FITZGERALD, Maurice, knight of Kerry (1774-1849), of Ballinruddery, nr. Listowel and Glanleam, Valentia Island, co. Kerry
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Family and Educationb. 29 Dec. 1774, 1st s. of Robert Fitzgerald, knight of Kerry, MP [I], of Ballinruddery and 3rd w. Catherine, da. of Lancelot Sandes1 of Kilcavan, Queen’s co. educ. Harrow 1786; Trinity, Dublin 1789; L. Inn 1792. m. (1) 5 Nov. 1801, Maria (d. 13 Nov. 1829), da. of David Latouche, MP [I],2 of Marlay, co. Dublin, 6s. (4 d.v.p.) 4da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) Cecilia Maria, wid. of George Knight, s.p. suc. fa. 1781. d. 7 Mar. 1849.
MP [I] 1795-1800.
Commr. of customs [I] Aug. 1799-Feb. 1801; PC [I] 27 Jan. 1801; commr. of treasury [I] 1801-7; commr. of fisheries [I] 1819-30?; ld. of treasury July 1827-Jan. 1828; vice-treasurer [I] Mar.-Nov. 1830; ld. of admiralty Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835.
Trustee, linen board [I] 1803.
Capt. Feale cav. 1796; maj. Kerry militia 1797, lt.-col. 1801-d.; capt. commdt. Feale inf. 1805.
Like his kinsmen the White Knight (the 3rd earl of Kingston) and the knight of Glin (John Fraunceis Fitzgerald of Glin Castle, county Limerick), the 18th knight of Kerry, a Tory paladin, held his hereditary medieval title solely by traditional usage and in 1823 Peel, the home secretary, refused to recommend to the king that it be given formal recognition.3 Nevertheless, this was how Fitzgerald was generally known (though not in parliamentary records), including in Kerry, where, as a child, he inherited the residual estates of his once Catholic ancestors from his father Robert, the 17th knight, who was Member for Dingle, 1741-81, and judge of the admiralty court, 1757-74. Even before coming of age, he gave up his hopes of a military career - he was, however, active in the militia - to represent his native county in the Irish Parliament.4 He started out a ministerialist, but, as he much later recounted, his resentment at the failure of the Union (in the negotiations for which he took a part) to pave the way for Catholic emancipation led him to resign his junior government position:
The commencement of my life (public) was in the Pitt school, not that I agreed in his peculiar policy, but at the time he was the Conservative agent. My doctrines, though I never thought myself of importance enough to enounce them, were then impressed on my young mind by Burke. I have never swerved from them, and gave up a dear personal friendship with [Lord] Castlereagh* whilst he was in full power in deference to my more unqualified views on the Catholic question, the accomplishment of which he had taught me to expect from the Union. When on the formation of Mr. Fox’s administration he expressed to me a wish that I should remain in office ... I declined, and was only induced under the controlling opinion of the late Lord [the 1st earl of] Kenmare ... my most powerful supporter as well as most particular friend, not to break my connection with a ministry from which he expected emancipation. The moment Lord Grey was removed [as foreign secretary in March 1807] ... that day, I ranged myself with the Whigs against the exclusive system of Perceval, resisting the earnest efforts of the duke of Wellington to keep me in office with full latitude on all points interesting to my constituents - he being then just appointed secretary to Ireland, an early and intimate friend of mine ... Then commenced my association with the Whigs, and during their 20 years of adversity I cordially acted as a party man, suppressing my differences of opinion, for barring religious freedom my sentiments much more accorded with their opponents, especially on parliamentary reform.5
He was elected to Brooks’s in 1810 at the height of his opposition activism, but following the appointment of the Liverpool administration in 1812 he kept a lower political profile, save on the Catholic issue, his commitment to which he later claimed had cost him at least £40,000 in official salary.6 This relative inactivity continued after the general election of 1820, when he was returned unopposed and spoke well at a dinner in his honour.7
In May 1820 it was reported by his friend and neighbour Daniel O’Connell* that he was still at Ballinruddery, but that he was ‘coming into office with [the Grenvillite William Conyngham] Plunket*. I hope so as the poor fellow has a large family and a very small fortune much encumbered, and has been a Patriot long enough, God knows’.8 On the death of Henry Grattan I in June, the knight, who led calls for a national monument to him, was narrowly passed over as the Irish Catholics’ Commons spokesman in favour of Plunket.9 Unless it was William Vesey Fitzgerald, one of the near namesakes with whom he may occasionally have been confused, he spoke for excluding the Dublin Member Thomas Ellis from the House as an Irish master in chancery, 30 June. He voted for Hume’s motion for economies in revenue collection, 4 July, and, having supported the Irish tithes bill on the 5th, he urged that imports of Irish spirits to Britain should remain free of duty, 6, 12 July 1820. That summer O’Connell noted that the knight, as ‘a decided oppositionist’, was deprived of county patronage, although two years later Goulburn, the Irish secretary, observed, in relation to the powers of Kerry magistrates to appoint constables, that he was ‘always promoting some little job of his own’.10
In November 1820 he supported O’Connell’s pretensions to become Irish attorney-general to Queen Caroline.11 Early the following year, when he helped to suppress a loyalist county meeting in Kerry, he voted regularly in the opposition campaign on her behalf; as well as by making various minor interjections, to which he was prone, he condemned the brouhaha over the county Dublin meeting and the conduct of ministers, 22 Feb. 1821.12 He divided against the renewal of the sugar duties, 9 Feb., and argued that an inquiry should be held into the Union duties prior to their being phased out, 16 Feb., when, as on a handful of other occasions that session, he voted with opposition for economies and tax reductions. He attacked the disorganized and sectarian state of Irish education on carrying his motion for relevant papers, 1 Mar., and the following day he divided for making Leeds a scot and lot (not £10 householder) borough if it received Grampound’s seats. He had spoken and voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb., and although he criticized the proposed state regulation of the Catholic clergy, 27, 28 Mar., he approved of the ensuing relief bill as ‘a real act of union between the two countries’. He supposedly had to be cajoled into dividing for the third reading, 2 Apr., but was thanked for having come to the defence of O’Connell, whom he had kept informed of the content and progress of the ultimately unsuccessful bill.13 The knight, who in September 1821 chaired a magistrates’ meeting on local distress and agitation in Tralee, was delighted by the appointments of Plunket as Irish attorney-general and the pro-Catholic Lord Wellesley as lord lieutenant late that year.14 No evidence of parliamentary activity has been traced during the 1822 session, which may have been why one contemporary radical source, perhaps misled by the fact that government majority lists were rarely printed, erroneously stated that he ‘votes with the ministers’.15
