BURKE, Sir John, 2nd bt. (1782-1847), of Marble Hill, co. Galway

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



1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 1782, 1st s. of Sir Thomas Burke, 1st bt., of Marble Hill and Christian, da. of James Browne of Limerick. educ. Mr. Austin’s sch. Dublin; Trinity, Dublin 1798; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1800; L. Inn 1802. m. 18 May 1812, Elizabeth Mary, da. of John Calcraft*, 6s. (1 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 22 May 1813. d. 14 Sept. 1847.

Offices Held

Col. 98 Ft. 1804, 97 Ft. 1815-16.

Commr. of fisheries [I] 1819-30; v.-pres. Irish Art Union; trustee, soc. for bettering the poor [I]; dir. Great Southern and Western Railway.

Sheriff, co. Galway 1838-9.


A long-established Catholic gentry family, the Burkes of Creggeen, county Galway, were accommodated by the neighbouring Protestant Masons of Masonbrook, who nominally held the estate in fee during the long period of religious proscription. John Burke (d. 1793) profited from the high price of meat to amass a fortune as a farmer and rebuilt the family residence as Marble Hill, while his son Thomas, an agricultural improver and magistrate, was a loyal supporter of government and was rewarded with a baronetcy, 5 Dec. 1797. In 1804 he raised a regiment of a thousand men and his eldest son, this Member, who had apparently just purchased a commission in the 81st Foot but was otherwise inexperienced as an officer, was appointed its colonel. Following training at the military college near Marlow, Buckinghamshire, and Portsmouth, he saw service with his regiment, the 98th Foot, in Canada and the West Indies. Presumably at the behest of Denis Bowes Daly, the Whig county Member, he was elected to Brooks’s in April 1809. His father, who deserted the other sitting pro-Catholic Member Richard Martin* at the general election of 1812, died a universally respected figure in May 1813, and the new baronet relinquished the colonelcy of what had recently been renamed the 97th Foot in January 1816.1 Like his Galway namesake Sir John Ignatius Burke (1784-1845) of Glinsk, who succeeded his imbecile kinsman as 10th baronet in 1814, he had already proved himself active in the cause of his co-religionists by being a member of the Catholic deputation to London in 1811.2 Thereafter he continued to be a minor participant in the O’Connellite campaigns for Catholic relief.

Burke, who may have been the baronet shot at by a sniper during violent disturbances in early 1820, opposed the calling of a Galway county meeting on the Queen Caroline affair in January 1821, but, as guardian of his underage nephew Lord Clanricarde, welcomed the address voted to the pro-Catholic Lord Wellesley, the new lord lieutenant, at one early the following year.3 He chaired the dinner in honour of Daniel O’Connell* in Galway town, 3 Aug. 1823, and was toasted at Clanricarde’s coming of age celebration there, 18 Jan. 1824.4 His name headed the requisition for a meeting of the county’s Catholics to petition against the suppression of the Catholic Association, at which he moved the resolutions, 28 Feb. 1825.5 Stating that he had ‘hitherto taken no part in politics’, but describing emancipation as ‘a cause I have so much at heart’, he agreed to act as one of the Catholic delegates to Sir Francis Burdett* and Lord Donoughmore in England that summer.6 He again attended an O’Connell dinner and a Catholic gathering in Galway in August 1825.7 According to Colonel Shawe, Wellesley’s private secretary, he was one of those counselling moderation in the Catholic Association in January 1826, and at the general election that year, when he proposed the eventually successful candidate James Lambert for county Galway, he was believed capable of delivering to Clanricarde the electoral dominance which he desired.8 A regular subscriber to the Catholic rent, he signed the requisition for a meeting of the Catholics of Ireland in April 1827, when he apparently advised O’Connell to place it in the hands of Lord Lansdowne, the leader of the moderate Whigs.9 Apologizing for his absence, he wrote to the Catholics’ aggregate meeting in Dublin in January that he had expected much from the previous (Canning) government and was still hopeful of progress even from the hostile Wellington administration; he also urged the continuation of the petitioning campaign, as he did at the Connaught provincial meeting of the friends of civil and religious liberty in October 1828.10

