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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the £5 householders and 40s. freeholders living within the manor

Number of voters:

270 in 1806


[of the manor] (1831): 11,858


 Richard Keane70
 Robert Power7

Main Article

The nominal patron of this small seaport was the 5th Duke of Devonshire, who owned two-thirds of the manor and would probably have been happy to pocket £15,000 from its disfranchisement at the Union. Owing to his absence and negligence, however, during which William Brabazon Ponsonby* was his agent, his interest was reduced to a mere handful of freeholders. Thus the dominant interest at the Union belonged to the 1st Marquess of Waterford, the head of the Beresfords, as a result of his control of revenue patronage. He had returned his nephew, Marcus Beresford, upon it in 1783 and 1790, and on the latter’s death in 1797 replaced him with Edward Lee. In addition there were several other interests based upon property among which those of William Greene*, John Keily, Sir Thomas Osborne and Edward Lee himself, were particularly important.

As the Devonshires took umbrage at the Beresfords’ contriving to prevent the disfranchisement of the borough, they proposed coming to an arrangement with Waterford over the seat that would remain after the Union. The 2nd Marquess (who had succeeded his father in December 1800) declined such a proposal and Lee was returned to Westminster by ballot. The duke, Ponsonby and the former’s agents, Thomas Garde and Thomas Knowlton, contemplated challenging the Beresfords in 1802, but gave it up in view of their continuing weakness. Waterford therefore replaced Lee with a new ally, William Greene.1

After this setback, Knowlton began to revive the Devonshire interest by a judicious programme of public improvements and house building. By 1 Oct. 1806 materials had been imported, a central square and several streets laid out and work started on 12 houses ‘which will create good votes for the borough’. Knowlton admitted that the duke had no more voters ‘of his own’ than he had in 1802, but calculated that the building plans had ‘created a revolution in the public interest’ favourable to his political power, particularly as Greene had become unpopular through refusing to allow fresh water from his estate to supply the town. Thus the duke challenged Lord Waterford at the election of 1806, spurred on by his Ponsonby connexions, who were then in power and conducting a vendetta against the Beresfords. The latter responded by trying to come to terms with the Grenville ministry and, as far as Dungarvan was concerned, requested the alternate nomination of the Member. This attempt came to nothing.

The duke’s candidate was his cousin George Walpole, the opponent being (Sir) Richard Keane, son of Sir John Keane*, in whose favour Greene had retired, as report had it, until his son came of age. By 7 Nov. Knowlton reported that the duke’s interest had been ‘espoused most warmly by every independent man’ in the town and that he had 153 of approximately 270 voters on his canvassing list. What convinced him of success, however, was the existence of at least 20 other friends and, more importantly, the decision of John Keily to support the Devonshire cause with 50 voters, as a result of his disgust at the arrangement between Keane and Greene. The prediction proved correct: Keane retired and Walpole was returned without a poll. Yet the result was not entirely satisfactory from Knowlton’s point of view, for having put in a bid to the government for control of revenue patronage, Walpole went against the agents’ wishes by encouraging the local Catholics to petition the duke for land to build a chapel, and then tried to use his influence with the duke to have him displaced.2

In 1807 Lord Waterford, with the goodwill of the Portland ministry, tried to recapture the seat through the same candidate, but his freeholders were outnumbered by the duke’s householders. Keane petitioned, complaining of ducal interference, but unsuccessfully. Meanwhile the Devonshire interest was strengthened by the prospective purchase of Sir Thomas Osborne’s property in the borough, and although Waterford, in alliance with Greene, was expected to try again in 1812, his prospects were not thought good.3

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Spencer mss, Duchess of Devonshire to Spencer, n.d. [1799/1800]; Chatsworth mss, Bowman to Heaton, 4 Feb. 1800, Knowlton to same, 16 Aug.,; Knowlton and Garde’s report, 3 Sept. 1801, Knowlton to Heaton, 18 July 1802; Fortescue mss, G. Ponsonby to Grenville, 21 Aug. 1806.
  • 2. Chatsworth mss, Knowlton to Heaton, 1 Oct., 1, 7, 11, 14, 15 Nov. 1806, 27 May 1807; HMC Fortescue, viii. 127, 415, 418; Blair Adam mss, Rosslyn to Adam, 28 Oct. 1806; NLS mss 12920, Walpole to Elliot, 24 Oct., 19 Nov. 1806, 13 Feb. 1807; Dublin Evening Post, 18 Nov. 1806.
  • 3. Chatsworth mss, Knowlton to Heaton, 22 Aug., 12 Sept. 1807, 28 Feb., 11 June 1808; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 18, 19; Add. 40280, ff. 35-37; Carlisle mss, Devonshire to Lady Morpeth, 11, 27 Oct. 1812.