WARD, Robert (1765-1846), of 48 Lincoln's Inn Fields, Mdx.

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



1802 - 1806
10 Jan. 1807 - Apr. 1823

Family and Education

b. 19 Mar. 1765, 6th s. of John Ward, merchant, of Gibraltar and London by Rebecca née Raphael of Spain. educ. Macfarlane’s sch. Walthamstow; ?Westminster; Christ Church, Oxf. 1783; I. Temple 1781, called 1790; continental tour. m. (1) 2 Apr. 1796, Catherine Julia (d. 18 Dec. 1821), da. of Christopher Thompson Maling of West Herrington, co. Dur., 1s. 1da.; (2) 16 July 1828, Jane (d. 26 Mar. 1831), da. and coh. of Rev. the Hon. George Hamilton, wid. of William Plumer* of Gilston Park, Herts. and of Richard John Lewin, cdr. RN, s.p.; (3) 14 Feb. 1833, Mary, da. of Sir George Anson*, wid. of Rev. Charles Gregory Okeover of Okeover, Staffs., s.p. Took name of Plumer before Ward 16 July 1828.

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state for Foreign affairs Jan. 1805-Feb. 1806; ld. of Admiralty Apr. 1807-June 1811; clerk of Ordnance May 1811-1823; auditor of the civil list 1823-Jan. 1831.

Dir. Commercial Dock Co. 1812.

Sheriff, Herts. 1832-3.

Maj. Bloomsbury vols. 1803.


Ward was a barrister on the northern circuit and at the cockpit, where appeals to the Privy Council were dealt with. He was an authority on international law.1 He had subscribed £3,000 to the loyalty loan for 1797. Pitt’s friend Lord Mulgrave was his brother-in-law and it was Pitt who recommended him to Lord Lowther, 28 June 1802, as being ‘of such promising talents, that I hardly think he can fail to distinguish himself’. Lowther returned him for Cockermouth, initially until his nephew Lord Burghersh came of age. His first loyalty was to Mulgrave to whom, as to Lowther, he imparted news of Pitt’s friends’ activities from another friend William Sturges Bourne: thus he was privy to the plot to restore Pitt to office in November 1802, though not important enough to be a conspirator.2

His maiden speech was in support of the Addington ministry’s commission of naval inquiry, 17 Dec. 1802, but as the resumption of hostilities with France approached he was among the government’s critics, 20 May 1803, and on 3 June voted with Pitt for the orders of the day. He was the spontaneous author of a Pittite pamphlet, A view of the relative situations of Mr Pitt and Mr Addington previous to and on the night of Mr Patten’s motion (by ‘a Member of Parliament’), which included a compliment to Fox and stung Addington’s publicists into a reply. Subsequently, despite Lowther’s reservations, he was for open war with the ministry and mistakenly invited by the Speaker to a dinner he gave for the Grenvillite opposition, 5 Feb. 1804. On 7 Mar. he joined Pitt’s more rebellious friends in voting for inquiry into the conduct of the Irish government. He was a critic of the volunteer bill, 12 Mar., joined Pitt and the combined opposition on defence questions, 15 Mar., 16, 23 and 25 Apr. 1804, and supported Pitt on his restoration to power. He opposed the prize agency bill inherited from the outgoing ministry, 7 June, and next day and on 11 and 15 June spoke up for Pitt’s additional force bill. In January 1805 Mulgrave, appointed Foreign secretary, offered Ward the under-secretaryship, placing him in a dilemma, as he was earning up to £1,200 p.a. at the bar and had Pitt and Lord Eldon’s promise of the next vacant Welsh judgeship and financial security. He had just brought out a pamphlet on the history of declarations of war in Europe, which served as a manifesto for war with Spain. He opted for political office and sought to dissuade his patron from quarrelling with Pitt over the admission of Addington to office. He did not speak in the House on foreign affairs, only in defence of the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, 15 Feb. 1805. After voting with Pitt against the opposition censure of Melville, 8 Apr. 1805, he informed his patron that the question was best lost, though it shook the government. Before Pitt died he was to have applied to the King for a pension of £1,000 for his wife (if Ward left office and as long as he did not resume it with £2,000 p a. or more): the arrangement was then applied for by Mulgrave and ratified by the Grenville ministry, though Fox, who questioned Ward’s efficiency in office, disliked it. At this point Ward offered up his seat to Lowther, but it was not then wanted.3

Ward joined Pitt’s friends in opposing the Grenville ministry on Ellenborough’s seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar. 1806, and on the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. Apart from a critical question or two, he did not voice his opposition. He regretted that there was ‘no resting place between a relinquishment of office and a violent opposition’. He was prepared to follow Lowther’s line and be left in or taken out of Parliament as he pleased. He was accordingly not returned at the election of 1806 but brought in by Lowther on a vacancy for Haslemere in January 1807. He voted with Pitt’s friends in opposition on the Hampshire election petition, 13 Feb., and subsequently endorsed their readiness to resume opposition, steering clear of Canning’s negotiations for a merger with Grenville, though he emphasized that they must be able to provide an alternative government.4

