Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/De Worms, Henry

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DE WORMS, HENRY, first Baron Pirbright (1840–1903), politician, born in London on 20 Oct. 1840, was third and youngest child of Baron Solomon Benedict de Worms (1801–82), by his wife Henrietta, eldest daughter of Samuel Moses Samuel of London. The father, Solomon de Worms, was son of Benedict de Worms of Frankfort-on-the-Maine, by his wife Jeanette, eldest daughter of Meyer Amschel Rothschild of the same city, and sister of Nathan Meyer Rothschild [q. v.], the first of the Rothschild family to settle in England. Solomon de Worms and his two brothers came to England in 1815 and formed a banking and colonial business in London. Becoming interested in coffee-planting in Ceylon, they did much to further the economic development of the island (Sir J. Emerson Tennent, Ceylon, 5th edit. ii. p. 250). Solomon de Worms was created hereditary baron of the Austrian empire in 1871, and in 1874 Queen Victoria gave him and his descendants permission to use the title in England, in recognition of the services rendered by the family to Ceylon.

Henry was educated at King's College, London, of which he became a fellow in 1873. He originally intended to devote himself to medicine (Montagu Williams, Reminiscences, i. p. 64), but in 1860 he entered the Inner Temple as a student, and in 1863 was called to the bar, joining the old home circuit and practising at the Kent sessions. Later he engaged with his eldest brother, George, in the management of the family business in Austin Friars, until it was dissolved in 1879.

From early manhood De Worms was interested in public affairs both at home and abroad. A frequent visitor to Austria, he formed a close acquaintance with the Austrian statesman Count von Beust, which grew more intimate during Beust's tenure of the Austrian embassy in London (1871-8). After Beust's death in 1886 De Worms edited with an introduction an English translation of the count's memoirs (1887, 2 vols.). Meanwhile De Worms had become an active politician in England on the conservative side. Beust had introduced him by letter to Disraeli in 1867, with the result that he contested the borough of Sandwich in Nov. 1868, when he was defeated. He was returned at the general election of 1880 as the conservative member for Greenwich, in succession to Gladstone, and was made parliamentary secretary to the board of trade in Lord Salisbury's first administration (June 1885-Jan. 1886). In Nov. 1885 he was elected for the East Toxteth division of Liverpool and was re-elected in June 1886. He resumed office at the board of trade in Lord Salisbury's second administration, and retained that position until February 1888, when he was appointed under-secretary for the colonies (1888-92) and a member of the privy council, being the first Jew upon whom this honour was conferred. On 24 Nov. 1887 an international conference on sugar bounties met in London in the interest of the sugar-growing colonies. The United States was not represented. De Worms was chosen president. As one of the British plenipotentiaries he signed a protocol with a convention (19 Dec. 1887), wherein all the representatives of sugar producing or manufacturing countries condemned in principle the bounty system, and recommended legislation for its abolition. De Worms early next year visited the chief European capitals to urge practical effect being given to the convention. All countries, save France, Denmark, and Sweden, signed (30 Aug. 1888) a final convention, but this was not ratified by the English parliament. De Worms, despite the failure of his efforts, continued to denounce the bounty system in the interest of the sugar-growing colonies. On 15 Nov. 1895 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Pirbright, taking the title from the village of Pirbright, Surrey, where he had acquired an estate.

In the Jewish community he was long a prominent worker, serving as president of the Anglo- Jewish Association (1872-86). In 1886, on the marriage of his daughter Alice to John Henry Boyer Warner of Quorn Hall, Leicestershire, a union contrary to Jewish observance, he severed his connection with the Jewish community. He died on 9 Jan. 1903, and was buried in the churchyard of Wyke St. Mark, near Guildford.

De Worms, who was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, published: 1. 'The Earth and its Mechanism,' 1862. 2. 'The Austro-Hungarian Empire,' 1870; 2nd edit. 1872. 3. 'England's Policy in the East,' 1877. He was twice married: (1) in 1864 to Fanny, eldest daughter of Baron von Todesco, of Vienna, by whom he had three daughters, and whom he divorced in 1886; and (2) in 1887 to Sarah, then Mrs. Barnett, only daughter of Sir Benjamin Samuel Phillips. He left no heir.

A portrait of Lord Pirbright in his peer's robes, painted by Sir Luke Fildes, R.A., is in possession of Lady Pirbright. A cartoon portrait by 'Ape' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1880. A public hall and recreation ground commemorate him at Pirbright.

[Jewish Chronicle, 16 Jan. 1903; Hansard's Debates; private information.]

M. E.