Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney

Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney

Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney (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 (1788) in Australia and Sydney (1785) in Canada are named in his honour.


Townshend was born at Frognal House, in Sidcup, Kent, and was educated at Clare College, Cambridge University. 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. 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 ["The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press 2004: article by Ian K. R. Archer] .

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. [ [ (1874) "Religious Origin of English Names" "The Illustrated Catholic Family Almanac" Catholic Publication Society (U.S.), James Sheehy, New York, p. 96] [ OCLC 09538024] ] [Wallace, Malcolm William (1915) "The Life of Sir Philip Sidney" Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, p. 4 [ OCLC 804242] ]

He opposed the Fox-North coalition and returned to political office with Pitt, serving as Home Secretary from 1783 to 1789. 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. 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. 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.

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.

Timeline of Sydney's life and career

* 1732, 24 Feb: Born
* 1754: Entered the House of Commons as MP for Whitchurch, for 29 years until 1783
* 1756: Clerk of the household of the Prince of Wales
* 1760, 19 May: married Elizabeth Powys (b.1736 d.1826), later served as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte
* 1761, 21 March: one of the clerks of the board of green cloth until he resigned in Dec. 1762
* 1765, 12 July: 4th Lord of the Treasury, under Lord John Cavendish, under William Dowdeswell (Chancellor of the Exchequer), under 2nd Marquess of Rockingham (1st Lord of the Treasury and Prime minister)
* 1766, 2 Aug: 3rd Lord of the Treasury, under Charles Townshend (Chancellor of the Exchequer), under Duke of Grafton (1st Lord of the Treasury)
* 1767, 23 Dec.: Paymaster of the Forces under William Pitt (The Elder), until 1768 (June)
* 1767, 23 Dec.: became a member of the Privy Council
* 1782, 30 March: Secretary at War under Rockingham's 2nd ministry, until 10 July 1782.
* 1782, 10 July: Leader of the House of Commons, under the Earl of Shelburne's ministry, until 2 April 1783.
* 1782, 10 Jul.: Home Secretary (and Colonial Secretary), under Shelburne ministry, until 2 April 1783
* 1783, March 6: Created Baron Sydney and entered the House of Lords.
* 1783, 23 Dec.: Again, Home Secretary (and Colonial Secretary) under William Pitt (The Younger), until 5 June 1789
* 1783: Leader of the House of Lords under William Pitt (The Younger), until 1789
* 1784: First President of the Board of Control over the British East India Company, until 1790
* 1784: 5 Mar.: President of the Committee on Trade and Foreign Plantations (equiv. to Secretary of State for Trade and Industry), until 1786 (Aug. 23)
* 1785: Sydney in (Cape Breton) Nova Scotia was named after him by Col J.F.W. DesBarres.
* 1788, 22 Jan.: Sydney in NSW, Australia named after him by Governor Arthur Philip
* 1789: Elevated to 1st Viscount Sydney of Chislehurst, Kent
* 1793: Deputy Lieutenant of Kent
* During some period Thomas Townshend was also a governor of the Charter House.
* 1800, 30 Jun.: Died at home, Frognal House


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