DAWSON, George Robert (1790-1856), of Castle Dawson, co. Londonderry.
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Family and Education
b. 24 Dec. 1790, 1st s. of Arthur Dawson, MP [I], of Castle Dawson by Catherine, da. of George Paul Monck, MP [I], of Bath, Som. educ. Harrow 1801-7; Christ Church, Oxf. 1807; L. Inn 1812. m. 9 Jan. 1816, Mary, da. of Robert Peel I*, 5s. suc. fa. 1823.
Under-sec. of state for Home affairs Jan. 1822-Apr. 1827; sec. to Treasury Jan. 1828-Nov. 1830; PC 22 Nov. 1830; sec. to Admiralty Dec. 1834-5.
Commr. and dep. chairman of customs Dec. 1841-d.
Trustee, linen board [I] 1818; dir. Alliance Insurance Co. 1830.
Dawson’s family were well established Derry gentry who also owned land in Cavan and Dublin, but his rental did not exceed £4,400 p.a. in 1823.1 As a kinsman of the Beresfords, he followed his father’s footsteps in coming in for the county. He was returned unopposed, but after ‘the trouble and anxiety of a contest’, as a friend of and with the encouragement of government—owing this and his public career to his friendship with Robert Peel at Harrow and Christ Church, which had led to his becoming Peel’s private secretary when the latter became Irish secretary in 1812.2 His marriage to Peel’s sister in January 1816 sealed the alliance. Dawson could be relied on to attend and support.
Peel concurred with Dawson’s reluctance to second the address in January 1816: ‘it was not a good thing for a young man to second it—he gets credit for making a good speech which he has had time and every other inducement to study, and establishes a character which he is afraid to risk by an extemporaneous essay’.3 On 26 Apr., in his maiden speech against Newport’s motion on Ireland, Dawson said, with reference to Catholic relief, that there was ‘no single panacea’ for the ‘black catalogue of her calamities’ and blamed seditious agitators for Irish discontent. He duly voted against the Catholic claims, 21 May 1816, 9 May 1817 and 3 May 1819, and remained an ‘Orangeman’ until 1828. On 28 Jan. 1817 he seconded the address, again castigating radical demagogues, but he assured Peel that the experience convinced him of the futility of such ornamental gestures: ‘instead of its being a stimulant to future exertions, it proves a padlock of the very strongest kind.’ Entrusted with the contents of the Regent’s speech beforehand, Dawson had not, however, been able to resist divulging them ‘to a friend’.4 Nevertheless he was one of the few Irish Members invited to attend conferences between ministers and their supporters in the House.5
He was returned unopposed in 1818 and had the satisfaction of seeing his return signed by ‘the very man’ who had questioned his political conduct on the hustings.6 On 9 Feb. 1819 he presented his constituents’ petition for the revision of the Irish Grand Jury Act, which he had supported, and on 19 Feb. secured a committee to amend it. On 2 Mar. 1819, like Peel, he avoided voting on criminal law reform. On 30 Apr. and 7 May he was a fervent spokesman for the repeal of the district fines against illicit distillation, seconding the motion for a committee to consider it. His name appeared in the minority against the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June 1819, and he voted for the extension of the franchise at Penryn, 22 June. He supported government on the seditious libel bill, 23 Dec. 1819. Dawson’s career continued under Peel’s aegis throughout. He died 3 Apr. 1856.