BLAQUIERE, Sir John, 1st Bt., 1st Baron de Blaquiere [I] (1732-1812), of Ardkill, co. Londonderry.
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Family and Education
b. 15 May 1732, 5th s. of Jean de Blaquiere, émigré Huguenot merchant,1 of Greenwich, Kent by Mary Elizabeth, da. of Pierre de Varennes, Huguenot bookseller, of the Strand, Westminster. m. 24 Dec. 1775, Eleanor, da. and h. of Robert Dobson of Anne’s Grove, co. Cork by Maria, coh. of Alexander Tompkins of Prehen, co. Londonderry (who brought him the Ardkill estate), 4s. 3da. KB 3 Aug. 1774; cr. Bt. 16 July 1784; Baron de Blaquiere [I] 30 July 1800.
Maj. 18 Drag. 1759, brevet lt.-col. 1762; lt.-col. 17 Drag. 1763, ret. 1773.
Sec. embassy to France 1771-2; chief sec. to ld.-lt. [I] 1772-7; PC [I] 30 Nov. 1772.
MP [I] 1773-1800; alnager of Ireland 1775-97; bailiff, Phoenix Park 1775; trustee, linen board [I] 1784-1808; commr. Dublin paving board 1786.
De Blaquiere was employed in a counting house before entering the army in an Irish regiment. Lord Harcourt, colonel of his brother James’s Irish regiment, the 13th Dragoons, took him as his secretary to Paris and to Dublin, where he became ‘the most popular secretary that ever held office’,2 attributing his partial deafness to his ready ear for business while sitting in the Irish house of commons for 28 years before the Union:
so many Members used to come perpetually to whisper him—and the buzz of importunity was so heavy and continuous, that before one claimant’s words had got out of his ear, the demand of another forced its way in, till the ear-drum, being overcharged, absolutely burst.3
De Blaquiere had not returned to England with Harcourt, but ‘becoming a permanent resident’, reported Sir Jonah Barrington,
attached himself to that side of politics whence only he could derive the great object of his exertions—a revenue sufficiently ample to enable him to entertain his friends as well, and far more agreeably than any other person I had previously met. Nobody understood eating and drinking better than Sir John ... I never yet saw a person rise from his table who did not feel gratified. Sir John was one of the old school; and with all the playful good breeding by which it was distinguished, he had nothing of that starch pride which, in more recent times, has supplanted conviviality without making men either wiser, better, or happier ... Sir John certainly was a pluralist, enjoying at one time the first, the middle and the last pension on the Irish civil list. He was a director of the public works in Dublin; and to his jobbing is that capital indebted for its wide streets, paving, lighting, and convenient fountains. He made as much as he could of these works, it is true; but every farthing he acquired in Ireland he expended in it.4
A pamphlet Review of the principal characters of the Irish house of commons in 1789, in which year he was prepared to take the Prince of Wales’s side on the Regency, described de Blaquiere’s voice as ‘weak, thin and low’, his language ‘well chosen’, his action ‘very faulty ... and he had contracted a mode of twisting and writhing his body into a tortuosity of shape very painful to look at’, but ‘as he inherits from nature a masculine understanding and sound good sense, and has taken pains to store his mind with useful and various knowledge, the matter of his speeches has real merit’.5 He prided himself on his friendship with Lord Hawkesbury, a member of Pitt’s cabinet, to whom he expressed his alarm at the hopes held out to the Irish Catholics by Earl Fitzwilliam in 1795.6
A paying guest in the Dublin parliament, he was ambitious of a seat at Westminster. The next viceroy Lord Camden furnished him with an introduction to Pitt in July 1795, describing him as ‘a very absurd man, but he has talked himself into a sort of consequence here’; while the chief secretary at the same time called him ‘a good friend of mine but excessively vain’.7 In the spring of 1796, so John Beresford* informed John Robinson, Blaquiere
mentioned to me, that a rich relation of his in the City, had taken it into his head, to purchase a seat for him in your House, and that he had, through Lord Hawkesbury, mentioned it to Pitt, wishing to come in under administration.8
This was perhaps to be the subject of an interview with Pitt sought by Blaquiere on 13 Apr. 1796, but nothing came of it.9
For his support of the Irish union, Blaquiere obtained a peerage. He was promised a representative one and, when this was ruled out, sought a compensatory arrangement: it was believed that nothing less than a seat at Westminster without expense for life would satisfy him. Castlereagh reported, 12 July 1800, ‘Blaquiere has waived his representative peerage, for more substantial objects’, and added, ‘it has cost us dear’. This presumably refers to an Irish pension of £1,000 a year promised to him. Moreover, Pitt at once notified George Rose of the need to find a seat at Westminster for him, though Rose could not then find a vacancy or opening.10 Soon after the Imperial Parliament met he was found one for Rye on the Treasury interest, thanks to his friendship with Lord Liverpool (as Hawkesbury had by then become).
