LAMB, Hon. George (1784-1834), of Whitehall Yard, Westminster, Mdx. and Richmond, Surr.

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



3 Mar. 1819 - 1820
18 Feb. 1822 - 2 Jan. 1834

Family and Education

b. 11 July 1784, 4th but 3rd surv. s. of Peniston Lamb†, 1st visct. Melbourne [I], and Elizabeth, da. of Sir Ralph Milbanke†, 5th bt., of Halnaby Hall, Yorks.; bro. of Hon. Peniston† and Hon. William Lamb*.1 educ. Eton 1796-1802; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1802; L. Inn 1805, called 1809. m. 17 May 1809, Caroline Rosalie Adelaide St. Jules, illegit. da. of William Cavendish, 5th duke of Devonshire (and his future w. Lady Elizabeth Foster), s.p. d. 2 Jan. 1834.

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state for home affairs Nov. 1830-d.

Capt. 1 Herts. vols. 1803.


Lamb was a good natured, high spirited, noisy man, whose ebullience was often mistaken for coarseness. Sydney Smith took a dim view of him at a dinner party in 1826:

George Lamb made the usual quantity of noise; his only art in conversation seems to be to contradict plainly and plumply whatever is said upon the opposite side of the table, and then to burst out into a horse laugh, and this supplies the place of wit and sense.2

Henry Fox* found him ‘always vulgar and noisy’, but ‘entertaining’ and with ‘some share of humour’.3 Less complicated and talented than his eldest brother William, to whom he played second fiddle, he was more immediately likeable, as well as politically more adventurous. His physical bulk concealed a flawed constitution, which he abused with heavy drinking, though he was no soak. His ‘home and happiness’, as his sister Lady Cowper put it, was in the theatre; but he was an able parliamentary speaker and was capable of spasmodic bouts of hard political work.4

Lamb’s attempt at the general election of 1820 to retain the Westminster seat which he had spectacularly won for the Whigs against the radicals at the by-election of 1819 ended in failure. With Sir Francis Burdett secure in the other seat, the fight was between Lamb and his opponent of the previous year, John Cam Hobhouse*, who had just been released from his imprisonment for breach of privilege. Lamb’s ‘imprudent’ (as Lord Grey thought) canvassing letter to a Tory voter, in which he equated Hobhouse’s supporters with ‘the lower classes’ and asked for support to prevent the return of ‘a rejected candidate ... merely from the circumstance of ... [the Commons] having ventured to punish him for a flagrant insult and libel’, fell into enemy hands and was made public on the first day. Lamb, who could scarcely gain a hearing on the hustings throughout, boasted of having seconded Burdett’s parliamentary reform motion of 1819 and declared his support for the disfranchisement of ‘notoriously rotten’ boroughs for the benefit of ‘populous places’ and a limited extension of the franchise; but he dismissed the ‘wild and unintelligible system of reform’ advocated by the radicals. An exchange of insults on the fifth day, when Hobhouse called Lamb a liar for alleging that he had deliberately contrived his martyrdom as ‘an electioneering trick’, led Lamb to demand satisfaction the following morning. A duel seemed likely for several hours, but the affair ended tamely in mutual public retraction. With the Liverpool ministry this time refusing to intervene, Lamb, who failed to see the joke when he was pelted with mud, trailed badly from the start and, despite a late rally, finished almost 450 behind Hobhouse.5

A fortnight later Tierney, the Whig leader in the Commons, acknowledged that of men left stranded, Lamb and Richard Sharp* had ‘the strongest claims upon anything which party can do’, but saw little immediate prospect of accommodating him.6 Lady Cowper, who found him ‘in very good spirits’, thought ‘the law will be the best speculation for him, but as he has no children to work for’, felt ‘he should do what amuses him best and Parliament is certainly what he likes’; while William Lamb also judged that though he ‘undoubtedly felt at first relieved by getting rid’ of his onerous seat, ‘in course of time he will begin to miss the importance and the consequence of it’.7 Lamb, who suffered a ‘very long and severe fit of the gout’ in the summer of 1820, reluctantly resumed his humdrum career at the bar and amused himself with the completion of a competent but uninspired translation of Catullus, from which he hoped to make some much needed money. It was largely well received on its publication in June 1821, though one critic savaged it in Blackwood’s. A drinking bout had made him ill again in the spring, when his sister observed, ‘What a pity that a bon vivant who enjoys all those things so much should not be stronger’.8

