Labouchere, Henry, Baron Taunton (1798–1869), politician
by G. F. R. Barker, rev. H. C. G. Matthew

Labouchere, Henry, Baron Taunton (1798–1869), politician, was the elder son of [see under ] of Hylands, Essex, and Over Stowey, Somerset, and his wife, Dorothy Elizabeth (b. 1771), third daughter of ; he was born on 15 August 1798 at St Marylebone, Middlesex. The Huguenot family of Labouchère had left France at the time of the edict of Nantes, and established themselves in Holland. Pierre César Labouchère, a partner in the great mercantile firm of Hope, was the first of his family who settled in England. His son Henry was educated at Winchester College, and on 24 October 1816 matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a first class in Greats in 1820, and graduated BA 1821, and MA 1828. He was admitted a member of Lincoln's Inn on 30 April 1817, but was never called to the bar. In 1824 Labouchere travelled with Edward Stanley, J. E. Denison, and John Stuart Wortley (afterwards lords Derby, Ossington, and Wharncliffe) through Canada and the United States.

At a by-election in April 1826 Labouchere was returned as a whig for St Michael's and held the seat at the 1827 general election. He soon obtained a reputation as a competent Commons speaker. His first reported speech in the house was made during the debate on the civil government of the Canadas in May 1828 (Hansard 2, 316–18), when he drew attention to the abuses of the system of government, and declared that if ‘we cannot keep the Canadas with the good will of the inhabitants, we cannot keep them at all’. At the general election in August 1830 he was returned at the head of the poll for the borough of Taunton, and represented that constituency until his retirement from the House of Commons. In June 1832 he was appointed a lord of the Admiralty in Grey's administration, a post which he resigned on Peel's accession to office. He then became master of the Royal Mint in Melbourne's government in 1835 and on offering himself for re-election was opposed at the last minute by Disraeli, whom he defeated by 452 to 282 votes. He was sworn of the privy council on 6 May and was further appointed vice-president of the Board of Trade. He was under-secretary for war and the colonies from February to August 1839, when, resigning the vice-presidentship but retaining the mastership of the mint, he became president of the Board of Trade (29 August) in succession to Poulett Thomson, and was admitted to the cabinet. As president, he introduced measures lowering general rates of duty in the West Indies and North America. On Melbourne's resignation in September 1841, Labouchere retired from office with the rest of his colleagues, and on the formation of Russell's first administration in July 1846 became chief secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland (John William Ponsonby, earl of Bessborough). The authorization of ‘reproductive’ employment (that is, public works) by the famous ‘Labouchere letter’ of 5 October 1846 failed as a remedy for the widespread distress in Ireland; its terms were ‘so guarded as to be not clearly intelligible’ (Woodham-Smith, 130). He was reluctant to concede that fever accompanied famine. Soon after Bessborough's death Labouchere was succeeded as chief secretary by Sir W. M. Somerville, and was reappointed president of the Board of Trade (22 July 1847) in the place of Lord Clarendon, the new lord lieutenant. While holding this office Labouchere successfully—though with several false starts—carried through the House of Commons the bill by which the navigation laws were repealed (12 & 13 Vict. c. 29), in spite of the strong opposition of the shipping interest (which, with Gladstone's help, persuaded Labouchere to leave coastal trade unchanged). He was also instrumental in passing the Mercantile Marine Acts (13 & 14 Vict. c. 93; 14 & 15 Vict. c. 96) and the Seaman's Fund Act (14 & 15 Vict. c. 102). He retired with the rest of his colleagues on Russell's overthrow in February 1852, and was one of the whigs left out by Aberdeen when he formed his government at the end of 1852.

