BATESON, Sir Robert, 1st bt. (1780-1863), of Belvoir Park and Moira Park, co. Down.
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Family and Education
b. 13 Mar. 1780,1 o.s. of Thomas Bateson of Orangefield, co. Down and Elizabeth, da. of George Lloyd, FRS, of Hulme Hall, Lancs. educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1800. m. 27 Apr. 1811, Catherine, da. of Samuel Dickson of Ballynaguile, co. Limerick, 7s. (2 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1811; cr. bt. 18 Dec. 1818. d. 21 Apr. 1863.
Sheriff, co. Down 1809-10.
The Batesons were originally a Lancashire family, but this Member’s grandfather, Thomas Bateson (1704-91), sold his estates there and settled in Down in the mid-eighteenth century. On the death of Thomas’s son and namesake, 15 May 1811, Bateson inherited the family properties in Ulster and seven years later he was awarded a baronetcy.2 He seconded the nomination of Lord Castlereagh, the foreign secretary, at the Down election in 1820, and at the by-election there in May 1821, he moved a resolution lamenting the death of Castlereagh’s father, the 1st marquess of Londonderry.3 Having settled at nearby Belvoir, he evidently interested himself in the affairs of Belfast and when Lord Castlereagh* (nephew of the late foreign secretary) was contemplating canvassing Down in 1824, he wrote to his father, the 3rd marquess of Londonderry, that ‘I cannot help fancying that with all Sir Robert’s quiet, formal, precise manners, he knows much more of the real state of things [in Belfast] than he avows or acts upon’. Later that year Londonderry, ‘presuming on the friendship, which has so long subsisted between our families’, sought his advice on his son’s candidacy, flattering Bateson that ‘from your excellent judgement and constant residence’, he would derive the ‘very best opinion’ regarding Down politics.4 At the dinner given in his honour in April 1825 Bateson congratulated his Moira tenantry on the religious harmony and improved conditions on his estates and insisted that he wished to be considered only as ‘an honest independent country gentleman’.5 A burgess of Londonderry, he attended Protestant dinners there for George Dawson* (December 1825) and Lord George Beresford* (October 1826), and was highly respected for his involvement with various charitable and religious societies.6
Bateson, who had disapproved of Catholic emancipation, proposed Castlereagh for Down at the by-election in July 1829 caused by his appointment to the admiralty in the duke of Wellington’s administration.7 But in June the following year he privately informed Castlereagh that his support at the forthcoming general election would depend on whether he would oppose increased Irish taxes, the introduction of English poor laws and abolition of the lord lieutenancy, commenting that ‘I disapprove of the conduct of the government, both as to its foreign and domestic policy, but especially as regards Ireland’.8 Perhaps encouraged by Londonderry, whose Member Alexander Stewart retired at the dissolution, Bateson agreed to offer for county Londonderry as an independent, on the basis of his strong local connections (including his estate at Magherafelt, which was given as his address in the Official Return). The Beresfords, who put up Captain Theobald Jones against Dawson, their former Member, gave him tacit support and he was immediately hailed as a worthy candidate.9 Dawson’s withdrawal led to Bateson’s unopposed return with Jones, 16 Aug., when, as at his election dinner at Newtownbreda, 1 Sept., he repeated that he would judge government policies on their merits, especially in relation to reduced expenditure and taxation.10 Pierce Mahony† counted him as ‘pro-government’, but ministers listed him among the ‘moderate Ultras’, and he voted in the majority against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, which led to their resignation.
Bateson was very active on Irish issues, particularly those concerning manufacturing and trade, for which he rapidly earned the approval of the Belfast press, and frequently presented local petitions.11 He made his maiden speech in condemnation of Daniel O’Connell’s* role in agitating repeal of the Union, 9 Nov. 1830. Having again opposed repeal, 19 Nov., 11 Dec., he called for the Grey ministry to take firm measures to relieve economic distress in Ireland, 23 Nov., and spoke in defence of the non-sectarian education offered by the Kildare Place Society, 10 Dec. 1830. He attended a meeting of Londonderry Apprentice Boys, 26 Jan., and supported their petition against repeal, 4 Mar. 1831.12 He presented the city’s petitions for parliamentary reform and the ballot, 4, 29 Mar., and complaining of its corporation and representation, 18 Mar. He returned to the question of distress, 10, 18 Mar. He declared that he had always been a moderate reformer and had voted against the Wellington government because of the prime minister’s intransigent stance on the issue, 22 Mar., when, however, he spoke and voted against the second reading of the ministerial reform bill on the grounds that it was ‘a remodelling of the constitution’, excluded the mercantile interest from the franchise and would deliver Irish boroughs ‘into the hands of agitators and anti-Unionists’. He condemned colonial slavery, 29 Mar., claiming that he had presented over 100 hostile petitions, and on 12 Apr. he praised the truck bill, which he wanted extended to Ireland.13 He attacked ministers for failing to implement the findings of the inquiry into the civil list, 14 Apr., but did not push to a division his motion to reduce official salaries by £12,000. He gave a silent vote against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. Repeating that he favoured limited reform, Bateson offered again as an independent at the ensuing general election, and he and Jones were opposed by the Irish commander-in-chief Sir John Byng* and another reformer. On the hustings, 16 May 1831, when he stated that his attention to local affairs often kept him at the Commons for 18 hours a day, he denied that he had government backing and explained that he had voted with them in the last division because he believed the bill should have been amended in committee rather than simply thrown out. He was returned in first place, evidently with the approval of Lord Londonderry, after a three-day poll.14
