RUTHVEN, Edward Southwell (1773-1836), of Oakley, co. Down.

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



1806 - 1807
1830 - 1832
1832 - 31 Mar. 1836

Family and Education

b. 3 Nov. 1773,1 1st s. of Rev. Edward Trotter, LLD, of Oakley, preb. of Down, and Mary, da. of Very Rev. James Dickson of Dromore, dean of Down. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1787; Wadham, Oxf. 1790; M. Temple 1791. m. 12 Mar. 1794, Harriet Jane, da. of Francis Price, MP [I], of Saintfield, co. Down, 3s. 4da. suc. fa. 1777; took name of Ruthven 1801. d. 31 Mar. 1836.

Offices Held

Cornet, army 1800, 10 Drag. 1801-3.

Capt. Down militia 1793, Downpatrick yeoman inf. 1803.


This Member’s originally Scottish family moved from Durham to Ireland in the seventeenth century, his great-grandfather Samuel Trotter being a dealer in skins and wools. His grandfather, John (?1698-1771) of Downpatrick, was agent to Lord de Clifford, which perhaps explains why one of his names was Southwell. His father, who married on 20 Dec. 1771, died on 8 July 1777, leaving him many houses in Downpatrick by his will, which was proved the following year; he was described by the resident diarist Aynsworth Pilson as a ‘sensible good sort of man’, who despite his ‘considerable vanity’ had ‘an understanding very superior to his son and grandson who afterwards figured in Downpatrick’. His mother, whose father had been Member for Lisburn, 1759-76, remarried in 1792, to James Cumine of Killough, but died the same year. Pilson later recorded that the young Trotter ‘was greatly indulged by his mother, which, superadded to a temper naturally self-willed, contributed much to his unhappiness through life’.2 On 24 Jan. 1801 he was given royal permission to ‘resume’ the name of Ruthven, ‘out of grateful respect to the memory of his paternal ancestors the Ruthvens’, earls of Gowrie. A minor Down landowner, he allied himself with the dominant Whig interest of the 3rd marquess of Downshire and, having been returned for the open householder borough of Downpatrick in 1806, he supported the Grenville administration.3 His brother John Bernard Trotter was appointed private secretary to the foreign secretary, Charles James Fox†, that year; he published the first biography of him in 1811.

Having lost his seat in 1807 and been defeated in 1815 and 1818, Ruthven offered again for Downpatrick at the general election of 1820, when the sitting Member withdrew. At the county election there he urged the local magistrates to maintain order and a few days later, despite thinking himself certain of success, he was defeated in the borough by his Tory opponent, John Waring Maxwell.4 His eldest son Edward addressed the lord lieutenant Lord Wellesley in favour of reforming the government of Ireland, 7 July 1823, while he himself spoke at the Belfast reform meeting in November that year.5 He proposed the Whig Lord Arthur Hill* for Down at the general election of 1826, when he did not offer for Downpatrick.6 In late 1828 he and his son tried to wrest control of the Down races, leading the Rev. Charles Hamilton, vicar of Garvaghy, to complain to Downshire that ‘I regret exceedingly the part which the Ruthvens have taken (so unsuitable for them and ungrateful to you)’, adding that ‘the son is a vain assuming, prating and scribbling creature, and I have often been astonished at the influence he exercises over his father’s stronger intellect’.7 Said by Pilson to have distinguished himself in the cause of Catholic emancipation, he spoke in its favour at the Down Catholics’ meeting and the Downpatrick dinner to Daniel O’Connell* in early 1829.8 That autumn, from an ‘old grudge towards my family’, as the leading Tory county proprietor Lord Londonderry put it, he was a major figure in the establishment of the Down Independent Club, which agitated against the predominating electoral interests.9 He signed the requisition for and spoke at the county Down meeting against the increased Irish stamp and spirit duties, 19 May 1830.10

