WESTERN, Charles Callis (1767-1844), of Felix Hall, Kelvedon, Essex

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



1790 - 1806
4 Feb. 1807 - 1812
1812 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 9 Aug. 1767, 1st s. of Charles Western of Rivenhall, Witham, Essex and Frances Shirley, da. and h. of William Bollan of Rivenhall, agent for the council of Massachusetts. educ. Newcome’s, Hackney;1 Felsted; Queens’, Camb. 1784. unm. suc. fa. 1771; cr. Bar. Western 28 Jan. 1833. d. 4 Nov. 1844.

Offices Held

Capt. Kelvedon vols. 1798.


‘Squire’ Western, as his old friend Thomas Creevey* nicknamed him (he also featured as ‘Stiff-rump’ and ‘The Turkey’ in Creevey’s menagerie), was a member of the Whig ‘Mountain’ and an outspoken champion of agricultural protection and currency reform, whose unreliable health disrupted his political activities.2 As Member for Essex on the old Whig interest since 1812, he had refused to promote a county meeting to protest against the Peterloo massacre, arguing to his fellow Whig Thomas Barrett Lennard*, 15 Sept. 1819, that ‘to volunteer an attack when defeat is certain is only to do certain mischief’: ‘our Essex men ... must be coaxed into Whiggism and care taken not to frighten them’.3 He came forward again at the 1820 general election, despite stories of poor health, and was returned unopposed under the long-standing Whig-Tory compromise. After a personal attack on him at the nomination by the archdeacon of Essex, he defended his support for Catholic claims and contribution to the fund for victims of Peterloo (which he had publicized, together with an explanation of his aversion to potentially dangerous popular assemblies) and condemned the authorities’ heavy-handed response to that meeting.4

When his health permitted, he remained steady in opposition to the Liverpool ministry, dividing with his Whig friends on most major issues and voting for Catholic relief (28 Feb. 1821, 10 May 1825) and, though perhaps without great enthusiasm, for parliamentary reform. He generally acted, when present, with Creevey, Henry Grey Bennet and the ‘Mountaineers’ who, with Joseph Hume, forced the pace in the campaign for economy, retrenchment and lower taxation. On 18 May 1820 Western asked ministers if they intended to reduce the inconvenient interval between the spring and summer circuits. He raised the matter again, 22 Feb. 1821, 27 Mar. 1822, 9 July 1823, 11 Feb. 1824, but to no avail.5 He opposed the bill to divide the Essex sessions between Chelmsford and Colchester, 5, 10 June 1820, when he had it thrown out.6 He was against Lord Milton’s call for repeal of the duty on foreign wool imports, 26 May. ‘Under the pressure of severe indisposition’, he supported Holme Sumner’s motion for inquiry into agricultural distress, 30 May, arguing that domestic corn producers required enhanced protection not to increase prices but to ‘render this country independent of a foreign supply’, and criticizing the 1819 Act for the resumption of cash payments.7 He was named to the select committee next day, as he was to its revivals, 7 Mar. 1821, 18 Feb. 1822. He presented and endorsed the petition of distressed Essex agriculturists, 5 June 1820.8 He silently supported Wilberforce’s compromise resolution on the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June 1820, and on the 26th moved a wrecking amendment to the government motion for a secret committee on the evidence, hoping to ‘promote a final and amicable adjustment’; he was defeated by 195-100.

