PORTMAN, Edward Berkeley II (1799-1888), of Bryanston, Dorset

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



26 Feb. 1823 - 1832
1832 - 7 Mar. 1833

Family and Education

b. 9 July 1799, 1st s. of Edward Berkeley Portman I* and 1st w. Lucy, da. of Rev. Thomas Whitby of Portland Place, Mdx. and Cresswell, Staffs. educ. Eton c.1811; Christ Church, Oxf. 1817. m. 16 June 1827, Lady Emma Lascelles, da. of Henry Lascelles†, 2nd earl of Harewood, 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1823; cr. Bar. Portman 27 Jan. 1837; Visct. Portman 28 Mar. 1873. d. 19 Nov. 1888.

Offices Held

Ld. lt. Som. 1839-64; commr. duchy of Cornwall 1840; councillor, duchy of Lancaster 1847; chairman, q. sess. Dorset 1861-82; councillor to prince of Wales 1863; ld. warden of the stannaries 1865-d.

Pres. European Life Insurance Co. 1823-8; pres. Philological Sch. 1835-d.; pres. R. Agricultural Soc. 1846, 1857, 1862.

Capt. Dorset militia 1821; maj. 1st Som. militia 1839.


Portman, who took a first class degree at Oxford in 1821, witnessed the death of his father, Member for Dorset, in Rome in January 1823, but the poor health of other members of the family prevented his immediate return to England.1 Under his father’s will, he succeeded to estates in Dorset, Middlesex and Somerset and £70,000 of his personal wealth.2 Charlotte, daughter of Thomas Grove of Ferne, Wiltshire, noted in her diary that Portman had ‘a very deserving eldest son left to inherit his vast property. But as my father says, we shall see now what he is when he acts for himself’.3 In fact, the estates were burdened by debts and legal restrictions and it was several years before Portman, who devoted himself to agricultural pursuits and later benefited from the escalation of property values in the metropolis, was able to put his finances on a prosperous footing. He disposed of most of his Somerset estates and, except when staying in short-term residences in London, usually lived at Bryanston, near Blandford Forum in central Dorset, where he became active in local affairs.4 As the Member for Corfe Castle, Henry Bankes, his father’s former opponent, came forward to fill the vacancy for the county, Portman’s sponsors among the leading gentry initially withdrew his pretensions, imagining that he would enter the Commons on the expected retirement of the other Member, William Morton Pitt. Yet, so great was the disapprobation of Bankes, an old Tory, that in the absence of any realistic alternative the freeholders preferred to return the inexperienced son of their late respected and independent Member. Bankes gave way after the show of hands was against him at the nomination meeting, 18 Feb. 1823, and Portman was elected in his absence eight days later. As Thomas Grosvenor, Member for Chester, commented, ‘What a lucky fellow young Portman is: "one man’s poison is another man’s bread"’.5 He wrote an address of thanks from Genoa and returned to Bryanston that spring.6

Unlike his father, Portman, who was assiduous in presenting county petitions and serving on select committees, sided almost unwaveringly with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool administration.7 He voted for the first time, 24 Apr. 1823, in favour of Russell’s motion for parliamentary reform, an occasion which he afterwards alluded to with satisfaction.8 According to a later recollection, he was present for the debates on Spain at the end of that month.9 He voted with ministers against the production of papers on Catholic office-holders, 19 Feb., but against them on reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb. 1824, and on several other occasions that session. He made his first known speech against the silk bill, 5 Mar. He offered a suggestion on the county courts bill, 26 Mar., and voted to permit defence by counsel in felony cases, 6 Apr. He paired for inquiries into the state of Ireland, 11 May, and the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824, when he defended the county magistrates over the imprisonment of Richard Carlile in Dorchester gaol. He was granted one month’s sick leave, 10 Feb. 1825. He gave his ‘hearty concurrence’ to the Catholic relief bill, 21 Apr., which he said was ‘called for by imperious necessity’ to ensure peace in Ireland; he voted for it that day, as he did again on 10 May 1825.

