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Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney

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Title: Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney  
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Subject: Frederick North, Lord North, William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, Charles James Fox, Winston Churchill, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham
Collection: 1733 Births, 1800 Deaths, Alumni of Clare College, Cambridge, British Mps 1754–61, British Mps 1761–68, British Mps 1768–74, British Mps 1774–80, British Mps 1780–84, Leaders of the House of Commons, Leaders of the House of Lords, Members of the Parliament of Great Britain for English Constituencies, Members of the Privy Council of Great Britain, Paymasters of the Forces, People from Sidcup, Secretaries of State for the Home Department, Townshend Family, Townshend Family (English Aristocracy), Viscounts in the Peerage of Great Britain
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Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney

The Right Honourable
The Viscount Sydney
Home Secretary
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 William Pitt the Younger
Preceded by The Earl Temple
Succeeded by The Lord Grenville
President of the Committee on Trade and Foreign Plantations
In office
5 March 1784 – 23 August 1786
Monarch George III
Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger
Preceded by The Lord Grantham (First Lord of Trade)
Succeeded by The Earl of Liverpool (President of the Board of Trade)
Personal details
Born (1733-02-24)24 February 1733
Raynham, Norfolk
Died 30 June 1800(1800-06-30) (aged 67)
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 1733 – 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 were named in his honour, in 1785 and 1788 respectively.


  • Background and education 1
  • Political career 2
  • Family 3
  • Honours 4
  • Timeline of Sydney's life and career 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7

Background and education

Townshend was born at Raynham, Norfolk, 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 Rockingham ministry and continued in that office in the Pitt (then 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.

Among the matters requiring attention that he inherited from Shelburne was a scheme for attacking the Spanish possessions in South America. A memorandum which Shelburne wrote to him at this time listing matters requiring his urgent attention said: "Preparations and Plans for W. India [Spanish America]. Expeditions require to be set forward—Major Dalrymple has a Plan against the Spanish Settlements".[3] For assistance in planning the expedition, Townshend turned to Captain Arthur Phillip.[4] The plan drawn up by Phillip and approved by Townshend in September 1782 was for a squadron of three ships of the line and a frigate to mount a raid on Buenos Aires and Monte Video, from there to proceed to the coasts of Chile, Peru and Mexico to maraud, and ultimately to cross the Pacific to join the British East Indian squadron for an attack on Manila, the capital of the Spanish Philippines.[5] The expedition sailed on 16 January 1783, under the command of Commodore Sir Robert Kingsmill.[6] Phillip was given command of one of the ships of the line, the 64-gun HMS Europa, or Europe.[7] Shortly after sailing an armistice was concluded between Great Britain and Spain. Phillip took the Europe to India to join the British East Indian squadron, but after his return to England in April 1784, remained in close contact with Townshend (now Lord Sydney) and the Home Office Under Secretary, Evan Nepean. From October 1784 to September 1786 he was employed by Nepean, who was in charge of the Secret Service relating to the Bourbon Powers, France and Spain, to spy on the French naval arsenals at Toulon and other ports.[8]

Townshend was created Baron Sydney of Chislehurst and entered the House of Lords on 6 March 1783.[9] He originally proposed his title be Baron Sidney, in honour of his kinsman, the renowned opponent of royal tyranny, Algernon Sidney, however he was worried that other members of his family might have claims on it and then suggested Sydenham, the name of a village near his home in Kent, before settling on Sydney.[10] He opposed the Fox-North coalition and returned to political office with Pitt, serving as Home Secretary from 1783 to 1789.

In Canada, Sydney, Nova Scotia 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 Townshend was created Viscount Sydney.