Sighing to get somewhere for benefit of my health’ in early August 1820, he condemned to Creevey ‘the extreme desire of office by the [Whig] leaders’, especially Lord Grey, which had paralysed the party on the queen’s case. He was in the Commons to protest against ‘the erection of that House into a court of justice’, 21 Aug., but by the end of the month was enjoying the ‘baths and hills and bracing air’ of Buxton, whence he railed to Creevey against the ‘baseness, cowardice [and] folly’ of the trial.9 In late October he feared that ‘we shall come to blows somewhere if ministers do not mind what they are about’, felt that it was ‘too much that the tranquillity of the country should be hazarded by such villainy of such men’ and was determined when Parliament reconvened to do something towards ‘striking at the conspiracy and punishing the perjured villains and removing or impeaching ministers’.10 He was with Creevey at the lord mayor of London’s dinner in November and took him thence to his home at Felix Hall where, to celebrate the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties, he illuminated the house, staged a bonfire and supplied free beer for the inhabitants of Kelvedon, who marched to the Hall to burn a replica green bag. He witnessed the queen’s thanksgiving visit to St. Paul’s, 29 Nov.11 His rumoured plan to promote a county meeting was scotched by the Tories, but he chaired a public celebration dinner at Colchester, 19 Dec. 1820.12 He was keen to attempt ‘a direct severe censure’ on ministers, who were ‘chargeable with the conspiracy, the perjury, the bribery, the beastliness of the associations, the malignity, the everything’, for their ‘most heinous’ November prorogation; he had ‘no reliance’ on the party leaders ‘being up to the mark’. This scheme was shelved when a precedent was unearthed.13 He demanded inquiry into the ‘foul and abominable conspiracy’ against the queen, 24, 31 Jan. 1821, when, in what Creevey considered a ‘capital speech’ and Grey Bennet a ‘good and animated’ one, he called also for ‘extensive reductions’ in public expenditure to help relieve distress.14 He presented and endorsed a West Ham petition for restoration of the queen’s name to the liturgy, 31 Jan., and next day complained that many Members seemed determined to besmirch her with ‘a never-dying stigma’; he was at the Surrey meeting in her support, 2 Feb., and a member of the management committee of the public subscription for her.15 He supported the prayer of the Birmingham merchants’ distress petition, 8 Feb., and before dividing against renewal of the sugar duties next day said he was ‘determined not to vote away any more of the public money until the agricultural distress had been fully taken into consideration’; he was in the minority of 22 against the malt tax, 14 Feb., and voted for repeal of the agricultural horse tax, 5 Mar. His private pronouncements on the subject of agricultural distress seemed to one observer to be tantamount to ‘a declaration of war against the fundholders’.16 He demanded improved protection and tax cuts, 2 Mar., presented Essex, Chelmsford and Romford distress petitions, 6 Mar., and, supporting renewal of the agricultural committee, 7 Mar., denounced the free traders’ ‘visionary project of feeding the country by the sale of its manufactures and hoped for inquiry into the effects of the 1819 Bank Act.17 On 21 Mar., despite what Grey Bennet thought an ‘indifferent’ speech, he carried against ministers by 149-125 his motion for leave to introduce a bill to repeal the additional malt duty of 1819. Ministers threatened to resign and mustered their supporters to defeat its second reading by 242-144, 3 Apr., when Western presented favourable petitions.18 He was in minorities of 29 and 27 for inquiry into the currency question, 30 Mar., 9 Apr. When supporting the distress and reform petition from the Suffolk county meeting, which he had attended, 17 Apr., he declared that he ‘had no hope of seeing any alleviation of the public distress except through the means of such a reform in the representation as would give to the people a fair and legitimate influence over the proceedings of that House’.19 Yet he was absent from the divisions on reform, 18 Apr., 9 May 1821, and only paired for it, 25 Apr., and otherwise divided for its application to Edinburgh, 26 Feb. 1824, 13 Apr. 1826. He presented and supported petitions for mitigation of the criminal code, 26 Mar., 17 May, and voted for the abolition of capital punishment for forgery offences, 23 May, 4 June 1821.20 He thought Scarlett’s proposals for poor law reform deserved a hearing, 8 May 1821.

At the annual Holkham sheep-shearing, 1 July 1821, Western confirmed his conversion to the belief that tax reductions rather than protection offered the only realistic hope of relief for agriculture.21 The following month he led his tenantry to escort the queen’s coffin through Essex.22 After inspecting various prisons during his late summer tour of the Buxton area, he published in October 1821 Remarks upon Prison Discipline, in which, seeking an effective but humane regime, he advocated solitary confinement as the punishment for bad behaviour, single-occupancy of cells, use of the treadmill for hard labour and a more frugal diet than that supplied in Millbank penitentiary, which he considered ‘an insult to honest industry’. The pamphlet, particularly its criticism of the Millbank experiment, generated some controversy.23 Western was added to the select committee on prison regulations, 28 Mar. 1822, and named to it, 18 Mar. 1824. On the gaols bill, 5 Mar. 1824, he defended treadmills, as ‘all punishment should be accompanied with a feeling of degradation’.