In September 1825, during speculation over a possible dissolution, he issued an address indicating his intention to stand again for the county at the next general election. He declined to attend a meeting of Dorset landowners in Blandford, 9 Jan. 1826, but expressed approval of their plans to form an Agricultural Association to promote protection.10 He was elected to Brooks’s, 15 Feb., sponsored by Lord Fitzwilliam and John Calcraft, Member for Wareham. He voted against receiving the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr., and spoke in defence of British ship owners, 27 Apr.11 With Sir Thomas Lethbridge, the Somerset county Member, he was a teller for the minority for a select committee on distress in the manufacturing districts, 2 May. He approved ministers’ resolution to admit bonded corn, 4 May, but opposed the introduction of corn from abroad, 5 May, and abandoned his attempt to strengthen government proposals by fixing minimum and maximum prices, 12 May. As Bankes had replaced Pitt earlier that year, he was returned unopposed with him for Dorset at the general election in June, when he reiterated his desire to be independent.12 Portman, who the previous year had published a pamphlet of Rules, Regulations and Tables for the constitution of a friendly society, was heavily involved in the establishment of one in Dorset in late 1826.13

He seconded the formal reappointment of Manners Sutton as Speaker, 14 Nov. 1826. He spoke in defence of agricultural protection, 1, 12 Mar., when he observed that ‘the landed interest, by conceding that 60s. should be the minimum price, had conceded as much as they could concede’; but he distanced himself from the fears of other agriculturists over the corn bill, 2 Apr. 1827. He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. He brought up, but dissented from, an anti-Catholic petition from Blandford, 13 Mar., when he asked ministers if they had any plans to ameliorate the condition of the poor in Ireland. He divided for Tierney’s amendment to postpone the committee of supply, 30 Mar., and for inquiry into the Irish miscellaneous estimates, 5 Apr. On 2 May he expressed the hope that Canning’s difficulties in forming his administration would not lead to the public being inflamed over religious issues. He presented and endorsed the Dorset landowners’ petition against the importation of foreign wool, 28 May, when he failed to obtain a select committee on this, but stated his general approval of administration.14 In June 1827 he made a surprising match with a daughter of the moderate Tory Lord Harewood. Her sister-in-law Lady Caroline Lascelles, who described Portman as ‘very good-looking, and particularly gentlemanlike and pleasing’, noted that ‘they will not be very rich in the first instance, but in four or five years he will be in receipt of his whole fortune, which will then go on increasing. It is a very brilliant marriage altogether’.15

Portman was named on George Tierney’s* list for the proposed finance committee in late 1827, and was one of the possible substitutes listed by John Herries* in February 1828, but he was not in the end appointed to it.16 In December 1827 Huskisson, the colonial secretary in the Goderich ministry, approached him to move the address at the start of the session, in ‘recollection of the cordial support which you gave to Mr. Canning’s administration’; he declined, pleading pressure of private business.17 Praised for his support of the wool industry in the county newspaper, he replied in a published letter of thanks, dated 24 Jan. 1828, for the present of some Dorset cloth, ‘which I shall have very great pleasure in wearing as soon as possible at the market at Blandford, and in my place in the House of Commons’.18 He was named to the drafting and second reading committees on the friendly societies bill, 21 Feb., 25 Mar., and the division of counties bill, 27 Feb., 5 Mar., and gave his support to these measures during the session. He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May. In a lengthy speech on the corn laws, 22 Apr., he asserted that the planned alterations would offer insufficient protection to agriculture if the price of corn fell below 60s., but he had to withdraw his wrecking amendment against the corn bill through lack of support. He stated that his stand was principled and was not simply for the sake of opposition, 25 Apr., when his amendment to substitute a level of duty which would increase by 2s. for every 1s. fall in price was defeated by 140-50. On 20 May his motion to remove London from the list of places used in calculating the corn averages was lost by 132-36. He voted for information on civil list pensions that day, and called for lower official salaries, 30 May. Late that month he privately informed the friendly societies lobby that he would take over the emasculated bill from its previous sponsor and reintroduce it in the following session.19 In September 1828 he approached the duke of Wellington for a peerage, arguing that his health was not sound enough for the onerous duties of a county Member, but the prime minister refused his request.20

