Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:

32 in 1831


9,256 (1821); 10,750 (1831)


24 Mar. 1820JOHN METGE
29 June 1820GEORGE HARRY WILLIAM FLEETWOOD HARTOPP vice Metge, vacated his seat
5 May 1824SIR ROBERT HARRY INGLIS, bt. vice Hartopp, deceased

Main Article

Dundalk, the ‘oldest borough in Ireland’, had little of the ‘spectacle of poverty’ that ‘all through the county of Louth stares one in the face’. A ‘respectable looking town’, its increasing prosperity was attributed to its role as ‘a mart for agricultural produce and a shipping port for cattle’, and to the patronage of the Jocelyns of Dundalk House, earls of Roden.1 They had long enjoyed ‘complete ascendancy’ over its self-elected Protestant corporation of 16 burgesses (one of whom was the bailiff) and an unlimited number of freemen, and owned the guildhall and paid all the town clerks and sergeants. The corporation’s exclusive and sectarian character (no Catholics had been admitted since 1793), rendered it increasingly unpopular with ‘the great majority of the inhabitants’, so that even when the freedom was offered to ‘respectable merchants’, they refused ‘upon the ground that any connection with the corporation would be prejudicial to their mercantile connection with the public’. This, and the Jocelyns’ tight scrutiny of admissions, meant that there were never more than 16 freemen, so that the parliamentary franchise was effectively vested in 32 corporators, who were able to sell the seat to the highest bidder.2

At the 1820 general election the Jocelyn family agent John Metge was seated as a stopgap prior to the return of George Hartopp of Doe Bank, Warwickshire, whose election coincided with the succession of Robert Jocelyn, Member for Louth and a prominent Orangeman, as 3rd earl. Following the unexpected death in 1824 of Hartopp, who supported the Liverpool ministry and Catholic relief, the Evangelical Sir Robert Harry Inglis of Milton Bryant, Bedfordshire, who allegedly ‘never saw Dundalk’, was returned unopposed. The candidature of Alexander Mundell of London, who was proposed at the nomination by Anthony Marmion of Dundalk to ‘loud cheers from the independents’, was dismissed by the returning officer, as were Marmion’s claims to be admitted as a duly qualified freeman.3 Petitions alleging that Inglis had been illegally returned by the deputy bailiff Lennox Bigger, with ‘only six assured burgesses’ present, and demanding that the corporation be disfranchised and a new charter issued were presented, 17 May 1824, 9 Mar. 1825, but not pursued. Others calling for a restoration of the inhabitants’ right to be admitted as freemen reached the Commons, 12 May 1824, 22 Feb. 1825.4 A petition from the Protestant inhabitants for Catholic claims was presented to the Lords, 17 May 1825.5

At the 1826 general election the Catholic press urged the inhabitants to ‘unhorse’ Roden and relieve themselves of ‘the disgrace’ of being represented by ‘Sir Somebody Inglis’, a ‘nabob’ who ‘cares no more for the people of Dundalk than he does for the Indians of Rangoon’. On the day of nomination Marmion, claiming to be supported by thousands of qualified voters, challenged the corporation’s right to return Members and proposed one Joseph Read, but he was put out of the guildhall by the chief constable of police on the ground that he was not a freeman. Some confusion then ensued, for although Charles Barclay, a London brewer and Quaker, was proposed and returned by the bailiff George Forster, it was later asserted by Marmion that some of the six burgesses present had already nominated and elected a Mr. Burke. His petition to that effect, alleging that Barclay had been seated illegally, was presented to the Commons, 4 Dec. 1826, but lapsed, 8 Feb. 1827. A similar one complaining of the ‘incompetency of the returning officer at the last election’ was read but disallowed, 7 May 1827. Others from the inhabitants for a restoration of their rights and franchises and to ‘prevent undue elections by indefinite bodies’ reached the Lords, 22 Mar., and the Commons, 30 Mar. 1827. Barclay, who the Catholic press had predicted would support their claims, voted against relief in 1827 and 1828 but in favour of emancipation in 1829.6

