"Lord Sydney"

Even Sydney's Charms Cannot Save the Politician who Angered a Poet.

FROGNAL HOUSE, Home of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney of Chislehurst

Townshend, Lord Sydney

Sydney is Named for Him, First Authentic Portrait

TITLE: Even Sydney's Charms Cannot Save the Politician who Angered a Poet

By Andrew Tink, MP for Epping June 2000

Thomas Townshend not more than 40 years older, click for larger picture (39k)

The two hundredth anniversary of the death on June 30, 1800, of Thomas Townshend, after whom Sydney was named, provides a timely reminder to high profile politicians of how a throw away line can reverberate down the centuries and sully a reputation forever.

Many years before becoming Lord Sydney and selecting Captain Arthur Phillip as New South Wales' first Governor, Townshend was prominent in Opposition as the Member for Whitchurch in the House of Commons.

During a lively Commons' debate, Townshend strongly criticised a pension which had been granted to the legendary man of letters Dr Samuel Johnson whereupon Edmund Burke, although in the same party as Townshend, sprang to Johnson's defence.

Unfortunately for Townshend, Oliver Goldsmith, who counted both Johnson and Burke as good friends, was at that time in 1774 finalising his famous poem "Retaliation", which ultimately referred to Burke as follows:

'Though fraught with all learning, yet straining his throat,
to persuade Tommy Townshend to lend him a vote.'

According to Johnson's biographer Boswell, Goldsmith originally had someone other than Townshend in mind but on hearing that Townshend had attacked Johnson's pension in Parliament, deleted that name and inserted Townshend's instead.

Ever since, Townshend has been referred to as mediocre and in major histories of Australia such as Manning Clark's, these words have been taken to indicate that Townshend was exclusively a dispenser of political interest, imputing a rottenness to the political system.

In fact, Townshend was a very significant political figure during the 1780s, which was one of the most important decades in the history of the English-speaking people, with the emergence of the United States and the beginnings of Australia and Canada.

For whatever Goldsmith may have written and however it may have been interpreted by historians, the fact is that Townshend played a key role in the emergence of those three countries whose destinies were closely interlinked at that time.

In recognition of his pivotal role in helping formalise the peace treaty with America following the Revolution, Townshend was made Baron Sydney in 1783.

Townshend seems to have taken the title Sydney to commemorate his descent from Robert Sydney, 2nd Earl of Leicester. The name of Sydney derives originally from Normandy and in Old English meant 'dweller of the wide well-watered land', which is not a bad description of the Sydney metropolitan area today.

During a key contribution to the House of Commons debate on the American peace treaty, Townshend urged the establishment of close commercial ties with the United States, whilst arguing that Great Britain had a duty to fully compensate loyalists for their losses.

The City of Sydney in Nova Scotia, Canada, was subsequently established by loyalists and named after him in 1784 at a time when loyalists were moving into Canada in large numbers, resulting in a predominantly English rather than French culture.

This turmoil in North America and the loss of the American colonies in particular also resulted in Townshend, as Home Secretary in the Pitt Government, being given responsibility for devising a plan to settle convicts at Botany Bay.

Townshend's choice of Phillip as Governor turned out to be inspired and Phillip's leadership was instrumental in ensuring the penal colony survived the early years of struggle and famine.

On 22nd January, 1788, Phillip named Sydney Cove in honour of Townshend and the City which has grown up around it, now bears his name.

Not many politicians are involved in the formative histories of three countries and have cities on two continents named after them.

Even so, Goldsmith's rhyme has stuck fast to both create and perpetuate Townshend's reputation for mediocrity and favouritism at a personal level notwithstanding that it was written a decade before the height of the latter's career.

For those few politicians who may be destined to rise above the ruck of politics and be remembered down the years, the lesson is clear: think long and hard before you use Parliamentary privilege to take on a poet or author because they always get the last word.

And not even having the most beautiful city in the world named after you will save you from the harsh historical judgements born of cutting verse.

Home of Thomas Townshend,
1st Viscount Sydney of Chislehurst

Selected extract from Dr Andrew Bamji's book about Frognal.


Frognal House
Frognal House by George Shepherd
appears in Thomas Ireland's "History of Kent" published c. 1830

The last of the Tryons killed himself after misappropriating the funds of the Missionary Society to prop up his failing business, and the estate passed into the court of Chancery whence it was bought by Thomas Townshend, owner of the adjoining property of Scadbury. Having moved into Frognal, he demolished the Scadbury house with the intention of rebuilding it, but he lost interest in this plan when his wife died and the Townshends remained at Frognal. The ruins of Scadbury Manor, now in the safe hands of the London Borough of Bromley, remain to this day.

