RUSSELL, Charles (1786-1856), of 27 Charles Street, St. James's Square, Mdx.

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



1830 - 1837
1841 - 1847

Family and Education

b. 22 July 1786, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Henry Russell (d. 1836), commr. of bankrupts, of 9 New Square, L. Inn and 2nd w. Anna Barbara, da. of Sir Charles Whitworth† of Leybourne, Kent. unm. d. 15 May 1856.

Offices Held

Cadet, E.I. Co. 1800, ensign 1801, lt. 1803, capt. 1818, furlough 1817, ret. 1822.

Chairman, Great Western Railway 1839-55.


Russell’s family originated in Worcestershire, and was related to the Russells of Strensham. In the late seventeenth century Michael Russell, whose father had been an active Parliamentarian in the Civil War, settled in Dover. His only surviving son, Michael Russell (1711-93), acquired property in the town and farms in Kent. With his wife Hannah Henshaw he had four sons, of whom the third, Henry Russell, born in 1751, was the father of this Member.1 He was educated at Charterhouse, Queens’ College, Cambridge and Lincoln’s Inn, was appointed a commissioner of bankrupts in 1775 and associated with Dr. Johnson in his last years. In 1776 he married Anne Skinner of Lydd, but she died in 1780, and their son Henry a year later. In 1782 he took as his second wife Anna Barbara Whitworth, daughter of Sir Charles Whitworth, Member for various constituencies from 1747 to his death in 1778, and chairman of ways and means for the last ten years of his life. Her brother Charles Whitworth (1752-1825) was created an Irish peer in 1800 and a United Kingdom one in 1813, and was viceroy of Ireland, 1813-17. In 1782 Russell, who looked for patronage to the 3rd earl of Hardwicke, was appointed a puisne judge of the supreme court at Calcutta and knighted. He did well in Bengal, where he became friendly with William Hickey, who admired his ‘superior talents as a deep-read lawyer’ and recorded that his ‘claret was always of the very best, while his dinners were execrable’. In 1805 Russell, who that year suffered a bad carriage accident which permanently damaged his right arm, successfully applied through Hardwicke to succeed Sir John Anstruther† on his pending retirement as chief justice of Bengal.2 He was created a baronet, 10 Dec. 1812, retired on an East India Company pension of £2,000 at the end of 1813, returned home the following year and was made a privy councillor in 1816. He was said to have turned down Whitworth’s offer of a seat for East Grinstead, where his wife had a controlling interest, but at the general election of 1820 he unsuccessfully contested the volatile borough of Colchester. That year he bought the Berkshire estate of Swallowfield Park, six miles south of Reading, near the Hampshire border. He had the existing house extensively altered, and seems to have spent most of his time at his London home at 62 Wimpole Street, where Ugo Foscolo, the Italian poet, was a regular guest. After his death in 1836 his personalty was sworn under £80,000.3

With his second wife Russell had five sons. The two youngest, Whitworth (1796-1847) and George Lake (1802-78), made careers in the church and the law respectively, while the other three were all provided with appointments in India. Henry (1783-1852), the eldest, obtained a writership with the East India Company in 1798 and occupied a variety of posts before being made resident at Hyderabad in 1810.4 Francis Whitworth (1790-1852) also entered the civil service, in 1807, and was appointed second assistant to his brother in 1811. Both were educated at Charterhouse, but no record has been found of the English education of the second son, Charles Russell, the subject of this biography. Described by Hickey as ‘a fine dashing youth’,5 he entered the Indian army in 1800 and served as an ensign and lieutenant in the 17th and 21st regiments of Native Infantry before being appointed to the command of the escort at Hyderabad in July 1810, when he also took temporary responsibility for the conduct of the business of the residency until Henry arrived from his previous post at Poona. He left India at the end of 1817, and on his way home visited St. Helena, where he was given a view of Buonaparte walking in front of his house, though he had declined to press for an interview on being told that he must address him as ‘General’.6 Back in England, he lived mostly in London, formally retired from the army in 1822 and became a proprietor of East India Company stock.

Russell was implicated with Henry, who retired as resident at Hyderabad in December 1820 and came home, in the scandal which broke at that time over the governor-general Lord Hastings’s alleged corrupt partiality on behalf of the Hyderabad banking house of Palmer and Company, to whom in 1816 he had granted an exemption from the Act of 1797 prohibiting British subjects from lending money to the native princes. It emerged that Henry Russell had been involved in and profited from the firm’s dealings with the nizam of Hyderabad; and his successor as resident, Sir Charles Metcalfe, discovered and revealed to the home government that the new loan of 1820 was fraudulent and fictitious. The affair was investigated by the East India Company, who in 1824 ordered the relevant papers to be printed. In response, Henry Russell published a Letter to the Court of Directors, in which he sought to vindicate himself and Charles from the allegations against them, complaining that these had originated in ‘acrimonious party spirit’ and that they had been given no chance to defend themselves. He did so when the matter was debated in the court in February 1825. To avoid a charge of peculation against Hastings, the court passed resolutions absolving him and, by implication, the members of the residency from acting corruptly, but endorsing earlier Company despatches censuring the encouragement of the dealings of Palmer and Company.7