He called for an immediate inquiry into the Dublin theatre riot, 24 Feb., and threatened to move for information on the activities of Orange societies, 26 Feb. 1823, when he voted in the minority for reducing the import price of corn to 60s.16 He spoke - arguing for increased clerical residence, closer attention to education and the alteration of tithes - and voted for inquiry into the Irish church establishment, 4 Mar. The following day he strongly supported James Abercromby’s motion condemning illegal Orange societies in a speech of which, according to George Agar Ellis*, ‘the first half was excellent and quite eloquent, the last half ... equally low and in wretched taste’.17 Deemed that year by the duke of Bedford to be, like Thomas Spring Rice, a possibly better sponsor of reforms to Irish tithes than Sir John Newport, he welcomed Goulburn’s proposals provided they were put on a permanent and stable basis, 6 Mar.18 He was granted a fortnight’s leave, apparently to deal with disturbances in Kerry, 16 Apr., and the moderate Whig leader Lord Lansdowne regretted his absence that month over Catholic relief and in June over tithes.19 He voted against the grant for Irish churches and glebe houses, 1 July, but congratulated ministers on the passage of the tithes composition bill, 4 July. He remained studiously neutral on the allegation of bribery against his colleague James Crosbie, 1 July 1823, and afterwards justified this privately to O’Connell:
All matters now coming before the House are influenced by the physical exhaustion of Members, and this state favours the conservative principle of ministers, viz. ‘to do nothing’. Such a system may in their foreign relations only produce contempt and degradation but applied to Ireland is calculated to engender civil war.20
Although encouraged to attend early in the 1824 session by his former guardian, the judge Robert Day, who was anxious to see him on good terms with his electoral allies in Kerry, he was not apparently present at its beginning.21 He voted for inquiries into the Irish church establishment, 6 May, the state of Ireland, 11 May, and the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. He had been named to the select committee on the survey and valuation of Ireland (on 30 Mar.), one of several Irish committees to which he was appointed in this period, and he chaired its proceedings, 13, 14, 17, 19 May.22 He divided against Irish clerical pluralists, 27 May, when he urged reconsideration of the Union duties, and the new churches bill, 14 June. He sprang to the defence of the Catholic Association, 31 May, when Christopher Hely Hutchinson* noted that he ‘would say something, which was not well received by the House, so that he was rather disconcerted and did not get out all he had intended’; he soon ‘recovered himself’, although he was again judged to be ‘injurious and prolix’ in vindicating the conduct of O’Connell.23 He spoke and acted as a teller for the minority against the second reading of the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824.
Until this time the knight of Kerry had lived mostly at Ballinruddery, which the poet Tom Moore, who had visited it in 1823, described as ‘a mere cottage, but gentlemanlike and comfortable, and ... worthy of its excellent and high spirited owner’.24 Now, however, the family switched its principal residence to Glanleam on Valentia Island, which, with its slate quarries, was already the centre of his economic ambitions. Among his plans for developing the area as a major port, the most grandiose was the formation of the American and Colonial Steam Navigation Company, to trade between the west of Ireland and Halifax, Nova Scotia.25 Having failed to obtain a royal charter for this in 1824, despite lobbying his influential friends in London, he partly supervised the passage of a bill to establish it the following session (royal assent being granted on 22 June 1825) and obtained an amendment bill the following year (26 May 1826).26 This particular venture was an expensive failure, but he continued to press the commercial and military potential of Valentia on successive governments and suggested other means of improving the state of manufacturing and transport in the south of Ireland.27 As Alexander Nimmo of Killarney wrote to one correspondent, 31 Aug. 1824, the knight already had a local reputation as an indefatigable campaigner for such schemes as the improvement of Tralee harbour and for the implementation of effective public works programmes.28 A rumour that he would soon be retiring from Parliament was denied in the press the following month.29
He opposed the suppression of the Association on the address, 4 Feb. 1825, subsequently informing O’Connell that he had been misreported in his minor criticisms of it and claiming that he had taken the course ‘which appeared to me most judicious’.30 He voted steadily against the Irish unlawful societies bill that month, including on the 21st, when he argued at length that it was not political repression but Catholic emancipation that would ensure lasting tranquillity. A supporter of O’Connell’s parliamentary deputation to Westminster that session, he voted for Catholic claims, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May.31 He presented a pro-Catholic petition from the Protestants of his county, 10 Mar., and insisted that his co-religionists fully approved of the relief bill, 10 May.32 He supported the Irish bankers co-partnership bill, 15 Mar., measures to relieve the Irish poor, 22 Mar., the grant for assisted emigration, 15 Apr., and the assimilation of the British and Irish currencies, 12 May. He divided for criticizing chancery administration, 7 June, and against the grant for the duke of Cumberland, 9, 10 June 1825. He declined to attend the O’Connellite Dublin dinner, 2 Feb. 1826.33 He commented on oppressive Irish market tolls, 16 Feb., and the problems of removing small Scottish and Irish bank-notes from circulation, 16 Mar. He advocated a non-sectarian system for Irish education, with religious schooling left to separate denominations, 20 Mar. He voted that day for Newport’s amendment to the grant for Irish charter schools, and the next for regulation of the Irish first fruits fund. He divided for alteration of the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr., parliamentary reform, 27 Apr., and Russell’s resolutions against electoral bribery, 26 May 1826.
