FITZGIBBON, Hon. Richard Hobart (1793-1864), of Mount Shannon, co. Limerick

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

Constituency

Dates

1818 - 1841

Family and Education

b. 2 Oct. 1793, 2nd s. of John, 1st earl of Clare [I] (d. 1802), and Anne, da. of Richard Chapel Whaley, MP [I], of Whaley Abbey, co. Wicklow. educ. Harrow 1802; by Rev. John Smith at Woodnesborough, nr. Sandwich, Kent 1805. m. 11 July 1825 at Dunkirk (and again at St. James’s, Westminster 9 Jan. 1826), Diana, da. of Charles Brydges Woodcock of Brentford Butts, Mdx., div. w. of Maurice Crosbie Moore of Mooresfort, co. Tipperary, 1s. d.v.p. 3da.; ?1s. illegit. suc. bro. John as 3rd earl of Clare [I] and 3rd Bar. Fitzgibbon [UK] 18 Aug. 1851. d. 10 Jan. 1864.

Offices Held

Usher and registrar of affidavits in chancery [I] 1810-36.

Ensign 1 Ft. Gds. 1808; capt. 2 Ceylon regt. 1811, ret. 1814; col. co. Limerick militia 1818-d.

Gov. co. Limerick 1818-31, ld. lt. 1831-48, 1851-d.

Biography

Fitzgibbon was the younger son of the heavyweight former Irish lord chancellor the 1st earl of Clare, one of the architects of the Union, and the only brother of the 2nd earl, who was described in 1813 by the bishop of Limerick as being ‘without a particle of the fiery enterprising genius of his father’, but ‘a young man of much promise - a good scholar, mild and conciliatory in manner, with an excellent understanding; exceedingly popular in his county and ... a respectable nobleman’.1 A supporter of Lord Liverpool’s administration, Clare returned his brother on his own interest for their native county in 1818, when Fitzgibbon, who already had a lucrative Irish legal sinecure, became governor and militia colonel of county Limerick. Both, unlike their father, favoured Catholic relief.2 The inactive and mostly silent Fitzgibbon, who had already cast at least one wayward vote, made such a nuisance of himself by refusing to attend and raising patronage demands that on the eve of the general election of 1820 Charles Grant*, the Irish secretary, commented to the premier that he should no longer be regarded as a friend and that, if he was not in any case ‘quite secure’, he would ‘not merit our support’.3 However, he was elected by a sizeable majority after a contest, when he boasted of the number of his voters and claimed to be an independent.4

No evidence of parliamentary activity has been traced for that session, although on 19 Nov. 1820 Katherine Forester observed to the duchess of Rutland that ‘I am sorry to hear Mr. Fitzgibbon is such a radical. Lord Clare seems quite the contrary’.5 This was presumably in relation to the Queen Caroline affair, but he divided against censuring ministers’ conduct towards her, 6 Feb., and his only hostile vote on the subject was on the decision of the sheriff of Dublin to suspend the county meeting, 22 Feb. 1821. He presented his county’s petitions for relief from agricultural distress, 19 Feb., and for Catholic claims, 28 Feb., when he voted in this sense, and he commented adversely on the Catholic priests’ petition got up in Limerick, 2 Apr.6 He divided for making Leeds a scot and lot, not £10 householder, borough if it got Grampound’s seats, 2 Mar. 1821, Russell’s parliamentary reform motion, 24 Apr. 1823, and Newport’s bill against non-resident voters in Irish boroughs, 9 Mar. 1826. He took six weeks’ leave on urgent private business, 10 May 1821, and most likely did not return until the beginning of the following session, when he voted against the Irish habeas corpus suspension bill, 7, 8 Feb. 1822. He was appointed to the select committee on Limerick taxation, 23 May 1822. He was in the majority for inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and the minority against the committal of the Irish tithes composition bill, 16 June 1823. He brought up a petition from the weavers of Cashel for continuing the linen bounties, 22 Mar. 1824.7 He divided for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825.

