Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the corporation
Number qualified to vote:
3,243 (1821); 3,515 (1831)
|13 Mar. 1820||HON. THOMAS KNOX|
|21 June 1826||HON. THOMAS KNOX|
|6 Aug. 1830||HON. THOMAS KNOX|
|28 Dec. 1830||Hon. John Knox vice Knox, vacated his seat|
|9 May 1831||Hon. John Knox|
Dungannon, in the parish of Drumglass, just south of Lough Neagh, may have been ‘spacious, handsome and well built’, but with declining linen and grain trades it was not reckoned to be particularly prosperous. The whole was the property of the head of the Knox family of Northland House, situated to the east of the town, who was also the lord of the manor. This, since he had succeeded his father in 1818, was the 2nd Viscount Northland, one of the handful of freemen of the borough. He controlled the exclusively Protestant corporation by packing it with members of his family, including several clergymen. It comprised a provost (or portreeve) and 12 free burgesses, who had barely any purpose except ‘to get up the elections’ for their patron, as Thomas Oldfield put it; the provost’s duties as returning officer were said to be ‘almost the only practical function which devolves on him’.1 From 1695 the Knoxes, when not providing for paying guests or government nominees, served as the representatives and this arrangement continued after the Union.2 At the general election of 1818 Northland had brought in his eldest son Thomas Knox, former Member for Tyrone, and he was elected unopposed in 1820, when five corporators signed the official return, 1826 and 1830.3 A Grenvillite like his father, Knox soon became a steady supporter of the Liverpool administration.
There was little political activity in Dungannon in this period, although anti-slavery petitions were presented to the Commons, 7 Apr. 1826 (by Knox), 17 June 1828 (by Mackintosh), and to the Lords, 18 Apr. 1831.4 A Brunswick Club, established on 17 Oct. 1828 under the presidency of Andrew Godfrey Stewart of Lisdhu, brother of the 2nd Earl Castlestewart, brought together some of the local Orangemen, with whose cause Northland was reported to be sympathetic.5 Yet (as Baron Ranfurly) Northland (by proxy) and his brother William, bishop of Derry, divided on 4 and 10 Apr. 1829 for Catholic emancipation, for which Knox, unlike his largely abstentionist brother John Henry, Member for Newry, had for several years voted in the Commons. After a meeting of local landowners and agriculturists, chaired by Northland, 12 May, petitions complaining of the increased Irish spirit and stamp duties were presented to both Houses, 18 May 1830.6
Knox relinquished his seat in December 1830 and, although his motives are unknown, it is probable that Northland’s desire to secure a promotion in the peerage from the newly formed Grey ministry led him to substitute his more liberal younger son John James at the uncontested by-election later that month. Nothing came of a rumoured independent candidate at the general election early the following year, when James was returned unopposed, but a newspaper speculated that there would be a contest once the reform bill had passed and another asked, ‘Will the Knoxes be mad enough to disfranchise themselves - or the burgesses permit them?’7 The earl of Ranfurly, as Northland became at the time of the coronation in September, voted by proxy for the reform bill in the Lords, 7 Oct. 1831, and again (like his brother Edmund, bishop of Killaloe), 13 Apr. 1832. That summer James Knox, who (unlike his Tory brother) voted consistently for reform, was challenged for the representation by a local Brunswicker, Robert Evans, son of Edward Evans of Dungannon House, who drew support from the disaffected inhabitants.8 The Knoxes certainly considered themselves vulnerable and many of them, being mostly non-residents, resigned from the corporation during the autumn. Yet with 234 £10 houses, of which 83 were in vacant or female occupation, there were expected to be only 161 qualified electors and Ranfurly was clearly able to retain his proprietorial interest over the geographically much diminished borough.9 In fact, Evans withdrew before the general election of 1832, when there were 154 registered electors, and the sitting Member was said to be ‘quite safe’. Apart from a scare over faulty registration in 1841 and another contest in 1852, members of the Knox family were returned unopposed as Conservatives until defeat occurred in 1874.10
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. Oldfield, Key (1820), 325; PP (1831-2), xliii. 63; (1835), xxviii. 469-70, 472; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 574-6; J.J. Marshall, Hist. Dungannon, 95-99.
- 2. Lord Belmore, Parl. Mems. of Fermanagh and Tyrone (1887), 119; Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 337; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 690-1.
- 3. PP (1824), xxi. 697.
- 4. CJ, lxxxi. 217; lxxxiii. 443; LJ, lxiii. 445; The Times, 8 Apr. 1826.
- 5. Belfast Guardian, 21, 28 Oct., 4 Nov. 1828; Belfast News Letter, 10 Feb. 1829.
- 6. Belfast Guardian, 21 May 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 440; LJ, lxii. 457.
- 7. Belfast Guardian, 22 Apr.; Impartial Reporter, 5 May 1831.
- 8. Northern Whig, 23, 27 Aug., 3, 27 Sept. 1832.
- 9. PRO NI MIC547/1, Dungannon minute bk.; PP (1831-2), xliii. 63, 64; (1835), xxviii. 470.
- 10. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 125/4, Barrington to Smith Stanley, 16 Nov. 1832; D. Murphy, Derry, Donegal and Modern Ulster, 85-86.