The knight was considered certain of success in the violent Kerry contest during the general election of 1826, when his daughter Maria reported to her brother David in schoolgirl French that ‘Papa se garde aussi tranquille que possible ... Tout là paroit très bien. Il dit que le grand chêne opposé aux fenêtres de l’étude est jeté à terre mais ce n’est que pour nous effrayer ... Il fut reçu le premier jour (samedi) très bien’, and a ‘great deal of applause and perspiration was lavished on him’.34 He led throughout the delayed poll, being returned with another pro-Catholic William Hare at the expense of Crosbie. As well as urging emancipation, he promised not to accept office unless he could do so consistently with his opinions on religious liberty, and he was present at the county’s gathering of Catholics at the end of July.35 He complained to Peel about Major Wilcocks’s conduct as head of the constabulary during the election riot, but Goulburn considered that he did this to protect his friend, the sheriff, who was really to blame.36 That winter he sent several letters of advice and caution to O’Connell, who, although temperamentally indisposed to moderation, confided that ‘there is no political man from whom I should be more happy to receive counsel or more grateful to for taking the trouble of giving it’, while repeatedly pushing him towards closer co-operation with Lansdowne. After Liverpool’s incapacitating seizure in February 1827 the knight wrote from his sickbed (‘all great men must be ill, it seems’) that O’Connell ‘need not be alarmed as to the colour of the new [prime] minister’, since either the Catholic sympathiser Canning, the foreign secretary, would be appointed or he would at least be able to strengthen his position in the cabinet.37 He sided with ministers for the grant to the new heir presumptive, the duke of Clarence, 16 Feb., 16 Mar., stating on 19 Feb. that he did so simply on independent principles.38 He emphasized that the Catholic priests were loyal to the state, 2 Mar., when, as on other occasions, he brought up pro-Catholic petitions from his county. He voted in the minority for relief, 6 Mar., and observed to O’Connell the following day that ‘I was not sanguine as to numbers and yet by no means prepared for the impression which this result has made on my mind’, adding that ‘I am so very ill that my attendance was difficult, and speaking out of the question’. He gave notice of a motion for producing official correspondence at the time of the Union, as a means of revealing the pledges then held out about emancipation, 7 Mar., and on the 9th alluded to another on the subject of Irish poor laws, which he does not seem to have pursued.39 He took a month’s leave to attend to urgent business, 19 Mar. 1827.
Yet he was in London during the protracted discussions which preceded the formation of the Canning coalition administration in April 1827. Thence, as the Whigs’ main conduit to the Irish Catholic leader, he urged O’Connell to show ‘the greatest forbearance’, including by adjourning the Association
with the double object of evincing confidence and disarming the prejudices which will be attempted to be inspired into the public feeling here, as against a ministry ‘too Catholic’ ... The situation of the new ministry will be critical and their opponents (Tory) very powerful in Parliament. Do not let them wield no popery against it if possible.40
He attended the Whig meeting at Brooks’s, 20 Apr., after which, believing that it was unnecessary to hold to the stipulation for an entirely pro-Catholic Irish administration, he was described as being among the ‘shabby ones, anxious for place at any rate’.41 The following day he wrote to a reluctantly receptive Lansdowne to beg him to restart the stalled negotiations with Canning and to take the home secretaryship, as, even with an anti-Catholic viceroy (provided he was a moderate), the Catholics were hopeful of practical progress being made in their favour. He also pointed out that O’Connell had begun to heed his requests for moderation, and it was in this light that he continued to urge O’Connell to swallow his public criticisms of the new ministers and warned him against counting on an entirely favourable government, since ‘the thing is totally impossible. Do you think the king is to have no voice on that subject?’42 The knight’s decision to give his backing to the Canning ministry was regretted by such anti-Catholic friends as Lord Londonderry.43 Apparently reconciled to making no more than a token gesture in relation to his intended motion on the Union, which was to have opened the whole question of Catholic relief, he withdrew his notice for it, 7 May 1827.44 That day he told Lord Chandos and other detractors in the Commons, that
I stand here because I wish to lend my support to that party which is most adverse to the sentiments he expresses ... I stand here, further, to give my humble aid to an administration which, however embarrassed by faction, I do believe contemplates the general welfare of the empire. Above all, I give it my support because I feel convinced that its real object is to promote the happiness of my own country.
