Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

63 in 1784, 12 in 1815, 15 in 1831


(1821): 2,877


5 Mar. 1801 WILLIAM ELLIOT vice Trench, become a peer of Ireland
30 Dec. 1802 THOMAS TYRWHITT vice Parnell, vacated his seat
15 Mar. 1806 JOHN LANGSTON vice Tyrwhitt, vacated his seat
22 Nov. 1806SIR OSWALD MOSLEY, Bt.
1 Mar. 1816 RICHARD SHARP vice Shakespeare, vacated his seat
20 Feb. 1819 DAVID RICARDO vice Sharp, vacated his seat

Main Article

John, 2nd Earl of Portarlington (d.1845) became owner in fee of most of the borough and patron of the corporation on his father’s death in 1798. By then it had been reduced to the status of a burgess borough. On the Union ballot, Frederick Trench had the luck of the draw against his colleague the Castle official Gregory, but his creation as an Irish peer with the title of Ashtown, 27 Dec. 1800, prevented him from taking his seat at Westminster.1 A new writ was not moved until 12 Feb., and William Elliot, former military under-secretary at the Castle, was returned.

At the election of 1802 Henry Parnell, who had meanwhile become the proprietor’s brother-in-law, took the seat, to avoid a contest for his Queen’s County seat, and, Portarlington having embarked on an active military career, his mother (with Parnell) acted as his agent. In November 1802, without consulting the Castle, who were approached for it by Charles MacDonnel*, Parnell vacated the seat for the Prince of Wales’s friend, Tyrwhitt, who owed the bargain to Joseph Foster Barham*. The latter paid Lady Portarlington £4,000. Tyrwhitt was to occupy it only temporarily, as Foster Barham intended it for a friend, but he retained it on the understanding that Foster Barham would be compensated. He finally arranged its transfer in March 1806 to John Langston, though Fox had evidently intended the seat for Sir Arthur Leary Piggott*. The Prince acknowledged the favour by backing Lady Portarlington’s bid to secure a place for Sir John Parnell.2

Parnell held office under the Grenville ministry and, although Tyrwhitt again approached him, saw to it that government had the disposal of the seat at the election of 1806, in return for which Portarlington expected ‘the usual consideration’ and acknowledgment of his claims for a representative peerage. The government first named Sir Arthur Wellesley, but on the second vacancy Sir Oswald Mosley purchased the seat for £4,000, for ‘the whole Parliament, with power to nominate in case of vacating at any period, the new candidate to be charged the expense of the election only at the new nomination’.3

In 1807, despite a bid by the Portland ministry for the seat, Parnell, who was reported to have sold it for six years in 1806, retained the disposal of it. The paying guest was William Lamb, his fellow oppositionist; though Lord Tyrawley claimed beforehand that he had the disposal of the seat, evidently for his son James Cuffe*, a claim that the Castle disbelieved.4 In 1812 the chief secretary wrote of the borough, ‘I fear we have not much to say there’,5 and it was again sold to an oppositionist, Arthur Shakespeare. When Shakespeare vacated in the autumn of 1815 Portarlington, then very hard up, took over the disposal of the seat from Parnell, who evidently had no personal wishes for it other than that it should go to a supporter of opposition. Portarlington accordingly offered it to George Tierney*, the Whig seat broker, who was somewhat embarrassed as to a ready choice, particularly as, on his own admission apropos of Portarlington: ‘My friend is but a slippery one, and I am afraid of his getting a large offer from some other quarter’. William Lamb was the favourite, but he did not pass the test put to him by Lord Holland ‘on the question of legitimacy’ and the seat went to the next aspirant, Richard Sharp, who was unable to come in until the session of 1816. The terms first proposed to Tierney were for the duration of that Parliament, with right of transfer on payment of £50, and although the principal sum was then not fixed, he estimated it at £3,000 and thought these ‘rather easy terms’.6

By 1817 Portarlington was prepared to dispose of the seat to any prospective creditor who would advance the capital to settle the encumbrances on his estate, which he seemed bent on dissipating. Edward Wakefield expressed an interest, but found that Portarlington still stipulated a political test and accordingly withdrew his offer of capital in December 1817. Sharp was again returned in 1818, but in August Portarlington came to terms with Ricardo, whose politics were congenial, particularly to Parnell, and who offered a loan of £25,000 at 6 per cent with the purchase and disposal of the seat for four years for £4,000.7 It was on this principle of political economy that Ricardo held the seat for the rest of his life and Portarlington obtained freedom to ruin himself.

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Parl. Rep. [I] H.C. 1831-2 (519), xliii. 117; Frederick Trench has been excluded from the biographical section.
  • 2. Bodl. Clarendon dep. C. 431, Tyrwhitt to Foster Barham, 3 July-4 Dec.; Wickham mss 5/10, Hardwicke to Wickham, 19 Nov. 1802; Blair Adam mss, Tyrwhitt to Adam, 5 Feb. 1806; HMC Fortescue, viii. 28.
  • 3. NLS mss 12918, Fremantle to Elliot, 30 Oct., 7, 10 Nov. 1806; HMC Fortescue, viii. 23, 28, 297, 392, 399, 400, 404, 422, 429; Spencer mss, Parnell to Allen, 14 Aug. 1806.
  • 4. Add. 38359, f. 209; Wellington mss, H. to Sir A. Wellesley, 4 May, Sir A. Wellesley to Hawkesbury, 8 May; Fortescue mss, Parnell to Grenville, 15 May 1807; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 18, 19, 28.
  • 5. Add. 40280, ff. 35-37.
  • 6. Add. 51558, Lamb to Holland, 10 Dec. 1815, 10 Mar. 1816; 51584, Tierney to same [Nov.], 30 Nov., 8 Dec.; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 8, 23 Dec. 1815.
  • 7. Ricardo ed. Sraffa, v. p. xiv seq.