FOSTER, John Leslie (?1781-1842), of Collon, co. Louth.

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



4 Mar. 1816 - 1818
1818 - 1820
21 Feb. 1824 - 1830

Family and Education

b. ?1781, 1st s. of Rt. Rev. William Foster, bp. of Clogher, by Catherine, da. of Rev. Henry Leslie, LLD, of Ballibay, co. Monaghan. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1 Mar. 1797, aged 16; St. John’s, Camb. 1801; L. Inn 1800, called [I] 1803; to France 1802. m. 19 Aug. 1814, Letitia, da. of James Fitzgerald*, issue. suc. fa. 1797.

Offices Held

Commr. bd. of education [I] 1813, inquiry into fees of law courts [I] 1814-18; King’s adv.-gen. ct. of Admiralty [I] 1816; KC [I] 1816; second counsel to commrs. of revenue [I] Apr. 1818-Jan. 1828; bencher, King’s Inn 1819; baron of ct. of exchequer [I] July 1830; j.c.p. [I] 1841.


Foster, who had been secretary to his uncle John Foster* as Speaker of the Irish house of commons, was compensated for loss of office at the Union with an annuity of 10 5s.1 In 1804 he published an Essay on the principle of commercial exchanges. He stood unsuccessfully for Dublin University in the by-election of 1805 and at the election of 1806, but was returned a supporter of the Portland ministry in 1807. In his maiden speech, 15 July 1807, he moved the reduced grant to Maynooth College, about which, for a visitor of the college, Lord Howick accused him of being negligent. He made himself further useful to government by defending the Copenhagen expedition, 3 Feb. 1808, opposing the Scheldt inquiry, 26 Jan., and vindicating the Peninsular war, 9 Mar. 1810. His best effort, however, was a critique of the extension of the corn distillery prohibition bill to Ireland, 22 Feb. 1810. In this and in opposing Irish tithe reform, 13 Apr., and introducing the Irish budget, 30 May, he showed that he belonged to the ‘Foster school’.2 He was a member of the bullion committee of 1810. Subsequently government found him less reliable: Wellesley Pole complained, 23 Feb. 1812, ‘He has not given us a vote this session’.3 Sir John Newport had just called for his exclusion from the Irish finance committee, which he had not once attended.

In August 1812 Foster was considered by Lord Liverpool for the post of Irish chancellor of the exchequer, but it was William Fitzgerald, Foster’s future brother-in-law, who was preferred. The Duke of Richmond, then lord lieutenant, credited Foster with the requisite ability and noted with approval his speech of 24 Apr. 1812 (afterwards published) against Catholic relief, but his association with the ‘Foster school’, his uncertainty of finding another seat if, as was likely, he could not come in for his university again, and the probability that he would be ‘more troublesome than ever in his application for places for his friends’ told against him.4

Foster did not seek re-election in 1812 and declined the offer of a seat, from a wish, reported Peel, to ‘prosecute with greater effect his studies at the bar’. In February 1813 Peel thought well enough of him to suggest his appointment to the chair of Kilmainham sessions, if it fell vacant. The lord lieutenant concurred, but no early vacancy seemed likely. A few months later Peel recommended him for the office of serjeant-at-law, although he had not yet taken silk, but William McMahon was preferred. Nothing daunted, Peel next urged that he should be made solicitor-general on the next vacancy, with ‘some intermediate step’ of promotion to make his elevation ‘less sudden and less invidious to those over whose heads he must be promoted’.5 In October 1813 he was appointed a commissioner of education in Ireland, which he cheerfully accepted, hoping only that it would not ‘interfere with my professional avocations, which daily require my more serious consideration’. In November 1814 he was invited to become a commissioner of inquiry into Irish judicial fees, with the inducement of its being compatible with a seat in Parliament. Had he been in the House, he might have been chairman of the commission. Late in February 1816 he secured a seat at the instigation of government for Sir Leonard Holmes’s borough of Yarmouth. On 3 July he was re-elected on appointment as Irish advocate-general, on the death of Patrick Duigenan*. Peel was still canvassing his worthiness to be solicitor-general.6

Foster’s main subject in debate was now Irish judicial business, which involved him in the forthright concession of the need to reform the fees system, 29 Apr. 1816, but he also intervened to deprecate alarm over agricultural distress, 28 Mar., and in favour of the consolidation of the English and Irish exchequers, 20 May 1816, as well as on other Irish topics. His long set speech against the Catholic claims, 9 May 1817, subsequently published, was severely handled by William Elliot, but his views remained unshaken and he defended coercion in Ireland, 23 May 1817, and upheld the Irish hearth and window taxes against their critics, 13 May 1818. He had, however, resigned his commissionership of Irish exchequer issue in November 1817, informing Peel that he could not agree with his colleagues’ niggardliness.7

In March 1818 Foster applied to succeed (Sir) Charles Ormsby* as junior counsel to the commissioners of the Irish revenue, emphasizing his knowledge of revenue law, acquired while acting as secretary to his uncle as chancellor of the exchequer in Ireland. On 19 Mar. he was appointed, with special responsibility for revenue bills, and, resigning his commissionership of judicial fees, was re-elected to Parliament on 1 May.8 His seat for Yarmouth was not available to him at the next election and on 30 May Lord Liverpool requested Lord St. Germans to return him for his titular borough: ‘He is ... a man of considerable talents, much respected in the House, and likely to raise himself very high in the profession of the law in Ireland.’9 This arrangement was not adopted, but at Liverpool’s suggestion Arbuthnot arranged his return for Lisburn, the patron of which, Lord Hertford, informed Peel, 11 June, ‘As your friend, he has a distinct claim to my preference, independently of his high public as well as private character’. Meanwhile, however, the Irish primate had arranged Foster’s return for Armagh, on condition of seating his son there or elsewhere in two years’ time: before this condition could be officially endorsed, he was returned both for Armagh (26 June) and Lisburn (29 June), Lord Hertford being unwilling to accept a substitute. He sat for Armagh, the seat of Protestant champions, though he believed he might have been returned for the university seat ‘on the Protestant ground’, with government support.10

Apart from Irish business, Foster’s contribution to debate in the Parliament of 1818 was confined to an anti-Catholic speech, 3 May, and a defence of coercive measures against sedition, 13 Dec. 1819. In 1820 he was left without a seat, and when he returned to Westminster in 1824 it was as a county Member, though his ambitions and those of his friends in government for him pointed to legal office. He achieved it, and died 10 July 1842.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: Arthur Aspinall


  • 1. Add. 40298, f. 3.
  • 2. PRO NI, Foster mss 340, Foster to Rochfort, 24 Feb. [1810].
  • 3. NLI, Richmond mss 67/992.
  • 4. Ibid. 74/1914; Add. 38249, f. 20; 40185, ff. 11, 15.
  • 5. Add. 40185, f. 152; 40281, f. 35; 40285, f. 130.
  • 6. NLI mss 7835, p. 14, Foster to Fitzgerald, 8 Nov., p. 70, Fitzgerald to Foster, 19 Nov. 1814; 7846, pp. 89, 108, Fitzgerald to Foster, 22, 23 Feb. 1816; Add. 40192, f. 27; 40231, f. 126; 40291, f. 69.
  • 7. Add. 40271, f. 390.
  • 8. Add. 40194, ff. 233, 241; 40274, f. 319; 40294, f. 195; 40295, f. 43.
  • 9. Add. 38272, f. 50.
  • 10. Add. 40277, f. 223; 40278, ff. 88, 107; 40279, f. 1.