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An Arcadian In Parliament

The Rise and Progress of William Williams, M.P.

In 1804 a Carmarthenshire youth of sixteen, encumbered only by a small bundle of spare clothing set out in Dick Whittington fashion to seek his fortune in London. There were those who thought he would soon be back, seeking the comforts of home after beating a disillusioned retreat from the chilling realities of an unfamiliar world, but they deceived only themselves, for they failed to appreciate the youth's determination to succeed, supported by a nimble brain and a natural aptitude for commerce. For win a fortune he did and a seat in the Court of the Common Council of the City of London to boot. He might even have become Lord Mayor—although his forthright independence might have been an impediment—had he not turned his attention in another direction, a path which was to lead into Parliament, where he became an influential member during a career there of twenty-seven years. Although he spent the whole of his adult life in England, he never forgot the land of his birth or his native language, but he deeply resented the squalid social conditions most of his compatriots were obliged to suffer. He believed that, given the `blessings of education', the lot of the masses in Wales, as elsewhere, would improve and lead to more meaningful life. It was this conviction that led him to persuade the Government to set up an inquiry into the state of education in Wales, but the raging storm of controversy that followed was something that neither he nor anybody else could foresee.

The unwitting begetter of this controversy around the `Treason of the Blue Books' (Brad y Llyfrau Gleision) and the victim of a furious backlash was William Williams. He was born on 12 February 1788 at Tredarren, a farmstead in the parish of Cynwyl Elfed a little over half a mile west of Llanpumsaint and set upon a slope overlooking the village and the Gwili valley in a secluded part of Carmarthenshire. The father was Thomas Williams, a yeoman farmer who married Esther Phillips of Gilfach-y-gestyn, a farm about three miles north-west of the village of Cynwyl Elfed. Of their seven sons and five daughters five died young. William was the fourth child. His only formal education was received at the week-day school held in the gallery (since removed) of the parish church in the village across the fields. A fellow pupil here was David Owen, son of the village bootmaker and church sexton; later he was to achieve more than a local distinction as a journalist with a piquant pen, which he used under the name of 'Brutus' and it is from his writings that we are able to suspect that William Williams was anything but a robust child. When he wrote, in Brutusiana, a volume of his collected writings, of the `weakly one' who was carried back and fore to school by his schoolmates, he was probably referring to young William.1 Even so, he was tall like his three surviving brothers; indeed these sons of Tredarren were `a race of giants, the shortest being six feet and two inches high, and the tallest four inches more'.2

When he was about twelve years old William was ready to take his first independent steps into the outside world, which he took in the direction of Carmarthen, where he was apprenticed to a shop-keeper named Phillips, perhaps a relative of his mother. His apprenticeship completed, he felt confident that he was well enough equipped to stake his ability on London's wheel of fortune and at the age of sixteen set out for the Metropolis. How he made the journey is not recorded, but in view of his limited means - thirty shillings was all he had in his pocket — it is likely that he walked a great deal of the way.

Of his business career in London there is tantalizingly meagre information, which may be quickly stated. It started with a lowly position in a wholesale cotton warehouse in Bread Street. He must have applied himself to his duties in a way that won the entire satisfaction of his employer and he quickly advanced his position in the firm. Astonishingly, he learnt to speak French; how, is not known, but studious determination must have taken advantage of whatever opportunities presented themselves. As a result, when he was yet but twenty-one years old, he was promoted to a position which brought him £500 a year. This was a handsome salary, but it did not deter Williams from higher achievements. Somehow he was soon able to speak German and by the time he was twenty-four he was earning £1,000 a year in a job that took him to France and Germany as a representative of his firm. Such industry ensured him a partnership in the firm, of which he at last became the sole proprietor on the death of his colleague. When he left Bread Street is not known, but sometime before 1820 he was in business as a cotton and linen warehouseman at 92 Watling Street, in the same neighbourhood. He was now firmly established in a highly lucrative enterprise, which involved extensive travel in Europe, Russia and the United States of America. In something like twenty-five years he had already acquired a fortune as a result of his diligence, industry and business acumen.

By what method did Williams acquire knowledge of foreign languages? Williams himself gives a pointer: 'A child who only understands Welsh should begin with a vocabulary of names of a variety of things in English, with their meaning in Welsh placed opposite in columns; then short common place dialogues on various subjects, and onward to sentences, etc., but in all cases with the Welsh meaning appended,—this is simply the system by which an English boy is taught a foreign language. A Welsh boy would make more progress in six months learning English, with such books, aided by a well-trained schoolmaster, than he would in six years in the existing schools. His intellect would, moreover, be expanded and sharpened, instead of being blunted and stupified by the present mode of miscalled "teaching", which literally consists of merely bad pronounciation of English words without any knowledge of, or even an attempt to explain their meaning'.3 His emphasis on the need to provide translations will be better understood when it is appreciated that Welsh children at that time were commonly taught to learn and recite passages in English without having the remotest idea of their meaning; usually, their teachers were just as ignorant of the language they were supposed to teach.

WilliamWilliams.thumb.jpg At the age of forty-five Williams decided to find a role in public life, which, being financially secure, he felt free to fill on his own terms. In September 1833 he was elected to the Court of Common Council of the City of London as a representative of the Bread Street Ward. His service in this field lasted only one term of three years, for in 1835 he was elected member of Parliament for Coventry and consequently he did not seek re-election in the City Ward in 1836. Even so, he was an energetic member of the Common Council who was concerned to expose corruption and bring about improved administration in the interests of the citizenry; above all he showed a flair for financial management which was quickly recognized by his appointment as chairman of the Revenue Committee. It was in this latter capacity that he distinguished himself in presenting the committee's report following an investigation into the Corporation's fiscal affairs.

The Times (25 January, 1836), reporting the proceedings of the relevant meeting, recorded that there was 'a great sensation among the members'. In his report, of which The Times gave an account, Williams presented details of receipts and expenditure to expose a situation of 'so flagrant a kind as ought to consign the corporation of London to the same fate which had already befallen all the other corporations of England' (a reference to the changes brought about by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835).

Although Williams proved a severe critic of London's government, powerful traditionalist forces were able to hit back time and time again to ward off reform despite his criticisms in the House of Commons. In April of the same year, 1836, he repeated his view in the House that `since other Corporations had been favoured with a measure of reform, there was no just cause why the City of London should be made an exception'. But it was not until many years after his death that the London County Council was established as a result of the Local Government Act 1888, although the Metropolitan Board of Works had been set up under an Act of 1855 to replace a host of authorities of different kinds.

Before the expiration of his only term as a member of London's Common Council Williams was already a member of Parliament, having been elected as one of the representatives for Coventry in January, 1835. His election address had announced that he stood for: 'Extension of the Franchise, Triennial Parliaments;4 Vote by Ballot; Abolition of all Sinecures and Pensions not merited by Public Service; Repeal of the Malt Tax, the Hop Tax, the Soap Tax and all other Taxes which press on the industrious and productive classes; Extension of the Blessings of Education; Extinction of Military Flogging and Naval Impressment; Revision of the Corn Laws with a view to their ultimate and total abolition; and the Promotion of such measures as will give relief to the ill-governed and deeply injured people of Ireland'. Whitley's Parliamentary Representation of Coventry described Williams, who advocated the free importation of corn and the protection of native industry, as 'a stout square man about 46 years of age, and apparently not to be overdone by a little labour. If he sets about reforming the public expenditure, as he promises, he will need all his strength, for the task is Herculean'.5

Williams was a Radical who stood for reform, but he never allied himself to any political party; on the contrary, he took early opportunity to point out that he was not a party man. One consequence was that he was often on the losing side in the divisions of the House. An early instance came in June 1835 when, in support of George Grote's6 motion that parliamentary elections should be determined by secret ballot, he reminded the House that men were constantly obliged to vote contrary to their feeling and their opinion or what was right. 'Could there be anything more degrading', asked Williams, 'than that a man who had been given by the Constitution a right of voting for a representative should be controlled in the exercise of the right by a master or a tyrant of a landlord, and compelled to sacrifice his principle to his interest?' But the motion was heavily defeated and the plea was to remain unanswered until after William's death.

