TRANT, William Henry (1781-1859), of 31 Portland Place, Mdx.; Farrincantillon, co. Kerry and Drumonby, co. Limerick

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

Constituency

Dates

2 June 1824 - 1826
11 Feb. 1828 - 1830
1831 - 8 July 1831

Family and Education

b. Feb. 1781,1 2nd s. of Dominick Trant, MP [I] (d. 1790), of Dunkettle, co. Cork and 2nd w. Eleanor, da. of John Fitzgibbon, MP [I], of Mount Shannon, co. Limerick. educ. Eton 1789-95. m. (1) 25 Nov. 1812 at Calcutta, Charlotte Anne, da. of John Lumsden, jun. merchant in E.I. Co. (Bengal), 1s. 1da.;2 (2) 11 May 1842, Eleanor, da. of John Richards of Datchet, Bucks., s.p.3 d. 1 Oct. 1859.

Offices Held

Writer, E.I. Co. (Bengal) 1798; asst. in gov.-gen.’s office 1803; 2nd asst. to resident at Hyderabad Mar. 1806; asst. to coll. of 24 Pergunnahs Aug. 1806; asst. to sec. to govt. (mil. dept.) Mar. 1807; asst. to sec. to board of commrs. in ceded and conquered provinces Sept. 1807; accountant to board 1808, jun. member 1817; registrar to Bareilly court Oct. 1807; coll. of Bareilly 1810; judge of Dewanny Adawlut of 24 Pergunnahs June 1811; sec. to board of revenue 1811, coll. of 24 Pergunnahs 1815; to Europe Dec. 1819; out of service by 1823.

Biography

Trant’s family was of Danish extraction and had long been prominent in the Dingle promontory. He was a collateral descendant of Sir Patrick Trant, who followed James II to France and was attainted in 1691. His grandfather Dominick Trant, a prosperous merchant, acquired extensive estates in Kerry and Tipperary. By his first marriage, to his kinswoman Catherine Trant, he had two sons, James and Dominick. In his will, dated 31 Oct. 1755 and proved in 1759, he left most of his property to the latter, supposedly passing over James, whom he provided with a life annuity of £30, because he had entered some foreign service. Dominick Trant became a successful Irish barrister, who did good business on behalf of the smuggling gentry of the south-west. His main residence was at Dunkettle, which Arthur Young described as ‘one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in Ireland’.4 He was a man of cultivated tastes, with an interest in geology and fine art, who travelled widely in Europe. He sat in the Irish Parliament for St. Canice, 1781-3. Early in 1787 he published Considerations on the Present Disturbances in Munster, in which he defended tithes and called for punitive action against the insurgents, but also advocated prison reform and the promotion of education. Some passages in it angered Sir John Conway Colthurst of Ardrum, who fought a duel with Trant near Bray on 14 Feb. 1787. Colthurst was hit and died of his wounds five days later. An inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter in self-defence, but Trant was said to have ‘had no peace’ after the incident.5 His first wife, whose third husband he was, was dead by the spring of 1775.6 His second wife’s brother John Fitzgibbon became Irish chancellor and Lord Fitzgibbon in 1789 and earl of Clare in 1795; and her sister Elizabeth was married to William Beresford, archbishop of Tuam (1794) and 1st Baron Decies (1812). With her he had a daughter Maria, who in 1802 married Henry Sadleir Prittie, 2nd Baron Dunalley*, and two sons, John Frederick and William Henry. In December 1789 Dominick Trant was appointed advocate of the Irish admiralty court, but he died six months later, when his sons were beginning their Eton careers.7 John Frederick Trant (?1777-1838) went to Oxford, was entered at Lincoln’s Inn and became a captain of dragoons. He sold most of the family property near Dingle to Lord Ventry in 1809. He also disposed of Dunkettle, and settled at Dovea, near Thurles, Tipperary, where he was succeeded by his son and namesake.

