WILKINS, Walter (1741-1828), of Maesllwch, Rad. and Wallsworth Hall, Glos.
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Family and Educationb. 14 or 15 Nov. 1741, 2nd. s. of John Wilkins (d. 1784),1 attorney, of The Priory, Brecon and Sybil, da. of Walter Jeffreys of Llywel, Brec. educ. Christ Coll. Brecon; Winchester 1754-8; Reeves’s acad., Bishopsgate Street, London 1758. m. 24 Feb. 1777, Catherine, da. and h. of Samuel Hayward of Wallsworth Hall, 1s. 1da. d. 17 Mar. 1828.
Writer, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1758; resident, Lakhipur by 1768; sen. merchant and gov. Chittagong 1771; member, supreme council 1772; res. 1772.
Sheriff, Rad. 1774-5, Brec. 1778-9; lt.-col. commdt. Rad. vols. 1803; lt.-col. E. Brecon militia 1809.
Wilkins, a descendant of the de Wintons of Breconshire and Glamorgan, had used his East Indian wealth to buy one of Radnorshire’s largest estates and invest in his family’s Brecon bank and South Wales canals and iron works.2 Seeking his seventh return for Radnorshire in 1820, he boasted:
For the last 24 years ... I have diligently endeavoured to the best of my abilities to discharge the duties of an independent Member of Parliament. I have most conscientiously adopted every measure which I conceived best calculated to promote the true interests of our common country. I have always supported every proposition for a moderate reform in the House of Commons as likely to be highly advantageous to the public welfare, but I have been no advocate for those wild theories which, so intemperately urged by weak and wicked men, have afforded a pretext (which has been too eagerly seized upon) for abridging the ancient and dear bought rights and liberties of Britons. Gentlemen, on these principles I have uniformly acted, on these I shall continue to act.3
Initially his votes had been difficult to predict, but in the 1818 Parliament he had divided steadily with the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry on retrenchment, civil liberties and legal and parliamentary reform, and he was a known opponent of corn law revision and supporter of Catholic relief. He attended the Radnorshire meeting that sent addresses of condolence and congratulations to George IV, 14 Mar., and was returned unopposed at Presteigne, 17 Mar. 1820. At the Breconshire elections he was represented by his only son Walter Wilkins (1777-1830), the unsuccessful candidate in Brecon in 1818.4
Wilkins divided steadily with the main Whig opposition on most major issues and with the ‘Mountain’ for economy and retrenchment in the 1820 Parliament. He supported the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary campaigns on behalf of Queen Caroline in 1820 and 1821,5 and chaired the Brecon county meeting of 20 Jan. 1821 which petitioned for parliamentary reform and urged the king to dismiss his ministers.6 He paired for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, and voted for it, 1 Mar., 21 Apr. 1825. He divided for parliamentary reform, 25 Apr. 1822, 13 Apr. 1826. Seren Gomer lauded Wilkins as the only Welsh Member to vote for Brougham’s motion on the distressed state of the country, 11 Feb. 1822, and he divided consistently for economies that session, including a gradual reduction of the salt duties, 28 Feb. He presented and endorsed the Radnorshire distress petition, 26 Apr. 1822.7 According to The Times, 21 Feb. 1823, he paired in condemnation of the peacetime appointment of a lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 19 Feb., but that session he was dogged by ill health, for which he was granted a month’s leave, 14 Apr. 1823. He divided for information on Catholic burials, 6 Feb., and the negotiations with France and Spain, 17 Feb., and steadily with opposition until 5 Apr. He presented and endorsed anti-slavery petitions, 2, 4, 26 Mar. 1824.8 Though named to bring in the Radnor, Hereford and Meirioneth roads bill, 12 Mar. 1824, he clearly delegated doing so to others.9 As he freely admitted, age and infirmity made it impossible for him to attend to much parliamentary business, and henceforward his known votes were paired. Even so, a radical publication of 1825 gave the impression that he ‘attended frequently and voted with opposition’.10 The Times added Wilkins’s name to its list of Members paired against receiving the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr. 1826.11 His son deputized for him and Sir Harford Jones Brydges was his spokesman at Presteigne when he was returned in absentia at the 1826 general election. His printed notices praised opposition, but expressed indifference ‘as to the source of measures provided they are good’.12
Wilkins paired for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, and repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828. He was named as hitherto to sponsor local legislation in 1826-8.13 Despite his advanced age and infirmity, his sudden death at his London home in March 1828 took his business associates by surprise and caused problems for the Brecon Bank, in which he had remained a partner.14 Thomas Frankland Lewis, his successor as Member for Radnorshire, thought he ‘had been useful rather in obstructing what he thought to be wrong than in forwarding or providing measures of a contrary tendency’.15 By his will, dated 24 May 1823 and proved under £250,000, he entrusted his Breconshire, Glamorgan and Radnorshire estates to his nephews, the Rev. Walter Wilkins of Hay and Thomas Maybery of the Brecon Bank, making Walter, who in September 1828 separated from his wife, life-tenant. He left annuities and cash sums to other relatives and servants. His executors, who controlled £267,139 6s. 7d. in capital and investments, called in £38,285 of the £61,982 lent by Wilkins in mortgages.