BLIGH, Edward, Lord Clifton (1795-1835), of Cobham Hall, nr. Gravesend, Kent and Clifton Lodge, nr. Athboy, co. Meath.

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

Constituency

Dates

1818 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 25 Feb. 1795, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of John, 4th earl of Darnley [I] and 13th Lord Clifton [GB], and Elizabeth, da. of William Brownlow, MP [I], of Lurgan, co. Armagh. educ. Eton 1805; Christ Church, Oxf. 1812. m. 26 July 1825, Emma Jane, da. of Sir Henry Brooke Parnell*, 4th bt., 3s. 2da. suc. fa. as 5th earl of Darnley [I] and 14th Lord Clifton [GB] 17 Mar. 1831. d. 11 Feb. 1835.

Offices Held

Gov. co. Meath 1830-31, ld. lt. 1831-d; hered. steward, Gravesend and Milton 1831-d.

Lt. Chatham and Dartford regt. Kent militia 1813; capt. W. Kent yeoman cav. 1819, maj. 1831.

Biography

Clifton, whose maternal grandfather had sat for county Armagh, 1753-94, was descended from the Blighs of Rathmore, county Meath, several of whom sat for the family borough of Athboy in the Irish Parliament during the eighteenth century. His father’s father, who was Member for Athboy, 1739-47, also sat for Maidstone, 1741-7, reflecting the influence of the Kentish estate inherited, via an elder brother, from his mother, the suo jure Baroness Clifton, wife of the 1st earl of Darnley. This Member’s father, the 4th earl, who sat in the Lords as Baron Clifton, lived mostly at Cobham Hall and was a leading Whig in Kentish politics. He also had a substantial electoral interest in Meath, where his eccentric relative Thomas Cherburgh Bligh, its Member from 1802 to 1812, continued to embroil him in vexatious legal proceedings.1 Clifton, who was active in the Kent militia, joined Brooks’s in 1816 and came in for Canterbury at the general election of 1818. Finding himself unable to support the Liverpool government’s repressive measures, he was voting regularly with the Whig opposition by the time of the dissolution in 1820.2 Early that year he denied reports in the London prints that he would decline to stand for Canterbury at the general election in favour of another constituency, and duly offered on the basis of his political conduct.3 However, he avoided a full commitment to the Whig cause, carefully stating that, to the best of his judgment, he would ‘consult the general welfare of my country and its constitution in church and state, alike jealous of all encroachment upon the liberties of the people and the rights and prerogatives of the crown’.4 Robert Foote of Charlton Place was put up by a group of Whigs to oppose the other sitting Member Stephen Rumbold Lushington, the financial secretary to the treasury, but withdrew before the close of the poll, being unwilling to put his fellow Whig to unnecessary expense. The result was that Clifton was placed nearly equal with Lushington, though his showing was reduced by Foote’s intervention.5

He voted with opposition on the civil list, 5, 8 May, the appointment of an additional baron of exchequer in Scotland, 15 May, the aliens bill, 1 June, and economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. On the Queen Caroline affair, he voted against Wilberforce’s compromise resolution, 22 June, and for adjournment of the secret committee, 26 June. He refused to present her with a laudatory address from Canterbury in late July, arguing that any involvement might prejudice the issue, should it come before Parliament.6 Clifton was no doubt influenced in this by his father, who had declined to sign the requisition for a county meeting on the subject.7 In December, however, Clifton also refused to present a loyal address from Canterbury to the king, disagreeing with the terms in which it was couched.8 In January and February 1821 he joined in the opposition’s parliamentary campaign on behalf of the queen. He voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He was not a very active supporter of motions for retrenchment and lower taxation, but divided for reduction of the size of the army, 14 Mar., repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., for which he received the praise of the Whiggish Kentish Chronicle, and inquiry into the currency, 9 Apr.9 Among other opposition votes, he was in minorities for parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822. At the start of that year, Darnley hoped that, with a little encouragement, Clifton might overcome his rather formal and shy nature, and enjoy the society of Holland House.10 He voted for Hume’s amendment to the address, 5 Feb., more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11, 21 Feb., and steadily for economies that session. On 14 June 1822 he spoke on the Kent reform petition, admitting that the Whig leaders had lacked spirit at the county meeting and allowed the radicals to gain control of it. For these performances, he earned the grudging praise of the radical Black Book: ‘votes very well for a lord: in favour of reform and reductions’.11