He defended Protestant charter schools, 25 May, and denied that he had said Ireland would rebel if emancipation was not forthcoming, 6 June, but asked what progress emigration had made to alleviate Irish distress, 30 May, and complained about excessively high grand jury presentments, 6 June. He spoke and voted for the grant for water communications in Canada, 12 June.45 Convinced that Canning and especially Lansdowne were acting in the best long term interests of Ireland, he attempted to persuade an increasingly impatient O’Connell to continue to ‘keep all quiet’, pleading that ‘when therefore I give you from the spot the best counsel I can furnish, it is not because it is palatable to myself, however wholesome’, and that ‘I shall press and have pressed the policy we agree on in the strongest manner in my power’. In July, on Lansdowne finally becoming home secretary, he accepted an invitation to join the treasury board and justified himself to O’Connell by writing that the ‘hostility of Tories suggests to any friend of Ireland to cling closely to the ministry which has ousted them and which will grow stronger from day to day, and from the establishment of adequate strength in them I augur every practical good to Ireland’.46 He was re-elected unopposed for Kerry as an advocate of emancipation and Irish improvements that month, after which, at the request of O’Connell, who congratulated him on the favourable circumstances of his re-election, he supported his claim for a patent of precedence at the Irish bar.47 He stayed in office on the appointment of Goderich in succession to Canning (who had acted as his own chancellor) in August, when Lord Francis Leveson Gower’s* voluntary withdrawal saved him from losing his seat on the fully occupied board, another place now having to be found on the separation of the offices of first lord and chancellor of the exchequer.48 He was disinclined to vacate during the ministerial crisis over the appointment of John Herries* to the latter position that month, and he considered the state of politics to be uncertain that autumn.49 It was thought that the £1,000, presumably his salary, that he received would ‘make a great impression upon the deficit of your affairs’.50
In January 1828 the knight, who afterwards claimed that he had, in fact, ‘never augured much good’ from the recent experiment of a liberal government, apparently told Rice that it was solely ‘his desire to carry Catholic emancipation which had induced him, though never a Whig in principles, to support a body pledged to its success’.51 He evidently flirted with Wellington, the new premier, for, although the knight denied newspaper reports that he had been asked to stay on, the duke, who could not employ him, told him that ‘it occurs to me that you would have remained in office from something you said to me some time ago’.52 Moore, commenting on his reluctance to resign, recorded that ‘he is a fine fellow notwithstanding and his only fault is having ever become Whig, as nature has written "Tory" on his chivalrous brow’.53 He gave a silent vote for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and for most of the session limited himself to making only minor interventions in debate. He oversaw the passage of the Tralee harbour bill, which benefited his constituents, that session and supported the unsuccessful Hibernian Joint Stock Company bill, which was anathema to O’Connell, 24 Apr.54 Speaking in the Catholic debate, 8 May, he argued that Pitt had been pledged to carry the question at the time of the Union, arousing the House’s impatience by reading several documents to this effect, and, as he put it afterwards to O’Connell, he ‘endeavoured to give effect to the terrors of your Association’. The following day he was forced up to rebut Peel’s aspersions that he had exaggerated the Catholics’ case and should have left office on the death of Pitt in 1806. He voted in the majority for relief, 12 May, privately opining that ‘I consider it almost certain that something practical must soon result from our triumph in numbers and still more in argument’.55 Being ‘unavoidably obliged to leave the House’, he paired for making provision for Canning’s family, 13 May. He attacked the finance committee, counterproductively as Croker thought, 16 May, and agreed that Irish prices should be included in calculations of the corn averages, 20 May. Although he had voted for transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham on 21 Mar., he was seen leaving the House on this issue, which soon precipitated the resignation of the Huskissonites, 2 June, by Moore, who commented that he intended ‘evidently to shirk the division - looked shy and awkward when we questioned him about it. It is to give Burdett for the first time (as he said) a suspicion of what I had long suspected - Fitzgerald’s disposition to rat’.56 He came to the assistance of Robert Wilmot Horton by speaking in favour of emigration and the encouragement of Irish agriculture, 24 June, when he spoke and was a minority teller for Newport’s resolutions concerning abuses in the Irish church. He finally brought forward his motion of the previous year (ultimately withdrawn) for papers on the Union, 3 July, arguing, with reference to long quotations from pamphlets and speeches, that Pitt, Castlereagh and Cornwallis had promised to emancipate the Catholics and that the profound breach of faith that their failure so to do represented was the cause of Ireland’s disturbed and disadvantaged condition. He spoke and presumably voted for the grants for the survey of Ireland and fortifications in Canada, 7 July, but divided in the minority against Fyler’s amendment relating to the silk duties, which was carried with government support, 14 July, and he proposed alterations to the Irish butter trade bill, 15, 16 July 1828. He sought an interview with Wellington before leaving London that month and, back in Kerry, informed him that the ‘excitement is general and the line of distinction between sects every day becoming wider, even where religious distinctions were before little known’. In two lengthy and highly alarmist letters that autumn, he warned the duke that Ireland was sliding towards civil war, with the Protestant gentry in disarray and ‘the moral influence of the landlord, the magistrate, the laws ... fast dissolving’; he reckoned this an appalling situation which could only be rectified by the deployment of overwhelming military force and the immediate concession of Catholic relief, which he knew the prime minister already had in mind.57 Among the other remedies he recommended were the more judicious handling of the Catholics’ political leaders and the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders.58
He welcomed the announcement of emancipation in the House, 5 Feb., and in a letter to Wellington, 9 Feb. 1829, and was that month listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as likely to be ‘with government’ on this (although a large cross was also entered against his name).59 As he later recollected:
I always expected Catholic concession from the duke of Wellington. I was laughed at for so thinking ... But that being once done, all bar to associating with his government on public principle was removed, at least to those thinking as I did on most other general questions of policy - foreign, domestic, colonial. But what determined me directly to support him was the arrangement of an opposition which availed itself of the vengeful feeling of the old Tories on the score of his Catholic crime and which I deemed an unworthy combination.
