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

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 871 in 18311

Number of voters:

420 in 1830


[of the manor]: 5,105 (1821); 8,381 (1831)


18 Feb. 1822HON. GEORGE LAMB vice Clifford, vacated his seat 
15 June 1826HON. GEORGE LAMB 
9 Aug. 1830HON. GEORGE LAMB370
 Dominick Ronayne50

Main Article

Dungarvan, a port at the head of a spacious bay on the south coast, had a ‘small export trade’ in butter and corn and a declining fishing industry, from which some 3,000 were ‘deprived of employment’ by the withdrawal of the Irish fishing bounties.2 A corporation of a sovereign, a recorder, and 12 brethren had been established by charter, 4 Jan. 1609, but ‘become extinct at a very remote period’, leaving the town to be governed by the seneschal of the manor. For at least a century the Members had been elected by the inhabitant householders paying a yearly rental of £5 and the freeholders within the limits of the manor, an oddly shaped area which included three isolated townships, creating a constituency in which the franchise was ‘very near’ to ‘universal suffrage’. Although the dukes of Devonshire owned two-thirds of the town and had been lords of the manor since 1748, their electoral influence had been dormant until 1806, when the 5th duke, who had started to make great improvements in the town, had successfully opposed the nominee of the other leading proprietor, the 2nd marquess of Waterford, head of the Beresford family. Further acts of munificence, including the construction of a ‘very handsome bridge’ across its harbour, helped to ensure the dominance of the representation by the 6th duke, who had succeeded in 1811, but threats of challenges by the Beresfords and a growing ‘independent’ interest always remained.3

At the 1820 general election George Walpole, Member since 1806, made way for Devonshire’s illegitimate half-brother Augustus William Clifford, who had been ‘set adrift’ from Bandon Bridge on account of its being the turn of the co-patron to nominate. Rumours of a local challenge by the independents came to nothing, Devonshire’s agent James Abercromby* noting that ‘they have nobody of a sufficiently frank and convivial turn to please the Irish’, and Clifford was elected unopposed in absentia.4 Writing to Devonshire about Clifford’s impending return to active naval service, 7 July 1821, Abercromby reported that ‘Dungarvan is very safe at present, which is lucky ... There seems to be no chance that Clifford will be appointed before Tuesday, after which there will be no opportunity of moving for a new writ’.5 Following Clifford’s appointment to a frigate later that year he vacated in favour of his brother-in-law George Lamb, the husband of Devonshire’s half-sister, who had been stranded since his defeat in Westminster in 1820. Reporting his arrival in Dungarvan shortly before his unopposed return, 14 Feb. 1822, Lamb observed:

I was received extremely well both on my own account on the duke’s, who seems to be quite a God among them. Indeed, he ought to be for he has laid out vast sums of money upon this town, and they express a gratitude for it, that I never saw anything like in England.6

Petitions from the distressed fishermen against the proposed reduction of export bounties reached the Commons, 19 Mar. 1824, 1 Mar. 1826.7 During the rumours of a dissolution in September 1825 Peel, the home secretary, was advised that ‘an estate bill of last session’ had given Waterford leasing powers which he had ‘largely exercised, but the registry will not be available in consequence until next year, when he may defy his Grace both in the county and Dungarvan’.8 In February 1826 Lady Cowper recorded that Lamb ‘dreads his election’, on account of the ‘No Popery cry’. Rumours of a challenge, however, came to nothing and at that year’s general election Lamb was again returned unopposed.9 In the House he continued to support Catholic claims, for which petitions reached the Commons, 14 Feb., 2 Mar. 1827, 5 Feb. 1828, and the Lords, 6 Mar. 1827. He of course voted for the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, for which petitions were presented to the Lords, 12 Feb., and the Commons, 20 Feb. 1829.10 Next month John Wilson Croker* unsuccessfully urged Peel to include the freeholders of Dungarvan (and other non-corporate towns) in the Irish disfranchisement bill:

The frauds and perjuries ... where the election is in inhabitants registering as of £5 value are more enormous, though less extensive, than those of the 40s, freeholders ... and ... if you do not remedy this ... you will have Papists of the lowest order returned ... The meanest class of Papists are the majority in ... Dungarvan.11

Warning Devonshire that June about the activities of the ‘Popish priests’ and Dominick Ronayne, a local barrister and former member of the Catholic Association, Lamb advised:

Upon the representation ... I would repeat what I have before stated ... If given handsomely it is to be kept, if not it should be kicked away. It appears to me that with priests like [Patrick] Vogarty and their flocks, ‘appetite doth grow on feeding’. The more you give the more they desire ... Ronayne has been canvassing [and] if you give anything at present under such a show of intimidation, it will be providing a rod against yourself for all eternity ... I don’t believe they will get the money for their chapel from anybody else and I am quite sick of their perpetual mendicity ... We emancipated them from political thraldom and ought at the same time to free ourselves from pecuniary avarice. Are you not infernally bored?12

Next month’s registration aroused ‘considerable interest’, in consequence of ‘Ronayne’s well known intention of making an attempt to open the borough’.13 In August 1829 Lord George Beresford, who had been ousted from county Waterford in 1826, privately expressed an interest in standing.14 Later that month it emerged that John Matthew Galwey† of Duckspool, Dungarvan had offered to give his considerable influence to Lord George in the impending county Waterford by-election in return for personal assistance in the borough, but that Lord Beresford had

pointed out to him the total impossibility it would be to us to support him in Dungarvan, that we should bring down ... Devonshire in declared hostility against us, and thereby bring on what it was our object to avoid, contest and discord in the county ... Besides he well knew we had pretensions to it ourselves, that we had not by any means given them up, and that if we supported any one, it must be one of our own setting up.15

Another petition from the distressed fishermen was presented to the Commons, 22 Feb. 1830. Petitions against an increase of Irish stamp duties reached the Commons, 18 June, and the Lords, 21 June 1820. Petitions for repeal of the Irish Vestry Acts and abolition of Church rates were presented to the Commons and the Lords, 1 July 1830.16

At the 1830 general election Lamb offered again, citing his support for parliamentary reform, retrenchment, and modification of the Irish Vestry and Subletting Acts, and urging the ‘free and emancipated voters’ not to ‘refuse those suffrages which were ... given when we were jointly labouring for that glorious object’. Ronayne came forward with the support of Daniel O’Connell*, criticizing Devonshire’s neutrality in the late county Waterford by-election, failure to relieve the ‘misery’ of the fishermen and ‘corrupt and unconstitutional boroughmongering’, which was ‘equally injurious to the public interest whether exercised by a Whig or Tory’.17 ‘George thought that if the duke did not oppose O’Connell in the county, Ronayne would withdraw from the town’, Lamb’s wife observed, describing the ensuing contest as ‘a most troublesome business’.18 ‘I do not suppose we can do anything. Of course, we should keep out Ronayne if we can’, Lord Francis Leveson Gower, the Irish secretary, informed Archdeacon Singleton, 11 July.19 On the hustings Lamb dwelt at length on the ‘ingratitude’ of a Catholic being ‘the first to endeavour to dissolve the tie between him and the borough’, provoking protests from the crowd, whereupon Ronayne replied that ‘emancipation had entailed no such extraordinary debt of gratitude on the Catholics, as would justify them perpetually trumpeting ... the magnitude of their obligation’. A ‘sharp’ contest ensued, in which Lamb, who led throughout, bemoaned the ‘obstinacy of his rival’. (At the close of the first day’s poll 56 of Ronayne’s voters were disallowed because they had registered their freeholds in the county of Waterford instead of the borough, but he refused to retire.)20 On 8 Aug. Lamb informed Devonshire:

