Co. Tyrone

County

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Number of registered freeholders:

6,701 in 1829; 773 in 1830

Elections

DateCandidate
22 Mar. 1820SIR JOHN STEWART, bt.
 WILLIAM STEWART
27 June 1825HON. HENRY THOMAS LOWRY CORRY vice Sir John Stewart, deceased
20 June 1826WILLIAM STEWART
 HON. HENRY THOMAS LOWRY CORRY
9 Aug. 1830HON. HENRY THOMAS LOWRY CORRY
 SIR HUGH STEWART, bt.
14 May 1831SIR HUGH STEWART, bt.
 HON. HENRY THOMAS LOWRY CORRY

Main Article

Tyrone, a county of mountains and bogs intermixed with fertile agricultural areas, collieries and bleach fields, had a population of about 300,000 in 1831. The predominance of its Protestant inhabitants, who formed the bulk of the large electorate, was especially marked in Omagh, the county town, as well as in the disfranchised boroughs of Augher, Clogher and Strabane.1 There had been no contests since 1768, but the representation was disputed between a small number of noble houses, who provided the Members from among their own families when suitable men were available. Since the Union the pressure on seats had diminished as the interests of the leading magnates were temporarily eclipsed, although they continued to be cited as the electoral patrons in radical publications.2 The Tory 1st marquess of Abercorn of Baronscourt (and Duddingston, Edinburghshire), a Scottish peer whose sons Viscount Hamilton (d. 1814) and Lord Claude Hamilton (d. 1808) briefly represented Dungannon in the first decade of the nineteenth century, seems to have exerted less influence in his old age and at his death in 1818 the title passed to his seven-year-old grandson. After five years representing Tyrone at Dublin and Westminster, in 1802 Lord Corry succeeded his father as 2nd Earl Belmore of Castle Coole in the neighbouring county of Fermanagh, where he had his principal estates. A ministerialist Irish representative peer, he was generally recognized as the most influential proprietor, becoming governor and custos rotulorum in 1819, but he had to wait several years before he could bring forward one of his connections. The former Grenvillite Member Thomas Knox, who succeeded as 2nd Viscount Northland of Northland House in 1818, thereafter satisfied himself with returning his like-minded son and namesake for his pocket borough of Dungannon and took little part in county politics, although he kept open house when in occasional residence.3 Other local representative peers who continued to play only a minor role in elections were the earl of Blesington of Mountjoy Park, a governor of Tyrone, the 2nd earl of Caledon of Castle Caledon, another governor and colonel of the county militia, and the 2nd earl of Charlemont of Castle Caulfeild, whose brother Henry Caulfeild was Whig Member for county Armagh.

By 1818 the representation was left in the hands of two branches of the Stewart family. Sir John Stewart of Ballygawley House, the former Irish law officer, was again brought in with the support of the Liverpool administration and the approval of the Abercorn and Belmore interests. His distant and, as it turned out, anti-Catholic Whig kinsman William Stewart of Killymoon, whose family had long provided one of the Members with the backing of Caledon and the independent gentry, regained the seat which his father had given up six years earlier, after a compromise with government.4 They were returned unopposed on the same understanding at the general election of 1820. Following requisitions signed by both Members, there were county meetings at Omagh to congratulate George IV on his accession, 23 Mar., and on the subject of illicit distillation, 15 Apr. 1820, and the county agreed a loyal address to the king on 24 Jan. 1821.5 An anti-Catholic petition was presented by Sir John Stewart, 18 Apr. 1823, and, following a requisition to Caledon, headed by the name of the 2nd Earl Castlestewart of Stewart Hall, the county approved a petition condemning the Catholic Association, 8 Feb. 1825.6

Following the death of Sir John Stewart in June 1825, his heir Hugh, who claimed that his father would have brought him forward as his replacement had he lived, was thought of as a possible successor. However, Belmore, whose elder son Lord Corry had been returned for Fermanagh in 1823, used the opportunity to introduce his other young son, Henry Lowry Corry. The degree of Belmore’s preponderance can be ascertained from the fact that Corry’s colleague, Mervyn Archdall of Castle Archdall, county Fermanagh, placed his interest in Tyrone at the disposal of Lowry Corry, rather than of his nephew Sir Hugh Stewart. Proposed by John Corry Moutray of Favor Royal and Robert William Lowry of Pomeroy, Lowry Corry was elected unopposed later that month, when there were just over 9,000 registered electors.7 Charlemont, giving his backing to Belmore, commented that ‘I fear another vacancy is fast approaching’, but William Stewart evinced sufficient recovery from illness to stand again at the general election of 1826, when he dreaded being placed in the ‘disagreeable situation’ of a contest.8 Yet the Orangeman William Verner† of Churchhill, Armagh, who had been spoken of in 1825, stood unsuccessfully for that county and Sir Hugh Stewart, despite a promise made the previous year, again declined. Making the usual vacuous promises to defend the best interests of their constituents, the sitting Members were returned unopposed.9