In February 1822 Lamb secured a seat through the good offices of his wife’s half-brother, the 6th duke of Devonshire, who created a vacancy for him at Dungarvan. He reported from Ireland to his brother Frederick, 14 Feb.:

The newest light that has struck upon me is the different view one takes of the chattering of our patriots, when actually resident on the spot which they are ignorantly prating about. Here I am in a part of the country [western county Waterford] considered quite quiet ... which in England would be considered [in] utter warfare and turmoil ... A regular Irish squire, whom I canvassed the other day, said, ‘Well, Sir, I like your principles, but I wish you and your party would show a little more consideration for the loyal party ... Our inconveniences never trouble your minds, but directly a man becomes a Whiteboy or a robber he is entitled to every kindness at your hands’ ... Want of employment and starvation are the roots of all the present disturbances ... The spirit of hostility ... is principally against tithes.

On his way home through Dublin, where his theatrical connections smoothed his path, Lamb, who had given himself ‘a little goutishness’ by drinking ‘a whole bottle of port’ on his arrival in Waterford, had a largely one-sided conversation with the viceroy, Lord Wellesley. He returned to London feeling unable to identify any practical measures to improve the state of affairs in Ireland and inclined, as he facetiously told Frederick, to ‘propose that nothing at all should be done [in Parliament] for any part of the empire this session, certainly nothing by me’.9

He voted for abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., 2 May 1822. On 15 Mar. he chided Williams Wynn for refusing to let sleeping dogs lie on the question of his ministerial colleague Charles Arbuthnot’s alleged breach of privilege. He divided with Burdett for the remission of Hunt’s gaol sentence, 24 Apr., and for Lord John Russell’s motion for parliamentary reform (to which William Lamb was opposed) the following day. He was in the minority of 25 for a fixed 20s. import duty on wheat, 9 May. He voted against government on diplomatic expenditure, 15, 16 May, repeal of the salt tax, 3 June (William opposed this on the 28th), Irish tithes, 19 June, the influence of the crown, 24 June, and the lord advocate’s dealings with the Scottish press, 25 June. He scolded Richard Martin for accusing Hume of indifference to the Irish poor, 17 May, and secured the adjournment of the debate on the Irish constables bill, 21 June.10 He voted for the public houses licensing bill, 27 June, but presented petitions against the sale of beer bill, 10, 17 July.11 He divided against the aliens bill, 1 July, and the Irish insurrection bill, 8 July, and was in small minorities against the orphans’ fund bill, 22 July, and the lotteries bill, 24 July 1822. Two weeks later he wrote to Frederick from Richmond, Surrey, where he had a copyhold property:

We have closed the longest session ever known except only the Rump Parliament. The grumblers of course say that nothing has [been] done and much more wisely abstained from. Certainly as much relief from taxation has been given as could with any prudence be resolved in one session ... So much for politics, which certainly for some inexplicable reason or another was never in my life so flat and little thought of as at present ... I am extremely well, and am now laying in a stock of health by regular living against the next winter campaign.12

However, he took ‘such flings at the wine’ at his parental home at Panshanger in the autumn that gout racked him yet again.13

