MARTIN, Richard (1754-1834), of Dangan and Ballynahinch, co. Galway and 16 Manchester Buildings, Mdx.

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



1801 - 1812
1818 - 11 Apr. 1827

Family and Education

b. Feb. 1754, 1st s. of Robert Martin of Dangan and 1st w. Hon. Bridget Barnewall, da. of John, 11th Bar. Trimleston [I]. educ. Harrow 1769; by Rev. Joseph Gunning of Sutton, Suff.; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1773; travelled in Europe, Jamaica, America; L. Inn 1776; King’s Inns 1781, called [I] 1781. m. (1) 1 Feb. 1777, Elizabeth (sep. 1 Mar. 1793 and d. c. 1795), da. of George Vesey of Lucan, co. Dublin, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 1da.; (2) 5 June 1796, Harriet, da. of Hugh Evans, army surgeon, wid. of Capt. Robert Hesketh, RN, 2s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. suc. fa. 1794. d. 6 Jan. 1834.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1776-83, 1798-1800.

Commr. of stamps [I] 1800, of accts. [I] 1800-2; collector, hearth tax [I] 1806, ?gauger [I] 1807; commr. of fisheries [I] 1819-30.

Sheriff, co. Galway 1782-3; col. Galway vols. 1779, maj.-gen. 1784; capt. Ballynahinch yeomanry ?1796.


‘Humanity Dick’, the animals’ friend or the ‘Wilberforce of hacks’, as Thomas Hood called him, was the great-grandson of ‘Nimble Dick’, who, by wresting possession of the ancient Clan O’Flaherty territory of Connemara, raised the originally Anglo-Norman Martin family from its status as one of the old tribes of Galway town to that of the dominant landowners of the eastern half of the county. Martin, whose father became a ‘Protestant of convenience’ in 1745, was educated in England, but retained the unmistakeable characteristics of a Galway country gentleman throughout his life.1 A keen actor, who established theatres in Dublin and Galway, a renowned duellist, who well deserved the nickname ‘Hairtrigger Dick’, and, as ‘King of Connemara’, a virtual law unto himself on his vast, desolate and encumbered estates, he was one of Ireland’s great and perhaps underestimated eccentrics. Hardy, pugnacious and cavalier, he had an over fine sense of honour, tempered only by a ludicrous talent for the bathetic, and a deep disgust for the unconscious barbarities perpetrated against the brutes of creation, abuses which he was always ready to resent in the highest terms. One of the most sensitive of men, he was grief-stricken by the death of his friend and cousin James Jordan following their pointless duel, by the loss of several of his children in pregnancy or early infancy and by the desertion of his first wife, who took a lover in Paris in 1790 (they were separated by ecclesiastical decree in 1793, but she died before a divorce bill could reach the statute book).2 He could never abide to observe suffering in any form and his love of animals, first instilled in him by his mother, was of a piece with this all encompassing kindness, a universal benevolence which his daughter Harriet (a child and namesake of his second wife, and like her a novelist) could only sum up by the single word, ‘fatherliness’.3

Martin sat as a Patriot for Jamestown, 1776-83, and as a friend to the proposed Union for Lanesborough, 1798-1800, before being returned for county Galway just before the demise of the Irish Parliament. He continued to represent the county at Westminster until 1812, joining opposition in 1805 in protest at government’s failure to reward him with a much needed place, but otherwise acting as an idiosyncratic independent, and again from 1818, when he was elected as an acknowledged supporter of the Liverpool administration, although he remained a consistent advocate of Catholic claims.4 In the House, where he had a habit of making short and acerbic interjections, he could be a surprisingly effective speaker. According to one description:

Martin is not a very learned man, neither is he, in the language of the schools, eloquent, but he has a most winning way with him. He holds the House by the very test of the human race, laughter, and while their sides shake, their opposition is shaken and falls down at the same instant. There is a beautiful symmetry, a perfect keeping, as it were, in the whole man ... every limb of his body and every feature of his face is round and solid. He lets drive at the House like a bullet and the flag of truce is instantly flung out upon all sides.5

