Available from Cambridge University Press
Number of registered freeholders:
2,020 in 1829; 1,139 in 1830
Number of voters:
about 600 in 18311
|16 Mar. 1820||THOMAS BERNARD|
|JOHN CLERE PARSONS|
|30 July 1821||WILLIAM PARSONS, Lord Oxmantown vice Parsons, appointed a judge|
|19 June 1826||THOMAS BERNARD|
|WILLIAM PARSONS, Lord Oxmantown|
|12 Aug. 1830||THOMAS BERNARD|
|WILLIAM PARSONS, Lord Oxmantown|
|18 May 1831||WILLIAM PARSONS, Lord Oxmantown||411|
|Hon. John Craven Westenra||156|
The county of King’s (later Offaly), of which almost a third was uncultivated, produced mainly wheat and potatoes and had a declining linen industry. There were several market towns, including the disfranchised boroughs of Banagher and Philipstown, the post towns of Clara, Parsonstown and Tullamore, the venue for county elections, and the parliamentary borough of Portarlington, which lay partly in Queen’s County.2 The representation had for many years been jointly controlled by Sir Lawrence Parsons†, 2nd earl of Rosse, whose brother John Clere Parsons had stepped into the family seat in 1818, and Charles William Bury, 1st earl of Charleville, whose brother-in-law Thomas Bernard of Castle Bernard had sat undisturbed since 1802. Less influence was possessed by the pro-Catholic Denis Bowes Daly of Dalystown, Galway, Member, 1801-2, Warner William Westenra†, 2nd Baron Rossmore, and Richard Malone of Pallas, who had offered as an ‘independent’ in 1818 but withdrawn rather than disturb the peace.3
At the 1820 general election the supporters of Malone, whose mother was Catholic, ‘kept their votes disengaged’, whereupon Bernard commenced an early and extensive canvass. Parsons stood again as a stopgap for his brother, whose eldest son Lord Oxmantown was not yet quite of age, and there was talk of a fourth candidate. Anticipating a ‘spirited’ contest, Rossmore informed the premier Lord Liverpool that he ‘wished most strongly to apply’ the revenues he possessed as Irish joint-postmaster general ‘in Scotland, county Monaghan and in the King’s County, where I feel my influence second to no person’, in support of government, adding that he would ‘feel most acutely ... another refusal’ to be considered for an Irish representative peerage and that ‘as the election must soon take place, I have but a short time to determine as to my future course’. In the event Malone, whose ‘primary wish’ was to ‘see an independent interest established’, was forced to decline on account of ill health and Bernard, who pledged to continue his support of government, and Parsons were returned unopposed.4 Neither voted in the following year’s division on Catholic relief. Bernard presented a petition in support of the corn laws and abolition of the tax on Irish whiskey, 13 Apr. 1821.5 That July Parsons made way for Oxmantown, prompting calls by the ‘friends of independent and constitutional principles’ for efforts to ‘prevent the representation becoming the private property of any individual, however high in rank or respectability’. These came to nothing and Oxmantown was returned unopposed.6 A county meeting to address the king on his arrival in Ireland was attended by Malone and both Members, 9 Aug. 1821.7
In 1823 Rossmore expressed high hopes of returning his younger son John Craven Westenra† at the next election, which his eldest son Henry Westenra, Member for County Monaghan, sought to deflate:
How can you argue about that without knowing the intentions of others? ... You say Malone and the other fellows have no money. Have you or I got it? If Jack married well and went to reside there, that would alter the case, but at present it is absurd to count upon it as certain.8
On finding that ‘Jack was to attend the assizes at Philipstown’ early the following year, Westenra advised his father to get a list ‘of the people that really have interest’:
I do not see how Jack could beat the two present men, without ... money. You have many things to enquire into before you could entertain such an idea for a moment. How many voters are there in the county? What number has Lord R[osse] and B[ernard] out of those? Are your own friends registered? How many could they register? As you are a magistrate of the county, you have a right to have a list of registry delivered to you ... By getting those books, you can form your own opinion on the subject most correctly ... but I cannot ... imagine for a moment you could beat those men who have possession now. You have no interest of your own to signify, as we have in Monaghan. Both of the other men have been making an interest all their lives.9
Both Members voted for Catholic relief in 1825. When a dissolution was anticipated that autumn, the Whig Frederick Ponsonby† of Bishop’s Court, County Kildare, advised Lord Fitzwilliam that the ‘flourishing’ 10,000-acre estate which he had inherited from his kinsman Denis Bowes Daly, who had died in 1821, ‘together with the Philipstown property’, would ‘go a great way towards returning a Member for the county’.10
