KNOX, Hon. Thomas (1754-1840), of Dungannon Park, co. Tyrone.
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Family and Education
b. 5 Aug. 1754, 1st s. of Thomas, 1st Visct. Northland [I], and bro. of Hon. George Knox*. educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1770. m. 31 May 1785, his cos. Hon. Diana Jane Pery, da. and coh. of Edmund Sexton, 1st Visct. Pery [I], by 2nd w., 4s. 1da. suc. fa. as 2nd Visct. Northland [I] 5 Nov. 1818; cr. Baron Ranfurly [GB] 6 July 1826; Earl of Ranfurly [I] 14 Sept. 1831.
MP [I] 1776-97.
Jt. weighmaster, Cork 1791-4; jt. prothonotary of c.p. [I] July 1794-1814.
Trustee, linen board [I] 1795.
Lt.-col. R. Tyrone militia 1793-4.
Knox sat in the Irish parliament for Carlingford (1776-83) by purchase, for the family borough of Dungannon (1783-90) and for county Tyrone (1790-7), under the aegis of his father’s friend Lord Abercorn, to whom he acted as parliamentary manager until he alienated Abercorn for life in 1794 by resigning from the Tyrone militia. A ministerialist, he received a sinecure in 1794 jointly with his brother Vesey, which compensated him for a disadvantageous exchange of places he had made in 1791. Between 1797 and 1806 he was out of Parliament, proscribed by Abercorn, though in October 1801 he was scheming to secure his own, or in future his son’s, return for Tyrone. In February 1802 he addressed the county. Forced to withdraw for lack of support, on 19 May he applied to the Castle for the first seat available, meeting with a civil negative that assured him conditionally of ‘every assistance’ to give effect to any interest of his own.1
In the spring of 1806, evidently against his father’s wishes, he declared himself a candidate for the county. If this was a ploy to force his father to return him for his borough of Dungannon, it failed; but Knox persevered and managed to enlist the support of Lord Grenville’s government to oust their opponent Sir John Stewart, although his brother George was deprived of office as their opponent.2 He was introduced to Grenville through his friend Corry, ‘at which time I professed that being a novice in politics, and entertaining the highest opinion of your lordship as a statesman’, he later reminded Grenville,
I would, with your permission, attach myself to the party of which you were the head, confident that I could not follow a better guide, that office or emolument I looked not for and that anything like traffic or bargain I disclaimed as unfitting for you to listen to or for me to propose.3
In the event, Knox was so strongly supported that his opponent gave up his seat to him without a struggle. It seems that he would still have preferred to sit for Dungannon, which would be his when his father died anyway, but his father resisted his bids to upset his alliance with Abercorn, whose nominees were returned for the borough. At the dissolution of 1807, finding his father obdurate, he again risked a contest for the county. His father, disappointed in his wish for an earldom, would not go so far as to canvass his tenantry against his heir and Knox’s opponent again withdrew.
Knox remained loyal to Lord Grenville’s party when they were dismissed, voting for Brand’s motion, 9 Apr. 1807, and acting and voting steadily with them in the ensuing Parliament, except on sinecures and parliamentary reform and except, at first, on the Catholic question. In what may have been his only intervention in debate, 25 May 1810, he claimed that while he was sympathetic to Catholic claims, he had been instructed by his constituents not to support Catholic relief unless the royal veto on episcopal appointments was guaranteed as a security: as it was not, he voted against relief on 1 June. On 24 Apr. 1812, however, he was in the minority for relief, in defiance of his constituents, and on 23 June voted for Irish tithe reform.
By then Knox knew that he would not be Member for Tyrone in the next Parliament, having encouraged his son and heir to stand in May 1811. Writing to Lord Grenville, 21 Aug. 1811,4 he informed him that his father’s declining health obliged him to forego the county and that owing to ‘undue influence’ his family would not allow him to sit for their borough of Dungannon, ‘except upon such terms, and conditions as I cannot for a moment hearken to, for no consideration shall induce me to swerve from the line of conduct which I have pursued since my coming into Parliament’. He therefore asked for an English borough seat, so as to be able to continue in the same line. He received a ‘most friendly and cordial answer’, but no seat. In May 1812 (as in April 1817) he wished for a British peerage for his father, should his friends return to power.5 His son Thomas replaced him as county Member and followed the same political course. Knox received a pension of £3,678 p.a. on the regulation of his sinecure.6 He died 26 Apr. 1840.