Labouchere, Henry (1798–1869), Baron Taunton , chief secretary for Ireland (1846–7), was born 15 August 1798, the eldest son of Pierre César Labouchère (d. 1839), a wealthy clothing merchant of Hylands, Essex, and Over Stowey, Somerset, and his wife Dorothy, third daughter of Sir Francis Baring. Educated at Winchester College, he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, 24 October 1816, graduating BA (1821) and MA (1828). After a period travelling in the USA and Canada, he was elected MP for St. Michael's (1826–30) and for Taunton (1830–59). He supported the whigs and in June 1832 was appointed lord of the admiralty in Lord Grey's administration, a post he held until 1834. He became master of the mint and vice-president of the Board of Trade (1835–39), a privy councillor (6 May 1835), under-secretary for war and the colonies (1839), and president of the Board of Trade (1839–41).
Upon the formation of a new whig administration under Lord John Russell in July 1846, he was appointed chief secretary for Ireland, serving under Lord Bessborough (qv). Although the Irish potato crop failed for a second time in 1846, he made little effort to improve the limited measures of relief that had already been instigated by the previous administration. On 5 October 1846 he issued an official letter (later called the ‘Labouchere letter’) which proposed that relief funds should only be spent on ‘reproductive’ works such as land reclamation and drainage schemes. He hoped that this would encourage landlords to provide relief employment while also carrying out permanent improvements to their estates. The letter also suggested that landlords should be liable to pay for these schemes, a proposal that was not well received.
By December 1846 Labouchere had begun to grasp the seriousness of famine in Ireland. In an emotional speech to the commons he noted: ‘The workhouses are full and the people are turned away to perish. It is impossible to allow this state of things to continue without making some effectual effort to relieve it’ (Kinealy, 118). Yet despite the worsening situation, he announced in January 1847 that extra powers were not required. The Central Board of Health had not been re-established following the potato failure of 1846, and reports began to flood in to Dublin Castle telling of the outbreak of a fever epidemic. Dismissing these reports, he claimed that there was no serious outbreak of fever in Ireland. It was soon impossible for him to ignore the alarming reports of an epidemic and, by April 1847, he strongly supported the Irish fever bill. After Bessborough's death, Labouchere was replaced as chief secretary by Sir William Somerville (qv) in July 1847. Although Labouchere became chief secretary at a very difficult time, his tenure was largely uninspired and irresolute.
Re-appointed president of the Board of Trade (1847–52), he later served as secretary of state for the colonies (1855–8) in Lord Palmerston's administration. On 18 August 1859 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Taunton. He died 13 July 1869 at his London residence, 27 Belgrave Square, and was buried at Over Stowey churchyard, Somerset.
In April 1840 he married Frances Baring (d. 1850), youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Baring; they had three daughters. In July 1852 he married his second wife, Lady Mary Matilda Georgiana Howard, sister of George William Frederick Howard (qv), 7th earl of Carlisle, who was chief secretary for Ireland (1835–41) and lord lieutenant (1855–8 and 1859–64); they had no children. Labouchere had no male heir and his title of Baron Taunton became extinct at his death.