SHAW, Robert (1774-1849), of Bushy Park, co. Dublin; 31 Merrion Square and Foster Place, Dublin

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



31 Mar. 1804 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 29 Jan. 1774, 1st s. of Robert Shaw, merchant, of Dublin and 1st w. Mary, da. of William Higgins of Higginsbrook, co. Meath. educ. Mr. Kerr’s sch.; Trinity, Dublin 1788. m. (1) 7 Jan. 1796, Maria (d. 28 Mar. 1831), da. and h. of Abraham Wilkinson of Bushy Park, 6s. (3 d.v.p.) 3da. (1 d.v.p.);1 (2) 2 July 1834, Amelia, da. of Benjamin Spencer, MD, of Bristol, Glos., s.p. suc. fa. 1796; cr. bt. 17 Aug. 1821. d. 10 Mar. 1849.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1799-1800.

Sheriffs’ peer, Dublin 1797-1808; sheriff, co. Dublin 1806-7; alderman, Dublin 1808-41, ld. mayor 1815-16.

Cornet Rathfarnham cav. 1796, capt. 1803; capt.-commdt. S. Circular Road inf. 1805; col. R. Dublin city militia 1821.


Shaw, whose Scottish family had moved from Hampshire to county Kilkenny in the late seventeenth century, was the son of a prosperous Dublin merchant and minor government official. He followed his father into commerce and was elected a member of the common council of Dublin, but he declined the office of sheriff in 1797, paying a fine of 300 guineas, and served as a sheriffs’ peer until chosen an alderman in 1808.2 In 1797 he became a partner in the bank headed by Sir Thomas Lighton, former Member for Tuam and Carlingford, based in Foster Place, off College Green. From 1807 he was the senior partner in this firm, now known as Robert Shaw, Thomas Needham and Ponsonby Shaw (Ponsonby being his brother and a fellow corporator).3 He had opposed the Union in his brief career in the Irish Parliament, but from 1804 was an inactive and usually ministerialist Member for Dublin. After winning the contest in 1806 (presumably the election which he later admitted had cost him £12,000), he was thereafter returned unopposed on the corporation interest, despite becoming a supporter of Catholic claims in about 1812.4

Shaw was criticized for being too indolent on constituency business and too close to the Liverpool administration, which in 1820 appointed his son and namesake to the position of accomptant-general of the Irish post office, in which his late father had served as comptroller. Yet he was not in the end challenged at the general election that spring, when he promised to press for lower (especially local) taxation and was again returned with his ailing colleague, Henry Grattan.5 One of several aldermen to be proposed for the office of lord mayor, 10 May, his defeat (by 88-23) was owing not so much to disrespect towards him as to the common council’s determination to impose its own candidate.6 He defended the interests of Dublin in objecting to abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy, 17 May, and supporting the continuance of the Union duties, 14 June, when he was a majority teller against inquiry into them. He brought in a bill to light Dublin with gas, 25 May; it passed that session despite his receiving a request from the corporation to withdraw it.7 He apparently remained neutral (and did not vote) in the divisive Dublin by-election which followed Grattan’s death in June, although in the House he opposed the proposed exclusion of the winning corporation candidate Thomas Ellis as an Irish master in chancery, 30 June. He spoke up for Irish distillers on the sale of spirits bill, 12 July 1820. His loyalty to the government was rewarded with the colonelcy of the city militia and a baronetcy the following year.

He voted against censuring ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb., and stated that the sheriff of county Dublin had been ‘indiscreet, but not corrupt’ in forcibly closing the county meeting on this issue, 22 Feb. 1821. He voted against repealing the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., reducing the grant for the adjutant-general’s office, 11 Apr., disqualifying civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr. 1821, and abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822. He unsuccessfully moved to repeal the Irish window tax, 16 May 1821, and gave notice that he would repeat the attempt, 28 Feb. 1822, when, as on several other occasions, he brought up a hostile Dublin petition; on 24 May he expressed his pleasure at government’s decision to abolish it.8 He was appointed to the select committee on Dublin taxation, 20 Mar., and chaired its proceedings, 25, 30 Apr., 13 May.9 Like his colleague, he was thanked by the corporation for his exertions on both these subjects, 19 Apr., 19 July 1822.10 He expressed the hope that much would be done for Ireland in the ensuing session at a Dublin sheriff’s dinner in January 1823.11 He voted for the grant for Irish church and glebe houses, 11 Apr., and against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June. He several times chaired the reappointed committee on Dublin taxation, to which he gave evidence, 8 May. Having divided in the majority for the inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., he made minor interventions, 6, 14 May, and was briefly examined by it, 23 May 1823.12

He was again named to the select committees on Dublin taxation, 8 Apr. 1824, 23 Feb. 1825. He continued to bring up numerous petitions from his constituents, such as one from the chamber of commerce against Ellis’s Dublin coal trade bill, 5 Apr., although he acquiesced in the second reading of this measure, 13 Apr. 1824. Showing how he could occasionally busy himself with mercantile legislation, he was a majority teller against amendments to the Irish Equitable Loan Society bill, 1, 9 June, and secured its third reading, 10 June.13 He divided against inquiry into the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June. He pointedly failed to endorse the ascendancy interest at another shrieval dinner in October 1824.14 He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15, 25 Feb., and (as he had on 28 Feb. 1821) for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825. He commented that nothing would so conciliate Irish opinion in favour of emancipation as the Commons agreeing to the securities of raising the elective franchise and paying Catholic priests, 28 Mar. 1825, adding that time should be given to Irish bankers to absorb the new financial regulations affecting them.15 He declined the invitation to attend the O’Connellite dinner for the friends of civil and religious liberty in Dublin, 2 Feb. 1826.16 As he had sometimes been obliged to do in the past, he presented the corporation’s petitions for suppression of the Catholic Association, 27 Feb., and against Catholic claims, 27 Apr.17 His only other known parliamentary votes were against the emergency admission of foreign corn, 8, 11 May 1826.

