HAMLYN WILLIAMS, Sir James, 3rd. bt. (1790-1861), of Edwinsford, Carm. and Clovelly Court, nr. Bideford, Devon

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



1831 - 1832
1835 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 25 Nov. 1790, 1st. s. of Sir James Hamlyn Williams†, 2nd bt., of Edwinsford and Clovelly and Diana Anne, da. of Abraham Whitaker, merchant, of Stratford, Essex. educ. Winchester 1802-6. m. 15 Feb. 1823, Lady Mary Fortesecue, da. of Hugh Fortescue†, 1st Earl Fortescue, 3da. suc. fa. as 3rd bt. 3 Dec. 1829. d. 10 Oct. 1861.

Offices Held

Lt. 7 Drag. 1810, capt. 1813, maj. 1821, ret. 1823.

Sheriff, Carm. 1848-9.


The Williamses of Cwrt Derllys and Edwinsford were descendants of the Welsh warrior Eidio Wyllt, whose history ‘illustrates the survival of an ancient family of "uchelwyr" and ... its progression from the ranks of rural freeholders to the vanguard of Carmarthenshire’s county families in post-Tudor days’. In May 1797, on the death of Hamlyn Williams’s paternal grandmother Arabella, control of the 10,000-acre estates passed to the Hamlyns of Clovelly. His father accordingly took the name and arms of Williams in 1798 and in 1811 succeeded to the Hamlyn baronetcy first conferred on his grandfather in 1795, as the Williams baronetcy had lapsed.1 With Lord Dynevor’s support, they had represented Carmarthenshire in the Red or Tory interest from 1793 until his father’s retirement in 1806 to avoid an expensive contest. He did not stand again, but he maintained his interest, strove to acquire a reputation as an improving landlord and was annoyed at not being consulted when Dynevor’s heir took the seat in 1820.2

Hamlyn, as he was first known, spent his childhood at Clovelly and in London, with occasional holidays at Edwinsford. Unlike his younger brothers, he was educated at Winchester, whence on 5 Mar. 1805 he wrote to the Edwinsford agent David Thomas requesting ‘a ham and a fowl or two in a little parcel’. His father forbade it, adding:

He has everything that he ought to have, and he is very apt to send to shops and all other places to get things in my name ... We must look sharp after him. He is a wag.3

His father kept him ‘under my eye’ when he left school, and he was tutored privately before joining the army, where he served with distinction in the Peninsula as an aide-de-camp to Sir William Henry Clinton*, receiving medals for his bravery at Orthez and Toulouse.4 He chose to be known as Hamlyn Williams on attaining the rank of major and remained in the army until shortly after his marriage to one of Lord Ebrington’s* sisters, which strengthened his ties with the Whig moderates and the Grenvillite Williams Wynns* of Wynnstay, Denbighshire.5 He enjoyed hunting in Carmarthenshire, corresponded with landowners on whose estates he wished to shoot, and in November 1825, sure of the support of Colonel Sackville Gwynne of Glanbran, J.G.H.G. Williams of Llwynywormwood and Thomas Foley of Abermarlais, he consulted the leading Blue or Whig magnate, the 2nd Baron Cawdor, in confidence about his prospects should he start for the county. His kinsman by marriage, Cawdor’s agent Richard Bowen Williams, who acted as intermediary, advised Cawdor:

I should be inclined to hope that if he could secure any considerable part of the interest which supported his father ... he might have a good chance, especially if he could add to that any great proportion of the Blue interest ... [but] there must be a great mass of small freeholders of which I know nothing ... How would old Lewis of Llysnewydd act? ... What would [Hughes] of Tregib do?

