Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the £5 householders
Number of voters:
|13 July 1802||ISAAC CORRY|
|15 Nov. 1806||HON. FRANCIS NEEDHAM||142|
|15 May 1807||HON. FRANCIS NEEDHAM||168|
|20 Oct. 1812||HON. FRANCIS NEEDHAM||353|
|John Philpot Curran||148|
|23 June 1818||HON. FRANCIS NEEDHAM|
|6 Mar. 1819||HON. FRANCIS JACK NEEDHAM vice Needham, become a peer of Ireland|
Newry, a port and commercial town near the borders of counties Down and Louth, was the largest householder borough in Ireland and had a population said to be equally divided between Catholics and Protestants. The principal personal interest in the borough belonged traditionally to the Viscounts Kilmorey (Needham) who possessed a large estate near and in the town, together with the local turbary (the right to cut turf on common land). As was the case with Lord de Clifford and his interest in nearby Downpatrick, Kilmorey was, at the time of the Union, resident in England and his interest had been overtaken by those of local men. Two by-elections in 1799 put Isaac Corry and John Moore into the borough seats. Corry had been an agent of the Needhams, and following his appointment as chancellor of the Irish exchequer was reelected to a seat he had occupied since 1776 as a result of his own interest in the borough and, significantly, a concerted effort on the part of the Catholic voters. Moore was returned on the interest of Lord Downshire who, as in Downpatrick, was determined to extend his already considerable interest in the county.1
Corry lost his seat at the Union ballot and in 1802 government was naturally anxious that Moore should withdraw and make way for the Irish chancellor. Lady Downshire, who had succeeded her husband as manager of the family interest in September 1801, had other ideas, despite her inclination to support government. As she explained to the prime minister a fortnight before the election, she felt obliged to support Moore:
That he has voted with government has been acknowledged, that he has been a friend to this house [the Downshires] is well known, and if after having so determined, I was now to use my endeavour to turn him out of his seat, who has not given the least cause of offence, it might be observed in Ireland and with the greatest truth that these were not the steps by which my dearest lord and his father acquired their influence in the county of Down.
Pressure from government persuaded her otherwise, and as she duly withdrew support from Moore, Corry was returned unopposed.2
By 1806 some significant changes had taken place in the disposition of the various interests in Newry. Lady Downshire shifted her sympathies in the direction of the Grenville administration and even Corry looked to the new government for its patronage. Of greater significance, however, was the emergence of Gen. Needham as a potential candidate at a future election. Needham was Kilmorey’s brother, and after a successful military career which included an important victory against United Irish forces during the ’98 rebellion, had taken up occasional residence at Mourne Park, near the borough. Lord Grenville was initially disposed to continue to provide Corry with government support, but his chief secretary advised against this course on the ground that he would not succeed against either the Downshire or Needham interests. In September 1806, if not at the direction of government, at least with its connivance, Lady Downshire came to an agreement with Corry, which was witnessed by the prime minister’s brother, the Marquess of Buckingham. The terms were that Lady Downshire would support Corry at the forthcoming election, meet £1,000 of his costs if he succeeded, and if not, bring him in for another borough. Corry, for his part, agreed to sever any remaining connexion with Castlereagh, Lady Downshire’s opponent in county politics, and to oppose the Needham interest in Newry. Thus, at the general election, Corry stood with Lady Downshire’s and the government’s support and, it was said, on account of his pro-Catholic views, the Catholic interest. He was opposed by Needham, who had evidently declared himself hostile to any immediate measure of Catholic relief. Corry was beaten and petitioned the House that this was the result of bribery and corruption. His petition was unsuccessful, and his defeat bore witness to the strength of the Needhams’ hitherto dormant interest.3
The contest was repeated in 1807, Needham on this occasion receiving the support of the Portland government. Despite his complaint that the local civil servants generally opposed him, he again emerged with a comfortable majority. Corry once more unsuccessfully petitioned the House against his defeat.4
By 1812 a number of Catholic voters in the borough had evidently tired of Needham’s association with successive governments. They therefore put forward a pro-Catholic Whig of pre-Union fame, John Philpot Curran. Corry was annoyed at being passed over in a cause he claimed he had supported for some 30 years, and having jumped to the conclusion that Lady Downshire was not an interested party, decided to support Needham to spite the Newry Catholics. As he might have expected, Lady Downshire was supporting Curran and claimed to Buckingham that Corry had therefore broken the agreement of 1806. As this private row was carried on, Needham, supported by Corry and the Castle, overwhelmed Curran at the poll. Apart from the relative strength of family interests, the result was to some extent due to a split among the Catholic voters. Curran attributed his defeat to the opposition of four Catholic gentlemen, two of whom were members of the Dublin-based Catholic Board. Needham confirmed this by arguing that he could have defeated Curran, if Catholic voters only had been polled.5
Whatever the reasons for this division of opinion, Needham had by now demonstrated the superiority of his family interest over all comers, and in 1818 and 1819 his and his son’s elections were unopposed. Nothing came of a bid by Sir Francis Burdett to foist a barrister named Bennett on the Whig grandees in December 1818, as a promising opponent of the Needhams.6
Author: P. J. Jupp
- 1. Procs. R. Irish Acad. lix, sec. C, no. 1 (1957), 26; Wakefield, Account of Ireland, ii. 304; G. C. Bolton, The Passing of the Irish Act of Union, 136-8.
- 2. PRO 30/9/1, pt. 2/2, Corry to Abbot, 12 Jan.; Add. 35713, f. 141; 35739, f. 129; Sidmouth mss, Lady Downshire to Addington, 4 July; Dublin SPO 620/61/125, Corry to Marsden, 29 June 1802.
- 3. HMC Fortescue, viii. 164, 175; Fortescue mss, Elliot to Grenville, 21 Feb. 1807; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss, S.T.G. box 30(60), Corry to Buckingham, 17 Oct.; box 43(9-14), Lady Downshire to Corry, 10, 19 Oct., to Buckingham, 17 Oct.; box 46(24), Buckingham to Corry, 2 Nov. 1812; Drennan Letters ed. Chart, 367.
- 4. Wellington mss, Needham to Wellesley, 1, 7 May 1807.
- 5. Dublin Corresp. 3, 21 Oct.; Morning Chron. 16, 22 Oct. 1812; Add. 40183, ff. 29, 46; 40185, f. 44; 40222, f. 192.
- 6. Add. 51569, Burdett to Holland, 26, 29 Dec. 1818.