PRENDERGAST, Michael George (d. 1834), of Ballyfair, co. Kildare and Eyrecourt, co. Galway
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Family and Education
s. of Miles Prendergast of co. Galway. m. (1) 4 Aug. 1791, at Calcutta, Catherine Frances, da. of George Smith, ?s.p.; (2) Mar. 1811, Rosetta, da. and coh. of Sir Skeffington Smyth, 1st bt., MP [I], of Tinnapark, co. Wicklow. d. 1834.
Ensign, E.I. Co. (Madras) 1786, res. 1789; private merchant, Dacca, Lucknow; inspector of indigo 1807.
Prendergast, an obscure Irish nabob, apparently came from county Galway; according to the Returns he had a property there and in Kildare, but he probably lived at a succession of London addresses.1 He purchased the life interest in a seat at Saltash in 1809, entering Parliament as a follower of the former governor-general of Bengal, Lord Wellesley. In 1818, by now a pro-Catholic supporter of the Liverpool administration, he brought in a ministerialist for Saltash and unsuccessfully contested Galway, where his brother-in-law James Daly*, the Tory county Member, controlled the corporation. At the general election of 1820 he defeated Valentine Blake†, who sat on the independent interest, as Daly’s nominee and survived a petition. He again used his seat at Saltash, where he had also been returned, to provide for a government supporter.2
No evidence of parliamentary activity has been traced for the 1820 session, but he voted against censuring ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He divided for Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He voted against Maberly’s resolution on the state of the revenue, 6 Mar., repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., other reductions in expenditure, 11, 12 Apr., 18 June, and Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821. He was granted ten days’ leave on account of illness in his family, 15 May. He was entrusted with the Galway addresses to the king on his visit to Ireland in August 1821, when he was involved in the royal meeting at the Curragh as secretary of the Turf Club, and to Wellesley as the new lord lieutenant in January 1822.3 He divided against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 21 Feb., abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and repeal of the salt duties, 22 June, but registered a wayward vote against the aliens bill, 19 July. He was a minority teller on the question of adding James Drummond to the select committee on foreign trade, when the House was counted out, 28 Feb. 1822.
Evidently still considering himself close to Wellesley, though the other county Galway Member Richard Martin ridiculed his pretensions in this respect, he induced the lord lieutenant to intervene with Charles Williams Wynn*, president of the India board, in relation to his long-standing claim for compensation from the East India Company that year. Williams Wynn, who found himself unable to countermand the hostile decision of the court of directors, commented in reply that Prendergast ‘rather looks to a parliamentary interference to put the question in a way of legal decision and from the powerful support which he appears already to have secured, this will probably be the course most advisable for his interest’.4 His petition on behalf of the Calcutta bankers Monohur Doss and Seetul Bahoo (widow of Duarcah Doss) for repayment of the massive loan they had made in 1787 to the nawab of Oude, a territory now in possession of the Company, was duly presented, 10 June, and, after he had stated that he had been willing to compromise as to half the outstanding sum, was referred to a select committee (by 82-39), at which he was allowed representation by counsel, 4 July 1822. The committee reported that it was unable to make further progress so late in the session, 29 July, when he again defended his claim, and no further parliamentary proceedings were initiated.5 In August 1822 John Croker* considered him as one of the handful of Wellesley’s Indian friends who would be likely to follow Canning into opposition if the latter was not appointed foreign secretary.6 Prendergast, who was active in promoting Daly’s abortive Galway tolls bill that session, voted against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., and repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr. 1823.7 He was in the majority against producing information on the Orange plot to murder Wellesley in a Dublin theatre, 24 Mar., and the minority against inquiry into the legal proceedings against the rioters arrested after the attack, 22 Apr. 1823. He was criticized in a Galway paper at the start of the year as a puppet and ministerialist, but he sided with opposition for information on Catholic burials, 6 Feb. 1824.8 He divided against reform of the representation of Edinburgh, 26 Feb., condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, and for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June. He moved the successful wrecking amendment against the Irish corporations bill, 21 June 1824.9 He voted for the grant to the duke of Cumberland, 30 May, 10 June 1825, and to receive the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr. 1826.
Avoiding the power struggle that took place in Galway at the general election of 1826, Prendergast was brought in as a ministerialist paying guest for Gatton by Sir Mark Wood†. Assuming that the Lymington Member Guy Lenox Prendergast (who was not, it seems, a relation) was the ‘M. Prendergast’ listed in the majority against Catholic claims, 6 Mar. 1827, it was presumably he who paired in its favour that day. Writing from Brooks’s, of which he was not apparently a member, he informed Wellesley of William Huskisson’s* ambitions to succeed Lord Goderich as prime minister.10 On 26 Jan. 1828 he promised Peel, the home secretary, to ‘be in my place when Parliament meets, to witness the debut of a government [led by the duke of Wellington] from which this long agitated country may, and I confidently hope, will derive solid and permanent advantages’.11 He voted with ministers against inquiry into chancery administration, 24 Apr., and terminating the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July. He divided for Catholic relief, 12 May 1828, and, having been considered by the patronage secretary Planta as likely to be ‘with government’, for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. 1829. He voted against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and (with Daly) the Galway franchise bill, 25 May 1830. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May. He voted for the grant to South American missions, 7 June, when he was in the minority against abolition of the death penalty for forgery, and against reducing judges’ salaries, 7 July 1830.
