Under Secretaries 1782-1870

Pages 11-14

Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 8, Foreign Office Officials 1782-1870. Originally published by University of London, London, 1979.

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Under Secretaries 1782-1870

In 1782 the Foreign Office adopted the convention, which had long operated in the Northern Department, of having two Under Secretaries. (fn. 1) With the exceptions of the years 1783-9, when only one Under Secretary held office, and the years 1824-5 and 1826-7, when the number rose temporarily to three, this convention was observed until the end of the period covered by these lists. The modern distinction between the Permanent and Parliamentary Under Secretary, although clearly understood in 1782, evolved gradually in the Foreign Office and hardened into custom at a later date than in the Home and Colonial Offices. The Commissioners on Fees recommended in 1786 that one of the Under Secretaries should have security of tenure or be 'stationary', (fn. 2) but their recommendation was rejected by the Secretaries of State on the ground that it placed undue restriction on their freedom of action. The order in council of 1795 which settled the establishment of the office made provision for two undifferentiated Under Secretaries and allowed the Secretaries of State complete freedom of action. (fn. 3) It was not until 1831 that the designations 'Permanent' and 'Parliamentary' were first officially applied to the Under Secretaries in the offices of the Secretaries of State and even then the official designations reflected the practice already adopted in the Home and Colonial Offices and merely applied it to the Foreign Office. (fn. 4)

From 1831 the position of the Permanent Under Secretary was clearly defined. Before that date both Under Secretaries had been removed simultaneously only on the changes of ministry in February 1806 and March 1807. Eight Under Secretaries had served under more than one Secretary of State, but of these only two, Fraser and Backhouse, served under ministries of radically different political complexions and can confidently be regarded as having attained permanent status. (fn. 5)

Before 1831 most Secretaries of State had appointed a personal or political friend to one under secretaryship, but their choice had not been restricted to members of either house of parliament. In the period August 1789-February 1790 both Under Secretaries, Burges and Ryder, were M.P.s. (fn. 6) In the years 1782-4 and 1796-1808 one Under Secretary usually sat in the House of Commons. (fn. 7) On Bagot's appointment as Under Secretary in August 1807, however, he was told by the Secretary of State, Canning, that his duties at the Foreign Office would be too onerous to combine with membership of Parliament. (fn. 8) He vacated his seat in the following January. On no further occasion before 1831 did an Under Secretary sit in the House of Commons. (fn. 9) Even after the official designation 'parliamentary' had been applied to one under secretaryship in 1831, its tenure was not invariably associated with membership of either house of parliament until 1852.

Until 1831 both Under Secretaries received the same remuneration. From 1782 to 1795 this consisted of a salary of £500 from the civil list together with office fees and other small allowances. While Fraser served as sole Under Secretary in the years 1783-9, he received the emoluments of both offices. (fn. 10) In 1795 the salary of each Under Secretary was fixed at £1,500. (fn. 11) It was raised to £2,000 in 1799 with provision for an increase to £2,500 after three years' service. (fn. 12) In 1817 the period of service required to qualify for the increase was extended to seven years for future occupants of the offices. (fn. 13) In 1822 the salary was reduced to £2,000 without any increase for length of service. (fn. 14) The salary of one of the offices was shared by two officials in the years 1824-5 and 1826-7. (fn. 15) In 1831 a distinction was made between the remuneration of the Permanent and Parliamentary Under Secretary. The salary of the former was fixed at £2,000; that of the latter at £1,500. (fn. 16)

The following list has been designed to enable the reader to identify the two Under Secretaries in office at any given moment. Until 1831 no differentiation can be made between the standing of the Under Secretaries. From that date, however, the column on the left of the page contains the names of the Permanent Under Secretaries and that on the right the names of the Parliamentary Under Secretaries. In the alphabetical list of officials the terms 'Permanent' and 'Parliamentary' have been applied to Under Secretaries only from 1831.