His pugnacious temperament and disarming wit produced a number of anecdotes, some of them possibly apocryphal. In one, he was supposed, on being interrupted by coughing, to have said that ‘some honourable Member appears to be afflicted with a bad cold: I have no doubt I can cure his cough with a single pill’.6 According to another, on being jeered with a satirical ‘hare, hare’, he crossed the floor and demanded to know the name of the culprit; but, when a City Member was surreptitiously pointed out, he contented himself by remarking, with a deliberately Irish intonation, ‘Oh, it was only an alderman’. Unable to contain his penchant for humour and his delight in affecting an exaggerated brogue, he was often misunderstood as an inconsequential joker by his fellow Members and misreported in the press.7 On one occasion, complaining to Nicholas Byrne of the Morning Post about being misrepresented in its columns, he deflated a tense confrontation by pointing to the offending passage and asking, ‘Sir, did I ever spake in italics?’8 On another, when he felt himself to have been lampooned, as he sometimes was, in being made to spout obvious nonsense sprinkled with indications of laughter, he (entirely unsuccessfully) forbade the reporter from The Times to cover his speeches under threat of bringing an official complaint before the parliamentary authorities.9 So, in advancing the campaign with which his name became associated in the 1820s, Martin, who largely neglected his own affairs and had long since transferred the management of his Connemara estates to his eldest son Thomas, had to overcome handicaps of his own creating, as well as the ingrained prejudices of politicians and the public.

Having been awarded a commissionership of Irish fisheries, in breach of the pledge he had taken in 1812 not to accept office until Catholic relief had been granted, he was returned unopposed as a ministerialist at the general election of 1820, when he criticized the sanguinary nature of the criminal code.10 He defended Charles Warren* against the attacks on him for adhering to government as the newly appointed chief justice of Chester, 1 June, but supported the clause to exclude Thomas Ellis, the anti-Catholic Member for Dublin, if he chose to continue as an Irish master in chancery, 30 June. He declared himself proud to be a party man, but backed Wilberforce’s amendment to adjourn proceedings on the Queen Caroline affair, 7 June. He stated that George IV could not be expected to have to concede the restoration of her name to the liturgy, 22 June, when he presumably divided with ministers for Wilberforce’s compromise motion, but on the 26th, when he remarked that government was bound to press on with the legal proceedings against the queen (and no doubt voted for the secret committee), he suggested that Caroline’s name could be reinstated provided she accepted that the king’s bargaining position was unchanged. Yet, he styled himself a friend of the queen, when commenting on how the foreign witnesses at her trial would be affected by the aliens bill, 10 July. He defended the size of the army as a safeguard against rebellion, 14 June, but was admonished by the Speaker for his contemptuous treatment of John Cam Hobhouse, Member for Westminster; and he objected to his colleague James Daly’s motion for a select committee on the recent disturbances in Ireland, 28 June, when he denied that Galway was in a state of unrest. He gave evidence to the select committee on sheriffs’ election expenses, of which he was a member, 19 June, and served on a handful of other Irish select committees during this Parliament.11 He voted against Hume’s motion for economies in revenue collection and criticized Sir James Mackintosh’s capital felonies commutation bill because it reduced the punishment for mistreatment of animals, 4 July.12 At a county Galway meeting, 19 Aug. 1820, he advocated precautionary security measures short of recourse to an insurrection bill and denied Daly’s assertion that his intervention in the Commons had prevented him renewing the Act.13

Martin, whose attempt to promote a loyal address to the king in county Galway was thwarted early that year, joined ministers in opposing restoration of the queen’s name to the liturgy, 26, 31 Jan., 13 Feb. (when he was locked out of the division), and voted against censuring their conduct towards her, 6 Feb. 1821.14 He objected to the Grampound disfranchisement bill, 12, 13 Feb., 2, 19 Mar., spoke against Lambton’s reform proposals, 17 Apr., and divided against disqualifying civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., and Russell’s reform motion, 9 May.15 He voted against repeal of the additional malt duty, 14 Feb, 3 Apr., Maberly’s motion on the state of the revenue, 6 Mar., and reducing the grant for the adjutant-general’s office, 11 Apr., when Hume, with whom he had clashed over the size of the army, 12, 15 Mar., and stamp receivers, 22 Mar., accused him of being willing to side with ministers no matter what financial measures they proposed.16 He obtained leave for his bill to permit defence by counsel in cases of felony, 27 Feb., and presented it, 1 Mar., but it was negatived on its second reading, 30 Mar., while his Irish coroners bill, which he introduced on 23 Mar., also failed that session.17 He spoke and voted for Catholic relief, 28 Feb., countered the objections of Lethbridge, Member for Somerset, 26 Mar., and insisted that he would respect his constituents’ wishes in supporting the ensuing bill, even though under it Galway would be likely to return Catholic Members, 28 Mar. He brought up a petition from metropolitan coach proprietors against cruelty to horses, 9 May, complained of the post office’s ill usage of them, 17 May, and presented the first reading of a bill to outlaw such practices, 18 May. He was a teller for receiving the report of the committee (by 34-31), 1 June, and again, after the House had divided 26-26, on the Speaker’s casting vote, 14 June, and secured the third reading against repeated adjournment motions, 20, 25, 29 June. It was taken to the Lords (where it failed), 2 July, when, ever alert to such tactics, he suggested making cruelty to animals an offence under the poor relief bill.18 He spoke for Mackintosh’s forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May, 4 June, but only voted for it on the first occasion (unless the vote attributed to John Martin, Whig Member for Tewkesbury, on the second was in fact by him); he proposed his own measure on this subject, 21 June, but withdrew it because of the lateness of the session, 28 June.19 He divided against omitting the arrears from the grant to the duke of Clarence, 18 June, and Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June. At a levee in Dublin, 22 Aug. 1821, the king, who had been angered by his partial support for the queen, joyfully greeted Martin, who had been believed lost in the sinking of the Earl of Moira that month, and their friendship was resumed.20

