WRIXON BECHER, William (1780-1850), of Ballygiblin, Mallow, co. Cork
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Family and Educationb. 31 July 1780, 1st s. of William Wrixon of Cecilstown and Mary, da. of John Townsend Becher of Annisgrove. educ. Magdalen, Oxf. 1796. m. 18 Dec. 1819, Elizabeth, da. of John O’Neill, actor-manager, of Drogheda, co. Louth, 3s. 2da. Took additional name of Becher by sign manual 29 Sept. 1831; cr. bt. 30 Sept. 1831. d. 23 Oct. 1850.
Wrixon Becher (as he seems to have been known throughout this period) had been returned unopposed for Mallow on the independent Catholic interest in 1818, ousting his anti-Catholic cousin James Lawrence Cotter, and had joined Brooks’s, sponsored by Lord George Cavendish* and Lord Duncannon*, 19 May 1819. At the 1820 general election he offered again, refuting charges of absenteeism brought against him by his opponent Charles Jephson*, whom he accused of trying to ‘close the borough’, and stressing his independence from party, for although ‘he generally voted in opposition’ to the Liverpool ministry, it ‘was when he considered them wrong’. Daniel O’Connell*, who had agreed to be his agent, considered his election speech ‘one of the best I ever heard ... full of excellent principle and admirably well delivered’, and recorded ‘going out to his house to dinner ... principally to see’ Wrixon Becher’s wife, the celebrated actress Elizabeth O’Neill, ‘on a new stage’. Wrixon Becher was returned after a four-day contest.1 An irregular attender, when present he continued to vote with the Whig opposition on most major issues, including economy, retrenchment and reduced taxation.2 He endorsed a petition to the king for a pension from the mother and sister of the late General William Hume, deputy assistant commissary in Demerara, 4 Apr. 1820.3 On 14 June he paid tribute to Henry Grattan I*, who had dictated a ‘dying exhortation’ to ‘his Catholic countrymen’, which he proceeded to read. Sir James Mackintosh* thought he delivered it ‘very well’, but the reporters could only collect an ‘imperfect’ account as he ‘read the document so rapidly’.4 He was granted six weeks’ leave on urgent private business, 16 June 1820. At a county meeting on the Queen Caroline affair in January 1821 he helped to defeat attempts by ‘ministerialists’ to resist calls for ‘discussion’.5 He voted for Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825, arguing that it would end the ‘unmerited sufferings of the Irish nation’, 23 Mar. 1821. Next month Henry Edward Fox* remarked that ‘Becher’s speech at the Theatrical Fund Dinner was very good indeed, full of feeling and good taste, and besides beautifully delivered. He speaks well, I believe, in Parliament’.6 He voted for parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr. 1823. On 16 May 1821 he refuted assertions that he and other Members who had ‘hitherto given a silent vote’ for inquiry into the Peterloo massacre ‘necessarily approved of the principles of those who had convened the meeting’. He was in the minorities for the equalization of interest rates on Irish treasury and exchequer bills, 30 May, and against the grant for Irish glebe houses, 18 June. He objected to the inclusion of arrears in the duke of Clarence’s grant and voted thus, 18, 29 June, 2 July, when he protested that it was ‘inconsistent’ with ministerial ‘professions of economy’.7 He welcomed the attention drawn to Irish education by the report of the commissioners, 10 July 1821.8 On 29 Apr. 1822 he warned of widespread distress in Ireland, where ‘in a very short time, even the scanty subsistence now on hand would be altogether expended’. He was in the minority of 22 for a 20s. duty on wheat, 9 May. On the 15th he defended the conduct of Irish landlords, saying it was the tithe proctors who ‘inflicted oppression upon the people’ and ought to be ‘investigated’. He welcomed measures for the employment of the Irish poor but asserted that if they had been implemented earlier, ‘much of the present distress ... might have been avoided’, 17 May. He voted for inquiry into the Irish church, 4 Mar. 1823, 6 May 1824. On 23 Apr. 1823 he complained that Protestant petitions against Catholic claims kept Ireland in a perpetual ‘state of irritation’. He supported one for an increase in Irish coroners’ salaries, 2 May.9 He felt ‘bound to support’ the Irish Insurrection Act, ‘bad as it was’, for ‘necessary protection’, but voted for inquiry into the causes of unrest prior to its renewal, 12 May 1823, expressing his belief that a ‘reduction of rents and a commutation of tithes’ were also ‘indispensable’. He endorsed a county Cork petition against repeal of the Irish linen duties, 6 May 1824.10 He divided for inquiry into the state of Ireland and was appointed to the ensuing select committee, 11 May. Called to give evidence as one of its members, 22 May, he admitted the utility of the Irish Insurrection Act but urged the necessity of Catholic relief, adding that in his work for the Society for the Improvement of the Irish Peasantry he and his brother had discovered that the ‘most miserable’ habitations in their parish were those let ‘upon a yearly holding’, where it was ‘not the interest of a tenant to lay out money’, and noting the ‘good effects’ of emigration in removing ‘persons who have been brought up in turbulent and irregular habits’.11 He voted for proper use of Irish first fruit revenues, 25 May, and against Irish church pluralities, 27 May. Testifying to the respectability of a county Cork petition for Catholic claims, 10 June 1824, he enquired, ‘What would be the conduct of the people of England, if the major part of the population laboured under the same disabilities as the Catholics of Ireland?’ He voted to hear the Catholic Association at the bar of the House, 18 Feb., and against its suppression, 25 Feb. 1825. He was appointed to the select committee on the state of Ireland, 17 Feb. He welcomed the Irish franchise bill, observing that ‘whatever objection there might be to it in theory, it would ... in its practical results ... favour purity of election’ and facilitate ‘the great measure’ of emancipation, 9, 12 May 1825. He agreed to attend the Association dinner for the ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’, 2 Feb. 1826.12 He divided against the emergency admission of foreign corn, 8, 11 May 1826.
At the 1826 general election Wrixon Becher retired from Mallow in favour of Jephson after an ‘unsuccessful canvass’, hoping that he had ‘proved useful’ in securing the independence of the borough and ‘in defeating the hopes of any candidate not pledged to support’ emancipation. Meetings of the independents paid tribute to his talents and efficiency.13 He was spoken of as a ‘fitting’ successor to his first cousin Richard Hare, Viscount Ennismore, at the 1827 county Cork by-election, ‘possessing talents of no common order’ and ‘competent in every way’, but he ‘could not be induced ... to quit ... private life’.14 In November 1828 he signed a county Cork Protestant declaration in support of Catholic emancipation.15 He proposed the Member Robert King for that county at the general elections of 1830 and 1831, when he welcomed the Grey ministry’s reform bill as a ‘bold but prudent measure’, observing that the Whigs had ‘been ahead of their opponents in the cause of reason and right, fully half a century’, but objected to demands for King to pledge support for the ‘whole bill’, as it would ‘debar an honourable mind from exercising ... discretion upon minor points’. At Mallow he spoke in similar terms of the necessity of re-electing Jephson ‘without trouble or expense’.16 Later that year he received a baronetcy. He spoke at a Cork county meeting to celebrate the passage of the Reform Act in August 1832.17 That November he signed a county declaration in support of the Union and a complete reformation of Irish tithes and the Irish church.18 As foreman of the county’s grand jury in the 1840s he corresponded with Peel, the premier, about Cork’s harbour and constabulary expenses. On 11 Feb. 1848 he thanked Charles Babbage for a copy of his Thoughts on the Principles of Taxation, hoping that ‘at present, when an income or property tax seems impending ... we shall have your valuable assistance in fighting it off’.19 He died in October 1850 and was succeeded by his eldest son Henry (1826-93).
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. Dublin Evening Post, 21, 25, 30 Mar. 1820; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 823.
- 2. Black Bk. (1823), 139; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 450.
- 3. Add. 38380, f. 148.
- 4. Add. 52444, f. 151.
- 5. The Times, 30 Jan. 1821.
- 6. Fox Jnl. 66.
- 7. The Times, 19 June, 3 July 1821.
- 8. Ibid. 11 July 1821.
- 9. Ibid. 23 Apr., 3 May 1823.
- 10. Ibid. 7 May 1824.
- 11. PP (1825), vii. 178-89.
- 12. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1278.
- 13. Southern Reporter, 6, 8, 13, 15 June 1826.
- 14. Ibid. 2, 4 Oct. 1827.
- 15. Ibid. 13 Nov. 1828.
- 16. Ibid. 7, 12 May 1831.
- 17. I. D’Alton, Protestant Society and Politics in Cork, 216.
- 18. The Times, 13 Nov. 1832.
- 19. Add. 37194, f. 117; 40542, f. 92; 40563, f. 48.