ELLIS, Thomas (1774-1832), of Abbeyfeale, co. Limerick and 9 Merrion Square, Dublin

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

Constituency

Dates

30 June 1820 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 10 June 1774,1 1st s. of Capt. Richard Ellis of Abbeyfeale and Youghal, co. Cork and Mary, da. of Robert Hilliard of co. Kerry. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1790; I. Temple 1793, called [I] 1796. m. 3 Dec. 1804, Dymphna, da. of Col. William Thomas Monsell of Tervoe, co. Limerick, 4s. suc. fa. 1814. d. 26 Jan. 1832.

Offices Held

Master in chancery [I] 1806-d.

Biography

Ellis was descended from Thomas Ellis of county Monaghan, who was attainted in the reign of James II, married twice and died in 1714. The third son of his first marriage, Richard Ellis of Monaghan and Drumnalee, county Cavan, died in 1774, leaving two sons, Thomas, who died without issue in 1790, and Richard, born in 1738, the father of this Member. He became an ensign in the 66th Regiment in 1758, was promoted to lieutenant in 1760, to captain in 1771 and to major in the army in 1782. He appears to have retired about two years later. He married in November 1770 Mary Hilliard of Kerry, acquired an estate in county Limerick and died in 1814. His third son Conyngham (1783-1815) entered the army and died of wounds received at Waterloo; and the youngest, Henry (1784-1857), joined the navy. Thomas Ellis, the eldest son, was bred to the Irish bar, to which he was called in 1796. Ten years later, with the blessing of the Grenville ministry, he bought from the incumbent Thomas Walker one of the four Irish masterships in chancery for £9,850, a price, he told the Irish judicial commissioners in 1815, based on an estimated annual income of about £3,000 in fees. In 1821 a hostile radical publication put his earnings at £4,410 a year.2 Ellis drew attention to himself politically in Dublin on 11 Feb. 1819 when, at the Rotunda meeting of Protestants to petition for Catholic relief, he seconded Lord Frankfort’s unsuccessful wrecking amendment and provoked outrage with his allegation that signatures had been obtained for the requisition ‘by interest ... fear ... private friendship ... [and] threats’.3 He subsequently served at least once on the committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.4

On the death of Henry Grattan, the revered champion of Catholic claims, 4 June 1820, Ellis, backed by Dublin corporation and the Orange interest, challenged Grattan’s son and namesake for the vacant city seat, as the avowed opponent of emancipation. He led throughout a bitter and violent contest.5 Enraged Irish Whigs were determined to thwart him, and in the Commons, 30 June (the day on which he was formally returned), Sir John Newport, Member for Waterford, proposed the addition to the Irish court of chancery bill (brought in on 1 June) of a clause to prevent Irish masters in chancery from sitting in Parliament. He supported his case with Ellis’s own admission to the judicial commissioners that his duties as master required ‘regular [daily] attendance for ten months in the year’. Lord Castlereagh, the foreign secretary and leader of the Commons, concurred in the principle that a man could not satisfactorily fulfil the roles of master and Member, but argued that as Ellis was currently a candidate it would be invidious to exclude him ex post facto. After a heated debate, in which Newport and his backers insisted that if Ellis was returned he could simply resign his mastership in order to take his seat, and a number of Orange Members argued for his exemption, the clause was added.6 On 3 July John Maxwell Barry, Orange Member for Cavan, moved the addition to the bill of a clause removing its retrospective operation, but it was defeated by 65-42. Ellis’s Dublin supporters campaigned and petitioned both Houses against his exclusion. In the Lords, 20 July, Lord Redesdale proposed and Lord Liverpool, the prime minister, and lord chancellor Eldon supported, an amendment to the bill to exempt Ellis, which they carried by 22-10. The amended measure passed the Lords on 24 July 1820, but made no further progress that session. Grattan’s petition against Ellis’s return was not pursued.7

He was therefore technically free to take his seat, but it was a certainty that his eligibility would again be challenged next session. In late July 1820, when he was in London, he sought from Liverpool ‘a candid explanation of the wishes of government’ as to what he should do. Liverpool, who had only belatedly realized who Ellis was, promised to consult his cabinet colleagues when they reassembled.8 Ellis showed his face in the Commons to present a petition for relief from Dublin paper stainers, 31 Jan. 1821.9 Lushington, Whig Member for Ilchester, had given notice of a motion to declare him ineligible for Parliament as a master. Ellis professed to be satisfied with Liverpool’s assurance that while ministers had not yet decided whether to oppose it or to remain neutral, he would ‘in any event ... be allowed to make my election of either vacating my seat or my office (as my mind is made up to retain my office)’, and he left the matter in their hands:

There never was a period when the best interests of the country so much required not only that the government should be strong, but that they should appear to be strong. I came into Parliament for the purpose of supporting them, and should exceedingly lament exposing them to embarrassment or annoyance by an indiscreet advocacy of my cause. At the same time I am quite sure that the principle of my case, if once established, may subject them to so many inconveniences, that it would be more prudent to resist in the outset, than when a decision of the House had afforded a precedent that could not be easily overlooked or explained.10

