John Wilson Croker

Secretary to the Admiralty, 1809-30

December 20, 1780 - August 10, 1857

John Wilson Croker (1780-1857) Secretary to the Admiralty, 1809-30. Irish, educated at Trinity College, Dublin, after which he was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn and practised on the Munster circuit. He was a gifted writer and satirist, associated with The Quarterly Review from its foundation in 1809. He was given office as Secretary to the Admiralty by Perceval, at a salary of £4,000 per annum, and became a diligent public servant thereafter. A staunch Tory but moderate supporter of Canning and Catholic Emancipation, he voted against Stuart Wortley’s motion in May 1812 and then became a firm supporter of Liverpool’s government.

After being defeated at Trinity College, Dublin in 1818, he was returned at Yarmouth in the Marquess of Hertford’s interest and became confidential adviser to the third Marquess for the next decade. He was lampooned in the 1840s as Steyne’s factotum Wenham by Thackeray in Vanity Fair and as Lord Monmouth’s factotum Rigby by Disraeli (who had a lifelong grudge against him) in Coningsby. The latter portrayal is less wildly inaccurate than Disraeli’s portrayal of Liverpool as the ‘Arch-Mediocrity’ but not by much; Croker was a man of great talent and wit, even though he never reached the highest political offices. He founded the Athenaeum Club in 1824 and, having spent the money intended for an ice house on the handsome frieze that surrounds its pediment, quipped:

I’m John Wilson Croker,
I’ll do as I please.
They ask for an ice house,
I give them – a frieze.

After Liverpool’s stroke, Croker attempted to keep his friends Peel and Canning working together, but to no avail. Then, after Canning’s death, he favoured the immediate succession of Wellington, correctly believing that Goderich was not up to the job. Wellington made him a Privy Councillor in 1828, after which he supported Catholic Emancipation in 1829 but felt that its timing was inopportune, since it would appear to have been extorted by force. He spoke frequently and well against the Reform Bill in 1831-32 and then retired from Parliament, disputing the post-Reform Parliament’s legitimacy. Thereafter, he devoted himself to literary work and The Quarterly Review, breaking with Peel in 1846 over the Corn Laws. His diaries and correspondence are a useful source on the last few years of Liverpool’s premiership but their coverage of the period before 1824 is fleeting.

Mrs Arbuthnot said of Croker, ‘If he had a little more tact and more urbanity, he might be anything.’1

[1] Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 430.

© 2020 Martin Hutchinson