Williams also thought Hamlyn Williams’s ‘own notion ... not to canvass previously but to make a start on the day of the election’ ill-advised and actively discouraged the attempt in 1826.6 In about 1827 Hamlyn Williams assumed responsibility for Edwinsford, which with Cwrt Derllys was worth £7,000 a year, considered buying adjoining farms, and by coming to the aid of William Lewes junior when he was in financial difficulties in 1828, secured the vital political interest of Llysnewydd.7 ‘The first of the shooting on my best partridge grounds’ remained of paramount importance to him and in March 1829 Gwynne, as the presiding magistrate at Llandovery, cautioned him privately against bringing prosecutions which ‘could not fail to produce an impression in the county which you would find very much against you in case of your becoming a candidate’.8 Although a signatory to an open letter approving Cawdor’s plan to abolish the Welsh courts of great sessions, he was able to avoid attending public meetings on this divisive issue in the autumn of 1829 on account of his father’s illness and death.9 With his brother Charles, he helped to secure Ebrington’s election for Devon in 1830, when he was also pleased to learn that the Carmarthenshire Member George Rice Trevor’s parliamentary conduct was unpopular and his prospects of representing the county had improved.10 As foreman of the Carmarthenshire grand jury, 11 Mar. 1831, he ensured that they adopted a petition for reform and ‘total repeal of the assessed taxes, the duty on malt, and the adoption of a proper system of economy by abolishing all sinecures and removing all placemen’, which Trevor would be unable to endorse.11 Moving the resolution backing the Grey ministry’s reform bill at the Carmarthenshire meeting, 29 Mar., he urged all reformers to support it to avoid civil war and explained that although he wanted triennial parliaments and voting by ballot, which the bill failed to provide, he would give it ‘full support’, as unanimity was essential.12 Trevor was known to be prepared to resign rather than support the bill and Hamlyn Williams and another reformer, Rees Goring Thomas of Carmarthen, commenced canvassing well before the dissolution in April 1831, precipitated by its defeat.13 Thomas made way for him (as the stronger candidate) and he was returned unopposed as a staunch reformer, ‘unshackled and unconnected to any party’, at a cost of £817 17s., and chaired ‘on the chair of his great ancestor Sir Nicholas Williams†’.14 Grasping the significance of the ministry’s decision to give Glamorgan a second Member, he promised to press for another two Carmarthenshire Members, one for the county and one for its mining districts. He said that he favoured ‘the total and immediate abolition of slavery’, would vote to repeal the taxes on malt, soap and candles and reduce the assessed taxes, and do his utmost ‘to oppose the efforts of placemen’ and ‘end all sinecures and pensions’.15

Hamlyn Williams attended the county meeting, 8 June, and presented its petitions for a second county Member and separate representation for Llanelli and Kidwelly, 24 June 1831.16 He divided for the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July, and steadily for its details, but cast a wayward vote for the total disfranchisement of Aldborough, 14 Sept. He spoke briefly against delaying consideration of the Carmarthen election petition, 29 July, and presented further petitions from his county calling for landowners to be given £10 votes, 30 July, and for additional representation, 4 Aug. He divided for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish reform bill, 23 Sept., and Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831. The bill’s defeat in the Lords led to further petitioning and fears of unrest in Carmarthenshire, but Hamlyn Williams remained in London.17 He voted for the revised reform bill at its second reading, 17 Dec. 1831, consistently for its details, and for its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. Carmarthen petitioned for the creation of additional peers to pass the bill and, after voting for the address calling on the king to carry it unimpaired, 10 May, Hamlyn Williams wrote to the attorney George Thomas: ‘I trust that you and my friends at Carmarthen will be of opinion that the ... Commons has done its duty’.18 He divided for the Irish reform bill at its second reading, 25 May, against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June, and against Alexander Baring’s bill denying insolvent debtors parliamentary privilege, 6 June. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. 1831, the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, information on Portugal, 9 Feb., military punishments, 16 Feb., and the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr. 1832, and considered himself a constant supporter of Lord Grey; but, true to his abolitionist principles and his pledge to his constituents, he voted against the government’s restrictive amendment to Fowell Buxton’s motion for the appointment of a select committee on colonial slavery, 24 May 1832. Attributing blame to previous administrations, he had called for a reduction in civil list expenditure, 18 July,19 and he voted against the grant for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels in the colonies and criticized the award to improve the Canadian waterways as ‘nothing but a disgraceful job’, 25 July 1831. He divided with the radicals against the compensation proposed for Escoffery and Lescene for their wrongful removal from Jamaica, 21 Aug. 1831, and to reduce the barrack grant, 2 July 1832. The only private petition he presented was against the Hartlepool docks railway bill, 2 Apr. 1832.