At the 1830 general election Barclay retired. Thomas Flanagan of Sligo, a disreputable pro-Catholic agitator, offered, but at the nomination he and ‘the rightful voters’ were allegedly ‘restrained by an armed force of police’ led by Roden’s stewards and officers, and John Hobart Cradock, son of the 1st Baron Howden, was returned in absentia by the bailiff and eight burgesses. Flanagan’s petition against the illegal conduct of the corporation and its ‘unqualified’ burgesses was presented, 16 Nov., but discharged, 2 Dec. 1830.7 Another against ‘corporate abuses’ and for an extension of the franchise was presented by the county Member Alexander Dawson, 4 Nov. One from John Macken of Dundalk complaining that on tendering his vote he had been assaulted by the police and that the magistrates had refused him redress was moved to be brought up by Daniel O’Connell, 11 Nov. 1830, but opposed by John McClintock, the other county Member, who defended the magistrates’ actions.8 Cradock supported the Grey ministry’s reform bill, in favour of which a Dundalk meeting was held, 4 Apr. 1831, but no petition was forthcoming before the dissolution.9

At the ensuing general election the Tory managers were told that Roden had offered to ‘bring in a friend’. Horace Twiss, late Member for Newport, Isle of Wight, was spoken of but accommodated elsewhere, while locally it was rumoured that McClintock, who had vacated Louth, would probably be returned. In the event, however, Roden returned the Scottish Evangelical proselytizer James Edward Gordon, founder of the Protestant Reformation Society (of which Roden was vice-president), in order, as the Catholic press asserted, ‘to pour the last drop of bitterness into the cup of insult’.10 Gordon, who promised to ‘nail his flag to the mast for church and constitution and not to be put down’, opposed the reform bill and repeatedly clashed with Catholic Irish Members, especially Richard Sheil, who following his return for Louth pledged not to offer again ‘except for Dundalk’.11

The boundary commissioners enlarged the borough to include all £10 houses which could ‘in any way claim to be considered a part of the town’, and predicted that about 600 voters would qualify as occupiers.12 As it happened the reformed constituency numbered only 318, including 22 resident freemen, 19 of whom were admitted on 29 June 1832 ‘under peculiar circumstances’ of birth or servitude on the instructions of Roden, who nevertheless by the Irish Reform Act ‘lost the influence he formerly possessed’.13 At the 1832 general election Gordon retired. Sheil started as promised, only to abandon Dundalk for Tipperary, and another ‘popular’ candidate, William O’Reilly of Knock Abbey, county Louth, was returned after ‘a most vigorous contest’ against Roden’s Conservative half-brother John Jocelyn, which saw that family ‘prostrated in their own stronghold’.14

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xliii. 57; H.D. Inglis, Ireland in 1834, ii. 328.
  • 2. PP (1829), xxii. 256; (1830), xxxi. 330; (1831-2), xliii. 57; (1835), 452-64.
  • 3. Drogheda Jnl. 8 May 1824; Dublin Evening Post, 8 June 1826.
  • 4. CJ, lxxix. 354, 375; lxxx. 111, 179.
  • 5. LJ, lvii. 838.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 8, 15 June; Drogheda Jnl. 17 June 1826; CJ, lxxxii. 71, 124, 376, 436; LJ, lix. 193.
  • 7. Dublin Evening Post, 17 Aug. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 95, 141.
  • 8. CJ, lxxxvi. 57.
  • 9. Dublin Evening Post, 12 Apr. 1831.
  • 10. NLI, Farnham mss 18606 (1), Arbuthnot to Farnham, 4, 5 May; Drogheda Jnl. 7, 17 May; Dublin Evening Post, 14 May 1831.
  • 11. PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/245; Drogheda Jnl. 24 May 1831.
  • 12. PP (1831-2), xliii. 57-9.
  • 13. PP (1833), xxxiv. 149; (1835), xxviii. 451-2; Dod’s Electoral Facts ed. H. Hanham, 99.
  • 14. The Times, 24 Oct., 21, 25 Dec. 1832.