His sarcastic diatribe against government interference in Irish elections, especially in the violent proceedings against him in Londonderry, was ‘loudly cheered’, 21 June, but strenuously denied by Byng on privately thanking the Irish secretary Edward Smith Stanley for his rebuttal; Bateson’s allegations were the subject of indignant statements by Lord Plunket in the Lords, 23, 24 June, and by certain Londonderry freeholders in a public address, 4 July 1831.15 He sided with the radicals for reducing public salaries to 1797 levels, 30 June. He spoke in defence of the Irish yeomanry, 6, 18 July, when he praised the efforts made for his country by Smith Stanley. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least once to adjourn proceedings on it, 12 July, and for postponing consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July. He presented and endorsed numerous petitions for continuing the grant to the Kildare Place Society, 14, 15, 27 July, 5 Oct., and objected to the Maynooth grant, 5 Aug., and again, 26 Sept., when he divided against it. He pointed out that the anti-Union petition from Belfast was a sham, 20 July, urged relief of Irish distress, 25, 27 July, advocated amending the Subletting Act, 5 Aug., and opposed the Irish public works and embankment bills, 16, 28 Sept. He divided for inquiry into how far the Sugar Refinery Act could safely be renewed with regard to West Indian interests, 12 Sept. He voted against the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept. Opposing the reduction of the grant for the Dublin Society and Smith Stanley’s statement on grand juries, 29 Sept., he declared that he had never been an Orangeman and that ‘my country is my only party’. He defended the general conduct of the yeomanry following the Newtownbarry affair, 3 Oct., complained of Irish legal cases being raised in the Commons rather than in the courts, 4, 5 Oct., and damned the introduction of lord lieutenants for Irish counties because of the overtly party political nature of the appointments, 6 Oct. 1831.
At the great Conservative meeting in Dublin, 7 Dec. 1831, Bateson seconded the resolution for an address to the king expressing alarm at the state of Protestant affairs in Ireland.16 He paired against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and, although he voted in the majority against limiting the polling in boroughs of fewer than 1,200 electors to one day, 15 Feb., he divided against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. 1832. He attacked the renewal of Irish commissions of the peace, 24 Jan., 7 Feb., and corroborated the poor state of steam communication between England and Ireland, 13, 15, 23 Feb. He condemned the government’s plan for Irish education, which he thought would establish a Catholic ascendancy, 26 Jan., and spoke to the same effect at a meeting in London, 15 Feb.17 He insisted that Northern Irish Presbyterians opposed the plan, 2, 5 Mar., and made a long speech against it, 6 Mar., again returning to the attack, 21 May, 5, 28 June. He paired against the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., and voted against the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He criticized Smith Stanley for his failure to address the problems of rising levels of distress and crime in Ireland, 31 May, and, having presented the Conservative Protestant Society of Ireland’s petition against the party processions bill, 19 June, when he divided against making permanent provision for the Irish poor by a tax on absentees, he spoke and voted against the outlawing of party processions, 25 June. He commented on the Irish reform bill, 25 June, 6, 9 July, and on 2 July, when he divided for preserving the voting rights of Irish freemen, he moved, but eventually withdrew, an amendment to introduce a higher level of property qualification of £15 or £20 in the larger boroughs. He sided with opposition against the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July. That summer he was listed as a potential member of the Protestant Conservative Society of Ireland.18
He was returned for county Londonderry as a Conservative at the general election of 1832 and sat until his retirement in May 1842.19 The seat then passed consecutively to his first son Robert (b. 1816), who died in Jerusalem in December 1843, and to his second son Thomas, also a Conservative, who held it until 1857 (and was Member for Devizes, 1864-85). Bateson died in April 1863, when he was described as a ‘sterling Conservative’, who ‘advocated his opinions while in Parliament with a practical, telling style of oratory that carried much weight’.20 He was succeeded in his baronetcy and estates by Thomas (1819-90), who was created Baron Deramore, 18 Nov. 1885.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. Although his birth year is given as 1782 in Burke PB, he was described as entering Cambridge ‘age 19’ in 1800 (Admissions to Trinity Coll. Camb. ed. W.W. Rouse Ball and J.A. Venn, iii. 382) and as being ‘in his 83rd year’ at his death (The Times, 23 Apr. 1863).
- 2. Gent. Mag. (1811), i. 602.
- 3. Belfast News Letter, 24 Mar. 1820, 11 May 1821.
- 4. PRO NI, Castlereagh mss D3030/N/147, 150.
- 5. Belfast News Letter, 22 Apr. 1825.
- 6. Belfast Commercial Chron. 2 Jan., 16 Oct. 1826; Belfast Guardian, 4 Sept., 30 Nov. 1827.
- 7. Londonderry Chron. 22 July 1829.
- 8. Castlereagh mss N/212.
- 9. Belfast News Letter, 6, 9, 13, 16 July; Belfast Guardian, 6, 9, 16 July 1830; PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/183.
- 10. Belfast News Letter, 20 July, 20, 24, 31 Aug., 3 Sept.; Belfast Guardian, 20 July, 20, 27 Aug. 1830; Pack-Beresford mss A/190, 192.
- 11. Belfast Guardian, 16 Nov.; Belfast News Letter, 14 Dec. 1830.