Soon afterwards Henry Russell, who had married in 1816, as his second wife, a French aristocrat, Marie Clotilde Mottet de la Fontaine, moved from his quarters at Sutton Park, near Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, to Southern Hill, Reading, from where he kept an eye on the completion of the work at Swallowfield. There was a late approach for him to stand for Colchester at the general election of 1826, but his father would not sanction another contest, which there was no guarantee of avoiding. Charles offered to stand in his place, on the understanding that he would retire should there be a contest, if Henry thought it prudent for himself to keep a low profile until the Hyderabad affair, which it seemed might be raised in Parliament, had completely blown over; but he was ‘not very solicitous about it’, and kept the notion secret from their father. Henry vetoed involvement in Colchester, arguing that the risk of becoming embroiled in a ruinous contest was too great, and pointing out that Daniel Whittle Harvey, the sitting Member and local radical hero, who had attacked their father mercilessly in 1820, and since interested himself in the Hyderabad affair, would exploit it in order to ‘defame’ Charles and the rest of the family. Otherwise, he did not consider the Indian scandal a reason in itself for staying out of Parliament, and recommended Charles to take any offer of ‘a close seat at a fair price’. Although Charles thought there was every chance of avoiding a contest at Colchester and that it was in Harvey’s ‘interest as much as ours to keep things quiet’, he had to agree that it was best to keep away:

Once entangled with Colchester, occasions of local politics and local patronage would be every day occurring to excite angry feelings and we should be involved from one end of the session to another in newspaper skirmishing. I remember thinking when I heard that Harvey was the author of those long dissertations on the Hyderabad question that one motive ... was to arm himself with weapons against us. Hang that rascal Metcalfe. How he is perpetually crossing our path.8

At the 1826 election, Henry and his wife, despite her advanced state of pregnancy, were very active in support of George Spence, the candidate of the Reading Blue or Tory party, a firm opponent of Catholic relief, who succeeded in defeating Charles Fyshe Palmer, the advanced Whig sitting Member, though he was turned out on Palmer’s petition nine months later. Henry Russell’s intervention was inspired by a desire to secure his own eventual return for the borough on the Blue interest, but Charles, who thought he had an awkward game to play, advised him to proceed cautiously and avoid being ‘drawn into the town set’, especially as he was a newcomer to the county.9 At a celebration dinner, 19 July 1826, Henry professed his personal support for religious toleration, but answered criticism of his wife’s having canvassed for an opponent of the claims of her fellow-Catholics by saying that she did not wish her children to suffer from revolution in England as her father had in France. He accused Fyshe Palmer and John Monck, the radical Whig returned with Spence, of having in the previous Parliament sought to obstruct a liberalizing government through factious opposition. Charles complimented him on the speech:

I think you are rather above than below your audience, but it is a fault on the right side. The tone of a gentleman is always becoming and the blackguards, if they do not thoroughly understand it, are pleased to be thought to understand it ... I think you have very judiciously shown your opinions on the Catholic question and your coincidence with the liberal part of the administration.10

Charles Russell accompanied Henry on a tour of Flanders, Germany, Switzerland and France in the summer of 1827.11 In January 1828 he went to Dover, his father’s birthplace, to investigate the possibility of standing for the vacant seat, but he retreated, with few regrets, on finding that an anti-Catholic was required. In April he reported to Henry ‘a very curious proposition’ made to him by a stockbroker cousin of Abel Dottin, Member for Southampton, to purchase for £63,000 property in an unnamed borough, which would give command of 214 of the electors and thus of both seats. Even more ‘extraordinary’, the offer was coupled with one of a peerage on secret payment of an additional £40,000. Nothing, of course, came of this ‘gross fudge’.12 Later in the year he was in the Low Countries with Henry.13 In June 1829 he received from the same source as the previous year an offer, for himself or Henry, of the seat for Leominster soon to be vacated by the outlawry of Rowland Stephenson. He was not convinced by the assurances he received that there would be no contest, and did not seriously pursue the matter.14 In March 1830 Spence told him that Holmes, the government whip, had sounded him as to whether Henry ‘wished to be in Parliament’ and would support the duke of Wellington’s ministry if he was.15 It was Charles rather than Henry, whose indifferent health may have been a deterrent, who offered for Reading at the 1830 general election, when Monck unexpectedly retired and recommended as his successor Stephen Lushington*, the prominent Whig civilian. Henry acted as his chaperon and mentor throughout the ensuing contest, which cost them not far short of £6,500.16 On the hustings Russell uttered the platitudes of independence, but addressed the allegations that he was the advocate of West Indian slavery and the ‘promoter of monopoly’ by the East India Company: he ‘utterly abhorred’ slavery, but its abolition required a balancing ‘measure for the protection of British property’; and he had ‘no tie to bind him’ to the Company and its interests. After a protracted contest, prolonged by the referral of numerous disputed votes to the assessor, he narrowly beat Lushington into third place. Claiming that the Blues had ‘rescued the borough from the intolerable burden which oppressed it’, he declared that he would ‘go to Parliament a free and independent Member’.17 To Henry he offered

my most grateful thanks for all your kindness during the election. Nothing but your assistance could have carried me through it ... I wish to God you had been fighting for yourself instead of for me. Your success would have been more easy and more certain and you would have made a much better use of it both for the public and your own family. I will not despair, however, of seeing us still side by side in the House.18

