BERESFORD, Lord George Thomas (1781-1839), of Bovah, co. Londonderry

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

Constituency

Dates

1802 - July 1812
1812 - 14 May 1814
25 May 1814 - 1826
2 Mar. 1830 - 1831

Family and Education

b. 12 Feb. 1781, 3rd s. of George Le Poer Beresford, 1st mq. of Waterford [I] (d. 1816), and Elizabeth, da. and h. of George Henry Monck of Charleville, co. Cork. educ. Eton 1791-3. m. 22 Nov. 1808, Harriet, da. of John Bacon Schutz of Gillingham Hall, Beccles, Suff., 4da. (1 d.v.p.). GCH 1827. d. 26 Oct. 1839.

Offices Held

Comptroller of household July 1812-Nov. 1830; PC 13 Aug. 1812.

Gov. and custos rot. co. Waterford 1826; col. co. Waterford militia 1826-d.

Cornet 13 Drag. 1794; lt. 107 Ft. 1794; capt. 124 Ft. 1795, 88 Ft. 1796; maj. 6 Drag. Gds. 1800; lt.-col. Dillon’s regt. 1803, 71 Ft. 1804, 2 Drag. Gds. 1807; brevet col. 1812; maj.-gen. 1814; col. 3 Drag. 1829; lt.-gen. 1830.

Biography

The Beresfords were reckoned in a radical commentary of 1823 to hold one-quarter of all Irish places in the army, navy and church, with ‘nothing too high or too low for their grasp’.1 Beresford, a member of George IV’s household, continued to sit for county Waterford on the interest of his eldest brother Henry, 2nd marquess of Waterford, with additional support from his elder brother John, the Irish primate, and illegitimate half-brother Lord Beresford. A staunch opponent of Catholic claims, he was nevertheless credited with ‘some merit’ by the local Catholic leader Thomas Wyse*, who recalled that although he could ‘never be accused of any political talent’, he was ‘exceedingly friendly and kind’.2 At the 1820 general election he offered again. Talk of an ‘independent’ opposition came to nothing and he was returned unopposed.3 As a placeman, when present he gave steady support to the Liverpool ministry, by whom he was listed as a candidate for the linen board.4 He divided against Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822, 1 Mar. (as a pair), 21 Apr., 10 May, 1825. On 15 May 1822 he was shut out of the division on the civil list, having ‘attended the king to the theatre’ and been ‘brought down in all haste’ in ‘full uniform’.5 He presented a constituency petition for additional protection of the Irish butter trade, 7 June 1822.6 Reporting the ‘violence of Orange feeling’ against William Plunket*, the Irish attorney-general, for his prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 14 Apr. 1823, Charles Williams Wynn* noted that Peel, the home secretary, and Beresford had ‘done all the mischief they could by their conversation and language’.7 He divided against parliamentary reform, 24 Apr. (as a pair), 2 June 1823. There is no trace of parliamentary activity by Beresford in 1824, when he was listed among the ‘committee of the Grand Orange Lodge’.8 During the rumours of an early dissolution in September 1825, Peel was advised that the Catholic Association intended to ‘oust the Beresfords’ from the county of Waterford ‘to punish them and their connections for their Protestant politics’. ‘Beresford has no chance unless he be supported by the duke of Devonshire’, observed Goulburn, the Irish secretary.9 ‘Lord George will be thrown out’, predicted one of Lord Farnham’s agents.10