He committed himself to public life on the advent of the Portland ministry by accepting office under Mulgrave at the Admiralty board, expecting to take responsibility for civil business. In fact, it was he who moved the naval estimates in the House from 1807 until 1811; he also undertook the defence of the Admiralty on other questions. He warmed to his professional colleague Perceval’s performance as chancellor of the Exchequer, describing himself to him as among his most attached friends, 9 June 1809, when he made a show of offering his resignation because of his inability to support a measure of the Irish chancellor of the exchequer’s that evening.5 On Perceval’s assuming the helm in October, Ward was in his confidence about his dealings with Canning. Mulgrave offered to recommend him for the post of judge advocate, vacated by Ryder, but it was a place at the Treasury board that Perceval offered him. Ward preferred to stay put, with the advantage of an official residence— he had no personal ambitions, he assured Perceval, but on reflection he allowed his name to be put forward for any future vacant office, 13 Nov. 1809. He disliked the prospect of being a mere pensioner.6

Ward was an anxious supporter of Perceval’s administration, of which he kept a political diary. In March 1810 he was eager to resign with Mulgrave if the Earl of Chatham did not quit the Ordnance, but in public stood by the embarrassed Perceval.7 The Whigs listed him ‘against the Opposition’. He voted against criminal law, sinecure and parliamentary reform in May 1810. He admired Perceval’s stand on the Regency question, though he expected a change of ministry to ensue. When Mulgrave left the Admiralty for the Ordnance, he readily transferred to that department as clerk, in charge of financial affairs and parliamentary business. His wife was ailing and he wanted more leisure. From 1812 onwards he moved the Ordnance estimates in the House. He remained an opponent of sinecure reform, though he regretted that Perceval was so unyielding on the subject. Perceval’s assassination appalled him; nevertheless he voted against a more comprehensive administration, 21 May 1812, and, accepting his patron’s offer to return him again for Haslemere at the ensuing election, described this as no object of ambition but a fruit of their friendship and a source of social happiness. Apart from an unexpected opposition to the Lonsdale interest at Haslemere, the Catholic question was a possible source of friction between them: Ward had voted for relief on 22 June 1812, on the assumption that his patron approved, but on 2 Mar. 1813, finding Lonsdale hostile, he obtained permission to go away without voting, so as not to appear ‘too much like a weathercock’.8 (He maintained this line, though it appears that he paired against relief in 1817.)

When Ward was tipped to succeed Richard Wharton at the Treasury board in September 1813, he wrote, ‘As I never shone in knowledge of the finances, certainly not of my own, I am wholly at a loss to conceive whence this report has originated’.9 He remained a steady ministerial supporter, seldom exceeding his brief in debate, though he was occasionally irritated by opposition into doing so. On 27 Apr. 1815 he announced, in debate on Genoa, that ‘one ounce of good sense was worth a pound of declamation’, and on 9 June 1815 he and Whitbread came near to blows on the Ordnance estimates. He defended continental alliances, 20 Feb. 1816, and was abused by opposition on 28 Feb. for accusing them of following ‘in the train’ of a leader. That session he delayed the Ordnance estimates so as to achieve the maximum possible reduction and secure a quieter passage for them in the House, 8 Apr.: these reductions, continued until 1820, kept the opposition in good humour and, combined with the satisfaction created by his reports on the state of the Ordnance in various parts of the country, gave Ward a quiet life. He was an opponent of inquiry into popular education, 3 June 1818, and a staunch supporter throughout of legislation against sedition.

On Mulgrave’s leaving the Ordnance in December 1818, Ward was indifferent as to his own office, being within a year of the retirement threshold. When he asked the prime minister whether the Duke of Wellington would retain him, he was surprised to be ‘disowned’ on the grounds that Wellington was to have carte blanche as to his Ordnance colleagues. Ward concluded that he was thereby supposed not to be connected with the government at large. Charles Arbuthnot, whom Ward’s friend Vansittart had informed of his wounded feelings, hastened to reassure Ward that Liverpool was not ‘indifferent’ about him.10 He remained in the same office and in the House until 1823. Ward died 13 Aug. 1846.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Based, unless otherwise stated, on Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems.
  • 2. HMC Lonsdale, 152; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 13 Nov. 1802; Malmesbury Diaries, iv. 109.
  • 3. Pellew, Sidmouth, ii. 146; PRO 30/9/33, Abbot diary, 5 Feb.; Lonsdale mss, Mulgrave to Lowther, 9 Feb. 1804, Ward to same, Wed. [23 Nov.], 10 Dec. 1803, 8 Mar. 1804, 2, 3, 8, 31 Jan., 9 Apr. 1805; 28 Jan., 1, 11 Feb. 1806; PRO 30/8/187, f. 23; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3173; HMC Fortescue, viii. 42; Add. 47565, f. 157; Brougham mss 34186.
  • 4. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 4 Sept., 24 Oct., 21 Dec. 1806, 20, 25 Feb. 1807; HMC Lonsdale, 221, 228.
  • 5. Lonsdale mss, same to same, 2, 7 Apr. 1807; Perceval (Holland) mss D8.
  • 6. Perceval (Holland) mss 21, ff. 20, 24; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 28 Oct., 3, 6 Nov. 1809.
  • 7. Lonsdale mss, same to same, 3, 5, 7, 15 Mar., Long to same, 3 Mar. [1810].
  • 8. Ibid. Ward to Lonsdale, 22 Dec. 1810, 1 Jan. [1811], Mon. [19 Apr.], 19 Sept. 1812, Lowther to same, 4 Mar. 1813.
  • 9. Ibid. Ward to Lonsdale, 23 Sept. 1813.
  • 10. Ibid. same to same, 1, 9, 17 Dec. 1818.