Following the passage of the Emancipation Act in 1829, Burke canvassed county Galway, where criticisms were raised of him as an aristocratic nominee and a friend of the Union. He signed requisitions for a borough meeting to petition for the enfranchisement of its Catholic tradesmen in October 1829, and for a county meeting against the increased Irish stamp and spirit duties in June 1830. By then, having eulogized Richard Sheil* at a Galway dinner in his honour, 3 Apr., he was recognized as Clanricarde’s candidate to join Lambert in defeating the Tory James Daly*.11 He duly offered at the general election that summer, when, claiming to be unfettered by party and declaring that ‘liberty must be extended in the largest sense of the word’, he spoke for economies and tax reductions, freedom of the press, parliamentary reform, alteration of the grand jury laws, improved communications, the abolition of slavery and making provision for the poor, but against repeal of the Union. He was returned after a fierce contest in second place behind Lambert, with whom he signed resolutions establishing the county’s Election Club in September 1830.12

Burke (whose name was sometimes spelt ‘Bourke’ in parliamentary sources) opposed repeal of the Union, 5 Nov., but urged the relief of agricultural distress that day and spoke and voted for O’Connell’s motion for repeal of the Irish Subletting Act, 11 Nov. 1830. He had been listed as ‘pro-government’ in Pierce Mahony’s† analysis of the Irish elections, but ministers counted him with the ‘doubtful doubtfuls’ and he divided in the majority against them on the civil list, 15 Nov. He intervened on the Galway borough election, 30 Nov., and brought up several petitions for extending its franchise that session. He told O’Connell that his county was not sympathetic to repeal, 6 Dec., and, strongly defending the Union, he conceded that his stance on this subject had diminished his chances of retaining his seat, 11 Dec. 1830. He advocated reform and the ballot at the Galway county meeting, 24 Jan., and presented the ensuing petition with a similar one from the town, 26 Feb., as well as another calling for the borough to receive an additional Member, 19 Mar. 1831.13 He opposed alteration of the barilla duties because of its detrimental effect on kelp manufacturers, 7 Feb., urged government intervention through a scheme of public works, 18, 28 Feb., and thanked the Grey ministry for its relief measures, 30 Mar. He signed a requisition for another county Galway reform meeting, which he missed, and voted for the second reading of the ministerial reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He stood again at the ensuing general election, when he stated that his great object in Parliament was to secure provision for the poor; he was returned unopposed with Lambert as a reformer, after Daly had failed to come forward.14

Burke voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July 1831, and steadily for its details. He approved the civil list pensions, 18 July, and defended the Maynooth grant, 19 July, and although he divided with O’Connell for swearing the original Dublin committee, 29 July, he sided with ministers in both divisions on the Dublin election, 23 Aug. He spoke and voted for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug., and granting compensation to two individuals removed from Jamaica in 1823, 22 Aug. He urged greater government intervention to relieve distress, as by the creation of a board of works in Dublin, 15 Aug., presented and endorsed a county Galway petition to this effect, 17 Aug., and insisted that poor laws be introduced to Ireland, 29 Aug., when he voted in the minority to make legal provision for the Irish poor. He divided for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct., and commented that the people were in favour of reform, 17 Oct. 1831.

Welcoming the revised reform bill, for the second reading of which he voted, 17 Dec. 1831, he complained about the proportional deficiency in the number of Irish representatives and gave notice that he would move to take the second reading of the Irish and Scottish bills before the committal of the English measure. He called for additional Members and better treatment of Ireland generally in a letter to the National Political Union, 6 Jan. 1832.15 Ministers intended to resist his motion to postpone the committee, which encouraged William Holmes, the Tory whip, to try to muster his forces behind Peel, but Burke withdrew it so as not to prejudice the progress of the bill, 19 Jan., when he argued that county Galway should be split into two. He divided for disfranchising 56 boroughs in schedule A, 20 Jan., partially disfranchising 30 in B, 23 Jan., again generally for the bill’s details, though he was credited with a wayward vote against enfranchising Gateshead, 5 Mar., and for the third reading, 22 Mar. He voted for the Vestry Act amendment bill, 23 Jan., and opposed the Irish subletting bill, 20 Feb. He divided for printing the Woollen Grange petition for abolishing Irish tithes, 16 Feb., to postpone discussion on this until the completion of the select committee’s deliberations, 8 Mar., and, despite urging his fellow Irish Members not to impede the ministerial proposals on the 13th, he spoke and voted for Henry Lambert’s amendment against enforcing the payment of arrears, 30 Mar. He divided against the second reading of the Irish tithes arrears bill, 6 Apr., when he was in the government majority for the navy civil departments bill, but for Crampton’s amendment to the tithes bill, 9 Apr., when he was in the minority against recommitting the Irish registrar of deeds bill. He voted for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against increasing the representation of Scotland, 1 June; but he condemned the inadequate Irish representation, 13 June, divided for O’Connell’s amendment to enfranchise £5 freeholders, 18 June, and made other suggestions, including some concerning the Galway borough franchise, 29 June, 2, 6 July, 8 Aug. He objected to abandoning the use of flogging in the army and voted to make a permanent provision for the Irish poor by a tax on absentees, 19 June. He sided with government for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July. He voted for Sheil’s amendment for wider reform of Irish tithes, 24 July; although generally satisfied with government legislation on this, he objected, as he had on the 13th, to making composition compulsory, 1 Aug. 1832, when his amendment to leave it on a voluntary basis was lost by 57-10.

