MARTIN, Richard (1754-1834), of Dangan and Ballynahinch, co. Galway.

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



1801 - 1812
1818 - 11 Apr. 1827

Family and Education

b. Feb. 1754, 1st s. of Robert Martin of Dangan by 1st w. Hon. Bridget Barnewall, da. of John, 11th Baron Trimleston [I]. educ. Harrow 1769-71; by Rev. Joseph Gunning of Sutton, Suff.; Trinity Coll. Cambridge 1773; travelled in Europe, Jamaica, America; L. Inn 1776, called [I] 1781. m. (1) 1 Feb. 1777, Elizabeth (d. c.1795), da. of George Vesey of Lucan, co. Dublin, 2s. 1da. surv.; (2) 5 June 1796, Harriet, da. of Hugh Evans, army surgeon, wid. of Capt. Robert Hesketh, RN, 1s. surv. 3da. suc. fa. 1794.

Offices Held

MP [I] 1776-83, 1798-1800.

Commr. of accts. [I] Aug. 1800-2.

Sheriff, co. Galway 1782-3; col. Galway vols. 1779; capt. Ballynahinch yeomanry.


Martin, heir to the ‘vast estates of Connemara’ was the first of his family to be brought up a Protestant and received an English education, but retained his family’s Catholic sympathies.1 In 1776, having witnessed the outbreak of American rebellion, he contested county Galway, unsuccessfully, and came in for Jamestown by purchase, acting with the Patriots in the Irish parliament, in which he emerged as a mordant debater. Though called to the Irish bar, he apparently accepted only one brief, against Fighting Fitzgerald for killing Lord Altamont’s wolf-hound Prime Serjeant, following it up with a duel. This was characteristic of a man who all his life castigated social injustice, to man or beast, but resigned himself to killing a cousin in a duel. Defeated for both the county and town of Galway in 1783, Martin, with his friend Henry Flood, made an unsuccessful application to Pitt for an English seat in 1784 and compensated for it by continuing his support for the Volunteers, by amateur dramatics and by unsuccessfully exploiting a copper vein on his father’s encumbered estate, which recalled him in 1790 from Paris, where he had witnessed the outbreak of revolution. He was again defeated for Galway town that year and returned to Paris, deserted by his wife, to f’te the revolution. He obtained £10,000 damages from his wife’s seducer William Petrie* in 1791, but subsequently retreated to Ballynahinch to evade his creditors, ‘King of Connemara’. After failing again to secure election for county Galway in 1797, Martin came in for Lanesborough and protested at the savagery with which the Irish rebellion was suppressed. He supported the Union in the hope that Catholic relief would follow and rallied Catholic Galway to it.2

Martin’s reward was to be a seat on the revenue board, but he waived it to come in for county Galway with Castle support in August 1800, with a makeshift place worth £800 p.a. at the board of accounts. This proved not to be tenable with a seat at Westminster, where he made his first speech on 3 Feb. 1801 in defence of the Union, suggesting at the same time that the Irish Catholics should look to government and not to opposition for the realization of their hopes. In defending the continuation of martial law in Ireland 12, 16, 18, 20 Mar., he emphasized that the rebellion in Ireland had been a Protestant, not a Catholic one, but approved this bill as a remedy for a still greater evil, namely long-term military government. On 14 Apr. he convulsed the House by a whimsical defence of the suspension of habeas corpus. His contribution to the debates on the exclusion of clergymen from the House earned him from Horne Tooke the label of the ‘Irreverend Gentleman’, 19 May. On 14 May he had informed the House that such was his aversion to capital punishment that he could not even put down two old dogs of his. On 10, 11 and 12 June he again defended Irish martial law, ‘but he trusted that it would not be continued one moment after it became unnecessary’. He would have supported the Irish controverted election bill but for a late amendment which he criticized at length, 23 June. When the Irish Members disqualification bill had received its third reading, two weeks before, he had admitted in opposing it that he would lose a place of ‘trifling value’ through it, but said he should then be able ‘to support government more actively than he now could’.