In a speech at the Blues’ celebration dinner, 9 Sept. 1830, which was probably got up for him by Henry, he observed that while in many respects party differences were ‘now scarcely perceptible’, there remained important distinctions between Tories and Whigs on a variety of issues. In general terms

they would rashly sweep away what they consider, and what we, perhaps, may consider, the evil, regardless of the good which must be carried with it. We would separate the evil from the good, and would even consent to endure the smaller portion of the evil, rather than expose to risk the infinitely larger portion of the good. The leading principle on which they proceed ... is practically a destructive principle. The leading principle on which we proceed ... is practically a conservative principle.

He claimed to be anxious to convince the more moderate Whigs, with whom he was content to share the representation, that ‘we are no more enamoured than they are of a despotic power, but that we would only so temper our love of civil liberty, as to prevent freedom from degenerating into licence, anarchy and revolution’.19

The Wellington ministry listed Russell, who on 28 Sept. 1830 ‘saw old Talleyrand on his way to Portland Place through Regent Street’, as one of their ‘friends’. On 11 Oct. he met Planta, the patronage secretary, ‘whose whole manner’, he reported to Henry, ‘was courteous and complimentary’, as he ‘said we had fought the battle gallantly and they felt very much indebted to us’.20 The following day a Reading meeting, which Palmer attended but Russell did not, carried a petition for repeal of the house and window taxes and a resolution that the Members be requested to present and support it. Russell, observing to his brother that ‘my troubles begin to thicken on me’, thought it was ‘hard under a declining revenue to force on a minister specific repeals of taxation’, and said he would agree to present any petition entrusted to him and promise to support ‘every measure of retrenchment which may be compatible with the safety of the state’, but refuse to pledge himself to specifics ‘until I see what measures are proposed by the government’. He was also requested by the local Quakers to attend an anti-slavery meeting, fixed for 21 Oct., but he was strongly inclined to stay away, plead a prior engagement in London and refer to his pronouncements on the hustings:

I am aware that my answers in both these cases will be held to be evasive, but they are no more so than prudence requires and than all my declarations have invariably been. They must be so if I would go unfettered to these questions. If I acquiesce more fully or attend the meetings I shall gradually be drawn into the predicament of connecting myself with the radical and Dissenting party.

At his request, Henry drafted a letter of excuse to the anti-slavery meeting, which he had no difficulty in evading, even though he was in Reading only a day or two beforehand to speak at the visitation feast of the grammar school. He also stayed away from - indeed seems not to have remotely considered attending - a meeting in support of parliamentary reform, held on the same day as the anti-slavery one, and at which Palmer was present.21 Unsure whether or not to speak on the assessed taxes petition whenever his colleague presented it, he sketched a short speech, which he wished to be ‘sound in principle, and clear and precise, though unpretending, in language’, for Henry to polish or rewrite as necessary:

My scheme is to state the arguments in favour of a repeal of the taxes as strongly as I can; but to close my speech in such a way as to show that I am not ignorant of what are held to be the sound principles affecting the question and to leave myself at liberty to vote as future circumstances may suggest.

He did likewise on the subject of slavery:

The two points I aim at are to keep the direction of the measure in the hands of government and to confine ourselves in the present stage to obtaining the more cordial co-operation of the colonial legislatures ... for the amelioration of the condition of the slaves, because I am satisfied that these are the most effectual steps which an honest and zealous emancipist could take to accomplish the ultimate extinction of slavery. ... I am afraid that in presenting a petition such as that signed at Reading I shall hardly be considered as supporting it in going no further than I am disposed to go.22

Russell, who took his seat and the oaths on 26 Oct. 1830, shared in the general opinion that the government acted foolishly in cancelling the royal visit to the City on 9 Nov. On the problem of distress, he believed that although it was ‘severe’ among ‘parts of the agricultural population’, it was ‘by no means general’; and he was inclined to think that ‘in the present state of the government and the country ... I shall be wise in saying as little as may be with my petitions’. On 13 Nov. he wrote to Henry:

The government is evidently very hard pressed for speakers. Last night Planta watched an opportunity of getting next me and after some general conversation said, ‘When do you intend to speak? We want very much to hear you’. I made all sorts of modest speeches when he urged me to speak on Tuesday [16 Nov.] on the question of parliamentary reform and added, ‘You must try a rap at that fellow Brougham’. Of course I persisted in declining. It is a bad subject for a man representing a popular borough to begin upon, and I have not time now, even if I were so inclined, to prepare myself properly.23

