WHATELY, Thomas (c.1728-72), of Nonsuch Park, Surr.

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



1761 - 1768
1768 - 26 May 1772

Family and Education

b. c.1728,1 1st s. of Thomas Whately of Epsom, Surr.  educ. Clare, Camb. 1745; M. Temple 1742, called 1751.  unm.

Offices Held

Sec. to Treasury Oct. 1763-July 1765; ld. of Trade Jan. 1771-Jan. 1772; under-sec. of state June 1771- d.; keeper of the King’s roads Jan. 1772- d.


Whately practised on the home circuit, and in 1760 became recorder of St. Albans on the recommendation of James West.2 Before the general election of 1761 he became connected with Bute, who secured for him a seat at Ludgershall on George Selwyn’s interest. From May to October 1762 and April to October 1763 he was George Grenville’s private secretary, and in October 1763 became secretary to the Treasury. His connexion with Grenville lasted until Grenville’s death.

There seems to have been no clear division of functions between Grenville’s secretaries to the Treasury, Whately and Charles Jenkinson. But although Whately was concerned with election business his main work was financial, and his most important responsibility was the preparation of the Stamp Act. He took pains to collect information about conditions in the colonies and ascertain American opinion on the proposed method of taxation, genuinely anxious to benefit both Britain and the colonies. ‘I always loved the colonies’, he wrote to John Temple on 5 Nov. 1764.3‘I am, I always was curious about them, and very happy when I am employed in any business that relates to them.’ He was convinced that the Stamp Act was a necessary piece of legislation which would ultimately benefit both peoples, and he never changed his opinion.

Whately was dismissed in July 1765 and joined Grenville in opposition. Henceforth he was closer to Grenville than any other follower. His position as Grenville’s chief lieutenant was marked when he seconded Grenville’s amendment to the Address on 17 Dec. 1765, and when he spoke on the third reading of the bill to repeal the Stamp Act on 4 Mar. 1766. He corresponded regularly with Grenville, and his information about events behind the scenes was usually reliable. After 1766 Grenville more and more left active management of his party to Whately, who took upon himself the responsibilities of whip and liaison officer and maintained its numbers by his devotion and diligence. In 1768 he was returned for Castle Rising on the interest of Lord Suffolk, one of Grenville’s closest friends.

Gradually Whately began to mould the strategy of Grenville’s party. He was mainly responsible for leading it into collaboration with the Rockinghams over the Wilkes case in 1769. He worked with George Byng, Rockingham’s whip; established relations with Dowdeswell; and helped Burke with the petitioning movement in Buckinghamshire.

When, after the death of Grenville, negotiations were opened for the return of his group to court, Whately was one of three who were offered places immediately (the others were Wedderburn and Lord Suffolk). John Robinson minuted on 21 Jan. 1771:4

Mr. Whately: Board of Trade until he can otherwise be provided for or unless a person can be got to resign the Green Cloth to him.

Whately was made a lord of Trade and in June 1771 became under-secretary of state to Suffolk. In January 1772 he exchanged his place at the Board of Trade with Bamber Gascoyne for the sinecure of keeper of the King’s roads.5

Scores of letters from Whately to Grenville exist among the Grenville papers, and his correspondence with John Temple, surveyor-general of customs in North America, has been printed. Almost every letter deals with business or politics, and there is hardly a line which illustrates his personal life. He was the ideal man of business: industrious, efficient, and devoted to his chief. His life in Parliament from 1763 onwards is the life of Grenville and his party. Outside the House he was known as the author of Observations on Modern Gardening (published in 1770), a book which had a great vogue in its day.

He died 26 May 1772.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Jas. Harris’s memorandum, 19 Feb. 1769, Malmesbury mss.
  • 2. Add 34734, ff. 359, 438.
  • 3. ‘Bowdoin and Temple Pprs’. Colls. Mass. Hist. Soc. (ser. 6), ix. 38.
  • 4. Abergavenny mss.
  • 5. See GASCOYNE, Bamber (1725-91).