Wickham, William (DNB00)

WICKHAM, WILLIAM (1761–1840), politician, eldest son of Henry Wickham of Cottingley in Yorkshire, a colonel in the 1st foot guards, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of William Lamplugh, vicar of Cottingley, was born at Cottingley in October 1761. He was educated at Harrow and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he matriculated on 27 Jan. 1779, obtained a studentship, and became intimate with Charles Abbot (afterwards Lord Colchester) and William Wyndham Grenville (afterwards Lord Grenville). He took his B.A. degree in 1782, and then proceeded to Geneva, where he studied civil law under Amadie Perdriau, a professor in the Genevese university. He then graduated M.A. in February 1786. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in the ensuing Michaelmas term, and obtained a commissionership in bankruptcy in 1790. In Geneva he became acquainted with Eleonora Madeleine Bertrand, whose father was professor of mathematics in the university, and on 10 Aug. 1788 they were married. She lived until 1836.

Wickham's early intimacy with Lord Grenville and his Swiss residence and connections first brought him into public employment. Grenville, then foreign secretary, made use of his services in a secret foreign correspondence in August 1793, and in 1794 he was appointed superintendent of aliens in order to enable him to extend his foreign communications. His letters were carefully kept from the knowledge of the diplomatic service generally, and only reached Grenville's hands through Lord Rosslyn. In October 1794 he was sent to Switzerland on an exceedingly confidential mission, and the fact that he was thus engaged was assiduously concealed from the foreign office. When the fact became known about the end of 1794 it excited great jealousy, and secrecy being no longer attainable, Lord Robert Fitzgerald (then minister plenipotentiary to Switzerland) was recalled, and Wickham was appointed chargé d'affaires during his absence. In the summer of 1795 Fitzgerald was appointed to Copenhagen, and Wickham became minister to the Swiss cantons. His correspondence in this post was most extensive, and the information which he thus gathered for his government proved very accurate and valuable, particularly in connection with the condition of Provence and the royalist movements in La Vendée. He was in fact the government's principal spy on the continent, and his activity and success were so great that in 1797 the directory formally demanded his expulsion on the ground that he acted not as a diplomatic agent but as a fomenter of insurrection (Mallet du Pan, Correspondance avec la Cour de Vienne, ii. 355). He was privately pressed to relieve the Swiss government from its embarrassment by voluntarily retiring, and in November he thought it wise to comply, and withdrew to Frankfort.

In January 1798 Wickham returned to England and was appointed under-secretary of state for the home department, which office had been promised him some years before and kept temporarily occupied during his service in Switzerland. It was a busy and important post. His correspondence with Castlereagh during the Irish rebellion fills a considerable part of the first two volumes of the ‘Memoirs and Correspondence of Viscount Castlereagh,’ and portions of it are also to be found in Ross's ‘Correspondence of Lord Cornwallis.’ Wickham was also private secretary to the Duke of Portland. He returned as envoy to the Swiss cantons and the Russian and Austrian armies in June 1799, while still retaining his post at home, and was entrusted with very extensive powers of negotiating treaties and arranging supplies for the anti-revolutionary forces. He travelled viâ Cuxhaven, Hanover, and Ulm, and reached Switzerland on 27 June. His wife narrowly escaped capture at the battle of Zürich, and was announced in the Paris papers to have fallen into the hands of the French. He was engaged abroad until, early in 1802, he was appointed on Abbot's advice chief secretary for Ireland. He was then sworn of the privy council, and came into parliament for Heytesbury. Emmett's rising was the chief event of his term of office in Ireland, but the position was distasteful to him, and he resigned early in 1804. He would have been sent in 1802 and 1803 as minister either to Berlin or Vienna, but for the objection made by those courts to his nomination on the ground of his being personally obnoxious to the French government. He accordingly retired from active service on a pension of about 1,800l. per annum. This was the conclusion of Wickham's public career, except that for a short time (February 1806 to March 1807) he was a member of the treasury board under Lord Grenville, and went on one or two missions to Germany in connection with subsidies. In 1807 he retired into the country. He was made honorary D.C.L. at Oxford in 1810, and died at Brighton on 22 Oct. 1840. His portrait by Füger belongs to the family (Cat. Third Loan Exhib. No. 35).

He had one son, Henry Lewis Wickham (1789–1864), who was born on 19 May 1789, was educated at Westminster and Christ Church; having been called to the bar from Lincoln's Inn (13 May 1817), he was appointed receiver-general of Gibraltar. He was principal private secretary to Althorp when chancellor of the exchequer, and from 1838 to 1848 was chairman of the boards of stamps and taxes. He published with his cousin, John Antony Cramer [q. v.], a ‘Dissertation on the Passage of Hannibal over the Alps’ (2nd edit. London, 1828), and died in Chesterfield Street, Mayfair, on 27 Oct. 1864 (Gent. Mag. 1864, ii. 794; Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886). His son, William Wickham (1831–1897), was M.P. for the Petersfield division of Hampshire from 1892 to 1897.

[Correspondence of the Right Hon. W. Wickham, 1870; Berville et Barrière, Collection de Mémoires relatifs à la Révolution Française, vol. lviii. ch. xxxiv. p. 99; Lecky's History of England in the Eighteenth Century; Lord Malmesbury's Correspondence, iii. 454, 531; Lord Colchester's Diary; Ann. Reg. 1841; Mémoires et Correspondance de Mallet du Pan, ii. 336.]

J. A. H.