By early 1822 Western, who was kept away from Parliament by illness in the first two months of that session, had concluded that ‘almost the sole cause’ of agricultural distress was the Bank Act of 1819 which, by contracting the circulating medium had produced ‘a sudden revolution in the whole property of the community’ for the benefit of creditors, while doubling the national debt and the civil list and enhancing the value of salaries, sinecures and pensions.24 He expounded this argument, which became thenceforward his constant, boring refrain, in an Address to the Landowners of the United Empire (Feb. 1822) and a Supplement (Apr. 1822). After voting in small minorities on the estimates, 25, 28 Mar., Western, claiming that agriculturists were ‘on the brink of ruin’ and that two-thirds of Essex farmers were technically bankrupt, put these views to the Commons, 1 Apr., when he presented a Waltham distress petition.25 On 3 Apr. he defended the agriculture committee against the criticisms of Ellice, Member for Coventry, but in turn dismissed their recommendation of corn law revision and denounced the 1797 Bank Act as ‘a breach of faith to the public creditor’ and the 1819 measure as ‘a breach of faith to the public debtor’. He said on 29 Apr. that ministers had at last acknowledged the ‘baneful operation’ of the resumption of cash payments. At the Essex county distress meeting, 8 May, he ranked this above ‘overwhelming taxation’ and ‘an indifferent system of corn laws’ as the main source of the problem.26 In the House that day he spoke and voted in the minority of 37 for Wyvill’s amendment to the government proposals to deal with distress, which demanded large tax remissions. He argued that ‘the present state of the currency’ made it impossible to legislate on protection, 9 May, when he was in the minority of 24 for an 18s. bounty on wheat exports. He defended his currency views against Ricardo’s attacks, 13 May, and presented the Essex distress petition, 17 May.27 He acquiesced in the ministerial plan to allow the export of warehoused foreign corn ground as flour, 3 June, when he divided with Hume on the sinking fund and with Curwen for repeal of the salt tax. He presented three petitions for revision of the criminal code, 4 June.28 On 11 June, speaking ‘indifferently for three hours’, according to the Whig George Agar Ellis*,29 he moved for inquiry into the effects of the 1819 Act: his wish was, by devaluing the standard and adjusting dividends, debts, contracts and salaries, to achieve a ‘system which should give to the products of industry of every description the same relative money price which they commanded during the suspension of cash payments, and secure a fair and reciprocal remuneration for the general industry of the country’. After an adjournment, his motion was crushed by 194-30 on 12 June.30 On the 14th he deplored the home secretary Peel’s ‘consummate assurance’ in condemning the language of the Kent reform petition. He said that ‘excess of taxation’ prevented British agriculturists from competing on equal terms with foreigners, 20 June. He was a steady opponent of the aliens bill that month and voted for repeal of the salt, 28 June, and window taxes, 2 July. On 10 July he moved a series of resolutions on the currency question, which were negatived at four the next morning after Ricardo had demolished them. He presented Essex petitions against the beer retail bill, 15 July 1822, but expressed his personal approval of its principle.31 In a Second Address to the Landowners that autumn he rehearsed his currency views. To Creevey he explained that he had written privately to Lords Grey, Lansdowne and Holland on the subject:

The real drift of the two latter particularly was to inform them that I thought they were turning their backs upon calamity quite unprecedented in the state of our country, to the infliction of which they had unknowingly been instrumental, and to each of them I said what I said to you, that I consider the question as quite unconnected with general politics.32

These arguments cut no ice with the Whig hierarchy, but Western, who thought that if Canning, the new foreign secretary, made war on France over Spain and repealed the 1819 Bank Act he would make himself ‘more popular and more powerful ... than can be imagined’, and in February 1823 did ‘not feel confident yet in the soundness of the health and strength I have got’, received backing from the eccentric Lord Stanhope. He promoted a county meeting to consider agricultural distress, 20 Mar. 1823, when he successfully pleaded with Daniel Whittle Harvey, the Essex radical and former and future Member for Colchester, to drop his alternative petition calling for parliamentary reform and a wholesale revision of taxation. To Stanhope he reported that there had been ‘strong indications of feeling right upon the currency subject, but by no means general or sufficiently so I think to hazard an attempt at a petition on that specific subject’. He deluded himself that if landowners resolutely petitioned for relief, ministers would realize that the currency problem was the key.33 Appearing late in the Commons, he voted against the naval and military pensions bill, 11, 14 Apr., and paired for repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr. He opposed Maberly’s motion to transfer the tax on beer to malt alone, 28 May, arguing that both imposts should be reduced. He moved at length for inquiry into the currency, 11 June, allowed Lord Folkestone to amend his motion to include an adjustment of contracts and saw it defeated by 96-27 on 12 June. He regretted Brougham’s abandonment of his beer retail bill, 9 July, when he complained that ‘in the taxes repealed this session, there had been an entire forgetfulness of the peculiar distress of the landed interest’. He voted for repeal of the usury laws, 27 June, and to end prison flogging, 7 July (and again, 15 Mar. 1824). On 19 June 1823 he got leave to introduce a bill to qualify the possessors of £400 in personal wealth for jury service. At Peel’s request, he set it aside for the session, 9 July 1823. Peel consulted him and invited his comments on the subject during the recess; he did not think much of the home secretary’s planned bill. He reintroduced his own, 26 Feb., but had reluctantly to abandon it, 4 June 1824. On 2 May 1825 he had a clause qualifying the owners of £400 added to Peel’s current jurors bill and reserved for future consideration.34