However, his plea to his Whig friends to support Wellington en masse, in order to prevent the duke being thrown back on the Ultras, met with scant success.60 He, of course, divided for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., speaking briefly in its favour, 9, 16, 23 Mar., and approving of the related Irish franchise bill on the 26th. At the bidding of O’Connell, he assisted in his attempts to take his seat that session as Member for Clare, passing a conciliatory message to his beaten opponent, Vesey Fitzgerald, and informing the Speaker of the day on which he would make his appearance in the chamber.61 He argued that O’Connell should be heard on his reasons for refusing to swear the oaths, 15 May, and should be allowed the benefit of the Emancipation Act, 18 May, when he was a teller for the minority for allowing him to take his seat unimpeded. He gave Wellington advice on the employment of the Irish poor and the Irish registration system that summer, when he again voiced alarm at the resurgence of religious conflict.62 He attended the Tralee dinner on 19 Aug. 1829 in honour of O’Connell, but his, in O’Connell’s view, misguided approbation of ministers was a growing cause of contention between them.63
The knight of Kerry failed to make much headway in pestering Wellington with his proposals for Irish public works schemes, which he forwarded with other unsolicited suggestions, including one about the county Limerick by-election, that winter.64 Yet in January he informed the prime minister that he would publicly support his government with his speeches and votes, and he fulfilled this promise, 4 Feb. 1830, by speaking and dividing against Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress.65 He sponsored O’Connell on taking his seat that day, but criticized him for leaguing himself with English agriculturists who showed no interest in Irish affairs.66 He asked to meet the duke to discuss the dangerous state of politics and expressed the hope that Lord Grey would likewise give in his adhesion to ministers.67 He responded to complaints that he had denied that there existed distress in Kerry by a public letter to the editor of a Tralee newspaper, 15 Feb., and by an intervention in the Commons, 17 Feb., when he asserted that he had badgered government for relief measures.68 His vote for Russell’s motion for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., was his last in favour of parliamentary reform. On 10 Mar. he informed the minister Charles Arbuthnot* that the Whigs, meeting at Lord Althorp’s*, had agreed that they would support the introduction of an income tax if it was proposed by government.69 Having secured Rice’s approval for his ideas on public works being given preference over any extension of the poor laws to Ireland, he spoke for his motion for a select committee on the Irish poor, which met with ministerial concurrence, 11 Mar. 1830, and was named to it.70 By the end of that month it had been decided that the knight would succeed Sir George Hill* as vice-treasurer of Ireland, with his son Peter as his deputy. Hill retreated to a colonial governorship, leaving his accounts in disarray, but his successor accepted it on the understanding that it would become an ‘efficient’ parliamentary office and give him scope to pursue his legislative concerns about Ireland. Most of all it reflected his desire for a junction between Grey’s friends and government, and his deep personal and political obligations to Wellington, to whom he nonetheless revealed his conviction that the ministry was already doomed.71
The knight, of whom his friend Sir James Willoughby Gordon* wrote at this time that ‘a more upright, fair and honourable man does not exist’, had Lansdowne’s blessing for accepting this appointment, but not that of O’Connell.72 The latter issued a denunciation of his conduct, although even this was not enough to disrupt his unopposed re-election for Kerry in April 1830, when he vindicated his allegiance to Wellington on the ground of gratitude over emancipation, explained the controversial proposed rises in Irish taxes and advocated public works as the best means of obtaining increased employment.73 He took his seat, 10 May, when he defended the treasury’s handling of the fee fund. Thereafter he divided with his ministerial colleagues, including against Jewish emancipation on the 17th, and limited himself to making minor contributions to debate, notably in relation to the civil government of Canada, 25 May, 11, 14 June. As he had done several times, so over emigration on 15 June he supported Wilmot Horton. He presented the Kerry petition against the increased Irish stamp and spirit duties, 7 June, and, although observing that ‘no Irish representative is more exempt than myself from dependence on mere popular favour’, he privately urged Wellington to abandon changes which were damaging his standing in public opinion.74 It was said that the attitude of the knight, who was kept in London on official business until late July, on this issue would determine his fortunes at the general election that summer, but he was backed by O’Connell’s brother John, who rallied his friends around him, and by the 2nd earl of Kenmare, who brought forward his brother William Browne, a Catholic, in tandem with him.75 He was shouted down on the hustings, 13 Aug., but was returned after a contest, behind Browne, whose celebratory dinner in Killarney he attended.76 That autumn he consulted on and improved his extensive plan for Irish public works, under which monies were to be vested in a system of commissioners, though he complained to Wellington that
when I consider that at the age of 26 I stood in a relation of more consequence towards the Irish government, and certainly possessed more weight and influence than I do at 56 and that in that interval I am conscious that the recommendations which in my public capacity, whether in or out of Parliament, I have given to the government are proved by bitter experience to have been as well founded as they were unsuccessful, I may be practised in being disappointed and it may be still my fate to be thwarted by those who know least of Ireland. I am however conscious of my own knowledge of the country and if anything can be available to take the population out of the hands of the revolutionists it is the immediate adoption of my plan.
Wellington, like Peel, gave it detailed consideration in October 1830, but decided that such advances of capital should remain under the direct control of government.77
The knight spoke in justification of the ministerial policies for non-interference abroad and against Irish agitation for repeal on the address, 2 Nov. 1830, when, according to his ‘memorandum book’, he was cheered by some Whigs, the ‘general tendency’ of whom, he believed, was ‘to join the duke’.78 The following day Croker recommended to Peel that he be encouraged to put himself forward as a government spokesman since he ‘did very well last night on Ireland, and will do better when he gets confidence, for he still speaks under the restraint of recent Whiggism’.79 Evidently accepting that a modicum of parliamentary reform was essential to quiet the inflamed mood of unrest in the country, on 5 Nov. he wrote boldly to Wellington to beg him not to resign if defeated on this (in the Commons on the 16th), as he seemed bent on doing, but rather, with the assistance of such moderate Whigs as Grey, to form a strong ministry as a mildly reformist bulwark against what would otherwise become an unstoppable force of radical extremism.80 He was appointed to the select committees on the Irish poor, 11 Nov., and the civil list, 15 Nov., having of course sided with his colleagues in the division on this, which precipitated their resignation. He considered Peel’s expression of relief on leaving office ‘as giving way’, but insisted on going out himself even though Wellington, with whom he remained in correspondence on Irish affairs, and others, such as John O’Connell, tried to persuade him to join Grey’s ministry.81 The new premier’s warmth towards him was shown by his offer to do something for Peter Fitzgerald, who was deprived of his position, the vice-treasurership being transferred to John Smith, the clerk of Irish revenue, as a purely administrative office.82 Having, in what Sir John Benn Walsh* thought a ‘desultory harangue’,83 recommended that ministers take up his plan to provide for the relief of the poor by the advancement of loans, which had been largely approved by the last government, 9 Dec., he secured papers on his former office in order to demonstrate that it had been no sinecure and that he had earned his salary of £2,000 a year, 23 Dec. 1830.