The loss of his place was a more serious matter to Martin than he gave out. On 29 May 1801 he informed the Irish secretary that the place itself had been admitted by Castlereagh to be an inadequate reward for Union services and he now asked unsuccessfully for the office of teller in Ireland, when vacant. In August 1801 he asked for government support at the next election, which he obtained, but was refused a governorship of the county in January 1802.3 He made no mark in Parliament that session, but on 24 May applied to be a privy councillor, explaining when he did not obtain it, 6 June, that his ‘uniform active and consistent support of the King’s government both in and out of Parliament’ justified his application. He now offered to obtain a county address in favour of the peace treaty, which was declined, but he succeeded in enlisting government support and in frustrating a contest for the county which he could ill have afforded. Meanwhile he had sold his place to an army agent, Taylor, making £4,000 out of it, and looked to the Castle to provide him with another, as he indicated in an aggrieved letter of 25 Aug. 1802 to the chief secretary on behalf of his friend Thomas Coneys, for whom he had repeatedly solicited legal promotion without success. Wickham’s reaction was indignant:

The fact is that Squire Martin having secured his election through the assistance of government is now determined to try what he can do by bullying us. He begins by insisting on his right to dispose of his Union seat at the board of accounts to his own nominee—which is admitted provided the nominee be not an objectionable person, it being clearly understood that such admissals put an end to all other claims. He then sells the place to his own agent here for a bad debt and for an additional sum of money—we know the fact of its being sold—but the person being in other respects unobjectionable we accept him. The moment that is done—he puts in this new claim for a new place for himself.

Wickham wished the prime minister to be told that ‘we shall not suffer ourselves to be frightened here’ and informed him on 3 Sept. 1802 that Martin was ‘the first gentleman upon whom the experiment of resistance on public grounds must be made’.4

Thus disappointed, Martin did not attend Parliament, it being claimed that he could not come over ‘from debt’. In March 1803 he applied to be colonel of the county militia, but there was no vacancy; even his application to raise a regiment against Emmet’s rebellion proved superfluous. In this he vied with his colleague Lord Dunlo, who in August 1803 openly flouted Martin (who did not welcome the resumption of war with France) by not consulting him about a loyal address. Martin revenged himself by carrying an amendment in favour of Catholic claims, which he now openly espoused, giving rise to the supposition that he intended to oppose government. This did not damage him, as James D’Arcy, a local observer, informed Lord Redesdale, 22 Oct. 1803:

Mr Martin ... is of an old Roman Catholic family, and independent of a most commanding county influence from the nature of his property, is supported by the great weight of the Catholic interest. He is however so bad a manager that his affairs are in the most unhappy disorder, and although at times driven by distress as well as by his own extravagances to do things which render him extremely unpopular yet so singular are his talents, so popular his manners and so fortunate his address, that without possessing an atom of public confidence, he at the very moment when he seems to have lost all public favour and is actually without credit for a guinea, starts up to the astonishment of all with a greater command of influence than ever.

D’Arcy added that although Martin was now ‘in the hands of the Catholics’, he was ‘a man to be managed’.5

On Pitt’s return to power, he went to the viceroy, June 1804, with ‘a very long statement of grievances, with a view of ascertaining on what footing he was to stand with the present government, and whether his support was thought to be worth having’. He listed his unsuccessful applications, including also a trusteeship of the linen board, and complained of the preference shown his colleague Dunlo. He admitted that pique had encouraged him to take up the Catholic cause, but said he proposed to go to England and support ministers ‘if he could obtain the promise of a seat at the Treasury board’ or was ‘properly treated’. The viceroy warned him that others had claims on the place he sought and the chief secretary thought ‘Dick Martin’s vote is not worth the price he requires for it’. Martin reappeared at Westminster late in June 1804, when the Irish chancellor of the exchequer encouraged him to describe his efforts to curb illicit distillation in Galway. On 29 Dec. 1804 the official view of Martin was ‘doubtful. It is impossible to say what line he will take, he is now wanting to make his bargain the terms of which cannot be acceded to.’ It seems that the chief secretary offered him the weighmastership of Cork, worth £600 p.a. and tenable with Parliament, but Martin held out for £1,000 p.a.6

In the session of 1805, Martin went into active opposition, criticizing the suspension of habeas corpus in Ireland, 8, 15, 19 Feb., voting against war with Spain, 12 Feb., and for the continuation of the naval commission of inquiry, 1 Mar., as also for the repeal of Pitt’s Additional Force Act, 6 Mar. On 1 Apr. he carried against Castlereagh the reversal of the attainder on Cornelius Grogan of Wexford for the benefit of Grogan’s family. He was in the majorities against Melville, 8 Apr. and 12 June 1805, objecting to Castlereagh’s inclusion in the committee on the subject on Irish grounds, 30 Apr. On 7 May he opposed the Irish election bill because it vilified the poorer classes in attributing all corruption to them. He voted for Catholic relief, 14 May. In July he was duly listed ‘Opposition’.