The clergy and gentry of Tyrone, although unrepresentative of the county as some thought, mustered for a grand dinner in honour of Verner in Omagh, with Corry representing his absent brother, 6 Nov., and attended in force at the anti-Catholic county meeting, with Sir Hugh Stewart taking the lead in proposing resolutions, 1 Dec. 1826.10 William Stewart presented the hostile petition to the Commons, 5 Mar., when one from the Catholics of the county for conceding their claims was also brought up; these were presented to the Lords by Lord Roden and Belmore, 16, 27 Mar. 1827. Another hostile county petition was brought up in the Commons by Lowry Corry, 5 May, and the Lords, 16 May 1828.11 On 26 Sept., when the local magistrates agreed to protective measures against Jack Lawless’s mass Catholic procession, a meeting in Omagh established the Tyrone Brunswick Club and numerous local branches were subsequently formed throughout the county.12 Again on the initiative of Sir Hugh Stewart, in the absence of both Members, another Protestant county meeting took place at Dungannon, 2 Dec. 1828.13 The ensuing petitions, with 17,000 signatures, were presented to the Lords by the duke of Cumberland, 2 Mar., and the Commons by Lowry Corry, 11 Mar. 1829. The Catholics, who had met in Omagh on 29 Dec. 1828, had their petitions in favour of emancipation brought up in the Commons by Thomas Knox, 18 Mar., and in the Lords by Caledon, 30 Mar. 1829.14 The furious Protestants met again, 2 Mar., when they agreed an address to the king in defence of their interests, and after the passage of the emancipation bill animosity between the two sides exploded into sectarian violence in July, notably at Glencoe, near Stewartstown.15 Under the related Franchise Act, the electorate fell from 6,701 on 1 Jan. 1829 to 773 a year later.16

In December 1828 Belmore, who had been appointed governor of Jamaica that year, unsuccessfully solicited a position in government for his son from the prime minister, the duke of Wellington, to whom he commented that

although in the Protestant county of Tyrone ... I should entertain no doubt whatever of his re-election ... yet at the present moment I should not by any means consider it advisable for him to risk the chance of a contest ... lest it might afford another opportunity for ‘agitation’.17

Lowry Corry, who voted against Catholic emancipation, was considered secure, but the almost total absence from Parliament of his sick colleague rendered the latter vulnerable. In the autumn of 1829 Wellington recommended Sir James Matthew Stronge of Tynan Abbey, county Armagh, as a suitable replacement, but Belmore, suspicious of such an interloper, avoided committing himself and asked the premier to deal directly with Corry on the matter. The family strategy was evidently to await the candidacy of a Hamilton on the Abercorn interest, although as this was still managed by young 2nd marquess’s uncle and stepfather, the 4th earl of Aberdeen, the foreign secretary, it was in any case likely that its backing would be given to Stronge.18 Perhaps to head this off, a meeting of freeholders, chaired by Moutray on 9 Jan. 1830, agreed resolutions asking William Stewart if he meant to continue and soliciting Sir Hugh Stewart to come forward in the event of his retirement. The sitting Member bowed to the inevitable and indicated that he would make way at the next dissolution, while his kinsman, fearing the effect of hostile canvassing, moved to shore up his family’s traditional support from Belmore and, through him, Abercorn.19

After the apparently ailing William Stewart had confirmed his resignation, the contenders at the general election of 1830 were: Lowry Corry, who had presented the Tyrone petition against the increased Irish stamp and spirit duties on 9 July; Stronge, the retiring Member’s chosen successor, who was reported to be Caledon’s ‘tool or nominee’ in his bid to turn the county into a ‘close borough’; and Sir Hugh Stewart, a declared ministerialist, who had already won over Belmore and, once Moutray had declined, secured the backing of the independent interest. Yet Stronge, depicted as a creature of government, soon shied from a contest, citing the inadequate state of his registry and complaining of the ‘powerful (and to me unexpected) junction’ against him. (He never sat in Parliament, but his heir of the same name was later Conservative Member for county Armagh.) Lowry Corry, proposed by John Dixon Eccles of Ecclesville and James Lowry of Rockdale as no slavish adherent of ministers, and Sir Hugh Stewart, nominated by Verner and the Rev. John Grey Porter, rector of Kilskerry, as an independent, were elected unopposed.20 Apart from in Strabane, where reform meetings were held in March and May 1831, the county approved its Members’ votes against the Grey ministry’s reform bill. Although it was reported to Lord Anglesey, the lord lieutenant, that ‘Tyrone could be twisted with ease out of the hands of Sir Hugh Stewart’, neither the reformer William Stewart nor the former challenger Stronge offered at the general election of 1831, when an Orange anti-reform meeting was held and the sitting Members were again returned.21

