PERCEVAL, Alexander (1787-1858), of Temple House, Ballymote, co. Sligo

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

Constituency

Dates

1831 - 6 Sept. 1841

Family and Education

b. 10 Feb. 1787, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Rev. Philip Perceval of Temple House and Anne, da. of Alexander Carrol of Dublin. educ. by Dr. Austin, nr. Lucan; Trinity, Dublin 1803-7. m. 11 Feb. 1808, Jane Anne, da. of Col. Henry Peisley L’Estrange of Moystown, King’s Co., 4s. 6da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1800. d. 9 Dec. 1858.

Offices Held

Treas. of ordnance Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835; ld. of treasury 8-20 Sept. 1841; sjt.-at-arms to House of Lords 16 Sept. 1841-d.

Lt.-col. Sligo militia 1809-1851.

Biography

Perceval’s ancestor George Perceval (1635-75) had settled in Ireland on acquiring the Temple House property by marriage; he was the second son of the parliamentarian Sir Philip Perceval (1605-47), through whom his family were distantly related to the earls of Egmont and Spencer Perceval†, the prime minister. Alexander Perceval’s elder brother Philip died unmarried, leaving him to succeed to the family estates on the death of his father, whose will was proved in 1800. He assumed ‘the quiet and enviable life of a country gentleman’.1 On 29 Sept. 1814 he complained to Peel, the Irish secretary, about a proposed ‘junction’ between the Temple House corps of yeomanry, which he commanded, and another corps, observing that his was ‘the only corps in the barony of Lieney, in which I am the only resident magistrate’ and that such a union would be ‘highly inconvenient’.2 On hearing ‘rumours’ in August 1821 that he had declared himself ‘conditionally a candidate’ for county Sligo, his neighbour Charles King O’Hara, son of one of the sitting Members, sought to dissuade him from standing:

I feel it due to the friendship that has ever existed between us ... to declare that I will not in any measure give my assistance in promoting what I conceive must lead to your ruin ... You now enjoy a great share of domestic happiness ... occupying yourself for the advantages of your family, your property, and your country, with an income which, though moderate, by your present managements is sufficient to supply every comfort to render you highly respected as a most excellent and valuable resident gentleman. Place you in Parliament and you at once renounce the very qualifications which formed your recommendation ... Your property, amply sufficient for your present wants, will ill supply the demands of an Irish county Member.3

Undeterred, when a vacancy occurred in 1822 Perceval came forward in opposition to a non-resident candidate, with the support of Owen Wynne, Tory Member for and patron of the borough of Sligo, who had ‘known him from early infancy’. ‘In politics he is exactly the man you would wish to assist, a steady supporter of government and a staunch Protestant’, noted George Dawson*, under-secretary to Peel, now home secretary.4 Repeated attempts to avert a contest came to nothing and, ‘finding it was utterly impossible to prevail on him’ to withdraw, O’Hara, after receiving an imploring private letter from Perceval’s wife, agreed to give him his ‘reluctant support’ as a ‘most intimate friend and neighbour’ and an ‘honest man, born and ever residing in the county ... whose time, purse and person are ever at its disposal’. A fierce contest ensued, in which Perceval was warmly supported by the Orangemen, but he conceded defeat on the seventh day.5 Rumours that he would stand in 1826 came to nothing.6 At the 1831 general election he came forward again, citing the ‘same principles’ as before and his opposition to the Grey ministry’s reform bill. He was again supported by Wynne, for whose son he was rumoured to be acting as a seat warmer, and allegedly received £5,000 from the Tories’ ‘secret committee’, with a promise of ‘more if needed’. (On 6 May Charles Arbuthnot*, who was responsible for the opposition’s election fund, informed Lord Farnham that he had been asked to assist Perceval and had given him ‘£1,000 beyond the sum named in the letter by Mr. Robinson’.) At the nomination he explained that he favoured an ‘amendment’ of the voting system, but was ‘decidedly opposed’ to the ‘most obnoxious and destructive measure that the ministry have attempted to delude you with’. After a two-day contest he was returned in second place.7

In his maiden speech, 27 June 1831, he praised the Irish yeomanry for providing an ‘effectual safeguard to the lives and property of the peaceable inhabitants’. He spoke regularly in similar terms thereafter. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least three times to adjourn the debates, 12 July, for use of the 1831 census, 19 July, and against the inclusion of Chippenham in schedule B, 27 July. He divided against the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept., and the second reading of the Scottish measure, 23 Sept. He presented and endorsed Protestant petitions for the cessation of the Maynooth grant, 5 Aug., and voted accordingly, 26 Sept. He defended the ‘purity’ and ‘impartiality’ of the administration of Irish justice, 10 Aug. Next day he expressed his regret at the Newtownbarry incident but objected to the ‘use of the words "massacre" and "slaughter"’ to describe it, as the indictments against those involved had been withdrawn. He demanded a reform of the law of divorce as practised by the Catholic clergy, which was subject to the ‘greatest abuses’, 2 Sept. That day he denied being an Orangeman, saying ‘I was never at an Orange meeting in all my life’. He questioned Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, about the appointment of lord lieutenants of Irish counties, 7 Sept., secured returns on the subject, 9 Sept., and proposed the immediate removal of any who were ‘not resident’, 6 Oct., asserting that in Sligo there had been a ‘direct violation’ of the agreement by the ministry to appoint only ‘local residents’. On being told by Smith Stanley that no Sligo appointment had yet been made, however, he withdrew his motion, disclaiming any ‘party feelings’. He voted against the issue of the Liverpool writ, 5 Sept. He was in the minority of seven for Waldo Sibthorp’s complaint against the The Times for a breach of privilege, 12 Sept. That day he divided against the truck bill. He was a minority teller against the Irish public works bill, 16 Sept. 1831.