He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb., and on the 22nd opposed inquiry into the conduct of the sheriff of Dublin at the December 1820 county meeting in her support, arguing that in calling in troops he had ‘taken the wrong side of a difficult discretion’, rather than acted unconstitutionally. On 27 Feb. he introduced a bill to regulate the fees of Irish attorneys (amending an Act of 1734), which received royal assent on 6 Apr.11 He divided silently against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. When Lushington proposed his motion, 5 Mar., Ellis was allowed to speak in his own defence before the question was put: he claimed that the ‘charges ... against him’ were ‘exaggerated in their nature and exasperated in the detail’, but he did not disavow his 1815 statement and said that if he found that the combined duties of master and Member trenched more on his time ‘than the interests of his family justified him in appropriating’, he would vacate his seat. Having said what, as Henry Bankes* put it, was ‘rather prejudicial than advantageous to him’, he left the chamber and in his absence Castlereagh, for government, opposed the motion, but indicated that they would back any ‘prospective measure’ to exclude Irish masters thereafter.12 The motion was defeated by 112-52. In 1823 the government carried an Irish chancery regulation bill which replaced the masters’ fees with a fixed annual salary of £3,000 (plus £200 a year compensation) and thereby debarred them from Parliament in future.13

Ellis voted with government on the state of the revenue, 6 Mar., and against repeal of the additional malt duty, 21 Mar., 3 Apr., and army reductions, 11 Apr. 1821. His adverse comments on the pro-relief petition from Catholics of Staffordshire and Warwickshire, 16 Mar., were ‘almost inaudible’ in the gallery; but his forthright attack on the relief bill as ‘a solemn humbug’, 2 Apr., when he made a sneering reference to Daniel O’Connell’s* family as one of ‘mushroom celebrity’, was sufficiently clear:

He had himself been nourished in all the bosom of Popery; he had at one time cherished the warmest desire to give liberty and equality to creeds of every class; and nothing else than a firm conviction of the dangers to be apprehended from the unrestrained freedom of the Catholic faith, had compelled him at length to adopt a different opinion.14

He denied the allegation that the Bank of Ireland had refused to accept sovereigns as deposits, 28 Mar.15 He presented petitions from officials of the Irish common law courts for compensation for losses under the current regulation bill, 11 Apr., and from Dublin for repeal of the window tax, 4 May 1821.16 He voted with government against reduction of the salt duties, 28 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822. He complained that Irish ships trading to England were liable to the same duties as foreign ones, 15 Mar.17 On the 20th he secured the appointment of a select committee on Dublin local taxation, which he argued pressed unfairly on the poor and which he wished to make more equitable. The inquiry was reappointed in 1823 and 1824, when Ellis carried a bill to deal with the problem.18 He was a member of another select committee on the subject, 23 Feb. 1825.

Ellis presented and endorsed Dublin parish petitions for repeal of the ‘objectionable’ window tax, 22, 24 Apr. 1822.19 Opposing on the former day Newport’s motion for inquiry into the state of Ireland, he delivered, according to Bankes, a ‘very intemperate and injudicious speech’.20 It was a ‘furious tirade’ against rebellious working class Catholics and their turbulent priests and recommended giving ministers ‘almost absolute power’ to crush insurrection, after which the 40s. freeholders should be disfranchised, illicit distillation stopped and ‘religious and moral education’ fostered. Charles Williams Wynn* reported that William Plunket, the Irish attorney-general, who followed Ellis, gave him ‘a severe drubbing’, though he suspected that Ellis was ‘but too correct’ in describing the current ‘conspiracy’ as ‘exclusively Catholic’.21 Sir James Mackintosh* noted:

Ellis ... a furious Orangeman ... suspected of being prompted by Peel to throw out those topics among the vulgar which the [home] secretary’s own caution would not risk, gave an entirely new turn to the debate ... Plunket sprang upon his prey. I have never seen such a chastisement. He fixed his eye on Ellis and treated him with a degree of scorn, disgust and contempt which I scarcely thought possible from one man to another.22

The Whig George Agar Ellis* recorded that Ellis’s ‘absurd, abusive, intolerant anti-Catholic speech ... was answered most admirably’.23 Ellis divided against Canning’s Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr. He presented a petition from the Dublin chamber of commerce for the retention of protecting duties, 5 June 1822.24

In January 1823 O’Connell reported from Dublin that Ellis was ‘very busy’ in Orange attempts to ‘overawe’ Lord Wellesley’s Irish administration.25 Ellis assured the House that the sheriff of Dublin desired full inquiry into his part in the prosecution of the Orange theatre rioters, 15, 22 Apr., when he voted in the majority against government on the issue. He divided against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 2 June, repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and inquiries into British chancery delays, 5 June, and the currency, 12 June. He presented petitions from Dublin tanners for repeal of the leather tax, 14 Apr., and from Irish linen manufacturers for protection against the importation of foreign flaxen yarn, 29 Apr.26 He brought up anti-Catholic petitions from Dublin and Westmeath, 16 Apr.27 On 27 May he supported the Irish joint-tenancy bill, alluding to the case of a farm worth £15 which had been divided to produce 40 freehold votes. He encouraged Phillimore to go ahead with his Catholic marriages bill, 12 June 1823, professing to favour removal of all their ‘disabilities’ short of giving them political power.28 He presented another Dublin tanners’ petition for repeal of the leather tax, 17 Mar., and pleaded their case, 25 Mar. 1824.29 He carried a measure to light Dublin with oil gas, but his bills to regulate its tolls and coal trade foundered; he explained and was a minority teller for the latter, 13 Apr.30 He defended the grant for the Royal Dublin Society and the activities of Dublin aldermen as police magistrates, 19 Mar. He presented a petition from the Dublin chamber of commerce for repeal of the usury laws, 31 Mar., and voted in that sense, 8 Apr. 1824, 8, 17 Feb. 1825. He brought up a Dublin tradesmen’s petition against the combination laws, 31 Mar. 1824, and was added to the select committee on the subject, 19 Apr. 1825.31