Important in Williams's parliamentary career was his association with Joseph Hume (1777-1855). Although Hume's mother was widowed early and left with a large family, which was not well provided for she afforded her children an education and Joseph was apprenticed to a surgeon-apothecary. He qualified as a surgeon and served the East India Company in India, where he amassed a fortune, which enabled him to return to England to pursue a political career. He was first elected as a Tory for Weymouth, but transferred his allegiance and ultimately became the champion of the Radicals. He represented a number of constituencies in turn, the last of which was his native Montrose. In its obituary The Times (22 February 1855) said he 'worked not for the Tories or Whigs. He laboured for his country — for the world at large', and described him 'as the unrelenting persecutor of sinecurists, drones, and old men pretending to do the work of the young in the State'.

Early in this association Williams supported Hume (then the member for Middlesex) by seconding an amendment during the 1837 session of Parliament, by which Hume sought an inquiry into the state of banking. In his speech Williams complained that the Bank of England had in the previous few years been increasing its issues far beyond its capacity 'to pay their engagements', with the result that there had been an advance in prices, dearer exports and a consequent decline in foreign trade. His speech earned the disapproval of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Spring Rice), but it is of note that within a few years the Bank Charter Act 1844 limited the issue of notes not covered by bullion.

In the same session Williams seconded an unsuccessful motion for the repeal of the Septennial Act 1716, which extended the duration of Parliament from three to seven years, a Whig move to avoid an election at a time when it was considered that the State was threatened with dangers from within and without. Williams denounced the Act as a violation of the constitution and 'an infraction of the Declaration of Rights' which nad been carried much against the national will. But those with whom Williams associated himself repeatedly spoke in vain on this issue and decades were to pass before a constitutional crisis brought the Parliament Act 1911, which provided for quinquennial parliaments.

In 1838 (23 June) Williams took part in a debate which was to have far-reaching effects on the constitutional development of British territories overseas. There had been serious discontent against British rule among the inhabitants, mostly French, of Lower Canada, where insurrection had been quickly suppressed. To deal with the dangerous situation that ensued, the Government decided to send out Lord Durham as Governor-General, with special powers to investigate conditions there. This arrangement involved the temporary suspension of the Canadian constitution, a step which aroused the angry forebodings of Williams, as well as those of Hume, Grote and others. Williams reminded the House of the disaffection that had existed in the American colonies and brought about the War of Independence and expressed the view that the present measures would 'tend to produce so strong a feeling, so deep a sense of insult, that the people as a body would become disaffected to the mother country'. As it turned out, Williams and his colleagues need not have been apprehensive. Lord Durham, a man of great diplomatic experience, held advanced views which were generally in accord with those who felt like Williams, and his report became justly famous as the cornerstone of subsequent constitutional development in the British colonies. The Durham Report, a 'landmark dividing the constitutional histories of the first and second British Empires',7 was chiefly important because it recognised the need for conceding responsible government.

Williams's first participation in a Budget debate came in May 1838, when he took the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Spring Rice) to task for proposing to borrow £24,000,000 at a rate he thought was ½% more than necessary, thus entailing a substantial loss to the public. Astonished at the Chancellor's apparent uncertain knowledge concerning financial matters, Williams proceeded to give him gratuitous instruction. Williams undoubtedly had a shrewd business mind and here he was applying his experience to matters of public finance with barbed incisiveness, a quality which earned him a reputation as an expert in this field.

But if he was a penny-pinching critic, as some thought him, at least he was a courageous and consistent one from whose eagle eye not even royalty could plead exemption, as instanced, in July of the same year, by his objection to an increased allowance to the Duke of Sussex (son of George III and uncle of Queen Victoria), and a year later (6 June 1839), to a vote of £70,000 for the building of stables at Windsor Castle. This was the year in which the annual grant of £20,000, started in 1832, for building new schools throughout England and Wales, was increased to £30,000. Soon (14 August), Hume and Williams alone objected to a proposal to exempt the parliamentary grant to the heirs of the Duke of Marlborough from the payment of annual duty; they were against hereditary pensions and the suggested exemption doubly offended their sensibilities. But they were a little more effectual early in the following year (27 January 1840), when they introduced an amendment to reduce the proposed grant of £50,000 a year to Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg (whose marriage to Queen Victoria was due to be solemnized on 10 February) to £21,000. Williams felt it would be an extreme waste in view of the distress prevailing, the miserable situation in which millions were placed and the reduced condition of merchants, manufacturers and traders. Speculating on how the money was to be raised, he suspected that if it were to be by way of a tax on some commodity used by the poor as well as the rich there would be no serious objection from the House; but if it were to be by means of a tax on property there would be a general outcry. Although their admendment was defeated Hume and Williams got a large measure of satisfaction when, later in the debate, Sir Robert Peel brought powerful influence to bear in securing a reduction to £30,000.

Williams frequently denounced the unjust burden of taxation which fell upon the working classes. On one such occasion he seconded a motion, by the Member for Oldham, seeking the repeal of the Corn Laws and taxes on the necessities of life which rendered them so dear that 'working people cannot command a sufficiency to supply their daily wants'. He claimed that some taxes 'pressed with four or five times more weight' on the poor than they did upon the rich. But even as he pleaded for a more equitable distribution of the tax burden as between the rich and the poor Williams challenged the House with the charge that they would never tax themselves 'so long as the poor man was shut out from the right of electing Members'. True to his forecast, the motion was lost.

At this time Williams was playing a significant part in the movement to serve adequate means for the effective promotion of the art of design and its application to industry. The Central School of Design for the purpose of giving instruction in the principles of design in relation to various industries had been set up at Somerset House under the Board of Trade in 1837, but when a vote of £1,300 for the School came before the House on 8 May 1840 Williams, although he was in favour of a grant, complained that the school was not of the least use. He deplored the country's backwardness among the manufacturing nations in this field and applauded the success of the government school of design at Lyons in France, which accounted for the superiority of the manufactures of that town. He contended that if a few hundred pounds a year were given for the support of schools in manufacturing towns to encourage the art of design infinitely more good would be achieved. His concern bore early fruit, for in the same year grants were made to establish schools in the more important cities. In time, his own constituents at Coventry would express their gratitude (in an Address presented to him in January 1848) thus: 'We are indebted to you, Sir, for our School of Design (as well as every other town in the country where one is established), an Institution we anticipate will be highly beneficial to our staple manufacture'. These were the institutions which were to develop into the Colleges of Art.

Parallel with this interest was support of the Mechanics' Institutes, which were set up all over the country on a voluntary basis to provide popular scientific education.8 The institute at Coventry had a design class attached to it, but its value was limited by its voluntary nature, a fact which prompted Williams to agitate for support out of public funds — in the first place for the chief manufacturing towns, namely Manchester, Glasgow, Coventry and Norwich. He believed that this would lay the foundations of important institutions, but he insisted that the scheme would have little success unless it were known that it received Government support.

During a noisy debate (August 1841) Williams again endorsed his refusal to be a party man when he spoke, unsuccessfully, in favour of an addition to the Address which sought an extension of the suffrage to confer on the working classes their 'just weight in the representative body'. There were frequent interruptions and when Williams rose to speak he voiced no surprise that this was so when the people's grievancies were under discussion. Defiantly, he announced that he had perfect patience to wait till the House would listen to him. He protested that Ministers had no 'magic influence' to prevent members expressing opinions or preventing 'the House laying its feelings at the foot of the Throne'. He did not subscribe to the doctrine that the House ought not to express an opinion unless it was also the opinion of the Treasury Bench; on the contrary, he thought any Vote should express the opinion of the House.

In the general election of September 1841 the Tories were victorious and Sir Robert Peel formed his second Ministry, but Coventry chose Radical Williams and Ellice (Liberal) as its representatives.

