ALLEN, John Hensleigh (1769-1843), of Cresselly, Pemb.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. 29 Aug. 1769, 1st s. of Capt. John Bartlett Allen of Cresselly and 1st w. Elizabeth, da. and h. of John Hensleigh, attorney, of Pant-Teg. educ. Westminster 1779; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1789; L. Inn 1789, called 1797. m. 9 Nov. 1812,1 Gertrude, da. of Lord Robert Seymour† of Taliaris, Carm., 3s. 2da. suc. fa. 1803. d. 14 Apr. 1843.2

Offices Held

Sheriff, Pemb. 1808-9.

Lt.-col. Pemb. vols. 1803, S. regt. R. Pemb. militia 1809.


‘Plump, genial ... [and] dark haired’ Allen, a close connection of the Darwin and Wedgwood families, was a ‘busy sociable man, popular in Pembrokeshire and London’, where he was a founder member with his brother-in-law and fellow Whig Sir James Mackintosh* of the King of Clubs.3 His influence in West Wales, where he was a leading spokesman for the Blue party led by the 1st Baron Cawdor of Stackpole Court (with Lords Milford and Kensington†), derived from his Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire estates and coal workings, and had been enhanced by his marriage to a daughter of the nabob Lord Robert Seymour. He had been brought in for Pembroke Boroughs in 1818 under a two-election pact brokered by James Scarlett* in 1816 between Cawdor and the Pembrokeshire Member Sir John Owen, and his return in 1820 was assured.4

Summoned by their Commons leader George Tierney, he continued to divide regularly with the Whig opposition on all major issues, including for parliamentary reform, 18 Apr., 9 May 1821, 20 Feb., 24 Apr. 1823, 9 Mar., 27 Apr., 26 May 1826, and Catholic relief, 21 Apr., 10 May 1825.5 A radical publication of that year noted that he ‘attended pretty regularly and voted with the opposition [but] seldom spoke’.6 He participated in the attacks on ministers over their conduct towards Queen Caroline in 1820 and 1821 and was a steady supporter of economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation, including repeal of the additional malt duty, 23 Mar., 3 Apr. 1821, and the taxes on salt and horses, for which he was commended in the Welsh language monthly magazine Seren Gomer.7 Again earning praise from Seren Gomer, he supported Mackintosh’s measures for abolition of the death penalty for forgery and criminal law reform, 23 May, 4 June 1821, 4 June 1822, 21 May 1823, and was a member of the 1820 and 1824 select committees on the subject. He voted to end corporal punishment in the army, 5, 15 Mar. 1824, 9 June 1825, 10 Mar. 1826, and in condemnation of the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824, and of the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826. He also brought up Pembrokeshire petitions, whose adoption he had urged, for the ‘annihilation of slavery’ and repeal of West Indian sugar bounties, 1, 3 Mar. 1826.8 On 11 Feb. 1825 he received three weeks’ leave following the death of his wife from consumption. They had recently set out for the continent with their elder sons in search of cure, but got no further than Gloucester.9 He voted in a minority of 29 against making puisne judges immovable, 20 May 1825.

Allen was described by a contemporary as ‘an excellent Member ... although no speaker’, and his argument certainly tended to get lost in a mass of detail.10 Speaking on the Welsh courts of great sessions and judicature, he endorsed (as he had in 1819) Cawdor’s son John Frederick Campbell’s call for their abolition and incorporation into the English system, and was appointed to the select committee conceded to him, 1 June 1820. He argued that the eligibility of Welsh judges to sit in the Commons threatened judicial impartiality and that the alleged virtues of the Welsh courts, their cheapness and speed, were not conducive to justice and encouraged unwarranted petty litigation, which inflated the number of attorneys. Taking the initiative in the Commons on the issue following Campbell’s succession as 2nd Baron Cawdor in June 1821, he moved in vain to have the 1817, 1820 and 1821 select committee reports referred to a committee of the whole House, 16 May, and the Welsh circuits reorganized, 23 May 1822, when to his previous charges he added a complaint that judges in great sessions remained qualified to practice as barristers and criticized the £300 fee levied to transfer cases to neighbouring English counties as ‘an engine of oppression in the hands of the rich’. On 11 Mar. 1824 he failed (by 42-19) to kill a remedial bill, first introduced in 1822 by one of his principal political adversaries in West Wales John Jones*. To his earlier criticisms he added a denunciation of the powers of great sessions to act as courts of chancery, a crucial feature of their jurisdiction that lord chancellor Eldon wished to retain, and suggested halving to four the number of Welsh judges and doubling their salaries to improve standards.11 Mackintosh told Lady Holland, 8 Oct. 1825, that, despite earlier fears, Allen’s return for Pembroke Boroughs at the next election was assured.12 It was around this time that he began what his sisters termed ‘a serious flirtation’ with the dowager Baroness Cawdor that her Howard relations would think ‘a terrible misalliance’, and Cawdor, who had in any case put Pembroke’s contributory Wiston up for sale, declined to support him against Owen’s son.13 A preliminary canvass in February 1826 revealed that standing independently his prospects were bleak and, furious and bitterly disappointed, he desisted and on 3 June issued a notice defending his political principles:

I think that more danger is to be apprehended from six millions of discontented subjects in Ireland, than could result from the admission of about 30 Catholic gentlemen into the House of Commons. I admit the respectability in private life of Lord Liverpool and Lord Eldon, but I cannot forget that they were also the last champions of the slave trade. I have laboured for the reduction of our enormous establishments; for the remission of some of our heaviest taxes; for the mitigation of slavery in our colonial dependencies; and for the elevation of the Principality to a level with England in the administration of her laws.14

After travelling in 1827 on the continent, where his name was linked with two pretty women, a Mrs. Patterson and Theresa, Countess Guiccioli, Allen resumed his high profile in West Wales politics as chairman of the Pembrokeshire magistrates, and promoted Catholic relief and the abolition of the Welsh courts and of West Indian slavery.15 Mackintosh, a speaker at an anti-slavery meeting he chaired in October 1830, characterized him as ‘the greatest John Bull he ever knew’ and the ‘only man who believed that one Englishman could beat three Frenchmen’.16 He addressed meetings, canvassed for and nominated reformers in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire in 1831 and was outraged when the Owens, having voted against the Grey ministry’s reform bill (22 Mar., 19 Apr. 1831), declared for it on the hustings. In the course of this controversy John Jones called him a hypocrite for attacking sinecures when his younger brother Lancelot Baugh Allen (the unsuccessful candidate for Southwark in 1832) remained a chancery clerk - an 1824 appointment that probably derived from the influence of their sister Caroline as the mother-in-law of the then attorney-general Sir Robert Gifford*.17 When, probably with Cawdor’s backing, Allen contemplated challenging Sir John Owen for the Pembrokeshire seat in 1832, the Grey ministry refused to interfere on his behalf.18 Lord Althorp* explained to Lord Holland, 9 Sept. 1832:

I know Mr. Allen very well. I have fought by his side in many a bad division and I admit no-one has greater claims on our party than he has, but if he attacks a man who is supporting us I do not see how he can expect that we should assist him.19

When he died at Cresselly in April 1843 an obituarist wrote:

He began life as an uncompromising advocate on behalf of the ... Poles, a staunch supporter of Catholic and negro emancipation; and he professed the same liberal feelings when, upon a coalition of political parties in the county of Pembroke, he sat during two Parliaments ... He then enlisted under the banners of Tierney, Brougham and Mackintosh, labouring to reduce taxation, and give constitutional rights to every class of His Majesty’s subjects.20

The Cambrian also recalled his contribution to the campaign to abolish the Welsh judicature.21 He was succeeded at Cresselly by his eldest son Seymour Philipps Allen (1814-61). His will, dated 30 Apr. 1841 made additional provisions for his unmarried sister Frances, his children, and other relations and close friends.22

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Howard Spencer / Margaret Escott


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1812), ii. 492.
  • 2. Burke LG (1886, 1937, 1952) and IGI (Pemb.) give 9 Apr.; Gent. Mag. (1843), i. 657 and Ann. Reg. (1843), App. to Chron. p. 249 give 12 Apr.; The Times, 22 Apr. 1843 and Cambrian, 22, 29 Apr. 1843 give Good Friday (14 Apr.). Allen was buried at Jeffreston (Jeffreyston), 21 Apr. 1843. (NLW CPD 588, Jeffreyston par. reg. vol. iv).
  • 3. E. Inglis Jones, ‘A Pemb. Co. Family in 18th Cent.’ NLWJ, xvii (1971-2), 151.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 63.
  • 5. Add. 51586, Tierney to Lady Holland, 28 Dec. 1820.
  • 6. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 448.
  • 7. Seren Gomer, iii (1820), 219; iv (1821), 92-93, 125, 154, 223; v (1822), 124.
  • 8. Carmarthen Jnl. 27 Jan.; The Times, 2, 4 Mar. 1826; Seren Gomer, vii (1824), 224-5.
  • 9. Inglis Jones, 328-31.
  • 10. T. Philipps, 1820 Settler ed. A. Keppel-Jones (1960 edn.), 212.
  • 11. M. Escott, ‘How Wales lost its judicature: the making of the 1830 Act for the Abolition of the Courts of Great Sessions’, Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (2006), 135-59.
  • 12. Add. 51655.
  • 13. Inglis Jones, 322.
  • 14. Carmarthen Jnl. 3, 10 Feb., 9 June 1826; See also R.G. Thorne, ‘Pemb. and National Politics, 1815-1974’, Pemb. Co. Hist. ed. D. Howell, iv. 229.
  • 15. Inglis Jones, 333-5; R.D. Rees, ‘Parl. Rep. S. Wales 1790-1830’ (Univ. of Reading Ph.D. thesis, 1962), i. 66-67, 303.
  • 16. Mackintosh Mem. ii. 477; P. O’Leary, Sir James Mackintosh: the Whig Cicero, 193.
  • 17. Rees, i. 61-62, 303; The Times, 14, 28 May, 3, 10, 14 June, 17 Oct. 1831; Three Diaries, 284.
  • 18. Sir James Graham mss (IHR microfilm XR 80), 2, bdle. 14, Graham to C. Wood, 8 Sept. 1832.
  • 19. Add. 51724.
  • 20. Ann. Reg. (1843), App. to Chron., 249.
  • 21. Cambrian, 29 Apr. 1843.
  • 22. PROB 8/236; 11/1980/377.