BAGWELL, John I (?1752-1816), of Marlfield, co. Tipperary.
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Family and Education
b. ?1752, o.s. of William Bagwell, MP [I], of Clonmel by Jane, da. and coh. of John Harper of Belgrove, co. Cork. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 10 Mar. 1768, aged 16. m. 4 Feb. 1774, Mary, da. of Richard Hare of Ennismore, co. Kerry, 4s. 4da. suc. fa. 1756.
MP [I] 1792-1800.
Gov. co. Tipperary 1792-d.; sheriff 1793-4; col. co. militia 1793-1805.
Bagwell came of Clonmel mercantile stock. He was not himself ‘in trade’, but had moved ‘very close’ to it, making a large fortune as a speculative builder of flour mills, whence his nicknames of ‘the miller’ and ‘Old Bags’ and (as colonel of the militia) ‘Marshal Sacks’.1 He purchased Marlfield and had property in Waterford and Cork, contesting the latter city in 1776 and 1783. In 1792 he entered the Irish parliament for Tipperary on petition after a contest. His father had sat for Clonmel, which Bagwell controlled and reserved for his sons. Bagwell at first opposed government, though as early as 1796 he informed the Castle of his wish to be a privy councillor.2 During the Union debates, he changed his mind twice, to the disgust of the lord lieutenant. Reporting his desertion with his two sons from the Unionist cause in February 1800, the latter described it as ‘altogether unexpected’, as Bagwell was pledged ‘and the objects he solicited were promised’. His motives were fear of public opinion in Tipperary and ‘expectations given him by the leaders of opposition’. Bagwell had the effrontery to inform Castlereagh that opposition had offered him £9,000, but that he would change his mind for £10,000. Then he returned to the fold, for fear of forfeiting everything. The lord lieutenant would not promise him a peerage, but paid lip-service to his claims to the patronage of Tipperary, the office of muster master general, a promise of church preferment for his son Richard and office for another son, possibly at the revenue board. He also wanted, to ‘complete his patronage’, a barrack mastership at Clonmel, which not being vacant, he unsuccessfully requested the removal of the master to make way for a friend of his. Bagwell’s pretensions were supported by a former viceroy, Westmorland, who pointed out that Bagwell’s colleague in the county representation was in opposition.3
At Westminster, where he and his sons were expected to be ‘on sale’, Bagwell’s first speech was in protest at Irish county governors being banned from interference in Irish elections, 3 Feb. 1801, a notion he found impracticable. On 19 Feb. he unsuccessfully urged the Speaker to issue circular notices of oncoming motions, after the example of the Irish parliament. Next day he objected to Irish Members being faced with the prospect of paying taxes in England as well as in Ireland. He spoke in favour of inquiry into the salt tax in Ireland, 14 May 1801, and on 19 Nov. he described the plight of the poor there. His own experience in the contest for the county in 1790 inspired his support for the Irish election bill, 10 June 1802, and his experience as colonel of the county militia his intervention on militia matters four days later. Although he had not been expected to stand again early in 1801, he asked for government support at the next election, which was not in fact contested.4
On 8 Feb. 1803 Bagwell called for a levy of poor relief as a remedy for Irish poverty. On 2 Mar. he objected to the hasty perpetualization of the Irish indirect taxes, particularly that on leather, though he did not wish to oppose them: he was stopped by Addington when he repeated the objection next day. The chief secretary wrote of ‘Bagwell’s exhibition of himself’ on this occasion, but he and his son William stood by government in the division of 4 Mar. on the inquiry into the Prince of Wales’s debts.5 On 7 and 9 Mar. he resumed his worrying of the exchequer about the Irish duties and was at length satisfied when the Irish chancellor agreed to vote them for a year only this time, particularly as there was, he believed, ‘not one Irish merchant in the House’ to indict the proposed schedules. On 15 and 16 Mar. Bagwell pointed out the importance of the Irish militia as a reservoir of volunteers for the army. Thomas Creevey described him at this time, together with Isaac Corry, as ‘the only Irish I have heard that are commonly decent’.6 On 11 May, in accordance with his motion of 2 Mar., returns of all Irish freeholders were made to the House. The chief secretary admitted, 7 June, that Bagwell and his son supported government ‘on all leading national questions though somewhat fractious on Irish points’ and appreciated Bagwell’s ‘great rage’ when he found his patronage requests hindered by one of his rivals in the county, Lord Donoughmore, acting ex officio as chief commissioner of the revenue. In November Bagwell was still sore about this.7
Not surprisingly, overtures were made to Bagwell by the Prince of Wales’s friends, which in the spring of 1804 elicited from the other side the cynical comment: ‘The Prince of Wales counts upon him but he will act only as he makes terms’. Bagwell was not enticed into opposition. He supported the Irish militia augmentation bill, 16 Apr. 1804, and went on to support Pitt’s ministry, but expected patronage for his sons in return—a deanery for Richard, full-pay employment in the army for John and succession to his colonelcy of the county militia for William. (He had first requested this on 21 June 1803 and was pained when the viceroy made difficulties about it when he again applied in August 1804.) Pitt was ‘very much disposed to gratify Col. Bagwell’, who spoke in favour of the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, 15 Feb., and voted in the government minority on Melville’s conduct, 8 Apr., as well as against Catholic relief, 14 May. But while his wishes for Richard and William were being met, he became aggrieved at want of county and borough patronage and remonstrated with the minister about it in June 1805 through Westmorland, who warned Pitt that government would lose a friend if they did not act.8
Bagwell was in opposition to the Grenville ministry, though not as actively as his son William, and he courted the viceroy’s good opinion. He voted against their American intercourse bill, 17 June 1806, and sought to delay the Irish election bill, 19 June.9 They knew he had ‘several objects’ by which he might be gratified, but forecast that he would not be re-elected. This prophecy proved correct, Bagwell blaming his withdrawal on the defective state of the registry. He was a critic of the Irish election law and had on 14 Mar. 1805 obtained leave for a bill to amend the law of 1795 on Irish freeholds under £20 p.a. He had complained in the House, 6 June 1804, that many lesser freeholders had no English and did not know what they were about when swearing to qualification. He defended the reform in question at its second reading, 7 May 1805. It passed on 27 May. Bagwell had humanitarian sympathies. He seconded his kinsman Sir John Newport’s motion for a bill to promote lunatic asylums in Ireland, 21 Mar. 1805, and replied to the bill’s critics, 3 Apr. He called for better provision for the families of military volunteers, 2 Apr. 1805. He favoured the abolition of the slave trade, 1 May 1806, and applauded the principle, while criticizing the detail, of Newport’s Irish poor relief bill, 26 June 1806.