Lamb, whose brother William was now moving quickly towards alignment with the liberal wing of the ministry, voted for reform, 20 Feb., 24 Apr. 1823. He was in the opposition minorities for tax reductions and against the national debt bill, 28 Feb., 3, 6, 17 Mar., when he also voted with Creevey against the Barbados duties and with Hume against the ordnance estimates. He privately denounced William’s speech of 16 Apr. against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act as ‘milk and water’, though he was not in the minority.14 On 22 Apr. he voted for inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, which his brother opposed. He divided for inquiries into the state of Ireland, 12 May, and chancery delays, 5 June. He voted for repeal of the usury laws, 17 June (and again, 8 Feb. 1825). He paired for the Scottish juries bill, 20 June, and spoke and voted for Mackintosh’s attempt to end capital punishment for certain larcenies, 25 July 1823. He was in small minorities against the Irish glebe houses grant and for reception of the petition against Crosbie, Member for Kerry, 1 July. Next day he was a teller for the majority to consider the conduct of O’Grady, chief baron of the Irish exchequer court, and on the 9th he was in a minority of 16 against the decision to proceed no further against him. He voted with a dozen other Members to have capital offences committed by serving soldiers tried by courts martial, 11 July 1823. He voted for the production of information on Catholic burials, 6 Feb., Catholic office holders, 19 Feb., and the criminal jurisdiction of the Isle of Man, 18 Feb. 1824. He had no strong objection to the home secretary Peel’s plan for consolidation of jury regulations, 19 Feb., but warned that ‘every new Act of this nature seemed only to create, instead of to remove doubts’. He and William voted on opposite sides on reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 26 Feb., and the aliens bill, 23 Mar. He voted in support of a complaint of breach of privilege against lord chancellor Eldon, 1 Mar., against the Welsh judicature bill, 11 Mar., to reduce the colonial services grant, 12 Mar., and to postpone that for Irish Protestant charter schools, 15 Mar., when he was in Hume’s minority for the abolition of army flogging. He presented and supported a petition from distressed fishermen of Dungarvan and Dundalk against the proposed reduction of export bounties, 19 Mar.15 On 6 Apr., after presenting a petition from Old Bailey jurors for felons to have the full benefit of defence by counsel, 6 Apr., he moved for leave to introduce a bill to that effect, having taken over the subject from Martin. He conceded that he was ‘running counter to all the prejudices of the profession’ (which he had by now given up) and was defeated by 80-50. His renewed attempt to bring in the measure, 25 Apr. 1826, was lost by 105-36. He divided against the grant for new churches, 9 Apr., for an advance of capital to Ireland, 4 May, and for inquiries into the Irish church establishment, 6 May, and the state of Ireland, 11 May 1824. That autumn he and his wife were ‘very comfortable’ at Melbourne Hall, near Derby, though gout briefly attacked his left hand and wrist.16

He was at odds with William over the Irish unlawful societies bill, which he condemned as ‘exceedingly obscure and mysterious’, 14 Feb., and ‘obnoxious’, 22 Feb. 1825. He supported a Waterford petition against it, 24 Feb.17 He voted for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 10 May, and presented a favourable petition from Kenmare, 10 Mar.18 He opposed Martin’s bill to suppress bear-baiting, which he saw as ‘interfering unnecessarily with that, the cure of which should be left to ... education’, 11 Mar., and was a teller for the hostile majority. He presented a Derbyshire petition against alteration of the corn laws, 9 May.19 He voted against the Leith docks bill, 20 May, when he was also in Brougham’s minority of 29 on the independence of the judiciary. He divided against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 6, 9, 10 June. That day he saw no objection to the smuggling prevention bill, arguing that ladies might ‘obviate the difficulty’ in carrying out searches under it ‘by staying at home’.20 On 13 June 1825 he voted in small minorities with Hume and Burdett against details of the Irish estimates, and the next day he was one of Hume’s 37 supporters for inquiry into the Irish church. At a Derbyshire county meeting to petition for the abolition of slavery, 12 Jan. 1826, he spoke cautiously, calling for ‘moderation of language’ towards the planters and admitting that he had opposed equalization of the East and West Indian sugar duties because he saw no point in alienating them.21 He voted against government on the promissory notes bill, which William supported, 20 Feb. On 1 Mar. he presented another petition of complaint from Dungarvan fishermen.22 He divided for army reductions, 3, 7 Mar., but said that he would ‘cheerfully vote’ for whatever money was necessary to refurbish Windsor Castle, 13 Mar.23 He opposed the cruelty to cattle bill because it was not based on any ‘fixed principle’ of legislation, 16 Mar. He voted against government on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 7, 10 Apr., and for Russell’s reform motion, 27 Apr., and his resolution condemning electoral bribery, 26 May. He supported the spring guns bill, 27 Apr., and was a teller for the minority for its third reading. Next day he secured the addition to the criminal justice bill of a clause to prevent the annulment of indictments on pleas of misnomer. He divided to reduce the salaries of Irish prison inspectors, 5 May, and for investigation of James Silk Buckingham’s† charges concerning press freedom in India, 9 May 1826.

Lady Cowper had reported in February 1826 that ‘George dreads his election with this "No Popery" cry’; but in his address to Dungarvan at the general election that summer he asserted that ‘the day-star of Ireland’s happiness ... must be Catholic emancipation’. He was detained at Shrewsbury by ‘a severe illness’, but got to Dungarvan in time for his unopposed return.24 He persuaded Littleton to withdraw, 28 Nov., and modify, 4 Dec. 1826, his proposal for a requirement for £500 security from complainants over private bills. Soon afterwards he was poorly, but on Boxing Day his sister wrote that he was

still a little lame, and looking thin, but I think looking well, and he has left off wine entirely and seems not to mind this, which I am delighted at ... for it makes the greatest possible difference in him, and he is so good humoured and quiet, instead of being irritable, and disputatious after dinner.25

