BOYD, Walter (1753-1837), of Putney Hill, Surr.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1796 - 1802
3 Apr. 1823 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 18 Nov. 1753 in Scotland. educ. Amsterdam and Switzerland. m. c.1780, Harriet Anne, da. of Thomas Goddard of 30 Sackville Street, Mdx., 3s. 4da.

Offices Held

Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1794-5.


Boyd’s origins are obscure, but he appears to have served a mercantile apprenticeship on the Continent (possibly with Hope of Amsterdam) and on his return was employed as factor by Patrick Heron*, who recommended him to Charles Herries, a London merchant.1 The latter’s brother Robert was principal of the bank of Herries and Farquhar, specialists in foreign transactions, and probably launched Boyd as a banker at Brussels. He moved to Paris and in 1785, with John William Ker as partner, founded the merchant bank of Boyd, Ker & Co.: before the revolution he stood

in a pre-eminent position, admitted, as an Englishman, to those highest circles which were closed to the monied men of France, and aspiring to that commanding influence in the commercial world which although often maintained in England is seldom countenanced in France.2

In September 1792 Boyd, no longer safe in Paris, came over to London to found a bank to which he could transfer as much as possible of his Paris business: he found a backer in Paul Benfield* and on 15 Mar. 1793 Boyd, Benfield & Co. was established in New Broad Street.3 In October the French government confiscated the assets of Boyd, Ker & Co., estimated at £600,000.

Despite this inauspicious development, Boyd proved irresistible as a City loan contractor. In December 1794 he offered government to raise the £18 million loan they needed, if they guaranteed the further loan of £6 million to the Austrian Emperor which he was negotiating. The first imperial loan of £3 million had met with Pitt’s approval in May 1794 but the new one was now threatened by the loss of the Austrian Netherlands.4 This bold scheme was accepted by Pitt’s government: it was, reported The Times on 13 Dec. 1794, ‘the greatest money negotiation that ever took place in this or in any other country at one time’.

As Boyd’s firm became ‘dictators’5 of the money market, they were resented. The imperial loan was assailed by opposition in the Commons, and in this case, as well as in the Hamburg bill transaction involving Boyd and Pitt, Boyd’s commission charges were criticized as exorbitant, 28 May, 30 Oct. 1795. When in November Boyd’s consortium was awarded a further contract for a loan to government of £18 million, their City competitors accused Pitt of partiality; and on 15 Dec. a sensational rise in the loan premium having followed the news of Pitt’s willingness to negotiate with France, in which Boyd offered his services, Pitt had to concede a committee of inquiry. It cleared him, 9 Feb. 1796, but exposed Boyd to adverse publicity, the rise in the contractor’s profit to £2,160,000 being specifically attacked by William Smith*, 22 Feb. Pitt had in January discouraged Boyd from undertaking a loan to Portugal.6

To reinsure himself, Boyd looked for a seat in Parliament. He started at Taunton in February 1796, but gave it up after two months’ wasted effort. He tried Minehead and Bath and gave them up. In the end Paul Benfield secured his return for Shaftesbury as his own running partner. Boyd probably disliked the obligation, for he was interested in contesting the by-election at Great Yarmouth as a ministerialist soon afterwards, though he was dissuaded by reports that his intrusion there would be resented. His financial mastery was henceforward put to a severe test: his firm’s over-trading and the Bank of England’s determination to limit its discounts, particularly to the house of Boyd, alarmed him. He had called a City merchants’ committee together to consider means of increasing the currency circulation on 2 Apr. 1796, himself proposing the establishment of a new note-issuing authority to supplement existing funds. The Bank did not capitulate and, although Boyd again secured the contract for the loan to government of £7½ million, the outcry in the House was loud against his firm’s receiving the preference. The Morning Chronicle had complained, 14 Apr., ‘to talk of competition is ridiculous. There is but one booth in the fair.’

Boyd was unable to fulfil his contract for the loan of 1796. The crash of a Hamburg firm whose creditor he was, the fall in government stock, in which he invested heavily on the speculation that peace would be negotiated, and the Bank’s refusal to grant further credit endangered him; his diversion of assets to the futile attempts to redeem Boyd, Ker & Co.’s French credits did not help. He admitted to Benfield, 4 Oct. 1796, that the firm was in difficulty. He still enjoyed Pitt’s confidence and alarmed the prime minister into transferring £40,000 from the navy account (at Dundas’s suggestion) as a loan to buttress Boyd’s firm. (This transaction was exposed in the House on 14 June 1805. Boyd had repaid the loan, without interest, but no record of it had been kept by government.) On 21 Dec. 1796 he offered to raise a subsidy for the Czar. He further appealed to Pitt, 6 Feb. 1797, for his support for a scheme to convert the remittance to the Emperor into a loan:

if I were sensible that the measure was a bad one, I think (if I know myself) I should not recommend it. I am besides well convinced that you would be happy in any event which (without any sacrifice of the public advantage) might give me opportunity of retrieving a small part of the immense losses I have sustained by my transactions with government, in consequence of the unfortunate depreciation of public securities, produced by causes in which I had no share.7

On 23 Mar. he informed Dundas:8

I am now really in danger of perishing in the very harbour. I need not state the dreadful consequences of any calamity to my House at this time. I must in duty declare that it would shake the whole credit of the country.

