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Lord Palmerston

PERTH NAMES. Palmerston of Palmerston-street. By Cygnet.

PALMERSTON of Palmerston-street was that Lord Palmerston who was twice Prime Minister of England under Queen Victoria. He was a fop and a dandy, boasted of the fact that he held no fixed political principles except such as were suitable for. the moment, became notorious as the most troublesome and meddlesome and dangerous Foreign Secretary that England ever knew, and had the further unenviable distinction of being dismissed from the Cabinet by Queen Victoria for rudeness to her royal person. But he bad a royal revenge three years later when, in the middle of the muddle of the Crimean War, this same Queen Victoria found herself compelled to ask him to become her new Prime Minister to restore confidence in the government of the land. Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, was an Irish peer and thus eligible to sit in the House of Commons of which he was a member for the incredible period of 58 years, for 47 years of which he was a Minister of the Crown! For 20 years (from 1809 to 1828) he was Secretary at War (not Secretary for War); for 15 years Foreign Secretary; for three years Home Secretary; and for nine years Prime Minister. Yet all the time no one trusted him, George the Fourth hated him, Queen Victoria detested him. He was a conservative at heart but despised the tories, whom he derided as the "pig-tails," and he pretended to be a liberal, although he opposed every appeal for reform except in his own department, where he set himself against corruption so sternly that he was shot in the hip on the steps of the War Office by one of those affected. On his recovery he paid a barrister to defend his assailant!

AS a boy at Harrow, Palmerston's face and figure were so perfect that he was nicknamed "Cupid:' As a young man he was a fop and dandy and man of fashion, and will go down into history not as a statesman, but as the man who danced the waltz into fashion in England. It had proved a "flop" in fashionable London when, suddenly, society was intrigued by the


Where Palmerston popularised the waltz : Dancing at Almack's in 1822.
(From a drawing by CruickshankJ.

report that Lord Palmerston had circled a lady an interminable number of times in a waltz at Almack's, the club of fashion a century ago, and the waltz was safe from that moment. But Palmerston was no emptyheaded fool of a fop. He was clever and cultured, a wit of outstanding merit, and a polished debater with a gift for stinging repartee. He was busy and industrious, and recognised the strength of silence in parliament where for 20 years he only spoke on matters affecting his own department. When Canning became Prime Minister he complained that he could not drag "that- three-decker Palmerston into action" in the parliamentary arena; but all the same he wanted to make him his Chancellor of the Exchequer. George the Fourth, however, objected, and Palmerston was left out of the Ministry.

Palmerston deserves to be remembered on our map if only for the reason that his great moment came - on our Foundation Day, June 1, 1829, when he delivered a masterly and most profound exposition of the foreign situation, which led him into office as Foreign Secretary for the next 15 years. But the story of those 15 years makes strange reading. He quarrelled with every Power in Europe, he supported every insurrection and revolt, whether in Italy or Hungary or elsewhere, only to abandon the Insurrectionists in the end and let them flounder in the mud they had created; he brought England and France to the brink of war on several occasions; he was responsible for wars in Turkey, Egypt, China, Afghanistan. He drove Queen Victoria to distraction by ignoring her in his correspondence with foreign governments, and he defied his colleagues and the Prime Minister by acting on his own impulse without reference to them. Yet these very people whom he ignored and insulted kept him in power, or when they cast him out of office, almost immediately begged him to return to power. And the common people whose pleas and demands for reforms and betterment he pushed aside so unceremoniously never failed to succumb to his jaunty air and devil-may-care attitude and made him into a popular hero.

NOTHING reveals the remarkable personality of Palmerston more than a review of his past by "The Times," which in a biting survey charged him with being responsible for the Copenhagen Expedition in 1808 when the Danish Fleet was stolen by the Royal Navy in buccaneer style; for the Walcheren Disaster, when tens of thousands of English soldiers perished from disease in a few days; for the American War of 1812, the cause of which no one knows or will ever know; with sending Napoleon to his barbarous prison house at St. Helena, and forcing the Bourbons on France; with abandoning Hungary in its struggle for independence; with urging on Russia against Poland; with threatening Switzerland's independence. Coming right home, "The Times" taunted him with stifling every effort at popular reform, with the responsibility for the massacre of Peterloo, and bitterly upbraided him for opposing on every occasion the abolition of flogging in the army. It made an appalling list - but it did not prevent Palmerston becoming Prime Minister, not once but twice in the next dozen years!

References and Links

Cygnet [Cyril Bryan], 'Palmerston of Palmerston-street', West Australian 29 October 1938: 5.

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