Burke, who advocated alteration of the Irish church establishment and was rumoured to have coalesced with another Liberal, Thomas Martin†, was drowned out on trying to explain his parliamentary conduct at the general election of 1832; he finished only 12 votes behind the Conservative Daly and his petition was unsuccessful.16 He had been promised an Irish peerage from the Grey administration, but none was forthcoming by the time it fell in the summer of 1834.17 He was spoken of as a possible candidate at the next general election, but withdrew, as he did in 1837, in order not to divide the Liberal interest. He was likewise considered a potential challenger for Galway borough at the by-election in early 1838, but although he did not disavow speculation following the dissolution in 1841, he stood neither for the town nor the county that year.18 His name was mentioned at the county by-election in the spring of 1847, when his eldest son Thomas John (1813-75), a captain in the 1st Dragoons, was returned as a Liberal.19 An independent and, for that reason, by no means a popular Liberal, Burke was a prudent and businesslike landowner and East India proprietor, who increased his estates and reconstructed Marble Hill. He died, still awaiting his peerage, in September 1847, when his title, properties and ‘considerable personalty’ passed to Thomas, who sat for county Galway until 1865.20

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. T.U. Sadleir, ‘Burkes of Marble Hill’, Jnl. of Galway Arch. and Hist. Soc. viii (1913-14), 1-6; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 656.
  • 2. O’Connell Corresp. i. 318, 338.
  • 3. PRO NI, Sligo mss MIC292/2, Daly to Sligo, 5 Mar. 1820; Dublin Weekly Reg. 27 Jan. 1821; Dublin Evening Post, 28 Feb. 1822.
  • 4. Connaught Jnl. 4 Aug. 1823, 7 Feb. 1824.
  • 5. Ibid. 24 Feb., 3 Mar. 1825.
  • 6. Morning Reg. 4 Mar. 1825; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1217.
  • 7. Connaught Jnl. 8, 11 Aug. 1825.
  • 8. Ibid. 22 June; Harewood mss WYL 250/8/87a, Shawe to Stapleton, 16 Jan., 18 Aug. 1826.
  • 9. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1344, 1376, 1381.
  • 10. Connaught Jnl. 22 Jan.; Dublin Evening Post, 14 Oct. 1828.
  • 11. Connaught Jnl. 28 May, 12 Oct., 3, 21 Dec. 1829, 5, 8 Apr., 17 June, 5 July, 12 Aug. 1830.
  • 12. Ibid. 8 July, 16, 23, 26 Aug., 13, 30 Sept., 4 Oct. 1830.
  • 13. Ibid. 24, 27 Jan. 1831.
  • 14. Ibid. 31 Mar., 4, 28 Apr., 3, 12 May; Dublin Evening Post, 17 May 1831.
  • 15. Connaught Jnl. 12 Jan. 1832.
  • 16. Ibid. 29 Nov., 24, 27, 31 Dec. 1832.
  • 17. Wellington Pol. Corresp. i. 575.
  • 18. Connaught Jnl. 1, 15 Jan. 1835; The Times, 4, 10, 20 July 1837, 5 Feb. 1838, 3 July; Galway Weekly Advertiser, 17 July 1841.
  • 19. The Times, 13 Mar., 3 May 1847.
  • 20. Ibid. 16 Sept. 1847; Gent. Mag. (1847), ii. 538-9; Sadleir, 6-10; M. Bence-Jones, Guide to Irish Country Houses, 201.