BARRY, John Maxwell (1767-1838), of Newtownbarry, co. Wexford

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



1806 - 23 July 1823

Family and Education

b. 18 Jan. 1767, 1st s. of Rt. Rev. and Hon. Henry Maxwell, bp. of Meath, and Margaret, da. of Anthony Foster, MP [I], of Collon, co. Louth, c. bar. exch. [I]. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1783. m. 4 July 1789, Lady Juliana Lucy Annesley, da. of Arthur, 1st earl of Mountnorris [I], s.p. suc. fa. 1798; to estates of his gt.-grandfa. James Barry of Newtownbarry 1800 and took name of Barry; cos. John James, 2nd earl of Farnham [I], as 5th Bar. Farnham [I] 23 July 1823. d. 20 Sept. 1838.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1787-8, 1792-7, 1798-1800; rep. peer [I] 1825-d.

Commr. of treasury [I] 1807-17; PC [I] 7 July 1809; ld. of treasury [UK] Jan. 1817-Apr. 1823.

Trustee, linen board [I] 1810.

Sheriff, co. Carlow 1795-6; gov. co. Cavan 1805-31.

Col. Cavan militia 1797-d.


Since 1806 Barry, an implacable opponent of Catholic claims, had sat at Westminster for Cavan, which he had briefly represented in the Dublin Parliament, on the long-standing family interest of his first cousin Lord Farnham, to whom he stood heir presumptive.1 With no challengers in the end persisting, he was again returned unopposed for the county at the general election of 1820, when, as two years earlier, fears that Farnham would refuse to support him because his treasury place compromised his independence were not realized.2 He objected to Newport’s proposal to make Irish masters in chancery ineligible to sit in the House, 30 June, this being aimed at excluding Thomas Ellis, who was on the verge of election for Dublin. His bid that day to secure Ellis retrospective immunity failed, and his renewed attempt to do so, 3 July, was beaten by 65-42. He voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, and divided with the Liverpool administration when present, which was not often. He was granted a month’s sick leave, 12 Mar. 1821. He voted against parliamentary reform, 9 May, and mitigation of the penal code, 23 May. He rarely intervened in debate that session, but had something to say on the libel of a Member, 17 May, and the slave removal bill, 31 May. On 1 June he objected to that aspect of the cruelty to horses bill which authorized appeal to quarter sessions, though he approved the principle of the measure. He chaired the committee of the whole House on the customs duties, 13 June 1821.3 He was scarcely in evidence in 1822, when his only known votes were against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar., and the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr. On 5 June 1822 he introduced the Irish land revenue bill, which he subsequently saw through the House.4

Barry voted against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., and expressed his ‘warm approbation’ of the Irish tithes composition bill, 6 Mar. 1823. Like other extreme Protestant ministerialists, he strongly objected to the legal proceedings instituted by the Irish attorney-general William Plunket* against the Orangemen who had attacked the pro-Catholic viceroy Lord Wellesley, 14 Dec. 1822. His motion of 24 Mar. 1823 for copies of the informations on which three men had been charged with conspiracy to murder Wellesley was resisted by Plunket and the home secretary, Peel. In reply Barry, who Peel privately deemed to have spoken inoffensively towards Plunket,5 disclaimed

all wish of governing Ireland by dividing its inhabitants into factions. He was as sincere a friend to conciliation as any man, but he was, nevertheless, of opinion that Ireland could not be conciliated without justice being administered equally to all parties. He could wish that there were neither Orangemen nor United Irishmen ... but ... the Orange societies were founded upon principles which partook much more of the nature of defensive than offensive associations.

His minority of 32 contained some prominent Whigs and radicals who objected to Plunket’s use of ex-officio informations. Before Brownlow’s motion of censure on Plunket, 15 Apr., of which he was the only enthusiastic supporter in debate, Barry resigned his treasury office, thereby indicating, it was thought, the ‘violence of Orange feeling’.6 He presented a petition against Catholic relief and voted against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr. On 22 Apr. he spoke and voted for Burdett’s motion for inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, which was carried against the government. Barry, who condemned the Irish militia reduction bill as a ‘breach of faith’, 25 Apr., played a prominent part in the investigation by conducting the defence of the sheriff and the grand jury.7 He brought it to an end on 27 May 1823, satisfied that it had exonerated the sheriff from Plunket’s allegation that he had packed the jury with Orangemen.