Martin moved the address to Lord Wellesley on his appointment as lord lieutenant of Ireland at the county Galway meeting, 25 Feb. 1822, when he declared himself satisfied with the recent coercive legislation given the new viceroy’s known pro-Catholic sentiments.21 In April he wrote to Henry Goulburn, the Irish secretary, about his disagreement with Daly and the borough Member Michael Prendergast over the appointment of a new assistant barrister in their county and demanded ‘an immediate decision on the question, which has kept me for upwards of two months, and deprived your friends during that time of my support’.22 He spoke for the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr., 10 May. He opposed abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships as an opposition ploy, 2 May, and thanked government for providing employment for the Irish poor, 17 May, when he condemned Hume for his lack of interest in this matter. He spoke against Thomas Spring Rice’s Irish grand jury presentments bill, 21 May, and for Goulburn’s Irish constables bill, 7 June.23 He voted for Mackintosh’s motion for reform of the criminal law, 4 June, but against James Abercromby’s for censuring the conduct of the lord advocate relative to the Scottish press, 25 June. He spoke and voted against Sir John Newport’s amendment for inquiry into Irish tithes, 19 June, and repeal of the salt duties, 28 June. He approved of the insurrection bill as it ‘would not inflict any injury on the people of Ireland’, 15 July, and voted for the Canada bill, 18 July, and the aliens bill, 19 July. He divided for the grant for printing proclamations in Irish newspapers, 22 July, when he complained of the partisan attacks made on him in the Connaught Journal. Having opposed the barilla duties bill because of its disadvantageous effects on local kelp producers, 29 July, he denied, amid opposition jeers, that he was a placeman, 31 July 1822.24

He obtained leave for his felons’ counsel bill, 1 May, and his Irish coroners bill, 12 June, neither of which made progress that year, but he was successful with his cruelty to horses bill, which he reintroduced, 7 May 1822.25 Known (because it specified a list of farm animals ‘... and other cattle’) as the ill treatment of cattle bill, he moved its second reading (and was a teller for the majority of 29-18), 24 Mar., reported from the committee, 4 June, and secured its third reading against unexpected opposition, 7 June.26 It received royal assent on 22 July and, as ‘Martin’s Act’ (3 Geo. IV, c. 71), has long been acclaimed as the first legislative provision for the protection of animals in the civilized world. Martin, who had previously attempted to start prosecutions in order to raise public awareness, was swift to use the new law to bring convictions: on 9 Aug. 1822 he had two men from Smithfield Market taken before magistrates and had the satisfaction of seeing them each fined 20s.27 Thereafter he was constantly on the prowl in the streets of London, remonstrating with wrongdoers, initiating unprecedented criminal proceedings, often as a principal, and almost single-handedly changing the climate of public opinion. These escapades not only involved him in occasionally violent altercations, but also brought him into frequent conflict with magistrates, who only with difficulty managed to keep him under control in court, and opened him to widespread popular ridicule. Yet his natural sensitivity was such that he was not infrequently led to appeal for lenient treatment towards those who genuinely repented of their cruelty and he sometimes even paid the fine of contrite but penniless offenders. Of the myriad of similar cases to which he was linked, the most iconic but misleading was that of the itinerant greengrocer Thomas Worster, who had chastised his donkey with an iron buckle at the end of a strap; Martin was inclined to forgive the offence, but Worster, who received a token fine, had brought the donkey along with him to prove it was uninjured and the story went round that Martin, who was sometimes depicted in cartoons with a pair of outsize ass’s ears or riding on an ass, had brought it before the bench to be examined. Another affray, in which he knocked down a boy for refusing to stop beating his donkey with a stick, produced a sustained campaign against him in the press and Martin, who ultimately laughed it off as good publicity, was forced to take steps against the Morning Chronicle for reproducing a paragraph from Blackwood’s which almost amounted to incitement to murder (‘That Irish jackass Martin throws an air of ridicule over the whole matter by his insufferable idiotism. I hope to see his skull, thick as it is, cracked one of these days’).28 Although his subsequent legislative efforts to improve the condition of animals came to nothing, the implementation of his Act was in itself a major reform.

