CUFFE, John Otway, 2nd Earl of Desart [I] (1788-1820), of Desart Court, co. Kilkenny.

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



13 Dec. 1808 - May 1817

Family and Education

b. 20 Feb. 1788, o.s. of Otway Cuffe, 3rd Baron and 1st Earl of Desart [I], by Anne, da. of Peter Browne, 2nd Earl of Altamont [I]. educ. Eton 1802; Christ Church, Oxf. 1805; Edinburgh Univ. 1807. m. 7 Oct. 1817, Catherine, da. and coh. of Maurice Nugent O’Connor of Mount Pleasant, King’s Co., 1s. Styled Visct. Castle Cuffe 1793-1804; suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Desart [I] 9 Aug. 1804.

Offices Held

Ld. of Treasury Dec. 1809-June 1810.

Mayor, Kilkenny 1809-10.


Desart was not quite of age when he was returned for Bossiney on Lord Mount Edgcumbe’s interest, as a friend of administration. His father had been an Irish representative peer from the Union until his death in 1804 and was a government supporter with an important interest in county Kilkenny.1

In October 1809 Spencer Perceval, wishing to bring forward ‘the young men who from their character and respectability had created expectation’, offered him a place at the English Treasury board. The Duke of Richmond had also recommended him for the Irish treasury board, as ‘a sensible young man and a good scholar’, besides being ‘very steady with us’ and ‘first cousin to Lord Sligo’. Desart at first declined Perceval’s offer, wishing to support government out of office, but during an interview with the duke agreed to change his mind, if Perceval still thought his services would be useful. Perceval, who had kept the place open for him, readily appointed him to it. Charles Long reported that Desart had ‘a very high reputation, and if he succeeds as a speaker, may be of great service’.2 He does not appear to have succeeded. He first spoke in defence of Wellington’s pension, 16 Feb. 1810, and on 9 Mar. defended the subsidy to Portugal. He voted with ministers on the Scheldt question, 23 Feb., 5 and 30 Mar., against the release of the radical Gale Jones, 16 Apr., and against sinecure and parliamentary reform, 17 and 21 May 1810. On 9 June he supported the increase in salary for the Irish viceroy. That month he surrendered his seat at the Treasury board. He rallied to ministers in the Regency debates, defending Pitt’s memory on 1 Jan. 1811; and reappeared in February 1812 when he was placed on the civil list committee, again voted against sinecure reform and criticized Turton’s censure motion. On 19 May he spoke in favour of a monument to Perceval’s memory. Next day there were rumours that he would support his colleague Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration,3 but he voted against it, 21 May. On 7 July he opposed the Irish potato tithe bill.

Once out of office, Desart had begun to see himself in an Irish context. In April 1811 he unsuccessfully applied to be an Irish privy councillor and a governor of Kilkenny. The Regent’s friend Lord Ormonde being sole governor, such pretensions were embarrassing to government but in February 1812, when Ormonde was thought to be dying, Desart asked for the county honours, including the militia. Ormonde’s recovery made a compromise solution devised by the viceroy unnecessary, but did not improve relations between the two.4

Desart was placed in a predicament at the dissolution in 1812. His patron Mount Edgcumbe wished to bring a friend into Parliament, while Desart, who had hoped to retain his seat, discovered that he was unable to find another for the patron’s friend’s benefit: from September to November 1812 he was in constant correspondence with Peel the Irish secretary, whom he counted as his friend, and Lord Liverpool on this subject. He had expected to have the nomination to Kilkenny borough but Lord Ormonde disputed this and would only agree to a year’s tenure if Desart nominated to the seat—this reduced Desart’s bargaining power. He asked Peel to find another Irish seat for Mount Edgcumbe’s friend, but Peel could not, nor could Arbuthnot in England. Desart’s mistake in not being sure of the nomination to Kilkenny for the duration was the reason for his dilemma. Liverpool informed Peel on 20 Oct. that if a seat could be found in Ireland for Newman, Mount Edgcumbe’s friend, Desart might continue to sit for Bossiney—otherwise he must vacate it. Desart told Peel, 21 Oct., that he would prefer to retain Bossiney and offered to come over to England to look for a seat for Newman. Peel hinted at an opening at Malmesbury, 23 Oct., and Desart was eager to pursue it; he also made inquiries about Sligo, 1 Nov. He would not leave Ireland unless there was a strong probability of a seat. Eventually, after Peel had found one for him at Bletchingley on the Kenrick interest, he was able to retain Bossiney after all, Newman coming in for Bletchingley.5

