ACLAND, Sir Thomas Dyke, 10th Bt. (1787-1871), of Killerton, nr. Exeter, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. 29 Mar. 1787, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 9th Bt., of Killerton by Henrietta Anne, da. of Sir Richard Hoare, 1st Bt., of Stourhead, Wilts. educ. Harrow 1799-1804; Christ Church, Oxf. 1805. m. 7 Apr. 1808, Lydia Elizabeth, da. and h. of Henry Hoare, banker, of Mitcham Grove, Surr., 7s. 2da. suc. fa. as 10th Bt. 17 May 1794.
Sheriff, Devon, 1809-10.
Acland, whose family had been long established in Devon and also had property and influence in Somerset and Cornwall, lost his father when he was seven. In 1795 his mother married the brother of Lord Fortescue, lord lieutenant of Devon, and Acland was brought up ‘like a little prince’. His trustees were said to have bought an estate for £60,000 during his minority. A contemporary and friend of Peel at school and university, he toured Scandinavia in 1807 and was briefly detained as a prisoner during the British attack on Copenhagen. He was a devout and zealous churchman and, through his marriage into the Hoare family, became friendly with Wilberforce, the Thorntons and other members of the Clapham Sect. A philanthropist and humanitarian whose generosity sometimes led him into financial difficulties, he developed a keen interest in religious progress and in 1817 was involved in the negotiations which resulted in the formation of the Church Building Commission.1
In 1820 the radical orator Henry Hunt† wrote a disparaging account, probably exaggerated, of Acland’s public début nine years earlier at a Somerset county meeting engineered by Hunt to promote parliamentary reform:
Sir Thomas Acland came forward with a very confident air ... we all expected that he would attempt something like an answer to my arguments ... He began with, ‘Gentlemen’—but ... being a very young man, could never get out that which it appeared he wished to say; and, after repeating ‘Gentlemen’, and hesitating for some time, he, in a most ludicrously affected manner, exclaimed, ‘England, with all thy faults, I love thee still!’ and with this quotation he was so exceedingly delighted, or was so unable to find anything else to say, that after having, cuckoo-like, to the great amusement of his audience, repeated it at least half a dozen times, he retired without uttering another sentence.2
He was to show more confidence in the House, to which he was elected for Devon at the general election of 1812 after a token contest forced by a radical adventurer. Promising to ‘maintain inviolate in all its parts the constitution’ and to exercise ‘the most wary independence’, he explained on the hustings that
he did not mean by independence, opposition to existing authority—a systematic hostility to any set of men; but a zealous, unbiased promotion of those measures which are most calculated to benefit the country—a fair support of the government, when its members are qualified and honestly resolved to do their duty; and withall a determined resistance to every measure, by whomsoever proposed, that is stamped with the evident mark of public detriment, dishonour, or injustice.3
His grandson later wrote that Acland had ‘entered public life’ as a follower of Canning, but he was never a member of Canning’s parliamentary squad, though he was spoken of in 1816 as ‘an old favourite’ of his4 and was friendly with Edward John Littleton, John William Ward and others of Canning’s set. His inclusion in the list of Members considered friendly to government compiled after the 1812 election proved justified in that he showed a clear ideological preference for ministers against the Whigs, but he took seriously his role as an independent country gentleman, following the dictates of his conscience on specific issues of policy, and voted against them on a number of financial questions. At the same time, he was prepared to exercise independent judgment in defiance of popular opinion as well as of the executive and established a reputation in ministerial circles for integrity and candour.
In his first recorded speech, 1 Mar. 1813, he supported inquiry into Catholic claims in the hope of reaching a ‘final and conciliatory adjustment’ which would satisfy the Catholics without endangering the establishment. He voted for the abortive relief bill, 13 and 24 May 1813, and consistently for the principle of emancipation thereafter. He was one of the strongest supporters of Christian missionary activity in India in June and July 1813. He voted for the sinecure bill, 29 Mar. 1813, but opposed Williams Wynn’s motion condemning the enforced union of Norway with Sweden, 12 May 1814, arguing that the terms of the treaty, however obnoxious, must be observed, though he urged ministers not to inflict economic hardship on the Norwegians in order to enforce it. In the same humanitarian spirit he supported Holford’s unsuccessful attempt to improve the management of London prisons, 4 and 11 July, and warmly welcomed the financial relief of German war victims, 14 July 1814. A member of the select committee on the corn trade, 22 Mar. 1813, he supported the new Corn Laws, 27 Feb. and 10 Mar. 1815.
