VAUGHAN, Robert Williames (1768-1843), of Nannau Hall, nr. Dolgellau, Merion.
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Family and Education
b. 29 Mar. 1768, 1st s. of Sir Robert Howell Vaughan, 1st Bt., of Hengwrt by Anne, da. and h. of Edward Williames of Ystumcolwyn, Mont. and Meillionydd, Caern. educ. Jesus, Oxf. 1787. m. 23 Sept. 1802, Anna Maria, da. of Sir Roger Mostyn, 5th Bt.*, sis. and coh. of Sir Thomas Mostyn, 6th Bt.*, 1s. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 13 Oct. 1792.
Sheriff, Merion. 1837-8.
Commdt. Dolgellau vol. inf. 1798; maj. commdt. Cader Idris vols. 1803, lt.-col. commdt. 1804.
Member, board of agriculture 1802, vice-pres. 1816.
Vaughan’s father, a younger son of the ancient house of Hengwrt, was a surgeon and apothecary at Dee Bank when the first of two inheritances provided him in 1780 with the estate of Rûg, worth £3,000 p.a.; the other in 1783, when he succeeded his spendthrift elder brother Hugh, brought him Hengwrt and Nannau. The latter was the seat of power in Merioneth throughout the century and it was there that Vaughan took up residence in 1784, when he was named sheriff. With an estate of 12,000 acres, which he secured in 1788 with the help of Richard Richards* against predatory litigants and which became the most prosperous in the county, he fully expected to succeed his aged kinsman Evan Lloyd Vaughan of Corsygedol to the county seat, with the latter’s concurrence. In 1791 his friend Lord Bulkeley, who had failed to obtain the lord lieutenancy for him in 1789, secured a baronetcy for him from Pitt, answering for his political loyalty. He was himself at death’s door, however, when Vaughan died and it was his heir who inherited the prestige of the eponymous family and held the seat without opposition for 44 years. Lord Bulkeley assured Pitt that he was a friend of government.1
The young Sir Robert Vaughan proved staunch, though he made no speeches and his attendance was far from regular. His only recorded minority votes during Pitt’s administration were against the land tax proposals, 18 May 1798. He did not acted as a steward at the celebration of Pitt’s birthday organized by Canning in May 1802 and supported Pitt’s second ministry. He was of the committee to investigate the 11th naval report in May 1805. He opposed the repeal by the Grenville administration of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806. The Whigs were rightly ‘doubtful’ of securing his support in 1810, though he had indicated his sense of independence by opposing Perceval on the subjects of the Duke of York’s misconduct of patronage, 17 Mar., and on allegations of ministerial corruption, 25 Apr. 1809. He supported government, however, over the Scheldt expedition, 30 Mar. 1810, and apart from a vote for sinecure reform, 7 May 1810, on all major issues when present. On 21 May 1810 he voted against parliamentary reform. He invariably opposed Catholic relief and, on his own territory, tried to stem the growth of protestant dissent. On 9 May 1816 he voted for Althorp’s motion against the leather tax and on 2 June 1817 divided with the minority in favour of Charles Williams Wynn as Speaker. He was also in a minority on forgery prevention, 14 May 1818. He was subsequently described as ‘a staunch old Tory of Lord Eldon’s school and to him he pinned his faith as his model’.2
While Sir Robert made no mark at Westminster, locally he was a mountain king, styled ‘The Golden Calf of Dolgellau’. He was an agricultural improver and a road-builder. Sydney Smith reported of this ‘sweet innocent’ in 1799:
He sees from his windows Cader Idris and Snowdon, both of them inferior to himself in height and bulk. It was curious and amusing to see the worthy baronet, surrounded by sixteen little men and women who reached up to the waistband of his breeches, and looked like iron rails round a monument.3
His indiscriminate hospitality was shocking to the English bourgeois visitor. Mrs Frances Stackhouse reported in 1824 that her host was
about six feet high and rather portly. He was dressed in a suit of home made grey cloth ... Lady Vaughan had been a handsome woman, and of a good Welsh family ... but her education was not what we should call first class in England. The only books I ever saw in the house were in Sir Robert’s business room, and consisted of one on gaming and four or five on farming and gardening.
Lady Vaughan boasted that her son ‘never looked into any book but his Pible [sic] and Prayerbook’. Every day ‘there was a regular dinner of five dishes in each course to which all the neighbourhood came without any special invitation, and in consequence the company was not of the most select kind’. They ate ‘comical dishes’, added Mrs Stackhouse, who found herself discussing the plague of rats with a maltster’s daughter and afterwards retreated upstairs, as, to quote Lady Vaughan, ‘the tipsy gentlemen could not find their way there’.4 Vaughan died 22 Apr. 1843, aged 75.