Although he was a Churchman, Williams always opposed state aid for the Established Church. One such occasion came on 11 March 1842, when in vain, he expressed the view that it would be 'a great injustice to the people of this country' that they should be taxed to maintain three new bishoprics it was proposed to create in the West Indies.

Another of his strong objections, on which he often spoke in the House, was his opposition to income-tax measures, although in time he modified this to favour exemption for small incomes of less than £150 a year. When, in 1842, Peel proposed a temporary re-introduction of tax on incomes, which had been imposed by Pitt in 1798, many Whigs and Radicals, Williams among them, strongly opposed the measure and urged a property tax instead. Speaking in the debate, Williams thought it wrong that wealthy landed proprietors should be able to leave their accumulated fortunes to their heirs free of duty, while a poor man was obliged to pay heavy duty on a legacy of £50 or £100. But Peel won the day by claiming that the tax would be generally hailed as 'proof of the determination of the upper classes to bear their fair share of taxation', something which Williams and his colleagues were repeatedly demanding.

Williams was a Radical, but never a republican. Once, during a debate in consequence of an attempt on the Queen's life (30 May 1842), Sir Robert Inglis, the genial but hidebound Tory who had ousted Sir Robert Peel as member for Oxford University on the Catholic emancipation issue, cast doubt upon Williams's loyalty, an insinuation which Williams strongly resented. He denied Inglis 'exclusive loyalty and attachment to the Sovereign and institutions of the country' and avowed his own readiness to defend the Queen whenever she should be in danger.

The Rebecca Riots prompted Williams to state in the House (28 July 1843) that there were no 'more peaceable or religious people than the Welsh' and if the Government adopted a conciliatory course there would be no difficulty in restoring tranquility. The Government had taken a wise course in sending a commissioner to investigate the grievances of the people, but he thought it better if the investigators were not connected with the police. He hoped that the prisoners taken in Carmarthen would be tried in their own county; if they were tried elsewhere the movement could not be put down without a military force in every village and in every farmhouse. The people of Wales were incensed against those whom they conceived to be their persecutors, but he was sure that if their grievances were redressed they would resume their usual peaceful habits.

When presented with a further chance (6 February 1844) to return to the attack on the unfair burden of taxation on the poorer classes and their lack of representation in Parliament, Williams supported a move to stop supplies until public grievances were remedied. He reminded the House that Lord John Russell had introduced the Reform Bill by saying that the people should send to the House 'their real representatives to deliberate on their wants and to consult their interests; to consider their grievances and to attend to their desires; to possess the vast power of holding the purse strings of the monarch, and to lay the foundation for most salutary changes in the well-being of the people'. Williams maintained that none of these things had come about since the passing of the Reform Act in 1832. On the contrary, only recently a petition signed by three and a half million people had protested that the House was not representative and that its acts were passed by interested parties. Of the six million adult population five million had no voice in electing members of Parliament, yet the House in its injustice threw upon the unrepresented five million at least two-thirds of the total burden of taxation. What, he asked, would the country be without those five million people? What would be the value of the land, the mines, the manufactures, the ships, the colonies, the commerce? Whence came the men for the Army and the Navy? All the resources which constituted the riches and power of the country were derived from those unrepresented classes who were complaining of the injustice inflicted upon them.

Protesting that it was altogether ridiculous to speak of a representative House of Commons that had been elected as a result of bribery and corruption on a grand scale, Williams condemned the whole tax system as 'partial and unjust'. Those who imposed the taxes always took care of themselves and the order they belonged to. The tax on land was only £1,100,000 or £1,200,000 out of a total of £55,000,000. The taxes on the necessaries of life were most unjustly imposed. Tea which sold at 10d and tea which sold at 5s. the pound paid the same tax of 2s.2d. per pound, so that the humble inhabitant of the garret, earning perhaps 3s. a week by sewing, and who could get scarcely anything but tea, paid five times as much duty as was paid in proportion 'by the occupants of the Treasury Bench opposite'. He spoke of other commodities in like vein. He repeated the claim that ten million people in the country lived on potatoes and oatmeal, the food of cattle; such a state of things could not continue.

The Prime Minister, Peel, demolished the argument in the eyes of the House by saying that Williams came forward, not as the advocate of household suffrage, but 'maintains that the right to possess the franchise shall be co-extensive with taxation'. If he (Williams) were saying that both the male and female portion of the community ought to be invested with the right to vote then 'I can only say that the hon. Gentleman comes forward as a more comprehensive Reformer than any that has hitherto appeared in this House'. Peel carried the day and maybe Williams was not quite so 'comprehensive a Reformer', but, with the decades, freedom broadened slowly down from precedent to precedent until universal suffrage was achieved as a result of the Representation of the People Act, 1928, when, ironically, women constituted the majority of the electorate.9

His contempt for rapacious privilege was vented in the House (24 June 1844) when a member, also a director of the Bank of England, condemned proposed restrictions on the Bank's activities as being neither necessary nor equitable. Williams retorted that it was to be expected that a member with an interest would object to 'any check upon those exclusive privileges which had so often brought difficulty and distress upon the people'. This time he was on the winning side and he thanked the Prime Minister (Peel) for the restrictive measure which had been introduced.

On the same day, Williams, speaking on the report of the Inspector of Prisons inveighed against a proposal to impose the horrors of solitary confinement on untried persons —presumed to be innocent until proved otherwise — perhaps for three, four or five months. He thought it inhuman and against the plainest dictates of common humanity. At the same time, he hurled a shaft at the magistracy, among whom he regretted that 'ignorance and malignity too often existed'.

Never afraid to challenge the over-privileged, however exalted, Williams once threw a gage before the Duke of Newcastle. The occasion concerned the sale to the Duke of 7,000 acres of common land which adjoined his Hafod estate in Cardiganshire. Williams described to the House (7 March 1845) what had happened following the sale of common land some years earlier. The purchaser, in defiance of a ruling by the Lord Chief Justice, had tried to remove nearly a hundred poor men who had settled upon it, erected cottages and brought the land into cultivation from a state of waste. The matter had been brought to his attention in 1832 and after he had caused ministerial investigation to be undertaken an amicable solution was arrived at.10 He promised the Duke that if he had any thoughts about behaving in a similar way in respect of the Cardiganshire land then he would assist the poor as he had in the earlier case.

Some days later (18 March) Williams denounced the continued imposition of the window tax as an impost on light and air. In his own constituency of Coventry people suffered extraordinary hardship and injustice from the way the tax operated. Many were engaged in weaving, which was carried on in the upper part of their houses and required a great deal of light, but whereas buildings used wholly for manufacture were exempt, dwellings partly used for manufacture were subject to tax on all windows. Although the appeal failed, the tax, which had been levied since 1697, disappeared in 1851, to be replaced by a tax on inhabited houses.

A decision which caused him pain, because it differed from the view of many people whose opinion he respected, related to a grant, considered by the House on 5 May 1845, to the National College of St. Patrick, a Catholic theological institution at Maynooth,11 about twelve miles west of Dublin. He justified his support of the grant by referring to the large sums taken from Catholics and Dissenters, much of which was used in aid of the Established Church. Dr. Connop Thirlwall, Bishop of St. Davids also strongly supported the grant when it came before the House of Lords, but many Nonconformists were bitterly opposed. For Williams, the decision was a fateful one, which was to have an important effect on his parliamentary career.

As a result of an issue which Williams raised in the House of Commons, the year 1846 was one of cataclysmic significance in the history of modern Wales. When he rose to speak on 10 March he could hardly have foreseen the public storm that was to ensue. His speech, one of the longest of the hundreds he made in the House, was delivered in support of his historic motion in the following terms: 'That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty that She will be graciously pleased to direct an Inquiry be made into the state of Education in the Principality of Wales, especially into the means afforded to the labouring classes of acquiring a knowledge of the English language'.

