Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adam, William Patrick

ADAM, WILLIAM PATRICK (1823–1881), of Blair Adam, for some years ‘whip’ of the liberal party in the House of Commons, and afterwards governor of Madras, was the elder son of Admiral Sir Charles Adam of Blair Adam, N.B. [see Adam, Sir Charles]. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of Patrick Brydone, F.R.S. Born in 1823, Adam was educated at Rugby, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his degree of B.A. in 1846. Three years later he was called to the bar by the Inner Temple, and in 1850 he contested unsuccessfully in the liberal interest the constituency of Clackmannan and Kinross, which his father had represented from 1833 to 1841, and which had returned his grandfather and great-grand-uncle to parliament in 1807 and 1768 respectively. From 1853 to 1858 Adam was in India as private secretary to Lord Elphinstone, governor of Bombay. In 1859, after his return to England, he contested for a second time Clackmannan and Kinross, and on this occasion with success. For the succeeding twenty-one years he continued to represent this constituency. In 1865 he became a lord of the treasury in Lord Palmerston's government, and was reappointed to that post when Mr. Gladstone took office in 1868. In 1873 he was nominated first commissioner of public works, and admitted to the privy council. But the dissolution of parliament early in the following year drove him and his party from office. As the ‘whip’ or organiser of the liberal minority, while the conservatives under Lord Beaconsfield were in power (1874–80), Adam rendered valuable services to his party. His advice was constantly sought, not only by his leaders, but by liberal supporters throughout the country, and his energy greatly contributed to the success of the liberals in the election of 1880, a success that he confidently foretold amid many apparently discouraging omens. In Mr. Gladstone's ministry of 1880 Adam resumed his former post of first commissioner of works; but before the end of the year he accepted the governorship of Madras, which the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos had vacated. On 27 Nov. 1880, after being entertained by his political friends at complimentary dinners in Edinburgh and London, Adam left for India; but a few months after he had entered on his duties at Madras he was seized with an illness, from which he had suffered at earlier periods of his life, and died at Ootacamund 24 May 1881. There, two days later, he was buried.

Adam married in 1856 Emily, daughter of General Sir William Wyllie, G.C.B. The eldest son, Charles Elphinstone Adam, was created a baronet in recognition of his father's public services, 20 May 1882. Adam owed the successes of his political life to his solid administrative capacity and his universally popular manner. He was no brilliant speaker, and, although often invited, rarely took part in public meetings, which would have made him familiar to the general public. He was the author of a small pamphlet, entitled ‘Thoughts on the Policy of Retaliation and its probable Effect on the Consumer, Producer, and Shipowner,’ London, 1852.

[Times, 25 May and 30 May 1881; Foster's Members of Parliament for Scotland, p. 6.]

S. L. L.