DICKINSON, William II (1771-1837), of Kingweston, Som.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1796 - 1802
1802 - 1806
1806 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 1 Nov. 1771, 1st s. of William Dickinson I*. educ. Westminster 1781-9; Christ Church, Oxf. 1789; BA, All Souls 1793, MA 1795, BCL 1799; L. Inn 1791, called 1796. m. 19 July 1803, Sophia, da. of Samuel Smith I* of Woodhall Park, Herts., 3s. 2da. suc. fa. 1806.

Offices Held

Ld. of Admiralty May 1804-Feb. 1806.

Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1800-6; lt.-col. commdt. E. Som. vols. June 1819.

Recorder, Glastonbury 1821-35.


Dickinson entered Parliament the year he was called to the bar and at the same time as his father became county Member. He presumably purchased his seat from Richard Troward, the then patron of Ilchester. He devoted his not inconsiderable abilities to the regular support of Pitt’s administration. On 3 Jan. 1798 he defended the assessed taxes bill as necessary for the security of the realm; on 11 Dec. in reply to opposition clamour for peace, he said that the time was inopportune. Pitt was sufficiently impressed to give him the opportunity to second the address (11 Nov. 1800), which he did in a long speech that showed a jurisprudent’s concern with general principles. On 19 Feb. 1801 he voted with opposition for inquiry into the failure of the Ferrol expedition. In June 1801 he supported his father’s efforts to thwart vexatious prosecution of the clergy for non-residence; and he or his father opposed additional reimbursements to coroners from the county rates, 8 Mar., 27 Apr. 1803. He secured a committee on the West Country clothiers’ petitions, 16 Feb. 1803, and on 6 Apr. moved for a bill to alter 13 statutes for their relief: ‘practical good and evident utility are the only just grounds on which the laws can be proposed to be amended with safety’. He went on to defend the bill against its West Riding critics, 27 Apr.

Dickinson had hitherto been well disposed to Addington’s administration. On 9 Mar. 1802 he condemned Bateman Robson’s tactics in opposition and on 13 Dec. applauded the commission of naval inquiry, which together with the peace and tax relief did the ministry credit. But on 3 June 1803 he voted with Pitt, soon afterwards married Pitt’s friend Lord Carrington’s niece and in March 1804 joined him in opposition to Addington. Speeches of 9 and 22 Mar. and his votes with Pitt in all the crucial divisions on defence that brought down Addington made his position clear, and on 30 Apr. he wrote to Pitt offering ‘to make a useful member of your administration’.1 He became a lord of the Admiralty and resumed his seat on 31 May. Since 1802 he had sat on Lord Mount Edgcumbe’s interest for Lostwithiel, probably at the instigation of the other Member, his uncle Hans Sloane. During that session he supported the Aylesbury election bill, opposed the abolition of the slave trade, as a Jamaican proprietor, for fear of insurrection, and thwarted the late ministry’s prize agency bill. Addington’s friends resented it: Nathaniel Bond*, listing an otherwise delightful social gathering at Lord Digby’s in September 1805, concluded ‘and as there must be an alloy in all human happiness, the Lord Admiral Dickinson and his cream-faced insipid wife’. This view was shared by Fox, who wrote: ‘though Dickinson may be a very good man he is one of the very worst politicians in the whole House’ (17 Sept. 1805).2 The comments were at the end of a session in which he had been an active spokesman on Admiralty business in the House, particularly with reference to the cases of Sir Home Popham and Admiral Duckworth.

Dickinson would have been content to retain his Admiralty place under Lord Grenville, informing him through Lord Glastonbury: ‘My connection in politics is at an end by the death of the ever to be lamented Mr Pitt’. Glastonbury suggested that, with his father’s vote and his uncle Hans Sloane’s, he was a good recruit but, in the event, Grenville was prevented by the ‘great variety of claims of every sort’ from retaining him. Meanwhile he and his father and uncle had abstained on the first major division, 3 Mar. 1806, but on 30 Apr. he voted against ministers on the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act. This was not decisive: Glastonbury described his views as ‘perfectly orthodox’ to Lord Grenville, 29 May, and in October Grenville offered to restore him to the Admiralty. He was expected to accept, but demurred because he wished to win the county seat, unhindered by office. He might have retained Lostwithiel, or (in office) come in for Queenborough, but hankered for a respectable seat.3 On 9 Dec. 1804 he had informed Pitt of his wish to be chairman of the Somerset quarter sessions with the county seat in view and asked leave to miss the opening of Parliament so as to canvass: but Pitt seems to have disliked the idea, so he withdrew and his rival Acland was chosen. In 1805 he was a contender for his university (on 10 May 1803 he paid a fulsome tribute to the role of the university clerisy in national life), but the anticipated vacancy did not arise.4 On his father’s death in May 1806 he failed to succeed him as county Member, biding his time until the dissolution. He then came in unopposed, though he incurred the wrath of the retreating Member Gore Langton by employing a professional agent to canvass, and promised not to do so again. As a security he had also been returned for Lostwithiel.

Dickinson, still listed adverse to the abolition of the slave trade in 1806, admitted that he was impressed by the moderation of the abolition bill, 9 Mar. 1807, and, although he still had reservations, did not oppose it. On 23 Mar. it was he who put the question to Viscount Howick which enabled the latter to inform the House that the King was forming a new ministry. According to Lady Holland, ‘Dickinson did the business very ill, and so clumsily that he did no good by his query’. He had leave of absence to attend quarter sessions and was expected to miss Brand’s motion, but he attended to vote for it, 9 Apr.5 Despite the cry of ‘No Popery’, he headed the poll at the ensuing election.

