LEADER, Nicholas Philpot (1773-1836), of Dromagh Castle, Kanturk, co. Cork

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



1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 19 Jan. 1773, 1st s. of William Leader of Mount Leader and Margaret, da. of Wareham St. Leger of Heyward’s Hill. educ. by Mr. Lee; Trinity, Dublin 1789; King’s Inns 1791; M. Temple 1793, called [I] 1798. m. 2 Nov. 1807, Margaret, da. and coh. of Andrew Nash of Nashville, 3s. 2da. suc. fa. 1828. d. 7 Feb. 1836.

Offices Held


Leader was the first member of his family to start coal mining on their ‘vast’ estates in county Cork, which included Mount Leader, purchased by his father from his cousin John Leader. His funds ‘being limited during his father’s lifetime’, he obtained a loan of £10,000 at five per cent from government, to be paid off by instalments according to his profits, and ‘his first step was to open an access to the exhaustless collieries around him’.1 In 1812 he stood unsuccessfully for county Cork as a supporter of Catholic claims in a junior partnership with a prominent Whig.2 Next year he interceded at the Catholic Association to prevent a duel between Maurice Magrath and Daniel O’Connell*, whose brother-in-law later complained of how the affair had been ‘patched up by that miserable meddler in Catholic affairs’.3 In a letter to Peel, the home secretary, submitting plans for a railroad from his colliery at Dromagh to the market at Cork, 26 July 1822, he explained that ‘in consequence of the Acts passed’ by Peel as Irish secretary and his successor Charles Grant*, ‘my establishment in the centre of the distressed and disturbed districts has ... been able to bear up against two famines’, and that he could ‘devote my time ... to the wants of others, having the ... satisfaction of knowing that my workmen are fully able to supply themselves’.4 In December that year he spoke at the meeting of Catholics in Dublin called to vote an address to the Irish viceroy Lord Wellesley. He declined to attend the Association dinner for the ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’, 2 Feb. 1826. He was a founder member of the Society for the Improvement of Ireland established in 1828 and a regular speaker at its meetings.5 In September 1828 he was nominated at the Tralee by-election at the instigation of O’Connell, on account of his local residence and commercial expertise, in a token challenge to the corporation’s control. Next month he and O’Connell attended a meeting of the independents called to open the borough.6 He was received with ‘long and continued cheering’ at the Association’s meeting for a petition in support of emancipation, 20 Jan. 1829, when he praised Protestants and Catholics for their co-operation, paid tribute to the Irish Catholics for their services to the Protestant constitution and moved that the petition be sent to Parliament: ‘He would not count the hours that the battle would last, but he would proclaim that the victory was won’.7 That month Maurice O’Connell* chaired a Tralee meeting at which resolutions were passed thanking Leader for his ‘great exertions and splendid subscription towards the opening of this borough’.8 He was again nominated ineffectually at the by-election of June, providing the basis for a petition against the return, which in the event lapsed.9

Shortly before the 1830 general election it was reported that he was ‘ready to start’ for Carlow if the independents decided ‘everything was clear and certain’, which they were unable to do. ‘I greatly regret that if it was Leader’s serious intention to contest this borough’, one of them informed O’Connell, ‘he did not see the propriety of making you the organ of conveying his wishes’, whereupon ‘every effort ... would have been made’.10 After declining an offer to stand for Clare, where he later claimed to have ‘sent my friend O’Connell in my place’, he accepted an invitation from the independents of Kilkenny. With O’Connell’s support he offered as a ‘Liberal’, vowing to reform the corporation, which had hitherto dominated the representation. Leader has ‘sometimes appeared ad captandum as a wild and visionary theorist’, reported the Kilkenny Moderator, ‘but we happen to know that, setting aside these chimerical and political aberrations, he is really, as a county gentleman ... and resident landlord, one of the most excellent persons’. He was returned after a four-day struggle, amidst allegations of intimidation and outrage by his supporters. At his election dinner, which was attended by O’Connell, 11 Oct. 1830, toasts were drunk to repeal of the Union.11