Lamb was, apparently, one of seven Whigs who voted with government for the duke of Clarence’s grant, 16 Feb. 1827; and he did so again, 16 Mar.26 On 26 Feb. he supported Lord Althorp’s scheme for a permanent select committee to deal with election petitions alleging bribery and a motion to end the ‘degradation’ of flogging in the army.27 He presented, 2 Mar., a Dungarvan petition for Catholic relief, for which he voted on the 6th.28 He was against opening coroners’ inquests to the public, 21 Mar.29 Next day he voiced reservations about the salmon fisheries bill and voted for information on the Barrackpoor mutiny. He divided for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. He voted to suspend supply until the ministerial crisis was resolved, 30 Mar., and for inquiry into the Irish miscellaneous estimates, 5 Apr. Later that month his brother became Irish secretary in Canning’s ministry. Their sister reported that ‘George is ... much pleased, and sits with great satisfaction on the treasury bench’; but they were on opposite sides on the disfranchisement of Penryn, which Lamb supported, 28 May, when Lady Cowper noted that he was ‘getting quite stout again’.30 He was in the government majority on the grant for Canadian canals, 12 June 1827.

When presenting a petition for relief from Dungarvan Catholics, 5 Feb. 1828, Lamb deplored the return to power of Wellington and Peel as a setback to the cause of emancipation. (William stayed in office with his leader Huskisson, whom George apparently regarded as ‘an immeasurable villain’.)31 He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 20, 25 Feb., but regretted that some Dissenters had not allied themselves with the Catholics; he voted for repeal, 26 Feb. Supporting Brougham’s motion for a commission on the common law, 29 Feb., he lamented ‘the increase of our ponderous statute book’. He was at a small meeting at Henry Bankes’s* ‘to see whether we could devise any plan for controlling the follies of the board of works and stopping Nash’s devastation of the parks’, 7 Mar.32 He voted against tinkering with the East Retford franchise, 21 Mar., and again, 24, 27 June, after William had seceded from the government with the other Huskissonites. On the proposed transfer of Penryn’s seats to Manchester, 24 Mar., he urged Russell to drop the ‘cumbersome machinery’ of his bill. He thought the right to give evidence on affirmation should be extended beyond Quakers and Moravians, 5 May, when he offered constructive comments on Peel’s offences against the person bill. He secured leave to introduce another felons’ counsel bill, 15 May, but it got nowhere.33 He voted for Catholic claims, 12 May. He welcomed Peel’s bill to facilitate the recovery of small debts as part of his commendably cautious approach to legal reform, 22 May. He agreed to go into committee on the game bill, 13 June, but on the 24th said that it contained ‘a mass of the greatest possible absurdities’. He voted against ministers on the archbishop of Canterbury’s bill, 16 June, the expenditure of public money on Buckingham House, 23 June, and Irish church pluralities, 24 June. He saw no merit in Lord Nugent’s voters’ registration bill, 19 June, and objected to the imposition of excise duty on cider on the pretext of safeguarding morality, 26 June. He was in a minority of 13 against the small notes bill, 27 June. He spoke and voted against the additional churches bill, 30 June, when he made a personal attack on John Calcraft for deserting the Whigs for office. He was in opposition minorities on the ordnance estimates, 4, 7 July, and divided for the corporate funds bill, 10 July 1828.

Long before his death in November 1828, which removed William Lamb from the Commons, Melbourne had confirmed to George and his wife the use of Melbourne Hall ‘during their lives’. By his father’s will, Lamb received £10,000.34 Presenting pro-Catholic petitions from Dungarvan and Abbeyside, 20 Feb., he applauded the government’s decision to concede emancipation, for which he duly voted, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He gave ‘reluctant’ consent to the disfranchisement of Irish 40s. freeholders, 26 Mar. He presented a Derbyshire women’s petition for action to suppress suttee, 2 Apr. He brought up petitions from East Retford electors for the immediate issue of a new writ and criticized the ‘sort of hostile partnership’ formed by Charles Calvert and Tennyson in their struggle to decide the fate of the borough, 10 Apr., 5 May, when he voted for the transfer of its seats to Birmingham. He helped to persuade Calvert to postpone his disfranchisement bill until next session, 11 May, and supported an attempt to have a new writ issued, 2 June. He spoke and voted in favour of Daniel O’Connell being allowed to take his seat unhindered, 18 May. He voted against the grant for the marble arch, 25 May, and to reduce the hemp duties, 1 June. He supported a petition for a ban on the staging of plays without the author’s consent, 4 June, and on 22 June 1829 gave notice that he would deal with the problem next session. According to Creevey, he backed Lord Durham’s bid to talk Grey out of his threats to have nothing more to do with George IV.35 He and his wife were in Berne in October 1829.36 The following month his sister’s lover Lord Palmerston* met him and William (now Lord Melbourne) in England and found them ready for aggressive political action, though claiming to be ‘free and unshackled’ in their views.37