He voted silently with ministers in the division on the civil list which brought them down, 15 Nov. As he had feared, a petition against his return alleging bribery and corruption was presented, 16 Nov.; but its promoters, anticipating an early dissolution after the change of government, did not persevere with it. This was ‘a great relief’ to him, though he remained anxious that his accounts should be promptly settled and that extreme care should be taken in ‘making illegal payments’, which might yet land him in trouble.24 He soon had more pressing matters to worry about, for he was informed by the editor of the Tory Berkshire Chronicle that his vote with ministers on the civil list had ‘occasioned disappointment at Reading’. Russell, who argued that it was ‘absurd to call it a question of economy’, for it had been one of ‘whether the duke of Wellington or Lord Grey should be premier, and I should have been a coward and traitor if I had not voted as I did’, authorized him to print a defence of his vote, after consulting Henry, if it was attacked in the liberal Reading Mercury. Nothing was done immediately, but it emerged that many of Russell’s leading friends at Reading were ‘grievously offended’. He thought they were being ‘very unreasonable’, and refused to repent of his vote, as he explained to Henry:

It seems to me that after professing in every speech I made at Reading opinions favourable to the late ministry, I should have been guilty of the grossest inconsistency, if, on the first important division, before they had time to develop any of their plans, I had lent my hand to cut their throats. Even the opposition ... raised but little clamour about the amount of the civil list ... I know as a positive fact that the effect of the division ... was not generally foreseen, and that, if it had been, many who voted in the majority would have supported ministers.

At the same time, he was willing to go to Reading in person to attempt to pacify his critics, if Henry approved. In the event, after he had been denounced in the Mercury of 29 Nov., he and his brother decided to reply with a written defence in the Chronicle. Their original intention was to couple this with an attack on the new ministry, for which Russell thought there were ‘good materials’ in its aristocratic composition, Grey’s nepotism and the removal of Brougham from the Commons, which hinted at backsliding on reform. When, however, Russell was told that ‘the opinion of the necessity of economy and reform seems universal and prevails with both parties’ in Reading, and that there was ‘a desire to give a fair trial on these points’ to the new government, he warned Henry:

You see we must manage any attack on the present ministry cautiously. It is still ... open to us to say, though we do not feel implicit confidence in them, that we are willing to give them a trial. If we predict disappointment to the public expectation I do not think we shall prove false prophets. The blindness of those who swelled the majority to the effects of their votes seem to me a fair sort of hint for a newspaper.

He still contemplated making a speech on the assessed taxes, using material culled from the practical example of their effects in Reading to put forward a scheme for their modification. He thought that the article which Henry composed for the Chronicle of 4 Dec. was ‘capital’ and provided a ‘complete’ defence of his vote, though he agreed that when it had had time to take effect he should go down in person to make such explanations as were necessary. Both discounted the notion, urged on them by their chief agent, Alfred Compigne, that Russell should justify the vote in a public letter to the electors. As he put it to Henry:

It is the adoption of a principle, from which I entirely dissent, that I owe a responsibility to my constituents for each individual vote; it may prove a very inconvenient and embarrassing precedent; and it commits me still further than I am committed to the present opposition and against the present government.

He was the less inclined to this course because he thought that he had done himself some good by his brief intervention, 10 Dec., in warm support of the prayer of a petition entrusted to him, perhaps mischievously, by ‘the opposite party’, led by Monck, endorsing Brougham’s bill to establish local courts. He did not, however, read it to the House, because he ‘did not approve of the vehement language in which it was couched’. He presented without comment a petition from the women of Reading for the abolition of slavery, 17 Dec. Asking his brother, 11 Dec. 1830, if there was any prospect of a Reading reform meeting, he commented:

I had rather avoid attending if I can, but I suppose I will be required to show myself. My opinion has always been favourable to granting representatives to the large unrepresented towns, and for this, among other reasons, that I think it will prove the means of checking the torrent of reform.25