At the 1826 general election Bernard and Oxmantown both offered as ‘emancipators’. An election ballad entitled ‘The Days of Independence’, recalling those families who had joined in the ‘struggle’ of 1801 in support of Bowes Daly ‘against the junction of Parsons and Bury’ was, according to Rossmore, ‘put together to animate their children against the junction of Parsons and Bernard, but the whole tote were unworthy of it: the devil himself could not animate such an "inane pectus"’. Bernard was ‘not aware’ of any opposition when soliciting the backing of Lord Downshire, who gave it ‘upon the assurance’ of his continued support for emancipation. He and Oxmantown were returned unopposed.11 Both voted for Catholic claims, in support of which petitions were presented to the Commons, 2 Mar. 1827, 15, 28, 30 Apr., 6 May 1828, and the Lords, 13, 16 Mar. 1827, 2 Apr. 1828.12 Hostile petitions were presented to the Commons, 5 Mar. 1827, and the Lords, 7 Mar. 1827.13 Petitions from the Catholics were presented to the Commons against the Irish education system, 10 Mar., and the Lords, 14 Mar. 1828, and to the Commons for repeal of the Irish Vestries Act, 19 Feb., and the Subletting Act, 30 Apr. 1828.14 Petitions from the weavers complaining of distress and the unfair advantage enjoyed by English workers under the poor law were presented to the Commons, 15 Apr. 1828, 16 Mar. 1830.15
On 21 Sept. 1828, at an Association meeting held in Tullamore for ‘the purpose of establishing a more systematic collection of the Catholic rent’, an Independent Club was established by Thomas Behan, who condemned the way in which the representation had become ‘debased in the mire of servitude’ to two families. ‘To be sure ... our Members have not arrayed themselves directly against the liberties of the people’, he declared, ‘but is that a reason why we should not hold ourselves in readiness if circumstances should vary?’16 A march through the county that month by Denis Egan of the Association ‘at the head of 20,000 men’ ended peacefully following the intervention of Oxmantown, who had requested government assistance.17 To the apparent irritation of ministers and the king, however, the Irish viceroy Lord Anglesey declined to follow the premier Wellington’s advice to prosecute ‘the gentlemen who patrolled the King’s County with a mob’.18 Both Members signed the Protestant declaration got up in Dublin in favour of emancipation in October.19 A Leinster meeting in Kilkenny of the ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’ was attended by Behan and Rossmore, 20 Oct. 1828.20 Both Members were requested to support county petitions condemning the ‘deplorable’ recall of Anglesey at a meeting held in Kildare in February 1829.21 Only Bernard attended the House to vote for emancipation, for which petitions were presented to the Commons, 16, 17, 24, 30 Mar. 1829. A hostile one from Parsonstown was presented to the Commons, 4 Mar.22 By the accompanying alteration of the franchise the registered electorate was reduced from 2,020 to 1,139, of whom 154 qualified at the new minimum freehold qualification of £10, 127 at £20 and 858 at £50.23 Rossmore was a member of the committee established for the Daniel O’Connell* testimonial, 25 Mar. 1829.24 A petition from the militia for compensation under the Militia Suspension Act was presented by Bernard, 19 Mar. 1829.25 One for the introduction of a poor law to Ireland reached the Commons, 2 June 1829, and ones against that day and 26 May 1830.26 Petitions against Irish spirit duty increases were presented to the Commons, 4 May, 10 June, and the Lords, 11 May, 17 June 1830.27
At the 1830 general election Bernard and Oxmantown offered again. Behan’s Independent Club called on Rossmore to ‘rescue this county from the degrading situation of a close borough’, but in reply to ‘a paragraph in an Irish journal inquiring why’ he was not a candidate, John Westenra declined ‘at this period’, citing the ‘perplexing situation’ that many of his friends would ‘find themselves in’ with regard to the claims of the existing Members, who had ‘rendered important service’. Egan’s boast to Thomas Wyse*, the candidate for county Tipperary, that ‘if you send me another with equal perfection as yourself, I shall take by storm ... the political garrison of this our King’s County’ came to nothing, and Bernard and Oxmantown were returned unopposed.28 An election guide of 1832 quoted a newspaper comment of 2 Jan. 1831 that ‘both Members are said to owe their seats to forbearance and management’, but that ‘a strong popular excitement would turn out both, who are much weakened by the late change of ministry’.29 Petitions from Tullamore were presented to the Lords for the re-establishment of an Irish legislature, 15 Feb., and repeal of the Union, 17 Feb. 1831.30 Rosse and Oxmantown signed an anti-repeal declaration the following month.31 Both Members voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s English reform bill but were absent from the division on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.