1782 27 March Fraser, W.
1789 22 Aug. Burges, J. B.
1795 16 Oct. Hammond, G.
1782 27 March Sheridan, R. B.
1782 16 July Maddison, G.
1783 2 April St. John, Hon. St. A.
1789 24 Aug. Ryder, Hon. D.
1790 20 Feb. Aust, G.
1796 5 Jan. Canning, G.
1799 1 April Frere, J. H.
1800 25 Sept. Fisher, E.
1806 20 Feb. Vincent, Sir F.
1807 30 March Hammond, G.
1809 13 Dec. Smith, C. C.
1812 28 Feb. Cooke, E.
1817 5 July Planta, J.
1842 4 March Addington, H. U.
1827 23 April Backhouse, J.
1801 20 Feb. Hervey, Lord
1803 8 Nov. Arbuthnot, C.
1804 5 June Eliot, Hon. W.
1805 25 Jan. Ward, R.
1806 20 Feb. Walpole, Hon. G.
1807 30 March Fitzharris, Viscount
1807 19 Aug. Bagot, Hon. C.
1809 16 Oct. Hamilton, W. R. (fn. 17)
1822 30 Jan. Clanwilliam, Earl of (fn. 18)
1823 6 Jan. Conyngham, Lord F. N. (fn. 19)
1824 26 May Conyngham, Lord F. N.
Howard de Walden, Lord,
1825 17 March Howard de Walden, Lord
1826 2 Jan. Howard de Walden, Lord
Clanricade, Marquess of
1827 12 Aug. Howard de Walden, Lord
1828 9 June Dunglas, Lord
1830 26 Nov. Shee, Sir G. (fn. 20)
1834 13 Nov. Fordwich, Viscount
1834 15 Dec. Mahon, Viscount
1835 15 Aug. Fox Strangways, Hon. W. T. H (fn. 20)
1840 7 March Leveson, Lord (fn. 20)
1841 4 Sept. Canning, Viscount (fn. 21)
1846 27 Jan. Smythe, Hon. G. A. F. P. S.
1846 6 July Stanley, Hon. E. J. (fn. 22)
1852 12 Feb. Layard, A. H. (fn. 20)
1852 18 May Stanley, Lord
1852 29 Dec. Wodehouse, Lord. (fn. 21)
1854 10 April Hammond, E.
1856 4 July Shelburne, Earl of (fn. 21)
1858 26 Feb. Vesey Fitzgerald, W. R. S.
1859 20 June Wodehouse, Lord (fn. 21)
1861 15 Aug. Layard, A. H.
1866 6 July Egerton, E. C.
1868 12 Dec. Otway, A. J.


  • 1. For the office generally, see Middleton, Foreign Policy, 123-50; E. Jones-Parry, 'Under Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, 1782-1855', English Historical Review, xlix (1934), 308-20; and C. R Middleton, 'John Backhouse and the origins of the Permanent Undersecretaryship for Foreign Affairs: 1828-1842', Journal of British Studies, xiii no. 2 (May 1974), 24-45.
  • 2. 1st Rept. on Fees, 10.
  • 3. Order in council 27 Feb. 1795 (16th Rept. on Finance, 309-11).
  • 4. TM 15 April 1831 (HC 375 p. 2 (1830-1) vii, 494).
  • 5. Aust claimed in March 1795 that he had been appointed in 1789 'official or resident Under Secretary, an appointment which he understood to be comparatively a permanent one' (Egerton MS 3505, bundle 4).
  • 6. Ryder was removed in 1790 because it was considered that under a strict interpretation of the Place Act of 1742 only one Under Secretary could sit in the House of Commons (Middleton, Foreign Policy, 142). Burges lost his seat in the general election of 1790.
  • 7. In these periods Sheridan, St. John, Canning, Frere, Hervey, Eliot, Ward, Walpole, Fitzharris and Bagot were M.P.s.
  • 8. George Canning and his Friends, ed. J. Bagot (2 vols., London 1909), i, 238-44.
  • 9. Howard de Walden and (from 13 Dec. 1826) Clanricarde, however, were members of the House of Lords.
  • 10. 1st Rept. on Fees, 6, 27.
  • 11. Order in council 27 Feb. 1795 (16th Rept. on Finance, 309-11).
  • 12. Order in council 23 Jan. 1799 (FO 366/671 pp. 101-4).
  • 13. Order in council 24 July 1817 (FO 366/542 ff. 39-40).
  • 14. Order in council 28 March 1822 (PC 2/204 p. 86). Backhouse, who on his appointment in 1827 also held the office of Receiver General of Excise at a salary of £1,500, was permitted to draw only £500 as Under Secretary. The sum was increased to £1,000 in 1837 in consideration of his long service (FO 366/673 pp. 55-6, 341-7).
  • 15. FO 366/672 pp. 383, 395; FO 366/381.
  • 16. TM 15 April 1831 (HC 375 p. a (1830-1) vii, 494).
  • 17. Earl of Clanwilliam acted as Under Secretary 17 May 1820-July 1821.
  • 18. J. Backhouse acted as Under Secretary 26 Oct. 1822-22 Jan. 1823.
  • 19. Lord Howard de Walden acted as Under Secretary 24 April-26 May 1824.
  • 20. Not an M.P. while Under Secretary.
  • 21. Member of the House of Lords.
  • 22. M.P. from 4 Aug. 1847; member of the House of Lords from 12 May 1848.