Williams explained that he would have preferred the motion to have been put by a member representing a Welsh constituency so that local knowledge might more forcibly point out the 'great destitution of means' for educating the 'industrious classes'. He went on to say that the people of Wales laboured under a peculiar difficulty from the existence of an ancient language. The gentry and educated classes spoke English, as did the towns generally, while farmers, labourers and other inhabitants of the rural and mining districts spoke Welsh. He claimed that as it was the language of the poorer classes, important literary works had not for ages been produced in Welsh and scarcely had there been translated in the language any works in literature, the arts and sciences, especially mechanics, chemistry, agriculture and useful knowledge generally.

He went on to say that 'consequently although equally industrious with their English neighbours, the Welsh are much behind them in intelligence, in the enjoyment of the comforts of life, and the means of improving their condition. This is universally attributed by intelligent Welshmen, as well as Englishmen and foreigners who have been amongst them, to the want of an English education, which all the common people are most anxious to obtain; but the means afforded to them is lamentably deficient. In many parishes there are no schools; and where there are schools, it is common for the schoolmasters to be ignorant, uneducated men, and incapable of giving instruction'.

The inquiry called for would bring to light 'an extent of educational destitution in Wales that would call for the interference of the House and the Government'. He reminded the House that inquiries had been made into the state of education in every part of England, Scotland and Ireland; much valuable information had also been obtained from Inspectors of Factories, the Poor Law Commissioners, and Inspectors of Mines on the state of education in England, but only one parish in Wales had been visited and reported upon. Wales had been neglected in a marked manner.

Citing evidence gathered by others, Williams said there were 250,000 children under fifteen who ought to be receiving 'the blessings of education', but only 70,000 attended schools and the education that a large proportion received was so inferior as to be little better than nominal. There were thus 180,000 children 'whose immortal spirits were deprived of that guide they receive from a moral and religious education'. General testimony showed that of the adult working population a large proportion could neither read nor write, that many had only acquired the art of knowing letters and words and that very few could read with case and understand what they read. Quoting from a report on the mining population of South Wales by the Rev. H. W. Bellairs, who had been commissioned by the Privy Council Committee for Education, Williams said that these men were 'industrious to the last degree, but were destitute of all means of mental recreation and enjoyment, therefore their place of resort was the public house'.

Charging the employers of labour with dereliction of responsibility, Williams asked why 'the masters who counted their gains from the labour of these people by tens, twenties and fifties of thousands of pounds a year did not adopt means for improving their mental and moral condition by placing competent schoolmasters among them'. Some, to their credit, had done much in this respect, but as a body they required from their workers not so much mental ingenuity as manual labour. He deplored such indifference towards an industrious people, by whose labour such masses of wealth were produced. Had the landlords of Wales been 'compelled by law to establish and maintain efficient schools in every parish, as were the landlords of Scotland, they would have been repaid tenfold by the improved condition of their estates and intelligent superior tenantry'.

In contrast to this apathy, Williams said there was among the people themselves 'an intense and universal desire to learn the English language which affords the best means of improving their condition, and of enabling their children to get on in the world'. Here he was reflecting a view expressed in the Report of the Commissioners, appointed to inquire into the management of Turnpike Trusts in South Wales, that the prevalent desire of the uneducated was to superadd to their own a knowledge of the English language, but the means fell far short of demand.

Confessing his habit, whenever parliamentary occasion afforded, of endeavouring to enforce economy in the expenditure of public money, Williams insisted that he had 'never objected or complained of its application for the purposes of education in any part of the United Kingdom, believing ... that an educated people could be governed easier and much cheaper than an uneducated ignorant people', besides conferring 'vast social benefits and moral power'. Had there been an efficient system of education in Wales comparable to those which existed in many European countries 'the people would have been educated and such occurrences as those of Newport12 and the Rebecca disturbances, and their lamentable consequences, would not have taken place; the people would have redressed their grievances by constitutional means instead of violence...'

When Williams had finished his speech, the Home Secretary (Sir James Graham) rose to say that, provided the motion was withdrawn, the Government would agree to appoint Inspectors and that their report would be laid before the House. Williams consented, three Commissioners were appointed and their reports were published in 1847, the year in which he once more spoke in the House on the subject of education, this time in respect of the distribution of government grants. In 1834, Parliament authorised a sum of £20,000 to be distributed in aid of private subscriptions for erection of schools to educate children of the poorer classes, one stipulation being that no grant would be payable until half the estimated cost of building a school had been raised voluntarily. By 1846 this vote had been increased to £100,000 and in the meantime a Committee for Education13 had been set up under the Privy Council to superintend the grants. When the vote was considered in 1847 (17 July), Williams critisized as altogether bad a system whereby no money was advanced until there were proofs of power to co-operate, by means of voluntary subscriptions, on the part of those who applied for grant. He took the view that there 'ought to be an inspection of the means of providing education in every parish throughout England and Wales and the liberality should be greatest in those districts which were found to be most destitute'.

Williams's twelve years as a representative for Coventry were now drawing to a close. In July 1847 Parliament was dissolved and in the general election Williams suffered his only parliamentary defeat, an eventuality which put him out of the legislature for three years. The surprise defeat was attributed in part to 'Tory trickery' in supplying a candidate at the last moment and thus catching unawares the over-confident Williams camp, which failed to organize properly for the contest. Williams himself felt that he had lost because of his stand in favour of a policy of public education supported wholly by government grants; he was convinced that he had alienated Nonconformist supporters, who were generally in favour of voluntary effort as against official aid. At that time there was a widespread feeling that any system of education should have a religious basis; attitudes so based accounted for the National (or Church) Schools, on the one hand, and, on the other, the British or Lancastrian Schools, favoured by Nonconformists.

The years during which Williams was out of Parliament saw the eruption of a controversy that was to engage the minds of all concerned Welshmen. This public debate, conducted over a long time by means of printed and oral word, was ignited by the publication of the report of the Commissioners appointed in response to Williiams's plea, an event which was 'to prove the main landmark in the nineteenth century, not only in the educational, but in the social and political history of Wales'.14

The reports, published in three large volumes, were the work of three young men, able and efficient, who were on the threshold of what were to be distinguished careers. But their appointment as Commissioners was a serious mistake. They were members of the Anglican Church, they had no knowledge of Wales, its language or culture, and they had no experience of working-class life and conditions. In turn, the Commissioners themselves compounded this misfortune by an unwise choice of assistants, most of whom were Churchmen. The result was an unmistakeable, if unintentional, bias in the way they went about their task, despite the clear instructions provided for their guidance. They were commanded to ascertain the facts which would assist the Government in improving the provision made for education and in doing so they were enjoined to hear evidence from Dissenters and Anglicans, rich and poor, with courtesy, sympathy and impartiality. But the practical result of their investigation showed that of the three hundred or so witnesses examined about eighty per cent were Anglicans and as Wales was very much a Nonconformist country it is not surprising that they failed to present an adequate picture. Even so, they undertook the work with diligence and industry, and probably without conscious prejudicial intent. Whatever the exceptions to their content, the reports remain a valuable store of historical information.

Of the three Commissioners, the one assigned to deal with Carmarthenshire, as well as Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire was Ralph Robert Whicher Lingen, an Oxford graduate, who, in 1846, had become a Fellow of Balliol; more recently, he had been called to the Bar. His work on the Commission was followed by a distinguished career as secretary to the Committee of Council for Education (1849-70) and permanent secretary to the Treasury from 1870 until his retirement in 1885, when he was raised to the peerage as Lord Lingen. The other Commissioners, who were assigned to other parts of Wales were Jelniger Cookson Symons, and Henry Robert Vaughan Johnson, both graduates of Cambridge, the first already a barrister and the other soon to qualify likewise.