The following month he took his concerns about the alarming state of Ireland and the worrying pressure for revolutionary reform to Grey and the home secretary, Lord Melbourne, but was gratified by their adoption of his idea for a department of public works and pleased by their suppression of the repeal agitation in Ireland.84 In the House, he argued that no government schemes for relief would work unless taken up by the local gentry, 18 Feb., called for alteration of the first fruits fund as a means of strengthening the Irish church, 14 Mar., suggested the implementation of a permanently fixed duty on colonial trade, 18 Mar., and reiterated his opinions on Ireland’s ills when speaking against the resort to the Insurrection Act in Clare, 13 Apr. Following the revelation of the ministry’s reform proposals in early March, he appealed to Wellington to stem the tide of radicalism by coming to a compromise with ‘the Whigs, who begin to desire a committee or some mode of mitigating their own proposition, and would gladly see the interposition of anyone who can prevent the collision of the extremes’.85 He hoped that the weakened administration would resign if it lost its reform bill and duly voted against the second reading, 22 Mar.86 Believing the measure a threat to the constitution, he refused to bring up the Kerry petition in its favour, which pleased Tory opinion in his county.87 He objected to the use of the crown prerogative of delaying writs as an attack on the independence of Parliament, 30 Mar., and, in a private letter to Lord Brougham, 8 Apr., he condemned the principle of extending the franchise, which he feared would increase the influence of the masses at the expense of the propertied orders.88 He complained that he had been unable to catch the Speaker’s eye in any of the reform debates, 20 Apr., when he stated that he had divided for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment on the 19th because he was only in favour of there being more Irish seats if the number of English ones was increased in the same proportion. Like Peel and other Tories, on 21 Apr. 1831 he made what John Cam Hobhouse* described as a strong speech against the carrying of such a sweeping reform bill at a time of great upheaval and against the recourse to a dissolution as likely to cause additional unrest in Ireland.89 Claiming to have opposed reform as long ago as 1797, although always amenable to the rectification of particular abuses, he boasted that he had nothing to fear from his constituents and declared that if they preferred a reformer, he would ‘retire into private life with the satisfaction of having honestly and faithfully discharged my duty’.
The knight, who had already made public his wish to retire, declined Peel’s offer of a seat on Lady Sandwich’s interest at Huntingdon and at first decided not to stand again for Kerry at the general election of 1831, but he changed his mind on receiving a remonstrance from Kenmare and the leading Tory gentlemen.90 He duly entered as an anti-reformer, but his hostile votes had already persuaded O’Connell, despite their former connection over emancipation, to turn him out, asserting that ‘no man deserves such a fate better’, and he prepared to employ the largely Catholic electorate against him in what was expected to be a severe contest.91 Convinced that he would be deserted by the tenants of Kenmare, his main ally, and desirous of avoiding violent disruptions, the knight protested at the tactics used against him, but withdrew on the morning of the poll, leaving the way free for O’Connell, who gloated that ‘we have completely defeated the knight. Perhaps there never was known a stronger instance of popular determination’.92 He was, however, praised for his ‘independence, integrity and ability’ by his Kerry friends, whose gift of a service of plate was presented to him the following year.93 Writing to Wellington in May 1831, he lamented that in England the government ‘will have obtained a House of Commons so thoroughly Whig that it might as well sit at Brooks’s Club as at St. Stephen’s’, and that in Ireland, with O’Connell at liberty to do his worst, the elections were a mockery, the ‘mere nominations of mobs on the dictations of priests’.94
Reflecting the dismay and disgust of many of his fellow country gentlemen on the affairs of Ireland having effectively been placed in O’Connell’s hands, he informed Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, 30 May 1831, that he could no longer act as a magistrate, although he was endeavouring to restore some degree of order by providing employment on his Ballinruddery estate. On Smith Stanley replying in robust but amicable terms to his complaints, he responded on 6 June with a long pièce justicative, emphasizing the bitterness that he and his kind felt at the Irish administration’s indifference to elections which ‘involved a contest between menacing Catholic ascendancy and the last struggle for Protestant security’, and regretting his own abandonment in Kerry. He also provided a summary of his personal journey back to Toryism and his growing desire for a fair coalition of his old and new friends, as well as stating that
as to your measures I could not view them with prejudice, and for the individuals of the Whigs who came in you will do me the justice to believe that my prejudices could not be against them. But for that very reason it was incumbent on me to take a more distinct course. But on reform I could have no qualification. I am rootedly averse to it (not radically) and it has not been because the duke of Wellington has opposed it so prominently, much as I estimate his practical good sense and am attached to him, but because I sincerely believe in extreme danger from the character and extent of what has been propounded.95
On 12 June 1831 he related similar concerns to Rice, who had advised him to withdraw with a view to resuming his seat at a later date, but, describing himself as ‘an unpolitical (perhaps I should say an impolitic) person’, he confided that ‘it is a part of my physical nature that I shall not only be satisfied, but generally conscious of a sort of exaltation in the position I happen to be in for the moment, when nothing effecting the happiness of my family and friends is involved’.96 He was surprised that summer that his son Peter was appointed a commissioner of public works, in belated compensation for the loss of his former post and apparently to the resentment of many ministerialists.97