He was listed by the Wellington ministry among their ‘foes’ and as ‘opposed to government’ by Henry Brougham*. He will be ‘most useful’, an informant advised Maurice Fitzgerald*, by ‘calling the attention of the public, out of the House, to the enormous abuses that are suffered to exist’ in Ireland.12 In his maiden speech, 3 Nov. 1830, he criticized the lack of government measures to relieve the ‘mass of misery, distress and destitution’ in Ireland, which would only increase support for repeal. He objected to the martial language of Sir Henry Hardinge, the Irish secretary, declaring that the Irish had ‘uniformly showed a disposition to submit to the laws’, 5 Nov. He voted for repeal of the Irish Subletting Act, 11 Nov., and reduction of West Indian wheat import duties, 12 Nov., when he presented Athlone petitions for Jewish emancipation and inquiry into its corporation, which had ‘diverted’ its poor relief funds to other purposes. He divided against government on the civil list, 15 Nov. On the 19th he presented and endorsed a Galway petition against ‘corporate usurpation in Ireland and the conversion of public funds to private purposes’, adding that he had similar ones from Galway and Kilkenny, where lands worth £10,000 per annum had been ‘converted to any purpose but that of sheltering the poor as originally intended’. He presented them, 14 Dec., when he contemplated introducing a bill ‘for a practical redress of admitted abuses’ in Kilkenny and the ‘prevention of the malversation of the public revenue of the city’. (No bill was forthcoming.) He supported a motion for returns of Irish freeholder electors, 2 Dec. That day he welcomed Wyse’s bill for employment of the Irish poor, which would do ‘more to repress disturbances than all the exertion of military strength’. ‘Your friend Mr. Leader made an excellent speech on the subject’, Wyse was informed by his agent.13 He demanded greater ministerial attention to the problems of Ireland, 11, 23 Dec. On 17 Dec. he moved for a new writ for Bere Alston where the Member had succeeded to the earldom of Beverley but had yet to transfer to the Lords, insisting that ‘the first duty of this House is to fill up the vacancies in their own body’; but he waived his motion following the intervention of the Speaker. He defended the Grey ministry’s Irish legal appointments, 20 Dec. 1830. On 8 Feb. 1831 he denied that the Irish were ready to use force to obtain repeal, saying that he had recently attended without being ‘afraid’ a meeting of 30,000 Catholics, at which he had advocated the ‘advantages to be derived from English connection’ and received a ‘unanimous vote of confidence’. He presented repeal petitions from Dublin, 14 Feb., when he explained that his desire to ‘act with moderation’ prevented him from endorsing it, and Kilkenny, 30 Mar. He objected to the withdrawal of grants to Irish charities ‘at a time of ruin and misery’, 23 Feb., and to the cessation of Irish public work schemes, 1 Mar. He argued for Irish first fruits to be applied to relief of the people, 14 Mar., and for more employment schemes, 18 Mar., and welcomed proposals to issue exchequer bills for ‘local and temporary’ relief, 30 Mar. On 13 Apr. he denounced the ‘abstract theories’ and ‘new doctrines of the economical reformers’ and demanded greater attention to ‘the wants of the Irish’. He supported the Irish vestries bill, 18 Apr., and called for curbs on the ‘corrupt and infamous practices’ of Irish sheriffs, 20 Apr. He believed the ministry’s English reform bill would give ‘general satisfaction’, 9 Mar., and voted for its second reading, 22 Mar. On the 24th he presented factual evidence showing that Ireland was under represented and demanded additional Members for Irish counties with more than 250,000 inhabitants and a second Member for Kilkenny city. He denied that reform would give an ‘undue preponderance’ to Catholics and presented a favourable petition, 30 Mar. He divided against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831.

At the ensuing general election Leader stood again as a reformer, promising to oppose the Irish Subletting Act and introduce a motion against the ‘monstrous tyranny’ of Irish tithes. He was returned unopposed.14 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against the adjournment, 12 July 1831, and gave steady support to its details. He divided for its third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept., and voted for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., though he advocated an increase in the Scottish representation, 4 Oct. He divided for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He demanded more Members for Ireland on account of its population, 17 Oct., 12 Dec., when he asserted that London’s claims to additional representatives were not sufficient ‘to warrant the House excluding some more distant parts of the empire from any share in the representation’. He presented petitions for repeal of the Irish Vestry Acts and the abolition of tithes, but regretted that the Tithes Composition Act had not been more generally applied as it had produced ‘peace in many places’, 22 June. Next day he condemned the Newtownbarry massacre, saying that ‘calling out the yeomanry to enforce the payment of tithes ... ought never to be resorted to’, and voted for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug. He defended the Irish board of public works, 30 June, and grants for Irish roads and bridges, 5 July. He argued against repeal of the corn laws and any further ‘sacrifice Ireland may be doomed to make to a free trade system’, 25 July. He presented three petitions for Irish poor laws that day, upbraiding his fellow Irish Members for having done so little ‘to alleviate the wants or meet the wishes of their constituents’. In an article published that month Richard Sheil* commended him as a ‘most useful Member’:

He has a minute knowledge of Ireland, and possesses perhaps more acquaintance with its statistics than any other of its representatives. He never speaks without conveying information, and on that account he is always attended to, although it must be owned, that he sometimes displays so much vivacity, and animates his oratorical physique with so much impetuosity of emotion, that he gives the Saxon temperament of his hearers a start.15