Barry was a teller for the majority for the Irish county treasurers bill, 2 May 1823. On 16 May he objected to the compulsory clause of the tithes composition bill, but thought the measure would be ‘highly beneficial to the interests of the Irish clergy’. Yet on 30 May, when he unsuccessfully divided the House against the clause which empowered the commissioners to raise compensation one third above the present produce of a living, he declared that ‘instead of a benefit to the people and clergy of Ireland, the bill, if passed with such a provision, would prove a curse to both’. He repeated his objections to this aspect of the measure, 6, 16 June. He voted against reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June, and inquiry into chancery administration, 5 June, but divided with opposition to censure the lord advocate’s dealings with the Scottish press, 3 June. The inquiry into the proceedings against the Orange rioters had demonstrated, if nothing else, the extent of corruption in the administration of Irish justice; but when Henry Brougham called for redress of Catholic grievances on this score, 26 June, Barry would have none of it, and went on to demand action against the Catholic Association:

They ought to put down that which was, if not open rebellion, a state very little removed from it. Measures of conciliation ... would produce no adequate effect ... He would entrust the government of Ireland with even stronger powers than those which they had demanded.

He was in the minority of 16 for further proceedings against Chief Baron O’Grady, 9 July 1823. A fortnight later his cousin’s death made him an Irish peer and so ineligible to represent an Irish constituency.8

He found Lord Liverpool unwilling to support his bid to fill the vacancy in the Irish representative peerage created by his cousin’s death; and when he renewed his application on the death of Lord Powerscourt, 9 Aug. 1823, he was passed over in favour of Lord Gort.9 He complained to Peel that Wellesley, who ‘had not altogether forgotten the events of last session’, and Liverpool had treated him shabbily by not informing him of this decision:

It is quite obvious that I can neither address Lord Liverpool nor Lord Wellesley again on the subject ... without expressing myself in a manner which I should wish to avoid ... In the present alarming and critical state of Ireland, I feel that I could not conscientiously withdraw from public life. If therefore I am to conclude, that my views respecting the representative peerage are not to be countenanced by government, I must endeavour to obtain readmission into the House of Commons, where in conjunction with my nephew (who will be returned for this county by its unanimous voice) I shall continue to maintain those principles, which have ever guided my political conduct.10

He did secure the return of his nephew Henry Maxwell for Cavan, over which he maintained a dominant electoral interest.11 He also made contact with William Holmes*, the government whip, with a view to securing a seat for himself outside Ireland. Peel, who shared Farnham’s anti-Catholic outlook and respected his abilities, thought it would be ‘madness for the government to consider in the light of enemies those who promoted or took a part in the Irish questions last session’.12 He got Liverpool to agree that Farnham had the best claim to ministerial support on the next vacancy and recruited the Irish secretary Henry Goulburn* to try to remove Wellesley’s antipathy to Farnham, which was thought to stem largely from Plunket’s wounded feelings.13 When he was warned that Wellesley was enthusiastic about the pretensions of the 14th earl of Clanricarde, Peel, who had already given Farnham a personal pledge of support, persuaded Liverpool to write to the lord lieutenant in his favour:

It is pretty clear that if Lord Farnham’s pretensions are urged, as they well may be, mainly on the ground of the advantage to the government of having a man of business from Ireland in the House of Lords, Lord Wellesley will feel little objection to the choice.14

The next vacancy did not occur until the death of Lord Donoughmore, 22 Aug. 1825, when Farnham, who had been about to migrate to the south of France for the winter, renewed his pretensions. Aware that he had a formidable rival in Clanricarde, who had recently married the daughter of the foreign secretary, Canning, he made an early bid for a British peerage as an alternative, having ‘arrived at that time of life that it is an object of importance to me not to lose the first opportunity that occurs of resuming my political situation’.15 The choice of a candidate divided the government. Canning, a supporter of Catholic relief, very strongly pressed his son-in-law’s claims.16 Peel argued that Clanricarde’s recent subscription to the Catholic rent disqualified him, whereas Farnham had

the best claim to the support of the government ... from a combined reference to his age, his connection with the government for a period of nearly 20 years, his fortune, character and probable usefulness in the House of Lords on all matters of detail connected with Irish business.17