In September 1831 the knight informed Wellington of his hostility to the reform bills, especially regarding his own country, for dealing with which, had the previous Parliament lasted a few days longer, he would have introduced a measure ‘authorizing the crown to suspend the issue of writs of election to various counties in Ireland on the notoriety that no free elections could take place in them’.98 At the time of the general election of 1832, when he backed his former colleague Browne for Kerry and did not - as O’Connell had conjectured he might - stand himself as a Conservative, he again despaired of the electoral chicanery which would result in a triumph for the repeal candidates, since, for him, their success portended the general spoliation of the Protestant ascendancy.99 The following year he suggested using newspaper articles to counter government propaganda and in late 1834, when he rejoiced at the return of Wellington and Peel to office, he accepted a junior seat at the admiralty board, being employed, as he complained, ‘to sign papers of mere form at Somerset House’.100 He confidently expected to win back Kerry, but O’Connell, ridiculing his appointment by observing that ‘the only ship he will ever command is the ferryboat to Valentia’ and placing ‘his fame on the issue’, mobilized the Catholic tenants and their priests in a concerted bid to defeat him. The knight, who was confined to his London residence by illness, was therefore beaten into third place behind two repealers in a contest which bears comparison with O’Connell’s victory in Clare in 1828.101 His petition, alleging intimidation and clerical interference, was brought up, 10 Mar.; it was discharged, 11 June, but these issues were raised by Frederick Shaw* against O’Connell, 6 Mar., 15 May. Another petition from him, complaining that he had not been allowed to prove any wrongdoing before the select committee on cases of intimidation, was briefly brought forward by Sir James Scarlett*, 19 Aug., when O’Connell’s son John called his claims ‘totally false’. Further discussion took place, with William Henry Ord defending the conduct of his committee, 21 Aug., and the (second) petition was at last allowed to lie on the table, 24 Aug. 1835, when the knight disputed Ord’s argument in a letter to The Times.102 He was introduced to the electors of Lambeth at a political dinner in December 1836 as their future Conservative candidate, speaking in praise of Wellington and Peel and damning radical reform proposals. Although he attended another such gathering early the following year, he withdrew, owing to a difference of opinion, before the general election of 1837, despite, as his son Peter recalled, his having ‘had a considerable chance of success’.103
According to his fragmentary diary entry for 23 May 1838, he damned Wellington’s compromise whereby the appropriation clause would be dropped from the Irish tithes bill in exchange for the passage through the Lords of the Irish municipal corporations and poor bills, and, referring to his endeavours in 1830, he criticized the latter measure in a public letter to Lord Melbourne, the prime minister, the following month.104 Although declaring himself ‘politically defunct’ and ‘renouncing all claim to political office’, he welcomed Peel’s resumption of power in 1841 and only broke his silence to correspond with him over parliamentary matters because of his concern about the effect of enforcing the poor rate in the already dangerous state of Ireland in 1843.105 In his Letter to Sir Robert Peel on the Endowment of the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland (1845), which included an account of his involvement with Pitt at the time of the Union, he gave his endorsement to the premier’s policies towards the Irish church. During that decade, when he was appealed to for vindication of O’Connell’s conduct as a local landlord over his alleged use of the repeal rent to pay off arrears and his apparently neglectful treatment of his peasants, he continued to seek government support for his plans for Valentia and Irish public works in general.106
He died, still holding to a visionary belief that from his window at Glanleam he could ‘see another Liverpool before me’, in March 1849. His four eldest sons having predeceased him, he was succeeded in his heavily mortgaged estates and as 19th knight of Kerry by Peter George Fitzgerald (1808-80), who served as vice-treasurer of Ireland, 1841-6, and was created a baronet a few weeks before his death.107 In his preface to his manuscript ‘family record’, Peter remembered his father as ‘a man of considerable talent and special qualities quite remarkable’, with a certain quiet charm and strength of character in adversity, adding that ‘it could scarcely be said that he was a very steady or systematic man of business, but he had immense energy’, much of which he devoted to practical attempts to improve Ireland.108 He was reputed to be the last surviving member of the Irish House of Commons, but this honour in fact belonged to Sir Thomas Staples (1775-1865).109
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. Presumably not (although probably related to) the Lancelot Sandys (or Sandes) (d. 1728) who was Member for Portarlington, 1723-7 (Hist. Irish Parl. vi. 239).
- 2. So identified (and without the middle name ‘Digges’) as Member for Dundalk, 1761-8, Longford, 1768-83, Belturbet, 1783-90, and Newcastle, 1790-1800 (ibid. v. 62).
- 3. Add. 40355, f. 90.
- 4. JRL, Spring Rice coll. Eng. ms. 1189, p. 2.
- 5. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 124/3, knight of Kerry to Smith Stanley, 7 June 1831; 18th Cent. Irish Official Pprs. in GB ed. A.P.W. Malcomson, ii. 147.
- 6. Spring Rice coll. Eng. ms. 1189, p. 3.
- 7. General Advertiser or Limerick Gazette, 24 Mar. 1820; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 825-6.
- 8. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 840.
- 9. R.B. McDowell, Grattan, 218; O. MacDonagh, Hereditary Bondsman, 168.
- 10. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 847a; G. Broeker, Rural Disorder and Police Reform in Ireland, 155.
- 11. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 875, 878.
- 12. Dublin Weekly Reg. 27 Jan. 1821.
- 13. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 127 (2 Apr. 1821); PRO NI, Fitzgerald mss MIC639/11/6/32; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 895.
- 14. Dublin Evening Post, 25 Oct.; Lansdowne mss, Brougham to Lansdowne, n.d. .
- 15. Black Bk. (1823), 155.
- 16. The Times, 27 Feb. 1823.
- 17. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary.
- 18. Add. 51663, Bedford to Holland, n.d. .
- 19. Fitzgerald mss MIC639/11/6/51, 53.
- 20. Brougham mss, knight of Kerry to Brougham, 26 June 1823; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 1041.
- 21. Fitzgerald mss MIC639/11/6/58, 59.
- 22. PP (1824), viii. 135-50, 174-82.
- 23. TCD, Donoughmore mss D/43/62.
- 24. J.A. Gaughan, Listowel and its Vicinity, 284, 293; Moore Jnl. ii. 669.
- 25. A. Fitzgerald, ‘Valentia and Knight of Kerry’, in O’Connell: Education, Church and State ed. M.R. O’Connell, 80-84.
- 26. Fitzgerald mss MIC639/11/6/68-70; Wellington mss WP1/796/12; 800/5; 805/28; 807/19; 808/7; 812/5, 12; Add. 40374, f. 19; CJ, lxxx. 303, 521, 586; lxxxi. 76, 158, 164, 188, 318, 332, 337; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 1242, 1247.
- 27. Fitzgerald, 83; Wellington mss WP1/907/20; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 1480; Fitzgerald mss MIC639/12/6/109.
- 28. Fitzgerald mss MIC639/11/6/71.
- 29. Dublin Evening Post, 11 Sept. 1824.
- 30. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1166.