Portman presented pro-Catholic Dorset and Somerset petitions, 6 Mar. 1829, when he spoke and voted for emancipation. He obtained leave for his friendly societies bill the same day, and oversaw its passage that session. He divided for transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May. He made suggestions on the ecclesiastical courts bill, 12 May, and the metropolitan police bill, 15 May, and objected to the solicitor-general moving the county Clare writ immediately after Daniel O’Connell’s refusal to take the oaths, 19 May. He urged ministers to make clear their intentions on the wool duties, 27 May, to lower the duties on tobacco, 1 June, and coastwise coal, 4 June (when he moved the third reading of the divisions of counties bill), not to alter the corn laws, 2 June, and to investigate abuses under the vagrancy laws, 19 June 1829. On 15 Feb. 1830 he obtained leave to introduce his paupers removal bill (to prevent southern counties incurring costs for passing paupers to the Channel Islands) and his general measure to permit the watching, lighting and paving of parishes (on which he secured a select committee on 26 Apr.), both of which passed that year. He voted for a reduction in taxation, 15 Feb., and the following day insisted, against ministers’ denials, that distress was general in the country and that the malt tax ought to be abolished for ‘we must take every means within our power to lower the taxation generally’. He paired for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar. 1830. Denis Le Marchant† later recorded an encounter between him and George Dawson*, secretary to the treasury:


Their conversation turned on some recent defeat of the Whigs, when, Mr. Portman attempting to explain it, Mr. Dawson laughingly said, ‘Oh, you are a mere bundle of sticks and will always be beaten’. This taunt rather excited Mr. Portman, while at the same time he felt its truth, and he reported Mr. Dawson’s words to his friends.


As a result, with the other county Members Lawley and Wynne Pendarves, he was instrumental in setting up the meeting in early March 1830 at which Lord Althorp was chosen as leader of the Whig opposition in the Commons.21 Thereafter during the session Portman regularly made interventions and divided (or paired) with them for lower taxes and expenditure. He made a long speech urging inquiry into the state of the poor, 9 Mar., and advocated assisted emigration, 23 Mar. He objected to allowing the sale of beer for on-consumption, 3 May, and the following day, in what Lord Howick* called ‘a most absurd speech’, moved (and was a teller for) an unsuccessful wrecking amendment against the second reading of the beer bill.22 He conceded that his earlier assumptions about the number of government placemen were exaggerated, 14 May, but nevertheless divided with opposition for information on privy councillors’ emoluments that day. He left London in late May 1830 because of his wife’s illness.23

Portman chaired the meeting in Blandford, 27 July 1830, when it was agreed to implement the Watching Act there.24 At the general election that summer he expressed support for John Cam Hobhouse’s* aspirations in Middlesex and Edward Sanford’s* in Somerset.25 Boasting of his ‘integrity and diligence’ and advocating freedom of the press, peace, liberty and retrenchment, he was returned unopposed with Bankes for Dorset.26 In the House, 9 Nov., he was twice rebuffed by Peel, the home secretary, when he asked whether government had any plans to relieve the distress of the labouring poor. Listed by ministers among their ‘foes’, he divided in the majority against them on the civil list, 15 Nov., which led to their resignation. He obtained leave to bring in a bill, which was unsuccessful, to consolidate the laws relating to highways, 17 Nov., when he was a teller for the minority for not considering election petitions until after the Christmas recess. He was given three weeks’ leave because of the disturbed state of his county during the ‘Swing’ riots, 23 Nov. 1830. Always a benevolent landlord, he angered his neighbours by agreeing to raise wages to 10s. a week for day labourers, but was closely involved in the re-establishment of the county’s yeomanry cavalry early the following year.27 He opposed the Grey ministry for the first time, 7 Feb. 1831, when he urged them to make further reductions in the pension list. He opposed Hunt’s motion in favour of an amnesty for the agricultural rioters, 8 Feb., and called for an overall reform of the poor laws, 16 Feb. He spoke for parliamentary reform, 26 Feb., and, having voted for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., declared that he would support it despite having reservations about some of its details, 23 Mar. He attended a dinner in Poole, 7 Apr., when he recommended reform in order to ensure that those elected had the ‘fittest head’ and not the ‘longest purse’.28 He spoke and divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., which led to a dissolution, and on 21 Apr. 1831 asserted that the electorate would judge the general election on the whole reform question.