The second Thomas was a politician, serving variously (and in governments of different political persuasions) as Paymaster of the Forces, War Secretary, Secretary at the Home Office and Leader of the House of Commons.

He became Baron Sydney of Chislehurst in 1783 for his services in defending the peace with the American colonies, being advanced to a Viscountcy in 1789. He was never quite the same after his elevation; a contemporary commented "Down to the last evening he remained on the Treasury bench, Tommy Townshend displayed very considerable talents; Lord Sydney, when he moved to the Upper House, seemed to sink into an ordinary man". Webb's "History of Chislehurst" sums him up thus:

Lord Sydney's talents were rather useful than showy... It is nevertheless strange, considering his abilities, that he did not make a greater mark in history, seeing that he always courted popularity, and was frequently a bustling character on the political stage. But it never fell to his fortune to be the man of the hour as the leading actor in any striking scene or as the framer of any great measure. As it is, his name would be well-nigh forgotten were it not for a compliment which was paid to him in a then remote corner of the globe....a newly discovered cove, and destined convict station, in Australia was named after him.

The third and last Viscount, elevated to an Earldom in 1874, died in 1890. The official line was that he was an assiduous and much respected Lord Chamberlain; "Vanity Fair" honoured him with a cartoon, but their description was somewhat less flattering:

A great hardship is that which is often inflicted on unoffending peers by exacting party leaders, who require them, as the price of official position, which should be theirs by right, to talk as if they understood political questions......it is fortunate for the Liberals that they are able to provide for so eminent a partisan as Lord Sydney the highly appropriate post of Chamberlain...the rights of women, as they are, lie in his absolute control - and the power that control gives is appalling... Lord Sydney has been at least equally successful in defining moral and material limits from the one extremity in vogue on the stage to the other which is affected in the palace.... Probably Lord Sydney's politics are liberal; possibly there are some ladies who think that his opinions are not liberal; but these are trifles. When his career is recorded, impartial history will write of him: "He received the Royal commands and lengthened the skirts of the ballet."

Earl Sydney had no children; thus on the death of his wife in 1893 his nephew, Robert Marsham, inherited Frognal on condition that he adopted the name and arms of the Townshends.

At the start of the Great War Robert's son Hugh was owner. Photographs show a typical country house formally furnished (or cluttered). But it was a time for great social change; for while the break-up of the great estates of the landed gentry is frequently perceived as resulting from the upheaval of the First World War, the process had begun before. Perhaps the ever-increasing pressure of suburbia on estates surrounding London was responsible for Hugh's decision to sell up; perhaps the estate was too large, and expensive, to manage; perhaps the potential for residential
development, and the making of a fortune thereby was the stimulus, for this was before the concept of London's Metropolitan Green Belt. Or perhaps it was simply that Hugh, having come into the estate by default, simply did not want to live there.


Extracted from GENUKI website: English Peerage 1790: Barons 10

THOMAS TOWNSHEND, baron Sydney of Chiselhurst; one of his majesty's most honourable privy council, one of his majesty's principal secretaries of state, president of the commission for the control of the affairs of the East India company, one of the lords commissioners of trade and plantations, and a governor of the Charter House.

This nobleman is son of Thomas son of Charles second lord viscount Townshend. He was born February 1733, and elected 176r, 17600, 1774 and 1780 to represent the borough of Whitchurch in the county of Southampton. He was one of the clerks of the council to his present majesty while prince of Wales, and was constituted 21 March 1761 one of the clerks of the board of green cloth, which office he resigned in December 1762. He was promoted 12 July 1765 to be one of the lords commissioners of the treasury, which office he held till 1 December 1767. He was farther declared 30 March 1782 secretary at war, which office he exchanged 10 July in that year for that of one of his majesty's principal secretaries of Rate. He resigned this office in April 1783, and was reinstated 23 December in that year. By king George the third he was created baron Sydney of Chiselhurst.