Martin, who carried another county Galway address to Wellesley, congratulating him on escaping unhurt from the Orange attack upon him in a Dublin theatre, in January 1823, was again reported to have been lost at sea in the Alert that spring, when the duke of Bedford commented that ‘I am glad to see old Dick Martin of Galway is dead: he has long been a general nuisance, public and private’.29 Martin, who voted against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., spoke for Catholic relief, 17 Apr., and denied improper involvement by priests in the recent county Dublin contest, 22 Apr., when he divided in the minority against inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters.30 He opposed parliamentary reform, but made the mischievous suggestion that Whig patrons could strengthen their case by voluntarily opening their boroughs of Knaresborough and Tavistock to demonstrate whether reform would work, 24 Apr., and he divided against alteration of the Scottish representative system, 2 June. He spoke and voted to end punishment by whipping, 30 Apr., and to abolish the death penalty for larceny, 21 May, and he divided silently to remove the capital penalty from cases of stealing from shops attached to houses, 25 June. He unsuccessfully moved for leave for a bill to prohibit bull-baiting and dog-fighting, 21 May, when, in reply to the frequent criticism that he sought to outlaw only poor men’s sports, he answered in his usual pithy style that ‘it was as much to say, that if 500 persons were cast upon a rock on a desolate island and all could not be saved, that the attempt should not be made to save any of them’. He forced a futile division against the committal of Daly’s Irish joint tenancy bill on the ground that it would disfranchise many Catholic 40s. freeholders, 27 May, and argued that the Irish tithes composition bill should include adequate compensation for the clergy, 30 May. He voted against inquiries into chancery administration, 5 June, and the currency, 12 June, and objected to Parnell’s amendment for one into the state of the Ireland prior to the renewal of the Insurrection Act, 24 June. He justified the continued presence of a resident lord lieutenant in Dublin, 25 June, and branded the Irish Catholics’ petition, complaining of partiality in the administration of justice, as inflammatory, 26 June 1823.

Martin, who promised to oppose Daly’s Galway (borough) tolls bill that session, requested leave to bring in his Ill Treatment of Cattle Act amendment bill, 11 Feb. (when he also briefly called for a bill against bear-baiting); he obtained its first reading, 16 Feb., and overcame the opposition shown on the second reading, 9 Mar. 1824, but the bill was lost in the Lords.31 Demonstrating that he had popular support, he presented petitions against cruelty to animals from Manchester, 24 Feb., Liverpool, 27 Feb., St. James’s, 1 Apr., and Rotherham, 22 June, but gave up his motion for a select committee on this in the face of solid opposition, 26 Feb.32 He voted against reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb. (and 13 Apr. 1826). He divided against the abolition of flogging in the army, 5 Mar., a vote which he justified on the ground of maintaining discipline, 11 Mar., when he objected to the production of information on amnesties granted to ribbonmen. He was granted leave to bring in a bill to prevent unnecessary expenses in Irish legal prosecutions that day, and spoke and voted to permit defence by counsel in felony cases, 6 Apr., but failed to find a seconder for his motion to increase judges’ salaries, 13 May.33 The following day, when he attended the select committee on Ireland, he wrote to his friend Canning, the foreign secretary, in relation to the home secretary, that ‘since Peel’s conduct to me last night I begin to be in charity with him’.34 He advocated his (unsuccessful) horses slaughtering bill, 4 June, and again sought leave for a bear-baiting bill, 9 June.35 He voted against condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, and for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June. On 16 June 1824 he was present at the meeting, chaired by Thomas Buxton, Member for Weymouth, in Old Slaughter’s coffee house in St. Martin’s Lane, at which his Irish heartiness and determination were instrumental in carrying the decision to establish the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (it received its royal imprimatur from Victoria in 1840). Although he always disclaimed being its founder, he was a stalwart in its early activities, including as a member of its subcommittee for inspecting the condition of slaughter houses, as he was in other good causes, such as the campaign for the abolition of colonial slavery.36 While ‘A Casuist from Connemara’ criticized him for assisting the animal kingdom at the expense of neglecting his poor tenants, The Times, which accused him of being master of a vast army of bootless freeholders to whom he issued brogues only when driving them into vote at elections, called him a Brahmin for his apparent belief in the transmigration of souls: ‘Only conceive for a moment’, it commented in a rather too realistic satire, ‘how Mr. Martin would look were he transformed into a huge, surly mastiff, chained to a kennel’.37