Clifton divided for parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June, and retrenchment and reduced taxation, 28 Feb., 14, 16 Apr., 19 June 1823. He joined Lushington in hoping the treasury would lift the duty on seaborne coal, 25 Apr.12 He voted for inquiries into the Irish church establishment, 4 Mar., the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and the state of Ireland, 12 May. He was one of the minority of 20 who voted against Stuart Wortley’s amendment approving British neutrality towards the French invasion of Spain, 30 Apr. 1823, when most of the opposition voted with ministers. A reasonably active local Member, he presented Canterbury petitions against the coal duty, 4 Feb., and the assessed taxes, 25 Mar. 1824, and later claimed to have been instrumental in ensuring the passage of his colleague’s bill to repeal the Hides and Skins Acts that session.13 He voted for reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb., repeal of the window tax, 2 Mar., and to refer the reports of the commissioners of inquiry into the Scottish courts of justice to a committee of the whole House, 30 Mar. He divided for an advance of capital to Ireland, 4 May, and inquiries into the church establishment there, 6 May, and the state of that country, 11 May. He voted in condemnation of the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. He travelled in Norway for much of July 1824, but was back in Canterbury on the 29th to lay the foundation stone of the new Corn and Hop Exchange, an occasion which he used to solicit the continued support of his constituents.14 He voted against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 18, 25 Feb., and for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1825. The Catholic question delayed his visit to Clifton Lodge, his father’s house in Meath, where he attended the assizes in March.15 He returned to England in time to vote for the Catholic relief bill, 21 Apr., 10 May. He divided against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 13 June. He and Lushington were given the freedom of Sandwich for their support of the Stour Navigation and Sandwich Harbour bill, 28 June 1825.16 His only known votes in the 1826 session were for alteration of the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 27 Apr. He spoke briefly in support of the corn importation bill, 11 May, arguing that while it was not strictly necessary, he hoped it would serve as a temporary measure to cool the public mind.17

For some time rumours had circulated that a Whig candidate would be put up against Clifton at the next election: in December 1824, for instance, it had been stated that Robert Townsend Farquhar* intended to oppose him.18 The Kentish Chronicle, anxious that a contest should be avoided, defended Clifton’s record on reform and free trade, and denied a rumour that he intended to stand instead at Rochester.19 But the Canterbury freemen resident in London were particularly active in holding meetings to find a third man to attack the ministerialist Lushington and the protectionist and pro-Catholic Clifton. One speaker asked whether Clifton would vote for repeal of the corn laws, and himself answered, ‘No, for the son may not rebel against his father!’ Another said that he used to believe Clifton was the poor man’s friend, but had been deceived, since Clifton supported ‘that job of all jobs, the odious corn bill’. A third said that ‘he could not vote for Lord Clifton, because he supported Catholic emancipation, and he should not like to see a dagger thrust down a Christian’s throat!!!!’ Yet one man at least had the temerity to assert that Clifton had done nothing inconsistent, having promised only to act independently.20 He was forced into canvassing actively, trying to heal the damaging division among the Whigs and emphasizing his commitment to opposition.21 When, at the election, 9 June 1826, Lushington claimed that it was the administration that had abolished sinecures, Clifton countered that ‘it was not the voluntary act of ministers; but in reality, the act of those gentlemen with whom, for eight years, I have been associated­ - with whom I have proudly sat and as proudly voted’. However, he was also careful to stress that he would continue to make no promises but those of principle, and to support government on occasions when they acted correctly. Another Whig candidate, Richard Watson*, was started, and although Clifton’s claim that he felt no alarm at a contest proved to be justified, his personal support declined as a result.22

