William Huskisson

William Huskisson

William Huskisson (11 March 1770 – 15 September 1830), was a British statesman, financier, and Member of Parliament for several constituencies, including Liverpool. He is best known today, however, as the world's first widely-reported railway casualty. He was run over by George Stephenson's locomotive engine "Rocket".


thumb|The_statue_pictured_is_not_of_William_Huskisson_but,_is_in_fact_the_depiction_of_a_Roman_in_a_Toga,_John Gibson a descendant of William's half-brother, Thomas Huskisson. The statue is in Pimlico Gardens, London.William Huskisson was born at Birtsmorton Court, Worcestershire. In 1783, he was sent to Paris to live with his maternal great-uncle Dr. Richard Gem, who was physician to the British embassy there. He remained in Paris until 1792, and his experience as an eyewitness to the prelude and beginning of the French Revolution gave him a life-long interest in politics.

Huskisson first came to public notice while still in Paris. As a supporter of the moderate party, he became a member of the "Club of 1789," which favoured making France into a constitutional monarchy. On 29 August 1790, he delivered a speech entitled "Sur les Assignats", about the issue of assignats by the French government. This speech gave him a reputation as an expert in finance.

From 1790 to 1792, the Marquess of Stafford was the British ambassador to Paris. Huskisson became a protégé of the Marquess, and returned to London with him.

Once in London, Huskisson quickly gained an additional two powerful political patrons: Henry Dundas, the Home Secretary, and William Pitt the Younger, the Prime Minister. Because of Huskisson's fluency in French, Dundas appointed him in January 1793 to oversee the execution of the Aliens Act, which mostly dealt with French refugees.

In the discharge of his delicate duties, he manifested such ability that in 1795 he was appointed Under-Secretary at War (the Secretary at War's deputy). In the following year he entered parliament as member for Morpeth, but for a considerable period he took scarcely any part in the debates. In 1800 he inherited a fortune from Dr Gem. On the retirement of Pitt in 1801 he resigned office, and after contesting Dover unsuccessfully he withdrew for a time into private life. Having in 1804 been chosen to represent Liskeard, he was on the restoration of the Pitt ministry appointed secretary of the treasury, holding office till the dissolution of the ministry after the death of Pitt in January 1806.

After being elected for Harwich in 1807, he accepted the same office under the Duke of Portland, but he withdrew from the ministry along with Canning in 1809. In the following year he published a pamphlet on the currency system, which confirmed his reputation as the ablest financier of his time; but his free-trade principles did not accord with those of his party. In 1812 he was returned for Chichester. When in 1814 he re-entered the public service, it was only as First Commissioner of Woods and Forests, but his influence was from this time very great in the commercial and financial legislation of the country. He took a prominent part in the corn-law debates of 1814 and 1815; and in 1819 he presented a memorandum to Lord Liverpool advocating a large reduction in the unfunded debt, and explaining a method for the resumption of cash payments, which was embodied in the act passed the same year. In 1821 he was a member of the committee appointed to inquire into the causes of the agricultural distress then prevailing, and the proposed relaxation of the corn laws embodied in the report was understood to have been chiefly due to his strenuous advocacy.

In 1823 he was appointed president of the board of trade and treasurer of the navy, and shortly afterwards he received a seat in the cabinet. In the same year he was returned for Liverpool as successor to Canning, and as the only man who could reconcile the Tory merchants to a free trade policy. Among the more important legislative changes with which he was principally connected were a reform of the Navigation Acts, admitting other nations to a full equality and reciprocity of shipping duties; the repeal of the labor laws; the introduction of a new sinking fund; the reduction of the duties on manufactures and on the importation of foreign goods, and the repeal of the quarantine duties. In accordance with his suggestion Canning in 1827 introduced a measure on the corn laws proposing the adoption of a sliding scale to regulate the amount of duty. A misapprehension between Huskisson and the Duke of Wellington led to the duke proposing an amendment, the success of which caused the abandonment of the measure by the government.

After the death of Canning in the same year Huskisson accepted the secretaryship of the colonies under Lord Goderich, an office which he continued to hold in the new cabinet formed by the Duke of Wellington in the following year. After succeeding with great difficulty in inducing the cabinet to agree to a compromise on the corn laws, Huskisson finally resigned office in May 1828 on account of a difference with his colleagues in regard to the disfranchisement of East Retford. He was followed out of the government by other Tories who are usually described as Canningites including Lord Palmerston, Charles Grant, Lord Dudley, and Lord Melbourne.


Huskisson was the first widely-reported person in history to be fatally injured in a railway accident. (The earlier deaths were due to boiler explosions of Brunton's Mechanical Traveller and Locomotion No 1.)

While attending the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, Huskisson rode down the line in the same train as the Duke of Wellington. At Parkside, close to Newton-le-Willows in Lancashire, the train stopped to observe a cavalcade on the adjacent line. Several members of the Duke's party stepped onto the trackside to observe more closely. Huskisson went forward to greet the Duke. As Huskisson was exiting his car, the locomotive "Rocket" approached on the parallel track. Huskisson was unable to get out of the engine's way in time, and his left leg was crushed by it.

After the accident, the wounded Huskisson was taken by a train (driven by George Stephenson himself) to Eccles, where he died a few hours later. The monument where his remains are buried is the centrepiece of St James Cemetery, [http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/people/huskisso.htm] Liverpool.

Family history

William Huskisson was the son of William and Elizabeth Huskisson of Staffordshire stock. He was one of four brothers. After their mother Elizabeth died, their father William eventually remarried and had further children by his second wife.

On 6 April 1799, William Huskisson married Emily Milbanke, the youngest daughter of Admiral Mark Milbanke, the commander-in-chief at Portsmouth. Emily Huskisson survived her husband and remained a widow until her death in April 1856. They had no children.

William Huskisson's half-brother Thomas Huskisson was a captain of the Royal Navy, an eyewitness of Trafalgar, and was appointed as the Paymaster of the Navy. His other half-brother George Huskisson was an officer in the Royal Marines before taking up his appointment as Collector of Customs at Saint Vincent.

Major offices


ee also

* List of pre-1950 rail accidents
* Huskisson, New South Wales was named after William Huskisson.



* Brady, Alexander , "William Huskisson and liberal reform; an essay on the changes in economic policy in the twenties of the nineteenth century", Oxford, OUP, 1928. (2nd ed. London, Cass, 1967).
* Fay, C. R., "Huskisson and His Age". London : Longmans Green, 1951.
* "The Last Journey of William Huskisson: The Day the Railway Came of Age"; Simon Garfield (UK 2002); ISBN 0-571-21048-1

External links

* [http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/people/huskisso.htm William Huskisson page] on the [http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/peelhome.htm Peel Web] .
* The [http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp02340 National Portrait Gallery] has two portraits of William Huskisson.
* [http://www.freewebs.com/notwol2/huskisson.htm A Piece of Lowton History] has information about Huskisson's death and memorial.

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