Cowper, William Francis (DNB01)

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COWPER (afterwards COWPER-TEMPLE), WILLIAM FRANCIS, BARON Mount-Temple (1811–1888), born at Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire, on 13 Dec. 1811, was second son of Peter, fifth Earl Cowper (1778–1837), and his wife, Emily Mary, sister of William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne [q. v.], the prime minister. His elder brother, George Augustus Frederick (1806-1856), succeeded as sixth Earl Cowper, and was father of the present earl. The fifth earl died on 27 June 1837, and on 11 Dec. 1839 his widow married as her second husband Henry John Temple, third viscount Palmerston [q. v.]; her salon as well as her wit and charm materially aided Palmerston in his career; she died on 11 Sept. 1869.

Her son, William Francis, was educated at Eton, where he afterwards remarked that he learnt no English whatever, and in 1827 entered as a cornet the royal horse guards; he was promoted to be lieutenant in 1832, captain (unattached) in 1835, and brevet major in 1852. In 1835 he became private secretary to his uncle, Lord Melbourne, then prime minister, and was returned to parliament as member for Hertford, which he continued to represent until 1863. In 1841 he was appointed a junior lord of the treasury, and when the whigs returned to office in 1846 he became a lord of the admiralty. He held this post until March 1852, and again from December 1852 to February 1855, when he was made under-secretary for home affairs. Six months later he was appointed president of the board of health and sworn of the privy council; from February 1857 to 1858 he combined with this office the newly created vice-presidency of the committee of council on education. In 1858 he passed the Medical Practitioners Act establishing the Medical Council, and his speech explaining its provisions was published in the same year. In August 1859 Cowper became vice-president of the board of trade, and in February 1860 .commissioner of works, an office he continued to hold until 1866.

In this capacity Cowper did much useful work; in 1862 he carried the Thames Embankment Bill, and in 1863 the Courts of Justice Building Bill. He initiated the practice of distributing for charitable purposes flowers from the London parks, and was keenly interested in the efforts to check enclosures. In 1866 he carried the Metropolitan Commons Act, the first measure which empowered a local authority to undertake the care and management of a common as an open space, and in February 1867 he became first president of the Commons Preservation Society, which had been started in 1865. In 1869, as chairman of the select committee on the enclosure acts, he was instrumental in preserving many rural commons, and to his action in 1871 was largely due the failure of the attempt to enclose Epping Forest. Cowper also waged war with many of his neighbours in the New Forest over the same question. His action may have been stimulated by his friend John Ruskin [q. v. Suppl.], and in 1871 Cowper and (Sir) Thomas Dyke Acland [q. v. Suppl.] were the original trustees of Ruskin's guild of St. George.

In 1866 Cowper ceased to be first commissioner of works when the conservatives under Derby returned to power, and he was not included in Gladstone's first administration in 1868. His mother died on 11 Sept. 1869, and Cowper inherited under Palmerston's will many of his estates in Ireland and Hampshire, including Broadlands, near Romsey. By royal license, dated 17 Nov. 1869, he assumed the name Temple in addition to Cowper, and he represented South Hampshire from 1868 till his elevation to the peerage.

In the parliament of 1868 to 1874 Cowper-Temple took an important part in the debates on education. As first vice-president of the committee he had interested himself in the subject, and an address he delivered at Liverpool in October 1858 was published in the same year by the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. After the second reading of Forster s Education Bill in 1870 Cowper-Temple put down an amendment to exclude from all rate-built schools every catechism and formulary distinctive of denominational creed. The government accepted the amendment, and it became famous as the Cowper-Temple clause. On 25 May 1880 he was, on Gladstone's recommendation, created Baron Mount Temple of Mount Temple, co. Sligo. During his later years he confined himself mainly to philanthropic activity, advocating such measures as the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1887. He died at Broadlands on 16 Oct. 1888, and was buried at Romsey on the 20th.

Mount Temple married, first, on 27 June 1843, Harriett Alicia, daughter of Daniel Gurney of North Runcton, Norfolk; she died on 28 Aug. following, and on 21 Nov. 1848 he married Georgiana, daughter of Vice-admiral John Richard Delap Tollemache. By neither wife had he any issue; the title became extinct on his death, and the property he inherited from Lord Palrnerston passed to his nephew, the Right Hon. Evelyn Ashley.

[Burke's and G. E. C[okayne]'s Peerages; The Times, 17, 18, 22, and 23 Oct. 1888; Men of the Time, fed. 1887; Ann. Register, 1870, pp. 63, 66; Ashley's Life of Palmerston; Collingwood's Life of Ruskin; Hodder's Life and Work of the seventh Earl Shaftesbury, ii. 41, 79, 226, iii. 185, 188; Brit. Museum Cat.]

A. F. P.