He voted against disqualification of the Dublin election committee, 29 July, and to postpone the issue of a new writ, 8 Aug., when he called for inquiry, but with ministers on the controversy, 23 Aug. He opposed the union of Irish parishes bill, 10, 17 Aug., when he contended that Ireland was ‘overrun with churches’, and 19 Aug., when he divided against it. On 11 Aug. he clashed with Spring Rice, the treasury secretary, over the delayed Irish estimates. He expressed ‘great alarm’ at the powers conferred on the new lord lieutenants of Irish counties, which would give them ‘the nomination to seats in Parliament’ and ‘defeat the benefit expected from the reform bill’, 15 Aug., and warned that abolition of the Irish viceroyalty would damage the economy, 31 Aug. He defended grants to the Hibernian Society for Soldiers’ Children, 22 Aug., and the Royal Dublin Society, of which he had ‘been a member for the last 29 years’, 29 Aug. That day he spoke and voted for Sadler’s proposal for legal provision for the Irish poor. On the 31st he defended a grant for Irish legal proceedings which been opposed by Hume, protesting that ‘the system of economy some persons wish to pursue seems to pauperise one half of the empire, in order to bring all the wealth to the other’. He presented and endorsed petitions against the grant to the Kildare Place Society, maintaining that education funds should be ‘distributed generally throughout the country without reference to religion’, 6 Sept. He was in the minority of 24 against the truck bill, 12 Sept., when he said its extension to Ireland would not work because in some areas there was ‘no money at all in circulation’. (He had earlier informed James Emerson, the sponsor of extending the bill to Ireland, that he would prefer to ‘let any experiment be had in England’ first rather than ‘interfere in the present state of Ireland with employment’.)16 He denounced the ‘atrocious system of jobbing’ in Irish vestries, 20 Sept. He presented and endorsed a Kilkenny petition for the construction of a railway to the sea, 28 Sept. He contended that renewal of the Irish Arms Acts was most ‘tyrannical and unjust’ to the 20 undisturbed counties and expressed ‘great anxiety’ about the Irish grand jury amendment bill, 29 Sept. The following day he suggested that the establishment of an Irish board of trade might lessen the agitation for repeal. He declared that he had ‘pledged himself’ to introduce a measure for the abolition of Irish tithes, 18 Oct., and warned that while they remained there would be no peace, 6 Dec. He presented and endorsed a petition against the nomination of Irish grand juries and the ‘great severity’ of their local taxation, 9 Dec. He attacked the Irish Subletting Act as ‘inexpedient and injudicious’, 12 Dec. On 15 Dec. 1831 he asserted that the maintenance of a ‘gorgeous Protestant church’ was ‘amongst the undisputed causes’ of ‘hostility to the laws and institutions’ of Ireland, and successfully moved for the ‘whole state of the Irish church’ to be considered by the Irish tithes committee, to which he was appointed that day.

Leader voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, for going into committee on it, 20 Jan., 20 Feb. 1832, and again steadily supported to its details. He divided for the third reading, 22 Mar. On 19 Jan. he demanded that something be done about Ireland’s ‘rotten boroughs’, which like those of England were ‘a mockery of representation’, and resumed his campaign for additional Irish Members, for which he spoke regularly thereafter. He demanded limits on the cost of election booths, 15 Feb. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. On 23 May he divided for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill. That day he presented 16 petitions for the Irish reform bill and one from Kilkenny for a second Member and destruction of the nomination boroughs, which he endorsed. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, but protested that under its terms ‘many towns which are now open’ would ‘become close boroughs’, 6 June, and spoke at great length against the proposed boundaries and the comparatively small increase in the number of Irish electors, which would ‘inflame’ calls for repeal, 13 June. On the 18th he regretted that the provisions of the bill fell so ‘lamentably short of the expectations raised by the pompous preamble’, voted in the minority for the enfranchisement of £30 occupiers, and argued and was a minority teller for O’Connell’s motion to extend the county franchise to £5 freeholders. He spoke in similar terms, 2 July. On 27 June he endorsed a Mallow petition protesting that the bill would reduce its electorate from 800 to 200, which made a ‘mere mockery of reform’. He was in the minority of 26 for a system of representation for New South Wales, 28 June. Next day he divided against the liability of Irish electors to pay municipal taxes before they could vote. He condemned the proposed division of Irish counties into polling districts, 18 July. He disapproved of a Lords’ amendment to the Irish bill preventing certain types of borough freeholders from qualifying after 31 Mar. 1831, but waived his opposition, 3 Aug. 1832.