Though not an original member of Palmerston's first ministry, Labouchere was appointed secretary of state for the colonies (21 November 1855), in the place of Sir William Molesworth, after the refusal of the post by Lord Derby and Sidney Herbert, and continued to hold this office until Palmerston's resignation in February 1858. As colonial secretary he was efficient, high-principled, and even-tempered, and was willing to make allowances for the difficulties of his governors. He supported Sir George Grey's plans for the establishment of Natal as a separate colony and supported Thomas Gore Browne's attempts to arrange a compromise between settler interests and the Maori in New Zealand. On Palmerston's return to power Labouchere was created Baron Taunton, of Taunton in the county of Somerset, by letters patent dated 18 August 1859. He took his seat in the House of Lords for the first time on 24 January 1860, but though he took part in the debates from time to time, he held no further ministerial offices. He continued, however, to play an important part in public life as a commissioner. He had been one of the commissioners of the 1851 exhibition and had presided over the royal commission on the City of London in 1853–4. He was chairman of the schools inquiry commission of 1864–7, which generated twenty-one volumes of evidence on endowed, private, and proprietary schools which had not been investigated by the Newcastle and Clarendon commissions. The Taunton commission was one of the most thorough of all Victorian inquiries. He was a trustee of the British Museum from 1860.

Labouchere married, first, on 10 April 1840, his cousin Frances, the youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Baring, bt, with whom he had three daughters. She died on 25 May 1850, and on 13 July 1852 he married Lady Mary Matilda Georgiana (1823–1892), the youngest daughter of ; they had no children, and his nephew was his financial heir. In default of male issue the barony of Taunton became extinct upon his death, which occurred at his home, 27 Belgrave Square, London, on 13 July 1869. He was buried at Over Stowey church on 20 July. Though usually described as a whig, Labouchere was really a moderate Liberal, one of those who linked the whig party to what became the Liberal Party of the 1860s.

G. F. R. BARKER, rev. H. C. G. MATTHEW


GEC, Peerage · A. Thorold, Henry Labouchere (1913) · S. Palmer, Politics, shipping and the repeal of navigation laws (1990) · W. P. Morrell, British colonial policy in the mid-Victorian age (1969) · J. B. Conacher, The Aberdeen coalition, 1852–1855 (1968) · The Greville memoirs, 1814–1860, ed. L. Strachey and R. Fulford, 8 vols. (1938) · K. B. Nowlan, The politics of repeal (1965) · C. B. F. Woodham-Smith, The great hunger: Ireland, 1845–1849 (1962) · C. Kinealy, This great calamity: the Irish famine, 1845–52 (1994)


Bodl. RH, corresp. and papers · NA Canada, corresp. and papers relating to Canada · W. Sussex RO, Bessborough MSS, Labouchere MSS |  Bodl. Oxf., letters to Samuel Wilberforce · Borth. Inst., letters to Sir Charles Wood · Harrowby Manuscript Trust, Sandon Hall, Staffordshire, letters to Lord Harrowby · Lambton Park, Chester-le-Street, co. Durham, corresp. with first earl of Durham · NA Scot., letters to second Lord Panmure · National Library of South Africa, Cape Town, letters to Sir George Grey · NRA, priv. coll., corresp. with Lord Bessborough and others · TNA: PRO, corresp. with Lord John Russell, PRO 30/22 · Trinity Cam., letters to Lord Houghton · U. Durham L., corresp. with third Earl Grey · U. Nott. L., letters to J. E. Denison · U. Southampton L., corresp. with Lord Palmerston


B. Thorvaldsen, plaster bust, 1828, Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark · W. M. Tweedie, oils, exh. RA 1863, NPG [see illus.] · G. Hayter, group portrait, oils (The House of Commons, 1833), NPG · F. C. Lewis, stipple (after J. Slater; Grillion's Club series), BM, NPG · C. Silvy, carte-de-visite, NPG · C. W. Wass, stipple (as a child; after T. Lawrence), BM, NPG · photograph, NPG

Wealth at death  

under £140,000: probate, 9 Sept 1869, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Henry Labouchere (1798–1869): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/15838