PARNELL, Sir John, 2nd Bt. (1744-1801), of Rathleague, Queen's Co.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1801 - 5 Dec. 1801

Family and Education

b. 25 Dec. 1744, o.s. of Sir John Parnell, 1st Bt., MP [I], of Rathleague, Queen’s Co. by Anne, da. of Michael Ward, MP [I], of Castle Ward, co. Down, j.KB [I]. educ. Eton 1759-60; Trinity, Dublin 1762; Magdalene, Camb. 1764; L. Inn 1766; bencher, King’s Inn 1786. m. 19 July 1774, Letitia Charlotte, da. and coh. of Sir Arthur Brooke, 1st Bt., MP [I], of Colebrook, co. Fermanagh, 5s. 1da. suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. 14 Apr. 1782.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1767-8, 1776-1800.

Commr. of revenue [I] Dec. 1780; chancellor of exchequer [I] Sept. 1785-Jan. 1799; PC [I] 24 Jan. 1786, [GB] 27 Oct. 1786; commr. of treasury [I] Dec. 1793-99.

Capt. Maryborough cav. 1796.


Parnell, ‘a man of business and a useful speaker’, first obtained office at the Irish revenue board under the aegis of John Foster*, to whom he was ‘much attached’.1 From 1785 he displayed his abilities as Irish chancellor of the exchequer with Pitt’s full confidence until he was dismissed from office in January 1799, whereupon he led the opposition to the Union. Ironically, had Castlereagh been prepared to replace him in office a few months before, he was to have been compensated with a peerage and the sinecure signet office. He had shown in the interlude of Earl Fitzwilliam’s Irish administration in 1795 that he was not intractable, and if, as alleged, he became so disillusioned with his anti-Union coadjutors that he would have liked to retract his stand but for his pledge to the cause, he did not waver, though his family were unprovided for.2

Parnell, who might, but for this, have received £7,500 compensation for his moiety of the disfranchised borough of Maryborough, was returned to Westminster for the Queen’s County, for which he had been Member since 1783. He was prominent in Irish financial debates, treating the House, 19 Feb. 1801, to a disquisition on Irish public accountancy and contradicting Castlereagh on the question, while on 23 Feb. he raised questions about the application of the Irish public loan. On 12 Mar., when he criticized the voting of Irish duties ‘in a lump’, Pitt smothered him with compliments and every respect was paid to his suggestion of 16 Mar. that the Irish famine should be met by allowing direct importation of rice. On 16 and 20 Mar. he gave a reluctant support to the continuation of martial law in Ireland and on 19 Mar. both spoke and voted against the Irish master of the rolls bill, which he regarded as a job, though he approved the Irish courts bill on 24 Apr. He was a critic of the new Irish budgetary procedure, 1 Apr., and opposed the duty on Irish insurances as damaging to the commercial interest, 6, 13 May. On 27 May, in advocating the short duration of the Irish martial law bill, he paid tribute to the loyalty of the Irish landed gentry. On 10 June he unsuccessfully moved the exemption of John Beresford* from the Irish Members disqualification bill, and on 15 June was a spokesman for the Irish distillers against their English competitors. The chief secretary wrote on Parnell’s departure for Ireland, 19 June, ‘he is an honest fellow and may be a valuable parliamentary coadjutor’ and asked the viceroy to mark the ‘friendly disposition’ of government towards him.3

Parnell returned for the ensuing session in October and again spoke on Irish questions, advocating the raising in Ireland of the part of the Exchequer loan applicable there, 1 Dec., and recommending the extension to oats of the prohibition of distillation from wheat, 4 Dec. He died after attending a debate, 5/6 Dec. 1801.4 Addington paid tribute to him in the House. Henry Grattan junior recalled that he was ‘amiable in private, mild in disposition, but firm in mind and purpose’.5

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: Arthur Aspinall


  • 1. Procs. R. Irish Acad. lvi. sec. C, no. 3 (1954), 253.
  • 2. HMC Fortescue, iv. 444; vi. 122.
  • 3. Add. 35711, f. 48.
  • 4. Colchester, i. 385. Abbot wrote that Parnell died ‘this morning’ (6 Dec.).
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1801), ii. 1155; Life of Grattan, vi. 144.