On the address, 4 Feb. 1824, Western deplored the government’s failure to intervene against France, but dropped his intended amendment after the threat of it had made Brougham take a firmer line.35 He voted for a repeal of assessed taxes, 2 Mar., 10 May, and against grants for Windsor Castle repairs, 5 Apr., and new churches, 9 Apr. He presented petitions for repeal of the excise licence duty, 4 Mar., and against slavery, 5 Mar., but bouts of ‘indisposition’ seriously disrupted his attendance that session.36 He was unhappy with the proposed duty on long wool exports but was appeased by the chancellor’s explanation, 26 Mar. 1824. He paired for inquiry into the state of Ireland, 11 May 1824. Next session he seems not to have attended until late April.37 On 2 May 1825 he defended the corn laws. He was in minorities of 23 for repeal of the beer duties, 5 May, and of 29 for Brougham’s attempt to make puisne judges immovable, 20 May. He voiced the alarm of barley growers over the plan to allow the rectification of rum into gin, 2 June, but his amendment of 13 June was lost by 81-43.38 He voted in small minorities against naval flogging, 9 June, for inquiry into Ireland, 13 June, and for amendments to the combination bill, 27 June 1825. Poor health made him a virtual absentee during the 1826 session, when he presented petitions against interference with the corn laws, 13 Apr., and for the abolition of slavery, 20 Apr.39 In mid-May 1826 he composed, with much ‘fatigue and anxiety’, a public Letter to the Earl of Liverpool, in which he dismissed the monetary measures of that session as ‘palliatives ... not only futile but injurious’, argued for a return to a paper currency and tried to distinguish between an extended circulation and excessive taxation as causes of high corn prices.40 At the general election in June he was too ill to canvass or appear on the hustings, but his cousin Thomas Burch Western stood in for him and he was returned unopposed.41

Western refused to support Hume’s amendment to the address, which offered a ‘sweeping condemnation of the whole system of corn laws’ and went too far in its demand for economies, 21 Nov. 1826. Next day, for the record, he moved but did not press an amendment drawing attention to the ‘severe’ agricultural distress, though he admitted that it was less damaging than in 1822. On 24 Nov. 1826 he said that ministers had been ‘justified’ in facilitating the emergency admission of foreign corn. He voted against the Clarences’ grant, 16 Feb., paired for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and was in the opposition minorities on the Barrackpoor mutiny, 22 Mar., the Lisburn Orange procession, 29 Mar., supply, 30 Mar., and chancery delays, 5 Apr. He divided for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. He presented and endorsed petitions against relaxation of the corn laws, 16, 27 Feb., 19 Mar., 2 Apr., and vowed to ‘oppose any material alteration.42 He duly condemned the government’s proposed corn bill, which he said would bring ‘bankruptcy to the farmers’ and leave the country at the mercy of foreign growers. On 2 Apr. he spoke and voted against the second reading. Presenting a protectionist petition from Suffolk, 17 May, he said that when, as he expected, the measure was rejected by the Lords, he would propose to bring the 1822 Act into immediate operation by reducing the prohibitive price of corn from 80s. to 70s., with a graduated import duty. He did this, 18 June, when the Canning ministry, not daring to meet him with a direct negative because they were pledged to revise the laws, countered with a proposal to allow the temporary admission of warehoused corn to the market; this was carried by 238-52.43 Western voted for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, when he opposed the free import of foreign wool. As chairman of the East Retford election committee, he reported the need for further action to deal with corruption there, 11 June, but handed the problem over to Charles Tennyson. On 14 June he stood by his currency views and contended that ‘the prosperity of the country would never be permanently restored until Parliament retraced its steps’. He presented many Essex petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 6, 12, 18 June 1827, 26 Feb. 1828, when he voted for that measure.44

He presented and endorsed Maldon and Colchester protectionist petitions and one from Chelmsford maltsters against the Malt Act, 22 Apr. 1828. He objected to the Wellington government’s planned revision of the corn duties, but conceded that the bill as a whole was ‘a point gained’ and evidence of the premier’s sympathy for agriculturists, 25 Apr. He brought up and supported further hostile petitions, 28 Apr., when he failed by 99-43 to increase the duties on rye, peas, and beans. On the third reading, 23 May, he placed on record his belief in the ‘considerable danger’ involved in this ‘experiment’. He denounced the bill by which Maldon’s Tory corporation sought to levy river tolls, 24 Apr. He spoke and voted for Whittle Harvey’s motion for more efficient control over crown excise prosecutions, 1 May, though he felt it went too far. He presented petitions for Catholic relief, and voted thus, 12 May. Next day he opposed the provision for Canning’s widow, but Canning’s nephew gave him credit for doing so fairly and without resorting to personal abuse.45 He supported Davenport’s plan to give petty felons the option of summary conviction by magistrates, 13 May, and his motion for an inquiry into prison discipline, 14 May. He supported a Flintshire miners’ petition against reduction of the duty on foreign lead ore and the abolition of one pound notes, 22 May, presented and endorsed a Colchester petition against the restriction of small notes, 3 June, and was in the minority of 24 against the small notes bill, 16 June. He brought up several Essex anti-slavery petitions, 3, 13, 19, 23 June, 4 July. He voted against items in the miscellaneous estimates, 20, 23 June, and suggested that savings banks’ interest rates should be increased in line with deposits, 3 July 1828. He voted for Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829, and on 17 Mar., when he refuted his colleague Admiral Harvey’s assertion that Essex opinion was hostile, expressed his pleasure at its concession by ministers. He voted to allow Daniel O’Connell to take his seat without hindrance, 18 May. He supported Fyler’s motion for inquiry into the silk industry, 14 Apr., but called for investigation of all distress, which he blamed on cash restriction. He liked the idea of Slaney’s wages bill, but felt that it was too risky in the present economic conditions. He cautiously welcomed Davenport’s juvenile offenders bill, 12 May. He was persuaded to drop his motion for repeal of the agricultural horse tax by a ministerial promise to revise all the assessed taxes next session. On 12 June 1829 he pressed for inquiry into the ‘general calamity and distress’ affecting industry.

