FORDE, Mathew (1785-1837), of Seaforde, co. Down and Coolgreany, co. Wexford

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



9 May 1821 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 17 May 1785, 1st s. of Mathew Forde of Seaforde and Coolgreany and 1st w. Catherine, da. of William Brownlow, MP [I], of Lurgan, co. Armagh.  educ. Trinity, Dublin 1801; Magdalen, Oxf. 1804.  m. (1) 9 May 1814, Mary Anne (d. 10 Sept. 1826), da. of Francis Savage†, MP [I], of Ardkeen and Hollymount, co. Down and 1st w., s.p.; (2) 27 Aug. 1829, Lady Harriet Savage, da. of Henry Thomas Butler, 2nd earl of Carrick [I], and 2nd w. and wid. of the same Francis Savage, s.psuc. fa. 1812.  d. 5 Aug. 1837.

Offices Held

Trustee, linen board [I] 1820.

Sheriff, co. Down 1820-1.

Lt.-col. R.N. Down militia 1806.


The Fordes, originally from Wales, settled in Ireland in the late sixteenth century and Mathew Forde of Dublin bought the estates of Coolgreany and Seaforde in 1637. He died childless in 1653 and was succeeded by his great-nephew Mathew Forde (d. 1709), Member for county Wexford in the Irish Parliament. His son and namesake (1675-1729), who migrated from Wexford to Down, where he built the original mansion house and the village at Seaforde, was Member for nearby Downpatrick, 1703-14. His youngest son, Colonel Francis Forde, served with distinction under Clive in India but was lost at sea in 1769 on his passage out to take up his duties as one of three supervisors of the East India Company’s possessions; his son Robert was also a Member of the Dublin Commons. The eldest son, another Mathew (1699-1780), sat as Member for Bangor, 1751-60. In 1744 his neighbour Mary Delany described Seaforde as

a very pleasant place and capable of being made a very fine one; there is more wood than is common in this country and a fine lake of water with very pretty meadows. The house is situated on the side of a hill and looks down on his woods and water. The house is not a very good one, but very well filled; for he has ten children, the youngest about ten years old - but that’s a moderate family to some in this country.

When the eldest son Mathew (1726-95), Member for Downpatrick from 1761 to 1776, married Elizabeth Knox, sister of the 1st Lord Northland, ‘an agreeable young woman with ten thousand pounds fortune’, in 1750, he received a generous settlement of £2,100 a year from his father. He was succeeded as head of the family by his only surviving son and namesake, the father of this Member, who rebuilt the house at Seaforde and in July 1804 drew the attention of the Irish government to subversive literature circulating in Downpatrick.1

In August 1811 Mathew Forde senior tried to secure the support of Lord Downshire for himself or his eldest son, who was normally styled Colonel Forde, as a candidate for Down at the next general election. He boasted that he was ‘the only gentleman in the county who would please all parties, and that he had no doubt of success without expense’; but Downshire and his electoral adviser were unimpressed, the latter remarking that ‘in his own estimation he stands much higher than he does in that of any party or interest of weight in the county’. In the event he died seven months before the election of 1812 when his son, like most of the leading Down gentry, acquiesced in the agreement whereby Downshire and Lord Londonderry divided the representation between them.2 In 1814 Forde married the only child of Francis Savage, who had sat for the county on the Downshire interest, 1801-12; three years after her death in 1826 he married her widowed stepmother. The Irish government considered him a potential Member for Downpatrick on a vacancy in 1815, but nothing came of this.3 That year he applied to the Irish secretary Robert Peel* for appointment as a trustee of the linen board:

My pretensions in looking to it are having an extensive property on which I reside in the county of Down where the linen manufacture is carried on to a great extent, as also that one of my family has generally been a member of the board.4

He was unsuccessful on that occasion, but had his wish granted in 1820. At the general election that year he actively supported Edward Ruthven* in his unsuccessful candidacy for Downpatrick, where he might have stood himself.5 As sheriff, he chaired the county meeting called to congratulate George IV on his accession and oversaw the uncontested return of Londonderry’s son Lord Castlereagh, the foreign secretary, and Downshire’s brother Lord Arthur Hill.6

On Londonderry’s death the following year, which removed the new marquess from the county seat, Forde, whose own minor territorial interest amounted to just under 300 40s. freeholders, offered as an independent. His unopposed return in May 1821, with Downshire’s blessing, had been prepared by him in advance through consultations with Castlereagh, apparently on the implicit understanding that he would make way in future for his nephew Frederick Stewart*, who would not be of age until 1826.7 Castlereagh had earlier explained to his half-brother Lord Stewart (who succeeded him as 3rd marquess of Londonderry on his suicide the following year) that in backing Forde, he intended to

settle the county for your son [and] to conciliate the resident gentry by a liberal policy towards Forde, who, being connected with Francis Savage, has a considerable popular following; and with respect to general politics, though Forde may be less regarded as my Member ... I have every reason to believe that his politics will be friendly towards government and that he has no other than friendly feelings towards myself.8