Portman was popular as a reformer and was certain of being returned, while Calcraft, with whom he declined to join, stood against the anti-reformer Bankes. On all six days of the poll he was ahead of the other two candidates, to each of whom he gave £3,000 towards their costs. According to Grey, this curious gesture was designed ‘to show his impartiality, being himself a reformer and supporter of government’. He was elected with Calcraft, which he hailed as indicative of the triumph of reform, and at a celebration dinner in Blandford, 23 May 1831, he promised the electors that ‘give me but the opportunity of meeting you, and you may depend upon it, you will never find me wanting’.29 However, Bankes recorded in his journal that Portman had desired that the poll should not be closed early on the day the contest ended


as he hoped to avoid a public dinner, and the annoyance of sitting down surrounded by many of those who supported him, of whom he seemed much ashamed; and he expressed himself afterwards as being tired of the representation of the county, and solicitous to find some proper occasion of withdrawing from it, so that he might live more in the country, and perform those duties in which he might be more permanently useful. He may perhaps speculate upon a peerage, but I should otherwise rather consider him as fond of the business of the House of Commons in which he frequently takes a share.30


In the House, Portman, who again failed to carry his highways bill (introduced on 23 June), urged improvement of the corn laws, 24 June, and repeal of the malt duty, 30 June, and quibbled with O’Connell, 1 July, and Hunt, 8 July. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and steadily (sometimes by pairing) for its details. He made a fool of himself, 15 July, when, from ‘the rear ranks’ he shouted out ‘Lyme Regis’ in response to Croker’s asking whether there were any nomination boroughs in schedule B, which allowed Croker to argue that similar cases in schedule A might retain one seat. Stating that he had made it a rule not to comment on individual Dorset boroughs, 6 Aug., he nevertheless intervened in the debate on Weymouth to rebut opposition statements that reform was unpopular in the county. He called for repeal of the settlement laws, 8 Aug., and on the 10th advocated a scheme to relieve poverty in Ireland by such an application of the poor laws ‘as would make it the interest of the proprietors of the soil to improve the condition of those around them’. The cabinet decided to oppose the intended motion to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will which, according to Lord Holland, Portman was responsible for;31 in fact, it was in the hands of the Tories Colonel Sibthorp and Lord Chandos, and it seems unlikely that he voted for it on 18 Aug.32 He divided for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the bill, 21 Sept. Later that month he signed Lord Ebrington’s circular for a meeting to decide how to act if the bill was defeated in the Lords, and he duly voted for Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831.33 Rumours that Portman would receive a coronation peerage were groundless because ministers feared to open the county.34 This, however, occurred on Calcraft’s suicide in September 1831, and in the ensuing contest Portman’s sympathies were with the reform candidate William Ponsonby*, although in ordinary circumstances he would have remained neutral. Yet, in a letter to the anti-reformer Lord Ashley*, he expressed the unnecessary punctilio that he could not remain in Parliament if Ashley proved Dorset to be a ‘weathercock county’ by overturning the result of the May election.35 Ashley made his communication public, which not only led to a bitter private correspondence between them, so that friends had to mediate to settle the quarrel, but obliged Portman to make a public declaration.36 Therefore, on the second day of the poll he voted for Ponsonby and promised to resign if Ashley was elected, because of ‘the manner in which the present opposition [to Ponsonby] has been conducted’.37 One observer rightly commented that ‘Portman has made himself a host of enemies by a foolish sort of letter which he wrote to Ashley, but I think the clamour will not outlast the election’. After Ashley’s narrow victory, Portman, who was unfairly accused of turning a blind eye to the riotous attacks on anti-reformers that subsequently took place in Blandford, undertook not to resign his seat until the House had decided on Ponsonby’s petition.38