At the start of the new year Russell was busy trying to bring his election accounts to a final settlement and, alarmed by persistent reports of an early dissolution, he made plans to show himself in Reading. Henry advised him to accompany Monck and the town deputation to Lord Melbourne, the home secretary, with a petition pleading for clemency for the ‘Swing’ rioters sentenced to death at the recent Berkshire special commission, even if he did not wish to sign it himself.26 He thought the signatories for the county reform meeting, 17 Jan. 1831, were ‘few and scurvy’, but he attended, with Palmer, and spoke, to the effect that reform was no longer a party measure and was about to be brought on by ministers, to whom he was happy to leave the details, ‘on a firm conviction of its expediency’. He read extracts from a recent speech on the subject by Grey and said that he was prepared to support a ‘temperate’ measure of the type foreshadowed by the premier. Repeatedly called on to pronounce on the ballot, he said that such ‘an innovation upon the constitution’ ‘would not lead to the results which the supporters of it expected’. Henry did not think that ‘any substantial use’ could be made of the argument which he privately advanced that the ballot would destroy beneficial ‘social influences’ and admit the ‘evil’ ones of ‘such men as [William] Cobbett† and Carlile’. Russell, however, harboured notions of speaking on Warburton’s promised motion on the subject, and Henry duly worked up a suitable speech based on his ideas.27 On 26 Jan. Henry received a visit from Wellington, whose Hampshire house at Stratfield Saye was only a few miles from Swallowfield. He informed Charles that ‘from his whole tone and manner, I am quite sure that your vote has been neither overlooked nor thrown away’. At the town reform meeting, promoted by the radicals, 31 Jan., for which Henry made a surreptitious muster of Blues, Russell, coached by his brother beforehand, reiterated his willingness to support ‘a practical and substantial reform’, so long as it was ‘temperate and consonant with the principles and practice of the English constitution’. He flatly refused to countenance the ballot, an amendment for which was carried, and, replying to a personal attack, defended his vote on the civil list, saying that he had supported the late administration ‘because he believed them friends to economy and peace’ and that if the Grey ministry ‘showed the same inclination to the two objects, he should give them the same support’. His brother produced a slightly improved version of his speech for insertion in the Chronicle; and he was pleased to learn that even some of the radicals conceded that he had performed well and with unsuspected ability.28 Not without difficulty, Henry composed for him a speech on the ballot. Russell, who thought that ministers had made ‘a false move’ with their budget, particularly the proposed tax on transfers of funded property, was pleased with it, though he had to agree that the subject had become ‘common and trite’ and, thinking better of his plan, decided to remain silent ‘unless the opening be very good’.29 He gave his first impressions of the ministerial reform scheme to Henry, 2 Mar. 1831:

It is gigantic in its dimensions, and it is impossible to contemplate such vast changes without anxiety and alarm. As regards the main point after all, however, the degree in which it will increase the democratic element of our constitution, it has some redeeming virtues.

These included the increase in the number of county Members and the proposal to exclude borough voters from counties, which would ‘introduce into the House a phalanx of country gentlemen connected with the most solid property in the country’. He also liked the plans for a £10 householder borough franchise, getting rid of non-resident voters and shortening the duration of polls. Anticipating an early division, he urged Henry to make immediate soundings among their ‘leading supporters’ in Reading. Henry did so, and told him the following day that ‘as far as you look to Reading, you must support the measure’, which

in its leading features, is popular among the most Tory of our friends. By supporting it, you will not displease any of your party, and you will conciliate several of the adverse party; by opposing it you will please nobody; you will exasperate all the adverse party, and alienate many of your own friends ... This ... is the unanimous opinion of all I have spoken to. For myself, I think it the beginning of revolution; but still I think it was inevitable ... It is desirable on every account that you should support it with a good grace.30

Russell, though still ‘alarmed at the magnitude of the changes’, thought that ‘the government having brought them forward, the country will never be satisfied till they are carried’; and he was therefore ready to support the bill ‘on public ... as well as on personal considerations’. He was urged ‘most vehemently’ by Compigne to speak on it, but had ‘great doubts of making any debut on such a question’, fearing that ‘the fall from such a height will be tremendous’ and that it might be prudent to ‘begin with less ambitious views’. He nevertheless sent for Henry’s consideration the outline of a speech, which he admitted ‘puts forward too much the objections to a measure which one intends to support’. Henry, observing that his speaking on the bill would only benefit him in Reading if he did so ‘strongly and unreservedly in its favour’, as ‘anything like reluctant or qualified assent would only derogate from the merit which would be ascribed to even a silent vote in the affirmative’, thought this line ‘would never do’:

Your constituents would none of them thank you for doing what you proclaim you do against your judgement and inclination; and it would be truly said of you ... that you give your argument to one party and your vote to the other.

He advised Russell to give a silent vote for the second reading and to speak in committee, praising the bill’s ‘principle of raising the respectability of the electors’ and arguing from that for an increase in the borough franchise to £12, or for the £10 qualification to be based on rates rather than rent. This, he contended, would have the added advantage in Reading of getting rid of that portion of the electorate which habitually held out for bribes and of damaging ‘the radical party’; but he warned that he ‘must not openly propose or advocate the change, for fear of giving offence to the parties who would be affected by it’. Russell, who asked Henry to try to get him off the hook with Compigne, was attracted by this idea, though he also composed a set speech on the principle of the measure for use should the occasion arise. His brother thought it admirable, but still felt that the case which it presented against the bill was stronger than that which it advanced in its favour; and, finding Compigne adamant in his view of the electoral advantages to be gained by a speech, he attempted to refine it. Russell, irritated by a further demand for money, complained to Henry that

I have got amongst a set of cormorants, and, though I have not said it to a human being, I think I shall probably consult both my happiness and my interest by giving up Parliament. To be sure I have fallen on troubled times, but as yet I have experienced nothing but annoyance.

