STEWART, Alexander Robert (1795-1850), of Ards, Letterkenny, co. Donegal
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Family and Educationb. 12 Feb. 1795, 1st s. of Alexander Stewart† of Ards and Lady Mary Moore, da. of Charles Moore†, 1st mq. of Drogheda [I]. educ. Woodnesborough, Kent (Rev. John Smith); St. John’s, Camb. 1815; continental tour. m. 28 July 1825, Lady Caroline Anne Pratt, da. of John Jeffreys Pratt†, 1st Mq. Camden, 1s. suc. fa. 1831. d. 24 Mar. 1850.
Sheriff, co. Donegal 1831-2.1
Maj. co. Londonderry militia ?1819, lt.-col. 1823-d.
‘Alick’ Stewart was elected for county Londonderry in 1818, in place of his father, on the interest which the latter held in combination with his elder brother, the 1st marquess of Londonderry. Stewart, a silent and inactive Member (though an occasional committeeman), who had spent some of the intervening two years on the continent, nevertheless offered on the basis of his past conduct at the general election of 1820, when he was again returned unopposed.2 He continued to follow the lead given by his first cousin Lord Castlereagh, foreign secretary in the Liverpool administration, through whom he had some influence over Irish patronage.3 He voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, and in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. Like Castlereagh, he divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He voted against repeal of the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., omitting the arrears from the grant to the duke of Clarence, 18 June, and Hume’s motion for economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821. He was in ministerial majorities against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 21 Feb., and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822. He voted against inquiry into the conduct of the lord advocate relative to the press in Scotland, 25 June, and repeal of the salt duties, 28 June 1822, and the assessed taxes, 18 Mar. 1823.
The family claimed that Londonderry (as Castlereagh had become) had intended to transfer the colonelcy of the Londonderry militia to Stewart, who was described by the other county Member, George Dawson, as ‘a very good colleague’, but after his suicide in August 1822 it was given to the city Member, Sir George Hill, one of the rival Beresford set.4 Stewart’s relations, notably the 3rd marquess of Londonderry and the 1st Marquess Camden, bombarded ministers with complaints. However, their cause was not helped by his father, who, in Stewart’s absence abroad with his sick brother, accepted the offer of the lieutenant-colonelcy on his behalf.5 Londonderry’s efforts peaked in July 1823, when various compromises were explored, including a notion that Stewart’s father would become the colonel, with Stewart running the regiment as his lieutenant.6 In fact, despite repeated assurances of Hill’s amicable attitude, it was not until the end of the year that Stewart finally accepted the promotion, telling the lord lieutenant, among other quibbles, that ‘I never could look upon the commission he then offered me as a satisfaction of the claim that the family had to the command of the regiment’. Peel, the home secretary, sarcastically described Stewart’s grudging letter of acceptance as ‘the happiest specimen of the unreasonable’.7
It was believed that Stewart would remain loyal to his cousin Londonderry, who, although highly dissatisfied by his treatment at the hands of ministers, considered it right for the family to give them general support.8 In early 1824 he thought, like his father, that the offer of a rapprochement from the Beresfords was a sign that they would co-operate with the Stewarts for the present, with a view to taking advantage of their reduced influence at a future date, but he was dubious about retaining a long-term interest in the county unless Londonderry challenged them at the next election.9 He divided against condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. He voted for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. In July that year he married one of Camden’s daughters, whose aunt was the widow of the 1st marquess of Londonderry, but only after the 3rd marquess had intervened to extract a proper settlement from Camden.10 Declining to attend the Dublin dinner of Irish Catholics, 29 Jan. 1826, he informed Daniel O’Connell* that he had always voted for relief ‘from no party considerations, but from an honest and sincere conviction that, until that long and often discussed measure is satisfactorily arranged ... no permanent tranquillity can be secured for Ireland’; yet he deplored ‘angry threats or impassioned language’ as counterproductive.11