At the end of the year he published A Letter on the Present Distress of the Country addressed to his Constituents, in which he repeated his familiar diatribe against cash payments. A Second and Third Letter followed in January 1830.46 On the address, 4 Feb., he expressed ‘indignation at the cold and unfeeling manner’ in which ministers had alluded to ‘the distress of the people’, predicted ‘a convulsion more terrible than any we have yet seen’ if redress was not forthcoming, as ‘men in the lower walks of life’ were acquiring ‘a knowledge of men and things’, and advocated currency reform. The backbencher Hudson Gurney thought he ‘spoke well’.47 Western voted for the amendment. Next day he tried in vain to persuade Lord Blandford not to divide the House on parliamentary reform, which he now favoured. He was in the minority of 57 for Blandford’s scheme, 18 Feb., and paired for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb.; but he was ‘decidedly opposed’ to the secret ballot, which he said would create ‘eternal suspicion and hypocrisy’, 5 Mar., and he did not vote for Russell’s general reform motion, 28 May. At the Essex county meeting, 11 Feb., he opposed Whittle Harvey’s successful radical amendment;48 and when presenting the petition next day, he disavowed its advocacy of ecclesiastical reform, said that its language cast ‘unjust aspersions upon the motives and conduct of the gentry and higher classes’, read the original petition and traded insults with Whittle Harvey.49 He felt that Hume’s motion for large reductions in expenditure was too general, 15 Feb., stressed the need for currency reform and divided in the majority against the motion;50 but on 19 Feb. he spoke and voted with Hume against the army estimates. He presented and supported agriculturists’ distress petitions, 23 Feb., 9, 23 Mar., when he said that national distress was ‘unexampled’. To Sir John Sinclair† he wrote, 4 Mar.:

I am sorry to say there is no disposition on the part of ministers or Whigs to give way upon currency, and the country is getting into a most frightful state. I never was an alarmist, but I confess at this moment the prospect is to me terrific. The people are (naturally enough) throwing off all respect for authority, and looking only to beat down institutions of every kind, to despoil property and to crush the higher ranks.51

On 25 Mar. he presented and endorsed an Essex millers’ petition for permission to grind bonded wheat for export and opposed Poulett Thomson’s motion for a revision of taxation as too vague; but next day he was in the opposition majority against the Bathurst and Dundas pensions. He supported distillers’ petitions against the additional duty on corn spirits, 7 Apr., 4 May. He presented and endorsed a petition for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 8 Apr., and voted to that effect, 24 May, 7 June, 20 July. He divided for economies in public expenditure, 3, 10 May, 7, 11, 14 June, for specific tax cuts, 13, 21 May, and for abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy, 11 May, and, as one of O’Connell’s minority of 17, for Irish vestry reform, 10 June. He paired for Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He generally approved the sale of beer bill, 21 May, 1 July, when he argued for an increase in licence fees to prevent the proliferation of ‘obnoxious’ alehouses. He supported a Colchester petition for higher duties on foreign flour, 28 May. He welcomed the new metropolitan police force, 15 June. He supported Hume’s motion to reduce judges’ salaries, 7 July, and voted against any increase in recognizances in libel cases, 9 July 1830. At the 1830 general election Western, who tried to promote a Whig challenge to the Tory domination of Ipswich, offered again for Essex, though he was again too weak to canvass in person.52 At the nomination he rested on his past record, expressed ‘firm reliance’ on the ‘honour and integrity’ of Wellington and applauded events in France. In the contest promoted by Whittle Harvey in a bid to break the gentry’s party compact, Western refused to endorse his candidate, the reformer William Long Wellesley*, and in effect coalesced with the Tory Tyrell to exclude him and save himself. He came second in the poll.53