Lamb voted for the amendment to the address, 4 Feb. 1830, and on the 8th explained that he had done so because it contained ‘a true representation of the state of the country, and a pledge of inquiry into measures of relief’. He conceded that some ministers had embraced liberal notions, but said that ‘if ... they are Whigs in this country ... in their continental policy they are the veriest Tories in existence’, and declared his utter lack of confidence in them. He voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., 15 Mar., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. On 5 Mar., however, when he paired on the East Retford question, he said that the secret ballot would create ‘a complete system of hypocrisy and bribery’. He divided with Hume for a reduction of taxes, 15 Feb., and against the army estimates, 19, 22 Feb., when he described the yeomanry as ‘the worst species of force that can be employed in the suppression of local tumults’; but on 1 Mar. he opposed Hume’s attempt to restrict the navy grant to six months. On 22 Feb. he presented another Dungarvan petition for the retention of fishery bounties and got leave to bring in his dramatic writings bill, which foundered on 23 Mar.38 He seconded Taylor’s motion for leave to introduce a bill to revise the lunacy commission system, 2 Mar. He was ‘not asked to go’ to the Whig meeting which nominated Althorp as Commons leader for the campaign for economy and retrenchment, 3 Mar.39 He presented a Waterford tanners’ petition for repeal of the leather tax, 10 Mar. He divided against government over British interference in the affairs of Portugal that day, and voted with the reviving opposition on most major issues in the following weeks. On 18 Mar. he was a teller with O’Connell for the minority of 12 in favour of adjourning the debate on distress. He presented a Monmouthshire petition against the truck system, 4 May. He deplored the proposed increase in stamp duty on Irish newspapers, 6 May, and presented a hostile constituency petition, 18 June. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He was in the minorities on Irish first fruits, 18 May, and for Russell’s reform motion, 28 May. He attacked the Northern Roads bill and was a teller for the minority against its second reading, 3 June. He was a teller for the majority for the usury laws repeal bill, 15 June, and presented a petition for repeal of the Irish Vestries Act from Dungarvan Catholics, 1 July 1830.

Lamb had long anticipated trouble from them at the general election the following month, and he was opposed by a Catholic councillor, on the pretext of Devonshire’s supposed indifference to the ‘misery’ of local fishermen. Lamb, who stressed his support for emancipation and ‘professed himself friendly to a moderate reform in Parliament [and] modification of the Vestry and Subletting Acts’, won easily.40 Ministers of course listed him among their ‘foes’, and at Panshanger in September he predicted ‘a violent opposition in the approaching session’.41 He presented a Melbourne petition for the abolition of slavery, 11 Nov. 1830. He divided against government on the civil list, 15 Nov. Melbourne became home secretary in the Grey ministry and appointed George his under-secretary and Commons spokesman.42 Of pressing concern to the office were the ‘Swing’ disturbances, which worried Lamb, who was sent by his brother to Francis Place, the influential radical tailor of Charing Cross, in a bid to persuade him to write appeals to the rioters to desist. This Place, who felt patronised by Lamb, refused to do. On reform, which they then discussed, Place ‘found that he knew very little of what was really passing’ and that ‘the information he had secured appeared to be very vague and defective’. When Place lectured him on the course he thought the new ministers should pursue, Lamb kept his counsel, but agreed that they probably lacked the ‘courage’ to take a bold initiative.43 His contributions to debate were now largely confined to official business and responses to questions on matters falling within his department’s remit. For example, he defended the decision to allow the trades to process to St. James’s with an address to the king, 10 Dec., arguing that it would have been ‘the height of madness’ to keep them back by force. He denied that O’Grady’s former prosecutors, such as himself, were being hypocritical in seeking to give him a peerage in order to facilitate the Irish law arrangements, 20 Dec. 1830. On 8 Feb. 1831 he dismissed Hunt’s speech for a general pardon for convicted ‘Swing’ rioters as ‘rather an account of his own personal adventures in his tour of the country, than an argument or a statement of facts’. He presented Irish Catholics’ petitions against any further grant to the Kildare Place Society, 18 Feb., and one from Melbourne for the ballot, 28 Feb. He lost his temper with Hume over his contrary opposition to the Tower Hamlets militia bill, 15 Mar. He acquiesced in Davies’s motion for the appointment of a select committee on secondary punishments, on which he sat, 17 Mar., but warned that ‘there are difficulties attaching to the subject much greater than he sees’. He presented a St. Pancras petition for reform of the metropolitan police, 13 Apr. He voted silently for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831; and at the ensuing general election he was returned unopposed for Dungarvan as a supporter of ‘that great measure’.44