On 26 June 1807 Dickinson and his father-in-law voted with ministers on the address;6 but he supported Cochrane’s motion on places and pensions,7 July. On 10 Feb. 1808 he urged the repeal of the suspension bill affecting augmented curacies. He questioned witnesses in the Duke of York’s case and in joining the minorities against him explained, 17 Mar., that he was not swayed by popular opinion in this: he had voted against the wishes of his constituents in 1807 and yet headed the poll. No further speech is known during that Parliament. He voted for Madocks’s motion against ministerial corruption, 11 May 1809. He opposed ministers on the address and on the Scheldt question, 23, 26 Jan., 5, 30 Mar. 1810, the Whigs claiming him as one of them at that time. He was a member of the bullion committee. He opposed imprisoning Burdett, 5 Apr., and supported sinecure reform, 17 May 1810. He acted with opposition on the Regency, 1, 21 Jan. 1811, and voted against the reinstatement of the Duke of York, 6 June. In the session of 1812 he voted for the abolition of McMahon’s sinecure, 24 Feb.; for Turton’s motion, 27 Feb.; against the orders in council, 3 Mar.; against the currency bill, 10 Apr.; against the barracks estimates, 13 Apr.; against the sinecure tellerships of Exchequer, 7 May; for a stronger administration, 21 May, and against the leather tax, 1 July.

Returned unopposed in 1812, Dickinson remained independent. He denounced Burdett for ill-founded allegations about aggrieved petitioners, 9 Mar., 5 May 1813; but supported Romilly’s bill to abolish capital punishment for some cases of theft, 26 Mar. He supported the sinecure regulation bill, 29 Mar., and was chairman of the committee on the Admiralty registrars bill. He voted for the Catholic relief bill on 13 May, but against on 24 May 1813 (abstaining thereafter); and on 5 July denounced the stipendiary curates bill as an encroachment on the freehold of the church establishment. He next emerged as a supporter of the disbandment of the militia, 28 Feb. 1815; of a committee on the Bank, 2 Mar.; and as a critic of the civil list, 14 Apr., 8 May, and of the property tax 19 Apr., 5 May 1815: on the last occasion he threatened an amendment to relieve the agricultural interest, but did not appear in the minority. In 1816 he opposed the army estimates and the renewal of the property tax, defending petitions against it, 29 Feb.,7 and 7 Mar., in view of the plight of the farmers. On 20 Mar. he was in the minority on Admiralty salaries. He was absent thereafter, but paired against the public revenue bill, 17 June. He further paired against the address, 29 Jan. 1817, and was in the minorities of 17, 19 and 25 Feb. On 25 Apr. he opposed the salt duties. He objected to a clause in the savings bank bill, 16 May, because it dictated the funding of investments which might have been useful to the agricultural interest. On 2 June he proposed the opposition candidate for the Speaker’s chair. He opposed the ducal marriage grants, 13 and 15 Apr. 1818.

Dickinson headed the poll in 1818, when his coalition with Gore Langton against the ministerial candidate cost him over £7,000. He did not sign the requisition to Tierney to lead the opposition. He voted for the addition of Brougham to the Bank committee, 8 Feb. 1819, and against the Windsor establishment, 22 and 25 Feb. He gave a qualified support to two Somerset petitions for agricultural protection, 26 Feb. He was, as in the two previous sessions, a member of the Poor Law committee. He supported criminal law reform, 2 Mar. He was in the minorities on excise informers, the junior lords of Admiralty and the royal household bill that month. He also opposed the equalization of coal duties, 5 Mar., 20 May. He gave his ‘hearty support’ to Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, complaining of a ‘government of departments’ and calling for a broad administration to avert a situation reminiscent of that of France in 1789. He wished soon afterwards to move for an inquiry into the state of the country. Lord Grey was informed:8

Dickinson stands high with the country and is not considered to be either a ministerial or opposition Member and therefore our friends in the House would not be committed by the course he would take at the same time that I perceive they would give him every support in their power in the furtherance of his object.

Nothing came of it and on 10 June he was in the majority on the foreign enlistment bill. On 14 June he presented Somerset petitions against the proposed wool duty, but on 18 June objected to the protective duty on imported wool as the clothiers required ‘a certain portion of foreign wool’.

Dickinson, now in command of the East Somerset yeoman cavalry, was an alarmist in the last session of the Parliament of 1818. He favoured the seizure of arms bill, 16 Dec. 1819, and on 20 Dec. expressed his approval of all the ministerial measures designed ‘to stem the current of anarchy and rebellion’. He died at Naples, 19 Jan. 1837.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. PRO 30/8/129, f. 246.
  • 2. Sidmouth mss, Bond to Sidmouth, 24 Sept. 1805; T. C. Dilks, C. J. Fox and Bridgwater, 35 (wrongly dated 1803).
  • 3. Fortescue mss, Glastonbury to Grenville, 28 Jan. (with enc.), reply 28 Jan., 29 May; Ld. to T. Grenville, 17 Oct., Dickinson to same, 20 Oct., Grenville to Mount Edgcumbe, 13 Nov.; Malmesbury mss, FitzHarris to Malmesbury, 4 Mar. 1806; HMC Fortescue, viii. 386, 391; Geo. III Corresp. PRO 30/8/129, f. 249; Add. 37909, f. 22.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/129, f. 249; Add. 37909, f. 22.
  • 5. Jnl. of Lady Holland, ii. 227; Grey mss, Temple to Howick, 1 Apr. 1807.
  • 6. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 180.
  • 7. PRO 30/8/129, f. 249; Add. 37909, f. 22.
  • 8. Grey mss, Moggridge to Grey, 3 June 1819.