BURGH, Sir Ulysses Bagenal (1788-1863), of 6 York Street, Mdx. and Bert House, nr. Athy, co. Kildare

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



1818 - 3 Mar. 1826
1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 15 Aug. 1788, o.s. of Thomas Burgh, MP [I], 2nd s. and event. h. of Thomas Burgh, MP [I], of Bert House and Anne, da. of David Aigoin. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1803. m. (1) 20 June 1815, Maria (d. 21 Aug. 1842), da. and h. of Walter Bagenal† of Killedmond, co. Carlow, 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) 4 Aug. 1846, Christopheria, da. of James Buchanan of Buchanan, wid. of John Fleming II*, s.p. suc. fa. to Bert House 1810; KCB 2 Jan. 1815; suc. fa.’s 1st cos. as 2nd Bar. Downes [I] 3 Mar. 1826, took name De Burgh 6 Mar. 1848; GCB 18 May 1860. d. 26 July 1863.

Offices Held

Surveyor gen. of ordnance Mar. 1820-May 1827; sec. to master gen. of ordnance Feb. 1828-Nov. 1830; a.d.c. to the king 1825-37.

Rep. peer [I] 1833-d.

Ensign 54 Ft. 1804, lt. 1804; lt. 60 Ft. 1806; capt. 54 Ft. 1806, 92 Ft. 1808, brevet maj. 1811, lt.-col. 1812; lt.-col. 1 Ft. Gds. 1814; brevet col. 1825; maj.-gen. 1837; col. 54 Ft. 1845-50; lt.-gen. 1846; col. 29 Ft. 1850-d.; gen. 1854.

Capt. Mount Leinster inf. 1816; gov. co. Carlow 1820-31.


The Burgh family originally came from Suffolk but rose to prominence in Ireland, where several of its members sat in the Commons in the eighteenth century. Ulysses’s great-great-grandfather and namesake, the bishop of Ardagh, had two sons: the younger one, Thomas, had a seat in the Dublin Parliament, as did his son and grandson, both namesakes; the older one, William, represented Lanesborough, in which role he was followed by his son, another Thomas (d. 1758). This Thomas, of Bert House, who married the daughter of Dive Downes, bishop of Cork (and aunt of the future 1st Baron Downes), was succeeded by his eldest son William (1741-1808), Member for Athy, 1768-76, and then by his younger one Thomas (1744-1810), a soldier and ordnance official, who sat for four different Irish seats between 1776 and 1800.1 Ulysses, who had a successful career in the army, benefited from the family’s influential connections, which included his brother-in-law Nathaniel Sneyd*; in particular, he was a nephew of John (‘Speaker’) Foster* of Collon, county Louth, and served as a trustee of that family’s estates, 1826-8. Burgh’s promise to support the Liverpool administration, and his father-in-law’s interest in county Carlow, led to his first return there in 1818.2 He stood again at the general election of 1820 and, despite the rumour of a third candidate emerging, no contest was seriously expected and he and Henry Bruen were unanimously chosen by acclamation.3 On the same day the duke of Wellington, the master general of the ordnance, appointed him its surveyor general, with a salary of £1,225 a year.4 His administrative duties included the preparation of reports, for instance on the state of the field ordnance, gun ammunition and laboratory, and dealing with some official patronage.5

