MAITLAND, Hon. Thomas (1760-1824).

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



10 Mar. 1802 - Feb. 1805
1812 - July 1813

Family and Education

b. 10 Mar. 1760, 2nd surv. s. of James, 7th Earl of Lauderdale [S], by Mary Turner, da. and coh. of Ald. Sir Thomas Lombe of Old Jewry, London. educ. L. Inn 1774; Edinburgh 1775-7. unm. GCB 2 Jan. 1815, GCH 1817, GCMG and GMMG 27 Apr. 1818.

Offices Held

Lt. 17 Drag. 1760-63, half-pay 1763-78; capt. 78 Ft. 1778; brigade maj. Calcutta 1784, Madras 1790; maj. 62 Ft. 1790, lt.-col. 1794; brig.-gen. (W.I.) 1798; col. 10 W.I. regt. 1798; maj.-gen. 1799 (local), 1805; col. army of reserve 1803; gov. and c.-in-c. Ceylon Jan. 1805-1811; col. 4 W.I. regt. 1807; lt.-gen. 1811; col. 10 Ft. 1811; gov. and c.-in-c. Malta July 1813; lord high commr. Ionian isles and c.-in-c. Mediterranean May 1816-d.

Commr. Board of Control Oct. 1803-May 1804; PC 23 Nov. 1803.


Maitland, a professional soldier, was returned on the interest of his elder brother for Haddington Burghs in 1790, after a contest. He referred in his maiden speech, 28 Feb. 1791, to his 16 years’ ‘hard service’ in India, which was the pretext for a somewhat rambling exposé of the dangers of over expansion there through warring with the native princes. While India and his profession remained his pet subjects in debate, he was launched, on 12 Apr. 1791, in his subsidiary role as opposition seconder, which together with frequent duty as teller devolved on him as brother of one of the Whig grandees, when he supported Grey’s motion against the Russian armament. On 10 May, as predicted, he voted for the exemption of Scotland from the Test Act. On 3 May he was admitted to the Whig Club and on 6 June to Brooks’s. After a visit to Paris with his brother later that year,1 he seconded Grey’s amendment to the address, 31 Jan. 1792. On 9 Feb. and 15 Mar. he brought in motions against the war with Tipu in India, which he had already alleged to be, however successful, ‘impolitic and unprofitable’. He was defeated by 152 votes to 42 but resumed the theme on 28 Mar., 5 June and 19 Dec.

Maitland, whose signature followed Grey’s in the roll of the Association of the Friends of the People, vindicated the Friends in the House in defence of parliamentary reform on 30 Apr. and 25 May 1792 and resisted enticements to desert. He was also a Friend of the Liberty of the Press.2 He protested against alarmism in voicing his opposition to the aliens bill, 4 Jan. 1793. In the wake of the opposition schism, it was he who on 11 Feb. 1793 moved for the speedy termination of Warren Hastings’s impeachment, which provided a last link between the two opposition factions. On 21 Feb. he seconded Grey’s motion against war with revolutionary France, which he had deprecated three days before as unpopular. He was subsequently critical of the barracks system, 22 Feb., of the witch-hunt against sedition, 4 Mar., and the traitorous correspondence bill arising out of it, 21 Mar., and critical of the conduct of the allies, 15 Mar. Early in 1794 he questioned the employment of émigré officers and Hessian mercenaries and complained of the inadequacy of naval convoys; on 3 Feb., reluctantly supporting the vote of supply, he claimed that it was a waste of money in view of the failures at Dunkirk and Toulon, for which the cabinet was to blame. On 3 and 10 Apr. he introduced motions critical of these failures, the latter in a speech thought to show ‘great powers of argument and uncommon dexterity in avoiding anything personal with regard to the officers employed’. He was defeated, on the latter occasion, by 168 votes to 35. On 14 Apr. he failed by 78 votes to 217 to make annual the bill authorizing the employment of émigré officers. He more than once vindicated his brother Lauderdale against his critics in debate.

In 1795 he several times questioned the conduct of the war by ministers and continued to vote against it until June, after which he was sent to San Domingo and experienced débâcles at first hand both there and subsequently in the expedition to Belle Ile in 1800. He acquitted Sir James Pulteney* of blame in the failure to take Ferrol and Sir James unsuccessfully applied to the Duke of York to have Maitland appointed his quartermaster general. Maitland began to chafe at being passed over for promotion, and was too proud to volunteer service under any other officer: to his friend William Huskisson he wrote from Lisbon, 17 Nov. 1800:

The lowness of my rank in the army precludes me from looking forward to it as an object of any fair ultimate ambition ... On the other hand the line I adopted in politics originally and that which my friends still adhere to preclude me from having any chance of advancing myself out of my profession.

