CANNING, George II (1778-1840), of Garvagh, co. Londonderry.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



16 July 1806 - 1812
24 Dec. 1812 - 1820

Family and Education

b. 15 Nov. 1778, o. surv. s. of Paul Canning of Garvagh by Jane, da. of Conway Spencer of Tremary, co. Antrim, sis. of Sir Brent Spencer* and Joshua Spencer*. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1795. m. (1) 13 July 1803, Lady Georgiana Stewart (d.17 Nov. 1804), da. of Robert, 1st Mq. of Londonderry [I], s.p.; (2) 9 July 1824, Isabella Charlotte Rosabelle, da. of Henry Bonham* of Titness Park, Berks., 2s. 1da. suc. fa. 1784; cr. Baron Garvagh [I] 28 Oct. 1818.

Offices Held

Ld. lt. co. Londonderry 1831-40; lt.-col. co. militia.


The estate of Garvagh inherited by Col. Canning had fallen to his father after the latter’s elder brother had been disinherited. This was to the great disadvantage of the colonel’s more celebrated cousin and namesake, like whom he was a virtual orphan, but to whom he was in every respect inferior and whose footsteps he dogged. As early as 1800, Canning major complained of his importunity:

My cousin G. turned out (as I had long foreseen) to have views upon my assistance, beyond what had started. Not an Irish peerage—which I was prepared to hear him propose—but a place ‘that should make up his income to what Lord A. would approve’. Could you have conceived such exorbitant unreasonableness and folly? My answer was peremptory, beyond any peremptoriness that I almost ever employed. I really thought it the most outrageous thing of the sort that I had ever encountered.1

In 1803 Canning made an advantageous match with Lord Castlereagh’s half-sister. She died a year later, leaving him as an incongruous link between two antipathetic statesmen.

Canning, whose family had never sat in the Irish parliament, paid an annuity for his seat for Sligo to the proprietor Owen Wynne*, who made way for him without consulting government. Canning major commented, 15 Aug. 1806, in a letter to George Rose:

I see a cousin of mine who is just returned for Sligo classed with opposition, I trust correctly—but I have not heard anything from him. I think he would hardly come in just now to go against me. We meet but seldom; are very good friends when we meet, but do not correspond much, when absent.2

In March 1807 he at once supported the Portland ministry in which his cousin and brother-in-law were so prominent, and the chief secretary hastened to inform the viceroy, 27 July 1807:

Lord Castlereagh has mentioned to me the wish of Canning and himself that Mr George Canning, the Member for Sligo, should have an office which he could hold consistently with a seat in Parliament. He is related to both of them. I told him that I would mention the subject to you; but there is no vacancy, nor no probability of one.

On 21 July Castlereagh himself wrote a letter of introduction for Canning to the viceroy:

Mr Canning though he has not yet been engaged in public business is very much attached to a parliamentary life, and proposes to continue to bring himself into Parliament, and I need hardly add with every feeling of zeal and attachment to the principles of the present government. Mr Canning has a very good property in the counties of Cavan and Londonderry, but as seats in Parliament in these days are not obtain [sic] for nothing, whilst his friends are in office it certainly would be an object to him when your Grace’s arrangements will admit of it, to be brought forward in some official situation not incompatible with Parliament. Should you have an opportunity of placing him at the board of treasury, it would fully gratify his ambition.

In the following session, the chief secretary duly noted of Canning, ‘supports Government. Wishes to be a lord of the treasury in Ireland.’3

When his cousin and Castlereagh left the government in mortal enmity with each other, Canning was in a cleft stick, but on 23 Jan. 1810, at the opening of the next session, he elected to adhere to his cousin, who reported to his wife:

He took me aside in the H[ouse] of Com[mon]s ... to say that he was glad of this opportunity to make his profession to me of entire and constant attachment—that it had always been his intention and disposition that he had made some advances which, from various reasons, I had not encouraged—that he had not liked to press upon me in office—but that now he could have no greater pleasure than in professing to me out of office his desire and determination to follow me. I told him, what is very true, that I received his declaration with the greatest possible delight—that I had always rather avoided the subject of personal politics with him because, situated as I was in the government and as he was with regard to Castlereagh, I could not court his attachment to myself, without entering into explanations into which, while I was a member of the government, I did not think myself at liberty to enter. I now wished him to be fully acquainted with every particular—and accordingly here he is, reading while I write, and repeating his professions at every turn. I told him too that I had heard that Castlereagh reckoned upon him—and that had deterred me from courting him.4