Apart from his parliamentary conduct, Martin had also embarrassed government in county Galway by refusing to support their candidate in the by-election of 1805, turning the scale in favour of an oppositionist, Bowes Daly. He had warned government that he might do this in June 1804, but they had not humoured him or come to terms with him, though he ‘wished to be purchased, and considered that government wished to purchase him’. In November 1805 the chief secretary still hoped that Martin was ‘to be obtained’ if necessary. The Grenville ministry counted on his support, admitting that he wanted something for himself: he was given a collectorship of hearth tax on 1 May 1806 and on 11 Aug. was recommended by the Prince of Wales to the viceroy, the Duke of Bedford, for his support of the ministry, which in turn supported him in his successful election contest that year. In April 1807 the county assizes were his pretext for not coming over to vote against the dismissal of the Grenville ministry, which had shortly before set aside his fresh application to be a trustee of the linen board. The Irish Whigs doubted if he could be relied on to stand by them.7

Yet in 1808 he was reckoned in opposition, doubtless on the strength of his admonitory speech pressing for Catholic relief on 25 May 1808, in which he claimed that the Union was at stake; though he had also been irked by a ‘rude refusal’ by Secretary Wellesley to a patronage application, on the strength of which he claimed to have sent Wellesley a specimen of the correct reply he should have received.8 He re-emerged in May 1810, voting against parliamentary reform on 21 May, but with the minorities on the droits of Admiralty, 30 May, and for Catholic relief, 1 June. The Whigs chose to regard him as one of their supporters, but in this they were unjustified. He could be relied on to support the Catholic claims, 24 Apr. 1812 (he now pledged himself to his constituents to do so and not to apply for or accept office till they were realized) but he was in the government minority on sinecures, 4 May, was sarcastic about George Ponsonby the Whig leader on the subject of parliamentary reform, 8 May, and on 14 May supported the grant to Perceval’s family, though not on political grounds, not having doffed his hat to Perceval ‘twice ... in his life’.

Martin was a prominent supporter of Stuart Wortley’s motion for a stronger administration, 21 May 1812, and on 27 May gave notice of a pro-Catholic motion for 12 July, though he hoped that meanwhile a new administration would take care of it. When none materialized, he gave notice on 1 June of an address for one, but withdrew it next day on the breakdown of negotiations between Lord Wellesley and the Whigs, visibly out of humour with George Ponsonby for his part in it. On 5 June he desired to know on what terms the negotiations had broken off, and a further speech of 11 June, defending the Regent for his efforts to form a new government and criticizing the opposition for wishing to remodel the royal household, indicated whom he wished to show up. On 19 June he assured Ponsonby in debate that the Irish Catholics did not look to the Whigs for their redemption. In other respects too his conduct was independent. He proposed an unsuccessful amendment to Bankes’s sinecures compensation bill, which he characterized as Bankes’s ‘Euridyce’, 15 June, and could only with difficulty be persuaded not to oppose the Irish potato tithe inquiry, 24 June, which would be a gratuitous insult to the protestant clergy. On 3 July he threatened to support Burdett’s motion for an inquiry into the state of Lancaster gaol, unless government acted, but supported the preservation of the public peace bill, 10 July.

Martin, who claimed that his support of government had been ‘free from anything resembling stipulation’ that session, nevertheless required government mediation on his behalf in the contest for Galway in 1812. Although the Castle preferred Martin, ‘the one who occasionally supports government’, to the oppositionist Bowes Daly, they were not enthusiastic and Martin dished his own prospects by falling out with Bowes Daly. In a huff he withdrew, making his interest over to the ministerialist Eyre and taking to his bed. He lost his case against Bowes Daly, whom he had challenged to a duel. Yet he resolved to regain his seat and in July 1816 extracted a profession of goodwill from the chief secretary for the next election.9 Aided by an indispensable neighbourly loan from Martin Joseph Blake of Ballygloonin, he declared himself ‘unequivocally a friend to the present government’. The other ministerialist candidate, James Daly, thought his neutrality more than Martin deserved, as the latter was opposing his interest in Galway town and had, he claimed, ‘endeavoured to negotiate a junction against me, which failed through want of confidence in him and a certainty that it would not succeed’. The chief secretary retorted, ‘I hope most sincerely Martin may come in ...Bowes Daly is an enemy, and Martin will vote with the government.’10

