Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number qualified to vote:



9,283 (1821); 12,762 (1831)


21 Mar. 1820OWEN WYNNE
17 June 1826OWEN WYNNE

Main Article

Sligo, the ‘first trading port’ in the province of Connaught, had a thriving business in the export of grain and butter and also employed a ‘few linen and stocking weavers’, but its streets were ‘badly paved’ and of a ‘neglected appearance’. ‘Great dissatisfaction’ existed among the inhabitants towards its self-elected and exclusively Protestant corporation of 13 burgesses (one of whom was annually elected provost) and an unlimited number of freemen or ‘commonalty’, which had long been dominated by the family of Owen Wynne of Hazelwood, Member in the Irish Parliament, 1776-1790, 1791-1800, and in the Imperial from the Union until 1806, when he had put the seat up for sale. (Of the ten burgesses named by the municipal corporations commissioners, two were his sons, one a nephew and seven ‘private friends’.) The charter had originally given the freedom to all the resident inhabitants, but ‘according to the usage which had long prevailed’, the provost and burgesses ‘exercised an unlimited power of conferring or refusing’ admissions, so that ‘no right of freedom whatever’ was ‘recognised’. By the Sligo Act of 1800 (40 Geo. III, c. 49) a self-elected commission had assumed responsibility for paving, lighting, licensing and the levying of harbour fees, but following complaints that they were ‘acting for the patron in the collection of tolls’, another Act was passed in 1803 vesting the election of 16 of the 40 commissioners in the £20 householders (43 Geo. III, c. 60), a franchise which was ‘considered by many to be much too high’ and productive of even ‘more dissatisfaction’.1

Wynne, a supporter of the Liverpool ministry and opponent of Catholic claims, again returned himself at the 1820 and 1826 general elections.2 A petition from the inhabitants protesting that the revenues of the corporation had been ‘misapplied’, that they had been ‘shut out from their right of sending a Member to Parliament’ in direct violation of the charter and demanding a restoration of their ‘long-lost privileges’ was presented to the Commons, 28 Apr. 1820. One couched in almost identical terms complaining of the ‘wretched state to which their town had been reduced by the oppressive, illegal and unjust tolls’ imposed by the corporation under the Sligo Acts reached both Houses, 26 Mar. 1823. A similar one from one Thomas Flanagan of Sligo against the ‘illegal conduct’ of the corporation was received by the Commons, 11 Apr. 1821.3 On 2 Feb. 1822 Abraham Martin of Cleveragh, county Sligo, heir of the late John Martin, a burgess of the corporation who had opposed the introduction of the Sligo Acts, petitioned the provost William Fawcett for admission to the freedom either ‘by birth’ or as a ‘resident inhabitant’. Following his rejection both by Fawcett and his successor William Armstrong in January 1823, Martin obtained a rule in king’s bench for a writ of mandamus commanding his admission, 1 Feb. 1823, against which Armstrong returned an affidavit stating that his claim was the ‘very first of its kind’, there being no ‘custom entitling persons, as of right, to the freedom’. In the ensuing hearing in Hilary term 1824 the corporation, represented by Robert Johnson, successfully defended their refusal to admit Martin, denying that it was ‘inconsistent with the words of the charter’ and citing usage that had ‘been uniform for upwards of a century’.4 Petitions against the Salmon Fisheries Preservation Act were presented to the Commons, 3 June 1823, 23 Feb. 1824.5 One against any alteration of the Irish butter duties reached the Commons, 26 Apr. 1825.6 Multiple petitions were presented to the Commons against Catholic claims, 25 Apr. 1828.7 On 18 Aug. a Protestant dinner attended by Wynne’s sons John and William was held, at which toasts were drunk to the former Tory lord chancellor Eldon and to Wynne and the corporation, and preparations were started for a Brunswick Club, which was established with Henry McKee as president, 1 Sept. 1828. Wynne chaired some meetings.8 At the end of that year there was a fatal affray involving local Catholics, who had been insulted by an Orangeman crying out ‘Down with the Papists!’9 Wynne opposed the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, against which a petition from converts to Protestantism reached the Lords, 3 Apr. 1829.10

At the 1830 general election Wynne stepped down in favour of his eldest son John, who was returned unopposed. At the county declaration Wynne dismissed complaints that under the Sligo Acts he operated ‘a system of oppression’ which had ‘nearly effected the ruin of the whole town’ and that he had made ‘no exertions’ for ‘the construction of docks ... or local improvements’ and had threatened to ‘make the grass grow on the streets’.11 On 30 Dec. 1830 Spring Rice, the Grey ministry’s treasury secretary, recommended to a cabinet minister that under the terms of the Irish reform bill Sligo ‘should not remain a property’.12 John Wynne, who the Times quipped ‘sits ostensibly for Sligo’ but ‘virtually for Hazelwood’, opposed the government’s reform bill, for which a petition from the gentry, merchants and inhabitants reached the Commons, 28 Mar. 1831.13 At the 1831 general election it was rumoured that he would start for the county in anticipation of ‘the opening of the borough’, but in the event he stood again and was re-elected unopposed. ‘Owen Wynne still holds Sligo locked up’, remarked the Dublin Evening Post.14 A petition from the householders for the speedy passage of the reform bill reached the Lords, 3 Oct. 1831.15

Finding that there were no known limits ‘defined by the charter’, the boundary commissioners adopted the limits of the 1803 Sligo Act of a circle ‘one mile Irish from the market cross in every direction’, notwithstanding the advice of the provost, who had warned:

If houses and land in the same lease paying £10 a year would give a right of voting, it would be much better to restrict the boundary, as ... the whole of the circle would be covered with cabins, to which would be attached a small quantity of ground to raise it to a nominal value of £10, to establish a fictitious constituency, drawing around the town a circle of filth, poverty, disease and discontent, for corrupt electioneering purposes.

They estimated that the resulting constituency would have 511 £10 householders (including 60 ‘beyond the town but within one mile’) and seven resident burgesses, but in the event the registered electorate numbered 418. Three-hundred-and-ninety-seven polled at the 1832 general election, when John Wynne stood for re-election as a Conservative, but was defeated by John Martin, son of Abraham, who had acquired considerable local influence. Martin sat as a Liberal until 1837.16

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. Sligo Jnl. 6 Aug. 1830; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 568-9; PP (1830), xxxi. 332; (1831-2), xliii. 127-9; (1836), xxiv. 265, 269-76.
  • 2. Dublin Evening Post, 22 June 1826.
  • 3. CJ, lxxv. 114; lxxvi. 250; lxxviii. 177; LJ, lv. 601.
  • 4. Sligo Jnl. 20 Aug. 1830; M.C. Fox and T.B. Smith, Reports of cases ... in ... King’s Bench (Dublin 1825), ii. 96-102; PP (1831-2), xliii. 128; (1836), xxiv. 266.
  • 5. CJ, lxxviii. 362; lxxix. 82.
  • 6. Ibid. lxxx. 344.
  • 7. Ibid. lxxxiii. 269-70.
  • 8. Dublin Evening Post, 26, 30 Aug.; Sligo Jnl. 3, 24 Oct. 1828.
  • 9. Dublin Evening Post, 6 Jan. 1829.
  • 10. LJ, lxi. 340.
  • 11. Sligo Jnl. 6, 20 Aug. 1830.
  • 12. Lansdowne mss.
  • 13. The Times, 23 Apr. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 446.
  • 14. Dublin Evening Post, 12, 26 May; Sligo Jnl. 13 May 1831.
  • 15. LJ, lxiii. 1040.
  • 16. PP (1831-2), v. 10; xliii. 128-9; (1833), xxvii. 306.