Martin, who was thought that year to have united his interest with Daly in order to preserve their seats and to bring his son Tom Martin† in for the borough, asked Canning to use his influence with his future son-in-law Lord Clanricarde against disturbing the peace of county Galway at the next election.38 He had used his credibility as a long-standing advocate of their claims to warn the Catholics against resorting to excesses at a meeting of the Association, 25 Sept., and wrote to Canning, 1 Dec., that ‘I mean to preserve the right of speaking to them, and I think I may be able to expose and put down that arch traitor [Daniel] O’Connell* and his gang’, and again, 26 Dec. 1824, that

we shall divide worse than on any former occasion on the Catholic question. This too will bring into great contempt the labours of the Catholic Parliament. I think however the argument in favour of emancipation stronger than ever as it will disappoint the expectations of the agitators.39

Having got up a pro-Catholic petition from the Protestants of his county early the following year, he again wrote to Canning, 5 Feb. 1825, to inform him that he had paid his Catholic rent and that, for electoral purposes, ‘I take shame but I shall vote against the bill to put the Association down’.40 Having vindicated the activities of the Association on the address, 4 Feb., he duly spoke against the Irish unlawful societies bill, 11 Feb., and voted in this sense, 15, 21, 25 Feb., the hypocrisy of which was not lost on Canning.41 He divided for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and defended the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr., 9, 12 May, and the proposed state payments to Catholic priests, 29 Apr., as means to this end, though he believed neither was acceptable without emancipation, to which he again alluded on 26 May. He shocked the House by his graphic descriptions of the French surgeon Majendie’s public dissections of live dogs in London, 24 Feb., and obtained leave (by 41-29) for his bear-baiting and dog-fighting bill that day, after receiving the backing of Buxton, who noted that there was ‘much disposition to sneer at and make game of Martin’.42 He presented the bill, 2 Mar., but, opposed by Peel and others, it was lost on its second reading (by 50-32), and he withdraw the notice for his motion for a select committee on bear-baiting, the session being too advanced, 23 June.43 One of his bills to amend the Ill Treatment of Cattle Act was lost at the first attempt (by 33-23), 24 Mar., while another, for which he obtained leave on 6 May, was defeated by the attorney-general, Sir John Copley (by 27-18), 21 June, and yet another was briefly initiated, 28 June. He voted for the grant for the duke of Cumberland, 30 May, 10 June. He urged higher salaries for judges, 17 June, and threatened to divide the House on the merchant law bill, 28 June 1825.44

He congratulated Canning for having made some progress within the cabinet on the Catholic question that autumn and urged him to complete this victory by providing for Goulburn ‘anywhere out of Ireland’. He assisted in efforts to prevent the promotion of pro-Catholic petitions in the forthcoming session, which was known to be the last before the general election, but his toadying attempts to secure Canning’s backing as a restraining influence on Clanricarde in county Galway were met by stony silences and blank refusals.45 On 8 Feb. 1826 he moved for leave for a bill to amend the Irish election laws by enabling freeholders to vote if they possessed a certificate showing their rent had been fully paid; this, he argued, would end the legal shenanigans associated with the registration process, though he admitted that it had no hope of being passed. He insisted that borough tolls, like those at Galway, were too high, 16 Feb., when he opposed extending the poor laws to Ireland, and he spoke and voted for the bill to disfranchise non-resident freemen in Irish boroughs, 9 Mar., when he approved of Rice’s bill to improve local jurisdiction in corporations. He was a minority teller for his bear-baiting bill, 21 Feb., while another Ill Treatment of Cattle Act amendment bill, which he presented on 24 Feb., was defeated on its second reading, 16 Mar. He made another forlorn attempt to introduce a measure to prohibit cruelty to dogs, 20 Apr., when, as he had on 27 Feb., he squabbled with Hume. He divided for receiving the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr., and, as one of the supposedly only two county Members in the ministerial majority, vigorously denied that he was a placeman, 27 Apr., when he opposed Lord John Russell’s reform motion. He spoke and voted for George Lamb’s bill to allow felons to be defended by counsel, 25 Apr., and proposed a law to prevent sick debtors having their lives put at risk by being removed to prison, 9 May. The most credibly pro-Catholic of the candidates spoken of for county Galway, Martin addressed his constituents in April to deny reports that he would retire at the dissolution and spoke at the Catholic Association in early June 1826, when he received O’Connell’s endorsement. He duly stood again, as an opponent of Daly and James Lambert*, Clanricarde’s nominee, at the general election that summer, when Tom Martin briefly canvassed Galway as an independent.46 His bitter complaints to Canning about Clanricarde’s use of government influence having fallen on deaf ears, Martin exposed the coalition against him on the hustings and, employing desperate measures to bring in his vote during a violent and expensive contest, he gradually overtook Lambert to be elected in second place behind Daly.47 In a conciliatory letter to Canning on the morning of the declaration, 5 July, he commented that

