VAN HOMRIGH, Peter (1768-1831), of Listoke, co. Louth
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Family and Educationb. 1768, 3rd s. of John Van Homrigh of Drogheda and Alicia Marshall. educ. Drogheda sch. by Dr. Richard Norris; Trinity, Dublin 1784-9; King’s Inns 1790; M. Temple 1790, called [I] 1792. unm. d. 5 Mar. 1831.
Recorder, Drogheda 1796-d., mayor 1811-12.
Van Homrigh, a ‘Dutch Irishman’, was probably descended from Bartholomew Van Homrigh, Member of the Irish Parliament for Londonderry, 1692-3, 1695-9, whose name was taken by his eldest brother.1 It was either Bartholomew or Beaver Van Homrigh, another older brother and attorney, who in 1797 acquired a highly favourable lease on ‘ground at Legavoran’ from the corporation of Drogheda, where Van Homrigh had been elected recorder the previous year and later served as mayor.2 Shortly thereafter both brothers died, Beaver’s will being proved on 31 May 1804, by which time Van Homrigh’s mother had remarried, and Batholomew’s on 17 Nov. 1809, with the direction that he be interred in ‘the burial place of my family’ at St. Peter’s, Drogheda.3 Van Homrigh, who in both cases seems to have been the principal legatee, was supposedly ‘distinguished as a classical scholar, but a disposition unsuited to the dry and severe study of the law diverted him from a close application to his profession, and he retired early from practice’.4
Following the 1818 Drogheda election, when the corporation-backed candidate secured a narrow victory, the independent challenger Thomas Wallace II* fought a duel with Van Homrigh in which, ‘after discharging each a case of pistols, they quitted the ground attended by their seconds’.5 The victor over Wallace at the 1820 general election was listed by the Liverpool ministry as seeking public office for Van Homrigh, but this appears to have come to nothing. At the 1826 general election Van Homrigh came forward himself at the request of ‘a large body of freeholders’, professing principles which were ‘known to have been liberal from the earliest period of his life’ and support for Catholic emancipation, and armed with a long purse. (In a financial arrangement of 29 Apr. 1825, the corporation had discontinued his salary of £100 per annum and ‘in lieu thereof’ issued him with ‘nine debentures of £100 each’, bearing ‘interest at the rate of five per cent per annum’, with the ‘remaining £55 ... applied to effecting an insurance on his life, to create a fund for the payment of such debentures’.)6 After a bitter struggle with the sitting Member, who accused him of saying that ‘if the representation was offered to him, from his time of life, he would decline it’, and with Wallace, who entered the field on the fourth day alleging that both his opponents were ‘incapacitated’ by their purchase of votes, Van Homrigh was returned at the head of the poll.7 Rumours of a petition came to nothing and Van Homrigh insisted in the House, 28 May 1827, that he ‘owed his election to the unbought, unsolicited suffrages of the town’.
In his maiden speech, 2 Mar. 1827, he defended the Catholic bishop Dr. Curtis against ‘the charge of improperly interfering in matters of state’. He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and told an inattentive House that ‘if I were a Catholic ... I would never be satisfied until I had completely succeeded in vindicating my claims to equal rights with the rest of my fellow-subjects’, 23 Mar. He considered it ‘deplorable’ that ‘there were more than five thousand paupers in Drogheda and its vicinity’, 9 Mar., and presented a petition for employment of the ‘distressed poor’ there, 14 Mar.8 He argued that the unpopularity of the Irish viceroy Lord Wellesley with Protestants and Catholics had arisen because when he ‘administered justice in such a way as was pleasing to one party, he was attacked in the Evening Mail, and when his conduct pleased the other party, he was attacked in the Morning Register’, 16 Mar. That day he divided for the duke of Clarence’s annuity bill. He voted for the spring guns bill, 23 Mar. He presented a Drogheda petition against the Irish coal duties, 27 Mar.9 He divided with Canning’s ministry against the disfranchisement of Penryn the following day, asserting that ‘there was no proof of corruption against its two representatives’, and again, 7 June, when he complained that if the bill passed it would be ‘the first instance in the annals of Parliament that a select committee should declare the ... Members ... duly elected’ and subsequently ‘disfranchise the same borough on account of acts connected with that very election’. He was appointed to the select committee on Irish grand jury presentments, 6 June 1827, against which he presented a Drogheda petition, 27 June 1828. He voted for the grant to improve Canadian water communications, 12 June 1827. He denounced the Coventry magistracy bill as ‘novel, capricious, and calculated to do no credit to the House’ and voted against it, 18 June 1827. He presented a Drogheda petition for ‘unqualified and unconditional’ Catholic relief, 5 May, and voted thus, 12 May 1828. He cautioned against the practice of immediate execution for convicted murderers, 5 May. He voted with the Wellington ministry against ordnance reductions, 4 July, and for their silk duties, 14 July. On 20 Sept. 1828 the Irish secretary Lord Francis Leveson Gower informed Peel, the home secretary, that Van Homrigh had
called on me this morning with an urgent request for the office in the commission of judicial inquiry ... His application was pressing, and he described the state of his personal circumstances as very distressing. I should be glad if you would inform me of the degree of interest which you would be inclined to take in him. I am told he is among the most constant and sleepless supporters of government in the House of Commons and I think a claim of that nature is not to be neglected.10
A few days earlier Van Homrigh had written what was described as a ‘very peremptory’ letter to Lord Ellenborough, Lord Melville’s successor at the board of control, ‘demanding that a promise of a cadetship made by Lord Melville to his son should be performed’.11 Both applications seem to have come to nothing.