Clifton presented a petition from Kildalkey, Meath, for Catholic relief, 14 Feb., and voted for this, 6 Mar. 1827.23 He voted against the grant to the duke of Clarence, 2 Mar., and for information on the Irish government’s handling of the Lisburn Orange procession of 1825, 29 Mar., perhaps through the influence of his brother-in-law Charles Brownlow, who proposed the motion. He later recorded how he had been impressed by the considerable policy changes in the last years of the Liverpool administration, and had been one of the Whigs who supported Canning’s government.24 In the debate on the Test Acts, 11 May, when the premier counted him among his adherents, he argued that the new ministry was the best that could be obtained and urged both former ministers and the more extreme pro-Catholics not to oppose it on purely factious grounds.25 On 12 June he reluctantly, and without personal hostility, presented a Canterbury petition urging Lushington to resign his seat, having accepted the governorship of Madras.26 The freemen of Canterbury were annoyed at his frequent absences, but Darnley defended him at the mayor’s dinner in Canterbury, 29 Sept. 1827, pleading his useful services in Ireland.27 He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. On 13 May he spoke (and presumably divided) against the proposed provision for Canning’s family, despite being reluctant to disagree with Lord Althorp. Although sympathetic to his constituents’ complaints at the refusal of Lushington to vacate, Clifton insisted in a public letter that his colleague was not obliged to resign his seat and, therefore, that he could not move a new writ.28 He voted against the misapplication of public funds on Buckingham House, 23 June. He spoke twice on the sale of game bill, 26 June 1828, but his motion that no more than one person be granted a licence on a proprietor’s piece of ground was negatived without a division. At the mayor’s dinner that autumn he cited illness as the cause of his occasional neglect of the interests of Canterbury.29

Having consulted Lord Holland as part of his preparations for mustering peers and magistrates to counter the ‘ignorance and consequent prejudice’ prevalent in the county, he attended (but, unlike his father, did not speak at) the angry and riotous Kent county meeting at Penenden Heath, near Maidstone, which narrowly agreed an anti-Catholic petition, 24 Oct. 1828.30 Darnley believed the unfavourable decision would serve to reunite the ‘liberal party, which Clifton rightly describes as monstrum informe cui lumen ademptum [a deformed monster bereft of light]’.31 Clifton opposed the ensuing Brunswick Club. He was zealous in support of the counter-petition, and his father praised him for his indefatigable attempts to procure signatures at various places, including Folkestone, Hythe and Maidstone.32 The Tory Kentish Gazette ridiculed his unaccustomed activity, but Clifton was emboldened by the changing tide of opinion. He declared at a Maidstone dinner in favour of religious liberty in December 1828 that

when he first appeared, 11 years ago, as a candidate for the representation ... zealous as his friends then were and since had been for his success, the subject of Catholic emancipation was one which neither they nor he cared to talk about ... But what would be the case now? Would he be afraid to mention it on the hustings, after seeing the body that supported it on Penenden Heath and the spirit that actuated them on all occasions in favour of civil and religious liberty?33

He afterwards reported to Holland that ‘our liberals showed a most determined zeal in the good cause’ on that occasion, and confided that he was optimistic about developments in Ireland, ‘notwithstanding the increasing vehemence of both parties’.34

On 12 Feb. 1829 he presented and endorsed the Kent pro-Catholic petition, although he acknowledged that it was ‘contrary to his usual practice in this House’ to do so. He stated that the petition stressed the need for emancipation to remove the grievances of Ireland and save the Protestant church. He admitted that a narrow majority at Penenden Heath had been against relief, but argued that the numbers had been nearly equal, that the Brunswick Club had orchestrated the disruption of the meeting and that the government had since been using its influence to gain signatures for the anti-Catholic petition even though official policy had been changed to emancipation. Lord Howick found this speech so ‘tiresome’ that he was driven from the chamber.35 Clifton regretted having to bring up hostile Canterbury petitions, 4 Mar., but declared that Kent opinion was swinging round to emancipation. He voted for this, 6, 30 Mar., and, although disagreeing politically with the duke of Wellington, he later acknowledged his approbation of his administration for carrying relief, ‘which I considered paramount to every other question’.36 He voted for transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, and to allow O’Connell to take his seat unimpeded, 18 May. Having presented petitions from the freemen of Canterbury complaining of the absence of Lushington, 19 Mar., 16 Apr., he claimed to be disinterested in this affair and declined to speak or vote on Alexander Baring’s bill requiring officials appointed to the East India Company to resign their parliamentary seats, 6 May 1829.37 Following the fulfilment of a requirement to be resident in Ireland, the administration appointed Clifton to a governorship of county Meath at the turn of the year.38 His subsequent absence from Parliament angered some of his constituents resident in London, but he explained that he had been in Ireland ‘because I had undertaken in case an election came on, that I would propose Lord Killeen* for the county of Meath. I was ready to propose a man possessing different principles, to a situation to which he was entitled as a gentleman’; he had also been ill and obliged to move house.39 Back at Westminster, he joined in the renewed opposition campaign for economies from the second half of March 1830. He voted against the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 15 Mar., and for parliamentary reform, 28 May. He paired for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., and divided for abolishing the death penalty for forgery, 7 June, 20 July. Although he favoured the principle of the sale of beer bill, he voted for Knatchbull’s clause to prohibit sale for on-consumption, 21 June 1830, because he thought it wrong to deprive publicans of their advantages.40

