Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Peel, Frederick

PEEL, Sir FREDERICK (1823–1906), railway commissioner, born in Stanhope St., London, W., on 26 Oct. 1823, was second son of Sir Robert Peel, second baronet [q. v.], statesman, by his wife Julia, daughter of General Sir John Floyd, first baronet [q. v.]. His eldest brother was Sir Robert Peel, third baronet [q. v.]; his younger brothers were Sir William Peel [q. v.], naval captain, and Arthur Wellesley (afterwards first Viscount) Peel, who was speaker of the House of Commons (1884–95).

Frederick was educated at Harrow (1836–41), and thence he matriculated at Cambridge from Trinity College. He graduated B.A, in 1845 as a junior optime and as sixth classic in the classical tripos, and proceeded M.A. in 1849. On leaving Cambridge he became a student at the Inner Temple on 5 May 1845, and was called to the bar on 2 Feb. 1849, In the same month he entered the House of Commons, being returned unopposed as liberal member for Leominster. His promising maiden speech (11 May 1849) in favour of the removal of Jewish disabilities called forth general commendation (Grevile Memoirs, vi. 295). Peel was a staunch supporter of free trade and of the extension of the franchise, but being distrustful of secret voting he was not in favour of the ballot. His outspoken criticism of the liberal government's ecclesiastical titles bill (14 Feb. 1851) showed independent judgment, and Lord John Russell recognised his ability by appointing him under-secretary for the colonies. After the general election of 1852, when Peel successfully contested Bury, he resumed the post of under-secretary for the colonies in Lord Aberdeen's coalition ministry. On 15 Feb. 1853 he introduced the clergy reserves bill (Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, 3 S., cxxiv. col. 133), which was designed to give the government of Canada effective control over the churches there. The object of the measure was to repeal the clauses in the Canadian Constitutional Act of 1791, by which one-seventh of the lands of the colony was appropriated for the maintenance of the protestant clergy. Under Peel's auspices the bill passed the House of Commons, despite violent opposition from the conservatives, and received the royal assent on 9 May 1853. On the fall of the Aberdeen ministry in January 1856 Peel was nominated by Lord Palmerston under-secretary for war. In view of the popular outcry against the mismanagement of the Crimean war the post involved heavy responsibilities. Peel's chief, Lord Panmure [q. v.], sat in the House of Lords, and Peel was responsible minister in the House of Commons. He incurred severe censure for the misfortunes and failures incident to the war. In 1857 he lost his seat for Bury and resigned office. In recognition of his services he was made a privy councillor. He was once more returned for Bury in 1859 and was advanced by Lord Palmerston to the financial secretaryship of the treasury, a post which he held till 1865, when he was again defeated at Bury at the general election. After the death of Palmerston, Peel found himself ill-suited to the more democratic temper of parliamentary life. He unsuccessfully contested south-east Lancashire in 1868, and never re-entered the House of Commons. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1869, and thenceforth devoted himself to legal pursuits.

In 1873, on the passing of the Regulation of Railways Act, Peel was appointed a member of the railway and canal commission, on which he served till his death. The tribunal was constituted as a court of arbitration to settle disagreements between railways and their customers which lay beyond the scope of ordinary litigation. The commission rapidly developed in importance, and was reorganised by the Railway and Canal Act of 1888, a judge of the high court being added to its members. Peel and his colleagues rendered useful service to the farming and commercial interests by reducing preferential rates on many railways. In Ford & Co. v. London and South Western Railway they decided that the existence of a favoured list of passengers constituted an undue preference (The Times, 3 Nov. 1890). The decisions of the commissioners were seldom reversed on appeal. In the case of Sowerby & Co. v. Great Northern Railway, Peel dissented from the judgment of his colleagues, Mr. Justice Wills and Mr. Price, to the effect that the railway company was entitled to make charges in addition to the maximum in respect of station accommodation and expenses, but the view of the majority was upheld by the court of appeal (21 March 1891). As senior commissioner Peel became the most influential member of the tribunal. He had his father's judicial mind and cautious, equable temper, but his reticence and aloofness militated against his success in public life. He died in London on 6 June 1906, and was buried at Hampton-in-Arden, Warwickshire. He married (1) on 12 Aug. 1857, Elizabeth Emily (d. 1865), daughter of John Shelley of Avington House, Hampshire, and niece of Percy Bysshe Shelley [q. v.], the poet; and (2) on 3 Sept. 1879, Janet, daughter of Philip Pleydell-Bouverie of Brymore, Somersetshire, who survived him. He left no issue. A cartoon portrait by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1903.

[The Times, and Morning Post, 7 June 1906; C. S. Parker, Sir Robert Peel, 3 vols., 1899; Harrow School Register, 1911; Burke's Peerage and Baronetage; Herbert Paul, History of Modern England, vol. i. 1904; Railway Commission Reports.]

G. S. W.