Van Homrigh presented two Drogheda petitions for the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation, 11 Mar., warned that ‘there never will be peace in Ireland, or permanent security for life, so long as this great question remains unsettled’, 16 Mar., and voted accordingly, 30 Mar. 1829. He considered the accompanying Irish freeholders bill a ‘gain’ for Catholics, as although it ‘may curtail their present privileges, the other measure will present them with more than counterbalancing advantages’, 26 Mar. He defended the conduct of Irish proprietors towards the poor, declaring that ‘a body of landlords more generous, indulgent, or liberal, than those of Ireland, does not exist’, 7 May. He divided for Daniel O’Connell to be allowed to take his seat unhindered, 18 May 1829. He voted against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, 23 Feb. 1830. He dismissed as ‘totally unfounded’ allegations by O’Connell that Drogheda corporation had misappropriated ‘upwards of £20,000 with which they were entrusted for purposes of education’, 22 Mar. He divided against the abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He voted against reductions of the grants for South American missions that day, and for Prince Edward Island, 14 June 1830.
At the 1830 dissolution Van Homrigh retired from politics, evidently on account of financial difficulties. That December, following the accession to power of the Grey ministry, he wrote to the new home secretary Lord Melbourne, whom he had considered ‘a friend of mine’ when he was in Ireland (1827-8), to ask for assistance towards the ‘expenses of my election to the late Parliament’, explaining:
My attendance there involved me in debts which I am unable to pay and I am in deplorable distress. Lord Killeen*, Sir M[arcus] Somerville*, Mr. J[ames] Grattan*, Mr. A[lexander] Dawson* and other of my friends have contributed to my temporary relief, but I am in hopes that you and His Majesty’s ministers will give me that substantial relief which will prevent me from dying in the jail of this town of which I have been recorder 33 years. I am in hopes that you and they will do something handsome to avert such a calamity from a Member of the late Parliament.
Melbourne, however, was ‘totally unable to give any assistance’.12
Van Homrigh died ‘suddenly’ in March 1831, after falling off his chair whilst ‘reading in the public news room’ at Drogheda.13 By his death Drogheda corporation’s ‘insurance was effected’, and with the money they received the ‘debentures were thereupon paid off’.14
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. Ellenborough Diary, i. 221; M. MacDonagh, The Viceroy’s Post-Bag, 295.
- 2. PP (1835), xxviii. 420; Drogheda Jnl. 8 Mar. 1831; J. D’Alton, Hist. Drogheda, i. 257, ii. 375.
- 3. Irish Genealogist, ii (Oct. 1943), 28.
- 4. Drogheda Jnl. 8 Mar. 1831.
- 5. The Times, 13 July 1818.
- 6. PP (1835), xxviii. 435.
- 7. Dublin Evening Post, 6, 8, 17, 22 June; Drogheda Jnl. 14, 17, 21 June 1826.
- 8. The Times, 15 Mar. 1827.
- 9. Ibid. 28 Mar. 1827.
- 10. Add. 40335, f. 120.
- 11. Ellenborough Diary, i. 221.
- 12. Herts. Archives, Panshanger mss, Van Homrigh to Melbourne, 3 Dec. 1830, with endorsement by Melbourne.
- 13. Drogheda Jnl. 8 Mar.; Belfast News Letter, 11 Mar. 1831.
- 14. PP (1835), xxviii. 435.