PRENDERGAST, Michael George (?d.1834), of Ballyfair, co. Kildare and Eyrecourt, co. Galway.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
s. of Miles Prendergast of co. Galway. m. (1) 4 Aug. 1791 at Calcutta, Catherine Frances, da. of George Smith, ?s.p. (2) Mar. 1811, Rosetta, da. and coh. of Sir Skeffington Smyth, 1st Bt., MP [I], of Tinny Park, co. Wicklow.
Ensign, E.I. Co. (Madras) 1786, res. 1789; private merchant, Dacca, Lucknow; inspector of indigo 1807.
Prendergast went out to India in the military line, attached to the engineers. He was a protégé of William Burke†, deputy paymaster to the King’s troops in India. In July 1789, having resigned the army, he settled at Dacca as ‘a maker of fine piece goods’ and ‘became a steady man of business’. He won the Calcutta lottery prize of 5,000 guineas shortly before his marriage to the daughter of a friend of William Hickey, in whose memoirs Prendergast was often complimented. One of three duels in which he was a protagonist was against James Paull*, whom he wounded. He set out for England in February 1808, his fortune made and armed with a memorial to the Admiralty from the leading Bengal merchants, asking for more effective naval protection against French privateers.1
Prendergast entered Parliament for Saltash in 1809 as a paying guest for life of James Buller II*. He was one of Lord Wellesley’s trio of East India Members, with Montgomery and Vanderheyden. On 25 Apr. 1809 he voted against ministers on the charge of corruption, like the other Wellesleyites, who hoped that Castlereagh would thereby be obliged to cede the War Office to Wellesley.2 On 6 and 9 June 1809 he accused the East India Company of breaking an agreement on freight rates with free merchants using Company ships: spokesmen for the Company asserted that he distorted the facts and he was obliged to withdraw his motion. When Wellesley accepted office from Perceval, Prendergast rallied to the government. He voted with them on the Scheldt question, January and March 1810, on radical agitation, 16 Apr., and sinecure reform, 17 May. He remained critical on Indian questions, censuring the ‘ill-fated expedition’ to Macao, 8 May, unsuccessfully moving for papers on Indian finance, 22 May, and grudgingly conceded the grant-in-aid to the East India Company, 31 May 1810. He was in the government minority on the Regency question, 1 Jan. 1811.
When Wellesley fell out with the ministry and resigned early in 1812, Prendergast was in a dilemma, but after voting with ministers on the sinecure question, 24 Feb., felt obliged to vote with opposition on Turton’s motion, 27 Feb., and Brougham’s against the orders in council, 3 Mar.3 He voted for Catholic relief on 24 Apr. 1812 (again in the ensuing Parliament on 2 Mar., 13 and 24 May 1813) and for a stronger government, 21 May 1812. He spoke and voted against Christian missions to India (which he had previously criticized on 24 June 1811), on 22 June, 1 and 12 July 1813. In 1814 he pressed his brother-in-law James Daly* to secure a customs place for a friend of his, but the application was resisted in Dublin, because Prendergast had ‘no claims on this administration’.4
No vote of Prendergast’s is known between 1814 and 1818, when he lived in Ireland. His sister was the wife of Charles Milner Ricketts*, a kinsman of the prime minister then in Bengal, and he and Lord Liverpool were joint guardians of Ricketts’s two sons in England. Consequently he became Ricketts’s advocate for advancement with Liverpool. This connexion, as well as his friendship with McMahon, the Regent’s secretary, was at odds with his following Lord Wellesley’s line; differing from the latter on the renewal of the East India Company charter and on the renewal of war against Buonaparte in 1815, he fell out with him by 1818 after another disagreement. It was over Charles Williams Wynn’s* claims to the Speaker’s chair, which Wellesley wished him to support, though disclaiming ‘the least right’ to influence his vote. By this time, so he informed James Daly, 13 Apr. 1818, Prendergast had conceived a great admiration for Robert Peel II*, who shared his interest in the Turf and whom he would prefer ‘as a political leader to any man in the Empire’, saving only their difference on Catholic relief. At the same time, disappointed in his Indian investments and gaining nothing as yet from his Irish estate, he looked to office:
There are some offices, at present in the gift of government, and others are expected soon to be vacant, out of which I could select one, which it would be very gratifying to me to hold. The late decision against the Chief Baron places at the disposal of this government an office which would exactly suit my book, as it would send me to the head of a department where there are little or no duties to perform, and to attain this object I would cheerfully give up my seat to Peel’s nominee now, or at the next general election, and pressing an interest for life in it, I would continue to him or his nominee the return for it, as long as I lived.
I am offered by a most unexceptionable man 12,000 guineas ... and by another of equal respectability I am offered ‘whatever I can in reason demand’—but unless to make room for Peel’s nominee I have no intention to vacate. If I receive the large sum of money in the summer which I have so long expected from India I could easily procure another seat, and it is my intention to do so.
As a postscript, he added that if the collectorship of Dublin fell vacant soon, it would suit him ‘though very inferior to O’Grady’s [office]’. In forwarding this letter to Peel, Daly informed him that Prendergast intended to buy an estate which included a close borough, if his money arrived from India.5 He proceeded to sell his seat for Saltash at the election of 1818 and contested Galway, where he was defeated. (In 1820 he was successful, and chose not to sit for Saltash, where he had also been returned.)
Prendergast had failed to obtain office and also to obtain recognition of claims on the East India Company made by him repeatedly as agent for the Indian banker creditors of the nawab of Oudh, whose liabilities had supposedly become the Company’s responsibility.6 In pursuit of the claim, and abetted by Brougham, he turned coat politically in 1831 and at first obtained satisfaction: but the Company directors succeeded in blocking the Board of Control’s award and it was not settled when Prendergast died in 1834.
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Authors: J. W. Anderson / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Hickey Mems. ed. Spencer, iii. 214, 349; iv. 52, 125, 412.
- 2. Corresp. of Lady Williams Wynn, 147.
- 3. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 437, 451.
- 4. Add. 40199, f. 193.
- 5. Add. 38262, f. 308; 38263, f. 138; 38475, f. 192; 40217, ff. 384, 386; 40271, ff. 46, 79, 402; 40272, f. 296.
- 6. C. H. Philips, E.I. Co. 283-4.