Perceval paired against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He divided against the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and was in the minority of 39 for preserving the voting rights of Irish freemen, 2 July. He defended the existing Irish registration system, 6 June, 6 July, and the qualification oath demanded of Catholics at the time of registration, 18 July. That day he argued against the division of the larger Irish counties into polling districts, saying ‘I ... like to see all my enemies and if counties were thus cut up, it would be necessary to have a legal staff attending at all the polling places’. He voted against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July. He objected to the fees charged to Irish magistrates on the renewal of their commissions by the Irish lord chancellor Plunket, 24 Jan., obtained information on the matter, 2 Feb., and contested the legality of these ‘most odious, vexatious and oppressive exactions’, warning that ‘in consequence of the disagreement existing between the lord chancellor and the magistrates’ some districts were now without a local commission of the peace, 7 Feb. ‘Though not long in the House’, a Conservative publication later recalled, he so ‘boldly and energetically’ attacked the fees that the lord chancellor had ‘to refund every shilling’.8 He condemned the appointment of a non-resident, Arthur Knox Gore, to the lord lieutenancy of Sligo, 7 Feb., and moved for returns of deputy lord lieutenants, 12 July. He brought up petitions against the new plan of Irish education, 7 Mar., presented numerous others thereafter, and protested that it was ‘inconsistent with the first principles of the Christian religion’, 20 June, and ‘obnoxious to the feelings of Protestants’, 5 July. He was in the minority of 17 against the Irish education grant, 23 July. He spoke against the Dublin coal trade bill, 7 and 9 Mar., when he contended that the ‘vested rights’ of the coalmeters were being abolished because ‘they did not vote for the reform candidates’ at the last election. He was a founder member of the Carlton Club that month. He spoke and was a minority teller against the second reading of the Catholic marriages bill, 3 Apr. He voted for the disfranchisement of Liverpool, 23 May. He welcomed inquiry into the disturbances in Queen’s County that day, and was appointed to the committee on Irish outrages, 31 May. He spoke in support of Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 30 May, and voted accordingly, 27 June. On 14 June he asserted that the Irish party processions bill banning parades was an ‘insult to the Orangemen of Ireland’, noting that a reform procession, bearing banners and tricoloured flags, had recently been permitted in Dublin. He was a minority teller against it, 25 June. He voted against a tax on absentee landlords to provide permanent provision for the Irish poor, 19 June. On the 29th he welcomed the clandestine marriages bill but recommended sterner measures against ‘suspended Presbyterian clergymen’, who ‘for the most part’ carried them out. That month he joined the Conservative Society of Dublin.9 On 6 July he complained that at the last election one of his opponents had been proposed without ‘the least chance of his being elected’ and that ‘as it was impossible to prove that he had authorized his proposers ... the sheriff could not recover one farthing of the expenses’. He demanded a speedy settlement of the Irish tithes question, warning that the clergy were ‘almost in a state of starvation’, 9 July. He called for legal provision for the recovery of tithes when a valuation had been prevented, 13 July, voted for the tithes composition bill next day, and denounced the ‘atrocious conspiracy’ which existed in Ireland for their ‘destruction’, 20 July. He approved the Irish magistracy’s opposition to anti-tithes meetings, observing that unlike Orange gatherings, which were ‘held to maintain the laws’, these were ‘held to destroy them’, 20 July. Citing his membership of the Kildare Place Society and the Hibernian Bible Society, he insisted that in his own neighbourhood the Protestant catechism was ‘not taught, nor is any religious instruction given’, 23 July 1832. Next day he spoke and paired against the bill to disqualify the recorder of Dublin from Parliament.

Perceval was returned as a Conservative in 1832 and at the next three general elections. He held junior office in Peel’s first ministry and assisted in the negotiations which resulted in the peaceful dissolution of the Orange Association of Ireland, of which he had been treasurer.10 He was briefly a lord of the treasury in September 1841 before being appointed serjeant-at-arms of the House of Lords, which ended his Commons career. ‘A Conservative of the purest order’, he died at 28 Chester Street, London in December 1859, when his estates passed to his third son and namesake (1821-66).11

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon

Notes

  • 1. Index of Wills [I] ed. A. Vicars, 372; Portraits of Eminent Conservatives ed. H. Ryall (ser. 2), 2-3.
  • 2. Add. 40239, f. 122.
  • 3. NLI, O’Hara mss 20316, O’Hara to Perceval, 26 Aug. 1821.
  • 4. Ibid. election address; Add. 40352, f. 26.