Thereafter his conduct became more markedly independent. He voted for inquiry into the civil list account, 14 Apr. 1815, because ‘a pretty general feeling existed throughout the country, that on this particular subject there was a greater waste and extravagance than necessary’, and against the Duke of Cumberland’s establishment, 28 and 30 June, 3 July 1815, when he contended that the duke’s choice of bride defamed the country’s honour. He was nevertheless invited to move the address in 1816 and performed the task ‘in a remarkably good style’,5 according to Charles Yorke. Acland got himself into a scrape on the question of the renewal of the property tax, for which he voted, 18 Mar. 1816, as he had promised to do at a ministerial meeting in February.6 His method of presenting Devon petitions for relief from agricultural distress, 23 and 26 Feb. 1816, when he seemed to be bent on trying to play down the extent of popular hostility to the tax, was seized on and made capital of by leading Whig speakers. He voted for reductions in the army estimates, 6, 8 and 11 Mar., for inquiry into public offices, 7 May, and against the civil list bill, 24 May, but divided with ministers against a civil list inquiry, 6 May, and on a clause of the public revenues bill, 17 June 1816. He voted against Binning’s inclusion on the finance committee, to which he was himself appointed, in furtherance of his stated wish to dilute its official element, 7 Feb., and in favour of Admiralty economies, 25 Feb., but took the ministerial side on the question of Croker’s wartime salary as secretary to the Admiralty, 17 Feb. 1817. He was appointed to the select committees on the Poor Law, 21 Feb. 1817 and 4 Feb. 1818. He opposed the ‘oppressive’ salt laws, 25 Apr., and voted with the minority on the Speakership, 2 June, but defended Canning against the attack on his Lisbon embassy, 6 May, and divided for the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817. Early in 1818 Acland was reported to be flirting ‘very much’ with the Grenvillite ‘third party’.7 He voted with government against attacks on the prosecution of state prisoners in Scotland, 10 Feb., and the domestic espionage system, 11 Feb. and 5 Mar. 1818, and, though he had originally intended to vote for a leather tax repeal bill, 12 Mar., was persuaded by ministerial speeches to opt instead for inquiry. He was one of the ‘country gentlemen’ invited to Fife House to hear the government’s plans for the ducal marriage grants, 13 Apr., but in debate later the same day he indicated his objections, though he disapproved of Brougham’s amendment to the preliminary address and spoke and voted against the grants to Clarence and Cumberland, 15 and 16 Apr. 1818.
By the time of the 1818 dissolution Acland had, for 18 months, been canvassing Devon, where the Whig Lord Ebrington, Fortescue’s son, defeated by Edmund Pollexfen Bastard at the 1816 by-election, was carefully preparing to stand again. Bastard, who had earlier announced his inability to bear the cost of another contest, was only persuaded to stand at the last minute by his supporters’ organization of a subscription to defray the expenses. Acland’s conduct on the property tax had already damaged him electorally, and with popular sentiment strongly against him he was unable to gain a hearing to refute the Whig charges that he was a covert ministerial time-server, paying only lip-service to independence. In an attempt to counteract the large number of plumpers procured for Ebrington he coalesced with Bastard, but after six days’ polling, when they were almost 300 votes behind Ebrington, with most of the eligible freeholders polled, he conceded defeat. He gained considerable credit by resisting the temptation to fight on in the hope of overtaking his ally, who was only 16 ahead of him.8
Littleton, a fellow member of the Weekly Club, which also included Ward, Frederick Sylvester North Douglas*, Charles Grant II*, Thomas Frankland Lewis*, Robert John Wilmot* and Stratford Canning, wrote on 3 July 1818:
Sir T. Acland ... was one of the most weighty county Members in the House. Somewhat fond of crotchets, but he was able, honest and independent in the highest degree ... He will get into Parliament again ... and I feel convinced he will distinguish himself, and acquire considerable weight, not so much by speaking as by the excellence of his character.
On 22 Feb. 1819 Littleton reflected that ‘it is impossible that the possessor of such virtue combined with great talents should not ultimately prevail, and procure him much reputation as an able and honest Member of Parliament’; and on 5 June 1820 he eulogized Acland as ‘pious, simple as a child, of the purest morals, highest honour, fine natural talents, and of the most captivating candour and manliness’.9 The exaggerated testimony of a close friend, perhaps; but there was certainly sympathy for Acland in more exalted ministerial circles: Liverpool thought his defeat a poor reward for his ‘candour and independence’, Canning deemed it a sad loss for the Commons, where he had been ‘one of the principes juventutis’, and Croker, a hard-bitten official man, was also ‘really sorry’ for him, though he seems to have numbered him among those who had paid the penalty for being ‘half-measure men’.10
Acland, who was reckoned to have spent over £80,000 on his elections by 1830, fought his way back into the House for Devon in 1820 and became one of the most respected Tory back-benchers of his day. He died 22 July 1871.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: P. A. Symonds / David R. Fisher
- 1. A. H. D. Acland, Mem. Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 11th Bt., 12, 14, 18-20; Farington, vi. 180-1; viii. 130; Life of Wilberforce (1838), iv. 320; v. 306; M. H. Port, Six Hundred New Churches, 12.
- 2. Mems. ii. 452-3.
- 3. Spirit of Election Wit at Exeter and Devon (1812), 82-84.
- 4. Harewood mss, Stratford to George Canning, 24 Feb. 1816.
- 5. Add. 35394, f. 213.
- 6. Grey mss. Ossulston to Grey [24 Feb. 1816].
- 7. Buckingham, Regency, ii. 212.
- 8. Add. 38458, f. 271.
- 9. Staffs. RO, Hatherton diary.
- 10. Harewood mss, Liverpool to Canning, 6 July; Bankes mss, Canning to Bankes, 7 July 1818; Add. 40184, f. 214