With the death of the patron, the seat at Gatton was no longer available at the general election that summer, when Prendergast was returned unopposed for Westbury, which the proprietor Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes* had earmarked for government supporters. Listed by ministers among their ‘friends’, he divided in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. However, he turned coat to vote for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. Deprived of his seat at Westbury by Masseh Lopes’s heir Sir Ralph Franco*, at the ensuing general election he was sent from London by the Reform Committee to contest Weymouth as a reformer; however, finding the ground occupied, he withdrew on the second day of the poll.12 Encouraged by lord chancellor Brougham, he again came forward at a by-election for Weymouth in July as the government’s candidate, despite having to pay out more than the £1,000 which he considered the usual price for a year’s tenure in the Commons, and even though he expected to have to travel shortly to India. He was defeated after a severe contest by an anti-reformer and retired complaining that he was the popular choice but had been thwarted by the illegal activities of the entrenched interests. A petition was subsequently lodged on his behalf, but was not pursued.13
Having in the period 1826-30 made numerous applications to government to advance his claim against the East India Company, he was relieved when Charles Grant*, the president of the board, agreed to take up his case in 1831.14 Yet, as he reported to Brougham and his brother James Brougham*, Grant’s timidity and procrastination over the following two years only increased Prendergast’s vexation and came close to wrecking his health. In a letter dated ‘2 am, Monday morning’, 18 Nov. 1833, he wrote to Brougham:
In a few words I take the liberty to submit to your lordship that Mr. Grant, by a system of inexplicable delay, is as effectually undermining my constitution and destroying my life, as if he administered limited doses of prussic acid or any other deleterious medicine to me, and so I have repeatedly intimated to him particularly within the last month ... I can assert sincerely and truly that I have not slept two hours in any 24 these six months past - I mean in my bed. That your lordship may never experience such nights or feelings as mine is my fervent prayer. It cannot last long.
Writing to James Brougham from his sickbed, 4 Dec., when he confided that his wife and friends had at last succeeded in raising some credit, he added:
This is the first letter I have attempted to write for weeks past save one I inflicted on your incomparable brother one night when I was in such a state of mind that I was a fitter subject for St. Luke’s [Hospital for Lunatics] than any other place.15
In January 1834 it was reported to Wellington that the government, in consequence of a pledge extracted from Grey by Wellesley on his resuming the Irish lord lieutenancy, were insisting that the directors honour his claim and had even issued a writ of mandamus to this end.16
However, Prendergast died, with his financial affairs still unsettled, sometime that spring, probably at his then residence at 2 Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood. He was certainly dead by 29 Apr. 1834, when, on Lord Ellenborough raising the matter in the Lords, Brougham indicated that any settlement would now be too late. Ellenborough, who had secured the return of papers on the subject, 21 Feb., 10 Mar., returned to the attack against ministers on the affairs of Oude, 5 May, when Brougham, who stated that Prendergast had come to Wellesley’s attention (over another large loan) while in Bengal and was in fact a member of opposition in the early 1820s, spoke at length in his defence.17 Denying the notorious allegation that he had made a possibly illegal purchase of the Calcutta bankers’ debts, he said that
Prendergast was the commission agent of the Dosses, acting for them by power of attorney, and ... he richly deserved all that he ever entitled himself to; for in the course of my professional practice (it was in that way I first became acquainted with Mr. Prendergast ...) I never ... met with an individual who devoted himself so entirely to his duties as an agent. I verily believe that the notion of his being interested, as a principal, arose entirely from his devoting himself so heartily, body and soul, to the duties of the agency he had undertaken.
On 12 Aug. 1834 Grant was approached by the legal representatives of Prendergast’s widow and children, who urged that he ensure the payment of compensation, since ‘the adoption of any other course would be ruin to Mrs. Prendergast and her family, who, already left in a state of destitution, are utterly unable to attempt to recommence such an undertaking’; two months later the board replied that no further action would be taken.18
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. He was said to have been a nephew of the 1st Visct. Gort and an inspector of the opium monopoly in Bengal (Key to Both Houses (1832), 416).
- 2. Dublin Evening Post, 17 Feb., 24 Mar., 1, 11 Apr.; Dublin Weekly Reg. 25 Mar., 15 Apr. 1820; Black Bk. (1823), 186; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 882-3. See SALTASH.
- 3. Dublin Evening Post, 4 Aug., 1 Sept. 1821, 29 Jan. 1822.
- 4. Add. 37298, f. 342; 37299, f. 68.
- 5. CJ, lxxvii. 331, 402, 405, 472; PP (1822), v. 815; The Times, 20 July 1822.
- 6. Add. 40319, f. 57.
- 7. Connaught Jnl. 24 Feb., 10 Apr. 1823.
- 8. Ibid. 29 Jan., 2 Feb. 1824.
- 9. The Times, 22 June 1824.
- 10. Add. 37297, f. 373.
- 11. Add. 40395, f. 131.
- 12. Dorset Co. Chron. 5 May 1831.
- 13. Ibid. 26 May, 9, 16, 23 June, 28 July, 4 Aug.; Brougham mss, Prendergast to Brougham , 25 May, 8  June, [July] 1831; Add. 36466, f. 405.
- 14. Add. 38412, ff. 237-40; Wellington mss WP1/910/2; 984/12; 1093/27; Ellenborough Diary, i. 253; C.H. Philips, E.I. Co. 283-4.
- 15. Brougham mss, Prendergast to Brougham, 15 Oct., 9 Nov. 1831, 3 Mar., 18 Nov., to J. Brougham, 23, 31, 7, 14 Sept., 4 Dec. 1833.
- 16. Wellington Pol. Corresp. i. 431.
- 17. LJ, lxvi. 32, 61; PP (1834), xliv. 101.
- 18. BL OIOC L/P&S/3/119, pp. 224, 227, 267.