He presented petitions for the abolition of Irish tithes, 17 Jan., 16 Feb., when he moved and was a minority teller for printing the one from Woollen Grange, 15 Mar., 5 July. On 8 Mar. he spoke at length against the Irish tithes bill, which had caused ‘considerable embarrassment’ to those Irish Members who had hitherto been the ‘steady and undeviating supporters of every measure of liberal policy’, not one of whom considered it had the ‘slightest chance of success’. He voted against it that day, 27 Mar., when he opposed the introduction of further coercive measures to enforce collection, and again, 30 Mar., 6 Apr., 13, 24 July, 1, 2 Aug. He warned of the ‘disorder and violence’ and ‘immense expenditure’ it would entail, 2 Apr., and spoke regularly against it thereafter, but was one of the Members ‘usually opposing ministers’ who supported Crampton’s amendment regarding the payment of arrears, 9 Apr.17 On 2 Aug. he challenged its details in committee one by one, but denied charges of throwing ‘unnecessary delay in the way of the business of the House’. He argued for the reception of an anti-tithes petition from the peasantry couched ‘in very coarse language’ that day. He voted with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 July, and the navy civil departments bill, 6 Apr., but was in the minorities for information on military punishments, 16 Feb., and the immediate abolition of slavery, 24 May. He contended that greater army reductions would be possible if attention was paid to the causes of Irish disturbances, 17 Feb. He condemned the Irish Subletting Act that day and 20 Feb. He argued that the ‘benefits of an English jury system should be extended to Ireland’, 22 Feb., demanded compensation for Irish tobacco traders, 29 Feb., and welcomed the new Irish education plan, 2 Mar. He opposed Irish military increases, 23 May, and insisted that it was ‘worse than useless to talk of Insurrection Acts’ and establish committees on the suppression of Irish outrages while the ‘evils’ of absenteeism and lack of legal provision for the Irish poor remained unremedied, 31 May. He was a minority teller against the King’s County assizes bill, 30 May, and next day opposed a motion for inquiry into the state of Queen’s County.18 He divided for permanent provision of the Irish poor by a tax on absentee landlords, 19 June, and for inquiry into the inns of court, 17 July. On the 18th he asked for the office of Irish secretary to be placed on a proper footing and for greater access to official information to be given to Irish Members. That day he contended that if more were spent on the employment of the Irish poor, crime would decrease. He called for the bill excluding the Dublin recorder from sitting in Parliament to be extended to all recorders, 24 July. He endorsed a petition from Blarney, county Cork, against the recent suppression of a public meeting on Irish manufactures, 27 July, condemned it as ‘a most wanton exercise of military power’, 2 Aug., and demanded inquiry, 10 Aug. He believed that abolition of the viceroyalty would be ‘disastrous’, as 8,000,000 people ‘cannot be governed without there being an executive power on the spot’, and warned that it would increase agitation for repeal of the Union, 30 July 1832.

At the 1832 general dissolution Leader retired from Parliament, after refusing to take O’Connell’s pledge in support of repeal. The Times noted that ‘there has come forth from Ireland perhaps no popular representative, not being of the desperado faction, who has more generally thrown aside all compromise in pursuing his own straightforward course’.19 He died at Nashville, county Cork, in February 1836, and was succeeded by his eldest son and namesake (1808-80), Conservative Member for the county, 1861-68.20

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. PRO NI, Leader mss D3653.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 634-5.
  • 3. O’Connell Corresp. i. 437; ii. 515.
  • 4. Add. 40611, f. 39.
  • 5. O’Connell Corresp. ii. 982; iii. 1278; iv. 1672; Leader mss 16/3/42.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 16 Sept., 23 Oct. 1828; O’Connell Corresp. viii. 3409.
  • 7. The Times, 24 Jan. 1829.
  • 8. Leader mss 16/3/37.
  • 9. Dublin Evening Post, 13 June 1829.
  • 10. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1681.
  • 11. Kilkenny Moderator, 31 July, 11, 14, 18, 21 Aug., 20 Oct. 1830; G. Burtchaell, MPs for Kilkenny, 209-10; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1700, 1716; NLI, Wyse mss 15024 (3).
  • 12. PRO NI, Fitzgerald mss MIC/639/13/7/77/116.
  • 13. Wyse mss 15024 (2).
  • 14. Dublin Evening Post, 28 Apr.; Kilkenny Moderator, 27, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 15. Sketches, Legal and Political ed. M. Savage, ii. 341.
  • 16. PRO NI, Emerson Tennant mss D2922/C/1A/4.
  • 17. The Times, 10 Apr. 1832.
  • 18. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1899.
  • 19. The Times, 4 Oct. 1832.
  • 20. Gent. Mag. (1836), i. 444.