William Henry Trant was placed with the East India Company and arrived in Bengal in September 1799. He returned to Britain two years later, but was back in India by the end of 1803. He served in a variety of administrative posts until ill health forced him to come home 16 years later.8 His father-in-law John Lumsden, a director of the East India Company from 1817 until his death in December 1818, left him £6,000, and he became a proprietor of Company stock.9 A member of the committee set up to administer the Irish relief fund in 1822, he seems initially to have divided his time between Ireland, where he bought estates in Kerry and Limerick, and London, where his mother lived. By 1823 he was an Irish absentee landlord and was living in Grove End Road, St. John’s Wood. In June 1824, when he was resident in Portland Place, he came in on the Savile interest for Okehampton, where his sister’s widower Dunalley made way for him.10

Trant, a conscientious attender and forthright debater, gave general support to the Liverpool ministry, but had a pronounced independent streak.11 He divided with government in defence of the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. Next day, in his first known speech, he supported the superannuation fund bill.12 He welcomed the Irish insurrection bill, without which Ireland would ‘relapse into a state of anarchy and confusion’, 14 June, and approved the treaty with Netherlands ceding Indian settlements to Britain, 17 June 1824. On the address, 4 Feb. 1825, he argued that suppression of the Catholic Association would encourage the investment of capital in Ireland, and he duly voted for the unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. He voted against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., when his speech was shouted down,13 and 10 May. He divided against the disfranchisement of Irish 40s. freeholders, 26 Apr., 9 May. He approved the government’s ‘cautious course’ on the reduction of import duties, 10 Mar.; and on 18 Mar., when he agreed with Hume that the Irish linen board was ‘utterly incompetent’, he once more advocated caution, even though he claimed to be of the same mind as ‘those who were for removing all restrictions upon trade’. He supported the Mauritius trade bill, 3 June.14 He favoured the establishment of provincial banks in Ireland, 15 Mar., and, on the strength of a government promise to investigate the whole subject, concurred in the grant to facilitate Irish emigration to Canada, 15 Apr. He supported Newport’s proposal to limit Irish church pluralities, 14 Apr., acknowledging the ‘disordered state of the church establishment’; but he could not swallow Hume’s motion for a redistribution of church revenues, 14 June, when he said that Hume, who ‘meddled with all sorts of things, and who did not know much of Ireland’, had ‘done the question of Catholic emancipation more harm by his resolution than he had ever done it good’. He opposed Hume’s call for information on the Indian army, 24 Mar., warned that it would be ‘highly dangerous’ to intervene too precipitately against Hindu religious rites, 6 June, and threatened to move next session for inquiry into the administration of justice in India, 13 June.15 He welcomed inquiry into the Combination Acts, 29 Mar., and was friendly to the principle of Hobhouse’s cotton mills regulation bill, 31 May.16 He voted against the Leith docks bill, 20 May, joined in criticism of the current regulations governing private bill committees, 2 June, and voted for the spring guns bill, 21 June. He voted with government for the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 30 May, 2, 6, 10 June, but was in the minority of 26 for Hume’s motion on the clerk to the committee of stationery in Bengal, 7 June 1825. Trant divided with ministers on the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr., and reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. 1826. He went against them by supporting inquiry into the grievances of James Silk Buckingham† about curbs on press freedom in India, 9 May. He was named to the select committee, and two days later denied the home secretary Peel’s ‘imputation’ that he had gone into the investigation with his mind already made up.17 He was a critic of the East India Company’s training college at Haileybury, 16 Mar., 28 Apr. On 16 Mar. he also moved a successful wrecking amendment against Martin’s cruelty to cattle bill. He objected to the ‘latitudinarian principle’ of Spring Rice’s attempt to empower Irish Protestant vestries to assess parishes for the building and repairing of Catholic and Presbyterian places of worship, 21 Apr. He was in the protectionist minority against the corn bill, 11 May, and voted for an amendment to the alehouses licensing bill the next day. He voted against Russell’s bid to curb electoral bribery, 26 May 1826.

