Charles Wood, 1st Viscount Halifax

Charles Wood, 1st Viscount Halifax, GCB, PC (20 December 1800 – 8 August 1885), known as Sir Charles Wood, 3rd Bt, between 1846 and 1866, was a British Whig politician and Member of the British Parliament. He served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1846 to 1852.

The Viscount Halifax

Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal
In office
6 July 1870 – 17 February 1874
Prime MinisterWilliam Ewart Gladstone
Preceded byEarl of Kimberley
Succeeded byEarl of Malmesbury
Secretary of State for India
In office
18 June 1859 – 16 February 1866
Prime MinisterViscount Palmerston
Earl Russell
Preceded byLord Stanley
Succeeded byEarl de Grey and Ripon
First Lord of the Admiralty
In office
13 March 1855 – 8 March 1858
Prime MinisterViscount Palmerston
Preceded bySir James Graham
Succeeded bySir John Pakington
President of the Board of Control
In office
30 December 1852 – 3 March 1855
Prime MinisterEarl of Aberdeen
Preceded byJohn Charles Herries
Succeeded byRobert Vernon Smith
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
6 July 1846 – 21 February 1852
Prime MinisterLord John Russell
Preceded byHenry Goulburn
Succeeded byBenjamin Disraeli
First Secretary of the Admiralty
In office
27 April 1835 – 4 October 1839
Prime MinisterViscount Melbourne
Preceded byGeorge Robert Dawson
Succeeded byRichard More O'Ferrall
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury
In office
10 August 1832 – 14 November 1834
Prime MinisterEarl Grey
Viscount Melbourne
Preceded byEdward Ellice
Succeeded bySir George Clerk
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
22 February 1866 – 8 August 1885
Hereditary peerage
Preceded byPeerage created
Succeeded byThe 2nd Viscount Halifax
Member of Parliament
for Ripon
In office
11 July 1865 – 21 February 1866
Preceded byReginald Vyner
Succeeded byLord John Hay
Member of Parliament
for Halifax
In office
10 December 1832 – 11 July 1865
Preceded byNew constituency
Succeeded byEdward Akroyd
Member of Parliament
for Wareham
In office
2 May 1831 – 12 December 1832
Preceded byJames Ewing
Succeeded byJohn Hales Calcraft
Member of Parliament
for Great Grimsby
In office
9 June 1826 – 25 July 1831
Preceded byWilliam Duncombe
Succeeded byJohn Shelley
Personal details
Born(1800-12-20)20 December 1800
Pontefract, Yorkshire, England, Kingdom of Great Britain
Died8 August 1885(1885-08-08) (aged 84)
Hickleton Hall, Doncaster, West Riding of Yorkshire, England, UK
Political partyWhig
Spouse(s)Lady Mary Grey (d. 1884)
Children7, including Charles Wood, 2nd Viscount Halifax
Alma materOriel College, Oxford
Heraldic memorial window to Grey and Wood family, Church of the Holy Angels, Hoar Cross, Staffordshire


Halifax was the son of Sir Francis Wood, 2nd Baronet of Barnsley, and his wife Anne, daughter of Samuel Buck. He was educated at Eton and Oriel College, Oxford, where he studied classics and mathematics.

Political careerEdit

A Liberal and Member of Parliament from 1826 to 1866, Wood abandoned the seat of Great Grimsby and was returned in 1831 for the pocket borough of Wareham, probably as a paying guest, which arrangement enabled him to remain in London in preparation for the reading of the Reform Bill. He confided his views to his father:

the reform is an efficient, substantial, anti-democratic, pro-property measure, but it sweeps away rotten boroughs and of course disgusts their proprietors. The main hope therefore of carrying it, is by the voice of the country, thus operating by deciding all wavering votes ... The radicals, for which heaven be praised, support us ...[1]

He voted meticulously for the bill at every stage, and it received the Royal assent in the following year.

Wood served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord John Russell's government (1846–1852), where he opposed any further help for Ireland during the Great Famine there. In his 1851 budget, Sir Charles liberalized trade, reducing import duties and encouraging consumer goods. Disraeli, a former protectionist, would after Peel's death transform the party into a complex party machine that embraced free trade. In a speech on an interim financial statement on 30 April 1852, Disraeli referred to Wood's influence on economic policy, setting a trend for the way budgets are presented in the Commons.[2] Tariff reduction led to a noticeable increase in consumption: the Conservatives moved from Derby-Bentinck protectionism towards a new politics during 1852. For Wood, a dry old stick, Disraeli was 'petulant and sarcastic', qualities he disliked.[3]

Wood later served as President of the Board of Control under Lord Aberdeen (1852–1855), as First Lord of the Admiralty in Lord Palmerston's first administration (1855–1858), and as Secretary of State for India in Palmerston's second government (1859–1866). He succeeded to his father's baronetcy in 1846, and in 1866 he was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Halifax, of Monk Bretton in the West Riding of the County of York.[citation needed] After the unexpected death of Lord Clarendon necessitated a reshuffle of Gladstone's first cabinet, Halifax was brought in as Lord Privy Seal, serving from 1870 to 1874, his last public office.