At the 1826 general election he stood again, repudiating the ‘falsehoods’ circulated against him by the ‘itinerant orators’ of a ‘scarcely legal association’, insisting that he remained ‘unpledged’ to any line on emancipation and denouncing the electioneering activities of the Catholic clergy, by whom ‘the Sabbath is profaned and the altar polluted for the almost avowed purpose of defrauding the landlord of his influence’. At the nomination he declared that he would rather relinquish his seat than become the ‘political puppet of any party’ and refused to pledge support for such ‘an indefinite measure’ as emancipation, on which he would ‘exercise his judgement’ when a bill was proposed. An ‘absolutely astonishing’ contest with an Association candidate ensued, during which Beresford addressed the electors in ‘such a foaming rage’ that his words were ‘almost unintelligible’ and accused the Catholic priests of getting up ‘a most infamous, scandalous and shameful confederacy against him’. On the fourth day he resigned in third place, promising to petition.11 ‘The Beresfords are furious’, observed Francis Thornhill Baring*.12 ‘Beresford has put out a foolish address, in which he talks of petitioning Parliament in consequence of the interference of the ... Catholic clergy, but he should recollect that the Protestant clergy have been setting them the example for years’, Lord Duncannon* informed Lord Holland.13 On 19 July 1826 Goulburn advised Peel of the death of Lord Waterford and suggested that ‘under the circumstances of his son’s minority’ Beresford should succeed him as governor and colonel of the militia of county Waterford, ‘for as the lord lieutenant observed it would be inhuman to add to the present distress of the family ... and to the mortification of their defeat in the county by depriving them of any part of the dignity which heretofore attached to them’.14 Beresford was duly appointed. Over the next three months he was feted by the Protestants for his ‘uncompromising stand’ against the Catholics and spoke regularly at dinners about his defeat, which he attributed to the freeholders having been ‘torn from their landlord’s sides by priestly authority, by the refusal of church rites’ and ‘by actual excommunication’.15 Speaking in support of the Protestant ascendancy at an Armagh meeting that October, he urged the Catholics to ‘emancipate themselves ... from all foreign influence’ and ‘the slavish domination of the priesthood’:

Then the avenues of political power will be as open to them as to the other classes of citizens. But if they cannot thus qualify themselves ... let them cease to complain of exclusion as a grievance which is but a necessary security ... I am far from denying the Catholic priesthood a fair and legitimate exercise of opinion and influence ... but I denounce as unconstitutional, as subversive of the natural gradations of society, as destructive to the elements of civil liberty ... the employment of the spiritual armoury and the multiplied contrivances of intimidation possessed by a self-named infallible church, to whose dictates its unhappy members have no choice but to submit in silence.16

‘If George Beresford made and delivered the speech imputed to him, he must have concealed his talents for a long time’, quipped George Dawson, Member for county Londonderry, to Peel.17 On 20 Oct. Lord Beresford reminded Lord Liverpool of his ‘long expressed wish’ that Sir John Brydges, Member for Coleraine, should ‘be provided for’, adding, ‘if ... any situation could be given to him ... that should vacate his seat’, it ‘would be the more agreeable, as it would be the pleasantest way of doing that which he must and proposes to do in favour of Lord George’.18 (Brydges remained in place.) Next month Beresford announced that he would not pursue his petition, citing the likelihood of the ‘same baneful effects’ in any new election that was not ‘governed by different laws’. It was presented, 22 Nov. 1826, but went no further.19 Rumours that Beresford would offer for a vacancy in county Cork the following year came to nothing.20

In February 1827 the king issued instructions for Beresford to be appointed colonel of the 4th Dragoon Guards instead of the Whig Sir George Anson*, to which the duke of Wellington, the commander-in-chief, objected on the ground that Beresford had ‘never served as an officer in the field on any occasion’.21 As Mrs. Arbuthnot observed:

Lord George has no military claim whatever, none of any kind but for votes in Parliament. The duke has written a strong remonstrance ... representing how much it is for the king’s interest ... that ... the practice of recommending to regiments for military services and not parliamentary votes should not be departed from ... and ... says he will resign the command if the king persists.22

The appointment was not forthcoming, but in September 1829 Lord Hill, the new commander-in-chief, felt unable to oppose another request by the king for Beresford to be made colonel of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, even though he ‘would not have selected’ him for ‘command of a regiment of cavalry’.23 The appointment, noted Dawson, gave ‘universal dissatisfaction’:

It was done by a private communication from Windsor ... The duke [of Wellington] did not know of it till the whole was settled, and he wrote immediately to the king expressing his astonishment ... at the selection of a man who had never seen a shot fired to the exclusion of many a true and valuable veteran ... but it was too late.24