He presented two dozen petitions against slavery, 11, 17 Nov. 1830. He was in the majority which voted the ministry out of office on the civil list, 15 Nov. On 21 Dec. he again blamed the ‘ruinous change ... in the currency’ for the current distress and disorder and defended the corn laws. Soon afterwards he had ‘half an hour’s conversation’ with the new premier, Lord Grey, during which he ‘pressed upon him with all the earnestness I felt, my gloomy opinion of the state of the country, which he said could not be more gloomy than his own’. Reporting this to Grey’s cabinet colleague Sir James Graham*, 26 Dec. 1830, Western wrote:

I am sorry to say he appeared to me very much out of spirits ... What I fear over and above the rocks and quick sands which show destruction on every side, is the discordant sentiments of his officers. A measure ... to suit them all must be reached. He must play the autocrat ... I pressed upon him of course the subject, my long rooted conviction that we were going forward to inevitable destruction unless he had courage to retrieve the dreadful error of 1819, and my no less honest conviction that ... it was retrievable, even with ease.

He told Graham, who shared some of his views on the currency, that he was minded to write to Grey’s son Lord Howick* ‘in order to make a sort of record of the opinion I had expressed to Lord Grey’:

I am convinced ... that it is fear which keeps people back from speaking out sentiments very like our own upon currency. This fear arises from two causes, first that of being charged with a robbery of the public reduction and secondly the timidity that arises from a want of fully understanding of the subject.

He concluded with expressing his dislike of a proposal to ‘prohibit’ the cultivation in Ireland of tobacco, ‘vegetable delightful to man, which the earth is ready to give abundantly for his use’.54

Like Tyrell, Western avoided the Essex reform meeting promoted by Whittle Harvey, 28 Feb. 1831, as he explained in the House that day; but he declared his support for ‘efficient’ and ‘moderate reform’. Creevey told his stepdaughter, 3 Mar., that the scale of the Grey ministry’s reform bill had initially taken him aback:

If you would really like to see the effect of this reform bill upon the r-a-a-lly grave and reflecting mind, you should have seen your Squire Western with me yesterday. After having looked me through with awe for some minutes he said, ‘Did you ever hear of such a plan of reform as this in the world?’ ‘Never’. ‘It is quite impossible it can ever be carried, Creevey’. ‘It is as sure to be carried as we are now in this room’ ... He then said he did not know what to do, that Maldon was to lose a Member, that he dare not vote for that. In short, I never saw a man in a greater quandary in my life.55

Western swallowed his fears, warmly supported the bill at the Essex county meeting, 19 Mar., voted for the second reading, 22 Mar., and next day presented the county address to the king.56 He brought up, without comment, a Walden petition for reform, commutation of tithes and a repeal of assessed taxes, 28 Mar., but when presenting the Essex reform petition, 13 Apr., he denounced the so-called ‘friends of moderate reform’ as its ‘most insidious and dangerous enemies’. He voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. He would have no truck with Littleton’s bill to end payment in kind, 12 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election, when Pole Wellesley and Tyrell also stood again, Western praised the reform bill, said that its ‘whole spirit’, if not all its details, must be preserved and damned 60 years of Tory misrule. A reform coalition with Long Wellesley saw them returned comfortably ahead of Tyrell; ‘a slight indisposition’ kept Western away near the end of the contest. At the celebration dinner, 24 May 1831, he advised the electors to resist ‘the corruption of faction or the workings of popular excitement’ and extolled the bill as ‘a royal and a loyal and a popular measure, calculated to establish and preserve an exact equilibrium between the estates of the constitution’.57

He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, but at the meeting of government supporters called to settle tactics for the committee stage five days later he aired his ‘crotchet’ of ‘objecting to a division of counties’.58 He gave generally steady support to the bill’s details until the end of the third week in August, though he voted in minorities on the disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July, and, as expected, the division of counties, 11 Aug. On the proposal to deprive Maldon, his former seat, of one Member, 29 July, he half-heartedly suggested combining it with Heybridge to return two, but concluded that it would be better off as ‘a very respectable resident constituency’. On 17 Aug. he argued that Lord Milton’s amendment to get rid of the county leaseholder franchise would ‘divest nearly the whole tenantry of England of any share in the representation’; and next day he spoke and voted in the majority for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will. He voted for the passage of the bill, 21 Sept. He approved the grant for the Swan River settlement, 25 July; largely approved the game bill, but bridled at the powers it gave to magistrates, 8 Aug.; presented and endorsed Essex barley growers’ petitions against distillation from molasses, 18 Aug., 19 Sept., when he announced with ‘satisfaction’ the decision of the select committee to prohibit this; opposed the introduction of poor laws to Ireland, 29 Aug., and took issue with Hume over his captious opposition to the navy estimates, 30 Sept. 1831.