Trant found no seat at the general election that year. In January 1828 he came forward on a vacancy for Dover, where anti-Catholicism flourished. He was regarded as the candidate favoured by the Wellington ministry and the representatives of Lord Liverpool, the dying lord warden of the Cinque Ports, though he does not seem to have been explicitly recommended by them. Of his previous period as a Member, he claimed that he ‘was never away a day, and gave his vote without influence, according to the dictates of his conscience’. He had ‘supported the administration of Lord Liverpool with conscientious views, and never asked a favour of government’. He was supported by a coalition of the lord warden’s and independent parties and comfortably beat a rival of broadly similar political opinions. Returning thanks before hastening to London because ‘a near and dear relative’ was ‘dangerously ill’, 11 Feb., he proclaimed himself to be ‘highly favourable to the existing government’, but ‘unfettered’.18 He survived his opponent’s petition. Trant was sworn in on 20 Feb. and voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828. He welcomed a government amendment to the repeal bill, 2 May, which seemed to show their desire to safeguard the Irish church. He presented petitions against Catholic relief, 24 Apr., 9 May, and voted accordingly, 12 May. He applauded a backbencher’s proposal to clarify the Indian laws of real property and called for an annual detailed review of Indian affairs, 25 Mar. He favoured inquiry into the claims of sufferers by the defalcation of the late registrar of Madras, 18 Apr., 22 May, when he also approved the idea of native Indians being allowed to serve on grand juries, but opposed Hume’s attempt to reduce Indian legal fees. He was unwilling to remove at a stroke the advantages enjoyed by West over East Indian sugar producers and advocated a ‘more equitable system’ of trading arrangements with India, 9 June. He saw no reason to countenance the grievances of privileged Calcutta merchants against the stamp duties, 11 June, but he criticized a detail of the Indian justice bill, 7 July, and complained of high imposts on barilla and silk, 15 July. He voted with ministers against inquiry into chancery delays, 24 Apr. He attacked Davies’s borough polls bill, 28 Apr., 6 May, when, speaking ‘disinterestedly’ as ‘an absentee’, he also called for the introduction of a modified system of poor laws to Ireland, which might ‘rescue millions from ... starvation’. He voted against the archbishop of Canterbury’s bill, 16 June, but sided with government on the ordnance estimates, 4 July. He voted for reform of the usury laws, 19 June, and presented a petition for the abolition of slavery, 24 June. He objected to Otway Cave’s bill to prevent corporations using their funds for electoral purposes, 1, 8 July, when he commented that it was unfair that such organizations as the Catholic Association should be allowed to do so; he was in the minority of ten against its third reading, 10 July. He voted in the minority on the silk duties and attacked the superannuation allowances bill, 14 July. On 18 July 1828 he praised Peel for his attack on America’s protectionist tariff and encouraged ministers to continue their good work of exploiting the ‘extensive and various resources of India’ and ‘cultivating a more just and liberal intercourse of commerce with her’.

Trant, anticipating the ministry’s volte face on Catholic relief, joined English and Irish Brunswick Clubs in the autumn of 1828. When Parliament met in the new year he took a seat on the opposition benches and became one of the most active and vociferous opponents of emancipation. On the address, 5 Feb., he condemned the ‘sophistry’ used by ministers to justify the concession, which was nothing more than a surrender to the Catholic Association’s intimidation. The ‘extraordinary change’ in Peel’s views, he said on 9 Feb., could ‘only be compared to a species of Hoenlhoe miracle’, though he subsequently acknowledged that Peel’s motives were ‘most conscientious’, 5 Mar. He called on Protestants to deluge the House with petitions, 9 Feb., and he went on to present his own share, including one from Dover, 3 Mar., when the Whig Lord Howick* thought his speech was ‘very violent and very tiresome’.19 On 15 Feb. his kinswoman Clarissa Trant wrote:

After church walked with my father to call on Mr. Trant, whose head is so full of the resistance which he has made and still purposes making in the House to ... Catholic emancipation that he can neither talk or think of anything else. C’est une vraie manie! ... My father entreated him to be more guarded in his expressions, but he said he certainly should go on as he had begun.20

So he did, with constant tirades against the admission to Parliament of men whose ‘ulterior objects’ were to ‘tear down the Protestant church of Ireland in the first instance, and when that ruin is accompanied, to tear down the Protestant church of England’:

I think a little leaven would leaven the whole lump. I am what is called a good sitter in this House. I come early and remain late, and I know well what may be done by a few Members bent upon a common object.