Almost at once a difficulty arose out of his possible disqualification, under the Irish Place Act of that sesssion, as alnager of Ireland. This place had been granted to him for 31 years in 1775. By 1782 he had resigned the fees arising from the new drapery for £2,000 p.a., retaining the fees in the old drapery, worth nearly £400 a year. After an abortive bid to convert this into a pension in 1794, during which he resigned the office, he was given a fresh lease of it for 31 years; and in 1797 this was extended to 48 years for the benefit of his heir and assigns. The Castle took the view that his retaining the fees from the old drapery disqualified him from sitting in the next Parliament and not, as he ‘had been stating to all London’, his having a pension for life of £2,000 p.a. in lieu of the new drapery fees. He was prepared to assign the alnagership to his son, but he wished to be sure of a seat in the next Parliament, if not an English peerage, or a place of £400 p.a. ‘by which to negotiate a seat’. This he stated to Chief Secretary Abbot in April 1801; in May he further asked that his Union pension, payable in instalments in 1801, 1802 and 1803, might be paid in full on 25 Mar. 1802, thereby sparing him the trouble and expense of re-election to Westminster. This application was granted and, before the dissolution of 1802, when Rye was no longer available, de Blaquiere was promised that if he was not found a seat, his son should have a place at the board of works. He suggested that if offered an Irish borough he might exchange it for one in England, hinting that the Duke of Rutland might oblige him.11 When no opening occurred, the Castle bestowed on his son a Custom House place worth £400 p.a., but an English seat was also found for him, on the interest of the 2nd Earl of Radnor.
De Blaquiere took his seat at Westminster soon after what he called the ‘calamity’ of Pitt’s resignation.12 The two men exchanged compliments on 12 Mar. 1801, when they rose to speak at the same time and de Blaquiere insisted on yielding to Pitt. He made himself useful to Addington’s administration by defending their Irish measures, 16 Mar. 1801, particularly martial law. He stated that his house had been burnt to the ground in July 1800 by Irish malcontents. He was also a spokesman that month and on 9 Apr. for the Dublin paving board, against charges of jobbery. If he attended the last session of that Parliament, as the chief secretary claimed, he was unusually silent.
On his return in 1803 he was less amenable, contrasting Addington’s conduct of the war with that of Pitt, 30 June. His heir was one of Buonaparte’s détenus. On 7 Mar. 1804, after giving previous warning in the House that he would do so (9 Dec. 1803), he supported inquiry into the Dublin rising of the previous summer, calling it ‘a rank and dangerous rebellion’. He was then listed a Pittite. He warmly supported the Irish militia offer bill, 28 Mar. and 10 Apr., but on 11 and 16 Apr. he as cordially opposed the Irish militia completion bill—‘a species of force least wanted’. On 23 and 25 Apr. he was in the minorities that heralded Addington’s fall, adding his voice on 25 Apr. against the army of reserve suspension bill.