Stewart absented himself from Londonderry during the general election of 1826 on the ground that his wife was nearing her confinement (although there was no surviving issue of this pregnancy). He was returned unopposed with Dawson, but his brother John was defeated in county Down, where he had been nominated in case Londonderry’s son, Lord Castlereagh*, was petitioned against as being under age.12 He was granted six weeks’ leave because of illness in his family, 21 Feb. 1827. Although his father signed the anti-Catholic petition from the noblemen and gentlemen of Ireland early that year, he declined to support the hostile county Londonderry petition. He missed its presentation by Dawson in the Commons, 2 Mar., when Brownlow indicated that Stewart would soon forward a pro-Catholic petition from the county, and the division on the question, 6 Mar.13 Having given birth to their only surviving child (5 July), his wife died on 7 Oct. 1827. Stewart, who may have been the Member of that name listed in the minority against finding Leadbeater guilty of lying in evidence on the East Retford disfranchisement bill, 7 Mar., was again absent from the division on Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He was reckoned by Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, as likely to be ‘with government’ on emancipation in February 1829. He was named as a defaulter on the call, 5 Mar., but brought up a petition from Kilrea in favour of the measure, 13 Mar., and, in his only reported speech, 16 Mar., declared that he would give the bill his ‘most anxious support’. His last known vote was for the third reading, 30 Mar. 1829. He was granted three weeks’ leave to attend the assizes, 11 Mar. 1830. Later that month, on the announcement that Hill would become governor of St. Vincent, Camden requested Wellington to appoint him to the colonelcy of the Londonderry militia, but the post went to Lord Garvagh.14
Since at least 1826 relations had cooled between Stewart, who had chosen a ‘neutral and independent position’ in politics, and Londonderry, who resented his cousin’s indifference and considered him ‘totally impracticable’. Deterred by the prospect of an expensive contest, Stewart gave no clear indication of whether he would stand again and refused to co-operate with Londonderry’s financial offer to try to secure the family interest.15 Despite being given some credit for his consistency, compared to the turncoat Dawson, by mid-1829 he was considered to have no chance of re-election by his Beresford opponents.16 Amid an anti-Catholic backlash in the county, he probably reckoned his prospects poor and, in any case, his father’s death would terminate the lease of the Mercers’ Company estates, which was the basis of the Stewart interest, so he retired at the dissolution in 1830.17 His brother-in-law Lord Brecknock* wrote to him that ‘I wish Dunfanaghy [in co. Donegal] was a nice rotten borough with half a dozen electors. I should be sorry not to have you a Parliament man, but I think you could not do otherwise than you have done’. In August 1830 a reconciliation was achieved between Londonderry and Stewart’s father.18 He and his father both signed the Down requisition against agitating the issue of the Union in March 1831, when, as a self-confessed ‘old Tory’, he privately condemned the Grey ministry’s reform proposals as ‘well calculated to hurry on a crisis’.19 On the death of his father in late 1831, he inherited the bulk of his personal and real estate, including the residence at Ards, which was rebuilt at about this time.20 He was said to be ‘disliked by his own tenantry and the county at large’ in Donegal, where, as sheriff, he caused controversy by prematurely closing the county reform meeting in January 1832.21 He never sat in the Commons again and, for instance, he scorned the idea of offering for his former county in November 1839, when Londonderry urged:
Believe me, Alick, you would be more looked up to by all the connection if, with your large fortune, you would do as your dear father did before you - make some effort to uphold and aid the family and house of Stewart which you belong to, I mean politically, in these strange, reforming times.22
Stewart died in March 1850, being succeeded by his only son Alexander John Robert (1827-1904).23
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. Not 1830-1 as erroneously stated in HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 270.
- 2. PRO NI, Stewart-Bam mss D4137/B/1/8-21 (NRA 40263); Belfast News Letter, 10 Mar. 1820.
- 3. Add. 40296, ff. 11, 58-59; Black Bk. (1823), 195; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 486.
- 4. Add. 38291, f. 152; PRO NI, Hill mss D642/202.
- 5. Add. 40328, f. 217; 40352, f. 164; Stewart-Bam mss B/2/5; Cent. Kent. Stud. Camden mss U840 C504/2, 5.
- 6. Add. 38295, ff. 160, 172; Stewart-Bam mss A/6/18, 19; Wellington mss WP1/767/11; 769/13.
- 7. Add. 40329, ff. 214, 243, 249.
- 8. Norf. RO, Blickling Hall mss, Londonderry to Lady Londonderry, 14, 29 Dec. 1822, 20 Feb., 2 July 1823.
- 9. PRO NI, Castlereagh mss D3030/N/135, 136.
- 10. Ibid. T2, p. 94; Q1, Londonderry to Lady Londonderry n.d. [?1828]; Stewart-Bam mss A/7/2.
- 11. Stewart-Bam mss B/11/1; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1286.
- 12. Belfast County Chron. 12, 24 June 1826; Castlereagh mss N/157, 158.
- 13. Add. 40392, f. 5; Stewart-Bam mss B/11/2.
- 14. Wellington mss WP1/1104/3.
- 15. Ibid. WP1/1124/13; Stewart-Bam mss A/6/21; Castlereagh mss T2, p. 99; Q1, Londonderry to Lady Londonderry, n.d. [?1828].
- 16. PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/89; PRO NI, Primate Beresford mss D3279/A/4/12, 13.
- 17. Add. 40304, f. 86; Castlereagh mss N/135; Belfast Guardian, 9, 16 July 1830.
- 18. Stewart-Bam mss B/6/12; 2/30.
- 19. PRO NI, Dufferin mss D1071/B/C/20/1/94a, 602.
- 20. Gent. Mag. (1831), ii. 476; PRO NI D1825/C/1/2; M. Bence-Jones, Guide to Irish Country Houses, 11.
- 21. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/33B/3; Ballyshannon Herald, 13, 20 Jan. 1832.
- 22. Stewart-Bam mss B/2/37; 11/7, 8.
- 23. Londonderry Sentinel, 29 Mar. 1850.