Canning and Wellesley dismissed Peel’s objection to Clanricarde as making too much of a youthful indiscretion. Against Farnham they brought up the episode of early 1824 when legal proceedings, which were later dropped, had been started against him for an alleged abuse of his magisterial authority in summarily flogging a boy brought before him for cutting timber on his estate. Liverpool, who the previous year had led Clanricarde to expect government support on ‘the second vacancy if not the first’, also stressed this, as well as Wellesley’s rooted objection to Farnham for his part in the attack on the Irish government in 1823. Nor could he hold out any hope of Farnham’s securing a British peerage.18 As deadlock was reached, Canning contended that

a dissolution of Parliament, with the commentary of Lord Farnham’s election to the House of Lords ... would be an appeal to ‘No Popery’, with a vengeance. But, by Peel’s account, Lord Farnham is not only to be elected, but he is to be ‘useful in the details of Irish business in the House of Lords’ - that is to say, he is to be effectively the minister in that House for Ireland. And what is the history of Lord Farnham for the last three years? and what his services to the government in the House of Commons, which entitle him to be their mouthpiece in the House of Lords? In ... 1823 this individual then, and for 20 years past ... connected with that government, raised against that government the most annoying and embarrassing question that a government so constituted could by possibility have to encounter, resigned his office that he might be at liberty to cabal with the opposition for the purpose of bringing numbers to bear against the ministers (though with views different from his own), and if he did not openly avow, hardly pretended to disguise, the intention of forcing a change in the Irish part of the administration.19

Peel, on the other hand, argued that

to pass by Lord Farnham because, notwithstanding his residence in Ireland, character, fortune and connection with the government, the government chose to prefer another person to him, would be nothing in my opinion compared with the passing him by avowedly on the ground of his having whipped a boy for stealing his wood. Political hostility was I believe the sole reason for making the charge, and the sole reason for abandoning it was the conviction that it could not be sustained.20

Canning at length reluctantly agreed to withdraw Clanricarde, who was earmarked for a British peerage, but utterly refused to countenance Farnham. Nor was Liverpool willing to force him on Wellesley. As a compromise candidate the premier selected the 3rd Earl Mountcashell, who was ‘not a marked man on either side’ of the Catholic question.21 When Farnham belatedly discovered this, he told Peel:

I cannot say that either in the decision or the mode of its communication I am under much compliment to ... government. It appears clearly to me that as long as Lord Wellesley remains lord lieutenant of Ireland I have no reason to expect any favour ... I must see that ... [Liverpool] has yielded to Lord Wellesley’s negative on my pretensions, arising from feelings which I should think are not likely to be more favourable on any future occasion. I have, however, received so many promises of support that it is quite impossible I can withdraw my claim, and I trust you will not consider my perseverance as any mark of opposition to ... government ... I think I may say without vanity that, among the many unpopular decisions Lord Wellesley has made in Ireland, the present one will stand most conspicuous. Under these circumstances, seeing no prospect of a representative peerage, I should hope Lord Liverpool would think me, from the situation I hold in this kingdom, fairly entitled to request his recommendation to His Majesty to be created a British peer.

Peel, who felt ‘bound to acquiesce ... though very reluctantly’, in his colleagues’ support of Mountcashell (coincidentally, a connection by marriage), tried to warn Farnham off, while also indicating that he had no chance of a British peerage.22 Farnham became doubly determined to stand his ground and told Peel that ‘the decision that has been made will do more to shake the influence of government with respect to the representative peerage than any line of conduct they could have adopted’.23 Goulburn, too, thought ‘the time will come when Lord Liverpool will think that he had better have made a different decision’; and so it proved.24 A third candidate, the 1st marquess of Westmeath, eventually withdrew and put his weight behind Mountcashell, but, for all the exertions of government in his favour, many of their traditional supporters would not vote for him. His declaration of hostility to Catholic claims did not help matters. When the poll ended, 16 Dec. 1825, Farnham, who was supported by leading Protestants, disaffected friends of government and some Whigs, including Lords Bessborough and Lansdowne, led Mountcashell by 49 votes to 43.25 Ministers were deeply embarrassed and Farnham was later said to have broken through ‘the charm of interest and influence which made the Irish representative peerage a close government borough’.26

Having in the autumn of 1825 expressed privately the ‘weight of obligation to the independent gentlemen of this county for their unanimous return of me in five successive Parliaments’, Farnham again brought forward his like-minded nephew for Cavan at the general election of 1826, although he was careful to exercise his interest from behind the scenes in the severe contest that followed.27 Later that year he wrote to Peel accusing Wellesley of connivance in the revival of Catholic agitation and clamouring for his dismissal.28 The lord lieutenant in turn expressed his ‘utmost contempt and even abhorrence’ of Farnham’s ‘public character’.29 Goulburn commented to Peel:

You know full well the dislike that the lord lieutenant entertains for him and, as he never does anything to conciliate the lord lieutenant, you will not wonder at the dislike continuing unabated. Lord Farnham as you know is, with many good qualities, one of the most obstinate men that it was ever my good fortune to meet with, and he never lets pass an opportunity of supporting his own opinion to the utmost, however unreasonable or ill founded it may be.30

Soon afterwards Farnham was prominent in attempts to organize a crusade for the conversion of Catholics to Protestantism.31 An able debater, as Lord Ellenborough believed, he opposed Catholic emancipation and the Grey ministry’s reform bill, and was a member of the committee appointed by the Conservative opposition in May 1832 to manage the next general election in Ireland.32 ‘As much admired for his mildness in private, as respected for his energy in the senate’, he died in Paris in September 1838. He was succeeded in his title and estates, worth £30,000 a year, by his brother (the father of Henry Maxwell*), the Rev. Henry Maxwell, who died only a month later.33

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: David R. Fisher / Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Add. 40344, f. 205; Hist. Irish Parl. v. 220-2, 224-6; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 147-8.
  • 2. TNA T64/260, Headfort to Bloomfield, 19 Feb.; Dublin Evening Post, 19, Feb.; Enniskillen Chron. 6 Apr. 1820.
  • 3. The Times, 18 May, 1, 2, 14 June 1821.
  • 4. Ibid. 6 June 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 321-2, 339, 392, 425.
  • 5. Add. 40239, f. 54.
  • 6. Ann. Reg. (1823), Hist. pp. 52, 56; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 448.
  • 7. The Times, 17, 26 Apr. 1823; NLI, Farnham mss 18612 (1-3).
  • 8. Belfast News Letter, 1 Aug. 1823.
  • 9. Add. 37301, ff. 264, 268; 38296, f. 116; 40357, f. 340.
  • 10. Add. 40358, f. 183.
  • 11. Farnham mss 18602 (1), Clements to Farnham, 30 July 1823. See Co. CAVAN.
  • 12. Add. 40329, f. 129; 40358, ff. 370, 428.
  • 13. Add. 40304, ff. 154; 40329, ff. 117, 129, 153.
  • 14. Add. 40304, ff. 163, 172; 40329, f. 168; 40358, ff. 242, 370.
  • 15. Add. 40381, ff. 120, 174, 176; The Times, 7, 14, 24 Sept. 1825.
  • 16. Add. 37303, f. 237; 38300, f. 186; 40331, ff. 121, 129.
  • 17. Add. 38195, ff. 176, 180; 40311, ff. 129, 132.
  • 18. Add. 38193, ff. 223, 225, 229; 38300, f. 178, 180; 40305, ff. 74, 82; 40331, ff. 129, 132, 145; The Times, 31 Jan. 1824; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1092, 1263a.
  • 19. Add. 38193, f. 229.
  • 20. Add. 38195, f. 180.
  • 21. Add. 38300, ff. 196, 203, 244; 37303, ff. 249, 253; 40305, ff. 84, 96; 40381, ff. 328, 330; Canning Official Corresp. i. 296, 301-3, 337-41.
  • 22. Add. 40381, ff. 367, 369.
  • 23. Add. 40382, f. 15.
  • 24. Add. 40331, f. 152.
  • 25. Add. 38300, ff. 287-96; 38301, ff. 31, 45; 40305, ff. 98, 100, 108, 140, 144; 40331, ff. 178-80, 215, 266-8, 273-4; 40382, ff. 77, 102, 195; 40383, ff. 269, 286, 304; 40384, f. 200; 51690, Lansdowne to Holland, 12 Dec.; The Times, 7, 10, 13, 15, 16, 20 Dec. 1825.
  • 26. Add. 38301, ff. 62, 74; Gent. Mag. (1838), ii. 658.
  • 27. Farnham mss 18602 (6), Farnham to Bective, 18 Aug. 1825; (17), to Maxwell, 29 May; (24), Lady Farnham to same, 20 June 1826.
  • 28. Add. 40389, ff. 145, 208, 254.
  • 29. Add. 40324, f. 273.
  • 30. Add. 40332, f. 160.
  • 31. Enniskillen Chron. 1, 8 Feb. 1827; M. Hill, ‘Investigative Hist.: Farnham and "Second Reformation"’, in Debatable Land: Ireland’s Border Cos. ed. B.S. Turner, 76-83.
  • 32. Add. 40402, f. 19; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 411; Holland House Diaries, 99; Wellington and Friends, 84; Three Diaries, 266.
  • 33. Gent. Mag. (1838), ii. 546. 658.