BERESFORD, John Claudius (1766-1846), of Glenmoyle, co. Londonderry.
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Family and Education
b. 23 Oct. 1766, 3rd s. of Hon. John Beresford*. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1783. m. 3 Mar. 1795, Elizabeth McKenzie, da. of Archibald Menzies of Culdare, Peebles, 1s. 4da.
MP [I] 1790-1800.
Inspector-gen. of exports and imports, port of Dublin to 1799, storekeeper 1783-1802, taster of wines 1798-1802; ld. mayor, Dublin 1814-15.
Agent to London Society, Londonderry; trustee, linen board [I] 1801.
Claudius Beresford was returned by his father for his borough of Swords in 1790. A partner in a leading Dublin bank and member of the corporation, he came in for Dublin city in 1797. During the rebellion he commanded a yeoman corps which at times acted with more vigour than justice or humanity; suspected rebels were flogged in the family riding school to encourage them to give information. Rebels, in revenge, burnt his bank-notes. The better to oppose the Union, in accordance with his constituents’ wishes, Beresford resigned a lucrative sinecure, 25 Jan. 1799, ‘desirous that the support which he intended to afford the government on all other questions might not be attributed in any degree to his wish to retain his situation’.1
Returned for Dublin to the Imperial Parliament, he was reckoned a supporter of government and on 12 and 18 Mar. 1801 defended the Irish martial law bill and retrospectively palliated the severity of 1798. He gave up private business in Ireland to attend the new session in November 1801.2 On 2 Dec. 1801 he promised the House a bill to amend the Bankrupt Act. He spoke that session on the Dublin paving bill, 9 Apr. 1802, on Irish linen business, 30 Apr., 21 May, and against the repeal of the Irish retail duties, 3 June. In February he had applied to become an Irish privy councillor, but this was not to be. He also wished his customs place, which he expected to have to resign at the end of the session in order to remain in Parliament, to be kept in the family by transfer to one of his brothers. His own neglect to carry out the duties of this office was notorious.3
Beresford was re-elected after a rowdy contest in 1802 and seems to have been the only regular Irish friend of government to desert them in favour of Patten’s censure motion, 3 June 1803, a rebellion foreshadowed by a brief, critical speech on 6 May. On Patten’s motion Beresford was reported by the Irish secretary to have made ‘the most absurd speech ... that I ever heard’. On 2 Dec. he supported the Irish martial law bill, after canvassing Irish Members’ opinions on it, and on 7 Dec. exonerated the Irish government from blame for the rising in July.4 In March 1804, after being placed on the Irish currency committee—he was already a member of the finance committee—he resigned his seat. He was then out of the House until he succeeded his late father as Member for county Waterford in January 1806.
Under the Grenville ministry, Beresford’s clan (headed by the Marquess of Waterford) played a waiting game in a bid to prevent the ministry from handing over their political and electoral influence in Ireland to the Ponsonbys and their allies. In the delicate negotiations that ensued, Claudius Beresford was his family’s spokesman with ministers. Ministers expected that if he did turn up at Westminster in May 1806, it would be to join opposition, but he assured the chief secretary that this was not the case; indeed, a run on his bank made him anxious to get government backing for credit facilities. He did not appear in London until June, when he was prepared to parley with ministers, who came to terms with the Beresfords as to patronage and enabled him to secure his re-election for county Waterford in October.5
This compromise was regretted by Lord Howick who complained to the viceroy that ‘John Claudius Beresford, a name so terribly distinguished in the history of Irish persecution, receives the open countenance and support of government’. The Duke of Bedford admitted Beresford’s guilt, but assured Howick that ‘no blame attached to his subsequent conduct, and I have reason to know that his views as to the future policy to be pursued towards Ireland precisely accord with ours’. Howick had prophesied the contrary and he was right: Beresford gave no votes to ministers in the ensuing session, was unavoidably absent from the crucial divisions of April 1807 and already reckoned by the incoming Portland ministry as a supporter of theirs.6
This was not an unqualified asset: in May 1808 Beresford irked the Irish secretary by criticism of a Dublin bill and by a speech, ostensibly in favour of Duigenan’s appointment to the Privy Council, which did more ‘harm’ than good. He had to be dragooned into attendance next session, but suddenly became prominent as a spokesman for government against peace negotiations, 31 Jan. 1809, and against Wardle and Mrs Clarke in their respective roles over the Duke of York’s misconduct of army patronage in February.7 Yet in November the viceroy wrote: ‘Think of J. C. Beresford talking of his wish that government would not consider him as any longer a firm supporter. I rather fancy he wanted to try the new secretary and therefore I desired him to come to me.’ At this interview, Beresford assured the viceroy that his family would support ministers, but said that he had ‘not been well treated’. Despite some reservations on the question of Lord Chatham’s conduct, Beresford and his ‘tribe’ voted with ministers on the Scheldt inquiry January-March 1810; on 9 Mar. he defended the subsidy to Portugal and on 10 Apr. he was a prominent critic of Burdett’s bid to ‘revolutionize’ the country.8 He was absent subsequently and financial difficulties which beset him in January 1811 caused him to resign his seat in June.9 In 1812 he applied to government for a place, but the viceroy was of opinion that Beresford already having a ‘great pension ... a place in addition would [not] go down with the public’.10 Although as lord mayor of Dublin 1814-15, Beresford contrived to display ‘princely hospitality’ and remained, as was his wont, ‘joyous, frank and entertaining’, he withdrew from public life.11 He died 20 July 1846.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: Arthur Aspinall
- 1. Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 51; Corresp. Rt. Hon. J. Beresford, ii. 211.
- 2. Life of Wilberforce (1838), ii. 326; PRO 30/9/1, pt. 1/2, Beresford to Abbot, 14 Oct. 1801.
- 3. Add. 35781, ff. 112, 122; PRO 30/8/328, f. 261.
- 4. Wickham mss 5/19, Wickham to Marsden, 6 May, 4 June 1803.
- 5. HMC Fortescue, viii. 127-8, 133, 136, 145, 175, 238; NLS mss 12910, pp. 128-37.
- 6. Grey mss, Howick to Bedford, 4 Dec. 1806, reply 5 Jan.; NLS mss 12920, Walpole to Elliot, 13 Feb. 1807; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 19; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lowther, 4 Apr. ; CJ, lxii. 328.
- 7. Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 384, 419, 518; Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 320.
- 8. NLI, Richmond mss 71/1374, 73/1710; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 3 Mar. 1810.
- 9. Richmond mss 64/725, 727, 727a; Freeman’s Jnl. 17 July 1811.
- 10. Richmond mss 68/1075, 1134.
- 11. Gent. Mag. (1846), ii. 318.