Hamlyn Williams felt he had fulfilled his pledges to his constituents and hoped for an unopposed return for the new two Member Carmarthenshire constituency at the general election in December 1832, when Trevor stood as a Conservative, but Cawdor was unwilling knowingly to sanction one-and-one representation and fielded a declared Liberal against ‘Independent’ Hamlyn Williams, whose late bid for Red support failed, leaving him bottom of the poll.20 The Whig Lewis Jones had warned his agent (David Davies of Froodvale) in August 1832:

Sir James Williams must know or ought to know his political interests better than I can presume to do, but in my humble opinion, if he should throw the weight of his influence into Trevor’s scales or even remain neutral when a reform candidate shall be in the field, he will commit political suicide.21

Standing as a Liberal endorsed by Cawdor, he came in for Carmarthenshire with Trevor in 1835, but the independent squires failed to bring him in in 1837, when his support for the ballot went ‘too far’ for Cawdor, who had gravitated to the Conservatives, and he did not stand again.22 In retirement he completed the hobby drives at Clovelly and Edwinsford, was appointed to the honorary office of gamekeeper for the manors of Caio, Mallaine and Talley in 1845, and served as sheriff of Carmarthenshire. He died and was buried privately at Clovelly in October 1861. It was erroneously reported that he was succeeded in the baronetcy by his brother, Rear-Admiral Charles Hamlyn, but he had predeceased him and the baronetcy lapsed.23 By his will, which was remarkable for its detail and ‘unusual dimensions’, he left an estate with all its chattels and mineral rights to each of his daughters: Clovelly to Susan Hester Fane, Cwrt Derllys to Edwina Augusta Davie and Edwinsford to Mary Elinor Drummond. He made bequests to his orphaned godson, James George Glyn Shaw of Blackheath, and his widow (d. 1874), whose life interest in his Upper Grosvenor Street house was to pass to his nephew and executor, Gerard James Noel (1823-1911), Conservative Member for Rutland, 1847-83.24

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. F. Jones, ‘Williams of Edwinsford’ (pt. i), Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion (1986), 63, 66-98; (pt. ii), ibid. (1987), 9-42.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 488-91; iv. 139; v. 580-1; Sir F.D. Williams Drummond, Annals of Edwinsford, 5, 9, 38; Carm. RO, Dynevor mss 161/5; NLW, Edwinsford mss 3057.
  • 3. Edwinsford mss 2980, 2990, 3010a, 3012, 3015-17, 3056, 4135.
  • 4. Ibid. 3030; Williams Drummond, 16; Carmarthen Jnl. 25 Oct. 1861.
  • 5. Williams Wynn Corresp., 317.
  • 6. Edwinsford mss 3056, 3059, 3061; Carm. RO, Cawdor mss 2/209.
  • 7. Edwinsford mss 3057, 3061-7, 3083, 4143, 4163.
  • 8. NLW, Dolaucothi mss 3962; Edwinsford mss 3068.
  • 9. PP (1829), ix. 388; Gent. Mag. (1830), i. 80-81.
  • 10. The Times, 12, 16 Aug.; Carmarthen Jnl. 13 Aug. 1830; Edwinsford mss 3072.
  • 11. Carmarthen Jnl. 25 Mar. 1831.
  • 12. Ibid. 1 Apr. 1831.
  • 13. Ibid. 22 Apr. 1831.
  • 14. Ibid. 29 Apr., 6, 13 May 1831; Dolaucothi mss 3963; Carm. RO, Plas Llanstephan mss 924, 925; NLW ms 13477 C, pp. 18-20; Edwinsford mss 3834.
  • 15. Cambrian, 13 May; Carmarthen Jnl. 13 May 1831.
  • 16. Carmarthen Jnl. 10 June 1831.
  • 17. Ibid. 16 Sept., 14, 28 Oct., 25 Nov. 1831.
  • 18. Ibid. 4 May 1832; NLW, Highmead mss 3186.
  • 19. The Times, 19, 20 July 1831.
  • 20. Plas Llanstephan mss 924, 925; Dolaucothi mss L3125, 3126, 3964, 3965, 3968-73, 4148-52; Dynevor mss 161/5; Highmead mss 3155; Edwinsford mss 4148-52; NLW ms 1172 E, ff. 29, 36; Carmarthen Jnl. 28 Dec. 1832.
  • 21. NLW ms 1172 E, f.37.
  • 22. M. Cragoe, ‘Carm. Co. Politics, 1804-37’, Carm. Antiquary, xxx (1994), 75-79; Dolaucothi mss L3974-80; Highmead mss 3158, 3188-92.
  • 23. Williams Drummond, 16; Gent. Mag. (1861), ii. 577; Carmarthen Jnl. 18, 25 Oct. 1861.
  • 24. IR26/2309/44-52; Welshman, 7 Feb. 1862.