Martin was returned in second place and not only voted but frequently intervened in debate on government’s behalf, provoking gales of laughter. He spoke against adding Brougham to the Bank committee, 8 Feb. 1819, and in favour of the Windsor establishment 22, 25 Feb., 16 Mar. Though he voted for reform of the Scottish burghs on 6 May, he spoke against the extension of the franchise at Penryn, 8 Mar., as well as against the Barnstaple bribery bill, 10 May. He even (two days after voting for Catholic relief) resisted the repeal of the Irish window tax against the majority of his colleagues, 5 May, and the reform of the collective fines against illicit distillation, 7 May. Even more outrageously he suggested, 11 May, that the Marquess Camden should be restored to his tellership of the Exchequer. He supported the foreign enlistment bill, 13 May, because ‘it interfered with no liberty of the individual, but the liberty of ruining himself’. He opposed Tierney’s censure motion of 18 May as ‘a straight political contest’. Opposing parliamentary reform, 1 July, he recalled that he had once been permitted by (Sir) Francis Burdett* to state his hostility to it at a Palace Yard meeting. He was unsuccessful in an attempt to arraign Judge McClelland, whose partiality to Bowes Daly in their lawsuit he had not forgiven, 2 June. As a professed alarmist, at least ‘in some degree’, he supported repressive legislation and its extension to Ireland in December 1819. Meanwhile, he had begun to accept places for his friends and applied for them for his family, as well as a commissionership of fisheries for himself.

Martin immortalized himself in the ensuing Parliament by a crusade against cruelty to animals, as a pioneer patron of the SPCA. Unseated after the election of 1826, he had to live abroad and died at Boulogne, 6 Jan. 1834. Not long before, Sir Jonah Barrington wrote of ‘Humanity Martin’, as the Regent had dubbed him, casting a veil over his older nickname of ‘Hairtrigger Dick’:

He is one of those good fellows who would rather do anybody’s business than his own; and durst look anything in the face than his own situation. As to his charity, I cannot say too much; as to his politics, I cannot say too little. Mr Martin still lives and seems to defy, from the strength of his constitution, both time and the destroyer. If ever he should become defunct there is not a bullock, calf, goose or hack, but ought to go into deep mourning for him.11

Described as a short, thickset man of indomitable resolution, Martin played the host to mankind and in old age entertained Grant, the Irish secretary, ‘with the recital of speeches as delivered in the Irish parliament by eminent orators, exactly imitating their style, tone, and manner’.12

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. S. Lynam, Humanity Dick (1975); Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, i. 299.
  • 2. G. C. Bolton, The Passing of the Irish Act of Union, 145-6.
  • 3. PRO 30/9/1, pt. 3/4, Martin to Abbot, 29 May, 1 Dec. 1801, 15, 26 Jan. 1802; Add. 35781, ff. 25-26, 34-35, 61-62, 106-7.
  • 4. Add. 33109, f. 323; 35734, ff. 267, 330; 35735, ff. 41, 226; PRO 30/9/15, Wickham to Abbot, 30 Aug.; Wickham mss 1/46/19, Wickham to Addington, 3 Sept.; 5/7, Wickham to Martin, 16 Sept. 1802.
  • 5. Add. 35783, f. 87; Glos. RO, Redesdale mss C10.
  • 6. Add. 35715, f. 82; 35750, f. 102; 35754, f. 296; 35759, f. 94.
  • 7. Add. 31229, ff. 173, 223; 35759, f. 94; PRO 30/8/328, f. 265; Spencer mss, Irish list, May 1806; NLS mss 12912, Elliot to Martin, 5 Mar.; Grey mss, Newport to Howick [28 Mar.]; Dublin Evening Post, 23 Apr. 1807.
  • 8. Colchester, iii. 427-8.
  • 9. Add. 40221, f. 88; 40222, f. 383; 40280, f. 41; 40291, f. 108.
  • 10. Add. 40217, f. 397; 40295, ff. 135, 142, 155.
  • 11. Personal Sketches (1832), iii. 134-5.
  • 12. Teignmouth, Reminiscences, i. 173.