Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Caine, William Sproston

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CAINE, WILLIAM SPROSTON (1842–1903), politician and temperance advocate, born at Egremont, Wallasey, Cheshire, on 26 March 1842, was eldest surviving son of Nathaniel Caine, J.P. (d. 1877), metal merchant, by his wife Hannah (d. 1861), daughter of William Eushton of Liverpool. Educated privately at Gibson's school, Egremont, and the Rev. Richard Wall's school at Birkenhead, Caine in 1861 entered his father's business at Egremont, and in 1864 he was taken into partnership. He removed to Liverpool in 1871. Public affairs soon occupied much of his attention, and he retired from the firm in 1878. He retained, however, the directorship of the Hodbarrow Mining Co., Ltd., Millom, and he secured the controlling interest in the Shaw's Brow Iron Co., Liverpool, leaving the management of the concern in the hands of his partner, Arthur S. Cox. The collapse of this business in 1893 involved Caine in heavy liabilities, which he honourably discharged. Thenceforth his resources were largely devoted to paying off the mortgage which he raised to meet the firm's losses.

Brought up as a baptist under the influence of Hugh Stowell Brown [q. v. Suppl. I], he developed early a bent for and philanthropic work. In later life in London he was from 1884 to 1903 the unprofessional pastor of a mission church known as the Wheatsheaf in Stockwell, S.W. But the temperance movement mainly absorbed him, and at Liverpool he found his first scope for propagandist zeal. As president of the Liverpool Temperance and Band of Hope Union, he formed and became chairman of a 'Popular Control and License Reform Association,' with a monthly organ, the 'Liverpool Social Reformer.' In 1873 he was elected vice-president of the United Kingdom Alliance. He was also president of the Baptist Total Abstinence Society, of the Congregational Temperance Society, of the British Temperance League, and of the National Temperance Federation.

In 1873 Caine first sought election to parliament, mainly with a view to enforcing his temperance views. He was in general agreement with the radical wing of the liberal party, and unsuccessfully contested Liverpool in the liberal interest in both that and the next year. In 1880 he was returned as radical member for Scarborough, and without delay he urged on the House of Commons his advanced temperance opinions. In a maiden speech on 18 June 1880 he supported the successful motion of his friend, Sir Wilfrid Lawson [q. v. Suppl. II], in favour of local option. Identifying himself with the extreme radical section of the party, he seconded Henry Labouchere's motion of dissent from Gladstone's proposal for a national monument to Lord Beaconsfield (12 May 1881). His activity was officially recognised by Gladstone on 17 Nov. 1884 by his appointment as civil lord of the admiralty in succession to Sir Thomas (afterwards Lord) Brassey. Although he retained his seat at the necessary by-election, he failed in an attempt at the general election of Nov. 1885 to capture the Tottenham division of Middlesex for the liberals. He soon however returned to the house as M.P. for Barrow-in-Furness at a by-election on 6 April following.

Caine declined to accept Gladstone's home rule policy, and took an active part in organising under Mr. Chamberlain's direction the dissentient liberals into a new party of 'liberal unionists.' In the division on the second reading of Gladstone's home rule bill (7 June) Caine and Henry Robert Brand, afterwards second Viscount Hampden [q. v. Suppl. II], acted as tellers for the liberal unionists, who, numbering 93, voted with the conservatives and defeated the measure. The home rulers gave the new party the sobriquet of the 'Brand of Caine.' At the ensuing general election Caine was again returned for Barrow, and was appointed chief liberal unionist whip. But Caine's radical convictions and extreme temperance views, which were unaltered, soon rendered the alliance with the conservatives distasteful. Although the scheme of G. J. Goschen [q. v. Suppl. II] in 1890 for compensating holders of extinguished public-house licences was modified under pressure from Caine, he marked his dislike of it not only by resigning his post of whip but by vacating his seat in the house. On seeking re-election at Barrow as an independent liberal he was defeated. Within the same year he rejoined the liberal fold, and in 1892 re-entered the house for East Bradford as a Gladstonian liberal. He voted for Gladstone's amended home rule bill of 1893. At the general election of 1895 he lost his seat, and only re-entered the house in 1900 as liberal member for Camborne. In the interval he sat on Lord Peel's royal commission on the liquor licensing laws (1896-9), and signed the minority report and the addendum in favour of direct local veto.

The native population of India also engaged Caine's sympathies, and he criticised severely British methods of government, especially the encouragement for fiscal purposes of the liquor and opium trade. In 1890 he visited India as a delegate to the Indian National Congress at Calcutta, and contributed to the 'Pall Mall Gazette' a series of letters called 'Young India' which ably advocated large measures of self-government. He sat on the royal commission of 1895-6 on the administration of Indian expenditure, and signed the minority report recommending a diminution of civil and military expenditure. Caine's activities exhausted his strength. A voyage to South America in 1902 failed to restore his health, and he died of heart failure on 17 March 1903 at 42 Grosvenor Road, S.W. He was buried in Woking cemetery.

Caine was a puritan in politics and religion, whose moral courage and philanthropic instincts were superior to his intellectual gifts. Abrupt in manner, downright in speech, but of imperturbable good-humour, he was dubbed by political associates the 'genial ruffian.' Caine married on 24 March 1868 Alice, eldest daughter of Hugh Stowell Brown [q. v. Suppl. I], by whom he had issue two sons and three daughters. The eldest daughter, Hannah Rushton, married in 1893 Mr. J. Herbert Roberts, M.P. The youngest daughter, Ruth, is wife of Mr. J. Herbert Lewis, M.P.

Caine's chief published works included:

  1. 'Tables for use in the Tin Plate Trade,' 1877.
  2. 'Local Option,' 1885.
  3. 'Hugh Stowell Brown: a Memorial Volume,' 1887.
  4. 'A Trip round the World in 1887-8,' 1888.
  5. 'Picturesque India, a Handbook for European Travellers,' 1891.

[W. S. Caine: a memoir by John Newton (with photographs); The Times, 18 March 1903, and Lit. Suppl., 19 April 1907; Annual Reg., 1886, 1889, 1890; Athenæum, 13 April 1907; P. W. Clayden, England under the Coalition, 1892; G. W. E. Russell, Sir Wilfrid Lawson, Bart., 1909.]

G. S. W.