Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Townshend, George (1724-1807)
TOWNSHEND, GEORGE, fourth Viscount and first Marquis Townshend (1724–1807), born on 28 Feb. 1723–4, was eldest son of Charles, third viscount (1700–1764), by his wife Etheldreda or Audrey, daughter and sole heiress of Edward Harrison of Balls Park, Hertfordshire, formerly governor of Fort St. George in the East Indies. Charles Townshend (1725–1767) was his younger brother. George had George I as one of his sponsors at his baptism. He matriculated from St. John's College, Cambridge, graduating M.A. on 3 July 1749, and completed his education by travelling on the continent. Happening to be at The Hague in January 1744–5, just when the quadruple alliance was concluded, he was, according to Walpole (Letters, i. 339), offered the command of a regiment in the States service with the power of naming all his officers, and he was actually appointed captain in the 7th (Cope's) regiment of dragoons in April, joining the army under the Duke of Cumberland as a volunteer, though too late to take part in the battle of Fontenoy on 11 May (ib. i. 364). In order to remove him from the influence of his mother, who had become a Jacobite, he was placed by his relations, the Pelhams, in the family of the Duke of Cumberland, and served under him at Culloden on 16 April 1746. The following year, 1 Feb., he was appointed aide-de-camp to the duke, being at the same time transferred to the 20th (Sackville's) regiment of foot, and fought at the battle of Laufeld on 2 July. He was transferred captain, afterwards promoted lieutenant-colonel, in the 1st regiment of foot guards on 8 March 1748. Differences with the Duke of Cumberland, however, brought about his retirement from the service in 1750. Townshend, who possessed ability as a caricaturist, and who was, according to Walpole (George II, ii. 68, 199 n.), the inventor of the first political caricatura card with portraits of Newcastle and [Henry] Fox, incurred the resentment of his royal highness by an indiscreet use of his art (Grenville Papers, iv. 232 n.; Walpole, George III, i. 20, with Le Marchant's note). The breach was widened in 1751 by the belief that Townshend had inspired a pamphlet entitled ‘A Brief Narrative of the late Campaigns in Germany and Flanders,’ severely criticising the military capacity of the Duke of Cumberland. In 1755 he made a strenuous effort to draw his brother Charles into opposition to the Duke of Newcastle, chiefly on the ground of the connection of the latter with Fox, whom he personally hated (Walpole, George II, ii. 64).
His hostility to the Duke of Cumberland, coupled with a dread of standing armies, made him a strong advocate of the militia system, and he was the author of the bill which became law in 1757 for establishing it on a national basis. The measure encountered great opposition, none being more bitter against it than his own father, who, ‘attended by a parson, a barber, and his own servants, and in his own long hair, which he has let grow, raised a mob against the execution of the bill, and has written a paper against it which he has pasted upon the door of four churches near him’ (Walpole, Letters, iii. 106). Meanwhile Townshend's propensity for caricaturing had raised up a host of enemies, and in 1757 produced a most bitter pamphlet against him called ‘The Art of Political Lying’ (Walpole, Letters, iii. 71). But the retirement of the Duke of Cumberland affording him the opportunity to return to the army, he was on 6 May 1758 promoted colonel and appointed aide-de-camp to George II. On 27 Aug. he applied to Pitt to be remembered if any service was intended against France (Pitt Corresp. i. 345), and in February 1759 he was appointed brigadier-general in America under Major-general James Wolfe [q. v.] in the expedition against Quebec. He sailed that month with Wolfe, reaching Louisbourg harbour after a wearisome voyage early in May. From Louisbourg the expedition steered next month directly towards Quebec. He took his share in the dangerous attack on Montcalm's camp at Montmorenci towards the latter end of July; but as the summer wore to a close, and Quebec seemed as far as ever out of Wolfe's power, he grew very dissatisfied at the plan of operations. ‘General Wolf's health,’ he wrote to his wife on 6 Sept. from Camp Levi, ‘is but very bad. His generalship, in my poor opinion, is not a bit better: this only between us. He never consulted any of us till the latter end of August, so that we have nothing to answer for, I hope, as to the success of this campaign’ (Townshend MSS. p. 309). The consultation to which he refers was in consequence of a letter from Wolfe, written from his sick-bed on 29 Aug., begging the three brigadiers, Robert Monckton [q. v.], Townshend, and James Murray (1725?–1794) [q. v.], to meet together to ‘consider of the best method to attack the enemy.’ The brigadiers advised that an attempt should be made to land on the north side of the St. Lawrence above Quebec, and, by cutting off Montcalm from his base of supply, force him either to fight or surrender. The credit of suggesting this plan, which being adopted by Wolfe led to the capture of Quebec, is ascribed by Warburton (Conquest of Canada, p. 249) to Townshend, though in the ‘Letter to a Brigadier-General’ it is expressly stated that he protested against it as too hazardous (cf. Stanhope, Hist. of Engl. iv. 243). At the battle on the heights of Abraham on 13 Sept. he commanded the left wing, and, in consequence of the death of Wolfe in the moment of victory and the disablement of Monckton, the direction of the army devolved upon him. Fearing an attack on the part of Bougainville, he recalled his men from the pursuit, and, forming them into line of battle, set to work to entrench himself. The inactivity of the French generals affording him breathing space, he pushed his trenches up to the city, which, seeing no prospect of relief, capitulated on easy terms at midnight on 17 Sept.
