WILLIAMS, William (1774-1839), of Belmont House, South Lambeth, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. 28 Mar. 1774, 2nd s. of Robert Williams II* of Bridehead, Dorset, and bro. of Robert Williams III*. educ. Wormley, Herts.; St. John’s, Camb. 1791; I. Temple 1792, called 1798. m. 30 Nov. 1797, Anne, da. of John Rashleigh of Penquite, Cornw., 5s. 1da.
Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1803-21.
Williams practised on the western circuit. On their father’s death in 1814, his elder brother Robert became senior partner of his London bank and Williams was left £60,000. He subsequently became a partner in the parental bank, as well as being a principal of the bank of Williams Co. at Dorchester. On 12 Nov. 1817 Thomas Wallace wrote of him from Weymouth:1
His brother the Member for Dorchester is a firm friend [to government] and he has been for a year or two united with him in the banking concern which is supposed to have produced a considerable change in his political feelings—in fact I should doubt if he dared to be a violent enemy as the party supporting him here are almost to a man partisans of government.
Williams, brother-in-law of the radical Thomas Holt White, had been the champion of the independent interest at Weymouth, directed against the Johnstone family’s control, in the elections of 1806, 1807 and 1812, and in the by-election of 1813 which followed the partial success of his petition against the return. In fact, his ambitions were purely local, as his not seeking a seat elsewhere clearly demonstrates. One of his opponents in 1812, John Broadhurst, could scarcely believe that ‘that grave and pious looking gentleman Williams’2 could give them so much trouble. Viscount Lowther described him to his father, 12 Mar. 1817, as ‘a Jacobin republican and goes all the length of [Henry] Hunt†'.3 By that time, he had paved the way for his return at the next election through a coalition with Thomas Fowell Buxton, which forced a compromise on Masterton Ure, manager of the borough for the Johnstone family. Thomas Wallace, glossing over the compromise, at first assured the Treasury that Williams was ‘not to be reckoned as a systematic enemy’, but efforts made by Williams to reinforce himself at Weymouth obliged him to concede, 6 Feb. 1818, that Williams, owing his return to ‘what is called the popular party’, would probably incline to opposition.4
So it proved. Williams, who headed the poll after being abused as ‘a rank Burdettite’, was an opponent of government, though he eschewed party.5 He was in the minorities for inquiry into the Bank of England’s failure to resume cash payments and on the Westminster hustings bill, 2 and 3 Feb. 1819. After severe indisposition,6 he made his maiden speech against the Windsor establishment bill, 25 Feb., failing in his bid to halve the Duke of York’s proposed allowance. He voted for criminal law reform, 2 Mar. A week later he supported Daniel Whittle Harvey’s motion for a list of excise informations filed in the court of Exchequer. He voted for the reduction of the Admiralty board, 18 Mar., and against ministers on the case of Wyndham Quin*, 29 Mar. He voted for burgh reform, 1 Apr., 6 May. He failed to carry a bill of his own to prevent fraudulent conveyances of small freeholds in boroughs for electoral purposes by imposition of an oath, 7 May: it was inspired by his years of frustration as a candidate at Weymouth, but was locally regarded as a threat whereby the compromise to which he owed his seat could be kept in force. His stock was said to be sinking at Weymouth, where he had not impressed as chairman of a meeting of ‘friends of the [local] union and independence’ (17 Apr.), and he and Buxton were obliged by their constituents to abstain from voting for Catholic relief, 3 May.7 He felt obliged to speak in favour of Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, but did not follow it through with a vote. On 20 May he voted against delays in Chancery and for the repeal of the coal duties. He opposed lotteries, 4 May, 9 June, and the foreign enlistment bill, and supported his friend Joseph Hume in his bid to secure the repeal of the Combination Acts, 22 June. On the same day he approved the Penryn bribery bill, having voted for the Barnstaple bribery bill on 17 May. On 1 July he defended Burdett’s motion for parliamentary reform, claiming that whereas the influence of the crown was now nullified, that of the government had increased correspondingly, but that ‘if the crown should take an administration not acceptable to those who held boroughs, that administration could not stand’. He saw no justification for subsidizing emigration to the Cape, 12 July 1819.
Williams was a steady opponent throughout of government’s repressive measures in November and December 1819. On 7 Dec. he tried to exempt meetings of electors in corporate towns from the ban imposed by the seditious meetings bill. He insisted, 13 Dec., that ministers ‘went further than the evils complained of demanded’: instead of dealing with particular manifestations of ‘pernicious doctrines’, they took away ‘the inalienable right of Englishmen’. ‘For himself he was uninfluenced by party motives. He sincerely felt that inquiry would have got rid of a great portion of the evils complained of.’ The prerequisite of social peace was ‘a moderate and rational reform’. Retaining his seat unopposed in 1820, Williams remained an advocate of civil and religious liberty in his second and last Parliament. Director of several companies after 1820, and an ardent freemason, he died 8 Feb. 1839.8