Trant, who voted to the last ditch against the measure during March, made set speeches against its introduction, 5 Mar., second reading, 18 Mar., and third reading, 30 Mar., when he described it as ‘part of a perpetual Popish plot against the Protestant establishments of the country’.21 Planta, the patronage secretary, was wrong in his prediction that once the principle of emancipation had been carried Trant would ‘support the securities’. He denounced them as ‘mere delusions’, 5 Mar., spoke, without being listened to, against the second reading of the Irish franchise bill, 19 Mar., and was a teller for the hostile minority of 17. Next day, when he argued that it would ‘create a most fertile source of discontent among the Catholic population of Ireland’, he was one of the 20 who voted for the amendment to prevent fraudulent registration. According to Clarissa Trant, he was ‘quite low-spirited at the defeat of his party’, and she heard that ‘he is christened the duke of "Oh Trant Oh"’.22 He was at pains to ensure that no Catholic lord of the admiralty could interfere with the disposal of church patronage under the Greenwich Hospital bill, 14, 16 Apr. Curiously, he was credited with voting in the minority in favour of O’Connell being allowed to take his seat unimpeded, 18 May. John Hobhouse* thought Trant ‘looked silly’ when he asked him if he intended to join the procession to Windsor with an anti-Catholic address organized by John Halcomb† (his Dover opponent of 1828).23 He seized on the need to renew the Irish Arms Act, 2 June 1829, as a vindication of his forecast that emancipation would not pacify Ireland, whose people would continue to exercise ‘their peculiar forte’, a ‘propensity to disturbance’.

Trant spoke against any further reduction of the volunteer force, 20 Feb., but supported Hume’s bid to end military flogging, 10 Mar. 1829. He defended the subsidy for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels against Hume’s attack, 6 Apr. He was horrified by the notion of a system of non-scriptural Irish education, 9 Apr., 22 May, when he declared that its adoption would ‘destroy in me any little confidence which I now have left remaining in the good intentions of the present government’. He again called for the introduction of ‘some measure for the permanent relief’ of Irish poverty, 7 May. He complained of Hume’s ‘vexatious and unreasonable’ opposition to the ecclesiastical courts bill, 21 May, 3 June, arguing that ‘any reform of those courts’ must be ‘beneficial’; but he thought Hume was entitled to seek information on the excessive fees charged in Doctors’ Commons, 5, 12 June. He demanded a reduction in the advantage given to Caribbean sugar producers as an act of ‘substantial justice to the East Indies’, 25 May, and looked askance at free trade theories, 22 June 1829.

