HOLDSWORTH, Arthur Howe (1780-1860), of Mount Galpin, Dartmouth and Widdicombe, Devon.

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



1802 - Dec. 1819
26 Jan. 1829 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 26 Nov. 1780, 1st s. of Arthur Holdsworth of Widdicombe by Elizabeth, da. of Robert Holdsworth, merchant, of Dartmouth. educ. Eton 1796. m. (1) 8 Feb. 1803, Elizabeth Were (d. 1804), da. of Richard Hall Clarke of Bridwell, Devon, 1da; (2) 16 July 1807, Catherine Henrietta, da. of John Eastabrook of Okehampton, Devon, 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 1787.

Offices Held

2nd lt. Dartmouth vols. 1798; lt.-col. Coldridge vols. 1803, Dart and Erne yeomanry 1813.

Gov. Dartmouth Castle 1807-d.; mayor, Dartmouth 1821-2, 1824-5, recorder 1832.


Six years old when his father died, Holdsworth was entrusted to the care of his mother, grandfather and the Bastard brothers, the younger of whom, Edmund, managed the unassailable family interest at Dartmouth until he came of age in 1801. He returned himself at the ensuing general election, but evidently gave no clear early indication of his political allegiance: in the government list of September 1804 he was placed initially under ‘doubtful’ and subsequently transferred to ‘Pitt’, but appeared also under ‘doubtful Pitt’ and ‘doubtful Addington’, while in July 1805 he was classed as ‘doubtful Pitt’. He supported the ‘Talents’ as the government of the day, voted for the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806, and was described by Sir Simon John Newport* to Lord Grenville, 11 Dec., in support of his application for a commercial appointment for a relative, as being ‘sincerely’ attached to the premier.1

On the fall of the ‘Talents’, Holdsworth transferred his nominal support to their successors and in August 1807 applied through the Duke of Portland for the vacant governorship of Dartmouth Castle, which had been held by his grandfather and father from 1753 to 1787, and since then by another Arthur Holdsworth, probably a maternal relative. Portland impressed on the commander-in-chief that ‘the success of his application was of considerable importance to the public service’, and he was appointed over the heads of ‘numerous military claimants of long service’.2 While he is not known to have voted against government in the 1807 Parliament, he evidently showed no disposition to express his gratitude by supporting them in major clashes with opposition. The Whigs marked him ‘doubtful’ in March 1810, and his only known votes were against the reduction of sinecures, 17 May, parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810, and the abolition of the sinecure paymastership, 24 Feb. 1812.

He was listed among the supporters of government after the 1812 election, but voted with them in only one of the divisions of the ensuing Parliament for which full lists have been found, for the renewed suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817. At the same time, only four wayward votes are known: for reduction of the army estimates, 11 Mar., to end the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, to halve the Duke of Clarence’s allowance, 15 Apr., and against the salt duties, 29 Apr. 1818. Clearly an indifferent attender and not known to have spoken in the House before 1820, he was a defaulter ordered to attend on 25 Feb. 1819.3 He voted against Catholic relief, 11 and 24 May 1813, 9 May 1817, and against Christian missionary activity in India, 22 June 1813. In two published Letters on the present situation of the country in March 1816 he defended legislative protection of domestic agriculture and argued that a regulated ‘system’ of high prices was vital to national prosperity. Although he does not seem to have been actively involved in the concerns of the Dartmouth General Bank, his kinsman Henry Joseph Holdsworth was a founding partner, and in April 1818 he attacked the pending country bank-notes bill in a Letter on the importance of country banks. His two recorded votes in the 1818 Parliament were both with government, against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May, and for the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June 1819. In December he vacated his seat and returned Lord Liverpool’s cousin. A local observer commented enigmatically:

He tells me his business requires his attendance home, and I answered he ought to be the best judge of that; yet I feel confident, let what will be his real object, he will be sorry for it ere six months have passed. A man used to Parliament so many years will presently fancy himself lowered in the scale of society ... Were I to judge him by myself, when I was of similar age, I should say he has got some bit of nice goods in his neighbourhood which will not bear transplanting to London.4

Holdsworth remained in control of Dartmouth until the passage of the 1832 Reform Act, but evidently felt no urge to re-enter the House before 1829. An amateur inventor, his registered patents ranged from gasometers (1817) to marine boilers (1849).5 He died 13 May 1860.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Fortescue mss.
  • 2. PRO, Dacres Adams mss 10/33.
  • 3. CJ, lxxiv. 163.
  • 4. Devon RO, Bastard mss, Hawkins to Bastard, 1 Jan. 1820.
  • 5. Devon and Cornw. N. and Q., x. 235.