PONSONBY, William Brabazon (1744-1806), of Bishop's Court, co. Kildare.
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Family and Education
b. 15 Sept. 1744, 1st s. of John Ponsonby, Speaker of the Irish house of commons, and bro. of George Ponsonby*. educ. Pembroke, Camb. 1760. m. 26 Dec. 1769, Hon. Louisa Molesworth, da. of Richard, 3rd Visct. Molesworth [I], by 2nd w., 5s. 1da. suc. fa. 1789; cr. Baron Ponsonby [I] 13 Mar. 1806.
MP [I] 1764-1800.
Jt. postmaster-gen. [I] 1784-9; PC [I] 6 Oct. 1784.
Dep. gov. co. Kilkenny 1787.
Trustee, linen board [I] 1784.
Capt. Iverk cav. 1796.
When he came into his inheritance in 1789, Ponsonby had just paid the price of following his father’s political line in the Irish parliament for the last 25 years, by losing his place for his prominent role in opposition on the Regency. Like his father, he was a great sportsman, but hardly his equal as a politician, though the mantle of leadership of the Irish Whigs fell on him. It passed inevitably to his brother George. In 1794 and 1797 he introduced motions for parliamentary reform and on 29 May 1797 informed Earl Fitzwilliam, who had married his cousin and under whose Irish administration he was to have been secretary of state in 1795, that reform and Catholic relief were the indispensable basis for pacifying Ireland. Apropos of a possible bid to conciliate him, he added:
I feel no disposition to give any confidence to ministers and must beg to decline saying anything upon the subject. You know I consider myself as an Irish country gentleman. I take no part in public affairs but when I think my good wishes to the country call upon me to do so, and I do so then without fear or expectation: they charge me with great desire to be in office (I do not mean however to declare my determination against it). While I live I will be my own master ... and ... no favours the King has it in his power to confer could tempt me to give up that feeling.1
Ponsonby was returned to Westminster for county Kilkenny, which he had represented since 1783. He had been a prominent opponent of the Union, but once it had been passed, advocated conciliation. In the debate on the Irish martial law bill, 16 Mar. 1801, he proclaimed that ‘the wisest policy the country could at this time adopt’ was ‘to treat the people of Ireland like the people of England; let them feel all the blessings of a good government’. His son-in-law Charles Grey* described it as ‘a short, and I think a very good speech indeed. Indeed everybody thought so, and it did my heart good to hear him so stout upon the subject.’ He voted for Grey’s censure motion of 25 Mar. and was in five other reported opposition divisions that session, but he seldom expressed his views and then only on Irish subjects; in particular, he and his brother George pressed successfully to limit the duration of martial law in Ireland, 10 June, and he was a critic of the Irish controverted elections bill, 17 June 1801, 10 June 1802. He was absent from October 1801 until March 1802, when he and his brother suddenly came over to support the Prince of Wales on Manners Sutton’s motion for an inquiry into his finances (31 Mar). On 7 May he voted his approval of Pitt’s removal from office. On 24 May 1803 he voted with opposition on the resumption of hostilities with France, after sitting in the House till 5 a.m. Late in February 1804 he set sail for England again with his brother and voted in the minorities for Wrottesley’s censure motion on the Irish government, 7 Mar., Pitt’s naval motion, 15 Mar., and on the volunteer consolidation bill, 19 Mar. He then returned to Ireland and Fox thought it hardly worth his while returning for the kill of the Addington ministry in April.2
In June 1804 Ponsonby returned to vote against Pitt’s second ministry on the additional force bill: he also voted for its repeal on 6 Mar. 1805. He was a critic of the wine and tobacco duties in the Irish budget, 20 June 1804, and of the decay of Dublin since the Union, 24 May 1805. He was in the majorities against Melville, 8 Apr. and 12 June 1805, and voted for the Catholic claims on 14 May. His health had deteriorated, and soon after the Whigs came to power his wife wrote to Earl Fitzwilliam (her future second husband) to press his claims for a peerage:3
It is almost needless to state to you the situation of Mr Ponsonby and his family in Ireland—for nearly 40 years past you will know that there were no means of persecution and oppression left unpractised to ruin their consequence and influence; it was impossible they should not have succeeded in a great degree, but still so much remained that first at the Regency he was enabled to make a successful, and at the Union a most formidable, resistance against the power and corruption of government ... Since the Union Mr William has (I think miraculously) been able to preserve some influence and has brought no inconsiderable part of the small force that voted with opposition, from Ireland.
This last remark was justified, for Ponsonby’s squad consisted of himself, his brother George, his brother-in-law Denis Bowes Daly, his sons John and George and his nephew Viscount Boyle. He was quickly raised to the peerage, taking his seat in the Lords on 25 Apr. 1806. He died 5 Nov. 1806.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: P. J. Jupp
- 1. Procs. R. Irish Acad. xlviii. sec. C, no. 4 (1942), 183; Sir J. Ponsonby, Ponsonby Fam. 63-64; Gent. Mag. (1806), ii. 1084; Corresp. Rt. Hon. J. Beresford, ii. 88; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F 30f.
- 2. Grey mss, Grey to his wife, 17 Mar. 1801, to Fox 16 Apr. 1804; Sidmouth mss, Abbot to Addington, 26 Oct. 1801; Add. 33109, f. 184; 47565, f. 248; Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1820; Ponsonby, loc. cit.
- 3. Fitzwilliam mss, box 68, Louisa Ponsonby to Fitzwilliam, Sunday [16 Feb. 1806].