On the 20th Townshend sent an account of the battle and his success to the secretary of state so stilted in comparison with the famous despatch of Wolfe on 2 Sept. announcing his plan of operations, of which the authorship had been claimed for him by his brother Charles, that George Augustus Selwyn (1719–1791) [q. v.], happening to meet the latter at the treasury, facetiously inquired, ‘Charles, if your brother wrote Wolfe's despatch, who the devil wrote your brother George's?’ (Wright, Life of Wolfe, p. 554). Monckton recovering sufficiently to enable him to take command (Townshend MSS. p. 327), and Murray being appointed governor of Quebec, Townshend seized the opportunity to return home with the fleet under Admiral Sir Charles Saunders [q. v.] in October, there ‘to parade his laurels and claim more than his share of the honours of the victory’ (Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe, ii. 317). His conduct was severely criticised in an anonymous pamphlet entitled ‘A Letter to an Hon. Brigadier-General,’ London, 1760, in which, among other indictments, he was charged with enmity and ingratitude towards Wolfe. The ‘Letter,’ ascribed by some to Charles Lee (Winsor, Hist. of America, v. 607), by others to Junius (Letter, ed. Simons, 1841), but stated by Walpole (George III) to have been inspired by Henry Fox, drew forth a number of replies (see Imperial Mag. 1760), and among them ‘A Refutation of the “Letter to an Hon. Brigadier-General,”’ London, 1760, described by Parkman as ‘angry, but not conclusive,’ attributing the authorship of the ‘Letter’ to the Earl of Albemarle [see Keppel, George, third Earl] and his patron, the Duke of Cumberland. So incensed, indeed, was Townshend that he challenged Albemarle. A meeting was happily prevented; but, feeling the necessity of vindicating himself, he published, or caused to be published, a letter said to have been written by him soon after the victory at Quebec to a friend in England expressive of his warm admiration of Wolfe; but the letter was considered by many to have been a clever afterthought on the part of his brother Charles (Wright, Life of Wolfe, p. 612 n.) On 2 Dec. 1660 he was sworn a privy councillor, and, with the rank of major-general (6 March 1761), appointed lieutenant-general of the ordnance on 14 May 1763, holding the post till 20 Aug. 1767. He lent a cordial if rather erratic support to the ministry of George Grenville (1763–5), but refused to ‘disgrace himself’ (Grenville Papers, iii. 207–9) by joining the old whigs under Rockingham. He succeeded his father as fourth Viscount Townshend on 12 March 1764, and on 12 Aug. 1767 he was appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland.