Lingen commenced his fieldwork in Llandovery on 18 October 1846 and finished at Merthyr Tydfil on 3 April 1847. His personal report, in Part I,15 takes up pages 1 to 42, supplemented by tables in pages 43 to 61. In addition, the volume contains 492 large pages of field reports, of which about 90 pages relate to evidence taken in respect of Carmarthenshire; evidence relating to the other two counties each takes up roughly the same space. There are also over 200 pages of parish tables concerning the three counties and about fifteen pages dealing generally with mining, manufacturing, and adult night schools. Whatever else may be said of the reports, there cannot be anything but agreement on the despatch and thoroughness with which the task was discharged.

The reports showed that education in Wales was in a deplorably bad state. Most parishes had no school at all; if there was one, it was pitifully inadequate, often accommodated in a dilapidated out-building, loft or stable, usually dirty and rudely furnished. Teachers, generally, achieved no better standards. Often, they had resorted to teaching because of some misfortune, such as the loss of a limb, which denied them employment in other spheres; perhaps, just as often, they were untrained and incapable, because of their deficiency in the language, of teaching in English, which was the medium of instruction. The language question apart, conditions of much the same kind commonly prevailed in England, and had the reports been restricted to accommodation and teaching standards, the reaction would doubtless have been greatly tempered. But the reports contained such unflattering statements as to lacerate national pride and whip up a fury of resentment. It was alleged that the Welsh language was a barrier against enlightenment and advancement, which resulted not only in widespread ignorance, but wild, immoral and unchaste behaviour as well. Critics, therefore, viewed the reports as a gratuitous libel against the Welsh people.

The controversy was further aggravated by divergent attitudes as to what form education should take and how it should be provided. At that time there was a widespread feeling that education should have a moral and religious foundation. By a fairly lengthy tradition the Sunday Schools had exercised an educational function and many felt that education was a religious and not a state responsibility. On this issue the debate revolved upon the concept of voluntaryism. Most Welsh Nonconformists, and many of their counterparts in England, were voluntaryists, who objected to state aid for the provision of schools, which they maintained should come into being as a result of voluntary effort; often they equated the idea of state education with a state church and feared that, if it materialised, the educational system would be founded inalienably upon the Anglican Church. These apprehensions were genuinely held and few were ready to perceive a solution in a secular system of education, inconceivable to some and anathema to many. Whereas Nonconformists were generally, but not wholly, voluntaryists (in north Wales, for instance, the voluntaryists were not nearly as strong), Anglicans were not inhibited by such qualms and accepted aid willingly from the State, which voluntaryists regarded as the handmaid of the Established Church.

At the centre of this angry and passionate controversy was William Williams. Although he was one of those who looked forward to a secular system acceptable to all, he was viewed by many of his compatriots as the begetter of the Blue Books, the repository of the libellous malice against his native land that had been compounded by the Commissioners. Among these were David Charles, Carmarthen, David Rees, Llanelli (editor of Diwygiwr), Henry Richard and, perhaps the most violent in his criticism, Ieuan Gwynedd (Rev. Evan Jones), who was briefly editor of The Pricipality, published in Cardiff. Those who shared Williams's view that popular education was a state responsibility included Hugh Owen (later to become the principal founder of the University College at Aberystwyth), Dr. Lewis Edwards, Bala, (editor of Y Traethodydd) and Kilsby Jones. These latter, and those who thought like them, were also supported in their belief in a state system by their conviction that the people of Wales were too poor to provide schools out of their own voluntary resources.

Though, having lost his parliamentary seat, he was now deprived of a national forum to promote his views, Williams did not remain idle, but used all other means to vindicate himself against the powerful attacks against him and to advance the cause of a state aided system of education. To some extent he had himself undermined his own position by having, it would seem, accepted the reports uncritically; furthermore, he had made pronouncements regarding Welsh culture and social conditions, which more than anything, perhaps, served to stir the ire of his critics. Though it was unwise to say that the Welsh language had not for ages produced any literature, he was not far wrong in claiming that it was deficient in printed works relating to modern knowledge, science and technology. His intention in saying that the Welsh people 'laboured under a peculiar difficulty from the existence of an ancient language' may have been misunderstood, but it is not surprising that thereby he invited and certainly got abusive javelins from insulted countrymen.

He also attributed the Rebecca Riots and the Newport Chartist rising to ignorance and want of education, thus giving the impression that such disturbances were peculiar to Wales, whereas England, too, was not without similar experience. Although it was the Commissioners' reports that alleged immorality and unchastity, Williams, too, was made to share the blame. Criticism from such causes surrounded him with controversial warfare that often paid little attention to his passionate plea for the 'blessings of education' which he was demanding on behalf of the inarticulate and neglected. But he was not left alone against the shower of critical missiles that assailed him; there were others, moved by strong conviction, who willingly came to his aid.

During the year 1848, Williams wrote two pamphlets, the first of which was a 'Letter to Lord John Russell on the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the State of Education in Wales'. The other was 'A Second Letter on the present Defective State of Education in Wales', which was addressed to those who wished to promote the well-being of the Welsh people. The first of these letters, addressed to the Prime Minister, contained much of what he had said in Parliament when he called for an inquiry in March 1846. This drew an acid reply from Ieuan Gwynedd, who refuted charges of ignorance, immorality and disorderliness among the Welsh. His was the defiant trumpet blast on behalf of the Voluntaryists: 'The anxiety of the people for education renders your scheme [advocated by Williams] unnecessary. The Welsh are determined to educate themselves'.

Those who rushed to the defence of Williams came from within Wales and without. Among them was Gibbon Salisbury,16 a descendant of the illustrious William Salesbury. In a letter to Williams, in 1849, he lamented the Coventry defeat and expressed his desire to see Williams back 'again in the House as the avowed champion of Education for the Welsh'. In another, a public letter to the Marquis of Landsdowne, President of the Council, Salisbury condemned the opponents of state-aided education who 'have, like cowards, turned upon the friends of Education and have called them enemies of religion ... who wished to shut up all Sunday Schools and Dissenting Chapels, and who hated the Welsh tongue'. In this letter Salisbury complained that the opponents of state aid had been 'cajoled by one', which may have been a reference to the opposition of Ieuan Gwynedd.

In his second letter, Williams cited some of the many evidences, contained in the Commissioners' reports, of the degraded state of education in Wales and doubted not when 'this humiliating picture had been brought under notice' that the Government would have 'directed efficient means to be adopted to remedying so crying an evil'. But he had been disappointed that the only result had been 'an exposure of a more disgraceful neglect of the Queen's British subjects than exists in any other civilized country in the world'. His broadside, fired without the walls of Parliament, boomed: 'Surely the Government does not consider that its duties to the people of Wales are limited to Taxing them; if that be not the case, it cannot permit them to remain in this deplorable condition. I have used my humble but earnest efforts to awaken the sympathies of Her Majesty's ministers, and to induce them to adopt effectual remedial measures, but not being now in Parliament, those efforts remain unheeded'. Of those who might have been expected to be more active, he had this to say: 'The persons who have commanding influence with the Government are the Peers connected with the Principality; but they keep aloof and do nothing'. Much the same might have been said of the Welsh Members, who were 'mostly ignorant of the language and out of sympathy with the ideas of those whom they were supposed to represent'.17

From the outset, Williams saw that the provision of adequate training to supply properly equipped teachers in sufficient numbers was essential. 'What Wales stands in indispensable need', he wrote, 'before a successful effort can be made to establish good education is properly and well-trained teachers, without whom any attempt to improve and extend education would be futile ... Energetic efforts should therefore be directed to establish training schools for the education of schoolmasters'. The Congregational Union had not long succeeded in instituting a Normal School at Brecon for teacher-training and a Training College, founded by the National Society, was soon to open at Carmarthen to supply Church School teachers. These were voluntary institutions. Williams advocated the establishment of two additional training schools with the help of government grants, one for north and the other for south Wales, for educating one hundred schoolmasters for each area. He stressed that these should co-operate with the Brecon and Carmarthen training schools in 'carrying out the one great object they have in common — namely, the educating and elevating of the Welsh people'. But this was not the limit of his horizon; he stood upon an eminence that extended it far enough for him to appreciate the 'inestimable good' of making similar provision for the training of schoolmistresses, too.