Lamb, whom Macaulay found ‘very diverting’ at a dinner party in June 1831, when he opined that the perpetrators of ‘extreme cases’ of blasphemy should be prosecuted, voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July.45 He was of course a steady supporter of its details in committee, but he was not required to utter a word on it in debate. He justified to Hunt the decision to order troops to open fire on rioters at Merthyr, causing fatalities, 21 June, and on the 27th maintained that in present circumstances the yeomanry were ‘absolutely necessary to maintain order and peace’. He was a teller for the ministerial majority against a motion for a reduction of public salaries, 30 June. He endorsed the game bill, 8 Aug. On 11 Aug. he told Hunt what was known of a fatal affray at Bolton, persuaded Lord Duncannon to drop a motion for information on the treatment of a prisoner in Hertfordshire county gaol and presented a Dungarvan Catholics’ petition against the grant to the Kildare Place Society. He was a government teller that day for the majority against disarming the Irish yeomanry. He defended magistrates’ use of troops to quell disturbances in a colliery wages dispute at Whitehaven. He concurred in a motion for the appointment of a select committee on steamboat accidents (on which he sat) in order to ‘satisfy the public’, 6 Sept., but said it would achieve nothing. When Hume complained of the chaotic mismanagement of arrangements for the transport of guests after the coronation, 9 Sept., Lamb retorted that he should have followed his own example and walked.46 He voted for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept., of the reform bill, and the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. He supported a Lords’ amendment to the lunatics bill and was a teller for the minority, 26 Sept. Next day he was a teller for the majority against inquiry into the Deacles’ allegations against William Bingham Baring* as a Hampshire magistrate, and on the 28th he was a teller for the majority for proceeding with the bankruptcy bill. He approved modifications to Hobhouse’s vestries bill, 30 Sept., and, despite the discovery of a ludicrous clerical error, steered through the Lords’ amendments, 19 Oct. He of course voted for the motion of confidence in the administration, 10 Oct. 1831. On the 12th he replied to Hunt’s criticisms of their handling of pro-reform meetings, processions and disturbances, defended the home office and denied that his colleagues had ‘permitted or connived at the proceedings of the rioters’.

Reporting to Melbourne developments in Grey’s negotiations with Lord Wharncliffe and the ‘Waverers’ in the Lords, 20 Nov. 1831, Lamb commented:

It would be infinitely better to break up the government than to be party to a proposition more democratic than the last ... if your measure be brought forward and rejected I see nothing but danger, and no remedy. It seems clear that Grey is for moderation, but if nobody stands firmly by him he is sure to give way; and it seems to me that the violent part of the cabinet are put in continued communication upon this subject, and act in concert, while those who ought to check them do not understand each other, and have no mutual reliance or knowledge of each other’s sentiments ... It is ... high time that something were done or at least said about these political unions.47

