KNOX, Hon. John Henry (1788-1872).

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



1826 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 26 July 1788, 3rd s. of Hon. Thomas Knox†, 2nd Visct. Northland [I] (later 1st earl of Ranfurly [I]) (d. 1840), and Hon. Diana Jane Pery, da. and coh. of Edmund Sexton, 1st Visct. Pery [I]; bro. of Hon. John James Knox* and Hon. Thomas Knox*. educ. Harrow 1800; St. John’s, Camb. 1806. m. 12 Feb. 1822, Lady Mabella Josephine Needham, da. of Francis Needham†, 1st earl of Kilmorey [I], 4s. 6da. (2 d.v.p.). d. 27 Aug. 1872.

Offices Held

Ensign 66 Ft. 1807; lt. 27 Ft. 1808; ensign 3 Ft. Gds. 1809, ret. 1813.

Weighmaster of butter, Cork to 1830.


The Knoxes of Northland House (later known as Dungannon Park), originally descended from a Glasgow merchant family, took up residence at Dungannon in the seventeenth century and provided several of its representatives in the Irish Parliament. One of these, Thomas Knox (1729-1818), who was granted the Irish peerages of Baron Welles in 1781 and Viscount Northland in 1791, became a ministerialist representative peer in 1801. His Grenvillite Whig heir, another Thomas (1754-1840), who sat for county Tyrone before and after the Union, succeeded as 2nd Viscount Northland and eventually secured the United Kingdom barony and Irish earldom of Ranfurly. He, who had his father’s Orange sympathies, was one of the instigators of the Dungannon yeomanry, which was claimed as the blueprint of the system established nationally in the 1790s. Of his brothers, three sat in Parliament, two became bishops and another shared his valuable Irish sinecure of prothonotary of common pleas. Of his four sons, Edmond Sexton Pery Knox became an admiral and the other three, including his eldest son and namesake, were Members in this period.1

Like Thomas and John James, John Henry Knox, whose army career apparently ended after he was wounded at the battle of Burgos, was a burgess of Dungannon, Northland’s proprietary borough. However, he owed his return to Parliament not to his father, but to his father-in-law, Lord Kilmorey, who controlled Newry. At the general election of 1826, when his brother-in-law Lord Newry retired, he was elected after rowdy proceedings but, in the end, without a contest. Admittedly, he had had to promise to forward the town’s expanding commercial interests, but in this his constituents were to be well rewarded.2 It was perhaps his brother Thomas who was appointed to the select committee on the corporation of Northampton, 21 Feb., and he apparently missed the division on the Catholic question, 6 Mar. 1827. He brought up a Newry petition against the coal duties, 9 Mar., and, having been granted a week’s absence owing to ill health, 14 May, may have voted in the minority against the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June 1827.3 He presented the Newry petition for Catholic relief, 18 Feb., but was absent from the division on this, 12 May 1828. Either he or Thomas objected to Waithman’s slur that Members were dependent on their patrons, 27 June; both voted with the Wellington ministry against reducing the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. Although it was assumed in February 1829 by Planta, the patronage secretary, that Knox would side ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, he seems to have missed all the divisions the following month, even though it was probably he who brought up the favourable petition from Urney on 30 Mar. His inactivity may have derived from a perceived conflict between his father and brother’s pro-Catholic votes and his patron and constituents’ known hostility. His only reported vote that session was against allowing Daniel O’Connell to take his seat unimpeded, 18 May 1829. Knox voted against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. He may have divided against Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., when he brought up a Newry petition for the Broomielaw railway bill; he certainly did so on 17 May. ‘However disposed I may be to give my support to the present ministers’, as he declared on 10 May, he presented and endorsed the Newry petition against the proposed higher duties on Irish stamps and spirits, and three days later either he or Thomas voted for repeal of the Irish coal duties. He was a teller for the minority against amending the Galway franchise bill, 24 May, and voted against the third reading the following day. He divided against reducing the grant to South American missions and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June, but for Maberly’s attempt to postpone the sale of beer for on-consumption, 1 July. Claiming to be ‘unfettered’, he offered again at the general election of 1830, when he was praised for his quiet attention to the mercantile affairs of the town, notably its navigation, and was returned unopposed.4 On the abolition of his sinecure office that year he was awarded a pension of £1,076.

Listed by ministers among their ‘friends’, Knox voted in their minority on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He divided against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar. 1831, explaining in a letter to his disgruntled constituents that he favoured the redistribution of seats from rotten boroughs to large towns, but objected to the ‘unicornation’ of those in schedule B. Contrary to usual parliamentary practice, he claimed that in voting against the second reading he was not opposing the principle of the bill, and extricated himself by insisting that he would now defend the measure in committee. He duly voted with government against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, which precipitated a dissolution, 19 Apr. With his position in Newry only just intact, he stood as a reformer and beat a local radical in a fierce contest, after repeatedly having to justify his conduct on the hustings. He missed his celebratory dinner through illness, 18 May, when he was again toasted as a ‘hardworking’ Member.5 He paired for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and voted against using the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July. At least until early August 1831 he divided for the bill’s details in committee, as did his brother John James, who had replaced Thomas as Member for Dungannon. To the indignation of O’Connell, who noted that Northland had been given an earldom to secure his family’s support, Knox voted against the passage of the bill, 21 Sept., and missed the division on the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831.6 Although he was in the majority against enfranchising all £10 poor rate payers, 3 Feb., he voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. His hostile votes incensed his liberal constituents, and he had to correct the report that he had divided against the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May.7 Either he or his brother voted against Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 6 June, and the Irish party processions bill, 25 June, and for making permanent provision for the Irish poor, 19 June, and the Irish tithes bill, 13 July; but he was credited with dividing for preserving the voting rights of Irish freemen, 2 July. He spoke against the alteration of the boundaries of Newry, 9 July. His only other known votes were with opposition against the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and again (although identified in the division list as John James Knox), 12 July 1832.

With other members of his family he resigned on 5 Sept. 1832 from the corporation of Dungannon, where the representation remained in the hands of his brother at the general election in December.8 Much criticized for his recent conduct, he withdrew from Newry, where his brother-in-law (now Lord Kilmorey) refused to intervene; it was also reported that he did so for financial reasons.9 Late in life he published several short collections of prose and verse.10 He died at Chislehurst, Kent, in August 1872, presumably leaving his estate to his eldest son, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Francis Knox (1822-82), an army officer who became a priest at the Brompton Oratory.11

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Hist. Irish Parl. v. 39-49; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 346-9; A. Blackstock, ‘Knoxes of Dungannon and Irish Yeomanry’, Tyrone Hist. and Society ed. C. Dillon and H.A. Jefferies, 489-509.
  • 2. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 6, 9, 13, 16 June 1826.
  • 3. The Times, 10 Mar. 1827.
  • 4. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 15 June, 2, 9, 13, 16, 27, 30 July, 3 Aug. 1830.
  • 5. Ibid. 5, 19, 26 Apr., 3, 6, 10, 13, 20 May 1831.
  • 6. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1854.
  • 7. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 27 Mar., 5 June; Newry Examiner, 31 Mar., 30 May, 6 June 1832.
  • 8. PP (1835), xxviii. 470.
  • 9. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 11, 21 Dec.; Newry Examiner, 12, 22 Dec. 1832; Wellington mss WP1/1239/18.
  • 10. J.H. Knox, Norman Hamilton (1860); Ocean-Pilgrim’s Jottings (1870); Critic-Vampyre (1870).
  • 11. Illustrated London News, 14 Sept. 1872.