The indignant viceroy was urging that, for his ‘scandalous and ungrateful conduct’, de Blaquiere should be exposed as ineligible to sit, when Pitt’s return to power placed him on the side of the angels.13 He claimed that he and his son-in-law Lord Kirkwall would support Pitt and that he would at ‘the first opportunity declare his intentions, and this without any stipulation’.14 On 30 May, in support of the abolition of the slave trade, he said he was sure the Irish contingent were of one opinion in its favour: he voted the same way on 19 Feb. 1805.15 He criticized Pitt’s additional force bill, without voting against it, because it did not go far enough, 8 June 1804, being called to order when he expressed his regret at the exclusion of Fox from the ministry. He tried to speak again on the third reading, 19 June, but was shouted down. He defended the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, 8 and 15 Feb. 1805. He was a critic of the severity of regimental courts martial, 12 Mar. He supported the Irish militia enlisting bill, 29 Mar. On 14 May he opposed Catholic relief, as he had always done. He repeatedly supported the Duke of Atholl’s claims to compensation in June and July. (Wilberforce alleged that when asked by a friend to support a private bill, and on being told why he should do so, he replied, ‘Oh, let alone your reasons, surely it is the part of a friend to give my vote without reasons, or against them’16). He had voted with the ministerial minority on Melville’s case, 8 Apr., and on 5 July complained that Melville’s deputy Trotter’s indemnification gave him an interest in his chief’s conviction. His obstruction of the investigation of abuses in the Dublin paving board, which he glossed over in the House, 24 May, 2 July and 1805, again in March and April 1806, confirmed his reputation as a ‘notorious’ jobber; the viceroy Hardwicke stated, on leaving Ireland in January 1806, that de Blaquiere was one of four persons he was well rid of.17
De Blaquiere was hostile to what he called the ‘wanton innovations of the Talents’, 8 July 1806. He voted against Ellenborough’s having a seat in the cabinet, 3 Mar. 1806; spoke and voted against the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 30 Apr., and opposed Windham’s military plans, except for enlistment for years, which he favoured, 17 Apr., 13 May, 2 June. He spoke and voted against the American intercourse bill, 13, 17 June, 3 July. He was left without a seat at the dissolution. He died at Bray, 27 Aug. 1812.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. D. C. Agnew, Protestant Exiles , ii. 305.
- 2. Froude, The English in Ireland, ii. 149.
- 3. Barrington, Personal Sketches, i. 205.
- 4. Ibid. 188.
- 5. Falkland, Review of the Principal Characters of the Irish House of Commons, 120; Prince of Wales Corresp. i. 386.
- 6. Fitzwilliam mss, box 48, Blaquiere to Hawkesbury, 19 Feb. 1795.
- 7. PRO 30/8/326, f. 32; Add. 33129, f. 316.
- 8. Abergavenny mss 664.
- 9. PRO 30/8/114, f. 85.
- 10. HO 100/94, Castlereagh to Cooke 12 July, Cooke to? [?9 Nov. 1800]; Dublin SPO 515/85/9.
- 11. Procs. R. Irish Acad. lvi. sec. C no. 3, (1954), 236; PRO 30/8/325, f. 120; 331, f. 299; 30/9/1, pt. 2/1, Abbot’s memo on de Blaquiere; 30/9/9, pt. 1/4, Irish patronage applications 18 May, 3 Sept., 13 Oct. 1801; Add. 35771, f. 59; Wickham mss 5/10, Hardwicke to Wickham, 2 June; 1/46/22, 25, Wickham to Addington, 13 Sept., 5 Nov. 1802.
- 12. NLS mss 11129, f. 290.
- 13. Add. 35705, ff. 190, 302.
- 14. Corresp. of Rt. Hon. J. Beresford, ii. 288.
- 15. Life of Wilberforce (1838), iii. 168, 212.
- 16. Ibid. 273.
- 17. Add. 31230, f. 65; 35706, ff. 65, 304; 35762, f. 40.