A contest for the county in 1806 would undoubtedly have cost more than 5,000 guineas, which he offered the patron of Cashel for a seat, but the offer was not accepted.10 With the return of his friends to power in 1807, he again aspired to the county and, with Westmorland as his broker, to patronage, if not to a peerage. He declined a seat at the treasury board, either for himself or his son, but finding that government would not give office to both of them, agreed to become joint muster master general with Lord Drogheda, requesting a seat at the Privy Council, as a ‘feather’ to prove to the electors that he was a friend of government. He also wished for a bishopric for his son Richard, but that was out of the question. Just before the election, he obtained the substitution of his son William for himself as joint muster master, but was refused the privy councillorship, lest his holding it without an office create a precedent. So he was informed by the chief secretary, who had resisted his appointment to the honour from the start.11 Bagwell was defeated, a coalition of his competitors, Catholic animosity against him and the recalcitrance of local placeholders in the face of Castle pressure on his behalf operating against him.12
Bagwell claimed the Duke of Portland’s promise through Westmorland of a peerage as his consolation prize. While government acknowledged his claims to local patronage, they still would not make him a privy councillor and ignored him when he applied for an English peerage at the height of the cabinet brawl in the summer of 1809. The viceroy subsequently objected even to his having an Irish one, finding that he was ‘not quite the most proper person’, 14 Nov. 1809.13 In February 1812, when the application was renewed, the viceroy alleged that it would be not only ‘most unpopular’ but ‘dangerous’ to place ‘a low man’ with such opprobrious nicknames among the peers. He was prepared to consider Bagwell for the next vacancy after the two present ones were filled, but agreed with the prime minister Perceval that, despite his and his son William’s loyalty to government and his £18,000 a year, a fresh objection would arise when Bagwell’s son replaced his father as prospective candidate for the county, courting Catholic support. Westmorland’s pressure on Bagwell’s behalf availed him nothing and he was overlooked, with local patronage as a sop, Liverpool, Perceval’s successor as premier, being satisfied that if Bagwell’s peerage would not be ‘creditable’ in Ireland, it must be given up.14 It was accordingly Bagwell and not his son who contested the county in 1812, only to meet with another defeat, and again without benefit of the support of local servants of the crown.15
In May 1814 the new viceroy Whitworth was informed by his chief secretary that he doubted Bagwell’s needing a title as he already had so many, or even if he wanted one any more, but that he would rather make Bagwell a peer than his son Richard a bishop. The viceroy assured him that he had already been lobbied on Bagwell’s behalf by Westmorland. He added ‘I do not think the old Bags should tell against him if in other respects he has fair claims’, and in July 1816 he informed the premier that he had urged Bagwell’s claims, founded on ‘long services’ and ‘great pecuniary sacrifices’ in election contests. Bagwell died a commoner, 21 Dec. 1816. The chief secretary believed he lost a peerage ‘through a nickname’.16
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: Arthur Aspinall
- 1. NLI, Richmond mss 67/1002.
- 2. Add. 33119, f. 44.
- 3. Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 180, 182; HMC Fortescue, vi. 118; Add. 35728, f. 72; 35781, ff. 35, 51, 64, 65; PRO 30/9/1, pt. 1/2, Bagwell to Abbot, 2 July, 14 Sept.; 30/9/12/3, Hardwicke to Abbot, 31 May 1801.
- 4. PRO 30/9/13, pt. 2; Add. 35781, f. 25.
- 5. Wickham mss 5/19, Wickham to Marsden, 5 Mar. 1803.
- 6. Creevey mss, Creevey to Currie, 11 Mar. 1803.
- 7. Wickham mss 1/45, Wickham to Addington, 7 June, 9 Nov. 1803.
- 8. Add. 35715, f. 91; 35751, ff. 337, 346; 35785, f. 53; PRO 30/8/188, ff. 318, 323, 329, 331, 333.
- 9. Add. 35645, f. 295.
- 10. HMC Fortescue, viii. 411.
- 11. Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 23, 24, 25; Wellington mss, Westmorland to Wellesley, 26 Apr., Bagwell to same, 1, 12 May, Wellesley to Hawkesbury, 18 May, to Bagwell, 18 May 1807.
- 12. Wellington mss, Bagwell to Wellesley, 31 May 1807.
- 13. Add. 38242, f. 286; Richmond mss 72/1531.
- 14. Richmond mss 62/45, 458; 66/936; 67/994, 1002; 74/1765, 1804, 1907, 1917.
- 15. Add. 40222, ff. 135, 211.
- 16. Add. 38573, f. 101; 40188, f. 140; 40286, f. 182; 40294, f. 171.