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This article was written by George Fisher Russell Barker; it was published in 1888
Welbore Ellis was the younger son of the Right Rev. Dr. Welbore Ellis, bishop of Meath by his wife, Diana, daughter of Sir John Briscoe of Boughton, Northamptonshire. Ellis was born at Kildare on 15 December 1713, and was educated at Westminster School, where he was admitted on the foundation as head of his election in 1728, and was elected to a studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1732. He graduated with a BA on 5 June 1736 and at the general election in May 1741 contested the borough of Cricklade. A double return was made for this constituency, but ultimately the seat was assigned to Ellis by an order of the House of Commons on 24 December 1741.
In November 1744 and again in October 1745 Ellis seconded the address to the throne. In February 1747 he was appointed a lord of the admiralty, in Henry Pelham's administration, in the place of George Grenville, who was promoted to the treasury board, and was returned as one of the members for the joint boroughs of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis at the general election in July of the same year. He continued in office after Pelham's death in March 1754, and was re-elected for Weymouth in the following month but resigning his seat at the admiralty in December 1755 was appointed one of the vice-treasurers of Ireland.
On 20 March 1760 Ellis was sworn a member of the privy council. At the general election in March 1761 he was returned with Wilkes for the borough of Aylesbury, and resigning the post of vice-treasurer was appointed secretary at war on 17 December 1762 in the place of Charles Townshend. Upon the formation of the Rockingham ministry in July 1765 Ellis resigned the latter office, and again became joint vice-treasurer of Ireland, a post which he held until September 1766, when he was succeeded by Isaac Barré. At the general election in March 1768 Ellis was elected one of the members for Petersfield, and though he strongly protested against Lord North's motion for the repeal of the American tea duty on 5 March 1770, he was for the third time appointed joint vice-treasurer of Ireland on 21 April following.
In the early months of 1771 Ellis took the principal part in the proceedings in the House of Commons against Lord Mayor Crosby and Alderman Oliver for obstructing the execution of the orders of the house, and it was upon his motion that they were both committed to the Tower. At the general election in October 1774 he was returned for his old constituency of Weymouth, and having resigned the office of vice-treasurer in March was appointed treasurer of the navy on 12 June 1777. Ellis was again returned for Weymouth at the general election in September 1780, and at the close of Lord North's administration became on 11 February 1782 the secretary of state for America, in the place of Lord George Germaine, who upon his retirement was created Viscount Sackville. His tenure of this office, which was the last he ever held under the crown, was brief, for he resigned upon the accession of Lord Rockingham to power in the following month. He continued, however, to take a considerable part in the debates of the house, and in May 1783 spoke against Pitt's resolution for reform.
He was again returned for Weymouth in March 1784, and twice in 1789 proposed Sir Gilbert Elliot for the speakership without success. He failed to secure a seat at the general election in June 1790, but was returned for Petersfield at a bye election in April of the following year. Ellis, who had supported the coalition ministry, continued to oppose Pitt until 1793, when, alarmed at the progress of the French revolution, he seceded from the opposition. On the Duke of Portland becoming secretary of state in Pitt's administration Ellis was created, on 13 August 1794, Baron Mendip of Mendip in the county of Somerset with remainder in default of issue to the heirs male of his sister Anne, the wife of Henry Agar of Gowran.
No speech of his in the House of Lords is reported in the Parliamentary History. He died at his house in Brook Street, Hanover Square, on 2 February 1802 in his eighty-ninth year, and was buried at Westminster Abbey on the following Sunday in the north transept. Ellis married, first, on 18 November 1747, Elizabeth, the only daughter of the Hon. Sir William Stanhope, K.B., second son of Philip, third earl of Chesterfield. She died on 1 August 1761. In her right he acquired the possession of Pope's villa at Twickenham, which had been bought by her father after Pope's death in 1744. On 20 July 1765 he married, secondly, Anne, the eldest daughter of Hans Stanley of Paultons, near Romsey, Hampshire. She survived him nearly two years, and died at Twickenham on 7 December 1803, in her seventy-ninth year. There was no issue of either marriage, and the barony of Mendip, in accordance with the special limitations of the patent, descended to his sister's grandson, Henry Welbore Agar, second Viscount Clifden, who thereupon assumed the additional surname of Ellis.
Junius spoke of Ellis in no flattering terms, and referred to him as ‘little mannikin Ellis’ and ‘Grildrig’; and Macaulay, in his ‘Sketch of William Pitt,’ sneers at him as ‘an ancient placeman, who had been drawing salary almost every quarter since the days of Henry Pelham’. His neighbour, Horace Walpole, was never tired of jeering at him; at one time he calls him Fox's ‘Jackal,’ and at another ‘Forlorn Hope Ellis.’ ‘Wisdom,’ he writes to the Countess of Ossory, ‘I left forty years ago to Welbore Ellis, and must not pretend to rival him now when he is grown so rich by the semblance of it’, and again, ‘Connections make themselves, whether one will or not, but nobody can make one be a minister against one's will, unless one is of as little consequence as [Welbore] Ellis’. In his amusing comparison of Barrington's character with that of Ellis, Walpole states that the latter ‘had a fluency that was precise too, but it was a stream that flowed so smoothly and so shallow that it seemed to design to let every pebble it passed over be distinguished’.
Though Ellis was not possessed of any great talents, he was readily recognised as a useful man in the house. When he entered parliament he attached himself to Henry Fox, afterwards Lord Holland, who upon becoming secretary of state in 1755 stipulated that some higher place should be found for Ellis in the administration. Throughout his long parliamentary career Ellis consistently held to his political principles, and at the same time preserved the integrity of his character. But he was totally unfitted to fill such an important post as that of the American secretary, and the ambiguous ‘Confession of Faith’ which he made on entering upon the duties of that office was most severely criticised by Burke. Ellis was created a D.C.L. of the university of Oxford on 7 July 1773, and was appointed a trustee of the British Museum in 1780. He was also a fellow of the Royal Society. His library is said to have been one of the most valuable private collections in the kingdom.
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