The Ultra leaders listed Trant among ‘Tories, strongly opposed to the present government’ in October 1829, and he resumed his place on the opposition benches in the 1830 session. He voted for the amendment to the address, 4 Feb., when, according to Clarissa, he gave Daniel O’Connell ‘a friendly hint’ to remove his hat as he rose to deliver his maiden speech.24 The following day he insisted that agricultural distress was widespread and called for ‘a revision of our recent measures of free trade’ and currency reform; but he told Hume that country gentlemen would not be seduced into attacking tithes by his blandishments, 8 Feb. He supported Harvey’s bid to prevent Members from voting in committees on private bills in which they had a personal interest, 26 Feb. He was one of the disaffected Tories who voted regularly against government in favour of economical reform: he supported a reduction of the navy pay office grant, 22 Mar., for example, to prove to them that ‘we are determined on retrenchment’. On 23 Mar., in fulfilment of his pledge to a meeting of the Committee for the Relief of Distressed Manufacturers, he demanded inquiry into the country’s ‘great and overwhelming distress’. Yet he was not such a stickler for economy that he would countenance reductions in the Irish yeomanry, 22 Feb., the dockyard labour force, 26 Mar., or the Irish ordnance grant, 6 Apr. He also voted against his Dover colleague Poulett Thomson’s motion for a revision of taxation, 25 Mar., as he later admitted to a group of his constituents. His explanation that he had done so according to his honest judgement was accepted, and his supporters voted him thanks for his ‘unwearied attention to his duties’, with special reference to his resistance to Catholic emancipation.25 Trant deplored ministers’ concession of a commission of inquiry into the Irish church, which was of a piece with their ‘absurd, and miserable, and shuffling system of policy’, 4 Mar. 1830. He warned against casual acceptance of petitions for repeal of the Union, 22 Mar., and described O’Connell’s Irish vestries regulation bill as part of his plan ‘to overthrow the Protestant church’, 27 Apr. After the appointment of a select committee on Irish poverty, 11 Mar., he moved as an instruction that it should consider how far the statute of 1601 was applicable there, but the Speaker deemed this unnecessary. Hume tried to have Trant added to the committee, but the Irish secretary would not wear it. Trant supported the idea of introducing a system of poor laws to Ireland, 3 June, but could not concur in an absentee tax, 7 June. He voted against the Galway franchise bill, a violation of corporate rights which gave ‘an overwhelming influence’ to Catholics, 24, 25 May. He complained that the Irish arms bill was not stringent enough, 27 May, and on 24 June accused O’Connell and Sheil of deliberately fomenting agitation. He was a resolute opponent of Jewish emancipation, which went ‘to the abandonment of Christianity’, 17 May. Trant, who spoke and voted against Lord Ellenborough’s divorce bill, 6 Apr., was concerned that Protestant soldiers should not be compelled to attend Catholic church services, 30 Apr., 16, 17 June. He joined in calls for mitigation of the penal code, 18 Mar., expressed his disappointment that ‘total abolition’ of the death penalty was not included in Peel’s forgery punishment bill, 1 Apr., 19, 24 May, and voted for the abolition, 7 June. He took exception on constitutional grounds to the central control proposed for the Irish constabulary, 30 Mar., and the metropolitan police, 15 June, preferring parochial accountability. He supported inquiry into the finances of Ceylon, 27 May, and Mackintosh’s bill to force the East India Company to compensate claimants against the registrar of Madras, 19 June. He dismissed Hume’s allegations of corruption against the commissioners for the building of new churches, 8 June, though he thought the exorbitant cost of St. Pancras church should be investigated, 17 June; and he was sure that if Protestant churches were built in Ireland, there would be no shortage of worshippers to fill them, 15 June. He was in the minority for an amendment to the sale of beer bill, 21 June 1830.

On the message from the new king, 30 June 1830, Trant, who had voted for Hume’s motion of 3 May to ensure continuity of constitutional government on the demise of the crown, seconded the amendment against an immediate dissolution: ‘I have not acted in factious opposition to the government, but neither will I pretend to say, that I have that confidence in it which I formerly had’. He trusted that ‘something like justice’ would soon be done to East Indian sugar producers and argued that ‘the consequences must be dreadful’ if Ireland did not receive aid from public funds, 1 July. On 7 July he called for adequate salaries to be paid to Commons officials, to replace the corrupt fees system, spoke and voted for Hume’s bid to reduce judicial salaries and supported the Madras registrar compensation bill. Next day he expressed a hope that the next Parliament, in which he did not expect to sit, would investigate a ‘flagrant breach of faith’ perpetrated against the natives of the western provinces of India over land revenues. He was in the minority against increased recognizances under the libel law amendment bill, 9 July. On 13 July 1830 he called for improved regulation of the administration of the estates of persons dying intestate in India and begged again for financial aid to be given to Ireland, accusing ministers, ‘in their adherence to political economy’, of preventing the House ‘from saving the people of Ireland from starvation’. He recommended those who would deal next year with the renewal of the East India Company’s charter to safeguard the ‘happiness and welfare’ of the natives and warned against a too hasty introduction of western ‘improvements’. Later that day he spoke and voted against the Lords’ amendments restoring the death penalty to the forgery punishment bill.

