YORKE, Joseph Sydney (1768-1831), of Sydney Lodge, nr. Southampton.

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



1790 - 1806
1806 - Apr. 1810
17 Jan. 1812 - 1812
1812 - 1818
1818 - 5 May 1831

Family and Education

b. 6 June 1768, 3rd s. of Hon. Charles Yorke by 2nd w., and bro. of Charles Philip Yorke*. educ. Harrow 1779-80. m. (1) 29 Mar. 1798, Elizabeth Weake (d. 29 Jan. 1812), da. of James Rattray of Atherston, Perth, 6s. 1da.; (2) 22 May 1813, Lady Urania Anne Paulet, da. of George Paulet 12th Mq. of Winchester, wid. of Henry, 1st Mq. of Clanricarde [I], and of Col. Peter Kingston, s.p. Kntd. 21 Apr. 1805; KCB 2 Jan. 1815.

Offices Held

Midshipman RN 1780, lt. 1789, cdr. 1790, capt. 1793, r.-adm. 1810, v.-adm. 1814, adm. 1830.

Ld. of Admiralty July 1810-Apr. 1818.

Dir. Greenwich Hosp. 1810.


Despite a family decision that he should not look to Parliament until he had obtained post rank in the navy, Yorke was returned by his half-brother the 3rd Earl of Hardwicke at the first election after he came of age. Hardwicke made it his ‘only point’ with Pitt that Yorke should obtain a captaincy and his wish was gratified. His naval duties kept him away from the House, though he figured in a list of opponents of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791. Even so, Hardwicke had no wish to displace him in 1796. He regarded himself and his family as supporters of Pitt’s administration. In 1802 he might have given up his seat to his brother Charles if the latter had failed in Cambridgeshire, but that did not happen; as it was, being hard up, he asked Hardwicke to pay his election expenses.1

Yorke appeared in the House from 1802, but his attendance was ‘very casual and precarious’ after the resumption of war with France, because of professional demands. As late as 25 Mar. 1816 he admitted that he had been unable to make himself master of ‘parliamentary phraseology’. Hardwicke and his brother Charles holding office under Addington, he supported his ministry, sending Hardwicke in Ireland reports of debates he attended. He spoke in favour of the commission of naval inquiry, 13 Dec. 1802. Like Charles, he was listed ‘Addington etc.’ on Pitt’s return to power in May 1804; first ‘Pitt’ then ‘doubtful Pitt’ in September 1804, and ‘doubtful Pitt’ in July 1805. He was evidently absent, but Charles intended to muster his vote, if necessary, against Whitbread’s censure of Pitt in June 1805. He owed his knighthood to his standing proxy for Hardwicke when the latter was awarded the Garter. Charles advised him, as a professional man, not to tangle with party politics on the formation of the Grenville ministry and thereby prejudice his advancement, 3 Mar. 1806. There is no evidence that he did.2

Yorke’s seat for Reigate was wanted for Lord Royston, Hardwicke’s heir, in 1806. Hardwicke had thought he might stand a good chance at Dover, but paid the expenses of his return for one of his brother-in-law Lord Eliot’s boroughs. He managed the absent Royston’s returns at Reigate in 1806 and 1807. Hardwicke went into opposition in 1807, which led to a difference of opinion between him and Charles. Yorke, in whom his brother confided against Hardwicke’s wishes, was ‘very concerned at the affair’. Hardwicke thought that Mulgrave, at the Admiralty, was quite capable of keeping Yorke away from the House for political motives. On 10 Mar. 1808 he took a month’s leave. When in October 1809 Perceval wooed Charles Yorke for office, his professed inability to place Sir Joseph among the ‘blue coats’ on the Admiralty board strengthened Charles’s resistance to the offers made him. When Charles vacated Cambridgeshire with a tellership of the Exchequer early in 1810, he secured Hardwicke’s approval of Sir Joseph’s standing for the county in his place, but the certainty of a contest for the seat put it out of the question. Hardwicke had previously pointed out the embarrassment likely to arise from the substitution, in view of his own attachment to opposition. Yorke voted with ministers on the Scheldt inquiry, 5 and 30 Mar. 1810, and was listed ‘against the Opposition’ by the Whigs. In April he surrendered his own seat to Charles. On 28 Mar. 1810 he had abused Whitbread in debate as ‘a brewer of bad porter’, but Whitbread retorted good-humouredly. ‘The Speaker was most unjust and partial in not noticing it’. He was at sea and still without a seat when, on becoming first lord of the Admiralty that summer, Charles placed him on the Admiralty board in place of Robert Moorsom. He was promoted rear-admiral and reinforced the Peninsular army.3