it never occurred to my waking thoughts or to my dreams, that either directly or indirectly you sanctioned any engagement entered into at this election. I write this from my bed after a very disturbed rest. At 3 o’clock this contest must terminate and I have to address the county at some length and to appear most joyous though I have not what will pay 10s. in the pound of what this contest must cost.48

He was bound over after quarrelling with his cousin John D’Arcy, whose tenants had voted for Lambert, 1 Aug., but attended the pro-Catholic gathering of the county’s Catholics the following day, and that of its Protestants, 4 Sept. 1826.49

Martin complained of the absence of any mention of Ireland in the address, 21 Nov. 1826, when he presumably divided in the minority for Henry Grattan’s amendment to this effect. He commented on the Arigna Mining Company affair, 5, 7, 8 Dec., and, on unfurling the several yards of signatures on the Tuam pro-Catholic petition on the 7th he declared, ‘There, Sir ... the manner in which this petition is signed will prove that the Irish people are not so ignorant as they are said to be’.50 Petitions against his return on the grounds of personation and intimidation having been lodged, 4 Dec. 1826, he again failed to enlist Canning’s assistance that month, but in January 1827 he issued an address expressing his determination to persist.51 Giving grudging support to Lord Althorp’s resolutions on electoral bribery, 26 Feb., he launched a furious pre-emptive attack against Clanricarde, but he succeeded only in raising the laughter of the House. He denied, as previously, that the Catholic clergy were guilty of any improper conduct in the recent elections, 5 Mar., when he stated that ‘the Catholic interest sent him to Parliament in opposition to the influence of government, in whose service he had grown grey and to whom he had given his vote for 40 years’. Alluding to the original intention to grant Catholic claims at the time of the Union, he said that day that ‘emancipation was a debt due from the government to the people of Ireland’, and he voted for this, 6 Mar. He gave notice of a motion for inquiry into Clanricarde’s role in the Galway election, 8 Mar., and insisted on proceeding with it, 13 Mar., but nothing transpired on the 15th, perhaps partly because Peel, who doubted that Canning would have taken offence over it, refused to get involved.52 His last known vote was in the minority for Brownlow’s motion for information on the Orange procession and Lisburn magistrates, 29 Mar. He had failed in his bid to drag Clanricarde before the election committee and, having already travelled to Dover, whence he would abscond to the continent to avoid being arrested for debt once his parliamentary immunity was lifted, he was unseated on 11 Apr.53 Nothing came of his petition complaining of Clanricarde’s conduct, which was brought up by his old enemy, Hume, 13 June 1827.54 As the son of the revered ‘Colonel Martin’, Tom was considered a suitably popular candidate for the Wellington ministry to put up against Richard Sheil* and the influence of the Catholic Association in the summer of 1828, when it was thought that Daly’s proposed peerage would create a vacancy; the Irish secretary Leveson Gower remarked at that time to the premier that ‘it is impossible, I am sure, to commit yourself in any way whatever with the father’, who was, indeed, given the brush-off by Peel on his attempting to interfere.55 It was rumoured that he would canvass the town at the election of 1830, when his son did offer for the county, but Martin, who the following November welcomed the prospect of a limited and constitutional measure of parliamentary reform from the newly appointed Grey ministry, never sat again.56

