Robert Wilmot-Horton

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Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton

Portrait of Wilmot-Horton in the 1820s
by Richard James
6th Governor of British Ceylon
In office
23 October 1831 – 7 November 1837
MonarchWilliam IV
Preceded byJohn Wilson
acting governor
Succeeded byJames Alexander Stewart-Mackenzie
Under-Secretary of State
for War and the Colonies
In office
1821 – 21 January 1828
MonarchGeorge IV
Prime MinisterThe Earl of Liverpool
George Canning
The Viscount Goderich
Preceded byHenry Goulburn
Succeeded byHon. Edward Stanley
Personal details
Born21 December 1784 (1784-12-21)
Died31 May 1841 (1841-06-01) (aged 56)
Spouse(s)Anne Horton
Alma materChrist Church, Oxford

Sir Robert John Wilmot-Horton, 3rd Baronet, GCH, PC, FRS (21 December 1784 – 31 May 1841) was a British politician, sociopolitical theorist, and colonial administrator. He was Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies between 1821 and 1828, and Governor of Ceylon between 1831 and 1837. He is most widely known for his writings on assisted emigration to the colonies of the British Empire.

Background and education[edit]

His name at birth was Robert John Wilmot. He was the only son of Sir Robert Wilmot, 2nd Baronet, of Osmaston, near Derby (see Wilmot baronets), and his first wife Juliana Elizabeth (née Byron). He was educated at Eton, and at Christ Church, Oxford.[1]

Political and administrative career[edit]

Wilmot-Horton was a Canningite supporter of free trade and Catholic emancipation among the Tories.[2] He sat as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Newcastle-under-Lyme from 1818 until 1830.[3] He served under the Earl of Liverpool, George Canning and Lord Goderich as Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies from 1821 to 1827 and was sworn of the Privy Council in 1827. He reorganised the Colonial Office, including dividing the Empire into areas with a senior clerk responsible for administering each area.

Wilmot-Horton's aide-de-camp at the Colonial Office was his friend Thomas Moody, Kt., with whom he maintained an extensive correspondence throughout his life.[4] Wilmot-Horton forwarded one of Moody's reports on the West Indies to Canning in 1824,[4] and subsequently advocated the contentions expressed in Moody's reports, to the Parliamentary Commission on West Indian Slavery, between 1825 and 1828.[5] Wilmot Horton and Thomas Hyde Villiers MP also wrote articles - under the pseudonym 'Vindex', which Moody had also used - to the Star newspaper, in which they refuted the objections that others had made to Moody's philosophy and defended Moody.[6] Moody performed special service in the Dutch Colonies of the West Indies for Wilmot Horton between 1828 and 1829.[6] Moody named one of his sons, Wilmot Horton Moody, after Wilmot-Horton.[7]

Wilmot-Horton is best remembered for advocating that poor British and Irish families should be allowed to emigrate to the colonies and be granted land there, and was mainly responsible in securing two parliamentary grants in 1823 and 1825 to fund an experiment where poor Irish families settled in Canada. He managed to establish a parliamentary committee on emigration and served as its chairman between 1826 and 1827. In this position he pushed for a plan where so called paupers gave up their rights to parish maintenance in return for grants of land in the colonies. However, the plans were dropped after Wilmot-Horton left the Colonial Office in 1827.[1]

In 1831 Wilmot-Horton was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Hanoverian Order by William IV and appointed Governor of Ceylon. In Ceylon he implemented the recommendations of the Colebrooke–Cameron Commission forming Ceylon's First Legislative Council and Executive Committee; abolished the feudal practice of compulsory labour ; abandoned government's claims to free service (Rajakariya); recognised the right to private property ; abolished government's monopoly of the Cinnamon trade, dating to the Dutch period ; started the first newspaper of Ceylon, the Colombo Journal, and the first mail coach in Asia ; reformed the education system, established Ceylon's first public school, the Colombo Academy, which was renamed in 1881 as the Royal College, the only school in the world outside England, to be granted Approval by Queen Victoria to use the word ROYAL in a college name. It was also the only school in Asia which was Accredited by Her Majesty. In 1834 he succeeded his father as third Baronet.

In his absence his plans on assisted emigration were ridiculed as those of an impractical dreamer by a succession of writers on colonial affairs, but Wilmot-Horton continued to write pamphlets advocating and defending his ideas. He returned to Britain in 1837.[1]


Wilmot-Horton married Anne Beatrix Horton, daughter and co-heiress of Eusebius Horton, of the Catton Hall estate in Derbyshire, in 1806. They had four sons and three daughters. In 1823 he inherited the Catton Hall estate on the death of his father-in-law and pursuant to the latter's will added Horton as a second surname. He died at Sudbrooke Park, Petersham, in May 1841, aged 56, and was succeeded in the baronetcy by his eldest son, Robert.[1]


Horton Plains was named after Sir Robert in 1834 by Lt William Fisher of the 78th Regiment and Lt. Albert Watson of the 58th Regiment.[8]

Horton Place in Colombo was named after the Governor.

His memorial is located in St John the Baptist's Church, Croxall.


  1. ^ a b c d Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition Horton, Sir Robert Wilmot (1784–1841)
  2. ^ Richards, Eric. "Horton, Sir Robert John Wilmot-". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/13827. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ House of Commons: Na H-Eileanan An Iar to Newport
  4. ^ a b Hall, Catherine; Draper, Nicholas; McClelland, Keith (1 November 2015). Emancipation and the Remaking of the British Imperial World. Oxford University Press.
  5. ^ Rupprecht, Anita (September 2012). "'When he gets among his countrymen,they tell him that he is free': Slave Trade Abolition, Indentured Africans and a Royal Commission". Slavery & Abolition. 33 (3): 435–455.
  6. ^ a b Lamont, Stephen Peter (2015). "Robert Wilmot Horton and Liberal Toryism" (PDF). University of Nottingham.
  7. ^ "The Will of Major Thomas Moody, PROB 11/2101, Codicil of 09/01/1843; The Carlisle Patriot 22/09/1849, accessed via Legacies of British Slave-Ownership: Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Moody: Profile and Legacies Summary". University College London. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  8. ^ Vinod Moonesinghe, OMG! And the Fishers of Ramboda, Ceylon Daily News, 22 June 2012. Archived 19 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir John Chetwode, Bt
Sir John Fenton Boughey
Member of Parliament for Newcastle-under-Lyme
With: William Kinnersley, 1818–1823
Evelyn Denison, 1823–1826
Richardson Borradaile 1826–1830
Succeeded by
Richardson Borradaile
William Henry Miller
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Goulburn
Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies
Succeeded by
Hon. Edward Stanley
Government offices
Preceded by
John Wilson
acting governor
Governor of Ceylon
Succeeded by
James Alexander Stewart-Mackenzie
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Sir Robert Wilmot, 2nd Baronet of Osmaston
(of Osmaston)
Succeeded by
Robert Edward Wilmot