James Stansfeld

Sir James Stansfeld, GCB (English: /ˈstænsfld/; 5 March 1820 – 17 February 1898) was a British Radical and Liberal politician and social reformer who served as Under-Secretary of State for India (1866), Financial Secretary to the Treasury (1869–71) and President of the Poor Law Board (1871) before being appointed the first President of the Local Government Board (1871–74 and 1886).

Sir James Stansfeld
James Stansfeld.JPG
President of the Local Government Board
In office
3 April 1886 – 20 July 1886
Prime MinisterWilliam Ewart Gladstone
Preceded byJoseph Chamberlain
Succeeded byCharles Ritchie
In office
19 August 1871 – 17 February 1874
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byGeorge Sclater-Booth
President of the Poor Law Board
In office
17 March 1871 – 19 August 1871
Preceded byGeorge Goschen
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Financial Secretary to the Treasury
In office
2 November 1869 – 17 March 1871
Preceded byActon Smee Ayrton
Succeeded byWilliam Edward Baxter
Under-Secretary of State for India
In office
February 1866 – July 1866
Prime MinisterThe Earl Russell
The Earl of Derby
Preceded byThe Lord Dufferin and Clandeboye
Succeeded bySir James Fergusson, Bt
Civil Lord of the Admiralty
In office
May 1863 – April 1864
Prime MinisterThe Viscount Palmerston
Preceded byThe Marquess of Hartington
Succeeded byHugh Childers
Parliamentary offices
Member of Parliament
for Halifax
In office
Serving with
Preceded bySir Francis Crossley, Bt
Sir Charles Wood, Bt
Succeeded byWilliam Rawson Shaw
Sir Alfred Arnold
Personal details
Born(1820-03-05)5 March 1820
Halifax, Yorkshire
Died17 February 1898(1898-02-17) (aged 77)
Rotherfield, Sussex
Political party
(m. 1844; died 1885)
RelativesWilliam Crompton-Stansfield
James Rawdon Stansfeld
Thomas Wolryche Stansfeld
John R. E. Stansfeld
Alma materUniversity College, London
Middle Temple


Stansfeld was born at Akeds Road, Halifax, the only son of James Stansfeld Sr (1792–1872) and his wife Emma Ralph (1793–1851), daughter of John Ralph (d.1795), minister of the Northgate-End Unitarian chapel, Halifax and his wife, Dorothy (1754–1824).

Stansfeld's father, James Sr, was the sixth son of David Stansfield (1755–1818) of Hope Hall, Halifax, and his wife Sarah Wolrich (1757–1824), daughter of Thomas Wolrich (1719–91) of Armley House, Leeds. He was a descendant of the Stansfeld family of Stansfield and Sowerby, Yorkshire, and a distant cousin of the politician William Crompton-Stansfield and the soldiers James Rawdon Stansfeld, Thomas Wolryche Stansfeld and John R. E. Stansfeld.[1]

James Sr was originally a member of a firm of solicitors, Stansfeld & Craven, and subsequently served as a county-court judge in the Halifax district. James Stansfeld Jr's sister, Mary (d.1885), married the Liberal MP George Dixon.


Brought up as a nonconformist, Stansfeld was in 1837 sent to University College, London, and graduated BA in 1840 and LLB in 1844. He was admitted a student of the Middle Temple on 31 October 1840, and was called to the bar on 26 January 1849; he does not seem, however, to have practised as a barrister, and later in life derived his income mainly from a brewery at Fulham.[2]

On 27 July 1844, Stansfeld married Caroline, second daughter of William Henry Ashurst, a radical and friend of Giuseppe Mazzini, to whom Stansfeld was introduced in 1847: they became close. Stansfeld also sympathised with the Chartist movement, even if Feargus O'Connor denounced him. He took an active part in propagating radical opinions in the north of England, frequently spoke at meetings of the Northern Reform Union, and was one of the promoters of the association for the repeal of "taxes on knowledge".[2]

Political careerEdit

"Pour encourager les autres": Caricature of The Rt Hon. James Stansfeld, Vanity Fair, 10 April 1869

In 1859, Stansfeld was returned to Parliament as a Radical member for Halifax, which he continued to represent for over thirty-six years. He voted consistently on the Radical side, but his chief energies were devoted to promoting the cause of Italian unity. He was selected by Giuseppe Garibaldi as his adviser when the Italian patriot visited England in 1862. In 1863, he moved in the House of Commons a resolution of sympathy with the Poles.