Martin, who was thought to have twice refused a peerage, wrote to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1832 giving advice about a bill to amend his famous Act and continued his indefatigable efforts to stamp out unthinking brutality even in exile at Boulogne; the story is told of a young Englishman, who, on being collared by him for giving his mount a wanton beating on the seafront, was prepared to show his resentment by challenging him to a duel, only to recoil and apologize when he was informed of the notorious name of his assailant. According to the Society’s secretary Lewis Gompertz’s account of his death in January 1834, Martin’s ‘anxiety to comfort the minds of his affectionate family, and that his favourite dog should be taken care of, are truly characteristic of the man whose motives were so pure’.57 To the journalist William Jerdan, who was once shown Martin’s duelling scars (‘not very pleasant to receive or to look at’), he was, as an amalgam of courage, charisma and drollery, ‘an Irishman all over’:

With all his eccentricities, Dick Martin was gifted with an abundant fund of sound common sense. His observation was acute and his conversation agreeable, polite and entertaining ... He was nearly, if not quite, the last of his species - a remarkable, an extravagant, a strange, but not what is commonly called a bad man.58

Indeed, apart from his son and heir Thomas Barnewall Martin (1786-1847),59 Liberal Member for county Galway from 1832 until his death from famine fever in 1847, whose only child, the novelist Mary Laetitia (d. 1850), witnessed the enforced sale of their estates, he was the last of the Irish branch of the family. Maria Edgeworth, who experienced the ‘brusque cordiality and hospitality’ offered by Tom, another larger than life Connemara gentleman, at Ballynahinch, ‘a whitewashed, dilapidated mansion ... very low and ruinous ... with a cow house and pig sty and dunghill adjoining’, on a visit in 1834, reported to her brother about the lately deceased proprietor, that ‘I once saw him, and remember that my blood crept slow and my breath was held when he first came into the room, a pale little insignificant-looking mortal he was, but he still kept his hold of my imagination’.60 Gallant and impetuous, generous to a fault and remarkable as a fighter of lost causes, he was said to be the model for the character of uncle Godfrey O’Malley in Lever’s Charles O’Malley (1841). Almost unique among the reformers of his day for being neither an Evangelical Tory of the type of Buxton or Wilberforce, nor a socially advanced liberal of the style of Hume or Mackintosh, still less an Irish radical like O’Connell or Sheil, his achievements could nevertheless be said to rank nearly as high as theirs.61 As the parliamentary reporter Samuel Carter Hall later recorded, he was a

short, thick-set man, with evidence in look and manner, even in step and action, of indomitable resolution. He blundered his way into a reform, blessed in its influences and mighty in its results ... Thus the wild, energetic, heedless and usually unreasoning Irishman is for this Act classed, and rightly so, among the benefactors of his country and all the countries of the Old World and the New.62

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


Based on S. Lynam, Humanity Dick: Biog. of Richard Martin MP (1975); P. Phillips, Humanity Dick: Eccentric Member for Galway (2003). See also Oxford DNB; S. Farrell, ‘Richard Martin: Humanity Dick’, History Today, liv (June 2004), 60.

