to Ward of Lord Liverpool’s ‘want of warmth’ and ignorance of ‘the arts of party government’, which left individual ministers to sink or swim.5 He spoke against abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy, 17 May, and inquiry into Irish unrest, 28 June. In the debate on the aliens bill, 10 July 1820, he replied to Scarlett’s attack on the ministry with a vehemence which the Speaker considered unseemly. By then he anticipated imminent escape from the Commons by means of a coronation peerage, which, he assured Liverpool, when rejecting a late attempt to fob him off with the reversion of Lord Wellesley’s barony, was the ‘greatest object’ of his life. Yet the peerage, which his detractors attributed to ‘a decided and very natural wish on the part of ministers to get rid of him out of the House of Commons’ and was said to have ‘mortally’ offended Wellesley, was snatched from him when the necessity of dealing with Queen Caroline forced government to postpone the coronation. ‘I do not believe it can take place till next summer’, he told his son-in-law Sir Charles Bagot: ‘This is a cruel blow to me, for I am afraid that no peers will be made till just before the ceremony and that I shall have another House of Commons session to encounter’.6

Wellesley Pole made a spirited defence of ministers’ conduct towards the queen in the adjournment debate, 17 Oct. 1820. Next day he ‘complained strongly’ to Ward of Canning for leaving his colleagues in the lurch. He felt that they were bound to proceed against Caroline, but a fortnight later he

thought everything very bad ... and what was more, no prospect of getting right - all ties were loosened. Insolence and insubordination out of doors, weakness and wickedness within. The Whigs ... were already half Radicals, and would be entirely so, if we did not give way.

He was ‘inclined to an honourable mezzo termine, if it could be found’, but considered this unlikely.7 He regarded it as a blessing in disguise when the bill of pains and penalties had to be abandoned, for he had all along dreaded its reaching the Commons, where he feared it would be defeated. As it was he thought the queen was ‘clearly found guilty’ and opposition, for all their momentary jubilation, had received ‘a positive death blow to their hopes of removing the administration’. He was confident of obtaining ‘a very large majority for whatever we may think it proper to propose about the queen’ in the next session.8 When Canning resigned from the India board in December 1820 it was rumoured that Wellesley Pole would replace him, but nothing came of this.9

He defended Wellington against allegations that he had denigrated the Hampshire county meeting in support of the queen, 26 Jan. 1821. There were divided opinions on his combative speech against the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb.: his brother’s friend Mrs. Arbuthnot thought he performed ‘powerfully and well’, but in Whig circles it was reckoned that he ‘spoke very ill’, though the ‘Mountaineer’ Henry Grey Bennet thought he ‘made the best speech I ever heard from him, not ... much to the purpose, but a gay good humoured and sharp attack upon the Whigs’.10 Later that month the king subjected him to a three-hour vilification of Liverpool which, at Wellington’s prompting, he relayed to the premier.11 He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. After a short illness in March he spoke on the Irish barracks accounts, 6 Apr., and the cash payments bill, 11 Apr., and had a tart exchange with Brougham over the government’s dealings with spies, 16 Apr. 1821.

On 17 May 1821 he told Bagot:

No power on earth shall induce me to sit another session in the House of Commons. It is worth no man’s while to do so after he passes fifty, if he can find means of living without it. It is killing us all by inches, or rather by feet.12

Yet when Wellington, commissioned by Liverpool, asked him whether, in return for a peerage, he would surrender his cabinet office to accommodate Peel or Canning, he became ‘quite frantic’, according to Mrs. Arbuthnot:

He abused the duke furiously, said that he ought not to have allowed such a proposal to be made to him, that he never in his life had done anything for him; in short, was quite beside himself, positively refused to listen to the proposal and burst out of the room after declaring that the duke owed his advancement in life to him!

Wellington was ‘excessively indignant’ and told Mrs. Arbuthnot that ‘he never again would do anything good natured’ for his brother.13 Wellesley Pole had his way, retaining his office and cabinet place when he was raised to the British peerage at the end of the 1821 session.14 He again reacted ‘like a madman’ when a renewed attempt was made to shift him in January 1823. Later that year Liverpool enlisted the king to persuade him to leave the cabinet and go ‘to the dogs’ as master of the buckhounds. Gloating reports of his ‘bitter anger’ at his demotion may have been exaggerated.15 The next few years of his life were blighted by the sordid public antics of his scapegrace son William Pole Tylney Long Wellesley*, whose finances and marriage he tried to save from ruin before his patience ran out. He left office with Wellington in November 1830, but returned briefly to power in Peel’s first administration. Ten days short of his 76th birthday, and feeling that ‘I have some years work left in me’, he offered his services to Peel on his abortive attempt to form a ministry in 1839. No room was found for him in 1841.16 He died in February 1845, three weeks after his daughter Lady Bagot.17

Wellesley Pole accomplished some sound departmental work at the mint, where he oversaw renewal of the entire coinage, but his political reputation was modest.18 An anonymous obituarist wrote:

In his own bustling, active, practical way, he contrived to do a good deal of public business, to make a great many speeches, to enjoy no small quantity of patronage, influence, and even emolument ... At no period of his life did he manifest parliamentary talents of a high order; though in the House of Commons he was accustomed to display unbounded confidence in his own judgement; and this habit, combined with other peculiarities, rendered his speeches anything but acceptable ... [He] was simply angry - angry at all times, with every person, and about everything; his sharp, shrill, loud voice grating on the ear as if nature had never intended it to be used for the purpose of giving expression to any agreeable sentiment, or any conciliatory tone ... Wellesley Pole was an undignified, ineffective speaker, an indiscreet politician, and a man by no means skilful in the conduct of official transactions, although he was not deficient in that sort of practical activity which sometimes obtains for men in high office the reputation of being men of business.19

Edward Littleton* considered that Wellesley Pole

would never have obtained any distinction if his brothers had not reflected it upon him ... He was not without some talent, and had great energy and perseverance, but he was very choleric, and of most crabbed and ungracious manner. He had however so