ELLIS, Charles Rose (1771-1845), of Claremont, Esher, Surr.

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



22 Mar. 1793 - 1796
1796 - 1806
1807 - 1812
1812 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 19 Dec. 1771, 2nd s. of John Ellis of Jamaica by Elizabeth, da. of John Pallmer, c.j. of Jamaica. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1789. m. (1) 2 Aug. 1798, Elizabeth Catherine Caroline (d. 21 Jan. 1803), da. and h. of John Augustus Hervey, Lord Hervey, 2s. 1da.; (2) 2 Oct. 1840, Anne Louisa Emily, da. of Hon. George Cranfield Berkeley*, wid. of Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, 1st Bt., s.p. cr. Baron Seaford 15 July 1826.


Offices Held

Capt. St. James’s vols. 1798.


Ellis, whose father was lost at sea in 1782, was ‘brought up for many years absolutely together’ with his fellow Jamaican Elizabeth Vassall, who married Sir Godfrey Webster* in 1786 and, after her divorce, the 3rd Lord Holland in 1797. At Christ Church, where he was ‘a great favourite’ of Dean Jackson, he fell under the spell of George Canning, whose lifelong friend and confidant he became. In 1792 he was in Europe with the Websters. He returned to England towards the end of the year, when he came of age and took possession of his share of the family fortune, which included a Jamaican plantation reputedly worth £20,000 a year and a handsome ‘independency’. He acquired a London house, a residence at Wootton, near Bedford, and a hunting establishment in Leicestershire, much frequented in his younger years. In acts of typical generosity, the ‘good and artless’ Ellis gave his cousin George Ellis* £10,000 as compensation for the patrimony of which his own father had deprived him, and settled £5,000 on the family of his former private tutor.1

On 12 Feb. 1793 Sir Gilbert Elliot told his wife, whose sister was married to Lord Malmesbury, a close friend of George Ellis:

I like Charles Ellis extremely. His manners are modest and gentle, notwithstanding the many pretensions he might have to opposite qualities. There is some little risk of his getting spoilt, partly by the favour which such advantages of fortune, youth and good figure obtain in the world, and partly by the great admiration of George Ellis.

A month later, Sir Gilbert complained:

As to general conversation or amusement, it is not to be found with the Ellises. They are both good sort of men ... Charles Ellis seems to have less cleverness, and is from the same habits and indeed from [George’s] constant example as entirely nothing too.

Shortly afterwards Ellis paid William Pierce Ashe A’Court* £3,500 to sit for Heytesbury ‘for the remainder of the Parliament’. Elliot commented: ‘As he is rich it is worth the money that he should have this chance of getting out of the high lounge he is now engaged in ... I do not think ... he has the sort of character or views that will attach him to business’.2

Unlike Canning, who joined him in the House three months later, Ellis had neither need nor desire to carve out a political career and was content to give unobtrusive support to Pitt’s ministry. He was in the House for Canning’s maiden speech, 31 Jan. 1794, voted, in opposition to his friend, against abolition of the slave trade, 7 Feb., and left town the following day after giving Canning, as he was frequently to do in future, ‘absolute power’ to summon his attendance. He was present for the debate on Fox’s peace motion, 30 May, and the following day, in response to a teasing suggestion by Canning that as he was neither a ministerialist proper nor in opposition he should sit for Hickel’s picture of the Commons as an ‘alarmist’, he bound himself hand and foot to Canning:

I am not ... a ministerial man in the sense in which you or [Robert Banks] Jenkinson* are ... I do not now, nor do I mean ever to take an active part in the politics of any party. But I give my whole support to ministry ... not only from conviction at the present juncture of affairs, but from party attachment also—attachment not indeed to ministers, but to people whom I love, and whose interests are connected with ministry. I would not indeed be introduced to Pitt, as Jenkinson thought of persuading me at one time, because I want nothing, would never take anything, and do not see any particular reason for pledging myself, and in some measure giving up my independence ... Though I do not like politics particularly, I like Parliament, because it is an occupation, because it gives one a sort of situation and countenance, but for nothing so much as because it may enable me to be of service and support to those that I love. For these reasons I think it likely that I shall always wish, and I suppose I shall always be able, to procure a seat in Parliament, and I think I can venture to say that, so long as I have one, there are few circumstances under which it could possibly happen that you should vote with one party, and I with another.