Trant did not stand for Dover at the 1830 general election: he was reported to be ‘tired of all the business’, besides having ‘reasons which would prevent him from supporting the measures of the duke of Wellington’.26 He did not find an opening elsewhere, but at the 1831 general election he came in again for Okehampton, supposedly as a friend to ‘moderate reform’ who could not accept the ‘sweeping measure’ proposed by the Grey ministry.27 On the address, 21 June 1831, when he sat with the Tory opposition, he accused ministers of making ‘a most imprudent, unconstitutional, and mischievous use of the king’s name’ and of recklessly encouraging ‘excitement and agitation’, which placed Parliament ‘under the constant dread of violence from the people’. In particular, he attacked Graham, first lord of the admiralty, and the double turncoat John Calcraft, who ‘by the most extraordinary tergiversation ever witnessed, has been manufactured into a county Member’. (It was taunts such as this which drove Calcraft to suicide three months later.) On 22 June Trant presented an anti-reform petition from Durham out-voters, said that one presented by Hume for abolition of the Irish church establishment showed what could be expected if the reform bill passed and, to a chorus of ‘derision’, backed Inglis’s complaint that at a time when the country was ‘threatened with war, pestilence, and famine’, no reference had been made in the king’s speech to ‘Providence’. He provoked more ridicule, 24 June, by asking free traders what would become of the manufacturing population if trade with the Baltic was stopped by cholera: it was ‘no laughing matter’, he retorted, for he had had the disease himself. He objected to Evans’s corporate funds bill, 27 June, and the following day, in a discussion on the salary of the president of the board of control, appealed to Hume and other radicals:

We ought not, especially in these times, to give countenance in this House to an idea too prevalent out of doors, that men came here to perform no labour, but to fill their pockets and to live upon the public. I have spent many anxious weary hours in this House, and have never obtained or looked for a farthing from it. The country cannot prosper, if insinuations go forth to the public, that we are merely a set of rogues who come here for our own profit, for the country will place no confidence in us.

He could not go the whole way with Hume in his criticism of the cost of royal palaces, 1 July, but thought the House should look closely at ‘those expenses which may not be immediately necessary’. Soon after voting against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, he vacated his seat to accommodate the Ultra leader Vyvyan, who had been beaten in Cornwall at the general election.

Trant gave evidence before the Commons select committee on the revenue of the East India Company, 10, 12 Apr. 1832.28 In December 1834, writing from Taplow, Buckinghamshire, he lectured Peel on the folly of rising to the bait of the Whig Dr. Stephen Lushington’s* public reference to him and Wellington as ‘convicted swindlers’:

I speak feelingly indeed on this subject. It was my father’s hard fate to accept a challenge arising out of political circumstances, and to kill his challenger ... I thank God that before I was well a man I was enabled to make a resolution that under no possible circumstances would I either give or accept a challenge ... How much evil has been done by the example of public men in this respect ... In these days of rebuke and blasphemy, can it be expected that the people will ‘honour the king’ if their rulers do not show that they ‘fear God’, who has said, ‘Thou shalt do no murder’, ‘vengeance is mine I will repay, saith the Lord’.29

The remainder of Trant’s life is obscure. He was a resident of New Windsor in 1842, but spent his last years at Torquay, where he died in October 1859.30 By his will, dated 31 Dec. 1854 (five days after the death of his second wife), he left a life annuity of £200, charged on his Irish estates, to Henry John Trant, his son by his first wife, who ‘from the state of his health’ was ‘incapable of managing his own affairs’. He instructed his trustees to save and invest as much as possible each year from this sum, his object being to ‘ensure an adequate personal provision’ for Henry, while leaving him under the control of the trustees. He devised all his English and Irish real estate and his personal estate to his daughter Madalina Elinor, who had married in 1840 Neil Benjamin Edmonstone. By a codicil of 18 Dec. 1856 he increased his son’s annuity to £300.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. BL OIOC 3/1/17, ff. 278-9.
  • 2. Ibid. N/1/9, ff. 47, 113; Gent. Mag. (1818), ii. 643; PROB 11/1611/570.
  • 3. Marriage certificate (Eton district registry).
  • 4. S.T. McCarthy, Trant Fam. 4-7, 13-16, 42-44; Jnl. of Clarissa Trant ed. C.G. Luard, 66-67.