Although he respected the sincere feeling of independence shown by Nonconformists, Williams all along doubted their ability to overcome the financial difficulties in achieving their object. Practical experience had shown that response to appeals for money had not been adequate to support the voluntary principle and he feared that if Wales insisted on such a principle exclusively it would involve the abandonment of any sound educational system. He therefore, in his letter to Lord John Russell, invited the ministers and people of all sects and creeds to join him in devoting 'united and unbroken efforts to the sacred cause of educating and elevating their poorer fellow countrymen'. In backing his case, by offering to subscribe £500 towards establishing and maintaining a Training School, Williams stated: 'My pecuniary interest in Wales is but little compared with that of thousands of other men. I possess only a comparatively small property in that country. I offer my contribution from a sense of duty imposed upon property, and that I ought to apply a portion of what I draw from the industry of that country, to improve the intellectual, social and physical condition of its people...'

He re-affirmed his views at a meeting concerning education in Wales, convened by the mayor at Swansea on 29 January 1849; in doing so, he demonstrated his attitude to his native language by insisting that the first step to be attained by the working classes of Wales was 'a competent knowledge of the English language without, of course, disturbing the Welsh'. At an adjourned session of this meeting, which was reported by the Swansea and Glamorgan Herald, the audience appeared to be almost evenly divided on the question of state aid for education, for a resolution in favour of a college for training schoolmasters, open to all denominations and dependent upon government aid, was carried by a bare majority amidst a 'most awful uproar'.

So long as the debate raged, the real issue — how to achieve a satisfactory system of education — remained largely unsolved and the interests of the illiterate were almost forgotten in the conflict between the forces of politics and religion. At times, it degenerated into a recriminatory exercise between the sects. In 1854, for instance, the Rev. Robert Jones (Derfel) published Brad y Llyfrau Gleision (Treachery of the Blue Books), a dramatic poem of dubious literary quality, in which members of the Anglican Church were contrasted unfavourably with Dissenters. When religion and morality, or lack of it, was not at issue, the Welsh language and its literature was the subject of recrimination, but whether there was any intent to undermine or even annihilate the vernacular, there is no doubt that there was a widespread desire to acquire a knowledge of English as the 'language of advancement'; indeed, it has been said that at that time 'the teaching of that language was almost the be-all and end-all of education in Wales'.18

These conflicts, and the added misfortune arising from the split in the Nonconformist ranks, impeded progress towards an efficient system of secular education, particularly in south Wales, where the Voluntaryists were at their strongest. Largely responsible for this hindrance was the determined but sincere opposition of sturdy Non-conformists, whose short-sightedness ultimately exposed them as 'false prophets',19 though it is fair to say that some later recognized their error and recanted. The role of Williams, on the other hand, has been variously assessed. There is no gainsaying his passionate belief in state-aided education, but there has sometimes been a tendency to overlook this by emphasizing his attitude, or supposed attitude, to Welsh life and culture and charging him with views unsympathetic to the Welsh language. Some see him as the willing and chosen tool of the Government in its intention to annihilate the Welsh language and assimilate the Welsh people.20 By others he is seen as a man 'Welsh to his hearts core', who 'at length advocated his country's claims in the House of Commons';21 one worthy to be named with Griffith Jones, Llanddowror and Thomas Charles (of Sunday School fame),22 whose 'clarion call in his long but stirring Parliamentary oration had bestirred the interest of employers who had previously been indifferent to the need for an educated workforce'.23 But whatever the view, the English education system, when at last it was introduced as a result of the Act of 1870, was 'avidly received by the parents, if not by the children, as the gateway to the fields of promise'.24

The disappointment wrought by the loss of his seat at Coventry was made more tolerable by the continued affection of his admirers and supporters, which they showed Williams in the form of a silver candelabra and salver, weighing 240 ounces, which were presented to him with an Address paying tribute to the 'ample and indisputable evidence of the faithful and zealous labours, guided by the sole desire of benefiting all classes of your fellow-countrymen', to his efforts to 'increase the influence of the people in the House of Commons ... by extending the electoral franchise and securing to all classes its independent exercise', his endeavours to enforce economy in public expenditure with a view to removing oppressive taxes on the necessaries of life, and his support of 'every measure for intellectual advancement of the people'.

In expressing his thanks Williams said he had never asked a favour of the government and as a result he had been able to 'make my stand as an independent man amongst those who surrounded me, many of whom were bound by ties of various kinds' and who were 'prevented from doing their duty honestly to their constituents'. He referred to the course taken against him by Dissenters in the election in which he was defeated and insisted that he wanted an educational system entirely free from sectarian bias; he was 'well persuaded that the time is not far distant when we shall have a scheme of education which will be satisfactory to all classes'. Education, above all things, was 'the greatest good that could be conferred upon the common people. I am most anxious for them to obtain their political rights; but at the same time, I know they never will obtain them until they are educated people, and can present that moral force which will be irresistable...'25

When, in July 1850, Williams sought re-entry into Parliament he was still obliged to defend his position as an advocate of 'state education', even though the election was fought in the London constituency of Lambeth. The vacant seat had been caused by the resignation of a sitting member and his opponent was Admiral Sir Charles Napier, popularly known as 'Rough and Ready', a Whig who entered the field because he felt Williams was too much of a Radical. During the campaign his adversaries fastened upon two charges — his support of the Maynooth grant (towards a Roman Catholic theological college) and his call for the inquiry which had produced the Report 'bitterly hostile to Dissenters and scandalously libelling the Welsh population'. Furthermore, he was accused of favouring the use of public money for education grants and of wanting to force state education upon the Welsh people. His support of the Maynooth grant was condemned because it was inconsistent with his opposition to religious endownments and to the union of Church and State. It is true that he, a Churchman, was strongly against an established church, but so long as Roman Catholics paid taxes to support the Church of England he felt justified in favouring a grant to a Catholic institution. Williams's supporters countered by pointing out that these were the only two that could be criticized out of more than 2,000 votes he had recorded in the Commons as a representative for Coventry.

In a bitterly fought contest, Williams denounced the 'oligarchical interests' predominant in the Legislature, and the unjust taxation system that 'screens the rich and the property class from contributing their due share' and threw 'an oppressive burden on the industrious and productive classes'. He promised to seek repeal of the window tax and the 'taxes on knowledge' and pledged support for the policy of Free Trade, which had 'added so much to the comforts of the People'; and, in claiming that the Reform Act had 'entirely failed to accomplish the objects which its authors professed', advocated a fair distribution of electoral districts and elective franchise, exercised through the Ballot, for all who had attained manhood, criminals excepted.

Williams won the election by an overwhelming majority and so was able to return to Parliament 'to labour side by side with the veteran reformer, Hume'. A writer in The Principality, which had been briefly edited by Ieuan Gwynedd, his bitter opponent in the Blue Books controversy, approved Williams's election with enthusiasm and acclaimed him as a man of 'tried political character—of enlightened views—of inflexible honesty—a consistent opposer of all abuse'.26

His first speech (12 August 1850) on re-entering the House of Commons was delivered in opposition to a coercive measure relating to Ireland. He complained that nothing had been done to remedy the grievances of Ireland, which was still governed by armies and coercive Acts. Even so, if the measure, degrading though it was, would prevent a single murder, he would be the last to oppose it. But the crimes perpetrated in Ireland were committed by 'the hand of the oppressed against the oppressor'. Much was heard of these crimes, but nothing of others — evictions, by which hundreds of families were exposed to starvation. He had seen the condition of serfs in the worst parts of Russia and of several tribes of North American Indians, but the condition of the Irish and their dwellings was worse than anything he had seen. Yet in the United States, where men flocked from all nations to improve themselves the Irish competed successfully. They were wretched at home because of misgovernment and too many coercive laws. Among the few who voted with Williams and Hume, were Bright and Cobden.

