HOLDSWORTH, Arthur (c.1757-87), of Widdicombe, Devon

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1780 - 21 Aug. 1787

Family and Education

b. c.1757, o.s. of Arthur Holdsworth, gov. of Dartmouth castle, by Rebecca, da. of Joseph Taylor of Ogwell, Devon.  educ. Eton 1766-74; Trinity, Camb. 1775.  m. Elizabeth, da. of Robert Holdsworth, a Dartmouth merchant, 3s. and other issue.  suc. fa. 1777.

Offices Held

Gov. Dartmouth castle 1777- d.


The Holdsworths were an old Dartmouth merchant family. The interest which Holdsworth’s father had established in the borough as governor of the castle and parliamentary manager for the Government passed on his death, together with his functions, to his son, who was hardly of age. As Robinson admitted both in 1780 and in 1784, the choice of Members rested with Holdsworth rather than with the Treasury. In the House Holdsworth attached himself to the Opposition; voted with them in the five divisions in February-March 1782 for which lists are available; voted for Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783, and with Pitt for parliamentary reform, 7 May 1783; opposed the Coalition, and voted against Fox’s East India bill; supported Pitt’s Government from the very outset; paired in favour of his parliamentary reform proposals, 18 Apr. 1785; but, thoroughly independent as he was, he voted against Richmond’s fortifications plan, 27 Feb. 1786. A fairly frequent speaker, he almost invariably dealt with subjects of which he had real knowledge. Five interventions of his in debate recorded before the fall of North’s Administration are all concerned with abuses in the dockyards, malpractices in the sale of ships and naval stores, with ‘the shameful prodigality of the public money’. In 1785 he took a prominent part in favour of a bill concerning Newfoundland’s trade with the United States, which he described, 14 Feb., as a compromise between the views of all the parties interested in it: the merchants of London, of Poole and Dartmouth, and of Canada.1 He ‘defended his constituents, acknowledging that it was to the Newfoundland trade carried on from Dartmouth, that he stood indebted for his seat in that assembly’. In the same session he was very critical of the Government scheme of fortifications; described the Ordnance as ‘the source of more profusion than any other department’; asked for an inquiry into their expenses; and called attention to cases where owners had been obliged to give up lands to the Ordnance, ‘after expending considerable sums on them’, only to have them returned after purchasing others.2 His last reported speech was in support of a bill ‘to prevent frivolous and vexatious suits in ecclesiastical courts’—‘this arbitrary, this infernal court’ (23 Feb. 1787).3

He died 21 Aug. 1787. There was a suggestion of a pension to Mrs. Holdsworth, ‘on account of her husband’s services and her distress’.4

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Stockdale, iv. 86, 170, 199.
  • 2. Ibid. 317, 338-40.
  • 3. Ibid. x. 342.
  • 4. Geo. Rose to W. Pitt, 26 Aug. 1787, Chatham mss.