PONSONBY, Hon. Frederick Cavendish (1783-1837).

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



1806 - 1826
1826 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 6 July 1783, 2nd s. of Frederick Ponsonby*, 3rd Earl of Bessborough [I], and bro. of John William Ponsonby*, Visct. Duncannon. educ. Harrow 1792-9. m. 16 Mar. 1825, Lady Emily Charlotte Bathurst, da. of Henry Bathurst*, 3rd Earl Bathurst, 3s. 3da. GCMG 5 Nov. 1828; KCB 13 Sept. 1831; KCH 1831.

Offices Held

Cornet, 10 Drag. 1800, lt. 1800, capt. 1803; capt. 60 Ft. and a.d.c. to ld. lt. [I] 1806; maj. 23 Drag. 1807, lt.-col. 1810; lt.-col. 12 Drag. 1811; brevet col. and a.d.c. to the Prince Regent 1814; half-pay 1820; inspecting field officer, Ionian isles 1824; maj.-gen. 1825, lt.-gen. 1831; col. 86 Ft. 1835, R. Drag. 1836.

Gov. Malta Dec. 1826-May 1835.


Ponsonby began his military career in the Prince of Wales’s regiment. In 1802 he visited the Continent with Lord and Lady Holland. Like his father he had a weakness for gambling and got into financial scrapes, from which his parents and friends had to rescue him.1 In 1806 he became a.d.c. to the Duke of Bedford as lord lieutenant of Ireland and at the general election that year was returned on the family interest for Kilkenny, his elder brother Viscount Duncannon having declined the honour. The lord lieutenant thought this very inconvenient:

we shall ... find it a very difficult matter to reconcile his parliamentary duties with those of the situations he holds in my family, as the three months when his presence will be required in Dublin are precisely those in which an active parliamentary attendance is most to be desired.2

Ponsonby took his parliamentary oaths in January 1807, when he ‘occasioned a laugh’ by his ignorance of the property qualification. At Lords Howick and Holland’s instigation he remained in England to vote for Brand’s motion following the dismissal of his friends from power, 9 Apr., Holland explaining that ‘we think a vote here a better canvass than any assizes or dinner at Kilkenny’.3 Ponsonby was reelected and voted with opposition on the address, 26 June 1807; on the Copenhagen expedition, 8 Feb.; on Burdett’s motion against the droits of Admiralty, 11 Feb., and in sympathy with the Catholics, 11 and 25 May 1808. Apparently he did not intervene in debate, and after voting against the convention of Cintra, 21 Feb., and against the Duke of York’s conduct of army patronage, 17 Mar. 1809, he proceeded to the Peninsula.

Ponsonby distinguished himself in action at Talavera, Busaco and Barrosa, acting as assistant adjutant general with the cavalry. In August 1811 he was invalided out, but went back to the Peninsula soon afterwards, being returned to Parliament in absentia in 1812. He next appeared in the House on 1 Mar. 1815, to vote with opposition against the corn bill and against the treatment of Spanish Liberals. He was severely wounded at Waterloo, but recovered, and in February 1816 resumed parliamentary attendance, voting steadily with opposition thereafter and signing the requisition to Tierney to act as their leader in 1818. He continued to support Catholic relief. Despite a vote against it on 20 May 1817, on 1 July 1819 he favoured parliamentary reform, the subject of his last recorded vote in the Parliament of 1818. Mackintosh described him (in February 1816) as

the most engaging young man I have ever seen ... he has more mildness and kindness than I have almost ever observed, joined with a gallantry that catches fire occasionally, but always burns gently, though brightly.4

He died 11 Jan. 1837.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Lady Bessborough and her Family Circle, 136; Fitzwilliam mss X516/45, Ponsonby to Fitzwilliam, 18 Mar. [?1806].
  • 2. Add. 51661, Bedford to Holland, 13 Nov. 1806.
  • 3. Two Duchesses, ed. Foster, 303; Bedford mss, Holland to Bedford [Mar. 1807].
  • 4. Mackintosh Mems. ii. 336.