Early life and legal career
William Nathaniel Massey was born on 3 June 1809, the son of William Massey.
He studied law, and entered the Inner Temple in 1826. He was called to the Bar in 1844. He joined the Western Circuit and was appointed Recorder, the highest legal officer, of Portsmouth in 1852 and of Plymouth in 1855.
Massey first entered Parliament as Liberal MP for Newport, Isle of Wight, in 1855. He held that seat until 1857, when he became MP for the borough of Salford, a seat he held until 1865.
He was under-secretary for the Home Department from 1855 until Lord Palmerston’s resignation in 1858. He was chairman of Committees of the Whole House from 1856 and deputy speaker 1859-65.
In 1865 he left Parliament. He became a member of the Privy Council, and was appointed to the Council of the Governor General of India. The Council had recently been transformed by the Government of India Act 1858, which had transferred responsibility for governing India from the East India Company to the British government. Massey became the colony’s finance minister. He retired from the Council in 1868.
In 1872 Massey returned to Parliament, sitting as MP for Tiverton until his death.
In 1869 Massey became chairman of The National Bank, a position he held until his death in 1881. His chairmanship coincided with a significant expansion of the bank’s business. By the late 1880s The National Bank was the eighth largest British bank in terms of issued capital, and only four banks had more branches in London.
Massey’s published works included an essay on legal reform, Common Sense versus Common Law (1850), and a four-volume History of England during the Reign of George III (1855-63).
He was chairman of St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin, London, founded in 1863.
In 1832 Massey married Frances Carleton, daughter of the Reverend John Orde. They had a daughter, Emily Harriet, and a son, Charles Carleton. Frances died in 1872.
In 1880 Massey married Helen Henrietta, daughter of Patrick Grant.
William Massey died on 25 October 1881 at his home in Chester Square, London. He is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London.
Related publications and online sources
- ‘William Nathaniel Massey’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- Obituaries in Times, 27 October 1881, and Bankers' Magazine, vol.41, 1881