Ellis’s personal and political attachment to Canning, thus pledged, and reaffirmed in December 1794 when there was ‘the most perfect coincidence of sentiment’ between them on the necessity for unremitting prosecution of the war, never wavered.3 In response to Canning’s summons, he came up to vote for the continued suspension of habeas corpus, 5 Jan. 1795, and later in the month, at Canning’s behest, he talked their friend Lord Boringdon out of his disposition to vote for peace. He then spent three months at Bath acting as nurse, with his cousin, to Lady Malmesbury. He voted in the minority for Foster Barham’s motion condemning the conduct of Grey and Jervis in Martinique, 2 June, and attended the debates on the Prince of Wales’s marriage settlement.4 He did not vote on the abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar. 1796.

At the general election of 1796 Ellis, who appeared on a ministerial list of ‘persons wanting seats’, bought seats for himself and George Ellis at Wareham and Westbury respectively. In the latter transaction he was ‘most flagitiously cheated’ by the agent and both he and George opted to sit for Seaford, Webster’s former seat, where they had also been returned after a contest. Ellis, it seems, had agreed to become paymaster of the Seaford interest of his and Lady Webster’s friend Thomas Pelham*. The surplus Wareham seat went to Webster.5

On 6 Apr. 1797 Ellis proposed to the House, as an alternative to the immediate abolition of the abhorrent but currently indispensable slave trade, a programme to be carried out by the colonial assemblies for the moral improvement of the negroes, intended to halt and reverse the decline in their numbers and thus eventually to make the traffic in slaves unnecessary. His address was carried by 99 votes to 63, but little came of it. He spoke against Wilberforce’s abolition motions, 15 May 1797 and 3 Apr. 1798, but on the second occasion, following Canning’s lead, conceded that the import of slaves should be confined to land already under cultivation. As one of the ‘moderate and most respectable West Indians’, he supported the exemption of Sierra Leone from the trade, and regulation of the middle passage, and would have accepted further restrictive measures, short of abolition, had government produced them.6 He dined at Pitt’s before Parliament met in November 1797, absconded to the hunting field soon afterwards, but came up to vote for the triple assessment, 4 Jan. 1798. Later in the year he married Eliza Hervey (‘a bold undertaking’, commented Lady Holland, ‘for they still keep up their strangeness of character that made a celebrated wit class mankind under the generic appellation of men, women, and Herveys’), whose aunt Louisa was married to Jenkinson (later 2nd Earl of Liverpool). Her uncle Lord Hervey later assured her grandfather, the 4th Earl of Bristol, that although Ellis’s West Indian connexions were regrettable,

he is a very singularly captivating man, and a decided favourite of the first societies in London. I know no man who has such thorough good taste in everything he does ... his friends quite idolise him, and ... are the very cream of the rising generation.7

When Canning resigned with Pitt, and his kinsmen Jenkinson and Hervey took office under Addington, Ellis announced his intention of opposing the new ministry and went about ‘reviling and laughing’ at it. Nothing came of this bluster in 1801, when he settled at Claremont in Surrey, purchased from Lord Tyrconnel.8 On 31 Mar. 1802 he opposed inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s claims to duchy of Cornwall revenues. His appearance, with his cousin and their fellow Canningite Lord Morpeth, in the minority of 20 who voted against the Peace of Amiens, 14 May, was explained by Canning as follows:

Charles I knew had a strong inclination to give such a vote, but ... I did not feel sure that his heart might not fail him. His stoutness I believe was much corroborated by finding himself reckoned upon so confidently the other way—Hervey praying him to come up, and his other uncle Jenk, sitting by him during the debate and looking grateful for his attention ... He felt that if he had not voted, he should have been considered as having intended to vote the other way. You may conceive the astonishment and indignation that his vote produced. It is of course referred to me ... Charles does not mind this.

He assisted Canning in his scheme to detach Pitt from Addington by his Trinidad motion of 27 May 1802, designed to prevent the employment of slave labour in newly acquired West Indian islands. Had Addington not met it with an unexpected concession, he would have spoken in favour of the motion. The following day he was a steward at the Pitt birthday dinner promoted by Canning.9

Shortly after the general election of 1802, when he successfully contested Seaford, Ellis went abroad with his ailing wife, who died at Nice in January 1803 and he did not return to England until July. In September Canning reported that he was taking an interest in politics again and soon afterwards he completed a joint purchase with Pelham of houses in Seaford, which was supposed to make the borough secure.10 He voted with Canning against Addington, 7, 15 and 19 Mar. 1804 and again in the decisive divisions of 16, 23 and 25 Apr. He supported Pitt’s second ministry, in which Canning took office, but when opposing the slave trade abolition bill, 13 June 1804, complained that Pitt’s failure to win the trust of the planters in the 1790s had ruined the opportunity of achieving abolition by judicious regulation. In the autumn of 1804 he went to Jamaica, not returning until September 1805.

