CONOLLY, Thomas (?1737-1803), of Stretton Hall, Staffs., and Castletown, co. Kildare
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Family and Education
b. ?1737, 1st s. of William Conolly, M.P., by Lady Anne Wentworth, da. of Thomas, 1st Earl of Strafford. educ. Westminster Jan. 1750, aged 12. m. 30 Dec. 1758, Lady Louisa Augusta Lennox, da. of Charles, 2nd Duke of Richmond, s.p. suc. fa. 1754.
M.P. [I] 1761-1800; P.C. [I] 1761.
Conolly’s Irish estates were valued at £15,275 per annum in 1758; he proposed to settle on his wife lands ‘of the yearly value of £6,178, free from all deductions and incumbrances subject to £2,500 a year jointure, £500 a year pin money, and £20,000 for younger children’.1
Lady Caroline Fox (later Lady Holland), the most discerning of Conolly’s sisters-in-law, found him on first acquaintance ‘free and easy and good-humoured’ and, what pleased her more, in love with his wife: ‘Mr. Conolly seems to be quite terrified when her finger aches. He seems immoderately fond of her, and of a very warm, affectionate temper.’ And Louisa was fond of him.
She is determined never to let Conolly be out of her sight [Lady Caroline wrote in Dec. 1759]. She told me last time I saw her, she thought it a bad custom to begin with ever to let him go anywhere without her.
On further acquaintance Lady Caroline noted another aspect of Conolly’s character. She wrote to her sister Lady Kildare on 17 Apr. 1759:
You must indeed be partial to Conolly not to think him immensely silly ... sure he is a tiresome boy, and one feels sorry he is so, he seems so exceeding good-natured. I can but think how miserable I should have been at Louisa’s age to have had such a husband.
In May 1759: ‘People reckon poor Conolly such a fool’; and on 17 June: ‘I look upon him as a boy of ten or eleven years old, and treat him as such. I only dread her feeling ashamed of him sometimes.’ Soon she was referring to ‘that boy Conolly’ and ‘Louisa and her little spouse’. And Lady Kildare wrote on 11 Nov. 1762:
Conolly was in town yesterday ... talked a vast deal of nonsense about politics in order to make me think him mighty cunning, and that he knew the way of the world as well as anybody.2
When Lord George Bentinck died in 1759, Henry Fox considered returning Conolly for Malmesbury. Conolly was in Ireland, and Fox wished Devonshire to consult Lord Strafford.
The expense will be upwards of £500 [he wrote to Devonshire on 4 Mar.3] which is too much [the Parliament had only two years to run]; but the election is sure and the candidate need never appear there ... It strikes me strongly that Conolly would be very glad to find himself a Member of Parliament at his arrival, and that he will be sorry to find he might have been and is not.
Soon after his election Newcastle learnt that Lord Temple had tried ‘to engage him to join their party’; Conolly replied: ‘That he was a young man and could enter into no party’.4 Fox in England, and Kildare in Ireland were his political mentors at this time; and his life was divided between the two countries.
Conolly received Newcastle’s ‘whip’ in 1761 through Fox, and is classed as ‘Fox’ in Bute’s list of the Parliament. He naturally appears among Fox’s list of Members favourable to the peace preliminaries, but Lady Holland wrote to Lady Kildare on 9 Nov. 1762:
Conolly has wrote to Mr. Fox, who was a little doubtful whether he should wish him to come or no. May not he be embarrassed about Lord Strafford, who I suppose will take part against the court with the Duke of Devonshire?
Conolly left Ireland on 16 Nov., and Lady Kildare wrote to her husband on 2 Dec.: ‘I am glad for Mr. Conolly’s own sake as well as his friends’ that he is steady.’5
He supported the Grenville Administration but was classed by Rockingham in July 1765 as ‘pro’ and did not vote against the repeal of the Stamp Act. Probably he went over with Richmond to the Rockinghams: he is classed by Rockingham in Nov. 1766 as ‘Whig’ and by Newcastle in Mar. 1767, as ‘friend’; yet he did not vote on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, or the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768 (he was absent in Italy a good deal in 17676). By 1768 Fox had lost control of Malmesbury, and was not in sympathy with Conolly’s politics. Conolly was returned for Chichester on the Duke of Richmond’s interest; and henceforth voted with the Rockinghams. He spoke occasionally in Parliament, mostly on Irish affairs, but made no mark in English politics.
In Ireland he was much more important. Here is the description of him in a list of the Irish Parliament in 1773:7
Came in by his own interest which is very great as he had one of the largest estates in this kingdom. He is an Englishman married to the Duke of Richmond’s sister and though in opposition to Government there yet he supports it here.
Another list of 1775,8 probably drawn up by Sir John Blaquiere, chief secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland 1772-7, after recounting the favours he had received from Government, adds:
He is so capricious and unsteady, that there is very little dependence to be had on him, and in my own opinion it would be better for Government that he was a declared opponent of its measures.
And in a list of 17829 he is described as ‘inclined to Government but unsteady’.
He was particularly close to the Castle 1776-80, when his brother-in-law, Lord Buckinghamshire, was lord lieutenant; while supporting Irish demands for self-government, he wished to maintain a close connexion with England. He wrote to Rockingham on 8 Apr. 1782, at the end of a long letter on Irish affairs:10
I have no motive in troubling you with this long detail, but that of duty to my country, and a love for your administration and its principles; the latter as they invigorate the constitution of Great Britain, and give independence to America, cannot consistently refuse the same, to a long neglected, loyal, spirited, and armed people.
But on 17 Apr. 1783 he wrote to Buckinghamshire:11
I was always, as you know, a croaker, but the affairs of England have turned out more desperate than I ever imagined; nothing but a very strong, wise and upright Administration can preserve you from troubles which if once begun on your side will immediately kindle here, though Paddy has got everything he has asked, and more I am certain than is good for him, as I think it will be some time before his new constitution will begin to work to his expectation.
Henceforth his interest centred wholly in Irish politics. Sir Jonah Barrington, who disliked the part Conolly had taken in bringing about the Irish Union, described him as
friendly—sincere—honourable—and munificent in disposition, but whimsical—wrong-headed, and positive,—his ideas and politics were limited and confined; he mistook obstinacy for independence—and singularity for patriotism—and fancied he was a Whig because he was not professedly a Tory.12
Mr. Thomas Conolly never did or would accept of any office; the art of governing him seemed to be, by inducing him to think that nobody could influence him: in that he was mistaken.
He died 27 Apr. 1803.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. H. Fox to Newcastle, 19 Nov. 1758, Add. 32885, ff. 325-7.
- 2. Leinster Corresp. i. 134-268 passim.
- 3. Devonshire mss.
- 4. 4 Apr. 1759; Add. 32889, ff. 360-1.
- 5. Leinster Corresp. i. 84, 137, 144.
- 6. Lady Holland to Lady Kildare, 27 Aug. 1767, ibid. 517.
- 7. ‘Notes on Irish Parlt, 1773’ ed. Bodkin, Proc. R. Irish Acad. xlviii C/4. See also Walpole, Last Jnls, ii. 121.
- 8. Irish Parlt. 1775 ed. Hunt.
- 9. ‘Contemp. Sketches Members Irish Parlt. 1782’, ed. Sayles, Proc. R. Irish Acad. lvi C/3.
- 10. Rockingham mss.
- 11. HMC Lothian, 417.
- 12. Hist. Mems. Ire. i. 165-6; see also Ld. Charlemont’s opinion, HMC 13th Rep. VII, 243-4.