- 31. Ibid. iii. 1178, 1183.
- 32. The Times, 11 Mar. 1825.
- 33. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1278.
- 34. Dublin Evening Post, 10, 27, 29 June 1826; Spring Rice coll. Eng. ms. 1189, p. 51.
- 35. Dublin Evening Post, 6, 13 July; Freeman’s Jnl. 4 Aug. 1826.
- 36. Add. 40332, f. 111; 40388, f. 299; 40389, f. 13.
- 37. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1354, 1358, 1362, 1365; Fitzgerald mss MIC639/12/6/37.
- 38. Add. 51784, Holland to Fox, 17 Feb. 1827.
- 39. The Times, 3, 8 Mar. 1827; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1369a.
- 40. MacDonagh, 235-6; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1378.
- 41. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G15/6; Creevey Pprs. ii. 112.
- 42. Lansdowne mss; Fitzgerald mss MIC639/12/6/36; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1379-80, 1382.
- 43. Fitzgerald mss MIC639/12/6/52.
- 44. Colchester Diary, iii. 491.
- 45. The Times, 26, 31 May, 7, 13 June 1827.
- 46. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1386-7, 1389-90, 1393-4, 1397, 1400.
- 47. Dublin Evening Post, 17, 24 July; Lansdowne mss, O’Connell to knight of Kerry, 30 July, latter to Lansdowne, 3 Aug. 1827.
- 48. Add. 38750, f. 231.
- 49. Palmerston-Sulivan Letters, 199; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1420.
- 50. Fitzgerald mss MIC639/12/6/79.
- 51. Derby mss 124/3, knight of Kerry to Smith Stanley, 7 June 1831; NLI, Monteagle mss A/26 (NRA 19437).
- 52. Wellington mss WP1/914/16, 24; 915/45.
- 53. Moore Jnl. iii. 1116.
- 54. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1455-7; Fitzgerald mss MIC639/12/6/92; CJ, lxxxiii. 72-73, 154, 189, 209, 262, 349, 392, 535.
- 55. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1459.
- 56. Moore Jnl. iii. 1144.
- 57. Wellington mss WP1/941/15; 946/6, 35; 951/2; 955/16.
- 58. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/32A/2/142; Grey mss, Ellice to Grey, 27 Oct. 1828.
- 59. Wellington mss WP1/995/23.
- 60. Derby mss 124/3, knight of Kerry to Smith Stanley, 7 June 1831.
- 61. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1474; iv. 1513a, 1524a, 1535, 1555a-b, 1563.
- 62. Wellington mss WP1/1017/8; 1027/2; 1033/7; 1035/72.
- 63. Kerry Evening Post, 22 Aug. 1829; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1605, 1608.
- 64. Wellington mss WP1/1060/6; 1065/62; 1085/15; Fitzgerald mss T3075/18/31, 32.
- 65. Wellington mss WP1/1086/7; 1091/1.
- 66. Dublin Evening Post, 6, 9 Feb. 1830.
- 67. Wellington mss WP1/1093/1, 8; Grey mss, Durham to Grey [15 Feb. 1830].
- 68. Western Herald, 22 Feb. 1830.
- 69. Add. 40340, f. 220.
- 70. Wellington mss WP1/1101/4, 7.
- 71. Ibid. WP1/1105/40; 1106/8; Spring Rice coll. Eng. ms. 1189, p. 3; Derby mss 124/3, knight of Kerry to Smith Stanley, 7 June 1831.
- 72. Taylor Pprs. 317; Fitzgerald mss T3075/18/36; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1662a.
- 73. Dublin Evening Post, 17, 27 Apr.; Western Herald, 22 Apr.; Fitzgerald mss MIC639/9, knight of Kerry to Fitzgerald [Apr. 1830]; Wellington mss WP1/1108/34.
- 74. Wellington mss WP1/1115/19; 1119/1.
- 75. Fitzgerald mss MIC639/13/7/64, 75; Warder, 19 June; Western Herald, 8, 19, 22 July 1830.
- 76. Western Herald, 16, 19, 23 Aug. 1830.
- 77. Wellington mss WP1/1125/19; 1145/15; 1146/29; 1148/45.
- 78. Fitzgerald mss T3075/18/54.
- 79. Croker Pprs. ii. 73-74.
- 80. G.M. Trevelyan, Lord Grey of Reform Bill, 237; Fitzgerald mss T3075/18/54; Wellington mss WP1/1149/21; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 128.
- 81. Fitzgerald mss T3075/18/54; MIC639/13/7/99; Wellington mss WP1/1152/5; 1154/36; 1156/8.
- 82. Fitzgerald mss MIC639/13/7/96, 105; R. B. McDowell, Irish Administration, 93.
- 83. NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG1/5.
- 84. Wellington mss WP1/1173/8, 37.
- 85. Fitzgerald mss T3075/18/60.
- 86. Wellington mss WP1/1179/2.
- 87. Kerry Evening Post, 30 Mar. 1831.
- 88. Brougham mss.
- 89. Broughton, Recollections, iv. 104.
- 90. Fitzgerald mss T3075/18/61, 63; MIC639/14/7/20-22, 24, 25; Western Herald, 17 May 1831.
- 91. Fitzgerald mss MIC639/14/7/3, 19, 26, 28-32; Western Herald, 28 Apr., 3, 5, 7, 10, 12 May 1831; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1800, 1802; Wellington mss WP1/1184/9, 24, 31.
- 92. Add. 40402, f. 46; Fitzgerald mss MIC639/14/7/23, 36; Western Herald, 14, 17 May 1831; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1810.
- 93. Western Herald, 19 May 1831; Kerry Evening Post, 14 Mar., 14 Apr. 1832.
- 94. Wellington mss WP1/1184/9; 1187/50.
- 95. Derby mss 124/3; Fitzgerald mss T3075/18/64.
- 96. Wellington mss WP1/1184/9; Monteagle mss 13371 (1).
- 97. Fitzgerald mss T3075/18/