Role in the Irish FamineEdit

The Great Famine in Ireland (1845 to 1851) led to the death of 1 million, and over 1 million emigrating from the country. On 30 June 1846, Peel's Tories were replaced by a Whig government led by Lord John Russell. The government sought to embed free trade and laissez faire economics. Sir Charles Trevelyan, a senior civil servant at the Treasury, in close cooperation with Chancellor of the Exchequer Sir Charles Wood, sought to oppose intervention in Ireland.[4] Extreme parsimony of the British Government towards Ireland while Wood was in charge of the Treasury greatly enhanced the suffering of those affected by famine. Wood believed in the economic policy of Laissez-faire and preferred to leave the Irish to starve rather than "undermine the market" by allowing in cheap imported grain.[5] Wood also shared Trevelyan's anti-Irish, moralistic views, with Wood believing the famine should eliminate the "present habits of dependence", and obliging Irish property to support Irish poverty.[6] Wood believed the famine was not accidental, but willed, and would bring along a social revolution: "A want of food and employment is a calamity sent by Providence", it had "precipitated things with a wonderful impetus, so as to bring them to an early head".[6] He hoped the famine would clear small farmers, and lead to a "better" economic system.[7]

Wood's despatchEdit

As the President of the Board of Control, Wood took a major step in spreading education in India when in 1854 he sent a despatch to Lord Dalhousie, the then Governor-General of India. It was recommended therein that:

  1. An education department was to be set in every province.
  2. Universities on the model of the London university be established in big cities such as Bombay, Calcutta and Madras.
  3. At least one government school be opened in every district.
  4. Affiliated private schools should be given grant in aid.
  5. The Indian natives should be given training in their mother tongue also.

In accordance with Wood's despatch, education departments were established in every province and universities were opened at Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras in 1857, in Punjab in 1882, and at Allahbad in 1887.


Lord Halifax married Lady Mary Grey (3 May 1807 – 6 July 1884), fifth daughter of Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, on 29 July 1829. They had four sons and three daughters:[citation needed]

  • Hon Blanche Edith Wood (d. 21 July 1921) married 21 September 1876, Col Hon Henry William Lowry-Corry (30 June 1845 – 6 May 1927).
  • Hon Alice Louisa Wood (d. 3 June 1934)
  • Charles Lindley Wood, 2nd Viscount Halifax (7 January 1839 – 19 January 1934)
  • Hon Emily Charlotte Wood (1840 – 21 December 1904) married Hugo Francis Meynell-Ingram (1822 – 26 May 1871)
  • Capt Hon Francis Lindley Wood, RN (17 October 1841 – 14 October 1873)
  • Lt Col Hon Henry John Lindley Wood (12 January 1843 – 5 January 1903)
  • Fredrick George Lindley Wood (later Meynell) (4 June 1846 – 4 November 1910)

Lady Halifax died in 1884. Lord Halifax survived her by just over a year and died in August 1885, aged 84. He was succeeded in his titles by his eldest son Charles, who was the father of Edward Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax.


  1. ^ "Charles Wood". History of Parliament Online.
  2. ^ Hurd & Young, p.116.
  3. ^ Hurd & Young, p.121.
  4. ^ Charles Trevelyan, John Mitchel and the historiography of the Great Famine
  5. ^ Woodham Smith, Cecil, (1962) The Great Hunger. Penguin Books ISBN 9780140145151
  6. ^ a b Potatoes and Providence
  7. ^ The Irish Hunger and its Alignments with the 1948 Genocide Conventione
An 1873 portrait of Lord Halifax by Anthony de Brie.


External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Duncombe
Charles Tennyson
Member of Parliament for Great Grimsby
With: George Heneage 1826–1830
George Harris from 1830
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John Shelley
George Harris
Preceded by
John Calcraft
James Ewing
Member of Parliament for Wareham
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John Hales Calcraft
New constituency Member of Parliament for Halifax
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James Stuart-Wortley 1835–1837
Edward Protheroe 1837–1847
Henry Edwards 1847–1852
Francis Crossley 1852–1959
James Stansfeld 1859–1865
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Edward Akroyd
James Stansfeld
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John Greenwood
Reginald Vyner
Member of Parliament for Ripon
With: Robert Kearsley
Succeeded by
Robert Kearsley
Lord John Hay
Political offices
Preceded by
Edward Ellice
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Sir George Clerk, Bt
Preceded by
George Robert Dawson
First Secretary of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
Richard More O'Ferrall
Preceded by
Henry Goulburn
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Benjamin Disraeli
Preceded by
John Charles Herries
President of the Board of Control
Succeeded by
Robert Vernon Smith
Preceded by
Sir James Graham, Bt
First Lord of the Admiralty
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Sir John Pakington, Bt
Preceded by
Lord Stanley
Secretary of State for India
Succeeded by
The Earl de Grey
Preceded by
The Earl of Kimberley
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
The Earl of Malmesbury
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Halifax
2nd creation
Succeeded by
Charles Wood
Baronetage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Francis Wood
(of Barnsley) 
Succeeded by
Charles Wood