Marquis Richard Colley Wellesley, Earl of Mornington

Wellesley, Richard Colley, Earl of Mornington, Marquis Wellesley, son of the preceding [Viscount Garrett Wellesley], was born in Grafton-street, Dublin, 20th June 1760.

Richard Colley Wellesley

Richard Colley Wellesley,
Earl of Mornington, Marquis Wellesley [image not part of original biographical entry]

He was educated at Eton, and afterwards passed on to Oxford, where he stood high in classical attainments, especially on account of his facility in Latin verse composition.

His first act on succeeding to the earldom of Mornington in 1781 was to assume the heavy pecuniary engagements of his father.

Encouraged by the reputation he had acquired at college, he determined to follow up politics as the most likely means of re-establishing the shattered fortunes of the family, and he soon took a prominent part in the proceedings of the Irish House of Lords.

He was one of the first Knights of the order of St. Patrick, which was established in 1783.

Ambitious of wider field for the exercise of his talents, he, in 1784, entered the British House of Commons for the pocket borough of Beeralston, in Devonshire.

He was in the British Cabinet in 1786.

He devoted himself especially to Indian affairs.

The turning point in his life was his support of the Government in the Regency debates of 1789 in the Irish House of Lords.

He was soon after returned by royal influence for the borough of Windsor, and was sworn in both on the British and the Irish Privy-Councils.

He supported Wilberforce in his efforts to abolish the slave-trade, but opposed all propositions for Parliamentary reform.

He further recommended himself to Pitt and the King in 1794, by his speech in favour of war with France, was appointed one of the Commissioners of the Board of Indian Control, and in October 1797 was made Governor-General of India, and at the same time created Baron Wellesley in the peerage of Great Britain.

A minute account of his eight years' Indian administration does not properly come within the limits of this notice.

In military affairs he was seconded by the opening talents of his brother Arthur, and the administrative capacity of his brother Henry.

His policy resulted in the extinction of French influence in Hindostan, the defeat and death of Tippoo Sultaun, and the addition of vast regions to the territories already under the Company's rule.

Lord Macaulay has characterized his policy as “eminently able, energetic, and successful;” whilst Mill, in his History of British India, takes a different view of it, and says, when writing of the arrival of his successor:

“Lord Wellesley was regarded as a very expensive and ambitious ruler; the greater part of his administration had been a scene of war and conquest; war and conquest in India had been successfully held forth to the British nation as at once hostile to the British interests and cruel to the people of India; with a ruler possessing the disposition of Lord Wellesley, it was supposed that the chances of war would always outnumber the chances of peace,.. and to those who longed for peace and an overflowing exchequer in India, it appeared that the return of this nobleman [the Marquis Cornwallis] would afford a remedy for every disorder.”

His situation in India was at times peculiarly embarrassing, on account of the difficulty of communication with the United Kingdom: he was often six months without any instructions.

He was created Marquis of Wellesley in 1799.

In August 1805 he left India, reaching England in time to attend the death-bed of his friend Pitt.

Articles of impeachment were moved against him, without result, in the House of Commons by Mr. Paull, for alleged oppression of the native princes, especially the Nabob of Oude.

Regarding home politics, his views appear to have been now somewhat liberalized. But in 1807 he withstood the King's desire that he should accept the position of Secretary of State in the Duke of Portland's cabinet.

In February 1808, he rendered the Government efficient service by palliating the descent on Denmark.

He was appointed Ambassador to Spain, 29th April 1809, at the same time that his brother Arthur, as General-in-chief in the Peninsula, was beginning to distinguish himself.

On the death of the Duke of Portland in the same year, he was recalled (his brother Henry being appointed in his place), and he accepted the Foreign Secretaryship, which he held from December 1809, to January 1812, when he resigned on account of differences with his colleagues in regard to the Catholic claims and the conduct of the war in Spain.

In July 1812 he brought forward a motion favourable to the Catholics; and he continued for the next ten years to offer a modified opposition to the Government.

From December 1821 to March 1828, and again from September 1833 to April 1834, he was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.

During his first tenure of the office he was unpopular with a large party as the representative of a government disposed to concede the Catholic claims.

In 1822, supported by the Lord-Mayor, but in opposition to resolutions of the Town Council, he endeavoured to prevent the annual celebration round the statue of William III. in Dublin, and during a state visit to Hawkins-street Theatre, on the night of 14th December, an earthen jar was thrown at him in his box.

This “Bottle riot,” as it was called, created great excitement; but the bills against those who participated in it were ignored by the grand jury, and the prosecution fell to the ground.

Henry Grattan, jun., thus characterized Lord Wellesley's Irish adminstration:

“When viceroy in Ireland he showed himself a friend of liberty; but he was thwarted by subordinates, assailed by violence, overwhelmed with abuse, and impeded in the praiseworthy efforts he made to extend equal rights and equal protection to all classes of the population of Ireland. But Lord Wellesley proceeded firmly in his course; and to him in a great degree is Ireland indebted for the successful opposition to religious bigotry and intolerance.”

The warmest friendship always subsisted between the Marquis and the Duke of Wellington, although they often differed widely and openly on political questions, especially in regard to Catholic Emancipation.

In April 1835, on the formation of the second Melbourne administration, the Marquis accepted the office of Lord-Chamberlain, but resigned in the same year, and never afterwards filled any public employment.

His latter years were spent in retirement, in the cultivation of those literary and classical tastes to which he had been devoted in his youth.

The Marquis was twice married. His first union, with Mdlle. Roland, a French lady, was unhappy, and they lived separate for many years. In 1825, nine years after her death, he married an American Catholic lady, Mrs. Patterson, sister-in-law of Jerome Napoleon, and grand-daughter of Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The Marquis of Wellesley died in London, 26th September 1842, aged 82.

He was not wealthy—considering his position and opportunities, which would have enabled a less scrupulous man to amass a large fortune.

He sold the family estates and crippled himself for many years to pay his father's debts.

In India he voluntarily resigned large sums of prize money for division amongst subordinates.

In 1837, when it was known he was involved in pecuniary difficulties, the East India Company made him an allowance of £5,000 per annum, ultimately changed into a grant of £20,000.

The Marquis gave to the world some Latin poems, and papers connected with India and Spain.

The Company published his despatches in five volumes. Blackwood says they “offer a striking contrast in point of style to those of his more gifted brother. They are verbose, elaborate, and full of ornament.”

The Marquis left no legitimate children.

His son Henry Wellesley, D.D. (born 1792; died 1866), Principal of New Inn Hall, Oxford, the author of several works, was a man of the most cultivated tastes; his knowledge of Spanish and Italian art and literature “was supreme.”

The Dowager Marchioness died in Hampton Court Palace, 17th December 1853.


16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

97. Cyclopaedia, Penny, with Supplement. 29 vols. London, 1833.
D'Alton, John, see Nos. 12, 117a, 197b.

124. Encyclopaedia Britannica. London, 1860.

168. India, British, History of: James Mill. 3 vols. London, 1817.

342. Wellesley, Richard, Marquis, Memoirs: R. R. Pearse. 3 vols. London, 1847.