As in 1826, there were growing criticisms of Clifton’s tenure in the approach to the 1830 general election. The London voters were again active in attempting to put up a third candidate, objecting to the fact that Clifton had not voted on several occasions, especially on the reduction of grants for useless places and pensions.41 At first, Clifton offered himself for election, writing rather optimistically that

as since I first appeared among you the violence of party feeling, which then deprived me of the assistance of many, has happily subsided, I hope I am not too sanguine in the expectation that to the civility and attention which I have always experienced in private, may now be added their political support.42

But within a few days he decided to withdraw in the face of a protracted and expensive contest, relinquishing his pretensions in favour of his fellow Whig, Lord Fordwich*, whom he nominated on the hustings.43 Even the Kentish Chronicle noted that, although Clifton had occasionally attended and voted honestly, he had too often been absent on important matters.44 He partially admitted this when he delivered an extensive justificatory address at a specially convened common hall in Canterbury, 26 July. He declared that ‘all party feeling has subsided in me. I am older in the beaten paths of politics and think it best to pursue measures which have the interest of the people as their aim’. Yet he felt personally aggrieved and, although he made a brave attempt to put his bitterness behind him, he added:

I will tell you gentlemen my motive fairly for declining. When I was entered on my canvass, promises I asked were not made as I had hoped they would have been. I was hurt that I was not taken more avowedly by the hand by my fellow citizens. I felt a mistake had been made; persons had committed a suicidal act and it required time to set it right.45

The Kentish Gazette recorded another aspect of Clifton’s decision to withdraw, which acknowledged his neglect, and that

under the circumstances of his distant residence from this city, and his consequent inability to attend to its local concerns as he could wish, he had determined more than four years ago that, unless he was supported by a very large majority of all parties of the freemen, he should consider it his sacred and bounden duty to retire from the field.46

According to his father, Clifton was ‘very near obtaining [a return] at three different places’.47 Apart from Canterbury, and a brief and covert intervention in Kent, Clifton had hopes of Meath.48 He hurried to Ireland and declared his candidature, ostensibly to oppose the intrusion of the radical John Lawless. But on the day of the election, 16 Aug. 1830, he declined to stand since Lawless also withdrew and he did not wish to embarrass his friends who had already pledged their support to other candidates.49 Lawless reacted angrily to Clifton’s congratulations to the freeholders of Meath for returning the two sitting Members and thereby not inflicting an indelible disgrace on the county. Clifton replied by denying that any personal reflections had been intended, and then and later he promised to offer on a future occasion.50

In late 1830 Clifton was active in supporting the Union and measures to suppress violent attempts to disrupt the government of Ireland.51 Early the following year Darnley wrote to Holland, a cabinet minister in Lord Grey’s administration, about the proposed office of lord lieutenant of Meath that, ‘as to myself and Clifton, I shall only say that we have never sought the appointment as a favour, nor will we accept it unless it shall be clearly understood that you consider it most advantageous to the public service that we should have it’.52 Darnley died in March 1831, but Clifton, whose brother John Duncan Bligh stood unsuccessfully for this county at a by-election in August, inherited his Irish and English titles and was named to the lord lieutenancy of Meath that autumn. He voted for the reform bill in the Lords, 7 Oct. 1831, 13 Apr. 1832, but Benjamin Disraeli†, who thought him ‘a most agreeable, unaffected, intelligent person’, reported that he had privately declared that ‘we should all rue it, and looked as if he had just taken one of his surgeon’s black doses’.53 Thereafter, he and his fiercely religious wife devoted themselves to the Evangelical beliefs which had come to play an increasingly important part in his life.54 He died in February 1835,55 a week after having accidentally dropped an axe on his foot while handling it carelessly; the blade cut off one toe and nearly severed another, leading to what proved a fatal attack of lockjaw and several days of self-consciously pious preparation for death.56 He was succeeded as 5th earl of Darnley by his eldest son, John Stuart Bligh (1827-96), who inherited the bulk of his estates, including personalty sworn under £12,000 in England and valued at about £18,500 in Ireland.57