He thought that landed rather than personal security should be required for Irish assessments, 13 May 1824.32 He was a teller for the ministerial majority against interference with Irish first fruits revenues, 25 May 1824. Ellis, who shook hands with O’Connell when he visited the Commons in February 1825,33 voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill that month. He presented a Dublin petition against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., when he voted to that effect, as he did again, 21 Apr., 10 May.34 Under instructions from Dublin merchants, he approved the St. Katharine’s Docks bill, 22 Feb. 1825. Next day he presented a Dublin curriers’ petition against assimilation of the English and Irish duties.35 He divided with ministers on the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826. On 19 Apr. he introduced a bill to prevent the wilful destruction by tenants of houses in Ireland, which received royal assent on 26 May.36 He denied Hume’s allegation that he and his fellow masters showed partiality in their choice of Irish newspapers to carry official proclamations and was a teller for the majority for the relevant grant, 21 Apr.; he stood his ground when Hume raised the issue again, 5 May.37 He presented two anti-Catholic petitions from Dublin, 26 Apr., and was in the majority against the spring guns bill, 27 Apr. 1826.38 He duly retired from Parliament at the dissolution the following month, when he threw his weight behind the anti-Catholic Tory George Moore* for Dublin.39 A stalwart anti-reform member of the corporation of Dublin, he seconded Moore at the general election of 1831 and proposed the recorder Frederick Shaw* at the by-election later that year.40 He died in harness, in January 1832.41 His Limerick estate passed to his eldest son Richard (1805-79), while his younger sons Conyngham (?1816-91), Francis (1819-81) and Frederick (b. 1826) entered the church, the law and the army respectively.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Stephen Farrell / David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. King’s Inns Admissions Pprs. ed. E. Keane, P.B. Phair and T.U. Sadleir, 152.
  • 2. PP (1817), x. 162, 165; Extraordinary Red Bk. (1821), 121.
  • 3. The Times, 16 Feb. 1819.
  • 4. PRO NI, Leslie mss MIC606/3/J/7/21/4.
  • 5. Dublin Evening Post, 8, 10, 13, 20, 22, 24, 27 June; The Times, 26, 28, 30 June, 1, 4, 5 July 1820.
  • 6. Christ Church, Oxf. Phillimore mss, Plunket to Phillimore [6 July 1820]; PP (1817), x. 172; Add. 52444, f. 187; CJ, lxxv. 155, 267-8, 296, 378-9.
  • 7. Dublin Evening Post, 4, 8, 13 July 1820; CJ, lxxv. 444, 460-2, 478; LJ, liii. 267, 293, 298, 305, 334, 342, 351.
  • 8. Add. 38286, f. 323.
  • 9. The Times, 1 Feb. 1821.
  • 10. Add. 38289, f. 62.
  • 11. The Times, 28 Feb. 1821; CJ, lxvi. 115, 117, 124, 137, 147, 160, 181, 221, 237.
  • 12. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Bankes jnl.
  • 13. CJ, lxxviii. 365, 375, 385, 390, 402, 408, 418-19, 470, 471; LJ, lv. 812, 839, 846, 852, 857; The Times, 13 Aug. 1824.
  • 14. The Times, 17 Mar. 1821; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 895.
  • 15. The Times, 29 Mar. 1821.
  • 16. Ibid. 12 Apr., 5 May 1821.
  • 17. The Times, 16 Mar. 1822.
  • 18. Ibid. 21 Mar. 1822; CJ, lxxix. 59, 173, 189, 289, 391, 426, 492, 501, 502.
  • 19. The Times, 23, 25 Apr. 1822.
  • 20. Bankes jnl.
  • 21. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 318-19.
  • 22. Add. 52445, ff. 78-79.
  • 23. Agar Ellis diary, 22 Apr. [1822].
  • 24. The Times, 6 June 1822.
  • 25. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 990, 992.
  • 26. The Times, 15, 30 Apr. 1823.
  • 27. Ibid. 17 Apr. 1823.
  • 28. Ibid. 13 June 1823.
  • 29. Ibid. 18, 26 Mar. 1824.
  • 30. CJ, lxxxix. 88, 167, 184, 189, 251, 262, 288, 300.
  • 31. The Times, 1 Apr. 1824.
  • 32. Ibid. 14 May 1824.