On Waring Maxwell’s withdrawal at the general election of 1830, Ruthven, who claimed to be unconnected with any party, offered again for Downpatrick and was returned unopposed, described as a ‘public spirited gentleman’ of ‘most independent and uncompromising principles’.11 Having finally broken with Downshire, he supported the unsuccessful campaign of the former county Member, Mathew Forde, against Hill and Lord Castlereagh, Londonderry’s son, in the county contest; he spoke in Forde’s favour on the hustings, plumped for him and presided at the Downpatrick dinner in his honour, 16 Sept. 1830.12 Regretting Ruthven’s return, Downshire’s law agent Thomas Handley commented to his employer that ‘there will I fear be too many of his levelling class get in this time’, and Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, listed him among government’s ‘foes’.13 In the Commons, where he was a frequent speaker on all manner of Irish concerns, he quickly earned a reputation as a bore; Tom Macaulay* privately denounced him as ‘that stupid Irishman’.14

In a maiden speech, 3 Nov. 1830, he denied that Ireland sought independence from Britain. He objected to Hume’s call for reducing army widows’ pensions, 5 Nov., and, although usually a supporter of reduced expenditure and taxation, he on various later occasions opposed false economies. As in the debate on the state of the labouring classes, 9 Nov., he frequently advocated the extension of proposed measures to Ireland. He spoke and voted for repealing the Irish Subletting Act, 11 Nov., and was in the majority against ministers on the civil list, which led to their resignation, 15 Nov. He defended the Irish clergy, 18 Nov., and magistracy, 15, 23 Dec., and took a moderate stance on slavery, advocating compensation for planters, 23 Nov., 15 Dec., and on agricultural distress, opposing repeal of the corn laws, 2, 7, 17 Dec. He praised O’Connell’s support for parliamentary reform, 9 Dec., but stated his disagreement with him over repeal of the Union that day and on the 11th. On 17 Dec. 1831 he engaged in the first of what became a long series of rancorous squabbles. He helped to secure the petition for radical reform at the Down meeting, 20 Jan. 1831, and signed the requisition for the county gathering against repeal of the Union in March, when he unsuccessfully applied to the new prime minister, Lord Grey, for the colonelcy of the Down militia.15 Blaming the tithe system for economic distress, he moved for leave to introduce a bill to exempt small occupiers from payment of the tithe on potatoes, 22 Feb.; it was defeated by 133-1 when the O’Gorman Mahon divided the House. He suggested other means of relieving Irish distress, 10, 16, 18 Mar. He complained that ministers’ reform proposals provided insufficient additional representation for Ireland, 9, 24, 29 Mar., but voted for the second reading of their English reform bill, 22 Mar. Although three times cautioned by the Speaker, he persisted in complaining about Londonderry’s remark in the Lords that the Down petition had been got up by a ‘rabble’, 25 Mar.; he presented it on the 30th, after the county Members had refused to do so. He advocated alteration of the Irish jury laws, 12, 20 Apr., and reductions in the civil list, 14 Apr. He divided in the minority against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831. He offered again for Downpatrick at the ensuing general election, when he easily saw off the challenge of a Scottish Tory interloper.16 In the county contest, he seconded the nomination of the unsuccessful independent candidate William Sharman Crawford†, but attempted to placate the moderate freeholders by opposing radical changes and indicating that he would also vote for Hill, another reformer, against Castlereagh.17