Burgh, who divided against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, was evidently a loyal member of the government payroll vote and, of course, sided with ministers in defence of their conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821.6 According to Charles Baring Wall*, he ‘went away without a pair’ on Catholic relief, 23 Mar., but he was nevertheless reported to have paired against it, 27 Mar.7 The remainder of his numerous votes during the 1821 session were all against retrenchment or reduced taxation, several of them relating directly to his own department. He stated that Wellington had made only 12 or 13, not 67, appointments in the ordnance, 14 May, spoke inaudibly in defence of the expenses of the Channel Islands barracks, 18 May, and claimed that the greatest economies had already been made at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, 21 May.8 He was noticed casting a vote in the minority of six in favour of the full grant of compensation to General Desfourneaux, 26 June 1821.9 He spoke briefly in favour of ordnance pensions, 27 Mar. 1822, and the next day denied that compulsory public auctions would be a more efficient way of choosing the department’s suppliers and opposed Hume’s motion for a reduction of £10,000 in its grant.10 He expected government to have ‘a good deal of business’ to handle after the Easter recess.11 He presented a petition from the farmers of county Carlow against the imposition of additional duties on imported butter, 7 June 1822.12 He spoke in favour of the grant for the royal regiment of artillery, 17 Mar. 1823, and, on supporting the estimates for the Royal Military Academy that day, he again stressed that economies had already been made.13 He voted against the abolition of flogging in the army, 5 Mar., and spoke briefly in favour of the barracks grant, 9 Mar. 1824.14 He was added to the select committee on the general survey and valuation of Ireland, 15 Mar. He divided against repeal of the usury laws, 8 Apr. He voted for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824, and the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 25 Feb. 1825. Commenting privately to Burgh in early 1825 Lord Wellesley, the lord lieutenant, remarked on the relatively tranquil state of Ireland, but added that ‘he could not answer for the consequences if the Catholic question was not carried this session’.15 This, together with the fiercely pro-Catholic meeting held at Carlow, 15 Apr., may have been what induced him to divide for the relief bill, 21 Apr., 10 May, following which the pro-Catholic Lord Palmerston* claimed him as a new recruit to the cause.16 His last recorded vote in this Parliament was with government on the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826.

During election speculation in late 1825 there had been no hint of an intention to disturb Burgh and Bruen in county Carlow.17 However, on 3 Mar. 1826 Burgh inherited from his father’s first cousin William Downes, formerly chief justice of king’s bench in Ireland, the barony of Downes, under the special remainder of that peerage, which had been arranged in 1822 through the home secretary, Robert Peel.18 As an Irish title, it deprived Downes, as he now became, of his seat in that country, but did not preclude his seeking a constituency elsewhere. A suitable possibility presented itself on the ordnance interest at Queenborough, where a second government candidate was needed at the general election that summer to accompany Lord William Frederick Cavendish Bentinck, Downes’s former commander in the Grenadier Guards. John Capel*, an independent, also offered, and Downes advised his colleague to issue an address to counteract their opponent’s popular support.19 In the end, Downes, whose success was largely due to his ability to bring in a high proportion of ordnance employees and out-voters, was returned with Capel after a contest.20 Despite a comment from Lord Londonderry that Lord Anglesey was going to turn out the whole board of ordnance when he became master general on the formation of Canning’s government, it appears that Downes chose to resign that spring.21 One Queenborough freeman publicly called on him to vacate his seat, arguing that by resigning his office, he had forfeited the support of its interest, which was the only basis for his election.22

On the accession of Wellington’s ministry in February 1828, Downes was appointed secretary to the new master general, Lord Beresford, and resumed his defence of the ordnance in the House and his invariable practice of dividing with his colleagues. The new prime minister despaired of the shortage of government patronage, and wrote to Peel that ‘I really believe that if I were to be in office for ten years I should not be able to perform the only engagement which I have made, viz. to give Sir John Brydges* an office, in consequence of the arrangement which imposed Sir Ulysses Burgh upon Lord Beresford’.23 He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and, as he had the previous year, Catholic relief, 12 May, which led Sir Robert Heron* to complain privately of the hypocritical attitude shown towards the Catholics by ‘Downes, who whilst Sir U. Burgh and Member for [county] Carlow constantly voted for them, and has since as constantly voted against them’.24 He indicated his support for the mayor and select body of Queenborough in their opposition to the town’s freemen by presenting the former’s petition to be heard against the oyster fishery regulation bill, 24 Apr.25 He advised Wellington against the adoption of a fulminating rifle ball, 10 Aug. 1828, as it would probably fail to pass the select committee which was to examine its usefulness.26 He was listed by the patronage secretary Planta in February 1829 as likely to be ‘absent’ on Catholic emancipation, and cast no recorded votes on the issue. He became embroiled in a typical wrangle with Hume, 30 Apr. 1830, during which he attempted to clear the Royal Military Academy of charges of favouring the sons of existing officers, and insisted that he had not tried to mislead the House into thinking that its total grant had been cut, but had only stated that its salaries bill had been reduced. His last known votes were against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830.