Canning, who was not given to speaking in debate, went on to vote as a member of his cousin’s ‘senate’ against ministers on the Scheldt inquiry, 26 Jan., 23 Feb., 5 Mar. 1810, and on 30 Mar. with government, except on the last division. The viceroy thought, 21 Feb., that the vacant place at the Irish treasury board might now be offered to him, but ‘perhaps he may not choose to come in now’. Canning voted against parliamentary reform, 21 May 1810. He voted with opposition on the Regency question, which was more than his cousin expected. By February 1812 the viceroy very much doubted whether Canning would accept the treasury board if offered, and still less so later that year, as he had voted against government that session, whenever his cousin did so: notably for Turton’s motion, 27 Feb., against the orders in council, 3 Mar., and the bank-note bill, 10 Apr., for Catholic relief, 24 Apr., and for a stronger government, 21 May 1812.5

In December 1812 Canning replaced his cousin, who was chosen at Liverpool, as Member for Petersfield on the Jolliffe interest and earmarked the Sligo seat for his uncles, Joshua and Sir Brent Spencer, in succession. Like his cousin he voted against the vice-chancellor bill, 11 Feb., and in favour of Catholic relief, 2 Mar., 13 and 24 May 1813. When his cousin disbanded his ‘senate’ and in July 1814 began negotiating with Liverpool’s administration for a return to office, Canning was put down, unconsulted, for a seat at the Irish treasury board, ‘rather than leave him out’, and his cousin had a plan to bestow Canning’s seat in Parliament on Sturges Bourne, but was ‘staggered’ to discover ‘that his OBJECT was not office—but an IRISH PEERAGE!’. He was equally surprised to find that the premier was prepared to consider the suggestions.6 On 5 July 1815, Canning, who had again voted for Catholic relief on 30 May but in favour of the Duke of Cumberland’s grant on 3 July, asked the chief secretary to ‘befriend’ his wishes and was dismayed to discover that the viceroy Lord Whitworth put the claims of Hans Hamilton* first. Canning ‘withdrew in submission’, but remonstrated with the chief secretary.7 On 18 Mar. 1816 he was in the minority favourable to the property tax and remained loyal to ministers that session.

The return of his cousin from Lisbon to cabinet office improved Canning’s prospects, but his ambition was not realized without much ill feeling. Whitworth thought him unfit for the honour and when, at a ministerial conference on the subject, 20 June 1816, the chief secretary was explaining that Canning had ‘neither character, nor fortune, nor connection, nor service to government’, he was interrupted by Castlereagh, whose connexion with Canning he had evidently underestimated and who said:

It is much too late to urge these objections now. I have been authorized by Lord Liverpool to tell Mr Canning that if the peerage is to be conferred as a matter of favour, he is to have it, and I consider that unless the government are under such an engagement to Mr Hamilton as to compel them to make him a peer, it is bound in good faith to offer the peerage to Mr Canning.

Both Peel and Whitworth were nonplussed at this pressure on Canning’s behalf and the viceroy asked the premier for a moratorium. Privately, Peel reported, 30 July 1816, ‘I really think he would not stay ten days here after Canning was gazetted’. Whitworth himself did not conceal from the premier that he thought Canning ‘utterly unworthy’. The premier was ‘very much embarrassed’ but thought matters had gone too far to recede and would not admit that other claims were better, October 1816.8

When present in the sessions of 1817 and 1818, Canning voted with ministers, sandwiched between his namesake and Castlereagh in the division lists, but he threatened to embarrass them by standing for county Derry at the next election ‘to further his own personal views’, unless Lord Waterford joined the pressure group for his peerage. He did not purchase Sligo at the election of 1818 and had evidently expected the peerage after the dissolution: on 14 Oct. he protested to the premier about the delay in implementing it.9 The latter rushed it through before Parliament met. As an Irish peer, Canning continued to sit for Petersfield for the remainder of that Parliament, voting with government against Tierney’s censure motion of 18 May 1819 and for the foreign enlistment bill on 10 June. In quest of a wife, he unsuccessfully proposed to the Gascoyne heiress, 25 June 1819.10 He died 20 Aug. 1840.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Add. 38833, f. 14.
  • 2. Add. 42773, f. 131.
  • 3. NLI, Richmond mss 58/37, 59/160; Add. 40221, ff. 13-42 (under Sligo).
  • 4. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 25 Jan. 1810.
  • 5. Ibid. same to same, 27 Jan., 23 Feb., 6 Mar., 1 Apr. 1810; Richmond mss 64/655, 67/1006; PRO 30/29/8/5, f. 539; Add. 40185, f. 111.
  • 6. Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 14 July 1814.
  • 7. Add. 40246, f. 153; 40247, f. 91.
  • 8. Add. 38573, f. 101; 40181, f. 76; 40291, ff. 91, 121; 40292, f. 25.
  • 9. PRO NI, DOD 642/224, Dawson to Waterford, 26 Aug. 1817; Add. 38273, ff. 339, 345.
  • 10. Carola Oman, The Gascoyne Heiress, 38.