BERESFORD, Hon. John (1738-1805), of Abbeville, co. Dublin and Walworth, co. Londonderry.

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



1801 - 5 Nov. 1805

Family and Education

b. 14 Mar. 1738, 5th but 2nd surv. s. of Marcus, 1st Earl of Tyrone [I], by Lady Katherine Power, da. and h. of James, 3rd Earl of Tyrone [I], s.j. Baroness de La Poer. educ. Kilkenny sch.; Trinity, Dublin 1755; L. Inn 1756, called [I] 1760. m. 12 or 15 Nov. 1760, Annette Constantina (d. 26 Oct. 1770), da. of Comte de Ligondes of Auvergne, 4s. 5da.; (2) 4 June 1774, Barbara, da. of Sir William Montgomery, 1st Bt., of Macbie Hill, Peebles, 3s. 5da.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1761-1800; PC [I] 9 June 1768, [GB] 6 Sept. 1786.

Commr. revenue [I] May 1770, first commr. 1780-1802; commr. of Treasury [I] Dec. 1793; taster of wines, port of Dublin 1772-d.; member of Board of Trade Feb. 1802.

Dep. gov. co. Waterford 1763.

Trustee, linen board [I] 1784.


Described in 1782 as ‘an able, experienced, and laborious man’, Beresford held places worth £3,000 p.a.1 Under Pitt’s administration he became virtually king of Ireland and was on that account dismissed by Earl Fitzwilliam in 1795. Beresford not only retained his salary but soon had the satisfaction of seeing his dismisser recalled and himself reinstated, a duel arising out of Fitzwilliam’s reference to Beresford’s ‘maladministration’ and ‘malversation’ having been averted by a police magistrate. Beresford was subsequently induced to play a considerable part in arranging the Union. He entered the Imperial Parliament as one of the oldest Irish Members, having represented county Waterford for nearly 40 years. His health was failing after repeated attacks of gout and he had no great expectations for the Irish at Westminster, but he was still a force to be reckoned with.2 The King respected him, recommended him to the new viceroy, Hardwicke, and thought Beresford had always been right on the subject of Catholic relief.3 Beresford was the leader of his nephew Lord Waterford’s squad in the House and sponsor of the honours granted them at the Union and subsequent to it. He remained, moreover, first commissioner of the revenue, advising government on fiscal aspects of the Union.

In the spring of 1801 government noted that Beresford, who was a member of the Irish secret committee, wished to retire after that session. He had to decide between his office and Parliament, being ineligible for both, and, after an unsuccessful bid in the House to exempt him from disqualification, 1 June 1801, opted in November for Parliament, with a pension of £2,000, buying a house in London to facilitate attendance. He returned to Ireland in 1802 for his re-election, which in the event was unopposed, though he had taken the precaution of being returned for Enniskillen.4

Beresford apparently took little part in debate at Westminster, intervening only in favour of the Dublin improvement grant, 30 Nov. 1801, 9 Apr. 1802; on the linen trade, 30 Apr., 21 May 1802; and in defence of Irish retail duties, 3 June. He reverted to his favourite role of adviser behind the scenes. He disliked Addington’s vacillatory Irish policy and Canning regarded him in April 1802 as a Pittite at heart, pointing out that it was only for personal reasons that Beresford declined being a steward at Pitt’s birthday dinner.5 Addington, moreover, was anxious to keep Beresford ‘at a distance’, to avoid the impression of asking favours of him. Beresford, in turn, ‘an active and efficient member of the council’ in Ireland, took a dim view of the Castle’s handling of the rising of July 1803 and of constant changes of personnel, and predicted the collapse of the Union to his old friend Lord Auckland.6 In the spring of 1804 he received Pitt’s personal appeal for support in the push against Addington’s ministry, and himself voted for Pitt’s defence motion on 25 Apr., while canvassing his own and other Irish Members to rally to Pitt.7

Beresford probably expected acknowledgment for such services and was not averse to being appointed chief secretary on Pitt’s return to power in 1804. His name had been mentioned for it when Abbot became Speaker in 1802. The viceroy wrote to Pitt, 9 July, ‘I have no doubt at his anxiety for the office, or rather of the anxiety of his friends that he should have the offer of it’.8 Beresford’s son-in-law Sir George Fitzgerald Hill*recommended it to Hardwicke, while to George Rose, Beresford intimated indelicately that although it would not be ‘a bed of roses’, it was ‘not of such difficulty to a man, who has not to learn what Ireland’s situation is’. He further hinted that it would ‘counterbalance certain inconveniences, which may possibly arise’, doubtless a reference to the promotion of John Foster*, whose dominance in Irish affairs Beresford strongly resented.9 Hardwicke admitted that Beresford was ‘fair and honourable’, but he found it ‘absurd’ that a pensioner should take up ‘the most laborious office in Ireland’ and believed that ‘his appointment would revive all the old clamour about the influence of his family; and it would look too much like a recurrence to the old system before the Union’. Besides, Beresford had ‘the appearance of breaking’.10 His name was again mentioned when the chief secretaryship was vacant in June 1805, only to be set aside as unrealistic.11 Beresford, who was in the government minority on the censure against Melville, 8 Apr. 1805, and voted on the Catholic claims, 14 May (most likely against),12 died 5 Nov. 1805.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: Arthur Aspinall


  • 1. Procs. R. Irish Acad. lvi. sec. C no. 3 (1954), 267.
  • 2. Corresp. Rt. Hon. J. Beresford ed. W. Beresford, ed. W. Beresford, ii. 49-54, 69, 82, 105-19.
  • 3. Geo. III Corresp. iii. 2404; Chatsworth mss, Duchess of Devonshire jnl. [23] Feb. 1801.
  • 4. PRO 30/9/1, pt. 1/2, Beresford to Abbot, 15 Nov.; pt. 3/1, Corry to same, 5 Nov., 19 Nov. 1801; 30/9/13, pt. 2; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss, Beresford to Auckland, 12 Aug. 1802.
  • 5. Rose Diaries, i. 356-7; PRO 30/29/8/2, f. 226.
  • 6. Wickham mss 5/19, Wickham to Marsden, 27 Feb. 1803; Rose Diaries, ii. 61; Beresford, ii. 266; Add. 34456, f. 47.
  • 7. Beresford, ii. 285, 288.
  • 8. PRO 30/8/327, f. 179; The Times, 9 Feb. 1802; PRO 30/8/328, f. 103.
  • 9. PRO 30/8/173, f. 242; Beresford, ii. 304.
  • 10. Add. 45033, f. 133.
  • 11. Dublin SPO 528/199/13.
  • 12. Walker’s Hibernian Mag. (1805), 441.