PEACHY, William (?1763-1838), of Derwent Island, Cumb. and Worthing, Suss.

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



21 Mar. 1797 - 1802
1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. ?1763, o.s. of William Peachy of Gosport, Hants and Elizabeth, da. of Henri Portal of Freefolk Priors, Whitchurch, Hants. educ. Trinity, Oxf. 13 Nov. 1781, aged 18, BCL 1790, DCL 1813; I. Temple 1784. m. (1) 12 Sept. 1803, Emma Frances (d. Madeira, 2 Mar. 1809), da. of Thomas Charter of Lynchfield House, Bishop’s Lydeard, Som., s.p.; (2) 10 Mar. 1812, Susannah, wid. of James Henry of Hopewell, Jamaica, s.p. suc. fa. 1790.1 d. 21 Nov. 1838.

Offices Held

Capt. Wilts. militia 1791, 1798; lt. 10 Drag. 1794; capt. 120 Ft. 1795; maj. (with army rank) 2 R. Manx fencibles 1795-8; maj. (half-pay) 108 Ft. 1798-1813; lt.-col. 1800; col. 1810; maj.-gen. 1813; lt.-gen. 1825.


Peachy, a soldier in name only, had literary tastes and was a close friend of the poet and historian Robert Southey*. By the time Southey settled at Keswick in 1803 Peachy was in possession of a house on Derwent Island, at the northern end of Derwentwater, where he generally resided in the summer months; Southey’s son recalled him as one of their ‘most friendly and hospitable neighbours’. He was noted for mild eccentricity and unquenchable garrulousness. Southey told a friend in 1806:

The Colonel has sent me half a collar of brawn and a little barrel of pickled sturgeon. This cost me a letter of thanks, which again produced such an answer! I wish you had seen it: he writes just as he talks - world without end, Amen! However he is a good-natured homo, if ever there was one.

On one occasion he had ‘a narrow, though ludicrous escape’ after capsizing a skiff on Derwentwater, being rescued by his servants, who towed him in ‘like a Triton, waving his hat round his head, and huzzaing as he approached his own shores’. When his first wife died of consumption Southey, who particularly admired her, composed her epitaph and William Lisle Bowles commemorated her in execrable elegiac verse, beginning:

How mournful, as she sunk resigned and meek

Sat the last smile upon her pallid cheek.2

In 1812 Peachy married a West Indian widow whose two sons, James and Charles Edward Henry, were subsequently placed at Rugby. His new wife bore a striking physical resemblance to the first Mrs. Peachy and, as her health was delicate, they spent much of the next 14 years in travel, mainly around Britain, but with occasional excursions to Europe. In 1825 he ‘commenced poet’ and Southey, the principal victim of his dreadful efforts, commented that ‘the longer he lives the queerer he grows, which is one sort of merit in my eyes’.3

He shared the reactionary political views of Southey’s mature years. In his absence, Southey subscribed his name to the Cumberland loyal address of October 1819, and in February 1821 they congratulated one another on ‘the abatement of the queen’s-fever’. Above all, they were at one in their rooted hostility to Catholic relief, and in the autumn of 1825 Peachy canvassed Taunton (five miles from his late wife’s family home) under the aegis of the prominent anti-Catholic Sir Thomas Lethbridge, Member for Somerset. Southey congratulated him on his ‘fair prospects’, which he hoped would ‘give us one good vote in the ... Commons, at the expense of some fatiguing attendance for yourself’. At the general election of 1826 Peachy disclaimed any party allegiance and pronounced himself ‘a tried and invariable friend to my king and my country’, as well as a supporter of the settlement of 1688, which had delivered Britain from ‘the fangs and the despotism of the tyrant James II’. His main platform was resistance to Catholic relief and, after a turbulent contest, he was returned in second place behind another anti-Catholic. Southey noted that in Keswick ‘they say he has got in through bribery and corruption; and the wicked remark has been made that a lile lad would make as fit a parliamentarian’.4

Re-entering the House after an interval of 24 years, Peachy duly voted against relief, 6 Mar. 1827. Southey, rejoicing in its defeat by four votes, remarked, somewhat fancifully:

It is amusing enough to think that my neighbour Peachy’s election for Taunton decided the Catholic question in the ... Commons for this session. They would have had two Members for that place, if he had [not] taken it into his head to serve his country in Parliament; there would have been two votes lost to the church and as many gained to the Catholics - making just that difference which turned the scale.