He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, to go into committee on it, 20 Jan., and for various details, 3, 23, 28 Feb., but he was a surprising absentee (presumably because of illness) from the division on its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He dismissed Wetherell’s complaint at having been omitted, as recorder of Bristol, from the commission of inquiry into the riots which he had provoked there, 6 Dec. 1831. Greville claimed to have it from Melbourne that Lamb lied to the House when denying official knowledge of one of the recently executed burkers’ supposed confession to further murders implicating surgeons, 12 Dec. 1831.48 He described Hobhouse’s vestry bill as ‘one of the most premature pieces of legislation that ever was attempted’, 23 Jan. 1832, and voted in the majority which threw it out. A surprised Hobhouse believed him to have been ‘a little tipsy’.49 On the ‘not very interesting subject’ of the premature dismissal of two regiments of the Lincolnshire militia, 8 Mar., he resisted a demand for information. He opposed Hunt’s motion for inquiry into the Peterloo massacre, 15 Mar., and was a teller for the hostile majority. On 27 Mar. he allowed Ewart to introduce a bill to abolish the death penalty for horse, sheep and cattle stealing and non-violent theft from private houses, though he had personal reservations. By 30 May he had concluded that the measure was sound and that Parliament should ‘sweep away the punishment of death in every case in which its infliction is not supported by the public sentiments’. He spoke and voted against an attempt to increase the salary of the Irish registrar of deeds, 9 Apr. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May; and on the 18th assured the House that no unauthorized troop movements had occurred during the recent crisis and suggested that treasonable libels were best left ‘to the contempt of the people, who, I hope, are now satisfied with the prospect of public affairs’. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, but, under pressure from his constituents, protested half-heartedly against the disfranchisement of freeholders in Dungarvan, Downpatrick and Newry, 13 June, 2 July. He paired against an opposition amendment to the Scottish bill, 1 June. He said the returns moved for by De Lacy Evans to expose alleged aristocratic interference in municipal affairs were so otiose that he might as well have called for ‘a return of every man with a black head of hair’. Opposing the printing of a petition alleging maltreatment of prisoners in Nottingham gaol, 22 June, he dismissed its presenter Hunt’s wild assertions that ‘a system of persecution exists in our prisons’. He reluctantly acquiesced in Agnew’s motion of 3 July for the appointment of a select committee on Sabbath observance, to which he was named. Later that day he mockingly suggested that it might consider the reckless behaviour of cabriolet drivers condemned by Waldo Sibthorp. He played down fears of a revival of the cholera and suggested that most reported cases were nothing more than ‘common bowel complaints’, 4 July. He told Hume that ministers would review the cost of the metropolitan police, but reminded him of the inefficiency of the former watch system, 24 July. He answered Hume’s questions on the election riot at Clitheroe, 10 Aug., stating that ‘the chief damage arose from the persons who, in the course of the tumult, were trodden under foot’; and on 15 Aug. 1832 he announced that ‘inquiry tends more and more to show that the troops behaved exceedingly well, under circumstances of great provocation’.

Lamb wrote to his brother Frederick from Richmond, 26 Aug. 1832:

With ... [William’s] illness and Phillipps [the permanent under-secretary] in the country, I have the whole office on myself and keep tight to work, but slipping here every night is an amusement that I think keeps me in health and exercise and I don’t care how long it continues ... We all as to politics stand ... pretty fair, though nothing can be known with certainty as to the tone and prospects of the country till after the elections. One thing I feel certain of, which is that the Tories are by no means done for by the Reform [Act] ... There ought clearly to be enough Tories when joined with the moderate part of our friends to defeat the Radicals, and then all will be well.50

At the general election in December he was returned for Dungarvan after a contest with a Repealer which produced ‘terrible rioting’.51 His health collapsed a year later and he died in Whitehall Yard, after a distressing illness, in January 1834. An anonymous obituarist was kind to him:

His official duties were executed in an efficient manner, and his speeches in Parliament were delivered in a sensible and intrepid style ... In private society ... [he] was unreserved, communicative, and agreeable; his accomplishments were admitted by all who knew him; his kindness of heart and mildness of temper were proverbial.52

Princess Lieven, who knew him ‘but slightly’, considered him ‘a man of great intelligence, with a mind of a very superior order, honest, and frank almost to simplicity, and such an excellent heart’.53 His widow wrote to Frederick, 20 Jan. 1834:

You cannot think how miserable I am. I have lost my best, my kindest friend ... I hope he was not aware of his danger, and the doctors assure me he did not suffer, though the difficulty of breathing made it appear as if he did, but that it was from the throat not the chest, and the water getting to the brain produced stupor ... It still seems to me like a horrid dream ... You cannot think how great and general is the regret. He was justly appreciated, and it is looked upon as a public loss. His great popularity and good humour disarmed all malice, and many ill natured attacks. His talents, his gaiety, his unequalled temper made him the most delightful companion.54

By his will, dated 27 Oct. 1832, Lamb left the Richmond property and his freehold chambers in Lincoln’s Inn to his wife, along with the residue of his personal estate. He devised two sums of £5,000 to which he was entitled under the marriage settlements of his parents and of William, plus his £10,000 inheritance from his father, to Frederick. His effects were sworn under £20,000.55