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 302-3; iii. 211-15, 293; HP Commons, 1715-1754, i. 468; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 220-1.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 220; Add. 41286, f. 56; Kentish Chron. 10 Mar. 1820, 26 Oct. 1821; Kentish Gazette, 12 Nov. 1830.
  • 3. Kentish Gazette, 15, 18 Feb.; Maidstone Jnl. 15 Feb.; Kentish Chron. 18 Feb. 1820.
  • 4. Kentish Gazette, 29 Feb., 3 Mar.; Kentish Chron. 3, 10 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Kentish Gazette, 10 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Ibid. 25 July; Kentish Chron. 25 July, 4, 8, 11 Aug. 1820.
  • 7. A. Mitchell, Whigs in Opposition, 152.
  • 8. Kentish Chron. 15, 22 Dec. 1820.
  • 9. Ibid. 27 Mar. 1821.
  • 10. Add. 51572, Darnley to Holland, 14 Feb. 1822.
  • 11. Black Bk. (1823), 146.
  • 12. Kentish Gazette, 29 Apr. 1823.
  • 13. Kentish Chron. 10 Feb. 1824, 27 July 1830; The Times, 26 Mar.; Kent Herald, 3 June, 1 July; Kentish Gazette, 2 July 1824.
  • 14. Add. 41286, ff. 159, 201; Kent Herald, 29 July, 5 Aug. 1824; Kentish Chron. 30 July 1824, 8 Apr. 1825; Kentish Gazette, 30 July 1824, 8 Apr. 1825.
  • 15. Add. 41286, f. 193.
  • 16. Kentish Chron. 1 July 1825.
  • 17. Ibid. 16 May 1826.
  • 18. Ibid. 23 Apr., 19 Oct.; Kent Herald, 9 Dec. 1824.
  • 19. Kentish Chron. 23 Aug., 2, 23 Sept., 21 Oct., 1 Nov. 1825.
  • 20. Ibid. 3, 14 Mar., 26 May 1826.
  • 21. Kentish Gazette, 16 May; Kentish Chron. 19 May 1826.
  • 22. Kentish Chron. 9, 13 June; Kentish Gazette, 13 June 1826.
  • 23. The Times, 15 Feb. 1827.
  • 24. Kentish Chron. 27 July 1830.
  • 25. Geo. IV Letters, iii. 1328.
  • 26. Kentish Chron. 12 June; The Times, 13 June; Kentish Gazette, 15 June 1827.
  • 27. Kentish Gazette, 2 Oct. 1827.
  • 28. Kentish Chron. 10 June; Kentish Gazette, 10 June 1828.
  • 29. Kentish Chron. 30 Sept. 1828.
  • 30. Add. 51834, Clifton to Holland, 15, 18, 20 Oct. 1828; Kentish Chron. 28 Oct. 1828.
  • 31. Add. 51572, Darnley to Holland, 31 Oct. 1828.
  • 32. Kentish Chron. 21 Oct., 9 Dec.; Add. 51572, Darnley to Holland, 13 Nov., [Nov.]; Kentish Gazette, 14 Nov., 23 Dec. 1828.
  • 33. Kentish Gazette, 5 Dec.; Kentish Chron. 9, 30 Dec. 1828, 17 Feb. 1829.
  • 34. Add. 51834, Clifton to Holland, 23 Dec. 1828.
  • 35. Grey mss, Howick jnl.
  • 36. Kentish Chron. 27 July 1830.
  • 37. Ibid. 24 Mar., 12, 19 May 1829.
  • 38. Wellington mss WP1/1057/2; 1058/2; 1059/36, 39, 52; see CO. MEATH.
  • 39. Kentish Gazette, 12, 16, 26 Feb., 16 Apr. 1830; Kentish Chron. 30 Mar., 27 July 1830.