He spoke for the revised reform bill, 12 Dec. 1831, but ‘unluckily tried to clinch’ the vote of Lord Clive, who had made a non-partisan speech in its favour, and, as Le Marchant reported, ‘there was no cheering at this; every one anticipated what must happen; the moment there was an opportunity, up got Lord Clive to explain and the country gentlemen took care not to expose themselves to such suspicious commendations’.39 Portman paired for the second reading, 17 Dec. 1831. That winter he was sympathetic to a mooted plan for the establishment of a Whig Club in Dorset.40 By early February 1832 he was reported to be back in good health after having nearly died from taking a dose of the wrong medicine.41 He commented on an improvement in the timing of polls, 11 Feb., the factories bill, 29 Feb., and the regulation of benefit societies, 2 Mar. He voted for the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and paired for the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., having informed Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, on the 11th that ‘I have paired off with [William Stratford] Dugdale on the bill because my sister (his wife) is too ill for him to leave her’.42 That month it was expected that he would be made a peer if creations were needed to carry it through the Lords.43 Out of what Sir John Benn Walsh* termed ‘sheer spleen at Ashley’s success’ in the Dorset election committee, he announced his intended resignation in an address, 26 Mar., but in the face of numerous requests to stay, including one from Ponsonby, his likely successor, he agreed (by a further address on 7 Apr.) not to disturb the peace of the county. This was much to the relief of the Whigs, but he was reviled in the Tory press, and Hunt’s raising it in the House, 17 May, led to embarrassing explanations there.44 He voted for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and claimed that he had several Dorset petitions to present in its favour, 17 May. He opposed the cruelty to animals bill, 30 May, commented on a breach of privilege, 31 May, argued for the establishment of municipal police forces, 4 June, and urged reform of the poor laws, 20 June, when he spoke and voted for making coroners’ inquests public. He divided with ministers for the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July, and paired for it on the 16th, when he urged them to oversee the future passage of the highways bill, which he moved to put off for that session, 18 July 1832.

Although expected to continue to represent Dorset, he cited poor health as the reason for withdrawing, and instead offered for Marylebone, where he owned extensive properties and had been establishing an interest. He was elected there in first place as a Liberal at the general election of 1832, but retired from the Commons early the following year.45 Portman, who received a peerage from the Melbourne government in 1837 and whose wife was a lady of the bedchamber to Queen Victoria, profited from his metropolitan estates to become one of the richest men in England, with an estimated income of about £100,000 in 1883.46 He, of whom it was written that ‘by his courteous and dignified demeanour he admirably sustained the exalted position to which he had been raised’, died in November 1888. He left his estates to his eldest son William Henry Berkeley (1829-1919), Liberal Member for Shaftesbury, 1852-7, and Dorset, 1857-85, who succeeded as 2nd Viscount Portman. His second son Edwin Berkeley (1830-1921) was Liberal and Home Rule Member for Dorset North, 1885-92, and his third son Maurice Berkeley (1833-88) was a member of the Canadian Parliament.47


Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Add. 51342, Fox Strangways to Lady Ilchester, 30 Jan. 1823.
  • 2. PROB 11/1669/236; IR26/970/376.
  • 3. Grove Diaries ed. D. Hawkins, 151.
  • 4. Dorset Co. Chron. 22 Nov. 1888; T. W. Mayberry, Orchard and the Portmans, 5, 38, 40; M. Portman, Bryanston, Picture of a Fam. 129-32; Sir M. Nathan, Annals of West Coker, 419.
  • 5. Western Flying Post, 17, 24 Feb., 3 Mar. 1823; Grosvenor mss 9/10/94; 11/40.
  • 6. Salisbury Jnl. 31 Mar., 21 Apr. 1823.
  • 7. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 481.
  • 8. For example, Dorset Co. Chron. 12 May 1831; Russell Later Corresp. ii. 52.
  • 9. Le Marchant, Althorp, 211.
  • 10. Dorset Co. Chron. 29 Sept. 1825, 12 Jan. 1826.
  • 11. The Times, 28 Apr. 1826.
  • 12. Dorset Co. Chron. 8, 15, 22 June 1826.
  • 13. Western Flying Post, 8, 15 July, 23, 30 Dec. 1826.
  • 14. The Times, 29 May 1827.
  • 15. Howard Sisters, 59, 72-75, 77.
  • 16. Add. 38761, f. 269; 40395, f. 221.
  • 17. Add. 38753, ff. 49, 51.
  • 18. Dorset Co. Chron. 7 Feb. 1828.
  • 19. The Times, 26 May 1828.
  • 20. Wellington mss WP1/955/13; 963/4.
  • 21. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 3 Mar. 1830; Le Marchant, 243; A. Mitchell, Whigs in Opposition, 226.
  • 22. Howick jnl.
  • 23. Wellington mss WP1/1114/11.
  • 24. Western Flying Post, 12 July 1830.
  • 25. Add. 36466, f. 167; Dorset RO, Fox Strangways mss D/FSI 332, Phelips to Ilchester, 4 July 1830.
  • 26. Dorset Co. Chron. 29 July, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 27. Ibid. 2 Dec.; Fox Strangways mss 242, Portman to Ilchester, 24-29 Nov., 3 Dec. 1830.
  • 28. Dorset Co. Chron. 14 Apr. 1831.
  • 29. Ibid. 28 Apr., 5, 12, 19, 26 May; Derby mss 920 Der (14) 117/5, Grey to Smith Stanley, 11 May 1831; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 200.
  • 30. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 174.
  • 31. Holland House Diaries, 12.
  • 32. Portman’s name is not in the surviving partial division lists, but during the Dorset by-election, he, like Ponsonby, was attacked for having voted against giving the franchise to farmers (Dorset Co. Chron. 6 Oct. 1831).
  • 33. Hatherton diary.
  • 34. Dorset Co. Chron. 8 Sept. 1831; Howard Sisters, 200.
  • 35. Shaftesbury mss SE/NC/5/5.
  • 36. This corresp. is in ibid. SE/NC/5. See DORSET.
  • 37. The Times, 5 Oct. 1831; Dorset Pollbook (Sept.-Oct. 1831), 2.
  • 38. Fox Strangways mss 332, Murray to Ilchester [7 Oct.], latter to Portman, 18 Oct., reply, 19 Oct.; Bristol Univ. Lib. Pinney mss, domestic box R, bdle. 5, Lady Smith to Frances Pinney [19 Oct.]; Dorset Co. Chron. 27 Oct. 1831.
  • 39. Lady Holland to Son, 124; NLS mss 24762, f. 49.
  • 40. Fox Strangways mss 332, Parry Okeden to Ilchester, 28 Dec. 1831, 14 Jan. 1832.
  • 41. Dorset Co. Chron. 2 Feb. 1832.
  • 42. Derby mss 128/10.
  • 43. Dorset Co. Chron. 15 Mar. 1832; Greville Mems. ii. 283.
  • 44. NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG/1/6, p. 48; Add. 51601, Lady Cowper to Lady Holland, Tues. [Mar.]; Dorset Co. Chron. 29 Mar., 5, 12 Apr.; Western Flying Post, 2 Apr. 1832.
  • 45. Dorset Co. Chron. 5 July; Brougham mss, Horne to Brougham [25 Aug.]; The Times, 4 Oct., 11-13 Dec. 1832.
  • 46. J.V. Beckett, Aristocracy in England (1988), 292.
  • 47. Dorset Co. Chron. 22, 29 Nov.; The Times, 20 Nov. 1888, 25 Feb. 1889; DNB; Oxford DNB.