During the general election of 1830 criticisms were voiced of Downes for having done nothing to assist the beleaguered freemen, and such was the strength of the popular cause that the ordnance initially declined to put forward any candidates at Queenborough.27 He apparently did not seek re-election there or in any other constituency, and shortly afterwards he resigned his office on the fall of the Wellington ministry. In 1831 he was described by Maria Edgeworth as having ‘all the Burgh manner and vivacity and intelligence of eye - agreeable and a fine soldier’, while his wife was ‘a Miss Burleigh type of woman in her looks though handsomer, but something peculiarly Irish - vulgar - smiling - company-vivacious - affected but I dare say very good natured’.28 He continued to pursue his military career and was much respected in the army.29 With the support of Wellington, who thought he would be the best candidate to maintain the unity of the party, he was elected to the Lords as an Irish representative peer, 3 Mar. 1833, and thereafter acted with the Conservatives.30 On 28 Feb. 1835 he applied to Peel for a bedchamber post, stating that ‘on two occasions I resigned the situations that I held when the government of which you were a member was broke up and I should feel gratified at being again employed’.31 He was unsuccessful in that request, but continued to support Peel, including over repeal of the corn laws. He remained in good health until shortly before his death in July 1863, when his peerage became extinct.32 His property, including his Irish estates, was divided between the families of his daughters by his first marriage: Anne, wife of the 3rd earl of Clonmell, and Charlotte, wife of the 2nd Baron Seaton, who had in fact predeceased her father by a few months.33

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Hist. Irish Parl. iii. 305-12; A. Malcomson, John Foster, app. table 3.
  • 2. Malcomson, 26, 307-8, 311, 327-8; DNB; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 629; iii. 318.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 19 Feb.; Saunder’s News-Letter, 4, 21 Mar. 1820; R. Malcomson, Carlow Parl. Roll, 33-34.
  • 4. Wellington mss WP1/640/23; Extraordinary Red Bk. (1821), 82.
  • 5. For example, Wellington mss WP1/786/4; 798/16; W. Suss. RO, Goodwood mss 1432, ff. 27-28.
  • 6. Black Bk. (1823), 142; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 453.
  • 7. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC17/20.
  • 8. The Times, 19 May 1821.
  • 9. NLW, Coedymaen mss 609.
  • 10. The Times, 28, 29 Mar. 1822.
  • 11. PRO NI, Foster Massereene mss D207/73/280.
  • 12. The Times, 8 June 1822.
  • 13. Ibid. 18 Mar. 1823.
  • 14. Ibid. 10 Mar. 1824.
  • 15. Add. 40376, ff. 275-7.
  • 16. Dublin Evening Post, 21 Apr. 1825; Southampton Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss PP/GC/TE/171.
  • 17. Dublin Evening Post, 9 Aug. 1825.
  • 18. Ibid. 4 Mar. 1826; Add. 40352, ff. 262-3.
  • 19. Wellington mss WP1/856/18.
  • 20. Kentish Chron. 9, 16 June 1826, 2 Dec. 1828.
  • 21. Canning’s Ministry, 166.
  • 22. Kentish Chron. 8 May 1827.
  • 23. Wellington mss WP1/993/3; Parker, Peel, ii. 140-1.
  • 24. Heron, Notes, 174.
  • 25. Maidstone Jnl. 29 Apr. 1828.
  • 26. Wellington mss WP1/947/5.
  • 27. Maidstone Jnl. 13 July; The Times, 28 July 1830.
  • 28. Edgeworth Letters, 476.
  • 29. Gent. Mag. (1863), ii. 375-6.
  • 30. Wellington Pol. Corresp. i. 19-20, 30-31, 149-50, 201-2.
  • 31. Add. 40415, f. 273.
  • 32. The Times, 29 July 1863; DNB; Oxford DNB.
  • 33. CP, iii. 332; iv. 456; xi. 591.