In June 1829 it was suggested that Beresford should stand at the next election for county Londonderry, where he would be ‘well supported’ as ‘he is considered a martyr by the bulk of the people’.25 That month, however, it emerged that his former opponent in county Waterford intended to resign, whereupon Beresford commenced a canvass and applied to the former leaders of the Association Daniel O’Connell* and Richard Sheil* to act as his agents. Beresford ‘desires to bury in oblivion and forever the political differences which formerly existed’ and ‘assist in restoring friendly feeling among all parties’, observed David Mahoney in a letter unsuccessfully urging O’Connell to agree, 12 June, adding, ‘Sheil has accepted’.26 Noting how many Catholics were rallying to him, Lord Bessborough commented that ‘his worst opposers now are his Orange friends, who are furious at his having asked for Catholic support’, 19 Sept.27 Next month Dawson, with whom the family had quarrelled, publicly accused Beresford of perfidy, to which a family spokesman retorted:

It is disingenuous, and Dawson knows it to be so, to quote the engaging of Sheil’s professional services as proof of Lord George’s change of politics ... It might have been impolitic in Lord George to offer Sheil a retaining fee ... but the engagement on either side involved no compromise of principle, since it had been understood and expressly stated on both sides that principles remained unchanged.28

Prompted by demands from his agent George Meara for a ‘decided manly address’, and having abandoned thoughts of standing for Dungarvan, on 3 Nov. Beresford formally came forward, citing his ‘firm attachment’ to the Protestant constitution but acceptance of emancipation as ‘final and irrevocable’, and accusing his Catholic opponent Henry Winston Barron of having twice offered him the ‘keys to the county seat’ in return for assistance in the city of Waterford, which he had refused.29 ‘It is very personal and pointed ... and ... may permit him to notice it personally’, remarked Lord Beresford, but ‘the substance is fact and proper to be exposed’.30 In response Barron charged Beresford with a ‘dishonourable violation of a private and confidential communication’ and a ‘base and profligate abandonment of every principle held sacred amongst gentlemen’ and challenged him to a duel. On 7 Nov. ‘an exchange of shots took place without effect’ at Bishop’s Hall, county Kilkenny. Beresford has ‘reached the rank of a general’, mocked The Times, ‘but his first service in the field has been his campaign with Mr. Barron’.31 ‘Lord George stands upon the highest ground in the opinion of every person in the county’, Meara reported a few days later.32 ‘I believe a Beresford is nearly as good as a Barron’, observed a local Catholic agent, ‘at least he had shown more political honesty in refusing that base offer of electioneering barter’.33 In January 1830 a correspondent assured Wyse of his ‘complete conviction’ that Beresford had genuinely ‘changed’ and that his family ‘really and in truth desire a complete oblivion of all former animosities’, and urged him to abandon his opposition. Next month, however, he was warned that Beresford had refused to pledge his support for repeal of the Irish Vestry Acts.34 At the long awaited by-election Beresford declared that he ‘hated no man, nor bore ill will to any’, insisted that his ‘conscientious attachment to his own creed was perfectly consistent with the most friendly feelings towards the Catholics’, but when pressed on the hustings, refused to ‘pledge himself to any specific measures’, saying he would weigh each measure on the basis of its ‘public advantage’. After a six-day contest against Barron’s brother, who was supported by O’Connell, he was returned with a comfortable majority. At the declaration he praised his ‘able counsel’ Sheil and welcomed the ‘effects of emancipation’, declaring, ‘I am now as friendly to its principles as I was before opposed to it and none but a blockhead could wish for its repeal’.35 Writing in similar terms to Wellington, now prime minister, he praised him for creating ‘unanimity in Ireland’.36 ‘Beresford’s refusal to give any pledges at the hustings left him very naked indeed to lovers of popular principles’, noted one commentator, but ‘the Beresfords are in, I fear, for life’.37 He took his seat, 26 Apr. 1830. Early next month he was one of two Irish Members who ‘refused peremptorily to sign’ resolutions against proposed increases in Irish stamp and spirit duties. On 7 May Meara warned Primate Beresford that Lord George’s interest in the county would be ‘materially injured’ if he supported the increases, which had produced ‘great anxiety’. On 12 May 1830 he added, ‘If Lord George could present a petition from this county against the taxes and speak in support of it, it would have a very good effect’. Later that month reports were circulated that Beresford intended ‘to oppose the new taxes’.38 No such votes have been traced.

