EDEN, Hon. William Frederick Elliot (1782-1810).
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
Private sec. to sec. of state for War and Colonies Jan. 1802-May 1804; sec. to commrs. to treat with USA Aug. 1806-Mar. 1807.
Vendue master, Demerara and Essequibo Dec. 1803-Nov. 1806; teller of Exchequer Sept. 1806-d.
Maj. commdt. St. Margaret and St. John’s Westminster vols. 1803, lt.-col. commdt. 1803.
Eden was destined by his father for a public career. The reversion to a tellership of the Exchequer was procured for him at the age of eight in token of his father’s public services. In September 1801 he was offered the situation of private secretary to Lord Buckinghamshire, which his father accepted for him, not at once, but in the following year. During this apprenticeship in public business he obtained the sinecure office of vendue master at Demerara, worth ‘at least’ £1,000 p.a. ‘Almost his whole existence,’ wrote his father, 28 Dec. 1803, ‘is passed between his drill, his desk, and the first and best classes of society—with unwearied activity and discretion; and at the same time with all the gaiety of his age.’ This routine ended in May 1804, when his father was snubbed by Pitt (and the King) on the change of administration and declined to involve Eden in any compensatory expectancy. He had shown, Auckland informed the King, ‘excellent talents and singular steadiness’. In July 1805 Auckland’s friend the 4th Duke of Marlborough thought that he would be able to provide Eden with a seat in Parliament at the dissolution. Auckland applied to the Duke of Northumberland for the same purpose, 14 Oct. 1805, but without success.1
When Auckland was restored to office in 1806, he asked Lord Grenville for employment for his son, who had ‘the most promising character’ and ‘the fairest hopes’ of a seat.2 Nothing was forthcoming until July when Grenville approved Eden’s appointment as secretary to the commission headed by his father to treat with the United States for a commercial agreement, subject to Lord Holland’s concurrence. Holland’s only stipulation was that John Allen should be appointed assistant secretary. Eden was recalled from a Highland tour to make his ‘creditable debut’ in the field of ‘neutral privileges and commercial rights and interests’. The appointment was honorary but soon afterwards he succeeded to the tellership (applied to the ‘general advantage’ of his family); and although the discovery of his confiscation of £400 p.a. of the deputy teller’s emolument for the benefit of his brother George, at their father’s behest, nearly prevented it, he obtained £1,000 for his services on the fall of the Grenville ministry3
At the election of 1806 the Duke of Marlborough nominated him for Woodstock, where he was faced with a contest but succeeded with ease. He thereupon resigned his colonial sinecure in favour of his brother George. His official appointment was a diplomatic one and tenable with a seat in Parliament. He assisted the Whigs in the Westminster election after his own return.4 On 17 Mar. 1807, in his maiden speech, he criticized the precipitate abolition of the slave trade as likely to ruin the planters: on a list of Members’ attitudes to the question he had been transferred from ‘staunch’ to ‘friendly’. (On 29 July 1807 he supported the Sierra Leone Company bill only because it would be impracticable to remove the Nova Scotians and Maroons transported to Africa.) He voted for Brand’s motion following the dismissal of the Grenville ministry, 9 Apr. 1807, for which he was criticized by the corporation at Woodstock. He convinced them that he was not a ‘Pope’ and was returned unopposed at the ensuing election.5
Eden, whose patron allowed him freedom of action, rallied to opposition in the divisions of 26 June and 6 July 1807. On 30 June he moved for shipping returns to answer critics of the American Intercourse Act passed under his father’s aegis and ‘to show the shipowners that they had nothing to expect from their pretended friends’. Viscount Howick urged him to follow the subject up. Tierney was glad to find him ‘quite keen in his politics’ and henceforward he began ‘to take a pretty active and businesslike part in the House’.6 On 22 Jan. 1808 he asked ministers if they had knowledge of the secrets of the treaty of Tilsit before their expedition against Copenhagen sailed: he voted in censure of it, 3, 8 Feb. He supported Burdett’s motion on the application of the droits of Admiralty, 11 Feb. He accepted the American trade regulation bill, so as to keep the peace with the USA, 28 Jan., and objected to the orders in council, 5 Feb., because they endangered it. He led the opposition to them, 18 Feb., and voted against them, 3 Mar. On 14 Mar. he was in the minority on the mutiny bill. He voted for the admission of Catholics to the Irish bank, 30 May. On 3 June he opposed relieving the West India planters by a prohibition of distillation from grain, claiming that the revocation of the orders in council would alleviate colonial distress. At this time Nicholas Vansittart wrote of Eden, ‘he is fast acquiring a reputation for readiness and information in business’.7 On 6 Feb. 1809 he delivered his most striking speech, accusing ministers of building ‘castles in Spain’, when better relations with the USA would prevent food scarcity at home and repealing the orders in council would end colonial discontent. He voted against the convention of Cintra, 21 Feb. 1809. On 27 Apr. he moved for further information on the subject of John Hookham Frere’s* handling of Sir John Moore in the Peninsula: the motion was negatived without a division. On 2 May he voted against the militia completion bill. He was not a friend of parliamentary reform and complained that the ‘stupor’ of ministers left it to the ‘old opposition’ to answer the radical challenge.8
On 19 Jan. 1810, in London for the parliamentary session, Eden disappeared from home: his father could not believe that he had any suicidal intention, being ‘most regular and most cheerful’ and enjoying ‘every advantage that this world can give’; but when his body was found floating in the river on 25 Feb., there was no sign of foul play. The inquest was therefore non-committal. John William Ward* commented: ‘Poor Eden ... I am afraid he threw himself into the river’. Eden’s papers revealed only his preoccupation with public business. The Speaker noted in his diary ‘He left his keys on his table. He had taken leave of a lady with whom he had lived occasionally.’9
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: M. G. Hinton / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Add. 29475, f. 31; 34455, ff. 431, 433; 34456, ff. 40, 44, 235, 279; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 2857; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 5/25.
- 2. HMC Fortescue, vii. 345; Add. 34456, f. 341.
- 3. HMC Fortescue, viii. 240, 267, 285, 286, 290, 302, 330; Add. 51532, Auckland to Holland, Thurs. 3 p.m. [Aug. 1806]; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3409; Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 206.
- 4. Add. 34457, ff. 132, 134; 51532, Auckland to Holland, 9 Jan. 1807; HMC Fortescue, viii. 417, 433, 447.
- 5. Add. 34457, ff. 287, 289; Fortescue mss, Auckland to Grenville, Tues. [28 Apr. 1807].
- 6. Add. 34457, f. 305; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, Thurs. night [29 Oct. 1807]; NLS mss 11087, f. 72.
- 7. NLS mss 11147, f. 157.
- 8. Add. 34457, f. 519.
- 9. HMC Fortescue, x. 9, 10, 14; Gent. Mag. (1810), i. 285; Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 92; PRO 30/9/34, Abbot diary, 24 Jan. 1810.