However, Forde took an idiosyncratic line in the House, which he attended irregularly.9 He sided with the Liverpool administration against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11 Feb., but with opposition on the same subject, 21 Feb. 1822. He divided for abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and paired for this, 2 May. He voted for the relief of Catholic peers from their disabilities, 30 Apr. He welcomed the Irish tithes leasing bill as ‘a stepping-stone to a full consideration of the whole question’, 13 June, but was in the minorities for the replacement of tithes by a fair equivalent, 19 June 1822, and against the tithes composition bill, 16 June 1823. He voted against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., and repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., but for inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and to censure the lord advocate’s dealings with the Scottish press, 3 June 1823.

On the presentation of a petition complaining of judicial discrimination against Catholics, 31 May, Forde asserted that ‘justice was properly and impartially administered in Ireland’, and he supported the claim of Belfast Academy for financial aid, 10 June 1824.10 He voted in condemnation of the trial in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June. He divided for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824, and the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 25 Feb. 1825, when he declared that ‘unless the [Catholic] Association be put down, the peace of Ireland cannot be preserved’. He was one of the new Irish county Members named to the inquiry into Irish disturbances, 17 Feb.11 He voted against Burdett’s successful motion for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., but in the debate on the relief bill, 19 Apr., announced ‘in a very low tone of voice’ that, like his cousin Charles Brownlow, Member for county Armagh, ‘he had been lately made a convert to this cause’, which he now ‘earnestly supported’. He therefore voted, like several other previously hostile Irish Members, for the second reading of the relief bill, 21 Apr., to the delight of the pro-Catholic Lord Palmerston*.12 On 9 May he explained that he supported the measure because he believed that, together with the allied proposals to reform the Irish franchise and make provision for the Catholic clergy, ‘it would be the means of rendering Ireland permanently tranquil’.13 He spoke briefly in its favour the following day before voting for the third reading, and he supported the franchise bill, 12 May 1825. He seems to have been inactive in 1826, when he declined an invitation to attend the Catholic Association dinner for the ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’.14

By early 1824, bolstered by his popularity in the constituency, he had expressed his reluctance to surrender his seat to another Londonderry nominee in the event of an early general election, and one of the marquess’s advisers feared that a failed attempt to oust him would ‘see Colonel Forde more firmly in his seat than ever’.15 Intensive discussions that year and the next among their mutual friends eventually led to a declaration from a harassed Forde, who felt bound to stand again if requisitioned by his supporters, that, in recognition of his unopposed return in 1821, ‘if Lord Castlereagh [as Frederick Stewart was now styled] is eligible at the dissolution, I will not oppose him’. Yet it was still felt that Forde would be likely to provoke a damaging contest, especially in the autumn of 1825 when a dissolution was again expected.16 In March 1826, when he declined to give his small electoral interest in county Wexford to Lord Stopford*, he privately acknowledged

the difficult situation he stood in; that he would be well pleased to be clear of the business, if he could do so with credit; that he had no wish as far as he was individually concerned to oppose Lord C., but that he must be guided in a great measure by circumstances.17

At the general election, he initially stood his ground, informing the freeholders, 2 June, that he would stand against Castlereagh, who was still a few days short of his majority, or any stopgap candidate, but that his wife’s illness prevented him from leaving London to canvass. However, with Londonderry determined to make a show of electoral strength and to postpone the contest as late as legally possible, so that its completion would fall after Castlereagh’s 21st birthday, Forde eventually stepped aside. This outcome had long been expected, though one observer blamed his withdrawal, which he announced in a bitter address, 14 June 1826, on his pro-Catholic votes.18 He refused to interfere in Downpatrick, where he claimed to own no qualifying properties, and, vociferously complaining that he had been forced out by an aristocratic coalition, held himself free to offer again for the county at some future date.19