In presenting a Taunton petition against relief, 15 May 1827, Peachy argued that there was ‘a wide difference ... between giving men religious liberty and political power’: his watchword was nolumus leges Anglicae mutari.5 He divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He voted with the Wellington ministry against inquiry into delays in chancery, 24 Apr., and reduction of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. That session Southey exhorted him to oppose a clause introduced by the Lords into the offences against the person bill, which empowered judges to have murderers hung in chains rather than dissected: ‘pray remember that you are a great traveller, that Mrs. Peachy has a natural abhorrence of such abominable sights, and that you have olfactory organs’.6 In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, of course listed Peachy among those Members ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation. He voted for Inglis in his victory over Peel at the Oxford University by-election.7 He divided against the government’s bill, 6, 18, 23, 27, 30 Mar. He presented and endorsed a hostile petition from Taunton, 16 Mar., and insisted that ‘the Catholics held tenets which render them unfit to participate in political power in a Protestant state’, 27 Mar. He supported inquiry into distress in the silk industry, to which Taunton was ‘completely prey’, 14 Apr., observing that ‘free trade’ had ‘not answered the expectations of those who advocate it ... I hope they will recognize their error’. That autumn Sir Richard Vyvyan*, one of the Ultra leaders, counted him among those Tories who were ‘strongly opposed to the present government’. He divided for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830. He voted against parliamentary reform schemes, 11, 18, 23 Feb., but divided against ministers for admiralty reductions, 22 Mar., and inquiry into the state of Newfoundland, 11 May. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, but for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830. At the general election that summer, deprived of support from the renegade Lethbridge, he was defeated at Taunton by two Whig reformers and petitioned unsuccessfully to void the return of one of them. It was rumoured that he would try again in 1831, but had he done so it would have been fruitless.8

Peachy had taken up residence at Worthing by 1828, but continued his ‘ubiquitarian movements’, as Southey called them, until his death in November 1838. An obituarist commended his ‘high sense of honour ... integrity of conduct ... benevolence and ... literary attainments’, and Southey’s son wrote that ‘with him departed the open hand and kind heart of a true English gentleman’.9 Having left his father’s estate unadministered, he devised his own estates in Hampshire and Wiltshire to his only surviving stepson, James Henry (1803-84); his personalty was sworn under £70,000 and resworn under £60,000.10

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: David R. Fisher / Terry Jenkins


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1790), ii. 672; PROB 11/1196/438.
  • 2. Southey Letters ed. J.W. Warter, i. 286, 357; ii. 155; New Southey Letters ed. K. Curry, i. 392; ii. 497; Southey Corresp. ed. C.C. Southey, v. 121-2; A.M. Broadley and W. Jerrold, Romance of an Elderly Poet, 52-53, 64-65, 125.
  • 3. Southey Letters, iii. 483; New Southey Letters, ii. 41, 303; Add. 28603, ff. 5, 21, 23, 25, 33, 45, 47.
  • 4. Add. 28603, ff. 45, 69, 71, 73; New Southey Letters, ii. 202, 306; The Times, 8, 28 Oct., 4 Nov. 1825, 2, 5, 9, 15, 16, 21-23, 26 June 1826.
  • 5. New Southey Letters, ii. 311; The Times, 16 May 1827.
  • 6. Add. 28603, f. 77.
  • 7. Add. 28603, f. 81.
  • 8. Add. 28603, f. 83; The Times, 20 July, 10 Aug. 1830, 29 Apr. 1831.
  • 9. New Southey Letters, ii. 250; Add. 28603, f. 88; Gent. Mag. (1839), i. 96; Southey Corresp. v. 122.
  • 10. PROB 8/232; 11/1905/49.