Lord Sydney married 19 May 1760 Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Powys of Kintlesham in the county of Suffolk esquire; by which lady he has issue,

1.Georgiana, born 1 June 1761.
2.Mary Elizabeth, born 2 September 1762, and married to John earl of Chatham.
3.John Thomas, born 21 February 1764, and constituted 1784 one of the under secretaries of state.
4.Frances, born 20 February 1772.
5.Henrietta Catherine, born 27 November 1773.
6.William Augustus, born 10 March 1776.
7.Horatio George Powys, born 6 February 1780.

C R E A T I O N.

Baron Sydney of Chiselhurst in the county of Kent 6 March 1783.

C H I E F S E A T.

Frognal in the county of Kent.


Thomas Townshend at an early age, click for larger picture (25k)
Thomas Townshend not more than 40 years older, click for larger picture (39k)
Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, an American, whose portraits of George Washington are the accepted likenesses of Washington

Sydney is Named for Him
First Authentic Portrait

[from a photo-copy of what appears to be the Herald Magazine
Section of the Australian newspaper (S.M.H.) dated May 29 1954]

By M. J. Kenny

Australia now has an indisputable authentic portrait of Lord Sydney, for whom Governor Phillip named Sydney Cove in 1788 when he established the first settlement.

As Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lord Sydney was the minister responsible for recommending the adoption of a plan for a settlement in Australia. The Public Library of New South Wales acquired this portrait from a New York collection for 4 000 dollars, for the collection established by Sir William Dixson. The painter of the portrait was Gilbert Stuart, an American, whose portraits of George Washington are the accepted likenesses of Washington. The library will soon hang the portrait in its Dixson Gallery - one of the world's notable treasuries of historical paintings. [The Dixson gallery is in the Dixson wing, which was added to the Public Library in 1929 to house gifts by the late Sir William Dixson of more than 360 historical pictures of Australian and Pacific interest. Sir William died two years ago, and bequeathed £114 000 to establish the Dixson Foundation for adding to the library's historical collection and extending the use of it.]

THE condition of the Sydney portrait is excellent and comparable with that of the portraits in the dixson gallery of other founders of Australia - Captain Cook, Sir Joseph Banks, and Governor Arthur Phillip. Because the complete history of this portrait is known, it fills a gap in Australia's collections of authentic historical portraits, but leaves unsolved a mystery associated with the only other portrait of Lord Sydney in Australia. Until a few years ago no one doubted the authenticity of a fine portrait in the Dixson gallery labelled "Thomas Townshend, 1733-1800; Viscount Sydney, 1789; Secretary of State for War and Colonies, 1783-1789. From the Sydney Collection. By Gilbert Stuart." Then the late Percival Serle, editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, compared the late apparent age of the of the subject of the portrait - no more than 40 years younger - with the age of the artist. He pointed out that Stuart was not in England until he was 20, when Lord Sydney would have been 42, and suggested a check of the history of the picture.

LIBRARY OFFICERS could not find a signature on the portraits. Sir William Dixson, the donor of the portrait, said he bought it from a reputable dealer and was satisfied that it was Lord Sydney, painted by Stuart. The library will seek more information in Sir William's papers. Sir William had an engraved copy of the portrait, now accepted as authentic, and library officers, who compared the engraving and the doubtful portrait, concluded that there was little doubt that the subject was Lord Sydney. But they catalogued the earlier portrait as "attributed to Stuart." Experts will examine both portraits to determine whether Stuart also painted the earlier portrait. Stuart went tp England in 1775, a year before the American Declaration of Independence, and stayed there in Europe for 18 years. When he painted the authenticated portrait about 1785, he was 30 and Lord Sydney 52. He did not sign it. In that year Lord Sydney received a detailed plan for a settlement in New South Wales, which he ultimately recommended to the Government for adoption. Stuart astutely avoided entanglements in the rivalries arising from the revolution. He painted monarchs in Europe - George II, the future George IV and Louis XVI - and on his return to America contrived to have himself accepted as a fashionable painter of republicans - Washington and seven later American presidents A Stuart legend records that Washington was the only person in whose presence he felt embarassed.