Although he was present at the Down meeting to address the king on the death of the anti-Catholic duke of York, 1 Feb. 1827, he wrote approvingly to Downshire, 8 Feb. 1829, that he welcomed the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill and its decision to suppress the Association.20 He made no opposition to Castlereagh’s re-election on appointment to office that year, but, having objected to the increased Irish spirit and stamp duties at a county meeting in May 1830, he offered with the backing of the Independent Club, which he had had a hand in forming, at the general election that summer, in a vain attempt to open the representation.21 He conducted a vigorous campaign to regain the seat, trying to split the supporters of the two main electoral patrons by (unsuccessfully) appealing for plumpers and second votes, and, influenced by the radical Presbyterianism of the Rev. Holt Waring, he advocated tax reductions, retrenchment and parliamentary reform.22 Although he was said to have an ‘immense interest’ and to be popular as the antidote to that belonging to the absentee Londonderry, he fell behind Castlereagh, who topped the poll, and finished narrowly adrift of their ally Hill. He refused to be mortified by this result, which, at a dinner in his honour in September 1830, he blamed on the fact that a third of the electors were tenants on the estates of his two opponents (on his own there were reckoned to be 91 £10 freeholders).23 At county Down meetings in January and March 1831 he supported petitions for reform, except for its call for triennial parliaments, and against repeal of the Union, the movement for which he considered to be the work of Daniel O’Connell’s* ‘mischievous agitators’.24 Regretting the defeat of the Grey ministry’s reform bill in April 1831, he nevertheless declined to enter as a reformer at the ensuing general election on the ground of illness; wisely so, in the view of one of his closest supporters.25 There was some talk of his friends starting him again the following year, but he never re-entered Parliament.26 He died, childless, in August 1837. He was succeeded by his next brother, the Rev. William Brownlow Forde (1786-1856), whose son and heir, Colonel William Brownlow Forde (1823-1902), sat as a Conservative for county Down, 1857-74.27

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Stephen Farrell / David R. Fisher


  • 1. Hist. Irish Parl. iv. 204-7; Autobiog. and Corresp. of Mrs. Delany, ii. 322, 574-5; Add. 35751, f. 48.
  • 2. PRO NI, Downshire mss D671/C/12/100-3, 105; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 643-4.
  • 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 646.
  • 4. Add. 40248, f. 102.
  • 5. PRO NI, Ker mss D2651/3/34, 36.
  • 6. Belfast News Letter, 7, 21, 24, 28 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. Ibid. 13 Apr., 11 May 1821; PRO NI, Castlereagh mss D3030/M/33; N/123-9; P.J. Jupp, ‘Co. Down Elections’, Irish Hist. Stud. xviii (1972), 187.
  • 8. Castlereagh mss Q2/2, p. 256.
  • 9. Black Bk. (1823), 156; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 464.
  • 10. The Times, 1, 11 June 1824.
  • 11. Add. 40373, f. 187.
  • 12. Brougham mss, Mackintosh to Brougham, 16 Mar. 1825; Southampton Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss PP/GC/TE/171.
  • 13. The Times, 10 May 1825.
  • 14. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 223.
  • 15. PRO NI, Cassidy mss D1088/45; Castlereagh mss N/130, 133, 146, 155.
  • 16. PRO NI, Nugent mss D552/A/6/6/10-12, 16-19; Castlereagh mss N/147-50; Downshire mss C/12/315-17.
  • 17. TCD, Courtown mss P33/14/91; Nugent mss A/6/6/20.
  • 18. Belfast Commercial Chron. 7, 10, 19, 21 June; PRO NI, Londonderry mss D654/B4/2, Londonderry to Castlereagh, 6, 15, 20 June; T1536/3A-C, P, Q; Castlereagh mss N/172, 174, 176; NLI, Farnham mss 18602 (19), Robinson to Maxwell, 12 June 1826.
  • 19. PRO NI, Perceval-Maxwell mss G/1/36; Castlereagh mss N/184, 197, 201.
  • 20. Belfast News Letter, 6 Feb. 1827; Downshire mss C/12/381.
  • 21. PRO NI, Meade mss MIC259/2, Brush to Meade, 27 June 1829; 5, Forde to same, 8, 26 June; Newry Commercial Telegraph, 14, 21 May, 25 June, 6, 23 July; The Times, 20, 23 Aug. 1830; Perceval-Maxwell mss G/1/63, Jupp, 187, 202.
  • 22. Castlereagh mss N/206-12, 216, 227, 239, 240, 250; Newry Commercial Telegraph, 17 Aug. 1830; Narrative of Down Election (1830), 18-21, 105-7; Jupp, 187-8, 206.
  • 23. Add. 40338, f. 223; Durham RO, Londonderry mss D/LO/C/83/29; Newry Commercial Telegraph, 27 Aug., 21 Sept. 1830; PRO NI T761/19.
  • 24. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 20 Jan., 29 Mar. 1831; PRO NI, Dufferin mss D1071/B/C/21/64.
  • 25. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 29 Apr. 1831; Nugent mss A/6/6/43.
  • 26. Belfast Commercial Chron. 23 July 1832.
  • 27. Downpatrick Recorder, 12 Aug. 1837.