Ellis joined in Canning’s opposition to the ‘Talents’, voting against Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar., and the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and dining with Canning’s squad in March. His cousin’s illness took him out of town in June, but he returned for the debates on the training bill in early July.11 Meanwhile, matters had gone badly wrong at Seaford, where he was unable to make any headway against John Leach* the recorder, and a fellow ministerialist at the 1806 general election. Early in February 1807, Canning reported that Ellis was in pursuit of a peerage which, though ‘not yet settled’, could be counted on and that he planned thereafter to retire to Jamaica. Nothing came of this and later in the month he dined in conclave with the Canningites and was privy to Canning’s negotiations with Lord Grenville.12

At the general election of 1807, when Canning had become Foreign secretary in the Portland ministry, Ellis was unsuccessful at Seaford but was returned after a contest for East Grinstead, where Lady Whitworth sold seats to supporters of administration. On 10 Aug. 1807 he moved for early consideration next session of West Indian distress. He seconded the address, 21 Jan. 1808 and, wearing his West Indian cap, supported the ban on grain distillation, 13 Apr. and 19 May 1808, and its extension to Ireland, 23 Feb. 1809, and opposed the import of foreign spirits, 24 June 1808. On 4 Apr. 1810 he was made ‘perpetual chairman of the West Indian body’.13 As a member of the finance committee from 1808 to 1812, he did not share the reforming zeal of some of his colleagues. He admitted in the House, 24 Jan. 1809, that he had opposed the inclusion in its report of allegations that the influence of the crown had increased, but insisted that his resistance had been open; and in 1810 he used his influence on the committee to help shield Boringdon’s brother-in-law George Villiers* in the scandal over marine office arrears.14

Ellis was in Canning’s confidence during the crisis in his relations with his cabinet colleagues in the summer of 1809 and was his second in the duel with Castlereagh. Although Malmesbury reported in September that he ‘loudly’ disapproved Canning’s conduct, he was in fact at pains to vindicate it, and after Canning’s resignation, blamed the break-up of the ministry on Perceval and Castlereagh.15 He was a faithful member of Canning’s ‘little Senate’ for the next four years. He voted with government on the address, 23 Jan., and the Scheldt expedition, 26 Jan., but against them on the question of Lord Chatham’s narrative, 23 Feb. and 5 Mar. He voted with ministers in the first three divisions in the decisive clash on the Scheldt question, 30 Mar.; and, set at liberty by Canning for the final division on the government’s exculpatory resolution on the retention of Walcheren, he tried to leave the House, but ‘finding the door locked, came back and voted against government’.16 He voted for the release of John Gale Jones, 16 Apr., and for sinecure reductions, 17 May, sitting with Canning on the subsequent committee of inquiry, but against parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810. He divided against government on the Regency arrangements, 1 and 21 Jan. 1811, was appointed to the select committee on commercial credit, 1 Mar., and put the West Indian case on distilleries, 8 Mar. and 2 Apr. 1811. He expected no change under the unrestricted Regency, was, according to Canning, ‘the only person’ apart from his wife ‘to whom I tell all that passes’ with Wellesley in February 1812 and, in a long conversation with Canning on the 22nd, helped him to settle his plan of ‘co-operation’ with opposition ‘without junction’.17 In pursuit of this, he voted against government on the state of the nation, 27 Feb., the orders in council, 3 Mar., and the sinecure bill, 4 May. He voted for Catholic relief, 24 Apr. 1812. He was in the majority in favour of the formation of a stronger administration, 21 May, but abstained with Canning when the issue was renewed, 11 June.

Ellis had considered standing for Surrey at the next general election, but in the event stood for Seaford, where he had reached an accommodation with Leach. The Liverpool ministry’s attempts to keep him out were unsuccessful and he retained control of one seat at Seaford (which Canning was to occupy during his brief premiership in 1827) until 1830.18 His last recorded votes in this period were against the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb., and for Catholic relief, 2 Mar., 13 and 24 May 1813. He accepted the duties on Martinique produce as a temporary measure, 13 May, but threatened to oppose them if perpetualized, supported Atkins’s motion on the import of cotton wool, 29 June, and sought protection for West Indian against East Indian produce, 12 July 1813. He regretted Canning’s formal disbandment of his party, but in public made light of it. In July 1814, he was Canning’s emissary to Lord Liverpool in the negotiations leading to Canning’s appointment to the Lisbon embassy which, speaking from the ministerial side of the House, he defended against Whitbread’s strictures, 8 Nov. 1814.19 Shortly afterwards he went to France and in May 1815 joined Canning in Portugal. When Canning returned home to take office in 1816, Ellis accompanied him to Bordeaux, whence he proceeded to Geneva, before wintering in Paris. He spent the winter of 1817-18 in Italy, came to England for the general election of 1818 and went abroad again. Throughout this foreign sojourn he remained utterly loyal to Canning, reproaching their friends at home for their inadequate defence of his embassy in 1815 and rejoicing in his masterful parliamentary performances in 1817. He sold Claremont to the crown for the use of Prince Leopold and later acquired a property at Woodend, near Chichester.20

