BERNARD, Thomas (?1769-1834), of Castle Bernard, King's Co.
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Family and Educationb. ?1769, o.s. of Thomas Bernard of Castle Bernard and 1st w. Mary, da. of Jonathan Willington of Castle Willington. m. (1) 10 Sept. 1800, Hon. Elizabeth Prittie (d. 20 Apr. 1802), da. of Henry, 1st Bar. Dunalley [I], s.p.; (2) 29 July 1814, Catherine Henrietta, da. of Francis Hely Hutchinson, MP [I], 4s. 2da. suc. fa. 1815. d. 18 May 1834.
Sheriff, King’s Co. 1798-9, gov. 1828.
Capt. commdt. Mountain Rangers 1800; col. King’s Co. militia 1823.
Bernard, a ‘constant resident’ of King’s County, where he ‘spent a large income and employed a vast number of the lower orders’, had sat undisturbed there since 1802 on the combined interest of his brother-in-law the 1st earl of Charleville and the 2nd earl of Rosse.1 A convert to Catholic relief in 1813, he had given general support to Tory governments in return for patronage, and in 1820 was listed by the Liverpool ministry as seeking ‘a good office for Major Armstrong’, after being ‘disappointed about Captain Kiffin, who was in 1817 placed on the assessor’s list but has not yet been employed’, and having ‘applied for [the] linen board’. At the 1820 general election he offered again for King’s County and was returned unopposed.2 Though ‘seldom in the House’, he was erroneously credited with ‘no trace of attendance’ in the 1821 and 1822 sessions and with ‘never’ having voted in 1825.3 He was given six weeks’ leave on account of ill health, 26 May 1820, 14 Mar. 1821, and was absent from the division on Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821. He presented a constituency petition in support of the corn laws and abolition of the tax on Irish whiskey, 13 Apr. 1821.4 He chaired a county meeting to vote an address to the king on his arrival in Ireland, 9 Aug. 1821.5 He probably cast the minority vote incorrectly attributed to Viscount Bernard, Member for Bandon Bridge, for more extensive tax reductions, 11 Feb. 1822.6 He was granted a month’s leave on urgent private business, 17 Feb. 1823. He was in a minority of 14 for the prevention of the reappointment of insolvent collectors in Ireland, 2 May 1823. He voted for suppression of the Catholic Association, 15, 25 Feb. 1825, and for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He voted against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 6 June 1825. He declined to attend the Association dinner for the ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’, 2 Feb. 1826.7
At the 1826 general election Bernard offered again as a supporter of emancipation. He solicited the support of Lord Downshire, who willingly gave it ‘upon the assurance of your continuing your vote and influence in favour of ... the Catholic ... question’, adding that his agent had informed him of ‘the attention which he has received from you in the obtaining of such necessary and reasonable presentments for roads as he felt it his duty to lay before the grand jury’. He was returned unopposed.8 He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828, and brought up favourable constituency petitions, 28, 30 Apr., 6 May 1828. He was given a month’s leave to attend an Irish court case as a witness, 12 Mar. 1827. He signed the Protestant declaration got up in Dublin in favour of Catholic relief in October 1828.9 In February 1829 Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, predicted that he would vote ‘with government’ for emancipation, and he divided accordingly, 6, 30 Mar., and presented favourable constituency petitions, 17, 24 Mar. He presented one from the militias of King’s County and Limerick for compensation under the Militia Suspension Act and called on the war secretary to be ‘more liberal’ towards this ‘most deserving set of men’, 19 Mar. He endorsed a petition from the Royal Irish Canal Company against the construction of the Kilbeggan branch of the Grand Canal, which would have ‘highly injurious’ consequences, 7 Apr. In October 1829 the Ultra leader Sir Richard Vyvyan* numbered him among those who had voted in favour of emancipation whose attitude towards a putative coalition government was ‘unknown’. Early the following year Anne Hely Hutchinson, asked by Wellington to settle a patronage dispute between the government and Bernard’s kinsman by marriage, the 2nd earl of Donoughmore, observed that Bernard was one of the two Members whose votes Donoughmore commanded.10 He was granted three weeks’ leave on account of ill health, 15 Mar. 1830. He endorsed a constituency petition against Irish spirit duty increases, which ‘must materially affect the agriculturists’, 4 May, and presented another, 10 June. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He presented an individual’s petition for renumerating sheriffs in lieu of fees traditionally paid on indictments, 18 May. He divided against the Galway franchise bill, 25 May. He brought up a constituency petition against the introduction of an Irish poor law, urging the House to ‘pause before it enacts a measure ... which has been found so objectionable here’, 26 May. He paired against abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830.
At the 1830 general election Bernard was returned unopposed.11 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 voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., but was absent from the division on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he stood again, stressing his ‘decided and unequivocal support’ for reform, but he was criticized for his absence ‘in the final struggle’. After a two-day contest in which he complained of ‘the defection’ of those ‘on whose support I had a right to calculate’, he was returned in second place.12 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, gave general support to its details, and voted for its third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He was granted a month’s leave on account of family illness, 6 Oct., and so missed the division on Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He paired for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, again gave steady support to its details, and voted for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He was absent from the division for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. He divided for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 23 May. That day he welcomed a bill to transfer King’s County assizes from Philipstown to Tullamore which his constituents had ‘begged’ him to support. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, and the Irish tithes bill, 13 July 1832.
At the 1832 general election Bernard denied reports that he would retire and stood again as a Conservative, but his attempt to ‘stand clear’ of two other candidates proved ‘most difficult’ and he was narrowly defeated.13 He died at 38 Upper Sackville Street, Dublin, from ‘an attack of gout in the stomach’ in May 1834, before he could execute the will which he had been discussing with his agent shortly before. His estates, including his ‘splendid mansion’ at Castle Bernard, which had been ‘erected under his own superintendance’, passed to his eldest son Thomas (1816-82), an army officer.