At the 1830 general election there was speculation that Beresford might retire on account of the strength of local ‘radical feeling’, but he offered again, boasting of his ‘complete independence’ of party and support for a reduction of public expenditure.39 On the hustings he refuted charges of non-attendance, insisting that he had taken the ‘earliest opportunity after the assizes of being in the House’. Pressed on taxation, he claimed that after his arrival in London he had ‘sent Lord Beresford to Wellington to tell him that he disapproved of the intended taxes on Ireland’, and declared that he was ‘ready to resign his place’ in the household ‘if those measures were attempted to be carried’. A contest with Wyse was averted at the last minute and he was returned unopposed alongside O’Connell, with whom his family were rumoured to have come to ‘some sort of understanding’.40 ‘George as usual has acted admirably and is now I find the favourite in Waterford county, so much for popular favour or rather clamour’, observed Lord Beresford.41 He was listed by ministers as one of their ‘friends’, but was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He was removed from the household on the accession of the Grey ministry. He presented a petition from the woollen manufacturers of Carrickbeg against the Union, 19 Nov., but could not concur with O’Connell in attributing their distress to that measure, insisting that poor manufacturing quality was to blame. He was granted a month’s leave on account of ill health, 30 Nov. 1830. He presented a constituency petition for parliamentary reform, but declined to comment ‘on this subject till I hear what are the propositions of ministers’, 26 Feb. 1831. He voted against the second reading of their reform bill, 22 Mar., for which he was ‘strongly criticized’ at a county meeting, and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. ‘Lord George has but a poor prospect in Waterford’, O’Connell advised the Whig manager Duncannon a few days before the dissolution, noting that he was ‘sacrificing everything to the extinction of that political enemy’.42 There will be no repetition of the ‘despicable understanding at the last election’ with ‘the Prince of Darkness, Lord George’, observed the Dublin Evening Post.43 At the ensuing general election Beresford offered again, citing his willingness to ‘give direct representation’ to unrepresented places that had ‘grown into opulence and importance’, but disapproval of the present bill, which would ‘deprive property of its legitimate influence’ and ‘advance the manufacturing at the expense of the agricultural interests of the country’. Finding that ‘several friends’ and a ‘large proportion of the electors’ disagreed with him, he resigned three days before the election.44 The Beresford family, who have been ‘so long absolute in Ireland’ and ‘held a pre-eminence in its politics, did not dare to enter the field’, recalled Sheil.45 Beresford died at the Primate’s Palace in Armagh in October 1839, an obituarist recording that he had represented county Waterford ‘up to the period’ when the poor were deprived ‘of their natural protectors’ and ‘property of its legitimate influence’.46

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon

Notes

  • 1. Black Bk. (1823), 139.
  • 2. T. Wyse, Hist. Catholic Assoc. i. 266.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 29 Feb., 25 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 451;
  • 5. The Times, 16 May 1822.
  • 6. Ibid. 8 June 1822.
  • 7. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 448.
  • 8. PRO NI, Leslie mss MIC 606/3/J/21/4.
  • 9. Add. 40331, f. 147.
  • 10. Add. 40381, f. 208; NLI, Farnham mss 18613 (1).
  • 11. Dublin Evening Post, 15, 27 June, 1 July; Waterford Chron. 29 June, 1 July 1826.
  • 12. Baring Jnls. i. 47.
  • 13. Add. 51724 [undated].
  • 14. Add. 40332, f.55.
  • 15. Belfast Commercial Chron. 16 Oct. 1826; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1338.
  • 16. PRO NI, Primate Beresford mss T2772/2/6/6C.
  • 17. Add. 40390, f. 308.
  • 18. PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/24.
  • 19. Waterford Chron. 28 Nov. 1826; CJ, lxxxii. 21.
  • 20. Southern Reporter, 25, 27 Sept., 2, 4, 6, 13 Oct. 1827.
  • 21. Wellington mss WP1/884/20.
  • 22. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 84.