Desart appeared as a government supporter on the Treasury list in 1812, in which year he was a founder member of Grillion’s Club. He experimentally supported Catholic relief throughout in 1813, though he insisted on securities for the protestant establishment, 9 Mar., having signed and defended a petition of Kilkenny Protestants to that effect, and on 11 May he was teller for Hippisley’s motion for an inquiry into safeguards. Following a breakdown in health his main interest was perforce in Irish affairs, especially in asserting his influence in Kilkenny against Ormonde, in which his record of support of administration would have commended him better to them than the wavering support of the Butlers, had not the latter come to terms with the government.6 In January 1815 there was talk of his obtaining Irish office (the post office) but ‘it would put him out of Parliament’, so the notion was discarded. He informed Peel, 18 Feb. 1815, that he was eager to attend the debate on the corn bill, but made no intervention. (He had been on the select committee of 1813.) On 14 May 1817 he appeared in defence of the Irish grand jury bill. On 18 May, for health reasons, he authorized Peel to accept the Chiltern Hundreds for him and to arrange the return of Peel’s brother or any other friend of government for the remainder of the Parliament.7

On the previous day he had written to Lord Liverpool asking for a British peerage to enable him to remain in Parliament and summarizing his career as follows:8

Immediately on my coming of age I entered into Parliament ... and supported the government of which you were one of the principal members as my father and my relatives had done before me. Subsequently when Mr Perceval endeavoured to maintain the government, weakened as it was by the loss of some of its leading members ... [he] applied to me by letter to take office under it. Mr Denis Browne my uncle was requested as a mutual friend to urge me to do so—and approving as I did of the principles of that government I acceded to their desire on the express assurance of Mr Perceval that I was thereby considered as rendering it a service. I was in consequence appointed a lord of the Treasury and vacated my seat at some inconvenience. The moment the session was ended—the danger over and the government firmly established I gave my office back to Mr Perceval and continued a steady supporter of his measures.

When the administration under your lordship began under precarious hopes of continuance, I joined you without hesitation and have since unalterably pursued towards you the conduct of a friend. At the last election I brought into Parliament another gentleman and came in myself at considerable expense—both uniformly supported your government ... I have constantly resided in Ireland (my native country)—When that part of it where I live became disturbed, I exerted myself to the material injury of my health to restore it to tranquillity perhaps not altogether without success. ... Circumstances with which Mr Peel can acquaint you render it improbable I can for a long period hope to become a representative peer of Ireland—the state of my health renders impossible my attendance in the House of Commons of which I had once hoped not to have been an inactive Member.

Desart did not seek re-election and died 23 Nov. 1820, ‘amiable and much regretted’. Ill health had frustrated his ambitions in public life and he sincerely deplored the loss to Ireland when Peel ceased to be chief secretary in 1818, so he informed him in a letter of 22 June.9 Desart retired to his estate, where he gained a reputation as an improving landlord. An obituary notice paid tribute to his warmth, candour, cheerful disposition, lively conversation, courage and ‘Christian resignation’, when stricken ‘in the prime of life.’10

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Add. 35713, f. 122.
  • 2. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 291; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4032, 4037; NLI, Richmond mss 61/328, 71/1374, 72/1490, 1508, 1515, 1534; Add. 38737, f. 395; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 8 Nov. 1809.
  • 3. HMC Fortescue, x. 261, 264.
  • 4. Richmond mss 60/282, 64/720, 66/938, 67/994, 1009.
  • 5. Add. 40180, f. 104; 40181, ff. 13, 15, 19; 40216, ff. 7, 15, 27, 35, 39, 44, 48, 56, 60, 62, 64, 67; 40222, ff. 153, 155; 40280, ff. 57, 59, 60, 70, 80.
  • 6. Add. 40186, ff. 19, 21, 29, 31, 201, 251; 40216, ff. 245, 248, 251, 263; 40289, f. 207.
  • 7. Add. 40209, f. 99; 40216, ff. 281, 319.
  • 8. Add. 38266, f. 313.
  • 9. Add. 40216, f. 333.
  • 10. Gent. Mag. (1820), ii. 564.