He also asked his brother to provide him with the outline of a short speech for the town meeting of 14 Mar. called to petition in support of the bill, and Henry obliged with an endorsement of its principle, ‘framed ... according to what I think will please your hearers, those of our own, as well as of the adverse party’. Russell, who considered such meetings ‘prodigious bores’, told Henry, 10 Mar.:

The ground on which I rest my vote is that the present bill, with great and alarming tendencies, yet has many securities; and that with the impulse which the measure has received from the authority of government, it is better to take it as it is and not wait till we shall get it on worse terms. This is my conscientious view, which is always a valid reason for presenting it. With respect to Reading, the honest truth is I am not over-solicitous about it. A seat in Parliament is not worth holding in such trammels, and under such odious and disgusting sacrifices as are constantly demanded from me.31

At the meeting he declared his unequivocal support for the bill, which was based on the ‘combined principles of population and property; population, to infuse into the system the spirit of real and popular representation; property, to impart to it a character of stability and order’.32 He did not in the event make a set speech on its second reading, but on 22 Mar., when Palmer presented the Reading petition, he ‘forced on the House, which was very reluctant to listen to me’, a ‘few words’ in support of it and the bill. His intervention escaped the notice of the reporters. Russell, who voted for the second reading later that day, could scarcely credit the rumours that there would be no dissolution even if the measure was defeated, for he could not see ‘how Lord Grey is to carry on the business of the country with the present House’ and thought that ‘Peel would probably shrink from forming a new administration on the unpopular basis of a reform short of that now proposed’. His brother, who had all along regarded the bill with much greater alarm, and now claimed to perceive a rapid decline in enthusiasm for it, at first suggested that ‘time only is wanted to defeat’ it, and that if the king ‘will but resist the demand for a dissolution Lord Grey must be driven out’; but he soon came to regard a dissolution as ‘inevitable’.33 Russell voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he offered again for Reading, produced, as requested, a ‘specific pledge in writing’ of his intention to give his ‘honest support’ to the bill and was returned unopposed and by acclamation with Palmer. At the formalities, he reiterated his support for the measure on the grounds of ‘that legitimate power given to property’ and ‘that influence conferred on those classes where influence ought to reside’. He reserved his right to support alterations and improvements, but denied that he did so ‘in any covert spirit of hostility to the bill’, citing his vote against Gascoyne’s amendment as proof of his sincerity.34

He fell ill soon afterwards, but responded positively to Henry’s warning in early June that one of the leading Blues felt that since the election he had allowed Palmer to steal a march on him in cultivation of the constituency.35 He was, however, too unwell to attend the opening weeks of the new Parliament, obtained a fortnight’s sick leave, 8 July, and did not resume his attendance until 26 July 1831.36 His first known vote in committee on the reintroduced reform bill was for the partial disfranchisement of Sudbury, 2 Aug., though he confessed to Henry his belief that the hostile minority ‘had much reason on their side’. He went on to vote fairly steadily for the details of the measure for the rest of that month, and was forced by his anxiety not to be absent from the debate on the borough qualification proposals, ‘in which my Reading friends will take an interest’, to miss his father’s eightieth birthday celebrations on the 19th. Under ‘urgent’ pressure from Compigne to speak on the qualification clause, he did so, 24 Aug., when he supported that part of Polhill’s amendment which sought to establish the parochial rate rather than rent as the test of value, arguing that it would remove a ‘fertile source of fraud and litigation’. To Henry he wrote:

I quite lost my head; and I fear that both my manner and matter must have seemed very confused. Entre nous I may say that I think it was a failure, but I trust that if not here I may have done myself good with my Tory friends, and no harm with my Whig friends, at Reading. And I must trust to the future to repair any mischief I may have done in the House to myself.37

He is not known to have opened his mouth again in debate in this period. He divided with ministers for the prosecution of those found guilty of giving bribes at the Dublin election, 23 Aug., but not against the subsequent motion of censure on the use of government influence. In September, fearing an early dissolution if the Lords rejected the bill, he got Henry to put in order their election accounts, which remained in an unsatisfactory state, so that they could prevent ‘the wasteful and exorbitant expenditure’ which had been foisted on them in 1830.38 He was at dinner when the unexpected division on the third reading of the reform bill came on, 19 Sept., but he was present to vote for its passage two days later. He was ‘not surprised’ at his brother’s report that the Reading meeting of 19 Sept. to petition the Lords to pass the bill was ‘a failure’, for he was aware that ‘those in London even ... have been tame and thinly attended’ and felt that ‘this reaction of public opinion is beginning to produce its effect on the Lords’. At the annual Reading mayoral inauguration dinner, 3 Oct., he observed that ‘whatever result might attend the present discussion ... the cause of legitimate reform had made great progress’.39 Anticipating Lord Ebrington’s motion of confidence in the ministry, he told Henry:

If the reform question be made the ground ... or if it even occupy a prominent place amongst other grounds, I must vote for it in redemption of my pledges, for any course which could be interpreted into a shrinking from my promises would do me harm with both parties. If the reform question should not mentioned, and a resolution of confidence be proposed on general grounds, even then I think the utmost I could do would be to abstain ... and to take an opportunity of explaining at Reading that I did so because, though I could not give a vote which would embrace an approbation of the financial and foreign policy of the present ministry, yet that I could not give one which might be interpreted into a condemnation of their measures on the subject of parliamentary reform.