He concluded by offering to be employed anywhere, under Henry Dundas’s auspices, but he was disappointed.3

On returning home Maitland resumed his seat for the family burghs, which was vacated for him by the sitting Member, March 1802. He soon rallied to Addington’s pacific ministry: although he had privately described the peace treaty to Fox as ‘a mere truce’, in debate he hailed it diplomatically as ‘as honourable as could be made, and as likely to be permanent as any peace that had ever been concluded before’, 14 March 1802. On the same theme, 24 Nov., he insisted on the adequacy of the military establishment and deprecated any renewal of hostilities. Fox described this speech as ‘very good’, apart from ‘a little imprudence at the end of it’, and regarded Maitland as a potential go-between for himself with Addington. On 8 Dec. Maitland announced his concurrence in government policy and was reported as having spoken ‘as a man enlisted’.4 The fact was that for his brother’s sake, as well as his own, he was one of the Whigs prepared to come to terms. On 6 and 16 Mar. 1803 he supported the militia bills, and when in April Lauderdale was canvassing for election as a Scottish representative peer, he further illustrated his attitude: after having led the opposition to ‘an abominable jobbing ... bill of Dundas’s’, he went over to the other side, which might enhance his brother’s prospects. Creevey reported him as going out with the ministers on the division of 6 May 1803. Fox did not blame him for it. On 24 May he gave a soldierly pledge to stand by ministers in meeting the threat of renewed hostilities with France, and made at the same time, according to Caroline Fox, ‘a fulsome and disgusting eulogium upon Pitt ... and called him that man of stupendous wisdom’. He further defended ministers on the Irish additional force bill, 6 July, and on their army of reserve scheme, under which he was colonel of a battalion, 22 July. A month later Caroline Fox informed Lord Holland: ‘General Maitland is a commissioner of the Board of Control and bids fair to be the Dundas of future administrations. He is the only acquisition of talent they have as yet gained.’ The reference to Dundas was not inept. On 16 Sept. 1803 Maitland wrote to Addington from Scotland, where he had just been re-elected, to protest against the lingering power of Lord Melville and his friends there, which ‘acting as they do at all times in a lukewarm and in most, in a hostile manner to government’, he wished to see undermined. In January 1804 the Irish viceroy privately thought him eligible to become his chief secretary, but doubted if he would accept.5

From February to April 1804 Maitland was often government teller and a prominent defender of Addington’s defence arrangements against their critics, not least against Pitt. The return to power of the latter sent him into the wilderness. There seem to have been hopes of detaching him from opposition, despite his marked hostility to Pitt’s additional force bill, 18 June 1804. He was awarded the government of Ceylon that winter and persuaded his brother to concur in his seat being occupied by a friend of the ministry.6

It was as a colonial governor that ‘King Tom’ came into his own and he was philosophic about his brother’s failure to obtain high office in 1806: ‘the whole of it’, he explained to Huskisson ‘is only one additional proof to me that all of us when embarked in political contest are guided by little else but the immediate rein of self interest’. He remained in Ceylon until 1811. On his recall, which he evidently disliked, he was ‘perhaps worth £25,000 clear’, but handicapped by the discount on Ceylon paper currency when liquidating his debts. He wanted employment on the Staff at home, according to the Duke of York’s secretary Gordon, who described him as ‘a very clever man, but he inclines to be prosy’. He resumed his seat at the election of 1812, when he was also nominally a candidate for Stirling Burghs. He was an advocate of stern measures against seditious persons in Yorkshire late in 1812, earning the commendation of the Home secretary. He is reported as having voted against Catholic relief, 2 Mar. 1813, but for the relief bill on 13 and 24 May. Soon afterwards, disillusioned with politics, and ‘not liking to quarrel with Lauderdale and yet neither liking his friends Grey or Grenville’, he accepted the government of Malta and, after the conclusion of peace, added to it the administration of the Ionian isles. He died, a benevolent despot, in Malta, 17 Jan. 1824.7

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Morning Chron. 3 Jan. 1792.
  • 2. Whitbread mss W1/4427.
  • 3. Add. 38735, ff. 318, 320; 38736, ff. 142, 152, 215, 245, 248.
  • 4. Add. 47564, ff. 108, 158; 47565, f. 62; Glenbervie Diaries, i. 354.
  • 5. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, Thurs. [Dec. 1801]; The Times, 7 July; Add. 35704, f. 304; 47565, f. 213; 51736, Caroline Fox to Holland, 29 Apr., 31 May, 15 Aug. 1803; Sidmouth mss.
  • 6. PRO 30/8/121, f. 172.
  • 7. W. Frewen Lord, Sir Thomas Maitland; C. Willis Dixon, Colonial Administrations of Sir Thomas Maitland; Add. 38737, f. 148; 38738, f. 117; 38739, ff. 142, 144; 38740, f. 95; Pellew, Sidmouth, iii. 89-96.