Caledon, who despite his hostility to reform was appointed lord lieutenant of Tyrone in the autumn of 1831, approved the requisition for a county meeting to address William IV in defence of the Protestant interest. It was held in Omagh under Stronge’s chairmanship, 26 Jan. 1832, when the Orangemen again attended in strength at the dinner, which was presided over by the county’s grandmaster, Joseph Grier of Desertcrate.22 A petition for alteration of the grand jury laws was presented to the Commons by Spring Rice, 18 Apr.23 Abercorn, who had come of age in January, voted, like all the resident peers except the Whig Charlemont and the absent Belmore, against the reform bill in the Lords, 13 Apr., and in the summer he for the first time visited his extensive estates near Strabane.24 Following considerable unrest over tithes, the representation of this overwhelmingly Conservative county remained unchanged at the general election of 1832, when there were 1,151 registered electors (up from 924 the previous year).25 In spite of continued hostility to landlord dominance, Belmore’s family filled one seat until 1880. Except for Sir Hugh Stewart’s tenure up to 1834 and Caledon’s eldest son Lord Alexander’s period as Member between 1837 and 1839, Abercorn’s brother Lord Claude Hamilton held the other until 1874, while his family controlled Tyrone North, 1885-95.

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), vi. 254; PP (1824), xxi. 696; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 665-6.
  • 2. PP (1829), xxii. 21; Oldfield, Key (1820), 327-8; Key to Both Houses (1832), 412; Lord Belmore, Parl. Mems. of Fermanagh and Tyrone (1887), 117, 118; Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 332-4; L. Proudfoot, ‘Place and Mentalité’ in Tyrone Hist. and Society ed. C. Dillon and H. A. Jefferies, 514-15.
  • 3. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 119/1/1, Anglesey to Smith Stanley, 15 Feb. 1831.
  • 4. D. Murphy, Derry, Donegal and Modern Ulster, 73-80; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 688-90.
  • 5. Belfast News Letter, 17, 28 Mar. 1820, 2 Feb. 1821.
  • 6. CJ, lxxviii. 213; The Times, 18 Apr. 1823; Strabane Morning Post, 8, 22 Feb. 1825.
  • 7. Enniskillen Chron. 9, 23, 30 June 1825; PRO NI, Belmore mss D3007/H/7/9, 12, 14, 15; PP (1825), xxii. 101.
  • 8. Belmore mss H/7/13; PRO NI, Leslie mss MIC606/3/J/14/73, 74.
  • 9. Impartial Reporter, 9 June 1825; Belfast Commercial Chron. 10, 12, 24 June; Strabane Morning Post, 13 June, 11 July 1826.
  • 10. Impartial Reporter, 16, 30 Nov., 7, 14 Dec. 1826; Add. 40389, f. 221; PRO NI, Rossmore mss T2929/4/23.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxii. 272, 275; lxxxiii. 313; LJ, lix. 168, 206; lx. 454; The Times, 6, 17, 28 Mar. 1827.
  • 12. Impartial Reporter, 25 Sept., 2, 9 Oct.; Belfast Guardian, 17, 28, 31 Oct., 4, 28 Nov. 1828, 6, 9 Jan. 1829.
  • 13. Impartial Reporter, 20 Nov., 11 Dec. 1828.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxiv. 124, 128; LJ, lxi. 90, 308; Enniskillen Chron. 12 Jan.; Londonderry Chron. 25 Mar. 1829.
  • 15. Impartial Reporter, 5 Mar. 1829; PRO NI, Perceval-Maxwell mss D3244/F/2/74; Murphy, 69.
  • 16. PP (1830), xxix. 473.
  • 17. Belmore mss G/39/4; Wellington mss WP1/971/19.
  • 18. Belmore mss H/6/12-14; Wellington mss WP1/1048/3; 1096/14; Add. 43234, ff. 80, 82, 364.
  • 19. PRO NI, Stewart of Killymoon mss D3167/2/310, 311; Add. 43234, f. 191.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxv. 638; Perceval-Maxwell mss F/2/75; PRO NI, Orr mss D2934/14/9; PRO NI, Richardson mss D2002/C/26/15-17; 27/4; Wellington mss WP1/1124/21; Add. 40338, f. 223; Belfast News Letter, 9 Apr., 13, 23 July; Newry Commercial Telegraph, 13, 16, 23 July, 24 Aug.; Enniskillen Chron. 15, 22 July, 12, 26 Aug. 1830.
  • 21. Strabane Morning Post, 25 Mar., 3, 24, 31 May; Enniskillen Chron. 28 Apr., 5, 12, 19, 26 May 1831; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/33/B/3; Stewart of Killymoon mss 2/335.
  • 22. Enniskillen Chron. 26 Jan., 2 Feb.; Londonderry Sentinel, 28 Jan., 4 Feb. 1832; Murphy, 70.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxvii. 289.
  • 24. Belfast Commercial Chron. 16 June 1832.
  • 25. Perceval-Maxwell mss F/2/100, 101; Derby mss 125/4, Barrington to Smith Stanley, 6 Nov.; Enniskillen Chron. 18 Oct., 1 Nov., 13 Dec. 1832; PP (1831), xvi. 203.

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