Henry, who as requested consulted Compigne, endorsed this line; and on 10 Oct. Russell duly voted for the motion, though he did not see ‘what advantage’ ministers derived from it, as it was ‘generally understood that they retain their places’ and obviously implied that they would ‘at an early period bring forward the old measure with some modifications’. He was not sorry to receive notice of the Reading meeting called by Monck and the radicals to address the king in support of reform, 11 Oct., too late to be able to attend. Henry felt that if a similar county meeting was called, he would not be able to get out of it, especially if Palmer attended; but Russell thought it would be ‘extremely awkward’, as ‘I could not avoid taking a decisive tone in supporting reform or I should be considered as a trimmer by the reformers; and if I did take a decisive tone I should offend many of the old Blue party’. Henry insisted that evasion, which would anger the radicals and dissatisfy the Blues, was not an option, for ‘your aim must be to conciliate the reformers’; but in the event, to Russell’s relief, no meeting took place.40 He was unwell again later in the autumn, suffering from ‘a deranged stomach, a dry hacking cough’, and reporting that ‘the secretions of my bowels are slimy and unhealthy’. He used his convalescence, as he slowly responded to treatment for a liver complaint, as an excuse to avoid attendance at the Reading dinner to pay tribute to Monck’s public services, 22 Nov. 1831.41

Though still ‘far from well’, Russell, who, with Henry, was about to be plagued by the financial misdeeds of their brother Frank in India, was in the House for the opening of the new session. Of the changes to the reform bill, he wrote that they were ‘literally nothing’, and he was at a loss to know ‘by what means Lord Grey proposes to carry it through the Lords’. He later informed Henry that 45 peers were to be made as soon as it passed the Commons, and that Grey had been ‘troubled with the renewal of his vision of himself walking about with his head under his arm’.42 He divided for the second reading, 17 Dec. 1831. He voted for the proposal to deprive 30 boroughs of one Member, 23 Jan. 1832, and the same day was in the majority against reform of select vestries. His vote against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., apparently excited no interest in Reading.43 He was added to the select committee on the East India Company’s affairs, 22 Feb., the day after Henry gave evidence to its political and foreign subcommittee. He did so again, 30 Mar., and appeared before the military subcommittee, 19 Apr.44 He voted with government in the reform committee divisions on Appleby, 21 Feb., Helston, 23 Feb., and Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and was present to vote for the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar.45 He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the bill unimpaired, 10 May; but, on the advice of Henry and Compigne, he stayed away from the Reading meeting called to consider the current crisis, 14 May. As his brother put it:

The whole tone and character of the meeting, and the resolutions that will be moved, and probably adopted, are expected to be of the most violent description. Your entering into them cordially is out of the question; your entering into them partially will offend your friends, without satisfying your enemies; and your opposing them, perhaps the wisest as well as the manliest course, if you were compelled to attend, would exasperate a very powerful body of hostile and even neutral constituents, without pleasing the Tories a bit more than you would please them by staying away altogether.

As suggested by Henry, who thought that ‘as long as you are to be essentially a Tory Member’, there was no reason to dissemble the real reason for his absence, Russell wrote to the chairman stating that his votes provided ‘the best proofs of his sincerity in the cause of reform’.46 He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and against any increase in the Scottish county representation, 1 June. He may have voted against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832.

Russell was returned unopposed for Reading with Palmer at the 1832 general election, when he came out in favour of cautious reform of the church and the corn laws, but was evasive under questioning on the subjects of slavery, triennial parliaments and municipal reform. In the new Parliament he gravitated to the moderate Peelite Conservatives, and it was in those colours that he was elected in 1835 and narrowly defeated in 1837. He regained the seat in 1841, but lost it for the last time in 1847.47 He was a forceful and successful chairman of the Great Western Railway in its formative years from 1839 until his retirement through ill health in August 1855.48 He died by his own hand at his then London home in Argyll Street, off Oxford Street, 15 May 1856. (He was the second of the four Members for Reading in this period to take his own life, Spence having done so in 1850.) Evidence given to the inquest indicated that in his bedroom in the early hours he had shot himself in the mouth at the second attempt, after the pistol which he had first used had misfired. His valet, who testified that he had been suffering for the previous few days from chest pains, which had depressed him, found him alive but insensible at 6.45 in the morning, and he lingered until two in the afternoon with a bullet in his brain. A verdict of suicide under the influence of ‘temporary insanity’ was returned.49 By his will and its six codicils, drawn up in February 1856, Russell left the residue of his estate to his nephew, Henry’s son Charles, who had succeeded to the baronetcy and Swallowfield in 1852. He created a trust fund for the payment of various legacies, which included life annuities of £200 each to Mary Ann Watkins, a spinster, of Shepherd’s Bush and her (and presumably his) daughter Jane Watkins, born in 1830. As the trustee of Mrs. Jane Monies, formerly Ellis, now confined in a Hoxton lunatic asylum, he left for her care and maintenance the rents and profits on a leasehold house in St. Pancras, together with such a sum as would provide her with £100 a year for life.50

