Twisleton, Edward Turner Boyd (1809–74), poor law commissioner, was born 24 May 1809 in Ceylon, third son of Dr Thomas James Twisleton (1770–1824), archdeacon of Colombo, and his second wife, Anne (née Ashe) of Bath, England. Edward's grandfather was the 7th Baron Saye and Sele, and his older brother Frederick became the 10th baron. Educated at Winchester, he had a distinguished Oxford career, matriculating at Oriel College in February 1826, and became a scholar in Trinity College 1826–30, graduating BA (1829) with first-class honours in classics, and MA (1834). From 1830 to 1838 he was a fellow of Balliol College. Entering Lincoln's Inn in 1831, he was called to the bar four years later (30 January 1835), but never practised, preferring to serve on government commissions.
He was assistant poor law commissioner in 1839, and in 1843 was made commissioner of the poor law in Scotland. This was followed by his appointment to the corresponding post in Ireland (5 November 1845). Twisleton initially tackled the famine enthusiastically and was an advocate of Sir Robert Peel's (qv) Indian maize scheme, which he wished to extend to the lower classes in England. However, in face of the increasing misery after autumn 1846 he grew pessimistic about the whig policy of transferring the financial burden of relief to the poor law, but was nevertheless initially prepared to enforce it, only to be frustrated by the government's failure to employ the threat of dissolution on non-paying boards. The whig ministers were nervous of laying themselves open to parliamentary criticism, but Twisleton felt he was being placed in an invidious position. He welcomed that part of the 1847 poor law amendment act that provided for the establishment of a separate Irish poor law commission (of which he was appointed chief commissioner in August 1847) and the provision of outdoor relief for the first time, but resented the even greater control it granted the treasury. Charles Edward Trevelyan (qv) demanded a copy of all poor law correspondence and a say in the appointment of all personnel, and particularly angered Twisleton by his accusations in late 1848 of lavish spending by the poor law boards. Twisleton's demands for more state assistance and his defence of the beleaguered boards became increasingly vociferous over 1848–9, bringing him media support in Ireland and parliamentary criticism in England, though Clarendon (qv), the lord lieutenant, supported him and Russell valued his opinion. Finally (10 March 1849) Twisleton resigned his office on the grounds that the sole reliance on rate-in-aid had placed him in a position that no man ‘of honour or humanity can endure’ (Gray, 314). A dedicated imperialist and advocate of the union, he regarded aid as a state duty. Free of public office, he used parliamentary committees to criticise the whig administration, reserving his sharpest censure for the treasury and its rhetoric of natural law. He gave as his opinion that the problem confronting the boards was financial, not administrative, and that with political will, the government could have supported them by allocating a trifling amount from the sums reserved for fighting wars.
A member of the the commission appointed in 1855 to draw up new statutes for Oxford University and its colleges, four years later Twisleton unsuccessfully contested the Cambridge parliamentary seat. In 1861 he was a member of the commission of inquiry into English public schools, and the following year became a civil service commissioner, remaining in this position until his retirement in 1870. The year after retirement he published a report arguing that the Dublin-born Sir Philip Francis (qv) was the author of the eighteenth-century ‘Junius’ letters, attacking British government policy. To prove this, Twisleton had employed at his own expense a leading handwriting expert. Another publication was the eccentric The tongue is not essential to speech, with illustrations of the power of speech in African confessors (1873) which stated its claim in order to refute the evidence offered by John Henry Newman (qv) of miraculous occurrences. Twisleton used concrete examples of people who were tongueless but spoke from the larynx.
He married (23 May 1852), just before his forty-third birthday, the 21-year-old Ellen (daughter of Edward Dwight of Massachusetts), to whom he had proposed after only six weeks’ acquaintance. She was beautiful, intelligent, and charming and his final years were scarred by her early death (8 May 1862). There were no children. He survived her by over twelve years, dying at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, on 5 October 1874, and was buried at Broughton churchyard, Oxfordshire.