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. There seems to be no doubt that his real father was George IV, who, as prince of Wales, began a blatantly public affair with the promiscuous Lady Melbourne in 1783. See L.G. Mitchell, Melbourne, 6, 16; K. Bourne, Palmerston, 185-6.
  • 2. Smith Letters, i. 427.
  • 3. Fox Jnl. 93, 95.
  • 4. Mitchell, 12; Lady Palmerston Letters, 12, 18.
  • 5. Lady Palmerston Letters, 27-29; Add. 36458, ff. 191, 203; 56541, ff. 10-20; The Times, 10, 11, 13-18, 20-25, 27 Mar.; Grey mss, Grey to Wilson, 13 Mar.; Bessborough mss, same to Duncannon, 9 Apr. 1820.
  • 6. Add. 51586, Tierney to Lady Holland [12 Apr. 1820].
  • 7. Lady Palmerston Letters, 32; Herts. Archives, Panshanger mss D/ELb F78, W. to F. Lamb, 3 May 1820.
  • 8. Panshanger mss F78, W. to F. Lamb, 29 July 1820; F97/2; Lady Airlie, Lady Palmerston, i. 64, 88; Lady Palmerston Letters, 64-65, 67, 70, 81.
  • 9. Waterford Chron. 12, 23 Feb. 1822; Lady Palmerston Letters, 93-94; Panshanger mss F87/2, 3.
  • 10. The Times, 22 June 1822.
  • 11. Ibid. 11, 18 July 1822.
  • 12. Panshanger mss F87/4.
  • 13. Lady Palmerston Letters, 112.
  • 14. Ibid. 123.
  • 15. The Times, 20 Mar. 1824.
  • 16. Panshanger mss F87/5, 6.
  • 17. The Times, 25 Feb. 1825.
  • 18. Ibid. 11 Mar. 1825.
  • 19. Ibid. 10 May 1825.
  • 20. Ibid. 11 June 1825.
  • 21. Derby Mercury, 18 Jan. 1826; Panshanger mss F97/4.
  • 22. The Times, 2 Mar. 1826.
  • 23. Ibid. 14 Mar. 1826.
  • 24. Lady Palmerston Letters, 146; Waterford Mail, 7, 10, 21 June 1826; Lady Airlie, i. 131.
  • 25. Lady Palmerston Letters, 154.
  • 26. Add. 51784, Holland to C.R. Fox, 17 Feb. 1827.
  • 27. The Times, 27 Feb. 1827.
  • 28. Ibid. 3 Mar. 1827.
  • 29. Ibid. 22 Mar. 1827.
  • 30. Canning’s Ministry, 296, 316.
  • 31. Add. 48406, f. 147.
  • 32. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary. Lady Holland to Son, 88-89.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxiii. 353, 377, 432.
  • 34. Lady Holland to Son, 88-89; PROB 11/1748/660.
  • 35. Creevey Pprs. ii. 201.
  • 36. Blakiston, Lord William Russell, 197.
  • 37. Bourne, 306.
  • 38. CJ, lxxxv. 128, 157, 282.
  • 39. Castle Howard mss, Graham to Morpeth, 3 Mar. 1830.
  • 40. Chatsworth mss, Lamb to Devonshire, 25 June 1829, 8 Aug.; Waterford Mail, 31 July, 7, 11 Aug. 1830.
  • 41. Greville Mems. ii. 45.
  • 42. P. Mandler, Aristocratic Government in Age of Reform, 125, referring to a supposed ‘controversy’ over Lamb’s appointment for which he gives no evidence, unfairly dismisses him as ‘an idle fop with a taste for political melodrama’ who was unacceptable to both radicals and moderates.
  • 43. Howard Sisters, 169; Add. 27789, ff. 207-10; P. Zeigler, Melbourne, 131, 134.
  • 44. Waterford Mail, 4, 7 May 1831.
  • 45. Macaulay Letters ii. 43-44, 80.
  • 46. Howard Sisters, 203.
  • 47. Melbourne Pprs. 142-5.
  • 48. Greville Mems. ii. 230.
  • 49. Add. 56556, f. 44.
  • 50. Panshanger mss F87/7.
  • 51. The Times, 18 Dec. 1832.
  • 52. Gent. Mag. (1834), i. 437-8; Add. 39949, f. 146.
  • 53. Lieven-Grey Corresp. ii. 496.
  • 54. Panshanger mss F88/1.
  • 55. PROB 11/1831/287; IR26/1359/142; Panshanger mss F99/1.