Western was absent from the division on Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct., but at the annual dinner of the Maldon Independent Club, 21 Nov. 1831, he defied ‘indisposition’ to call for reformers’ unity, praise the king and attack the ‘vicious majority’ of Tory peers and bishops who by rejecting the bill had ‘thrown the cards into the hands of the demagogues’. He spoke in the same vein at the county meeting, 10 Dec., when he urged reformers to eschew ‘melancholy division’ and disavowed ‘abstract rights of universal suffrage’.59 Presenting the petition, 14 Dec., he condemned the conduct of the Lords as ‘most extraordinary and calamitous in its consequences’, declared his support for the essentials of the reform bill, but firmly dissociated himself from Whittle Harvey’s attack on church revenues at the county meeting. Privately he felt that Whittle Harvey, who ‘hates the Whigs in his heart’, was playing into the hands of the Essex Tories with his assault ‘upon landlords and property’.60 He divided for the second reading of the revised reform bill (which reprieved Maldon), 17 Dec. 1831, to go into committee on it, 20 Jan. 1832, and generally for its details. He did, however, support Barrett Lennard’s unsuccessful bid to preserve the franchise of freemen by marriage, 7 Feb. He dismissed the Chelmsford petition seeking representation and criticizing the proposed division of Essex as an anti-reformers’ attempt to obstruct the measure, 23 Feb. He voted for the third reading, 22 Mar. He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and the affairs of Portugal, 9 Feb., but was in the minority for immediate inquiry into the glove trade, 31 Jan. He presented petitions for, 23 Feb., and against, 20 Mar., the factories regulation bill. He had been mentioned in September 1831 as a likely candidate for the peerage if creations became necessary to carry reform, and his name cropped up again in April 1832.61 He was absent from the division on the address calling on the king to appoint ministers who would carry reform undiluted, 10 May, and only paired against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish reform bill, 1 June, when he tried to stop Milton advocating free trade in corn but was cut short by the Speaker. He paired with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 16, 20 July 1832.

Despite worsening health (‘at my age ... no joke’) Western stood for North Essex at the 1832 general election, boasting of his support for reform and the agricultural interest and advocating the prompt abolition of slavery. He was beaten into third place by Tyrell and a wealthy Conservative arriviste who finished only 36 votes ahead of him. He partially blamed the illness which had handicapped his campaign, but refused to repent of his vote for the enfranchisement of tenants-at-will, which was thought by many observers to have strengthened the Conservatives. He promised to try again and declared that ‘the continuance of the present administration in power is essential to the maintenance of our liberties and ... the liberties of every nation in Europe’.62 The duke of Bedford strongly urged Holland to use his ‘powerful influence with Grey’ to have Western, ‘a zealous and faithful servant in the Whig cause for 42 years’, made a peer:

Western has no son or heir. He is not a young man, and has very bad health. Let him at least have the satisfaction of ending his days a member of one branch of that legislature in which he has so long and so often fought the battles of the Whig cause.

Grey readily obliged, but some Conservatives scoffed at the notion of ennobling a man ‘because he was rejected by a reformed constituency’.63 In 1836 Western publicly praised Lord John Russell for his work as home secretary in the Melbourne administration; but when Russell came out for relaxation of the corn laws in 1839 Western took issue with him and defended protection.64 He spent his last years in comparative retirement at Felix Hall, where he continued the agricultural experiments and improvements which fascinated him.65 He died in November 1844. By his will, dated 27 Apr. 1844, he left all his real estate to Thomas Burch Western (1795-1873), who was created a baronet in 1864 and was Liberal Member for North Essex, 1865-8.66