In the following year (2 April) Williams pursued his election claim that the objects of the Reform Act had not been wholly achieved, by quoting (in the debate on the Compound Householders Bill) figures to show that very many thousands of householders were disfranchised, even though they occupied property of qualifying value. This came about because landlords were able to compound for rates, with the result that tenants were not listed in the rate-book. In London alone those disfranchised thus amounted to two, three and even four times the numbers listed for voting purposes.

Williams always suspected the purpose for which money voted for the Secret Services was used and when the Vote was considered (7 July 1851) he moved, unsuccessfully, that it be substantially reduced. He justified his case by saying there was a prevalent impression that some of the money was used to corrupt voters at elections. He also called for the appointment of a Select Committee, 'fairly chosen', to examine every item of expenditure. This was the occasion when Disraeli, having said that they had heard a remarkable charge, observed that Williams, 'who represented an important metropolitan constituency ... always spoke on all subjects with statistical accuracy'.

His concern over the treatment of political prisoners was aroused by the case of Ernest Charles Jones, son of a well-to-do Welsh family, who had been sentenced to two years imprisonment for delivering a seditious speech. Jones, a Chartist protagonist, had been punished — along with two other political prisoners who had died of cholera which was raging in the prison — with solitary confinement on bread and water for refusing to pick oakum. Williams called for the repeal of the legislation that allowed such people to be treated as common felons, subject to oppressive and disgraceful treatment. That cholera infected the prison did not deter Williams from carrying out his duties as a visiting magistrate to do what he could for those who, although convicted, suffered injustice.

In the general election of February 1852 Williams was returned as one of the two members for Lambeth. It was early in this new Parliament that Hume and Williams came to be known as 'the two Arcadians'. The sobriquet was flung contemptuously across the Chamber by Sir Robert Inglis,27 he who had once questioned Williams's loyalty to the Crown. Williams, who was yet again demanding that real property should bear its fair share of duty, he dubbed the Junior Arcadian.

This favoured treatment of real property was to Williams the supreme example of legislative manipulation to secure privilege for the land-owning classes and in a determined effort to win redress he fathered a resolution in the following year, when he condemned it as 'a violation of every principle of common honesty'. In a very long speech he appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Gladstone) to remove this 'stigma on both Houses of the Legislature', which rendered them open to the charge of grasping selfishness. In an equally long reply, Gladstone, while not altogether agreeing, promised a careful examination of the whole question with a view to doing 'full and impartial justice to all classes'. Williams got early satisfaction, for Gladstone, in his budget of April 1853, introduced a 'succession duty' on real property. Williams welcomed the budget as 'the most statesmanlike scheme of finance he heard laid before the House', which it was universally admitted to be.

To Williams a large share of credit may be allotted for an important reform in the management of revenue collection and expenditure. He was concerned that the House should be the protector of public money and that no tax revenue should be expended without its authority. In moving a resolution to secure proper control, he regretted that such an important function had been 'most culpably neglected' over a long period. He justified his case by pointing out that of the millions of pounds collected in taxes a very large proportion was impounded by the revenue departments for salaries and other payments. He contended that all revenues should be paid direct into the public treasury and that votes should be set out in the Estimates to meet the expenses of the departments. Undeterred by suggestions that there were insurmountable difficulties, Williams confidently undertook to remove them. His plea impressed an influential ear, for in February 1854 Gladstone introduced a Bill to bring all public revenue under parliamentary control, but because of a change of government the measure was put into effect by his successor, Sir George Cornewall Lewis, who, on 19 May 1856, stated in the House, 'My hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Lambeth, will see that I have included the charge for the collection of the revenue—£4,588,000—which has never been done before'.

That Williams was a recognized champion of maltreated servicemen in the Army and the Navy is illustrated by the case of HMS Star, which he raised in the House on 18 May 1854. Already he had been among the foremost to demand reform when he drew the attention of the House (on 20 July 1846) to the flogging of sailors and the manner in which courts-martial were constituted in the Navy. In doing so, he compared the continued harshness of naval punishments with the less rigorous demands of the criminal law, which had been 'very greatly ameliorated', with the result that the punishment of death, which was formerly inflicted for numerous crimes, was imposed only in a few cases. While civilians were punished, for stealing, with short terms of imprisonment, the sailor was still liable to be hanged. In recent years Chartists had been sentenced to imprisonment for uttering seditious words; a sailor could be sentenced to death for a like offence. 'A sailor', said Williams, 'might have been seized by a press gang, dragged from his house like a criminal, and have all his prospects blasted, and under feelings of irritation from such treatment, might utter words of complaint which might be construed into seditious language. Such a punishment ought not to be allowed to remain...' Even in the Army, he said, there was protection against violence and injustice and flogging could not be inflicted without the sanction of a court-martial. But the sailor was flogged at the sole will of the captain and had no appeal.

Some days later Williams made a plea on behalf of the soldier. But while some reforms were needed, he took the view that the soldier's condition was superior to that of the agricultural labourer. When military flogging was debated (7 August) he said the whole country looked with astonishment and indignation at the punishment inflicted on those men who were called upon to hazard their lives in their country's service. Because certain generals and admirals thought it necessary, flogging was being retained and if it were left to the discretion of such people it would never be got rid of. He called upon the Government to take the responsibility upon themselves.

Williams made many similar protests, but he was long dead before reformative legislation was passed. Even so, partial success was achieved in the following year, when Williams, in co-operation with Hume called (on 9 February 1847) for the publication of punishments carried out on each of Her Majesty's ships. As a result there was a prodigious fall in the number of punishments inflicted.

In the case of HMS Star, Williams had received information from the crew and he alleged in the House that punishment had been inflicted with 'a cruelty that would disgrace a cannibal'. He pointed out that the Duke of Wellington had reduced maximum punishment in the Army from one thousand lashes to fifty in deference to the opinion of the House of Commons; he himself had over and over again drawn attention to cases of cruelty in the Navy, with the result that maximum punishment had been reduced from a thousand lashes to forty-eight. As a result of Williams's intervention, the ship's company were relieved of further oppressive cruelty through the resignation of the captain of the Star.

Unloved by senior officers of the fighting services, the intractable Williams was often the object of their spleen, but he was never one to be intimidated by oral threats, as witness his clash with Col. Knox, the Member for Marlow, in the debate on the Army Estimates in 1855. The Colonel, in a forthright manner, had taken exception to Williams's remarks about a table allowance of £500 that had been granted the Guards; resenting the strong language used, Williams defiantly assured his opponent that he would not be deterred from condemning abuses and that while there was something thought to be 'very terrible in the name of a soldier', he was neither afraid of the Colonel nor of any other man.

Soon (27 March), he returned to the attack during a debate on the method of Army appointments. It was well known, he said, that many staff officers, who had not been under fire (during the Crimean War), had been promoted over the heads of regimental officers who had been engaged in the field. He deprecated a system in which men of means connected with the aristocracy might purchase advancement and was convinced that there must be a change if the Army were to become as efficient as it ought to be. On the other hand, he had nothing but praise for the troops at Inkerman, generally admitted to be 'the battle of the private soldier', and their bravery had never been exceeded.

KenningtonGreen.thumb.jpg Williams, who had inherited the mantle of Joseph Hume as foremost among the Radicals following his death in 1855, was returned to Parliament in the election of 1857, but after the dissolution in April 1859, he felt his deteriorating health would not allow him to carry on efficiently and he therefore announced his retirement. But when he was informed of a rumour that he had been 'bought over' to stand down, his pride was stung and he yielded to the entreaties of his supporters to change his mind, with the result that he was returned unopposed.

This change-about made him the subject of some amusing verse in Punch (30 April 1859), which proclaimed

Now Lambeth, trebly blest, has got
Its Wiscount Williams back again.

After commending Williams's ability 'In high Finance to 'spound and 'splain', the skit concluded:

Still penny wisdom's constant friend,
He'll save our every candle-end,
Till Britain bless the men that send
Her Wiscount Williams back again.