James Abercromby* reported to the duke of Devonshire, 6 Oct. 1823, that ‘Fitzgibbon has gone off with a Mrs. Moore’, the wife of Maurice Crosbie Moore, whom he wrongly identified as a daughter of Christopher Hely Hutchinson*. Referring to Fitzgibbon’s mother, he continued

I should think Lady Clare would have a great contempt for such a proceeding. She will reasonably say, why could they not follow my example who have been doing these things all my life and have always kept my place in society. I am however very sincerely sorry for Lord Clare, who has made himself a poor man for life by struggling to return his brother for the county of Limerick and here is the end of it, I suppose.8

Fitzgibbon, who presumably absented himself from Westminster for much of the following two years, and his mistress eloped to France and her husband subsequently began legal proceedings in Dublin in June 1824 and obtained a separation in the consistorial court, being awarded £6,000 in damages. His petition for a divorce was presented to the Lords, 7 Feb., and, after conclusive evidence had been heard on 26 Apr., the Act was passed, receiving royal assent on 27 June 1825.9 The couple quickly married abroad, but in November, after unpleasant legal proceedings, their son Henry was ordered to be returned to the care of his nominal father Maurice Moore, who admitted he was acting purely out of vindictiveness.10 By then Fitzgibbon had settled his quarrel over this with Clare, who was manoeuvring that autumn to secure his future re-election.11 He signed the requisition for a pro-Catholic county Limerick meeting (which the sheriff refused to authorize) and spoke for emancipation at the Catholics’ provincial meeting in Limerick, 24 Oct. 1825, but declined to attend the O’Connellite dinner in Dublin, 2 Feb. 1826.12 Early that year Clare himself chose an unsuitable wife, Elizabeth Burrell, the daughter of Lord Gwydir, who was reluctant to reside at the grand house he had just constructed on his Limerick estate; Lady Williams Wynn commented that ‘the entire uncontrolled indulgence in which she has passed some four or five and 30 years is a bad preparation for the little travers which must now and then occur in the best regulated marriages’, and, indeed, they took the decision to ‘unmarry’ unofficially three years later, when Countess Granville cattily remarked: ‘How amiable of Lord Clare to be sorry, if he is! I should be pleased never to see her again’.13 Imitating the concern with Catholic relief and other Irish causes expressed by his seconder Thomas Spring Rice, who sat for Limerick city, Fitzgibbon was again returned at the head of the poll at the general election of 1826.14 He called a meeting of magistrates to memorialize the lord lieutenant against the withdrawal of the military guard from the county gaol, 4 Dec. 1826.15

Fitzgibbon, who brought up several pro-Catholic petitions during the three ensuing sessions, voted for emancipation, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828, and, having been listed by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, as likely to be ‘with government’, 6, 30 Mar. 1829; however, he was in the minority for Duncannon’s amendment to the related Irish franchise bill, to allow reregistration, on the 20th. He divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 12 May 1828, and Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May 1830. He sided with opposition for reducing the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828, to restrict the army grant to six months, 19 Feb., and for repealing the Irish coal duties, 13 May 1830. Clare, who was reported to be in improved spirits since his marital separation, successfully applied to be named governor of Bombay by Wellington, who commented that he ‘must be well supported [as] he had not a strong mind’, and refused him the order of St. Patrick. After some delay, he was finally elected to the post by the Company in March, with a view to travelling to India in the autumn.16 The imminence of this appointment did not prevent Fitzgibbon voting with opposition for transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and parliamentary reform, 28 May. He divided against the grant for public buildings, 3 May, and would have done so on the cost of repairs to Windsor Castle that day, had not the chancellor, Henry Goulburn, who thought his conduct ‘rather too bad’, conceded a select committee.17 He deplored the increase in the Irish spirit and stamp duties in May, and brought up his county’s petition against this on the 20th.18 He was in the minority against abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June 1830. He offered on the basis of his past services at the general election that summer and, with the prospect of another contest, Clare appealed to the Castle for support. But, reacting to the brothers’ defence of their connection Peter Low of Lowtown and their hostile parliamentary votes, the Irish secretary, Lord Francis Leveson Gower, informed Clare that ‘I do not see what any government can do more than abstain from interfering against him’.19 However, the challenger dropped out and Fitzgibbon was returned unopposed.20