At the ensuing general election they offered again as reformers, although Bernard’s absence ‘in the final hour’ was widely criticized and there were calls for him to retire. Lord Tullamore, late Member for county Carlow, was spoken of by the Tory press. John Westenra also offered, promising to oppose ‘all sorts of jobbing’ and ‘go into Parliament free and unshackled’, but was immediately accused of ‘shying’ the reform question by the Dublin Evening Post, which pointed to the same ‘miraculous admission’ of his brother Henry in county Monaghan and warned Rossmore, ‘you must advise your sons to be more explicit’. In response Westenra ‘nailed his colours to the mast’ for the ‘great and healing measure of reform’, insisted that ‘the bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill must be our motto’, and promised to ‘sink or swim with the independent interest’. Rossmore’s agent reported ‘great accounts of the probability’ of his success, adding that ‘no small trifling items’ would be incurred in expenses, though ‘the great object will be to manage, if possible, without a contest’. Following Westenra’s declaration Bernard, who complained that his views had been ‘misrepresented’, reaffirmed his support for the bill and ministers, whereupon Ponsonby and the ‘other most influential and decided reformers’, fearing that a ‘division’ would weaken their forces, called on Westenra to back down. In the event Tullamore did not stand but Westenra promised to ‘ride Bernard to the saddle-skirts’, saying he was ‘sorry that a contest should take place but two reformers will come in anyhow’.32 After a three-day poll he retired, denouncing the ‘undue influence’ which had been exercised by a ‘confederacy of a large portion of the aristocracy’ against him and declaring that ‘the funeral obsequies have not yet been performed over the independence of our county’. He ‘fought a stout battle’, commented the Dublin Evening Post, ‘but he ought not to have come into the field at the present juncture’.33 An address to the chief constable in support of his stance against outrages in the county was signed by the Members and Rosse, 14 May. On 28 May a meeting of freeholders was held to secure the ‘future independence of the county’.34 Both Members supported the reintroduced reform bill, in support of which 6,000 people met at Tullamore, 19 Dec. 1831, including ‘Honest Jack’ Lawless, a veteran of the Catholic Association, John and Henry Westenra, and Rossmore, who contended that the ‘question of reform is surrounded in King’s County by a host of enemies and hollow friends, which is the worst of the two’.35 Tullamore petitions were presented to the Lords for a local legislature and repeal of the Union, 24 June 1831.36 Both Members supported a bill to transfer the assizes from Philipstown to Tullamore, against which a petition reached the Commons, 25 May, and one in its favour, 30 May. It received royal assent, 4 July 1832 (2 & 3 Gul. IV, c. 60).37
By the Irish Reform Act 91 leaseholders (38 at £10 and 53 at £20) were added to the freeholders, who had increased to 1,219 (701 registered at £10, 183 at £20, and 335 at £50), giving a reformed constituency of 1,310.38 At the general election of 1832 Bernard, standing as a Conservative, was beaten into third place by the Repealer Nicholas Fitzsimon of Broughall Castle and the Liberal Oxmantown. John Westenra came in unopposed as a Liberal in 1835, following the retirement of Oxmantown, and sat undisturbed until 1852.
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. Based on the figures in Key to Both Houses (1832), 343.
- 2. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 221-24.
- 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 664, 665.
- 4. The Times, 12 Feb.; Dublin Evening Post, 7, 9, 18, 25 Mar. 1820; Add. 38283, f. 75.
- 5. CJ, lxxvi. 261.
- 6. Dublin Evening Post, 21, 31 July, 4, 7 Aug. 1821.
- 7. Ibid. 14 Aug. 1821.
- 8. PRO NI, Rossmore mss T2929/3/38.
- 9. Ibid. 3/48.
- 10. Fitzwilliam mss 123/15/4.
- 11. Westmeath Jnl. 8 June; Waterford Mail, 10 June; Dublin Evening Post, 10, 29 June 1826; Rossmore mss 4/11; PRO NI, Downshire mss D671/C/354, Bernard to Downshire, 1 June, reply, 10 June 1826.
- 12. CJ, lxxxii. 264; lxxxiii. 238, 277, 287, 319; LJ, lix. 158, 168; lx. 160.
- 13. CJ, lxxxii. 273; LJ, lix. 139.
- 14. CJ, lxxxiii. 85, 149, 287; LJ, lx. 111.
- 15. CJ, lxxxiii. 238; lxxxv. 184.
- 16. Dublin Evening Post, 25 Sept. 1828.
- 17. Add. 40335, ff. 165, 166, 212.
- 18. Wellington mss WP1/958/52; 963/35, 38; 964/13.
- 19. Dublin Evening Post, 7 Oct. 1828.
- 20. Ibid. 21 Oct. 1828.
- 21. Ibid. 3 Feb. 1829.
- 22. CJ, lxxxiv. 103, 141, 145, 165, 182.
- 23. PP (1830), xxix. 462, 463.
- 24. Dublin Evening Post, 26 Mar. 1829.
- 25. CJ, lxxxiv. 152.
- 26. Ibid. 360; lxxxv. 479.
- 27. Ibid. lxxxv. 366, 533; LJ, lxii. 367, 736.
- 28. Dublin Evening Post, 27, 31 July, 3, 5, 12, 14, 23 Aug.; NLI, Wyse mss 15024 (4), Egan to Wyse, 5 Sept. 1830.
- 29. Key to Both Houses (1832), 343.
- 30. LJ, lxiii. 229, 232.
- 31. Dublin Evening Post, 5 Mar. 1831.
- 32. Ibid. 30 Apr., 3, 5, 10, 12 May; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 30 Apr.; Rossmore mss 4/31, A. Lewis to Lady Rossmore, 4 May 1831.
- 33. Dublin Evening Post, 17, 19, 21, 24, 26 May; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 21 May 1831.
- 34. Dublin Evening Post, 19, 30 May 1831.
- 35. The Times, 24 Dec. 1831.
- 36. LJ, lxiii. 748, 749.
- 37. CJ, lxxxvii. 290-1, 339, 347, 460.
- 38. PP (1833), xxvii. 301.