SHIRLEY, Evelyn John (1788-1856), of Ettington, Warws.; Coolderry and Lough Fea, co. Monaghan and 11 North Audley Street, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 26 Apr. 1788, 1st s. of Evelyn Shirley of Ettington and Phillis Byam, da. of Charlton Wollaston, MD, of Pall Mall, Mdx. educ. Rugby 1798; Bampton, Oxon. (Rev. George Richards); St. John’s, Camb. 1807. m. 16 Aug. 1810, Eliza, da. of Arthur Stanhope of 1 Tilney Street, Mdx., 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. fa. 1810. d. 31 Dec. 1856.
Sheriff, Warws. 1813-14, co. Monaghan 1824-5.
Shirley’s father, a grandson of the 1st Earl Ferrers (1650-1717), married on 3 July 1781 the daughter of a London physician, whose grandfather was the scholar and clergyman William Wollaston (1659-1724). In 1793 he was appointed sheriff of Warwickshire, where he had substantial property in Lower and Upper Ettington (otherwise Eatington). Evelyn, the third of 14 children, was baptized in Lower Ettington on 12 June 1788.1 He was educated at a public school (of which he became a trustee in 1827) and by a private tutor (later vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields), before going up to Cambridge, where he kept one of several juvenile memoranda and notebooks.2 In May 1810 he succeeded to the estates of his father, whose personalty was sworn under £70,000, and a few months later he married a second cousin of the 6th earl of Chesterfield, whose father was comptroller of the foreign letter department at the time of his death in 1836.3 A Warwickshire county gentleman, he served as sheriff, 1813-14, and master of the fox hounds, 1822-5.4
Like his father before him, Shirley employed an agent to manage his large estate in the western half of the barony of Farney in Monaghan. Although it was reported as early as 1822 that he ‘positively intends setting up for the county’, it was not until he was obliged to fill the office of sheriff there in 1824 that he decided to bolster his interest and have his many Catholic tenants registered. Having rented a house at Coolderry, he set about constructing a new family mansion at Lough Fea, and thereafter usually resided in Ireland during the summer.5 He was expected to win a seat in September 1825, when he noted in his pocket diary that he ‘began canvassing with great success’, but no dissolution occurred.6 He was active at the general election of 1826, including at a dinner given by his tenants on 31 May, and although he failed to disclose his opinions on the Catholic question, he was thought certain to prevail.7 His reticence was no doubt intended to mislead his Catholic tenants, who believed him to be a supporter of their cause, for, after accepting the backing of the leading patron Lord Cremorne, whose interest mostly went to Henry Westenra (the privately sympathetic son of the pro-Catholic Lord Rossmore), he had since the previous year been in alliance with Charles Leslie, the Orange Member.8 ‘Thank God I escaped the attack of the mob upon Col. Leslie and myself entering the town’, was how he described the start of the poll, 24 June 1826, when he was introduced as a benevolent and independent landlord. After a fierce contest, he was returned with a substantial lead over Westenra, but the refusal of many of his tenants to give their second votes as he had instructed led to Leslie’s ignominious defeat.9 The eviction notices subsequently served on them earned him the long-lasting disgust of the local population.10
According to his diary, Shirley took his seat on 21 Nov. 1826 and voted for the first time, 19 Feb. 1827, in favour of the duke of Clarence’s grant and the army estimates. Although he was present to hear the ‘Catholic question discussed’, 5 Mar., he apparently missed the division the following day.11 He was granted one month’s leave on account of ill health, 26 Mar. 1827. He presented, but declined to support, several local pro-Catholic petitions, 21, 29 Feb., 30 May, and brought up numerous hostile ones, 15, 17, 21, 28 Apr. 1828.12 Having divided against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., he voted against Catholic relief, 12 May. At the Monaghan meeting on 10 Oct. 1828 he moved the resolution for establishing a county Brunswick Club.13 In early 1829 his name appeared on the list of possible movers and seconders of the address compiled by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, who nevertheless had him down as ‘opposed to the principle’ of Catholic emancipation.14 He privately recorded his surprise at the announcement of the measure in the king’s speech, 5 Feb., and presented petitions against it from his county, 9 Feb., and various places in Monaghan, 16, 23 Feb., 2, 4, 24 Mar. During March 1829 he attended the debates on and divided steadily against emancipation.15
Shirley began his diary for 1830 with the pious comment, typical of his Evangelical outlook, that ‘another year is commenced. God in his mercy grant that I may spend it better than the last’. However, as in other years, many of the dates which headed the daily entries were circled by him, and typical of his elliptical notes, which hint at some private and enduring cause of shame, was one which read: ‘Without any efforts to resist, gave way as usual; made no trial of strength. Let me determine to resist and at all events do not give up without some resistance and I hope of determined resistance’.16 He voted in the minority for restricting the army estimates to six months, 19 Feb., but against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and Jewish emancipation, 17 May. Criticized for being an absentee and intimidatory landlord, irregular in his attendance in Parliament and ‘completely the reverse of liberal’ in his principles, he was thought to be popular only with the extreme Protestants. However, he secured an alliance with another Tory, Lord Blayney’s son Cadwallader Blayney, and was returned in second place behind him at the general election that summer, after another unruly contest with the now openly pro-Catholic Westenra.17 He voted with Daniel O’Connell for repeal of the Irish Subletting Act, 11 Nov., and, despite having been listed by ministers among the ‘moderate Ultras’, divided in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830.18 He voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and in the majorities for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., and to adjourn the House, 21 Apr. 1831.19
Apparently described by Daniel O’Connell* as ‘a mongrel - half English, half Irish, and whenever he gives a vote as giving a slavish one’, Shirley initially offered again at the ensuing general election, when he condemned reform as a ‘violation of vested rights and chartered privileges’ in his Monaghan address; he also signed the Warwickshire anti-reform declaration. Yet he soon withdrew in the face of a coalition between Westenra and Blayney, who were returned unopposed, ostensibly in order to preserve the peace of the county.20 Rossmore boasted to the Irish secretary Smith Stanley, 13 July 1832, that he had ‘beaten Mr. Shirley completely out of Monaghan’, but deemed him ‘a violent opponent, uncompromising’.21 As a friend to the agricultural interest and a defender of the church, he was expected to succeed in Warwickshire South at the general election of 1832, but according to Sir George Philips*, who pushed him into third place, he stupidly ‘abused all those who differed from him, in the most violent and unmeasured terms, and raised such a spirit of hostility against himself, as could not be repressed’.22 However, he was elected there as a Conservative in July 1836 and sat until May 1849, remembered as ‘an ultra Tory, opposed to every species of radical innovation and change, a thorough church and state man’.23 He died at Lough Fea in December 1856 and was buried in the family vault in Lower Ettington the following month. He was succeeded by his eldest son, the distinguished antiquarian Evelyn Philip Shirley (1812-82), Conservative Member for Monaghan, 1841-7, and Warwickshire South, 1853-65.24 His only son, Sewallis Evelyn (1844-1904), was Conservative Member for Monaghan, 1868-80.