Stansfeld became Civil Lord of the Admiralty in April 1863. In 1864, as the result of charges made against him by the French authorities, in connection with Greco's conspiracy against Napoleon III, Disraeli, in the House of Commons, accused him of "being in correspondence with the assassins of Europe."[2] Stansfeld was vigorously defended by John Bright and William Edward Forster, and his explanation was accepted as quite satisfactory by Palmerston. Nevertheless, he only escaped a vote of censure by ten votes, and accordingly resigned office in April 1864.

In 1865, he was re-elected for Halifax, and became the seventh Under-Secretary of State for India in February 1866 (until July) under Lord Russell. He served in Gladstone's first administration (1868)74) as a third Lord of the Treasury between December 1868 and November 1869, as Financial Secretary to the Treasury between 2 November 1869 and 17 March 1871, and as the twelfth and last President of the Poor Law Board (with a seat in the cabinet) from March to August 1871, before being appointed the first President of the Local Government Board, on 19 August 1871, a post he held until the Liberals lost power in February 1874. He was sworn of the Privy Council in February 1869.[3]

The remainder of his life was mainly spent in endeavouring to secure the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, and in 1886 this objective was attained. He did not serve in Gladstone's second administration (1880–5), and declined the twice-repeated offer of the Deputy Speakership.[4] He later returned to government in Gladstone's third administration on 3 April 1886, when he again became President of the Local Government Board. However, the government fell in July of the same year.[2] Stansfeld did not serve in Gladstone's last administration (1892)5) and refused a peerage. However, before Lord Rosebery left office in June 1895, Stansfeld was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in the 1895 Birthday Honours. He retired as MP for Halifax in the same month.

Personal lifeEdit

Stansfeld married Caroline, second daughter of William Henry Ashurst, on 27 July 1844. Their son was the barrister-at-law Joseph James Stansfeld (b. 1852). After his wife's death, on 22 June 1887, Stansfeld married his second wife, Frances, widow of Henry Augustus Severn of Sydney.[2]

Stansfeld died, aged 77, at his residence, Castle Hill, Rotherfield, Sussex, on 17 February 1898, and was buried at Rotherfield on 22 February 1898.[2]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Stansfeld, J. (1885). History of the Stansfeld Family of Stansfield in the Parish of Halifax and its numerous branches. Leeds. pp. 183–246.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Pollard 1901.
  3. ^ "No. 23465". The London Gazette. 5 February 1869. p. 584.
  4. ^ Alan Ruston (2004). "Sir James Stansfeld". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26288. Retrieved 4 February 2021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainPollard, Albert Frederick (1901). "Stansfeld, James". In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography (1st supplement). Vol. 3. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Halifax
With: Sir Charles Wood, Bt 1859–1865
Edward Akroyd 1865–1874
John Crossley 1874–1877
John Dyson Hutchinson 1877–1882
Thomas Shaw 1882–1893
William Rawson Shaw 1893–1895
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Civil Lord of the Admiralty
1863 – 1864
Succeeded by
Preceded by Under-Secretary of State for India
February – July 1866
Succeeded by
Preceded by Financial Secretary to the Treasury
1869 – 1871
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of the Poor Law Board
March – August 1871
Succeeded by
Office abolished
Preceded by
New office
President of the Local Government Board
1871 – 1874
Succeeded by
Preceded by President of the Local Government Board
April – July 1886
Succeeded by