Pitt was then induced by Lord Carrington to save the situation by advancing £100,000, ostensibly for the importation of silver.

Boyd hankered after his French assets: he had supported peace negotiations in 1795 and 1796, and in October 1797 tried to induce Pitt to re-open them, claiming that General Dumouriez would act as mediator. Pitt was unimpressed and others thought it a stock-jobbing design, but in November Boyd was awarded the contract to remit £100,000 to the Cape (drawing on Benfield’s agents in Madras to do so) and soon afterwards to supply the navy board with £50,000 for the Madras station. He voted for Pitt’s assessed taxes, 4 Jan. 1798. In April 1798 the firm again contracted the government loan and met it. It was the Cape loan that foundered: Benfield’s agents in India refused the bills.9 Boyd secured an advance of £80,000 from the Bank of England, guaranteed by 16 City financiers, 2 July 1798: but the Bank declined any further assistance.

Boyd had in any case fallen out with Benfield. He claimed that Benfield had misled him over his Indian securities, while Benfield claimed that the fiction had been forced on him by Boyd as a desperate remedy and that Boyd had deployed his resources without consulting him. The company was dissolved on 8 Mar. 1799. Boyd’s bid for the government loan of June 1799, concealed in a new consortium, was vetoed by Pitt. Boyd forced the premier to admit his lack of confidence in him, 23 Sept. 1799, and reproached him for it, 7 Oct.10 He went bankrupt in March 1800. Later that year he published a Letter to the Rt. Hon. William Pitt on the influence of the stoppage of issues in specie at the Bank of England on the prices of provisions and other commodities, a warning against the over issue of paper money. In it he believed he anticipated the conclusions of the bullion committee in 1810.11

Boyd was well disposed to Addington’s ministry and eliminated from a second edition some abusive references to the ex-Speaker that had appeared in his pamphlet. Yet on 30 June 1801 he informed William Huskisson*, whom he had once ‘dazzled’:

my mind is sinking fast under my present life of inactivity ... Fortunately, my former associates in the Loans gave me a slice of the last negotiation which yielded between £4 and £5,000 profit, and enabled me to discharge certain very sacred debts contracted for the maintenance of my family.

He was disappointed that Dundas, to whom he had applied for a place for his son, had ignored him for three years.12 In September he drew Addington’s attention to his memorial of British subjects’ claims on the French funds and, when peace preliminaries were signed in October, was elected to the committee of French stockholders which lobbied the government.13 In Parliament he still had something to say: on 23 May 1801 he objected to governmental restriction of Bank dividends and bonuses; on 9 Apr. 1802 he expressed the views published in his pamphlet, and on 17 May and 3 June he supported Addington’s proposals for reducing the national debt by a new sinking fund scheme. He had meant to speak on the sinking fund report, 9 June, but found his time wasted.14 On 14 June he spoke on Irish finances.

In 1802 Boyd, who had disposed of his English property, proceeded to France to investigate his affairs, but was detained there when war recommenced and was not released until 1814.15 To Huskisson, recipient of his woeful letters, he wrote, 1 Feb. 1810: ‘It is now upwards of seven years since I returned to France with all my family, but alas! my existence forms a frightful contrast with that which you witnessed twenty years ago’.16 On his release, he eventually recovered his French assets and discharged all debts minus about ten per cent commission: he had refused to parley with Buonaparte’s regime, and Walter Scott, one of the Scottish friends who had subscribed to relieve his distress, admired him for it:17 ‘This is the man to whom statues should be erected and pilgrims should go to see him’. In 1815 Boyd published his Reflections on the financial system of Great Britain and particularly on the sinking fund. In 1823 he resumed his parliamentary career. He died 16 Sept. 1837 ‘in his 84th year’, leaving substantial provision for his family.18

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Lawrence Taylor / R. G. Thorne


Based on S. R. Cope, ‘Hist. of Boyd, Benfield & Co.’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1947) and PRO 30/8/115.

  • 1. C. R. Fay, Huskisson and his Age, 117.
  • 2. Letter-Bag of Lady Elizabeth Spencer-Stanhope, i. 2567-7.
  • 3. Add. 38236, ff. 254-5.
  • 4. Add. 38354, ff. 12-25.
  • 5. Wraxall Mems. ed. Wheatley, i. 267-8.
  • 6. Sir J. Clapham, Fank of England, ii. 16-17; PRO 30/8/102, f. 39.
  • 7. PRO 30/8/115, f. 186.
  • 8. H. Furber, Henry Dundas, 157.
  • 9. Add. 38765, ff. 1-14.
  • 10. Case of Paul Benfield (1803); Boyd, Letter to the creditors of Boyd, Benfield & Co. (1800); Kent AO, Stanhope mss 735/11; PRO 30/8/115, f. 165.
  • 11. Add. 38738, f. 42.
  • 12. Add. 38736, f. 317; PRO 30/8/147, f. 120; 30/9/33, f. 23.
  • 13. Add. 39948, f. 15.
  • 14. Add. 38737, f. 5.
  • 15. J. G. Alger, Napoleon’s British Visitors and Captives 1801-15, p. 265; Castlereagh Corresp. ix. 456, 527.
  • 16. Add. 38738, f. 14.
  • 17. Lockhart, Scott (1837), vii. 127.
  • 18. Gent. Mag. (1837), ii. 548; PCC 698 Norwich.