THE authenticated portrait of Lord Sydney remained with the Townshend family until the third viscount died without issue in 1890 and the title became extinct. It passed with the estates to his cousin, the Hon. Robert Marsham (1834-1915), who assumed the additional surname and arms of Townshend. A London dealer bought the portrait at auction soon after Marsham-Townshend's death, and sold it to Herbert Lee Pratt, of the Standard Oil Co., New York. Pratt kept the portrait only a year, selling it through a dealer in 1916 to Walter Jennings, of New York. The portrait was on loan to the Hecker Memorial Art Gallery, Long Island, New York, where it bore the label: "Lord Sydney, Secretary of State for George III." This linked Lord Sydney with the Americans' arch-villain of the revolution and American history. Actually, Lord Sydney was in Opposition in the House of Commons before and during the revolutionary war and was Secretary of State for War and later Home Secretary in the Government which made peace with the American colonies. A speech he made in defence of this peace earned him his peerage. Walter Jennings died in 1932 and his wife in 1949. Their son, Oliver B. Jennings, wrote to the Public Library on November 19, 1952, offering to sell the portrait for 4 000 dollars (£1 786) - 1000 dollars (£447) below its valuation. The trustees of the Public Library accepted the offer, and the Principle Librarian, Mr. J. Metcalfe, and the Mitchell Librarian, Miss P. Mander-Jones, verified the claims made for the portrait. When the library had completed inquiries and negotiations it received this note from the Mr. Jennings: "I hope the picture comes up to your expectations and looks well in its new home, where, after all, it should be."

THOMAS TOWNSHEND (1733-1800) took his title of baron Sydney of Chislehurst (Kent) from the family of his great-great-grandmother, Lady Lucy Sydney, daughter of Robert Sydney, second Earl of Leicester (1627-1677), who traced his descent from a Surrey Yeoman, John de Sydenie, a farmer at Alfold, in the reign of Edward I. The Sydney farm at Alfold today is probably the same as John de Sydenie's. Townshend entered the house of Commons when he was barely of age - 51 days after he was 21 - and stayed there 29 years until elevated to the peerage in 1783. Six years later he became a viscount. He was the subject of Goldsmith's line where he speaks of Bourke:
"Though fraught with all learning, yet straining his throat;"
"To persuade Tommy Townshend to lend him a vote."

A contemporary appreciation of him was: In the Commons "his abilities, though respectable, scarcely rose above mediocrity"; in the Lords "he seemed to have sunk into an ordinary man."

This long standing reputation of Lord Sydney, mentioned above, is being re-evaluated.
See the first article on this webpage.

Thomas Townshend, click for larger picture (39k)
The Lord Sydney portraits in the Dixson gallery. In the authenticated (left), which the Mitchell Library has just acquired, Lord Sydney is shown life-size, half -length, seated in an armchair upholstered in red and studded with small brass-headed nails. He wears a dark green coat with a collar of black velvet, his coat being buttoned across his chest, but open below, showing a brownish-grey waistcoat. His shirt ruffles are of white muslin, and his wig hair is powdered.

His eyes are dark brown and his complexion "beefy", expressing mental and physical activity with a look of hautaur. He sits beside a table covered covered with a variety coloured cloth, on which is pen inkstand, two quill pens, a tray with a piece of red sealing wax, and a packet of letters, with one unfolded. The word London is on the letter.

Thomas Townshend at an earlier age, click for larger picture (25k)
His left arm rests upon the chair arm and the left hand, partially closed, is shown, but the right hand is concealed by the table.

The portrait attributed to Stuart (right) has much less detail. Lord Sydney is youthful, almost boyish, with a sensative face, regular features and brown eyes. He stands alongside a table in a dark blue coat,with red velvet collar.

A glove right hand on hip holds back the coat and reveals a cream, braided waistcoat, buttoned top and bottom but unbuttoned in a slightly portly middle. His ruffles are of a white muslin. His hair is brownish. The words "Thos., 1st Visit Sydney" are in the top right hand corner of the painting.

Thomas Townshend (1733 - 1800), 1st Viscount of Sydney, was the;
son of Hon Thomas Townshend (1701 - 1780) and Albinia Selwyn, grandson of Charles Townshend (1674 - 1738).

He married in 1760 to Elizabeth Powys (b.???? - 1826) had children

  • Georgiana (1761 - ????)
  • Mary Elizabeth (1762 - ????), married John, 2nd Earl of Chatham
  • John Townshend (1764 - ????), 2nd Viscount of Sydney
  • Frances Townshend (1772 - ????)
  • Henrietta Catherine Townshend (1773 - ????)
  • William Augustus Townshend (1776 - 1816)
  • Sir Horatio Goerge Powys Townshend (1780 - 1843)

The first of the three arms in Sydney's old and new coat-of arms and it's FLAG is the Townshend arms. The other two arms are from Captain James Cook and Thomas Hughes, first Lord Mayor of Sydney