In a series of pen portraits of the Christ Church set composed in 1809, Boringdon wrote of Ellis:

If it is possible to conceive a mind pre-eminently defended against the entrance of any mean, sordid or selfish feeling, it is the mind of this excellent person. His first act upon attaining his majority was one of the highest generosity, and his subsequent conduct has ever been consistent with it ... His friendship for Canning is the ruling passion of his mind, his first consideration in every important occurrence is how it may bear upon the interests or renown of his friend ... I do not know there is any particular point of conduct on which I would pledge myself to adopt his recommendation, but there is no difficult or delicate case on which I should not be desirous of possessing his opinion.21

Ellis, who owed his peerage in 1826 to Canning’s personal recommendation to Liverpool, died 1 July 1845.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Brian Murphy / David R. Fisher


  • 1. Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 5-6, 15; Chatsworth mss, Duchess of Devonshire to her mother, Sunday night [24 June], 4 July 1798; Harewood mss, Canning jnl. 29, 31 May 1794.
  • 2. NLS mss 11048, ff. 173, 202, 205; Minto, ii. 123.
  • 3. Harewood mss, Canning jnl. 31 Jan., 7, 8 Feb., 30, 31 May, 5, 22 Dec. 1794.
  • 4. Ibid. 9, 11, 12 Jan., 3 Feb., 17 Apr., 5, 8 June 1795.
  • 5. Portland mss PwF11, 7423; PRO 30/29/9/5, f. 3.
  • 6. Canning and his Friends, i. 150; PRO 30/8/120, f. 177.
  • 7. Leveson Gower, i. 183; Jnl. of Lady Holland, i. 218; W. Suff. RO, Hervey mss.
  • 8. Chatsworth mss, Duchess of Devonshire jnl. [8 Feb.]; Harewood mss, Canning to Rev. Leigh, 16 Feb.; Add. 38833, f. 53; The Times, 20 Oct. 1801.
  • 9. Add. 38833, f. 121; Harewood mss, Canning to Leigh, 21 May 1802; Canning and his Friends, i. 188; Leveson Gower, i. 339.
  • 10. Canning and his Friends, i. 198-203; PRO 30/29/8/3, f. 272; Add. 33109, f. 423; 33112, ff. 88, 90, 94.
  • 11. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 4, 11 Mar., 21, 25, 27 June 2, 4 July 1806.
  • 12. Ibid. same to same, 10, 12, 27 Feb., 8, 9, 10 Mar. 1807.
  • 13. Ibid. same to same, 2 Apr. 1810.
  • 14. Perceval (Holland) mss C3; Add. 48228, ff. 54, 78, 87, 90, 93.
  • 15. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 11, 30 Aug.; Malmesbury mss, Malmesbury to FitzHarris, 22 Sept.; Haddington mss, Ellis to Binning, 2, 27 Oct. 1809.
  • 16. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 27, 31 Jan., 11, 16, 21, 23, 25 Feb., 24, 28 Mar., 1 Apr. 1810.
  • 17. Haddington mss, Ellis to Binning, 21 Jan.; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 6, 22 Feb. 1812.
  • 18. Blair Adam mss, Leach to Adam, 30 Aug.; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey [5 Nov.] 1811; Haddington mss, Ellis to Binning, 21 Jan. 1812; Geo. IV Letters, i. 158.
  • 19. Fortescue mss, Holland to Grenville, 26 July; Lansdowne mss, Lady Holland to Lansdowne, 30 July 1813; PRO 30/29/9/5, f. 19; Add. 38193, f. 41; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 14 July 1814.
  • 20. Haddington mss, Canning to Binning, 1 Apr., 12 May 1815, Ellis to same, 22 Mar. 1816, 3 Aug., 17 Nov. 1817; PRO 30/29/9/5, ff. 23, 27; Add. 38740, f. 172; 38741, ff. 144, 315; 48243, f. 16; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 169; VCH Surr. iii. 447-8.
  • 21. Add. 48244, f. 134.