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The Right Honourable
 The Viscount Sydney 
PC


In office
10 July 1782 – 2 April 1783
Monarch George III
Prime Minister The Earl of Shelburne
Preceded by The Earl of Shelburne
Succeeded by Lord North
In office
23 December 1783 – 5 June 1789
Monarch George III
Prime Minister Hon. William Pitt the Younger
Preceded by The Earl Temple
Succeeded by The Lord Grenville

Born 24 February 1732(1732-02-24)
Sidcup, Kent
Died 30 June 1800 (aged 68)
Sidcup, Kent
Nationality British
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Powys (1736-1826)
Alma mater Clare College, Cambridge

Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney PC (24 February 1732 – 30 June 1800), was a British politician who held several important Cabinet posts in the second half of the 18th century. His most enduring legacy is probably that the cities of Sydney in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Sydney in New South Wales, Australia are named in his honour, in 1785 and 1788 respectively.

Contents

Background and education

Townshend was born at Frognal House, in Sidcup, Kent, the son of the Hon. Thomas Townshend, second son of Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend. His mother was Albinia, daughter of John Selwyn. He was educated at Clare College, Cambridge.[1]

Political career

Townshend was elected to the House of Commons in 1754 as Whig member for Whitchurch and held that seat till his elevation to the peerage in 1783. He initially aligned himself with his great uncle the Duke of Newcastle but later joined William Pitt the Elder in opposition to George Grenville. Townshend was a Lord of the Treasury in the first Rockingham ministry and continued in that office in the Pitt (now Lord Chatham) administration until December 1767, when he became a member of the Privy Council and joint-Paymaster of the Forces. During the ministry of Lord Chatham and the Duke of Grafton he supported the position his cousin Charles Townshend was in with regard to the American revenue program. Townshend was forced out of office in June, 1768 by Grafton who wanted Rigby as Paymaster of the Forces to gain favour with the Duke of Bedford[2].

Townshend remained in opposition until the end of Lord North's ministry and spoke frequently in the House of Commons against the American war. Although he had no close party connection, he was inclined toward the Chathamites. He took office again as secretary at war in the second Rockingham ministry. When Lord Shelburne became Prime Minister in July 1782, Townshend succeeded him as Home Secretary and became Leader of the House of Commons. He was created Baron Sydney and entered the House of Lords in 1783. He took the title Sydney to commemorate his descent from Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester, who traced his descent from a Surrey yeoman, John de Sydenie. The name Sydney derives from a village in Normandy called Saint-Denis.[3][4]

He opposed the Fox-North coalition and returned to political office with Pitt, serving as Home Secretary from 1783 to 1789. In Canada, Sydney on Cape Breton Island (now the province of Nova Scotia), was founded by British Col. Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres in 1785, and named in honour of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney (Home Secretary in the British cabinet at the time). Lord Sydney appointed Col. DesBarres governor of the new colony of Cape Breton Island.

Following the loss of the North American colonies, Sydney, as Home Secretary in the Pitt Government, was given responsibility for devising a plan to settle convicts at Botany Bay. His choice of Arthur Phillip as Governor was inspired and Phillip's leadership was instrumental in ensuring the penal colony survived the early years of struggle and famine. On 26 January 1788, Phillip named Sydney Cove in honour of Sydney and the settlement became known as Sydney Town. In 1789 he was created Viscount Sydney.

Sydney's reputation has suffered at the hands of the nationalist school of Australian historians, such as Manning Clark. In his influential A History of Australia (Melbourne University Press 1961) Clark wrote: "Mr Thomas Townshend, commonly denominated Tommy Townshend, owed his political career to a very independent fortune and a considerable parliamentary interest, which contributed to his personal no less than his political elevation, for his abilities, though respectable, scarcely rose above mediocrity." Other writers have portrayed Sydney as a cruel monster for dispatching the unfortunate convicts to the far side of the earth.

Frognal House by George Shepherd appears in Thomas Ireland's History of Kent published c. 1830.

In fact, Sydney was, by the standards of his time, an enlightened and progressive politician. He did not support the American Revolution but was a strong opponent against the war which he thought was pointless and needlessly prolonged during Lord North's ministry. As Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary he was heavily involved in the development of Canada and the settling of fleeing refugees from the intolerant rebels. The city of Sydney in Nova Scotia is named after him in memory of his efforts on behalf of the loyalist settlers of Canada.

More recently Sydney's reputation has been revisited by Australian historians. Alan Atkinson wrote in The Europeans in Australia (Oxford University Press, 1997): "Townshend was an anomaly in the British Cabinet, and his ideas were in some ways old-fashioned... He had long been interested in the way in which the empire might be a medium for British liberties, traditionally understood." He took the view that convicts should be given the chance to redeem themselves through self-government in penal colonies such as New South Wales. Governor Phillip's well-known statement that "There will no slavery in a new country and hence no slaves" is an accurate reflection of Sydney's philosophy. Sydney's papers are held by the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.

Family

Lord Sydney married Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Powys, MP, in 1760. He died in June 1800, aged 67, and was succeeded in his titles by his son, John. The Viscountess Sydney died in May 1826, aged 90.

Honours

In 1986 he was honoured on a postage stamp depicting his portrait issued by Australia Post [1].

Timeline of Sydney's life and career

Notes

  1. ^ Townshend, Thomas in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press 2004: article by Ian K. R. Archer
  3. ^ (1874) "Religious Origin of English Names The Illustrated Catholic Family Almanac Catholic Publication Society (U.S.), James Sheehy, New York, p. 96 OCLC 09538024
  4. ^ Wallace, Malcolm William (1915) The Life of Sir Philip Sidney Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, p. 4 OCLC 804242

References

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles Wallop
Lord Bertie
Member of Parliament for Whitchurch
1754 – 1783
With: William Powlett 1754–1757
George Jennings 1757–1768
Henry Wallop 1768–1774
The Viscount Midleton 1774–1783
Succeeded by
The Viscount Midleton
William Selwyn
Political offices
Preceded by
Lord North
George Cooke
Paymaster of the Forces
1767 – 1768
With: George Cooke
Succeeded by
Richard Rigby
Preceded by
Charles Jenkinson
Secretary at War
1782
Succeeded by
Sir George Yonge
Preceded by
The Earl of Shelburne
Home Secretary
1782 – 1783
Succeeded by
Lord North
Preceded by
Charles James Fox
Leader of the House of Commons
1782 – 1783
Succeeded by
Lord North
Charles James Fox
Preceded by
The Earl Temple
Home Secretary
1783 – 1789
Succeeded by
The Lord Grenville
Preceded by
The Duke of Portland
Leader of the House of Lords
1783 – 1789
Succeeded by
The Duke of Leeds
Preceded by
The Lord Grantham
as First Lord of Trade
President of the Committee on Trade and Foreign Plantations
1784 – 1786
Succeeded by
The Lord Hawkesbury
as President of the Board of Trade
New office President of the Board of Control
1784 – 1790
Succeeded by
The Lord Grenville
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Viscount Sydney
1789 – 1800
Succeeded by
John Townshend
Baron Sydney
1783 – 1800
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