Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney

Thomas Townshend, later to be the 1st Viscount Sydney, was born in February 1733 in Raynham, Norfolk.  His father, also Thomas Townshend, was the second son of the 2nd Viscount Townshend, who was known as Turnip Townshend because of his work in developing the idea of crop rotation, and thus the productivity of agricultural land.

The younger Thomas, known generally as Tommy, inherited the lordship of the manor of Chislehurst from his father on his death in 1780.  By then the family home was Frognal, the previous home, the moated manor of Scadbury, having been abandoned in 1752. Thomas, like his father and grandfather, entered politics, as MP for Whitchurch, a seat which he held for 29 years until 1783, when he was created Baron Sydney, and entered the House of Lords.

He originally proposed the title of Baron Sidney, in honour of a distant family member Algernon Sidney. However it has been suggested that he was worried that other members of the Sidney family may wish to use the name. He considered instead Sydenham, the name of a village near his home in Kent, before settling on Sydney.

Tommy was an influential politician during a very turbulent time.  He held a number of important offices in various governments, including Secretary at War, Leader of the House of Commons, Home Secretary, and later, Leader of the House of Lords. Initially aligned with his great uncle, the Duke of Newcastle, Tommy joined Pitt in opposition to Grenville. During the first Rockingham ministry, he served as a lord of the treasury and continued in that office in the Chatham administration until December 1767, when he became a member of the Privy Council and joint paymaster general.

Tommy Townshend remained an active opponent of the North ministry in the House of Commons, and frequently spoke out against the war with America. He briefly took office as secretary of war in the second Rockingham ministry, between March and July 1782, and when Shelburne became prime minister in July 1782, Townshend succeeded him as secretary of state for the Home Office. He next became leader of the House of Commons (1782-1783) and tirelessly threw his support in favor of ending the war with America. The Fox-North coalition forced him into opposition, but he quickly returned to office with Pitt, serving as home secretary from 1783 to 1789. He advanced in the peerage from baron to 1st Viscount Sydney of St. Leonards in 1789, and resigned from office that same year because of a disagreement with Pitt over an India Bill and a slave regulation Bill.

As Home Secretary, Townshend was responsible for plans to send convicts to Botany Bay in Australia.  He appointed Arthur Phillip as Governor, who in turn, after Townshend had been elevated to the peerage, honoured his patron by naming Sydney Cove after him.  The settlement, and now city, of Sydney took its name from the Cove.  Townshend was also involved in the development of Canada, including the settlement of rebels there who had fled from America.  The city of Sydney, Nova Scotia, is named after him, as is Sydney Street in Cornwall, Ontario.

In the angle of the north and east walls of the Scadbury Chapel at St Nicholas Church in Chislehurst, above the Walsingham Tomb, is the white marble Sydney Monument which is really a lengthy biography not only of the 1st Viscount but also of his family.  You can read it in comfort from pages 421 to 422 in Webb’s History of Chislehurst, and a photograph of the main panel is reproduced below.

Tommy had married Elizabeth Powys in 1760.  He died in June 1800, and she died in May 1826. Their son John Thomas succeeded as 2nd Viscount Sydney and Lord of the Manor of Chislehurst.

Sources: Webb’s History; Andrew Tink’s ‘Lord Sydney’; The Times Archive.

Note: Andrew Tink’s biography of Tommy Townshend is a sympathetic telling of his life and achievements. The book was published in Australia in December 2011, and is not generally available in the UK. We have obtained a few copies for sale to interested members.  

Australia’s National Centre for Biography has published a potted biography of Lord Sydney in its online series ‘People Australia’.

A link to Lord Sydney’s entry is included here.