William Huskisson

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Huskisson, William (1770–1830). Huskisson's father was a country gentleman from Staffordshire, in moderate circumstances, and Huskisson had a career to make. He was in France at the outbreak of the Revolution and became acquainted with Lord Gower, the ambassador and a Staffordshire man. On their return to England in 1792, Huskisson was employed to help French refugees and became known to Canning, Pitt, and Dundas. In 1795 he was made under-secretary for war with Dundas as his chief and was brought into Parliament in 1796. Though not a ready speaker, he built a reputation as an administrator, particularly in financial matters. He went out of office with Canning in 1809 and returned in 1814 to the comparatively humble post of commissioner of woods and forests, which he held until 1823. Next he became president of the Board of Trade, and on Canning's death Goderich made him colonial secretary, with the leadership of the Commons. Huskisson was now a leader of the liberal Tories, with close links to Melbourne and Palmerston, and an advocate of retrenchment and of modification to the Corn Laws. He stayed in office under Wellington, but with increasing friction, especially over parliamentary reform, and his offer of resignation in May 1828 was eagerly accepted. He was in poor health for his last two years and though he could have expected office under Grey, he was no longer a rising sun. In September 1830, at the opening of the Liverpool to Manchester railway, he was run down and killed, ‘seeming like a man bewildered’, by the engine Rocket. A shy, awkward man, shambling and devoid of social graces, Huskisson was a strange fish in what was still an aristocratic pond—a man of business of more than common talent.

J. A. Cannon

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