That he was called Viscount Williams, in Cockney fashion, was a reference to a constituency speech made by Williams in 1857 (reported in The Times of 25 March), in which he stated, that during the time he had served in Parliament he had 'never asked or received the slightest favour from the various Governments which had held office', though he had 'often been tried' and had been 'subjected to temptations of all sorts and upon many occasions'. It was suggested that the 'temptations' even included promise of a title in return for support of the government. But, refusing to be bought, Williams insisted that the only sure way to win his support was through the presentation of 'measures beneficial to the country'. The following day The Times carried a leading article in which Williams was described as 'the Williams — adapted as he is by nature to grace any station'; otherwise, there was little but scorn for the claim that he had been offered and refused a title. His biographer, unimpressed by such disbelief, prefers to rely on the honesty of Williams and backs his confidence by pointing out that Delane, the editor, was a powerful government supporter.28 Whatever the truth, in view of his unrelenting capacity for searching inquiry, it is not impossible to believe that approaches were made to Williams in an attempt to draw his critical fangs.

WilliamsCartoon_001.thumb.jpg His concern for the cultural well-being of ordinary folk was demonstrated in the House in 1860 when he complained about the lamentable lack of opportunity afforded the working classes to visit the British Museum, which was open to the public on only three days a week and in day-time hours. He pressed for evening opening, and more opportunity to make use of its facilities, but it was not until 1879 that the Museum was opened for six days a week.

Once more Williams returned to the attack on the privileged position of landowners, when (on 19 February 1861) he moved a resolution in the House that real property should be made to pay the same probate duty as personal property. Although, in 1853, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Gladstone) had introduced a 'succession duty', it was only at a rate half that on personal property, and Williams complained that the rich were still favourably treated — 'an extraordinary situation, for the justice of which no man would contest'.

It was in reply to this speech that Gladstone, Chancellor once more, paid tribute to Williams by saying, '... on former occasions, and occasions of great importance, when it has been my duty to make large and important proposals to this House, I have had to make them with the acknowledgment that he was the Member of this House who had taken the most prominent part in bringing those proposals under notice. With regard to the Succession duties, for example, and the importance of bringing the whole Revenue of the country under the control of Parliament, I have paid public tribute to his exertions, because my hon. Friend made proposals with regard to both of these matters that, being in themselves just, have proved both practicable and beneficial'.

But this time he failed to win the agreement of Gladstone, who gave cogent reasons for his objections, among them the fact that annual direct taxation on personal property was light, whereas on land and real property it was heavy. Gladstone got the better of the argument and this was the last time that Williams raised the subject.

The years were now beginning to sap the parliamentary energy of the redoubtable Williams and his speeches and questions were noticeably dwindling; but he still interceded in the affairs of the House, though with less fire and certainly at shorter length. One of these occasions (10 March 1864) concerned his abhorence of flogging in the Services, which he believed to be unnecessary, imprisonment being an ample substitute. When a Member objected by asking who was to do the offender's duty while in prison, Williams was still alert enough to summon up a devastating riposte, 'Who will do his duty while his back is bleeding?' But much as he condemned the flogging of soldiers and sailors, his objection to bodily chastisement did not encompass exemption for wife-beaters. Years before, in 1856, he had supported his compatriot, L. L. Dillwyn, Member for Swansea, when he brought in the Aggravated Assaults Bill. He deplored the common occurance of wife-beating, which all kinds of punishment had failed to eliminate, and considered that 'nothing would affect a brute capable of maltreating a woman as much as subjecting him to the same bodily pain which he caused to others'.29

His last question in the House (18 July 1864) challenged — almost inevitably — items of expenditure in respect of a steamer for the Governor of Gambia and the maintenance of forts and establishments in the Gold Coast. But he was thinking not only of money when he enquired of the Colonial Secretary whether there was any need of 'such an outlay to keep off the poor blacks'.

Though, thanks to parliamentary records, press reports and election addresses, Williams's public life is copiously documented, little is known of his private life. A tribute to him, in Welsh, by the Rev. Kilsby Jones says he was wealthy and generous. 'A great big man is he, and on his shoulders there is a head and not simply a peg on which to put his hat. He is a man of strong sense and wide knowledge as a politician. He is industrious and practical; and nothing he dislikes more than to have to do with people who write and talk the whole day long, but accomplish nothing. He has a big warm heart, and he is one of the most hospitable men in the world'.30 His old schoolmate David Owen (Brutus) spoke of him as 'a man of normally skinflint carefulnesss and of exceptionally bouncing generosity'. This generosity was exercised during frequent visits to his native county, when, it is said, 'his pockets were always full of gold to distribute to old friends'. The same observer, writing in 1875, described him as 'a gentleman in truth — not like some successful dwarf of a man... who quickly forgets his country, his native language, his relatives and his nationality'.31

Although he spent the whole of his working life in commerce and politics 'over the border', he never completely uprooted himself from the land of his upbringing and he retained the interest of a farmer's son in the ways of the countryside. During his return visits he loved to attend the annual show of the Carmarrhenshire Agricultural Society and the dinner either at the Ivy Bush or the Boar's Head in Carmarthen. On one of these occasions, in 1843, he attended the show at Park-y-Velvet Field in Carmarthen (now occupied by the Provision Market); at the Boar's Head dinner, during the 1846 show, his health was proposed by the president, Major-General Sir James Cockburn, Dolgwm, who, although differing in politics, spoke of Williams's 'extraordinary career', his 'honesty of principle and purpose' and his `undoubted abilities'.32

LlanpumsaintSchool.thumb.jpg Two of his most notable expressions of generosity in his last years were handsome gifts to promote the cause of education. One took the form of a school and master's house which he provided for his native village of Llanpumsaint. The building, complete with an enclosed playground, he also furnished down to the very last requirement, so that it was only necessary for the pupils to sit at their desks and start their lessons from the newly qualified teacher he recruited. When he opened the school in 1862, he spoke in good Welsh, it is recorded,33 although he had by then been away for nearly sixty years. The school is still in use and proudly displays his full-length portrait beneath a bronze commemorative tablet in the schoolroom. This tablet unveiled on 22 May 1934 and inscribed in Welsh, pays tribute to his brave fight to secure free schooling for the people of Wales and his generosity in supporting the campaign for a university college in Wales.34

His other important contribution was a donation towards the founding of a university college. Although he had some years earlier promised a substantial contribution for this purpose, provided others did likewise—they were not forthcoming, in the event—his gift did not materialise until after his death and took the form of a bequest of £1,000. This sum he had undertaken to contribute when steps were being undertaken in 1863 to promote higher education in Wales and towards the end of that year (1 December) Williams presided over an historic meeting at the Freemasons Tavern in London, during which it was resolved to establish a University for Wales. An executive committee was set up and Dr. Thomas Nicholas and Williams were appointed secretary and treasurer respectively. Williams may therefore be quite justly regarded as one of the founders of university education in Wales, although chief credit must go to Hugh Owen (later knighted for his services to Welsh education), whose labours saw the University College opened at Aberystwyth in 1872. It was his pioneering work which persuaded Mrs. D. H. Evans35 to present to the college a marble bust of Williams, executed in 1846 by Welsh sculptor, Joseph Edwards.

Williams was now well over seventy-five years of age and it is peculiarly fitting that his interest at the end of his life should be devoted to the promotion of education — the one cause he supported above all others — in the village he grew up in and in the country of his birth. Other causes to benefit from his bequests were the Carmarthen Literary and Scientific Institution (formerly the Mechanics' Institute) and the Carmarthen Infirmary.

Williams's declining health was unable to withstand the effects of a fall from his horse while riding in Rotten Row and on 28 April 1865 he passed away at his home, 12 Park Square, Regents Park, London. He lies buried in Kensal Green next to his fellow 'Arcadian', Joseph Hume, his red granite tombstone proclaiming his constant support of 'Educational, Economic and all Liberal Measures'. Whatever his failings, it cannot be doubted that he was an honest man who fought honourably for the things he believed in, and he deserves to be better known in his native county than history has so far allowed.
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