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William Huskisson (1770-1830)

William Huskisson was born on the 11th March 1770, at Birtsmorton Court in Worcestershire. Here he spent the first five years of his life until 1774 until the family moved to the estates of his grandfather at Oxley and Bushbury, near Wolverhampton. In 1783, William and his brother Richard were adopted by their mother's uncle, Dr Richard Gem and went to live with him in Paris. Dr Gem had been physician to the Duke of Bedford during his embassy to France in 1762.

On the 5th May 1789 the States General met at Versailles, and the French Revolution began. Like most Englishmen, Huskisson at first saw an occasion for rejoicing. He witnessed the fall of the Bastille. In 1790 he became private secretary to the British Ambassador, Earl Gower, until 1792 when Britain withdrew its Ambassador from Paris. Upon his return to England he became acquainted with Pitt and Dundas, who were looking for a young man to superintend the Aliens Act. Huskisson responded to his task with vigour, and was rewarded, the day after his twenty-fifth birthday by his promotion to Under-Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. Here he remained until 1801 when he resigned with Pitt.

After Pitt's death in 1806, Huskisson gave his allegiance to George Canning, who was a demanding master though a generous friend, here was the tie which finally bound him to Liverpool, and in 1822 finally becoming Member of Parliament.

In 1824 the plans for the Manchester to Liverpool railway were first made known to him by John Gladstone, primarily the railway was for the carriage of goods, rather than passengers. In 1824 the canals were proving insufficient for this area, the railroad would be a means of relief. Huskisson was a shareholder in the canals which had done so much for the counties of his birth and family. For honourable reasons, he declined, as Minister, to sit on the Committees of the Housewhich discussed the details of the Railroad Bill, but in the House itself, he supported it warmly on the general principle ‘of affording additional facility and accomadation to trade.’

When the Railroad neared completion in the summer of 1830, Huskisson was ill. in July of that year surgery made it impossible for him to fight the general election, although he was successfully returned in his absence. After the operation his recovery was slow, but he was determined to be present at the opening of the railway on the 15th September. During the ceremony, Huskisson, and some friends left their carriage during a halt, a warning was given that Stevenson's Rocket was approaching. Still feeble from illness Huskisson, attempting to board the carriage, fell across the line and was run over. At nine o'clock that night he died, in great agony, at Eccles Vicarage.

Public sentiment in Liverpool overruled Mrs. Huskisson's wishes that he should be buried at Eartham, and he was buried, with great pomp in St. James's Cemetery, before a great concourse of beholders.A statue by John Gibson stood over Huskisson's grave. Mrs. Huskisson had another statue cast in bronze in 1848 by Müller at the Royal foundry, Munich. This statue stood for many years before the Custom House, Liverpool.

Source: © Mike Faulkner

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