There never was anything so tedious as the forms of an Irish election, for though Ronayne resigned in the middle of Friday [6 Aug.], the return cannot be completed till tomorrow morning. They acted with every sort of delay, so that at the close on Thursday, I had got but 52 ahead. However, as soon as he resigned, the objecting agents struck and we went on merrily ... All the Beresford strength in the borough went against us [but] on Friday, when all was decided, there came a letter ... stating that the Beresfords did not wish their tenants to take any part ... Dated the 3rd, as if written before the election, it only arrived on the 6th and our trusty John Gadney ... observed the postmark to be the 5th. Was ever such low dirty shamefaced hostility shown? However, your poor fishermen freeholders were staunch and true, the priests preached in my favour, and the gentlemen ... supported us zealously.21

At the declaration next day an apparently intoxicated Lamb protested that he had been ‘wantonly detained amongst them’ and that ‘the reception given by many ... was not very complimentary’, and remarked that he found ‘something highly amusing in the disapprobation of the people’, causing much uproar. Ronayne retorted that such remarks were ‘conceived in the very spirit of aristocracy’, denounced the ‘oligarchical despotism’ by which the portly Lamb had obtained his seat, and, gesticulating at him, declared, ‘Whatever difference may exist on that point, it must be conceded on all sides that no man could fill it better (roars of laughter)’.22 A petition against the grant to the Kildare Place Society reached the Lords, 8 Feb., and the Commons, 18 Feb. 1831.23 One for repeal of the Union, for which a meeting had been held in November 1830 attended by ‘all the active and intelligent shopkeepers and tradesmen’, reached the Commons, 16 Mar. 1831.24 On the accession of the Grey ministry Lamb became under-secretary to his brother Lord Melbourne, the home secretary, and of course supported the reform bill. At the 1831 general election O’Connell suggested to the Whig manager Lord Duncannon* that Lamb should stand for county Waterford, leaving Dungarvan to the Repealer Henry Winston Barron of Belmont House, Ballyneale, who would vacate if required. Lamb, however, gave ‘a most distinct reply that nothing could induce him to stand for the county’ and stood again, professing ‘unchanged’ sentiments. He was returned unopposed.25 A petition for reform of the Irish education system reached the Commons, 11 Aug. 1831. One for the abolition of tithes was presented to the Lords, 28 Feb. 1832.26

The boundary commissioners believed ‘it would be quite contrary to the spirit of the reform bill’ to allow the freeholders of the manor registered above £10 to continue to vote for both Dungarvan and county Waterford ‘in virtue of the same qualification’, and recommended adopting the much narrower ‘town limits’, which they mistakenly took to be those in force for the £5 household franchise after consulting John Hudson, the seneschal of the manor. Noting that the existing constituency comprised 681 freeholders (597 registered at 40s., ten at £10, 43 at £20 and 31 at £50) and 200 £5 householders, they predicted that reform would ‘restrict’ rather than ‘augment’ the electorate, producing a probable constituency of just 210 £10 householders.27 On 13 June a petition against their proposals was presented and endorsed by Lamb, who warned that the new limits would create a ‘close borough’ and protested at the disfranchisement of the £5 householders, who had always been ‘most respectable’ and ‘independent’. (In reply, Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, pointed out that the £5 householders were only being ‘prospectively disfranchised’, and that all ‘present possessors’ would have ‘their rights preserved to them for their lives’.) Speaking in similar terms that day Sir Richard Musgrave, Member for county Waterford, observed that most of the proposed constituency lay on Devonshire’s estates and that other properties, including those of the Beresfords, were ‘nearly altogether excluded’, adding, ‘the conduct of the commissioners has been quite inexcusable, because they ... were directed not to narrow the limits of the elective franchise, and yet, in this case, they have excluded seven-eighths of the ancient borough ... so as to form a nomination borough’. Another hostile petition reached the Lords, 15 June, and a select committee, which included Lamb, was appointed to investigate, 5 July.28 On 23 July they determined that the commissioners had been ‘misinformed’ about the narrower ‘town limits’ in force for £5 householders, who were ‘not precluded’ from qualifying within the manor, but had simply chosen to register ‘as freeholders’ instead in order to obtain a double vote. The original boundaries were accordingly retained, except for ‘some small portions’ of the manor ‘wholly detached’ from the rest, which were thrown into the county.29 (The municipal corporations commissioners later noted that the new limits were ‘very inconveniently settled’.) As a result the 1832 registered electorate was 677, of whom 181 qualified as £10 householders, 395 as 40s. freeholders, seven as £20 freeholders, seven as £50 freeholders and 87 as £5 householders.30 At that year’s general election Devonshire’s agent Benjamin Currey advised him not to ‘pay the expenses’ of returning Lamb:

I think it very likely there may be a severe contest ... and I would not propose a candidate, unless the town did as it ought [and] ... remembered all that you had done for them, and would return your Member on reasonable terms. Lord Waterford has ... registered 100 votes, which will stand good, and Galwey is assisting him and has turned the bitter enemy of George Lamb.31

In the event Lamb defeated the Repealer Galwey after a three-day contest in which 578 (85 per cent) polled.32 It has been suggested that the influence of Devonshire, whom the boundary commissioners noted had made ‘great improvements’ to the town ‘at his own expense’, had become ‘extinct’ by 1834, when Lamb died, but as late as 1853 a guide described his influence as ‘paramount’. Dungarvan remained a Liberal stronghold until the advent of Home rule, providing a berth for Michael O’Loghlen, Irish attorney-general in the Melbourne administration, 1835-37, and Richard Sheil*, a former leader of the Catholic Association and master of the mint in the Russell ministry, 1841-51.33

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xliii. 66. There is an earlier but inaccurate estimate of 1,708, in which ‘a great number of householders are also registered as freeholders’ (ibid. (1830), xxxi. 330).
  • 2. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 577.
  • 3. PP (1831-2), xliii. 65-8; (1835), xxvii. 261; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 693-4.
  • 4. Castle Howard mss, Morpeth to wife, 2 Feb.; Chatsworth mss 431; Dublin Evening Post, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Chatsworth mss 531.
  • 6. Herts. Archives, Panshanger mss D/Elb F87/2.
  • 7. CJ, lxxix. 186; lxxxi. 115.
  • 8. Add. 40381, f. 208.
  • 9. Lady Palmerston Letters, 146; Dublin Evening Post, 20 June 1826.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxii. 164, 264; lxxxiii. 17; lxxxiv. 72; LJ, lix. 136; lxi. 28.
  • 11. Add. 40320, f. 110.
  • 12. Chatsworth mss, Lamb to Devonshire, 25 June 1829.
  • 13. Waterford Mail, 29 July 1829.
  • 14. PRO NI, Carr Beresford mss T3396, Beresford to Carr, 4, 5 Aug. 1829.
  • 15. PRO NI, Primate Beresford mss D3279/A/4/35.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxv. 89, 566, 603; LJ, lxii. 753, 790.
  • 17. PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/164; Waterford Mail, 10, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 18. Castle Howard mss, Mrs. G. Lamb to Lady Carlisle [July, Aug. 1830.]
  • 19. NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. M.738/198.
  • 20. Waterford Mail, 31 July; Tipperary Free Press, 7, 14 Aug.; Dublin Evening Post, 10 Aug. 1830.
  • 21. Chatsworth mss.
  • 22. Tipperary Free Press, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 23. LJ, lxiii. 213; CJ, lxxxvi. 272.
  • 24. CJ, lxxxvi. 390; PRO NI, Fitzgerald mss MIC639/13/7/93.
  • 25. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1802, 1804; Waterford Mail, 7 May 1831.
  • 26. CJ, lxxxvi. 746; LJ, lxiv. 73.
  • 27. PP (1831-2), v. 16; xliii. 65-68.
  • 28. LJ, lxiv. 296; CJ, lxxxvii. 464.
  • 29. PP (1831-2), v. 3, 16; Lewis, i. 579.
  • 30. PP (1833), xxvii. 308; (1835), xxvii. 264.
  • 31. Chatsworth mss, Currey to Devonshire, 4 July 1832.
  • 32. The Times, 18 Dec. 1832; PP (1833), xxvii. 308.
  • 33. L. Proudfoot, ‘Landlord Motivation and Urban Improvement’, Irish Econ. and Soc. Hist. xviii (1991), 19.