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. PROB 11/1239/614; C. Russell, Swallowfield and its Owners, 252.
  • 2. Russell, 259; Add. 35643, f. 52; 35645, f. 135; Hickey Mems. ed. A. Spencer (1925), iv. 195, 211, 222, 232, 312-14; Geo. III Corresp. iv. 3163.
  • 3. Russell, 254-8; VCH Berks. iii. 267; PROB 11/1859/187; IR26/1427/152.
  • 4. Russell, 262-7.
  • 5. Hickey Mems. iv. 260.
  • 6. Russell, 286.
  • 7. C.H. Philips, E.I. Co. 225-7; J.W. Kaye, Life of Lord Metcalfe, ii. 8-9, 11, 13-20, 41-94; Oxford DNB sub Hastings, F.R.; The Times, 12 Feb., 4 Mar., 27 May, 24 June 1824, 12, 19, 26 Feb., 2, 4, 17, 19 Mar. 1825; Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 177, ff. 1-3.
  • 8. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, ff. 38-43.
  • 9. Ibid. ff. 32, 47, 51, 53, 68.
  • 10. Berks. Chron. 29 July; The Times, 4 Aug. 1826; Bodl. MS. Eng. misc. c. 329, ff. 140-4; Eng. lett. c. 159, f. 118.
  • 11. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, ff. 135, 139; c. 177, f. 150; Eng. misc. 329, ff. 96-125.
  • 12. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, f. 7.
  • 13. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, ff. 171, 173; Eng. misc. c. 329, ff. 128-35.
  • 14. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, f. 83.
  • 15. Ibid. f. 138.
  • 16. Reading Mercury, 12, 19 July; Berks. Chron. 24 July 1830; Bodl. MS. Eng. misc. c. 329, ff. 234-318.
  • 17. Reading Mercury, 26 July, 2, 9, 16 Aug. 1830.
  • 18. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, f. 183.
  • 19. Berks. Chron. 18 Sept. 1830.
  • 20. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160. ff. 191, 196.
  • 21. Reading Mercury, 18, 25 Oct.; Berks. Chron. 23 Oct.; The Times, 26 Oct. 1830; Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, ff. 199, 204, 205.
  • 22. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, ff. 207, 210, 213, 218.
  • 23. Ibid. ff. 210, 218, 223, 225.
  • 24. Ibid. ff. 210, 218, 223, 225, 227, 232, 234, 239, 243, 247.
  • 25. Ibid. ff. 236-59.
  • 26. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 153, ff. 4-10.
  • 27. Ibid. ff. 11, 14, 15, 18, 24; Berks. Chron. 22 Jan.; Reading Mercury, 24 Jan. 1831.
  • 28. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 153, ff. 21, 27, 32, 34, 37; The Times, 1 Feb.; Berks. Chron. 5 Feb.; Reading Mercury, 7 Feb. 1831.
  • 29. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 153, ff. 37, 39, 44, 48; Eng. misc. c. 329, f. 145.
  • 30. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 153, ff. 68, 73.
  • 31. Ibid. ff. 75-100.
  • 32. Windsor and Eton Express, 19 Mar.; Reading Mercury, 21 Mar. 1831.
  • 33. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 153, ff. 101-107.
  • 34. Reading Mercury, 25 Apr., 2 May; The Times, 28 Apr.; Berks. Chron. 7 May 1831; Bodl. MS. Eng. misc. c. 329, ff. 222, 231.
  • 35. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 153, ff. 113, 115.
  • 36. Reading Mercury, 1 Aug.; Berks. Chron. 6 Aug. 1831.
  • 37. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 153, ff. 121, 137, 144, 147, 153.
  • 38. Ibid. ff. 163, 165, 169, 174, 181.
  • 39. Ibid. ff. 183, 188, 190, 197; Berks. Chron. 8 Oct. 1831.
  • 40. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 153, ff. 201-18.
  • 41. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 154, ff. 2, 6, 8, 10, 16, 21, 26.
  • 42. Ibid. ff. 26, 32, 55.
  • 43. Ibid. ff. 71, 81.
  • 44. PP (1831-2), xiii. 160-4; xiv. 10-16, 65-67, 162-74.
  • 45. Bodl. MS. Eng. lett. d. 154, f. 90.
  • 46. Ibid. f. 101; The Times, 16 May; Reading Mercury, 23 May 1832.
  • 47. Reading Mercury, 10 Dec.; The Times, 11 Dec.; Berks. Chron. 15 Dec. 1832; Dod’s Parl. Companion (1835), 119; (1843), 198. See also N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 284-300, where, unaccountably, Russell is described as ‘a West India proprietor’ and the ‘son of a West Indian nabob’.
  • 48. E.T. MacDermot, Hist. GWR, i. 149-50, 399-401.
  • 49. The Times, 17 May 1856.
  • 50. PROB 11/2234/499; IR26/2075/601.