Ruthven praised the address for promising to tackle Irish distress, 22 June, but criticized the use of molasses in British distilleries as depreciating the work of Irish labourers, 30 June, 26 July 1831. He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July, and thereafter generally for its details in committee, though he cast wayward votes for postponing consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, against the division of counties, 11 Aug., and for Lord Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug. He opposed the continuation of the grant to the Kildare Place Society, 18 July, when he had something to say on the role of the yeomanry in Orange processions, and the following day he defended the Maynooth grant. He justified the respectability, if not the sentiments, of the Belfast petition for repeal of the Union, 20 July. He was listed in the minorities for swearing the original Dublin election committee, 29 July, and against issuing a new writ, 8 Aug., but in government majorities in the two divisions on the controversy, 23 Aug. He called for the introduction of a form of poor laws to Ireland, 10 Aug., and voted for this, 29 Aug. On 11 Aug. he divided for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, which he argued would relieve tension, 15, 26 Aug. He favoured the appointment of lord lieutenants in Irish counties, 15, 20 Aug., but was occasionally hostile to ministers, for instance in the committee of supply, 31 Aug. On 2 Sept. he proposed legalizing Catholic marriages (he introduced an abortive bill on this the following session), and he suggested alterations to the Irish administration of justice bill, 2, 15 Sept. He voted for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and for the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept. He clashed with Bateson, Member for County Londonderry, 26 Sept., and Castlereagh, 27 Sept., and was angered by the House’s refusal to hear him, 4 Oct. He divided for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct., and spoke generally for reform, 12, 17, 18 Oct. He was a teller for the minority against the ecclesiastical courts bill, 14 Oct. 1831.

Having missed the division on the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, he called for an increase of Irish Members and defended the £5 householder franchise, 19 Jan. 1832, when he condemned the Union. He divided for the committal of the reform bill, 20 Jan., 20 Feb., steadily for its details and for the third reading, 22 Mar. He complained about the partisan composition of the select committee on Irish tithes, 23 Jan., when he voted for the vestry bill, but urged his countrymen not to react violently against the ministerial plan for Irish education, 26 Jan., 13 Feb. He sided with opposition against the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and for inquiry into distress in the glove trade, 31 Jan., but with ministers against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb. He initially suggested that the anatomy bill should be extended to Ireland, 6 Feb., but voted for recommitting it, 27 Feb., and expressed his horror of it, 16 Mar., 11 Apr., 11 May. He declared for the total abolition of Irish tithes, 8 Feb., and gave guarded support to the Irish subletting bill, 20 Feb., and juries bill, 22, 28 Feb., when his amendment for juries in criminal cases to be chosen by ballot was negatived. He divided to postpone debate on Irish tithes, 8 Mar., and secured an adjournment on this, 13 Mar., presenting hostile petitions, 23, 30 Mar., 14 May. He led the protests against government’s interim report on the subject, 27 Mar., when he was teller for the minority for his amendment to the first resolution for redistributing church revenues, and argued that conciliation not enforcement was the remedy for disorder in Ireland, 31 Mar. Having divided against the second and fourth resolutions, 27, 30 Mar., he moved (and was a teller for) the unsuccessful wrecking amendment against the second reading of the Irish arrears of tithes bill, 6 Apr., and again raised objections to it, 9, 16 Apr. He spoke for the ministerial education plan, 16 Apr., and, as he had promised its instigator Sharman Crawford, brought up the favourable Bangor petition, 18 Apr.18 He voted for Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and, despite claiming that his native country deserved better, for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He was a teller for the minority against inquiry into the outrages in Ireland, 23 May, when he voted for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, although in what he called a more moderate atmosphere on the 31st he accepted the need for a committee. He divided for Buxton’s motion to abolish colonial slavery, 24 May. He remarked that Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament did not go far enough, 30 May, 1 June. On 6 and 25 June he presented and endorsed Dublin petitions for it to receive two additional Members, which he failed to secure in the committee, 18 July. He supported various O’Connellite changes to the Irish reform bill, 13, 18, 25 June, 2, 9 July, and sided with him for amendments to it, 18, 19, 29 June and (as teller) 2 July. He attacked the Irish party processions bill, 14 June, and voted against going into committee on it, 25 June. He objected to Newry’s extensive boundaries, 5, 9 July, and presented its petition to confine the borough to the limits of the town, 17 July. He divided for postponing the Irish tithes bill until the following Parliament, 13 July, justified the opposition to it, 18, 20 July, spoke and voted against it, 24 July, 1 Aug., and registered further protests, 2, 3, 6, 15 Aug. He voted for inquiry into the Inns of Court, 17 July, criticized the bribery at elections bill as ineffective, 30 July, and advocated independence for Greece, 8, 10 Aug. Reverting to one of his favourite ideas for bringing home to the Parliament in England the problems of Ireland, he gave notice, 24 July 1832, that in the following session he would move for a committee to meet in Dublin to investigate the true state of the country.