Shaw, who had long been criticized for being inefficient and insufficiently Protestant, declared his determination to stand at the following general election, despite the likelihood of his being opposed by a man of greater commercial expertise.18 He duly offered on the basis of his past conduct and persisted as far as the nomination on the hustings, 10 June, when he insisted on his attachment to the interests of the city and explained his pro-Catholic votes as evidence of his independence. However, he withdrew at the end of that day, before polling could begin, ostensibly to prevent a violent partisan contest. Although it was said that he could have won if he had persevered, his retirement was attributed to a loss of confidence in him on the part of the Protestant corporation, who brought in the anti-Catholic George Moore at the cost of allowing Henry Grattan junior to secure the other seat.19 He was mentioned as a possible candidate during electoral speculation in May 1827 and was again so considered by the Irish administration at the general election of 1830, when it was in fact his son Frederick who defeated Grattan.20 In December 1830 he justified his pension, which he claimed to have inherited from his father, against Daniel O’Connell’s* aspersions.21 He voted for Frederick and Moore at the Dublin election of 1831 and for Frederick and Thomas Lefroy* in the University contest at the general election of 1832, when he proposed George Alexander Hamilton† for the county, and voted for the defeated Conservative candidates in the city of Dublin.22 At the following general election, when he was again involved in the county contest, he was facetiously mentioned as a potential starter for the borough and may have had to give evidence to the subsequent election committee; he voted for the Conservatives Hamilton and John Beatty West† then and in 1837.23 Proposing another Conservative, Thomas Edward Taylor†, for county Dublin at the general election of 1841 (as he also did in 1847), he stated that ‘when he, 15 years ago, withdrew from Parliament, the doctrines of the Whigs were different to what they put forward now. He was never for violent principles and therefore he was for a firm, strong, but moderate government’.24 Shaw, whose bank of Sir Robert Shaw and Company was incorporated as the Royal Bank of Ireland in 1836, died, a highly respected country gentleman, in March 1849. He was succeeded in his title and estates in turn by his sons Robert (1796-1869) and Frederick, who sat for Dublin University until 1848.25

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Hist. Irish Parl. vi. 263.
  • 2. Cal. Ancient Recs. Dublin, xv. 11-12, 20; xvi. 118.
  • 3. Shaw mss (NRA 31216).
  • 4. TCD, Donoughmore mss F/13/28; HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 134-5.
  • 5. Add. 40296, ff. 55-56; 40298, f. 16; Dublin Evening Post, 3, 5 Feb.; Dublin Jnl. 23 Feb., 10, 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 11 May 1820.
  • 7. The Times, 26 May 1820; Cal. Ancient Recs. Dublin, xvii. 315-17.
  • 8. The Times, 17 May 1821, 1 Mar., 18, 23 Apr., 9 May 1822.
  • 9. PP (1822), vii. 175-7, 183.
  • 10. Cal. Ancient Recs. Dublin, xvii. 453, 463, 471-3.
  • 11. Dublin Evening Post, 16 Jan. 1823.
  • 12. PP (1823), vi. 77-79, 750-5; The Times, 15, 24 May 1823.
  • 13. The Times, 6 Apr., 11 June 1824.
  • 14. Dublin Evening Post, 7 Oct. 1824.
  • 15. The Times, 29 Mar. 1825.
  • 16. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1278.
  • 17. The Times, 28 Feb., 28 Apr. 1826.
  • 18. Dublin Evening Post, 10 Aug. 1824, 8 Aug., 27 Sept., 13 Dec. 1825, 9 Mar. 1826.
  • 19. Ibid. 6, 10, 13, 15 June; The Times, 15 June; NLI, Farnham mss 18602 (19), Robinson to Maxwell, 12 June 1826.
  • 20. Dublin Evening Post, 26 May 1827; NAI, Leveson Gower letter bks. Leveson Gower to Gregory, 28 June 1830.
  • 21. Dublin Evening Post, 23 Dec. 1830; Extraordinary Black Bk. (1831), 481.
  • 22. Dublin Evening Post, 19 May 1831, 18 Dec. 1832; Dublin Univ. Pollbook (1832), 27; Dublin Pollbook (1837), 167.
  • 23. Dublin Evening Post, 3, 10, 13 Jan. 1835; Dublin Pollbook (1835), 15, 41-42, 134; O’Connell Corresp. v. 2299; Dublin Pollbook (1837), 167.
  • 24. Dublin Evening Post, 10 July 1841; The Times, 11 Aug. 1847.
  • 25. Dublin Evening Mail, 12 Mar.; The Times, 13 Mar. 1849; Gent. Mag. (1849), i. 541.