CUFFE, James (?1778-1828), of Deal Castle, co. Mayo

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



29 May 1819 - 29 July 1828

Family and Education

b. ?1778,1 1st illegit. s. of James, 1st Bar. Tyrawley [I], and Sarah Wewitzer, a London actress. educ. Trinity, Dublin 25 Mar. 1793, aged 14. m. 12 Aug. 1796, Harriet, da. of Col. John Caulfeild of Donamon, co. Roscommon, s.p. suc. fa. 1821. d. 29 July 1828.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1800.

Treas. barrack bd. and bd. of works [I] 1790-1803; trustee, linen bd. [I] 1815.

Custos rot. co. Mayo 1800-d., sheriff 1818-19, gov. 1821-d.

Capt. commdt. Kilmaine and Rathlacken inf. 1821; col. N. Mayo militia 1822.


Cuffe’s father, who had the morals of a goat, was, like his father and grandfather before him, a Member of the Irish Parliament. A professional soldier and county Mayo gentleman, he was made an Irish baron in 1797 and became a representative peer at the Union, which he supported; Cuffe was brought in for Tulsk in February 1800 in order to vote for this. Tyrawley’s desire to be awarded another title in order for there to be a special remainder to his bastard son, a claim which offended George III’s moral scruples, proved to be the ‘one exception’ to the Irish viceroy Lord Cornwallis’s successful implementation of all his Union engagements.2

From 1772 Tyrawley was an Irish barracks official and he eventually became first commissioner of public works and barrack master general. He conferred the treasurership on Cuffe, whose younger illegitimate brother Henry was comptroller. When the Irish government of Lord Hardwicke and Charles Abbot† began the work of reforming the machinery of Irish financial administration after the Union, it emerged that the board of works, ‘whose accounts had not been settled for many years’, had been run in a manner ‘criminally negligent if not corrupt’. Tyrawley, who was suspected of lining his own pockets, to the extent that ‘from a very moderate beginning’ he had acquired ‘a landed property of £10,000’, strove to obstruct the ensuing inquiry, which he deemed ‘a gross and unmerited insult upon one, an old and faithful servant of the crown’. He managed temporarily to get away with furnishing accounts of no later date than 1796. When the barrack board was remodelled and placed under closer supervision from London in 1803, he and Cuffe retired from their posts with compensatory pensions. Cuffe’s was £400 a year. The Perceval ministry began legal proceedings against Tyrawley for recovery of the missing accounts in 1811, when he surrendered those for 1796-7. With the powers vested in them by the Irish Audit Act of 1812 the commissioners of military accounts eventually cornered Tyrawley in 1813, though not before his and Cuffe’s allowances had been suspended because of further procrastination, which Tyrawley tried to justify with a series of lame excuses. When the accounts were audited Tyrawley and Cuffe were found to be jointly in arrears to the tune of £27,059. In 1815 they were ordered to repay the debt, which was secured on their estates, by annual instalments of £4,000 together with the proceeds from the continued suspension of their pensions. By early 1817 they had reduced it to £8,259, having paid £8,000 to supplement £9,000 then due on Tyrawley’s pension and £1,800 on Cuffe’s. Cuffe, who blamed his ‘very unpleasant situation’ on ‘the misconduct of others’, begged to be excused from payment of that year’s instalment, pleading ‘absolute inability’ to pay ‘on account of the times’. The viceroy, Lord Whitworth, ‘gave him no reason to expect this indulgence’ and the debt was presumably cleared before Cuffe entered the House.3

Cuffe, who came in for Tralee on the interest of Sir Edward Denny* in May 1819, was again returned at the general election of 1820 as a supporter of the Liverpool administration. He made no mark in the Commons, where he attended only spasmodically, and is not known to have spoken in debate.4 He voted with ministers against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820, and in defence of their conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He took periods of leave on account of Tyrawley’s last illness, 15 Mar., 4 May 1821. On the death in June 1821 at Castle Lacken, Mayo, of his father, who was reported at some time to have married the late Miss Wewitzer, Cuffe succeeded to his Irish estates, but the peerage became extinct.5 Cuffe voted against the removal of Catholic peers’ disabilities, 30 Apr., and was probably in the minority on Irish tithes, 19 June 1822. He divided against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and currency reform, 12 June, but was in the majority against government for inquiry into their prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. 1823. He voted for the Irish insurrection and unlawful societies bills, 14 June 1824, 15 Feb. 1825, against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and against the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825. He opposed reform of Edinburgh’s electoral system, 13 Apr., but was in the minority against government’s provision for the emergency admission of foreign corn, 8 May 1826. He again retained his seat for Tralee at the general election that summer. He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He obtained leave to attend the assizes in Ireland, 26 Mar. He voted in the minority against the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June 1827. He opposed repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He was in the Wellington ministry’s majority on the ordnance estimates, 4 July. Described as a ‘truly estimable individual’ of ‘princely fortune’, Cuffe died at 13 Whitehall Place, Westminster, later in July 1828.6

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Stephen Farrell / David R. Fisher


  • 1. Hist. Irish Parl. iii. 561.
  • 2. Ibid. iii. 558-61; Cornwallis Corresp. iii. 246, 257, 263, 286, 319.
  • 3. R.B. McDowell, Irish Administration, 20-21; Colchester Diary, i. 277-81, 289-90, 300; Add. 33108, f. 106; 35701, f. 155; 35720, f. 125; 35733, ff. 7, 13; 40193, ff. 74-75; 40263, ff. 135, 137; PP (1812-13), vi. 689-708.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 540-1; Add. 40296, f. 14; Black Bk. (1823), 149; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 459.
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1821), ii. 87-88; Ann. Reg. (1821), App. to Chron. pp. 238-9.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Mail, 4 Aug.; Kerry Evening Post, 6 Aug. 1828; Gent. Mag. (1828), ii. 188.