FERGUSON, Sir Robert Alexander, 2nd bt. (1796-1860), of The Farm, nr. Londonderry, co. Londonderry

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

Constituency

Dates

1830 - 14 Mar. 1831
2 Apr. 1831 - 13 Mar. 1860

Family and Education

b. 26 Dec. 1796,1 1st s. of Andrew Ferguson, MP [I], banker, of The Farm and Elizabeth, da. of Robert Alexander of Boom Hall, co. Londonderry. educ. Belfast Acad. (Mr. Bruce); King’s Inns 1813; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1814; L. Inn 1815. unm. suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 17 July 1808. d. 13 Mar. 1860.

Offices Held

Sheriff, co. Tyrone 1825-6; mayor, Londonderry 1830; ld. lt. co. Londonderry 1840-d.; commr. of Irish land 1843.

Col. co. Londonderry militia 1839-d.

Biography

The obscure family of Ferguson was apparently Scottish in origin. A Dissenting minister of that name established himself in the north of Ireland, and his grandson John was a poor Londonderry surgeon or apothecary who, according to a later election squib, ‘had the shop in the whole [sic] of the wal [sic] with three shillings worth of medicine’.2 John’s son Andrew (b. 1761), a well-to-do banker, married the Presbyterian daughter of the Londonderry merchant Robert Alexander, brother of the nabob Lord Caledon.3 He was mayor of Londonderry, 1796-98, served as its Member on the Caledon interest, 1798-1800, and received a baronetcy, perhaps in belated compensation for the loss of his seat (which went briefly to his brother-in-law Henry Alexander†) after the Union, 7 Oct. 1801.4 He died in an accident caused by his driving ‘with incautious rapidity over a bridge wanting some repairs’ in July 1808, when his younger son Harvey (d. 20 June 1824) survived unhurt.5

Ferguson,6 who was presumably the chief beneficiary under his father’s will, proved in Dublin in 1808, was a capital burgess of Londonderry and a leading member of the local gentry.7 It was rumoured that he might come forward on the vestigial Caledon interest in the borough at the general elections of 1818 and 1820, but the seat was firmly in the hands of its Member Sir George Hill.8 He was one of the requisitionists for the city and county meeting on 10 Jan. 1825, when he moved eight resolutions condemning the Catholic Association and prepared the hostile petition to Parliament. Having attended the Londonderry dinner in honour of the anti-Catholic county Member George Dawson, 28 Dec. 1825, he was present at the ceremonies on 12 Aug. 1828 when Dawson announced his conversion. His own opinions remained unchanged, however, and he chaired the meetings in September and October which established Brunswick Clubs for the county and the city, becoming president of both.9 An influential figure, who interested himself in such local affairs as the county infirmary and purchased the city’s shambles from the corporation, Ferguson was considered by the Beresfords in mid-1829 as a possible replacement for Dawson as their future candidate for the county.10 However, on the announcement of Hill’s appointment as governor of St. Vincent in April 1830 he immediately offered for the borough. An alderman since the previous year, he had been elected to serve as mayor from 2 Feb., and so resigned this office in April, although Hill’s departure was in fact delayed until the dissolution later that year.11 He seconded the resolution condemning higher duties on Irish stamps at the county meeting, 31 May, and was active at the similar city gathering, 4 June.12 He successfully contested the borough, against another local Protestant, Captain Hart, at the general election in August 1830, although a petition was lodged alleging that he was technically still the returning officer and therefore ineligible.13

Considered ‘pro-government’ in Pierce Mahony’s† analysis of the Irish elections, Ferguson was expected to follow the ministerialist line of the Beresfords and his brothers-in-law James and Josias Alexander, Members for Old Sarum. He was listed by the Wellington ministry among their ‘friends’ and divided in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He was probably not the ‘Sir Robert Fergusson’ who criticized the new county Londonderry Member Bateson about the making of excessive observations on petitions, 10 Dec. 1830.14 However, it was certainly he who, having attended several local meetings, presented Londonderry petitions from the Apprentice Boys against repeal of the Union, 4 Mar., and the merchants against alteration of the timber duties, 7 Mar. 1831.15 His election was declared void a week later, and so he missed the division on the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which, according to Thomas Gladstone*, he would have voted against.16 He was again opposed by Hart at the ensuing by-election, when, described as ‘an old Tory’, he pledged himself to vote for the bill in spite of his personal objections and so secured his return (albeit in the face of another petition).17 He duly divided with ministers against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, which precipitated a dissolution. At the general election, when he rebuffed an address calling on him to oppose reform, he was once more returned after a contest against another local gentleman.18

Ferguson voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and against using the 1831 census to determine the boroughs in schedules A and B. He sided with opposition against the disfranchisement of Downton, 21 July, but otherwise, when present, divided with ministers for the bill’s details. He spoke for the bill to establish lord lieutenants in Irish counties, 20 Aug., and commented on the value of the bishopric of Derry, 31 Aug. He voted with ministers for punishing those guilty of bribery in the Dublin election, 23 Aug., but in the minority for inquiry into how far the Sugar Refinery Act could safely be renewed with regard to West Indian interests, 12 Sept. He presented a Londonderry petition on the laws relating to the importation of flax seed, 11 Oct. 1831, and the following day moved for leave to introduce a bill to regulate the trade, but gave it up. He evidently missed the division on the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and it is not clear which way he voted on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan.; but he divided in the minority for inquiry into distress in the glove trade, 31 Jan. 1832. He voted for the disfranchisement of Appleby, 21 Feb., and although he sided with opposition against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., he paired for the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. Having reported that the standing orders had been complied with in respect of the petition for the Londonderry improvement bill, 21 Feb., and advocated its cause at a local meeting on 4 May, he oversaw the passage of the bill that session.19 He divided for Lord Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He voted against making permanent provision for the Irish poor by a tax on absentees, 19 June, against going into committee on the Irish party processions bill, 25 June, for the Irish tithes bill, 13 July, and against disqualifying the recorder of Dublin from sitting in Parliament, 24 July. He advised that the grant for the garrison at Londonderry should be used to rebuild the bridge there, 18 July. Reaping the benefit of his (as some said) cynical reform votes, he was returned for Londonderry as a Liberal at the general election in December 1832 after a bitter contest against Dawson.20 He remained the representative of his native city until his death in March 1860, when his baronetcy became extinct.21

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell