FORBES, George John, Visct. Forbes (1785-1836), of Kilren, co. Louth

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

Constituency

Dates

1806 - 1832
2 Apr. 1833 - 14 Nov. 1836

Family and Education

b. 3 May 1785, at Montpelier, 1st s. of George, 6th earl of Granard [I] (d. 1837), and Lady Selina Frances Rawdon, da. of John, 1st earl of Moira [I]. m. 4 Oct. 1832, Frances Mary, da. and h. of William Territt of Chilton, Suff., 2s. d.v.p. 14 Nov. 1836.

Offices Held

Lt. 108 Ft. 1794; capt. 74 Ft. 1795, half-pay 1804, brevet maj. 1805; capt. 8 garrison batt. 1809, lt.-col. half-pay 1812; a.d.c. to regent 1811-25; capt. de Meuron’s regt. 1814; brevet col. 1815; maj.-gen. 1825.

Custos rot. co. Longford 1815, gov. 1831, ld. lt. 1831-d.

Trustee, linen board [I] 1818; comptroller of household to ld. lt. [I] Feb. 1828-Mar. 1829.

Sec. to order of St. Patrick 1828-d.

Capt. commdt. Longford inf. 1803; col. co. Longford militia 1824-d.

Biography

Forbes, of whom Thomas Creevey* observed that he had ‘never seen a greater appearance of worth and honour in any young man in my life’, had joined Brooks’s, sponsored by the duke of Devonshire, 16 Jan. 1805.1 Following his return for county Longford on the family interest in 1806 he had sided with the Whig opposition, but by 1814 had gone over to the Liverpool government, who rewarded him with a place on the linen board in 1818 and a clerkship for one Allen the following year. At the 1820 general election he was returned unopposed with the additional support of Lady Rosse, whose Tory nominee he had assisted at the contested by-election of the previous year.2 A poor attender, who is not known to have spoken in debate, he was described by the radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* as a ‘staunch friend of the government’ in 1821 and as having ‘voted always with ministers’ by a radical commentary of 1823, but this was not invariably the case.3 He divided in support of ministers’ treatment of Queen Caroline, 6 Feb., but paired for inquiry into the conduct of the sheriff of Dublin at the meeting relating to the affair, 22 Feb. 1821. He voted for Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He divided against parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821. That August Lord Liverpool informed the home secretary Lord Sidmouth that Forbes wished his father to be promoted to a marquessate and had ‘represented Lord Hastings, who is his uncle, as very anxious about it, and the king likewise disposed to favour it’. Liverpool advised Forbes that ‘it must come recommended by’ the Irish viceroy Lord Talbot, following which he

called on me a second time to express his disappointment at the king’s not appearing to be friendly to the promotion, on the ground that Lord Forbes had not been a steady supporter of government. I told Lord Forbes that I must continue to refer the question to the lord lieutenant, but that as to his support of government I would certainly do him justice to the king when I had an opportunity. Now I wish it to be understood that the promotion ought in my judgement to depend upon the lord lieutenant’s opinion of Lord Granard’s claims compared with others. I have no desire to throw any obstruction in the way of it, nor am I disposed particularly to favour it.4

At the end of the year he was listed by ministers as ‘out of sorts with the king’ and ‘the Irish government’, and in January 1822 Talbot informed Gregory, the Irish under-secretary, that Forbes had written

to complain of Lord Granard not being included in the recent promotions in the Irish peerage, and says I had promised to name his wishes. I agree to this with this addition, ‘if the subject was first mentioned by the government of England’, or in other words that I would sanction the advancement if applied to by Lord Liverpool.5

Granard never received the promotion. Forbes voted against the Irish habeas corpus suspension bill, 7 Feb., but with ministers against further tax reductions, 28 Feb., and on the accounts, 13 Mar. 1822. He divided against inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823, and for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 10 June 1825. That October ‘a great portion’ of Castle Forbes, the family seat, was destroyed by a fire, which

without any alarm having been given, communicated to the bedroom of Lord Forbes. His lordship must inevitably have perished, were it not that a spaniel, which invariably slept in his room, fortunately awoke him before the flames had reached his bed ... Forbes had the presence of mind first to use a shot in order to arouse and alarm the servants, then to remove 25lb of gunpowder and ... secure a large chest of family papers.6

He declined to attend the Catholic Association dinner for the ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’, 2 Feb. 1826.7

At the 1826 general election Forbes, who was praised by the Catholic press as a ‘liberal and emancipator’, was returned unopposed.8 During the violent contest in neighbouring Westmeath his coach was attacked by a mob and he was injured.9 He voted for Catholic claims, 6 Mar. 1827. In February 1828 he was appointed comptroller of the household of Lord Anglesey, the Wellington ministry’s Irish viceroy, who hoped that his re-election would be ‘a bed of roses’ and present ‘no difficulty’, as ‘I really think we shall rally together a very choice establishment, which will give satisfaction at home and abroad’.10 He was returned without trouble.11 He presented constituency petitions for Catholic relief, 28 Apr., 8 May, and voted thus, 12 May, but was evidently not very hopeful of its passing the Lords, for that day Anglesey complained, ‘I do not like to hear your doubts about carrying the question ... Unless the Catholics are downright mad they must in a short time obtain all they wish’.12 In July Anglesey reported to Peel, the home secretary, that Forbes had ‘just returned from the assizes’ where he was ‘in the habit of holding much intercourse with the priests and their flocks’, who ‘formerly were communicative and gave much useful intelligence’, but were ‘now all silent and reserved’ and ‘no money will tempt any of them to make a single disclosure’.13 On Forbes being invited that November to chair a county meeting of Catholics ‘as a liberal Protestant’, Anglesey advised:

If the address is moderate and not offensive, it will probably speak your own sentiments. If it is of a rougher character, you will be obliged either to put your name into a violent document or to state your objections to the meeting, or you must keep away, which is blinking the question.14

On finding that a vote of thanks was to be given to Daniel O’Connell* and the Association he ‘withdrew altogether’, warning Anglesey that the ‘very violent and foolish high sheriff’ intended ‘to prevent the slightest impression of popular feeling’ and the ‘consequences of a collision of party under such circumstances’ might ‘lead to general insurrection throughout the country’.15 ‘You appear to have taken the true, manly course of avowing your sentiments, regardless of consequences’, Anglesey replied.16 He attended the meeting of the ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’ at the Rotunda, Dublin, 20 Jan. 1829.17 He, of course, voted for the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., and presented favourable constituency petitions, 11, 20 Mar. On 5 June he wrote to Anglesey, who had gone into opposition following his recall as viceroy (when Forbes presumably resigned from the household), that he ‘very much’ regretted that Wellington’s ‘conduct towards you should have led to such a result’, adding, ‘that he now regrets it I have no doubt, feeling as he does that he is at the head of an administration which is far from steady, and knowing the importance of your support’.18 Five days later Anglesey protested that a ‘stranger on reading’ his letter

would suppose that I was the offending party and that ... Wellington would graciously condescend to forgive me for all offences ... What! Am I to stoop and show respect to a minister who first grossly deceives me and then publicly insults me, who misled me purposely in regard to his measures and then recalls me in a manner unprecedented in the annals of impertinence!19

That October the Ultra leader Sir Richard Vyvyan* numbered Forbes among those who had voted in favour of emancipation whose attitude towards a putative coalition government was ‘unknown’. On 16 Nov. Anglesey urged him actively to support the election of Lord Killeen* for county Meath, as ‘it is most important that the most respectable of the Catholics should be in Parliament’ and ‘I do believe you are in your heart Orange!!!20 Forbes replied, 20 Nov.:

I am not an Orangeman, but if I am to suffer the detestation of any class let it be from the well informed and high bred and not from such materials as the Catholic leaders of this country are composed of. I think O’Connell’s conduct of the last three months has fully borne me out in the opinion I always held of him. Of Lord Killeen I hold a very different opinion [and] I quite agree with you in thinking that such men should be in Parliament to keep out such unprincipled men as O’Connell.21

Assuring Anglesey of the ‘estimation in which your name is held by the respectable persons of Dublin’, 7 Dec. 1829, he added that he had ‘most sincerely advocated for Catholic emancipation because I believed the penal code was disgraceful to us as a nation. I wished justice to be done to the Irish Catholics, but God defend me from living with them’.22 He was granted a month’s leave on urgent private business, 22 Feb. 1830. He presented a constituency petition against the Irish stamp duties, 1 July 1830.

At the 1830 general election he initially held back from a potential contest, but following the withdrawal of his former colleague he came forward with the support of the local independents and government and was returned unopposed.23 He was listed by ministers as one of their ‘friends’, but this was later queried and he was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He was granted a fortnight’s leave on urgent private business, 6 Dec. 1830. On 24 Feb. 1831 Anglesey, the reappointed viceroy, urged Lord Melbourne, the home secretary, to allow Forbes to ‘return instantly’ to Ireland following the call of the House, as ‘without him, the country will be in confusion, and if he stays with you, he will certainly oppose reform’.24 (His father had recently moved to Paris, but retained his clerkship of the crown and hanaper, an Irish chancery sinecure worth £1,800 per annum, with the duties of which Forbes unofficially assisted as a deputy.)25 On 18 Mar. he ‘divided against’ the Grey ministry on the timber duties, according to the Irish secretary Smith Stanley and the duke of Richmond, who advised Anglesey that he ‘ought not to have voted against us’ as ‘it was a factious opposition, got up by ... Peel’.26 ‘I am provoked at Forbes to the last degree’, Anglesey told Smith Stanley, 21 Mar.:

How are we to make him lord lieutenant of Longford? Yet he is indisputably the only fit person. Could we appoint Lord Granard (who is thoroughly staunch) and who might make Forbes his vice lieutenant, giving the latter time to reflect on his follies before he got the higher charge? I am sadly vexed, but pray let it be understood that he has no situation in my household.27

Unrepentant, Forbes voted against the second reading of the English reform bill, 22 Mar., following which Lord Grey, in a reference to Granard’s office, notified Anglesey that ‘if Forbes has a principal, from whom he receives any emolument, I think he should be turned out’, 24 Mar.28 He divided for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. On 2 May 1831 Anglesey reminded Lord Holland, ‘Do not forget that you may have Granard from Paris at a minute’s notice. His son Forbes vexes me sadly. He is so good a man, so excellent a magistrate, and so unexceptionable as a lord lieutenant’.29

At the 1831 general election Forbes stood as an opponent of reform, having applied for Tory funds from Charles Arbuthnot* and assured Sir Henry Hardinge* that he would ‘be safe with £1,000’.30 He was returned in first place amid charges of a ‘scandalous abandonment of principle’ and ‘betrayal’ by the reform candidate Luke White*, a former supporter who had contributed £500 towards his previous election. Forbes demanded an immediate ‘retraction’ or ‘the satisfaction due to a gentleman’, which was refused until after the poll. Following the declaration, however, they were arrested and ‘bound in recognizances in the sum of £5,000’.31 ‘I must say’, observed Anglesey, 9 May

that if White, who formerly served you most generously, was not duly and confidentially apprised by you of your intention to stand upon the principles you avow, there is sufficient ground for his feeling aggrieved, although I cannot think him justified in using the offensive language levelled against you in his address.32

On 14 May Anglesey added:

I disapprove of his declining to explain or to meet you, I disapprove of the arrest, and I disapprove of your declining to meet him now because he declined to meet you then. God knows I have enough on hand, yet I should like to see the parties and to settle it for them ... Perhaps I ought not to have interfered at all, but having done so, I cannot leave things as they are. I have asked White to come and see me.33

Forbes voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, but divided with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. On 29 Aug. Holland complained in his diary that Forbes was one of those with ‘anti-ministerial propensities’ who retained influence with Anglesey, ‘which I am told is too discernible in the disposal of small patronage’.34 Clarifying the nature of their relationship, 3 Sept., Anglesey explained to Holland:

I had Forbes as a sort of guide when I came over in 1828, and my firm belief was that he was a determined liberal. He supported the relief bill, and came in for Longford upon the Catholic interest. He turned around at the last election and was brought in by the opposite party. All this struck me forcibly, and I really felt that, after so strange a course, he would be better off out of my household, and so he felt also. Captain [John] Hart [deputy clerk to Granard in the hanaper office] is a natural brother.35

He divided against the reform bill’s passage, 21 Sept. His appointment as the first lord lieutenant of Longford was condemned by O’Connell, who urged Lord Duncannon*, 4 Dec. 1831, to ‘strike off the Tory lord lieutenants ... Lord Lorton, Lord Wicklow, Lord Forbes’, who are ‘your open enemies’ and ‘give these counties to your open friends’.36 Later that month Anglesey, in an apparent warning, told Forbes, ‘Do you really imagine that I sleep at my post, that have not my eye upon all?’37 Unhappy with Forbes’s list of deputy lieutenants, 14 Feb. 1832, Anglesey asked, ‘Can you find some respectable Catholic to act as one, for I see you have some rare Orangemen amongst them?’; to which Forbes replied, ‘We have not a Catholic proprietor in the county, with the exception of one who is under age ... added to which I do not think that the gentlemen whose names I returned would serve if one was appointed’.38 He paired against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He was a founder member of the Carlton Club that month.39 No other trace of parliamentary activity has been found for this session, and he is not known to have spoken in debate.

At the 1832 general election Forbes stood unsuccessfully for county Longford as a Conservative, but he was seated on petition the following year and survived a Liberal challenge in 1835. In October that year, after suffering an apoplectic seizure at Leicester, he was visited in Paris by Raikes, who noted that he was ‘in a very precarious state of health and not likely to live long’. On 24 Aug. 1836 a commission of lunacy determined that he had ‘been of unsound mind’ since 29 Sept. 1835.40 Forbes died v.p. in November 1836. A post mortem revealed that ‘water had lodged itself on the brain’.41 Raikes, who claimed ‘in former years’ to have ‘lived in much intimacy with him, meeting constantly at Lady Sarah Bayly’s house’, recalled that he was ‘a great friend of the late Tom Sheridan and Moore the poet, and a very amiable and unaffected character’ who was ‘much liked’.42 His eldest son George Arthur (1833-89) succeeded to the family estates and his grandfather’s United Kingdom barony in 1837.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon

Notes

  • 1. Creevey Pprs. i. 161.
  • 2. Dublin Evening Post, 25 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 96; Black Bk. (1823), 156; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 464.
  • 4. Add. 38289, f. 312.
  • 5. PRO NI, Talbot-Gregory mss D4100/4/6.
  • 6. The Times, 26 Oct. 1825.
  • 7. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1278.
  • 8. Dublin Evening Post, 17, 20 June 1826.
  • 9. Westmeath Jnl. 6 July 1826.
  • 10. PRO NI, Granard mss T3765/J/11/8/32-33.
  • 11. Westmeath Jnl. 27 Mar. 1828.
  • 12. Granard mss J/11/8/43.
  • 13. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/26/C/75-76
  • 14. Granard mss J/11/8/53.
  • 15. Anglesey mss 32A/2/157; Westmeath Jnl. 28 Nov. 1828.