His appointment, the work of his brother Charles, chancellor of the exchequer and the ruling spirit in the Chatham administration, marks a new epoch in the history of Ireland. Hitherto, owing largely to the non-residence of the viceroy, the government had slipped almost entirely into the hands of a small knot of large landowners and borough proprietors, known as the ‘undertakers.’ Their government, though notoriously corrupt, possessed certain negative merits which, by contrast with what followed, rendered it popular; for the undertakers were at any rate Irishmen, and next to the interests of their own families had those of their country at heart. But the analogy between the situation in Ireland and that in the American colonies had not escaped the notice of English politicians, and there was at least a danger that Ireland, under the rule of the undertakers, might grow bold enough to imitate the example of the latter. So indeed it seemed to Charles Townshend, and he determined to prevent such a possibility by breaking down the power of the undertakers. To this end it was necessary to form a party in parliament wholly dependent on the crown. The task was difficult, and also for him disagreeable, as it implied constant residence in Ireland. But in his elder brother the chancellor of the exchequer found a congenial ally, whose frank, social, and popular manners seemed formed to charm the Irish, though, as the event proved, Walpole, with a keener insight into his character, came nearer the mark when he predicted that he would impose upon them at first as he had on the world, please them by his joviality, and then grow sullen and quarrel with them (Letters, v. 61). The sudden death of Charles Townshend on 4 Sept., only a week or two after the appointment, and the anarchy that thereupon ensued in the cabinet (Grenville Papers, iv. 169, 171; Junius, Grand Council upon the Affairs of Ireland after Eleven Adjournments), rendered his task even more difficult than he had expected; but he possessed the confidence of the king, and in October he set out for the seat of his government. The boons he was authorised to grant included a restriction of the pension list, a limitation of the duration of parliaments, a habeas corpus act, and a national militia. Never had an administration opened under more promising conditions; but the indiscreet announcement in his opening speech to parliament on 20 Oct. of a bill to secure the judges in their offices, as in England, quamdiu se bene gesserint, elicited a sharp rebuke from Shelburne (Lecky, England, iv. 374 n.), and when it was found that the bill, on being returned from England, contained a clause rendering Irish judges removable upon an address of the two houses of the British parliament, it was indignantly rejected and the promise regarded as deceptive. Neither for this result nor for the appointment of James Hewitt (afterwards Viscount Lifford) [q. v.] to the chancellorship (cf. Walpole, George III, iii. 78, with Le Marchant's note, from which it appears that Townshend supported Tisdall's claim) was he wholly responsible, and there was much force in the ridiculous pictures he drew of himself with his hands tied behind his back and his mouth open; but it wrecked his popularity, and rendered the task of obtaining an augmentation of the army, on which the administration had set its heart, extremely difficult. The project was indeed most distasteful to the Irish, and Townshend, who had a keen as well as a sympathetic eye for the sufferings of the peasantry (cf. his Meditations upon a late Excursion in Ireland, especially the verses beginning ‘Ill-fated kingdom with a fertile soil, Whose factors mock the naked peasants' toil’), was obliged to confess that the state of the revenue did not justify the proposed additional expenditure. But his remonstrances were disregarded. A bill shortening the duration of parliaments to eight years was returned in February 1768, and it was hoped that the general satisfaction with which it was received would secure the passing of the augmentation. But the hope proved fallacious, and, having dissolved parliament on 28 May, Townshend at once threw himself with characteristic vehemence into the task of breaking the power of the undertakers. To this end several new peerages were created, places extravagantly multiplied, and, despite the royal promise, new pensions granted. Parliament met on 17 Oct. 1769, and the indignation which his proceedings had aroused showed itself in the rejection by the House of Commons of the customary privy council money bill, expressly on the ground that it had not taken its rise with them. But having, as they thought, sufficiently asserted their privileges, the commons not only voted liberal supplies of their own, but also conceded the desired augmentation in the army. Townshend, who had silently acquiesced in their proceedings, now that he had obtained all that he wanted and more than he expected, protested against their conduct over the rejected money bill as an infringement of Poynings' law, ordered his protest to be entered on the journals of both houses, and prorogued parliament. His action drew down upon him a storm of abuse far exceeding in violence anything meted out to Henry Sidney, viscount Sidney (afterwards earl of Romney) [q. v.], on a similar occasion. The public press teemed with lampoons in which neither his person, his character, nor his habits were spared. His administration was ridiculed and himself held up to scorn as a second Sancho Panza in a series of powerful letters, after the style of Junius, by Sir Hercules Langrishe [q. v.], Flood, and Grattan, afterwards collected in a little volume under the title of ‘Baratariana,’ with a frontispiece exhibiting Townshend with his tongue tied and underneath the words: ‘In Cœlum jusseris, ibit’ ‘And bid him go to Hell, to Hell he goes.’ Angry but not discouraged at this display of hostility towards him, Townshend held resolutely to his determination to break the power of the undertakers by the purchase of a majority in the House of Commons. Parliament was prorogued from three months to three months, and in the meanwhile public credit and the trade of the country suffered from the suspension of the legislature. When it again met on 26 Feb. 1771, Townshend had accomplished his purpose. An address, thanking the king for maintaining him in office, was carried by 132 votes to 107; but the speaker, John Ponsonby [q. v.], rather than present it, preferred to resign. The majority Townshend had thus obtained by corruption of the most flagrant description he managed to maintain by the same means to the end of his administration, though more than once defeated and mortified by seeing a money bill altered by his advice in council rejected without a division. But the process told on his temper. He waxed, as Walpole predicted, angry and sullen; the popularity for which he thirsted, and to promote which he always wore Irish cloth, was denied him, and he sought relief for his disappointment in the lowest haunts of dissipation (Walpole, George III, ix. 231). At last, when public indignation had reached fever heat, he was recalled in September 1772, having done more to corrupt and lower the tone of political life in Ireland than any previous governor. ‘Lord Townshend,’ says Mr. Lecky (Hist. of England, iv. 401), ‘is one of the very small number of Irish viceroys who have been personally disliked … his abilities were superior to those of many of his predecessors and successors; but he was utterly destitute of tact and judgment. … He sought for popularity by sacrificing the dignity and decorum of his position, and he brought both his person and his office into contempt.’