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Creevey’s Life and Times, 8.
  • 2. Ibid. pp. xix, 121; B. Hilton, Corn, Cash, Commerce, 13, 30, 99-100, 134.
  • 3. Essex RO, Barrett Lennard mss D/DL C60.
  • 4. Ibid. C58/87; Suff. Chron. 11 Mar. 1820; Procs. at Colchester and Essex Elections (1820), 42-43, 46-48, 50-55.
  • 5. The Times, 19 May 1820, 23 Feb. 1821, 12 Feb. 1824.
  • 6. Ibid. 6, 21 June 1820.
  • 7. Ibid. 31 May 1820.
  • 8. Ibid. 6 June 1820.
  • 9. Creevey mss, Western to Creevey, 6, 30 Aug. 1820; Creevey Pprs. i. 310, 313, 319.
  • 10. Creevey mss, Western to Creevey, 26, 29 Oct. 1820; Creevey Pprs. i. 334.
  • 11. Creevey Pprs. i. 339; Creevey’s Life and Times, 133; Suff. Chron. 18 Nov.; Creevey mss, Western to Creevey, 30 Nov. 1820.
  • 12. Add. 38288, f. 303; The Times, 21 Dec. 1820.
  • 13. Creevey mss, Western to Creevey, 14 Jan. [1821]; Creevey Pprs. ii. 5.
  • 14. Creevey’s Life and Times, 137; HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 8.
  • 15. The Times, 1 Feb. 1821; Grey Bennet diary, 10, 24.
  • 16. Harrowby mss, Labouchere to Sandon, 12 Feb. 1821.
  • 17. The Times, 3, 7 Mar. 1821; Grey Bennet diary, 32.
  • 18. Grey Bennet diary, 41-42; Hilton, 137; Three Diaries, 320; Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/5; The Times, 4 Apr. 1821.
  • 19. The Times, 18 Apr. 1821.
  • 20. Ibid. 27 Mar., 18 May; Colchester Gazette, 26 May 1821.
  • 21. Hilton, 142; The Times, 10, 14 July 1821.
  • 22. Creevey mss, Western to Creevey, 14 Aug. 1821; VCH Essex, ii. 241.
  • 23. Edinburgh Rev. xxxvi (1821-2), 353-73; Thoughts on Prison Discipline (1822); G.P. Holford, Vindication of the Penitentiary at Millbank (1822).
  • 24. Hilton, 142-3.
  • 25. The Times, 2 Apr. 1822.
  • 26. Ibid. 9 May 1822.
  • 27. Ibid. 18 May 1822.
  • 28. Ibid. 4, 5 June 1822.
  • 29. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 11 June 1822.
  • 30. Hilton, 31-32, 92; JRL, Bromley Davenport mss, T. Attwood to E.D. Davenport, 27 Apr., 9 June 1822.
  • 31. The Times, 16 July 1822.
  • 32. Creevey mss, Western to Creevey, 14 Nov. 1822.
  • 33. Ibid. Western to Creevey, 28 Feb.; Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C 190/1, same to Stanhope, 4, 22 Mar.; The Times, 21 Mar. 1823.
  • 34. Add. 40363, ff. 239, 241; 40378, f. 63; The Times, 27 Feb., 5 June 1824.
  • 35. A. Mitchell, Whigs in Opposition, 175.
  • 36. The Times, 5, 6 Mar. 1824; Add. 40363, f. 239; 40365, f. 87.
  • 37. The Times, 29 Apr. 1825.
  • 38. Ibid. 3, 14 June 1825.
  • 39. Add. 40385, f. 271; The Times, 14, 21 Apr. 1826.
  • 40. Colchester Gazette, 24 June 1826.
  • 41. Ibid. 3, 17 June; Barrett Lennard mss C60, Western to Lennard, 12 June 1826.
  • 42. The Times, 17, 28 Feb., 20 Mar., 3 Apr. 1827.
  • 43. Ibid. 18 May, 15 June 1827; Canning’s Ministry, 391; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 126; Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1357; Hobhouse Diary, 137-8.
  • 44. The Times, 7, 13, 19 June 1827.
  • 45. Harewood mss, Lord G. Cavendish Bentinck to Lady Canning, 14 May 1828.
  • 46. The Times, 2 Dec. 1829.
  • 47. Gurney diary, 4 Feb. 1830.
  • 48. Colchester Gazette, 13 Feb. 1830.
  • 49. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 12 Feb. [1830].
  • 50. Ibid. 15 Feb. [1830].
  • 51. Rev. J. Sinclair, Mems. Sir John Sinclair, ii. 315.
  • 52. Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss XIII/B/5q, t, v; Colchester Gazette, 24, 31 July 1830.
  • 53. Essex Co. Election (1830), pp. x, 4-5, 12; Essex Election, Aug. 1830, pp. 23-24, 47-48, 50, 53-54, 159-60; Greville Mems. ii. 144.
  • 54. Sir James Graham mss (IHR microfilm XR 80).
  • 55. Creevey’s Life and Times, 340.
  • 56. The Times, 21 Mar.; Colchester Gazette, 26 Mar. 1831.
  • 57. The Times, 27 Apr., 6, 11, 26 May; Colchester Gazette, 7, 14 May 1831.
  • 58. Hatherton diary, 11 July [1831].
  • 59. Colchester Gazette, 26 Nov.; The Times, 12 Dec. 1831.
  • 60. Barrett Lennard mss C60, Western to Lennard, 21 Dec. 1831.
  • 61. Creevey Pprs. ii. 236; Greville Mems. ii. 283.
  • 62. Barrett Lennard mss C60, May to Lennard, 9 Aug., Western to same, 12, 19 Aug.; The Times, 20, 24 Dec. 1832.
  • 63. Add. 51664, Bedford to Holland [8 Jan.]; 51671, same to Lady Holland, 3 Jan. [1833]; Creevey’s Life and Times, 359; Greville Mems. ii. 343; Croker Pprs. ii. 199.
  • 64. Walpole, Russell, i. 261, 367; Western, Maintenance of the Corn Laws (1839).
  • 65. Oxford DNB; C. Smith, ‘Western Fam.’ Essex Rev. x (1901), 76; Gent. Mag. (1844), ii. 645-6.
  • 66. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 662; PROB 11/2013/173; IR26/1724/89.