Sir William Molesworth, 8th Baronet

For other people called William Molesworth, see William Molesworth (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
Sir William Molesworth
First Commissioner of Works
In office
5 January 1853  30 January 1855
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister The Earl of Aberdeen
Preceded by Lord John Manners
Succeeded by Sir Benjamin Hall, Bt
Secretary of State for the Colonies
In office
21 July 1855  22 October 1855
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister The Viscount Palmerston
Preceded by Lord John Russell
Succeeded by Henry Labouchere
Personal details
Born 23 May 1810 (1810-05-23)
Died 22 October 1855 (1855-10-23) (aged 45)
Nationality British
Political party Radical
Alma mater University of Cambridge
Arms of St Aubyn, as quartered by the Molesworth-St Aubyn Baronets of Pencarrow: Ermine, on a cross sable five bezants[1]

Sir William Molesworth, 8th Baronet PC (23 May 1810 22 October 1855), was a Radical British politician, who served in the coalition cabinet of The Earl of Aberdeen from 1853 until his death in 1855 as First Commissioner of Works and then Colonial Secretary.

Much later, when justifying to the Queen his own new appointments, Gladstone told her: "For instance, even in Ld Aberdeen's Govt, in 52, Sir William Molesworth had been selected, at that time, a very advanced Radical, but who was perfectly harmless, & took little, or no part... He said these people generally became very moderate, when they were in office", which she admitted had been the case.[2]


Molesworth was born in London and succeeded to the baronetcy in 1823. He was educated privately before entering St John's College, Cambridge as a fellow commoner. Moving to Trinity College, he fought a duel with his tutor, and was sent down from the university.[3] He also studied abroad and at Edinburgh University for some time.

Political career

On the passing of the Reform Act 1832 Molesworth was returned to Parliament for the Eastern division of Cornwall, to support the ministry of Lord Grey. Through Charles Buller he made the acquaintance of George Grote and James Mill, and in April 1835 he founded, in conjunction with Roebuck, the London Review, as an organ of the Philosophic Radicals. After the publication of two volumes he purchased the Westminster Review, and for some time the united magazines were edited by him and J. S. Mill. Buller and Molesworth were associated with Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his schemes for colonising South Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

From 1837 to 1841 Molesworth sat for Leeds, and acquired considerable influence in the House of Commons by his speeches and by his tact in presiding over the select committee on Penal transportation. But his Radicalism made little impression either on the house or on his constituency. In 1839 he commenced and carried to completion, at a cost of £6000, a reprint of the entire miscellaneous and voluminous writings of Thomas Hobbes, which were placed in most of the English university and provincial libraries. The publication did him great disservice in public life, his opponents endeavouring to identify him with the freethinking opinions of Thomas Hobbes in religion as well as with the philosopher's conclusions in favor of despotic government. From 1841 to 1845 he had no seat in parliament, but in 1842 served as High Sheriff of Cornwall[4]

In 1845 Molesworth was returned for Southwark, and retained that seat until his death. On his return to parliament he devoted special attention to the condition of the colonies, and was the ardent champion of their self-government. In January 1853, Lord Aberdeen included him as the only Radical in his coalition cabinet as First Commissioner of Works, the chief work by which his name was brought into prominence at this time being the construction of the new Westminster Bridge; he also was the first to open Kew Gardens on Sundays. In July 1855, he was made Colonial Secretary, an office he held until his death in October of the same year.

Personal life

Molesworth married Andalusia Grant Carstairs (d. 16 May 1888) on 9 July 1844.

He died on 22 October 1855, aged 45. He is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London, on the north side of the main path leading from the entrance to the central chapel.



Funerary monument, Kensal Green Cemetery, London
  1. Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.709
  2. Queen Victoria's Journals, Wednesday 28 April 1880, Windsor Castle, from Princess Beatrice's copies, Volume72 (1 January 1880-18 August 1880), p.167, online from the Bodleian Library
  3. "Molesworth, Sir William, Bart. (MLST827SW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. The London Gazette: no. 20081. p. 727. 15 March 1842. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for East Cornwall
With: Sir William Salusbury-Trelawny, Bt
Succeeded by
Lord Eliot
Sir Hussey Vivian, Bt
Preceded by
Sir John Beckett, Bt
Edward Baines
Member of Parliament for Leeds
With: Edward Baines
Succeeded by
William Beckett
William Aldam
Preceded by
Benjamin Wood
John Humphery
Member of Parliament for Southwark
With: John Humphery to 1852
Apsley Pellatt from 1852
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Napier
Apsley Pellatt
Political offices
Preceded by
Lord John Manners
First Commissioner of Works
Succeeded by
Sir Benjamin Hall, Bt
Preceded by
Lord John Russell
Secretary of State for the Colonies
Succeeded by
Henry Labouchere
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Arscott Ourry Molesworth
(of Pencarrow)
Succeeded by
Hugh Henry Molesworth
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