Returning to his post as master-general of the ordnance, he was on 15 July 1773 appointed colonel of the 2nd (queen's) regiment of dragoons, promoted general in the army on 20 Nov. 1782, and on 31 Oct. 1786 created Marquis Townshend of Rainham. In addition to other offices held by him, he was made lord-lieutenant and custos rotulorum for the county of Norfolk on 15 Feb. 1792, vice-admiral of that county on 16 June the same year, general on the staff (eastern district) from 1793 to 1796, governor of Hull on 19 July 1794, governor of Chelsea Hospital on 16 July 1795, governor of Jersey on 22 July 1796, field-marshal on 30 July 1796, and high steward of Tamworth on 20 Jan. 1797. But his life after quitting Ireland was uneventful. He died at Rainham on 14 Sept. 1807, and was buried in the family vault there on the 28th.
By his first wife, Lady Charlotte, only surviving issue of James Compton, earl of Northampton, in her own right Baroness de Ferrars, whom he married in December 1751, and who died at Leixlip Castle in Ireland on 14 Sept. 1770, he had four sons and four daughters, of whom the eldest, George, second marquis Townshend [q. v.], succeeded him. He married, secondly, on 19 May 1773, Anne, daughter of Sir William Montgomery, M.P. for Ballynekill, who died on 29 March 1819, and by her had also issue six children. A full-length portrait, painted by Reynolds, was engraved in mezzotint by C. Turner and by R. Jose. Another portrait, by Thomas Hudson, was engraved by J. McArdell. He is said to have been a very handsome man.[Collins's Peerage, ii. 478–80; Doyle's Official Baronage, iii. 543; Gent. Mag. 1807, ii. 894, 974; Pitt Corresp. i. 222, 345, 452, ii. 412, iii. 279, 435, iv. 340; Grenville Papers, ii. 277, iii. 207, 209, iv. 92, 130, 169, 171, 232; Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham, Last Ten Years of George II, Journal of the Reign of George III, ed. Doran, and Memoirs of George III, ed. Barker; An Essay on the Character and Conduct of His Excellency Lord Viscount Townshend, 1771; Flood's Memoirs of H. Flood, pp. 75–81; Grattan's Life of Grattan, i. 95, 98, 101, 102, 172, 173, 174; Observations on a Speech delivered the 26th Day of December 1769 (attributed to Robert Hellen); Almon's Biographical Anecdotes, i. 101–9; Fitzmaurice's Life of Shelburne; Baratariana; Plowden's Hist. Review; Lecky's England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. iv.; Froude's English in Ireland, vol. ii.; Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. p. 234, 6th Rep. p. 236, 8th Rep. pp. 193, 195–6, 9th Rep. iii. 28–9; Townshend MSS.; Dartmouth MSS. vol. ii.; Charlemont MSS. vols. i. and ii.; Addit. MSS. (Brit. Mus.) 20733 f. 25, 21709, 23635 f. 245, 23654 f. 62, 23669 f. 63, 23670 f. 261, 24137 (containing interesting personal details, cf. Lecky, iv. 372–3), 30873 f. 77 (to J. Wilkes); Corresp. with the Duke of Newcastle, 1751–67, 32725 et seq. and 33118 ff. 1–24 (despatch on the defence of Ireland); Egerton MS. 2136, f. 119.]