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Thomas Creevey (1768-1838)

This article was written by William Thomas and was published in 1993. Should it be found to breach copyright, I will - of course - remove the page.

Thomas Creevey, a Whig politician, was born in School Lane, Liverpool on 5 March 1768. He was the second child and only son of William Creevey, the captain of a slave ship, and his wife Phoebe Prescott. His father died soon after his son was born, and Mrs Creevey married again. The evidence that Creevey was the natural son of Lord Molyneux, later first Earl of Sefton, is suggestive but not conclusive. His rise in the exclusive society of the Whig party was rapid, and he called the Molyneux his ‘real’ family. Creevey was educated at Newcome’s School, Hackney, which favoured ‘the sons of noblemen and gentlemen’; from c.1780 to 1787, when he was admitted to Queens' College, Cambridge, whence he graduated in 1789 as seventh wrangler. In November 1789 he was admitted as a student of the Inner Temple, and in 1791 transferred to Gray’s Inn.

While practising at the Chancery bar, he kept up an interest in Liverpool through Dr James Currie, whose circle included many local liberals like William Roscoe, as well as rising Whig politicians such as (Sir) Samuel Romilly and James Scarlett (later first Baron Abinger). His political career was helped by an old school friend, Charles (later Baron) Western, who introduced him to Eleanor Ord, daughter of Charles Brandling, MP, widow of William Ord, and a distant cousin of Charles (later second Earl) Grey, the future prime minister. She had five children, and her own independent income, and Creevey married her in 1802. In the same year he used his interest with the tenth Baron Petre to secure the parliamentary seat of Thetford (31 electors) with the approval of Petre’s guardian, Charles Howard, eleventh Duke of Norfolk.

Creevey described his political creed as ‘devotion to Fox’. During William Pitt’s second administration, he was an outspoken critic, especially of its Indian policy. He was one of the managers who drew up the articles of impeachment of Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville. In the Ministry of all the Talents his reward was to be made secretary to the Board of Control, 1806-7. On the death of Charles James Fox in 1806, Creevey became dissatisfied with the party’s leaders, and his attacks on the Grenvilles helped weaken Whig unity.

In 1812 he accepted an invitation to stand for Liverpool at the election with his friend Henry Brougham (later Baron Brougham and Vaux). The candidature of two Whigs in tandem lost both the election, and in 1813 Creevey was found guilty of a libel on a Liverpool inspector of taxes and fined £100. Heavily in debt, following the failure of his appeal to the King’s Bench, he had to be rescued by his friends, Western and Samuel Whitbread, the latter paying him an annuity of £1,000.

From 1814 to 1819 the Creeveys lived in Brussels. Creevey was there during Napoleon’s ‘Hundred Days’ and left a vivid account of his experiences before and during the battle of Waterloo. He also came to know and admire Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington. Mrs Creevey died in May 1818. In the same year the Duke of Norfolk gave Creevey notice to quit Thetford, receiving a long but futile rebuke in return. Creevey returned with his stepdaughters to England in the autumn of 1819.

Creevey was returned to Parliament in 1820 as MP for Appleby, through his friend Brougham’s good offices with Sackville Tufton, ninth Earl of Thanet, holding this seat until 1826. He was thus a witness of the political crisis of the ‘trial’ of Queen Caroline in that year. But his speeches in Parliament were less frequent and more restrained. In 1825 Thanet died, and with him went Creevey’s ambition to be a politician. Thereafter he lived for society and gossip, projecting a History of his Times, the materials of which were to be his long, delightfully observant letters to his favourite stepdaughter, Elizabeth Ord. The book was never written and his only publications were two pamphlets, A Guide to the Electors of Great Britain, upon the Accession of a new King (1820) and Letters of Lord John Russell, upon the original formation of the House of Commons (1826) in which he declared for a thorough reform of the close boroughs he had always represented.

On Grey’s becoming prime minister in 1831, Creevey got the post of treasurer of the ordnance at £1,200 a year. He was MP for Downton from 1831 to 1832, but the borough was destined for abolition in the Reform Act of 1832. When his post at the ordnance was abolished in 1834, Creevey’s luck held, with the auditorship of Greenwich Hospital, which he retained till his death.

Creevey’s fame is based on the amusing letters which were preserved by the Ord family. His importance as a historical source is considerable. No one described more graphically the appearance or recorded more faithfully the looks and the talk of the royal personages and major politicians of the time. His nicknames for leading characters have often stuck. But he was, after 1819, an observer more than a participant. He conveys vividly the absurdity of a situation, but he is incurious about the underlying processes which shape it. He has not, as a source, the shrewdness of his friend Charles Greville, nor the sharp asperity of his contemporary J. W. Croker; but he had a greater sense of humour than either.

Creevey died 5 February 1838 in London. He had no children of his own.

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