DENISON, William Joseph (1770-1849), of Denbies, nr. Dorking, Surr.

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



1796 - 1802
1818 - 1832
1832 - 2 Aug. 1849

Family and Education

b. May 1770, o.s. of Joseph Denison, merchant banker, of St. Mary Axe, London and Denbies by 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. and h. of William Butler, hatmaker, of Tooley Street, Southwark, Surr. unm. suc. fa. 1806.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Yorks. 1808-9.

Lt. Mdx. vols. 1803.


Denison’s father Joseph, the son of a Leeds woollen cloth merchant and dissenter, had made his fortune in London and purchased the estate of Denbies from Lord King (1787), as well as that of Seamere, near Scarborough, from the Duke of Leeds, for over £100,000. Denison, who was ‘less penurious than his father’, nevertheless increased his inheritance and in 1849 left his nephew the Hon. Albert Conyngham the bulk of a fortune estimated at £2,300,000, on condition he take the name of Denison (which he did). The Yorkshire estates were worth half a million, those in Surrey £100,000; the rest was in funds and other securities. From his father Denison inherited partnership in the bank of Denison, Heywood and Kennard of Lombard Street and became senior partner.1

George Rose, who furnished Denison with a letter of introduction to Lord Auckland in 1791, when he was embarking on a tour of northern Europe, claimed: ‘his father is of infinite use to us in the City where he stands almost foremost for wealth, and the young man has really very substantial good qualities’. It was Rose who thought of procuring a seat for him in 17962 and, at the ensuing election, after being at first allocated Beverley, he was returned after a contest for Camelford on the interest of administration. It seems that Rose was offered and received 4,000 guineas for this and naturally expected Denison to support government measures. That was not the case. Denison, who joined Brooks’s on 14 Mar. and the Whig Club on 2 May 1797, proved a staunch, if silent, opponent of Pitt. He did not secede from the House. By 1800 he was acting as a teller and by March 1801 as a ‘whipper in’ for the opposition.3

In 1802 he offered himself at Hull, where his family had their roots, at Earl Fitzwilliam’s instigation, but did not exert himself personally despite heavy expense and was defeated. He declined Fitzwilliam’s suggestion that he should stand again, 5 Nov. 1805, but in 1806 he was unexpectedly returned, his nomination taking place with the connivance of Fitzwilliam’s agents, at the request of the freemen and without his consent.4 It cost him at least £5,000 and after supporting the Grenville ministry and voting against their successors, 9 Apr. 1807, he withdrew at the next election: it took such a time to distribute rewards to his supporters, that he might be liable under the Treating and Bribery Acts if he stood. He gave up what was virtually a sure seat and the real reason was reported to be that he was disillusioned with the state of the country and weary of constituents’ importunities. Meanwhile he lent Fitzwilliam £20,000 to contest Yorkshire, by far the biggest loan offered on Lord Milton’s behalf.5

Although Denison was nominated by some Liverpool freemen in 1807 and a poll was conducted in his name, he disavowed the candidature, not wishing to disturb the sitting Members, although he did not entirely agree with their conduct. He ignored an opening for a purchasable seat suggested by his Whig friends in October 1807.6 Similarly in 1812 he turned down both an offer from the West Riding clothiers to stand for Yorkshire in conjunction with Milton and the offer of a seat by the Prince Regent.7 He returned to Parliament in 1818 for Surrey, where he had a considerable interest, ironically succeeding Samuel Thornton, whom he had defeated at Hull in 1806. Thornton had promised at the Surrey by-election of 1813 to withdraw, if Denison stood.8 It was in this Parliament that Denison, who signed the requisition to Tierney to lead the Whigs, became a regular speaker for opposition. On 12 May 1819 he explained the proceedings of the committee on the Penryn election. He deplored the corruption of that borough and alleged, 7 Dec., ‘had the elective franchise been transferred from Penryn to Manchester, it would have tended much to conciliate the people of that place’. He was strongly in favour of parliamentary reform, for which he had voted in 1797, though he could not be rallied to extra-parliamentary agitation in its favour in 1811. He also supported the repeal of the duty on seaborne coal to London, 20 May, and presented a petition against the foreign enlistment bill, as being harmful to commercial intersts and a blow to the freedom of South America, 3 June. He voted against the curtailment of civil liberties in December 1819.

Denison held a county seat until his death, 2 Aug. 1849, remaining a staunch Whig and, as such, declining a peerage offered him on the strength of his sister Lady Conyngham’s influence with George IV.9

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 2), i. 180, 248; Gent. Mag. (1806), ii. 1181; (1849), ii. 422; PCC 103 Lushington; PCC 1849, f. 746.
  • 2. Add. 34435, ff. 361, 424; E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to Pitt, 11 Apr. 1796; PRO 30/8/197, ff. 98, 234, 267; Whitbread mss W1/1897.
  • 3. The Times, 12, 25 Mar. 1801.
  • 4. HMC Fortescue, viii. 420; Fitzwilliam mss, box 70, Sykes to Fitzwilliam, 13 Dec. 1806; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F36/14, 20; F41/4, 5.
  • 5. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F36/30-32; F48/29.
  • 6. Hull Advertiser, 20 June 1807; Horner mss 3, f. 207.
  • 7. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F42/48; Geo. IV Letters, 157.
  • 8. Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 8 Nov. 1813.
  • 9. Gent. Mag. (1849), loc. cit.; Croker Pprs. ed. Jennings, i. 173.