He was deemed to be ‘pro-government’ in Pierce Mahony’s† analysis of the Irish elections, but, while Clare fulsomely expressed his allegiance to administration at the Company’s parting dinner in his honour in August 1830 and remained loyal to the Tories, he was listed by ministers among the ‘bad doubtfuls’, and Planta wrote beside his name that ‘he should support us - but will oppose’.21 He voted for Daniel O’Connell’s motion for repeal of the Irish Subletting Act, 11 Nov., and for a select committee on the civil list, which precipitated Wellington’s resignation, 15 Nov. 1830. He divided for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, which led to a dissolution, 19 Apr. 1831. Claiming that he had always supported the reform of abuses, he was again returned unopposed at the general election that spring, when no third candidate in the end emerged.22 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July, and steadily for its details. However, he brought up the Teignbridge Agricultural Association’s petition against the division of counties, 14 July, and divided for Lord Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He was in the minority for printing the Waterford petition for the disarming of the Irish yeomanry. He voted 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. 1831.

He became lord lieutenant of Limerick that autumn, despite a remonstration from Rice, the treasury secretary, who noted that he ‘cannot be invited by a single family in that county for his unfortunate marriage’.23 In November he issued a circular insisting that in the new commission all magistrates would have to be active and resident, and he declined to attend the ‘national council’ on reform in Dublin early the following year.24 He paired for the second, 17 Dec. 1831, and third readings of the revised bill, 22 Mar., and Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May 1832. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, but for O’Connell’s motion to extend the Irish franchise to £5 freeholders, 18 June. He presented Abington and Boher petitions against Irish tithes, 5 July, and divided for postponing this subject to the following session, 13 July. He was returned for county Limerick as a Liberal at the general election in December 1832 and sat until 1841. He succeeded his childless brother in 1851, but his only son John Charles Henry, Viscount Fitzgibbon, was killed at Balaklava in October 1854 and his peerages became extinct at his death in January 1864.25

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. Geo. IV Letters, i. 333.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 668; iii. 758-9.
  • 3. Add. 38283, f. 74; 38458, f. 298; 40296, ff. 23-24; Black Bk. (1823), 155; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 463.
  • 4. General Advertiser and Limerick Gazette, 25 Feb., 21, 28, 31 Mar., 7 Apr. 1820.
  • 5. Salop RO, Weld-Forester mss 1224/332/157.
  • 6. The Times, 20 Feb. 1821.
  • 7. Ibid. 23 Mar. 1824.
  • 8. Chatsworth mss.
  • 9. The Times, 9 June 1824; LJ, lvii. 19-20, 638-42, 759, 928, 1118.
  • 10. The Times, 8-10, 17 Nov. 1825.
  • 11. Dublin Evening Post, 15 Sept. 1825; Add. 40331, f. 237.
  • 12. Dublin Evening Post, 6, 20, 27, 29 Oct. 1825; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1278.
  • 13. Williams Wynn Corresp. 339; Arbuthnot Corresp. 119; Countess Granville Letters, ii. 40.
  • 14. Limerick Chron. 7, 24, 28 June, 1, 5 July 1826.
  • 15. Ibid. 29 Nov., 6 Dec. 1826.
  • 16. Howard Sisters, 122-3; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 50, 194-5, 209; Wellington mss WP1/1123/23; 1130/12.
  • 17. Add. 40333, f. 101.
  • 18. Limerick Evening Post, 7, 21 May 1830.
  • 19. Ibid. 16 July, 3 Aug.; NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. Leveson Gower to Clare, 30 July, to Singleton, 30 July 1830; Add. 40297, f. 15.
  • 20. Limerick Evening Post, 10 Aug. 1830.
  • 21. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 347; Three Diaries, 92.
  • 22. Limerick Evening Post, 29 Apr., 3, 13 May 1831.
  • 23. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 117/8, Rice to Smith Stanley, 17 Sept. 1831.
  • 24. Dublin Evening Post, 29 Nov. 1831, 10 Jan. 1832.
  • 25. Limerick Chron. 12 Jan. 1864; The Times, 12 Jan. 1864; Gent. Mag. (1864), i. 386-7.

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