  • 1. Convert Rolls ed. E. O’Byrne, 195.
  • 2. Phillips, 88-89, 100.
  • 3. E.G. Fairholme and W. Pain, A Century of Work for Animals, 47-48.
  • 4. Hist. Irish Parl. v. 196-9; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 562-5.
  • 5. Fairholme and Pain, 27-28.
  • 6. Hants RO, Carnarvon mss 75M91, Howard to Lady Porchester, 16 Feb. 1831.
  • 7. Lynam, 183-4, 197, 258; Phillips, 48-49, 146, 153-4, 156.
  • 8. W. Jerdan, Men I have Known, 317-18.
  • 9. See, e.g., The Times, 12 July 1820, 11 May 1821; Lynam, 210-11.
  • 10. Add. 40296, f. 40; 40297, f. 29; 40298, f. 21; Dublin Evening Post, 14 Mar., 4 Apr. 1820; Black Bk. (1823), 176.
  • 11. PP (1820), iii. 279-80.
  • 12. The Times, 5 July 1820.
  • 13. Dublin Evening Post, 31 Aug. 1820.
  • 14. Dublin Weekly Reg. 27 Jan. 1821.
  • 15. The Times, 14 Feb., 20 Mar. 1821.
  • 16. Ibid. 13, 23 Mar., 12 Apr. 1821.
  • 17. Ibid. 2, 24 Mar. 1821.
  • 18. Ibid. 10, 18 May, 2, 15, 21, 26, 30 June, 3 July 1821.
  • 19. Ibid. 22, 29 June 1821.
  • 20. Lynam, 202-3.
  • 21. Dublin Evening Post, 28 Feb. 1822.
  • 22. Add. 37299, f. 68.
  • 23. The Times, 22 May 1822.
  • 24. Ibid. 23, 30 July, 1 Aug. 1822.
  • 25. Ibid. 2, 8 May, 13 June 1822.
  • 26. CJ, lxxvii. 242, 243, 297, 320, 327, 446.
  • 27. The Times, 12 Aug. 1822; Fairholme and Pain, 25-32.
  • 28. Fairholme and Pain, 34-43; M. D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, x. 14674, 14798-9; Lynam, 207-9, 219-25, 246-7, 251-60; Phillips, 166-73.
  • 29. Dublin Evening Post, 14, 16 Jan.; Add. 51663, Bedford to Holland, 27 Mar. 1823.
  • 30. The Times, 23 Apr. 1823.
  • 31. Connaught Jnl. 23 Feb. 1824.
  • 32. The Times, 28 Feb., 2 Apr., 23 June 1824.
  • 33. Ibid. 12 Mar. 1824.
  • 34. Harewood mss WYL 250/8/87.
  • 35. The Times, 10 June 1824.
  • 36. Fairholme and Pain, 49-50, 54-58, 173; Lynam, 211-12, 231-2, 250.
  • 37. Dublin Evening Mail, 9 July; The Times, 16 July, 9 Oct. 1824.
  • 38. Connaught Jnl. 24 June, 13, 20 Sept.; Harewood mss 8/87, Martin to Canning, 25 Nov. 1824.
  • 39. Lynam, 238-9; Harewood mss 8/87.
  • 40. Connaught Jnl. 10 Jan., 10 Feb. 1825; Harewood mss 8/87.
  • 41. Canning Official Corresp. i. 242, 246.
  • 42. Buxton Mems. 176.
  • 43. The Times, 24 June 1825.
  • 44. Ibid. 18, 29 June 1825.
  • 45. Harewood mss 8/87, Martin to Canning, 26 Sept., 2 Oct., 21 Dec. 1825, 28 Jan., 17, 18 Feb. Mar. 1826, replies, 22 Dec. 1825, 2, 3 Mar. 1826.
  • 46. Dublin Evening Post, 15 Apr., 18 May, 10, 13 June; Connaught Jnl. 20 Apr., 18, 25, 29 May, 5, 12 June 1826.
  • 47. Harewood mss 8/87, Martin to Canning, 9, 16, 25 June, replies, 19, 30 June; Connaught Jnl. 22, 29 June, 3, 6 July 1826.
  • 48. Harewood mss 8/87.
  • 49. Dublin Evening Post, 1, 3 Aug., 9 Sept. 1826.
  • 50. The Times, 6, 8, 9 Dec. 1826.
  • 51. CJ, lxxxii. 61-65; Harewood mss 8/87, Martin to Canning, 12 Dec., reply, 15 Dec. 1826; Dublin Evening Post, 18 Jan. 1827.
  • 52. The Times, 9 Mar. 1827; Add. 40392, ff. 242-7, 250-1.
  • 53. Dublin Evening Mail, 6 Apr.; Dublin Evening Post, 10, 14 Apr. 1827; PP (1826-7), iv. 955, 993.
  • 54. CJ, lxxxii. 555; Connaught Jnl. 18 June 1827.
  • 55. Add. 40334, f. 246; 40297, ff. 91, 223; Wellington mss WP1/938/12; 949/10.
  • 56. Connaught Jnl. 19 July; Brougham mss, Martin to Brougham, 25 Nov. 1830.
  • 57. Fairholme and Pain, 43-44, 48; The Times, 10 Jan.; Dublin Evening Post, 14 Jan. 1834; Gent. Mag. (1834), i. 554-5.
  • 58. Jerdan, 312-17, 320.
  • 59. Not to be confused with Thomas Byam Martin*.
  • 60. M. Edgeworth, Tour in Connemara (1950), 4, 39, 44, 66, 80, 111; Oxford DNB.
  • 61. Fairholme and Pain, 45-46, 49; E.S. Turner, All Heaven in a Rage, 125-34; Lynam, 273-83; Phillips, 121, 123, 199-201.
  • 62. S.C. Hall, Retrospect of a Long Life, i. 227, 229.