Ewart, William (DNB00)

EWART, WILLIAM (1798–1869), politician, second son of William Ewart of Liverpool, merchant, by Margaret, daughter of Christopher Jaques of Bedale, Yorkshire, and nephew of Joseph Ewart [q. v.], was born in Liverpool on 1 May 1798, and educated at Eton from 1811 to 1817. Passing to Christ Church, Oxford, he carried off in 1819 the college prize for Latin verse, and in 1820 his poem gained the Newdigate prize, the subject being 'The Temple of Diana at Ephesus.' He obtained a second class in classical honours, and proceeded B.A. on 13 June 1821. He was called to the bar at the Middle Temple on 26 Jan. 1827, and on 23 July in the following year entered parliament for the borough of Bletchingley, Surrey. On the death of his friend William Huskisson he became a candidate for his native town, and after a poll of seven days defeated his competitor, John Evelyn Denison [q. v.], on 30 Nov. 1830, by a narrow majority, the votes being 2,215 against 2,186. He was re-elected, for Liverpool in 1831, 1832, and 1835, but in 1837 was defeated by Sir Cresswell, one of the tory candidates. He obtained a seat for Wigan on 9 March 1839, defeating John Hodson Kearsley by two votes only. On 3 July 1841 he was elected for the Dumfries district of burghs, which include Kirkcudbright, the original seat of his family, and sat for that constituency until 1868, when he retired from public life. From the earliest part of his career he frequently spoke in parliament, both on subjects of general politics, in which he was always an advanced liberal, and also on commercial matters. From 1834 he supported the repeal of the corn laws. On 1 Aug. 1833 he brought forward a motion for the equalisation of the duties on East and West Indian sugar, and repeated it annually during the Melbourne administration. In 1834 he carried a bill, 4 & 5 Will. IV, c. 26, for doing away with hanging in chains, and in 1837 was the means of act 7 Will. IV and 1 Vict. c. 91 being passed for abolishing capital punishment for horse, cattle, and sheep stealing, stealing in a dwelling-house below the value of 5l., letter stealing, and sacrilege. The prohibition on prisoners in cases of felony being defended by counsel was removed by a bill which he carried in 1836, 6 & 7 Will. IV, c. 114. On behalf of the working classes he advocated the opening of public museums and galleries as free from every restriction as possible, and in 1836 he drew the report of a committee which he had obtained on 'the connection between arts and manufactures,' which led to the establishment of the Schools of Design at Somerset House, London, in the following year. In 1840 and later years he proposed the abolition of capital punishment. A select committee upon this subject was appointed upon his motion in 1864. In 1841 and later years he moved for an annual statement upon education by a minister of the crown, afterwards adopted. He moved for the examination of candidates for the civil service (1845), for the army (1847), and for the diplomatic service (1852), measures subsequently adopted; as was also the exclusion from committees on private bills of interested persons, moved by him in 1841 and 1847. In 1850 he carried a bill, 13 & 14 Vict. c. 65, for establishing free public libraries supported by public rates, a measure which has led to the establishment of a large number of town libraries in England [see under Edwards, Edward]. The use of the metric system of weights and measures was also legalised by an act which he was the means of passing on 29 July 1864, 27 & 28 Vict. c. 117. In 1867 he proposed a measure of university reform, which led to the admission of 'unattached students.' He died at his country house, Broadleas, near Devizes, on 23 Jan. 1869. He married, in 1829, his cousin Mary Anne, daughter of George Augustus Lee of Singleton, near Manchester, who died on 11 June 1837. His younger brother, Joseph Christopher Ewart, was member of parliament for Liverpool from 1855 to 1865, and died at Broadleas on 14 Dec. 1868, aged 68.

Ewart was the author of the following works:

  1. 'The Temple of Diana at Ephesus,' the Newdigate prize poem for 1820, published in 'Christchurch Newdigate Poems,' 1823.
  2. 'The Reform of the Reform Bill,' 1838.
  3. 'Taxation,' speech in favour of the substitution of a system of more direct taxation, 1847.
  4. 'Capital Punishment,' speech in favour of an inquiry by a select committee into the expediency of maintaining capital punishment, 1856.
  5. 'Settlement in India and Trade with Central Asia,' a speech, 1858.

He was also the subject of the following works:

  1. 'To be Sold by Auction, in front of the Town Hall, Castle Street, Two Hacks. John Hewitt, auctioneer,' an electioneering satire upon W. Ewart and J. Morris, two of the candidates at the Liverpool election in 1835.
  2. ‘Letters to the Right Hon. Lord John Russell. By E. Baines the younger. With an appendix containing correspondence with W. Ewart, 1846.’
  3. ‘Debate in the House of Commons on 3 May 1864 upon Mr. Ewart's Motion for a Select Committee to inquire into the expediency of maintaining the Punishment of Death,’ 1864.

[Register and Magazine of Biography, i. 115, 209–10, 522 (1869); Illustrated London News, 25 July 1846, p. 53 with portrait, 6 Feb. 1869, p. 147, and 6 March, p. 237 with portrait; Law Times, 30 Jan. 1869, p. 258; Law Magazine and Law Review, xxvii. 177 (1869); Times, 28 Jan. 1869, p. 5.]

G. C. B.