BUSK, William (1769-1849), of Ponsbourne Park, Herts.

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



16 Jan. 1812 - 1812

Family and Education

b. 1769, 4th s. of Sir William Busk, attorney-gen. of the Isle of Man, by 1st w. Alice, da. and coh. of Edward Clark Parish of Ipswich, Suff. and Walthamstow, Essex. educ. M. Temple 1789, called 1794. m. 2 Aug. 1796, Mary Margaret, da. of Alexander Blair of Portland Place, Mdx. and Castle Bromwich, Warws., s.p.

Offices Held


Busk’s grandfather Jacob Hans Busk, himself the grandson of a French immigrant to Sweden, settled in England in 1712.1 Busk, like his father and eldest brother Edward, was bred to the law. He practised as an equity draftsman at 3 King’s Bench Walk, Temple in the late 1790s. He seems subsequently to have abandoned his legal career and become involved in commerce, presumably in association with his brother Jacob Hans Busk, who by 1800 had set up as a merchant, trading to the Baltic, at 6 Pump Court, Temple, the address from which Edward Busk practised as a conveyancer after his call to the bar in 1806. By 1803 the firm, which also had premises in Batson’s coffee house, Cornhill, had moved to 4 Salter’s Hall Court, Cannon Street, and from about 1810 until Jacob Hans Busk’s death in 1844 it operated from addresses in Threadneedle Street. Busk himself was probably in charge of the separate enterprise which was established, as Busk & Company, at 27 New Broad Street by 1802. The firm was known as Busk, Ord & Company, Russia merchants, of Old Broad Street from about 1810 until 1821, when it became William Busk & Company, continuing as such until its disappearance from the directories after 1828.

Busk was not a member either of the Whig Club or of Brooks’s, but his father-in-law, it was later said, had been ‘attached’ to Fox, and the Whigs took an interest in his attempts to obtain a seat. In March 1810 he unsuccessfully contested Hythe ‘in opposition to the measures of the present administration’ and shortly afterwards he canvassed the venal borough of Barnstaple, armed with a written recommendation from Whitbread. The results were promising, but ‘some of the Tories’, as Busk told Whitbread.

put a report in circulation that I was not the independent and patriotic character which I profess, but that I was in fact a tool of ministry sent down to cajole under pretence of independence, that I was not really authorised to assume the countenance of either the Whig party in Parliament or that of your name in particular, and that your note ... was ... a mere fudge or a forgery.

He prevailed on some of the leading freemen to write to Whitbread to verify his credentials and won a contested by-election in January 1812.2

Busk is not known to have spoken in the House, but he was a regular and consistent voter with opposition during the 1812 session. As well as voting against government in the major divisions on Ireland, 4 Feb., the state of the nation, 27 Feb., the orders in council, 3 Mar., and the call for a stronger administration, 21 May, he was in the small minorities in divisions on the civil list inquiry, 10 Feb., the American war, 13 Feb., the punitive framework knitters bill and the Nottingham riots, 14 and 17 Feb., and the gold coin bill, 26 Mar. and 10 Apr. He also voted against the King’s household bill, 27 Jan., the sinecure paymastership, 21 and 24 Feb., McMahon’s appointment, 14 Apr., the Admiralty registrars bill, 19 June, and the leather tax, 1 July. He voted for Catholic relief, 24 Apr. and 22 June 1812.

Busk attributed his defeat at Barnstaple at the general election of 1812 to the bribery of his opponents. While he was sanguine that he would succeed next time, he was so mortified ‘not to be in the House, where it was much my wish and indeed my full intention by degrees to become a very considerably active Member’, that he asked Lord Holland, 11 Oct. 1812, to being him to the notice of ‘any of the Whig noblemen who are in the habit of allotting their seats to men who they think may be useful to their party’. The cost of two elections in ten months had put his ideal of ‘a perfectly independent seat’ out of reach for the present, he said, and he thought his ‘zeal as a Whig’ and ‘constant residence in town during the sitting of Parliament’ entitled him to such consideration.3 No opening was ever found for him, though in 1813 Francis Horner Homer wrote to Holland about a vacant seat:

There is another City man who has some claims to be thought of, Busk: he spent a good deal of money at Barnstaple ... sat for a very short time, and voted always right. I understand he is ready again to produce his money, if there is an opportunity. Whishaw and I paid him a visit ... not long ago, and after an inquisition pronounced him to have sound opinions on the present state of affairs. Indeed I have never known him otherwise.4

Busk sold his Hertfordshire residence, bought in 1811, to his brother Jacob in 1819.5 On 17 Nov. 1830 he wrote to Brougham congratulating him on the Whigs’ return to power and trusting that he would ‘not be forgotten’ when the spoils were divided:

Where have you one so fitted for the vice [president] of the Board of Trade. I was bred to the bar, I was long in trade. I had fair success with both. I have been in Parliament and was making satisfactory progress in the safe road of committees etc. when came the fatal dissolution of 1812. It cost me upwards of £10,000 for six months to support the Whigs and have the honour of being one of the ... first majority upon the Catholic question. I have studied and am highly partial to political economy.6

Nothing came of Busk’s appeal. He died at Homburg, 19 Feb. 1849.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: R. G. Thorne / David R. Fisher


  • 1. Cussans, Herts., Hitchin, 149-50.
  • 2. Horner mss 5, f. 391; Kentish Chron. 20 Mar. 1810; Whitbread mss W1/1815, 1816.
  • 3. Add. 51826.
  • 4. Horner mss 5, f. 391.
  • 5. Clutterbuck, Herts. ii. 350.
  • 6. Brougham mss 36990.