It was not until January 1812 that Yorke was found a vacant seat, on the Buller interest. His brother was then anxious to quit the Admiralty and it was supposed that he would go too, ‘on account of having made himself so unpopular and of having given such gross offence to many naval officers’, but he stayed put.4 He voted with ministers against sinecure reform, 24 Feb. and 4 May 1812, and spoke in favour of his brother’s policy, 17 Mar., and in favour of Wellington, whom he wished to see commander-in-chief of the army, 27 Apr.

Yorke’s brother Charles was willing to surrender his borrowed seat on Lord Eliot’s interest to him for the election of 1812, but ministers cast about for another seat for him (Boston was one suggestion) and found one at Sandwich, ‘where they are crying out for a naval man’. He had voted against Catholic relief, 22 June 1812, and did so again throughout the next Parliament (pairing on 24 May 1813). He could also be relied on to support ministers in crucial divisions. He spoke occasionally, in the language of an old sea-dog to the amusement of the House, and chiefly on naval questions. His defence of the navy estimates, 25 Mar. 1816, was lightweight and John Wilson Croker came to the government’s rescue. On 9 May 1816 he favoured a committee on the leather tax and on 15 May spoke as a director of Greenwich Hospital. He ‘turned his stern to the Admiralty’ in April 18185 and no vote is known for the rest of that session.

In 1818 Yorke was returned by Hardwicke for Reigate. He returned from Paris to attend the House6 and began to be more comfortable in debate. Opposing the campaign to improve the lot of boy chimney sweeps, 17, 22 Feb. 1819, he said that he did not know which was worse, a smoking chimney or a scolding wife. He voted with ministers in the critical divisions of 29 Mar. and 18 May and continued to defend Admiralty measures, except that he reproached them for not rewarding the naval architect Sir Robert Seppings, 11 June, 8 Dec. Then on 14 Dec. 1819 he rose to say that, having voted for 29 years on the ministerial side, he would join opposition, for once, on clauses in the seizure of arms bill he considered obnoxious. He did so, and when on 16 Dec. he seemed ready to swallow the bill, though he wished the night search clause had been omitted, Tierney declared that he would move to leave out the words ‘by night’ to give Yorke the opportunity of voting twice with opposition in 29 years. He did so and ceased to be taken seriously.

Yorke was drowned off a yacht struck by lightning in the Hamble, 5 May 1831.7

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Add. 35392, f. 113; 35393, f. 82; 35395, ff. 193, 195, 229, 231, 267; SRO GD46/17/6, Garlies to Stewart, 8 Feb. [1792].
  • 2. Add. 35394, f. 78; 35395, ff. 227, 280, 286; 35706, ff. 185, 253.
  • 3. Add. 35393, f. 162; 35394, ff. 31, 64, 78; 35395, ff. 43, 45; 35646, f. 28; 35706, f. 353; 45034, ff. 25, 51, 52; 45042, f. 88; Colchester, ii. 243; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 11 o’clock [28 Mar. 1810].
  • 4. Fremantle mss, W. H. to T. Fremantle, 22 Mar. 1812.
  • 5. Add. 35394, ff. 135, 139; SRO GD51/1/200/42; Sir J. Barrow, Autobiog. Mem. 319.
  • 6. Morning Chron. 5 Jan. 1819.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1831), i. 476, 559.