Although the colonisation of New South Wales was just one among many responsibilities of the Secretary of State, Sydney was recognised as the "Originator of the Plan of Colonization for New South Wales" by David Collins, who dedicated his Account of the English Colony in New South Wales with these words. Collins wrote that Sydney's "benevolent Mind" had led him "to conceive this Method of redeeming many Lives that might be forfeit to the offended Laws; but which, being preserved under salutary Regulations, might afterward become useful to Society"; and to Sydney's "Patriotism the Plan presented a Prospect of commercial and political Advantage". In choosing the name "Sydney" when he was raised to the peerage in 1783, Thomas Townshend demonstrated his pride in descent from the Sidney family, who had been eminent opponents of Stuart absolutism. Sydney thought of himself as a Whig, by which he meant he was opposed to any increase in the power and authority of the Royal prerogative. The name "Sydney" (with special reference to Algernon Sydney, d.1683) was a synonym in the eighteenth century political lexicon for opposition to tyranny and absolutism. It is probable that Sydney was aware of his distinguished ancestor, Algernon Sidney's characterisation of the founders of imperial Rome: “Thus we find a few Men assembling together upon the Banks of the Tiber, resolv’d to build a City, and set up a Government among themselves”.[11] Sydney was responsible for giving the new colony a constitution and judicial system suitable for a colony of free citizens rather than a prison.[12] Phillip's second commission of 2 April 1787 made him governor of a colony with a civil government, not of a penal settlement with a military government. The Governor's commission, together with the colony's charter of justice establishing the legal regime, brought into existence in New South Wales a colony whose inhabitants enjoyed all the rights and duties of English law, where slavery was illegal.[13]

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 of 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. In a parallel situation for the Royal Townships of the yet-to-formed colony of Upper Canada the thoughfares of the United Empire Loyalist settlement of Cornwall, Ontario were, in 1784, named Pitt Street and Sydney Street in honour of the prime minister and his foreign secretary.

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 be 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.


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.


In the years preceding the Australian Bicentenary, in 1986 Viscount Sydney was honoured on a postage stamp depicting his portrait that was issued by Australia Post.[14] [2]

Timeline of Sydney's life and career


  1. ^ "Townshend, Thomas (TWNT750T)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press 2004: article by Ian K. R. Archer
  3. ^ Brotherton Library (Leeds), Sydney Papers, MS R8, Shelburne to Townshend, c. July 1782. Dalrymple had distingued himself at the Battle of San Fernando de Omoa in 1779.
  4. ^ Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, Melbourne, OUP, 1987, p.114.
  5. ^ Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, His Voyaging, Melbourne, OUP, p.114.
  6. ^ Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, His Voyaging, Melbourne, OUP, 1987, p.114.
  7. ^ Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, His Voyaging, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1987, p.114.
  8. ^ Alan Frost, Arthur Phillip, His Voyaging, Melbourne, OUP, 1987, pp.129–133.
  9. ^ Tink, Andrew (2011) Lord Sydney: The Life and Times of Tommy Townshend, Australian Scholarly Publishing page 136
  10. ^ Tink, Andrew (2011) Lord Sydney: The Life and Times of Tommy Townshend, Australian Scholarly Publishing pages 135–6
  11. ^ Algernon Sidney, Discourses concerning Government, London, 1704 (reprinted 1783), p.66; quoted in Alan Atkinson, The Europeans in Australia: A History, Melbourne, Oxford U.P., Vol.1, 1997, p.206.
  12. ^ Alan Atkinson, “The first plans for governing New South Wales, 1786–87”, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 24, no. 94, April 1990, pp.22–40.
  13. ^ Sir Victor Windeyer, "A Birthright and Inheritance", Tasmanian University Law Review, vol.1, no.5, 1962. A Birthright and Inheritance
  14. ^ "Australian Bicentennial: Issue 3, Part 2: The Decision to Settle". 1986 Issues. Commemorative Definitive Decimal Stamps. 1986. Retrieved 29 April 2011. 


  • Andrew Tink – papers concerning Viscount Sydney, compiled 2005–2006. Mitchell Library manuscripts, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.
  • Andrew Tink – Lord Sydney: The Life and Times of Tommy Townshend, published by Australian Scholarly Publishing: 2011: ISBN 978-1-921875-43-4
  • Leigh Rayment's Peerage Pages
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Charles Wallop
Lord Bertie
Member of Parliament for Whitchurch
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
With: George Cooke
Succeeded by
Richard Rigby
Preceded by
Charles Jenkinson
Secretary at War
Succeeded by
Sir George Yonge
Preceded by
The Earl of Shelburne
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Lord North
Preceded by
Charles James Fox
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Lord North
Charles James Fox
Preceded by
The Earl Temple
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
The Lord Grenville
Preceded by
The Duke of Portland
Leader of the House of Lords
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
Succeeded by
The Lord Hawkesbury
as President of the Board of Trade
New office President of the Board of Control
Succeeded by
The Lord Grenville
Legal offices
Preceded by
The Lord Grantley
Justice in Eyre
south of the Trent

Succeeded by
Thomas Grenville
Peerage of Great Britain
New creation Viscount Sydney
Succeeded by
John Townshend
Baron Sydney
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