The Protestant Ruthven, who had for many months been cultivating a following in Dublin, was surprisingly adopted as a candidate by the National Political Union there after he had pledged himself to advocate repeal of the Union, and he was elected as a Repealer with O’Connell at the general election of 1832.19 A large, slightly hump-backed figure, he increasingly infuriated the Commons by his persistence in moving the adjournment each evening, in an effort to end the practice of late sittings. According to James Grant, who commented that ‘his manners are awkward in the extreme; he looks like a person newly imported from the country, and who has all his life been a working farmer’, he ‘cannot speak the English language at all; he often tries to correct himself, and stammers away at an extraordinary rate in the attempt, but he only in the end flounders the more deeply in the mire of bad English’.20 Although careful with money, he had to sell his estates at Crossgar in 1827 and Oakley in 1831 and at his death, in March 1836, he retained almost no property in Down. Pilson observed that ‘late hours accompanied by excess and perhaps a disturbed mind from his reduced circumstances probably combined to hasten his dissolution’. He was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, 11 Apr. 1836, and although he had been returned for that city at the general election in 1835, he was posthumously unseated a few weeks later.21 His estate, such as it was, passed to his widow (d. 16 Apr. 1846, aged 76) and son Edward of Ballyfan House, Kildare, the Repeal Member for that county, 1832-7.22

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Clergy of Down and Dromore, pt. ii, p. 60. IGI (Down) unaccountably gives a baptism date of 3 Oct. 1773 for Edward Southerland Trotter.
  • 2. Burke Irish LG (1958), sub (Otway-) Ruthven; Clergy of Down and Dromore, pt. ii, pp. 59-60; Index to Prerogative Wills of Ireland ed. Sir A. Vicars, 461; PRO NI, Pilson ‘Mems.’ D365/7, pp. 24-30.
  • 3. Pilson ‘Mems.’ p. 28; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 645-6; v. 74-75.
  • 4. Belfast News Letter, 24, 28 Mar. 1820; PRO NI, Ker mss D2651/3/36.
  • 5. Belfast News Letter, 11 July, 25 Nov. 1823.
  • 6. Belfast Commercial Chron. 28 June 1826.
  • 7. PRO NI, Downshire mss D671/C/2/333/1; 75/81.
  • 8. PRO NI, Pilson diary D365/3, 19 Aug. 1828, 2 Apr.; Newry Commercial Telegraph, 20 Feb.; Northern Whig, 23 Apr. 1829.
  • 9. Downshire mss C/2/396/1; 12/418; 75/89.
  • 10. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 14, 21 May 1830.
  • 11. Ibid. 23, 27 July, 10 Aug. 1830; PRO NI, Perceval-Maxwell mss D3244/G/1/67.
  • 12. Pilson ‘Mems.’ p. 28; Newry Commercial Telegraph, 27 July, 17 Aug., 21 Sept. 1830; PRO NI T761/19.
  • 13. Downshire mss C/1/618.
  • 14. Macaulay Letters, ii. 73.
  • 15. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 14, 25 Jan., 18 Mar. 1831; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/28A-B/48.
  • 16. Belfast News Letter, 3, 10, 13 May 1831.
  • 17. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 13, 17, 20 May 1831.
  • 18. PRO NI, Sharman Crawford mss D856/D/20.
  • 19. Dublin Evening Post, 21 Aug., 30 Oct., 1, 11 Dec.; Newry Commercial Telegraph, 7 Sept., 14 Dec. 1832; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1917, 1921, 1925, 1929; J. Hill, From Patriots to Unionists, 351.
  • 20. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 339-43.
  • 21. Pilson ‘Mems.’ pp. 28-30; The Times, 1, 8, 14 Apr.; Dublin Evening Post, 2, 7, 12 Apr. 1836; Gent. Mag. (1836), i. 664-5; DNB; Oxford DNB.
  • 22. Pilson ‘Mems.’ p. 29.