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:

64 in 1831


7,068 (1821); 6,897 (1831)


3 July 1821SIR JOSIAS ROWLEY, bt.  vice Coussmaker, deceased
15 June 1826JOHN RUSSELL

Main Article

Kinsale, a market town at the mouth of the River Bandon, had a ‘capacious and secure harbour’ dealing ‘chiefly in the export of agricultural produce, and the import of timber ... and coal, iron and salt’.1 The municipal corporations commissioners reported that ‘great dissatisfaction and jealousy’ existed among the inhabitants towards its self-elected corporation of an unlimited number of burgesses (one of whom was annually elected sovereign) and freemen ‘admitted by favour’, which had been ‘closed against all persons but the nominees of an individual’ since 1749. There was no entitlement to the freedom de jure, admission being entirely at the discretion of the common council of the burgesses, among whom a ‘considerable degree of relationship’ prevailed, and the sovereign, for many years the same man. (An attempt to remove him in 1810 on a motion of quo warranto had failed.) The admission of non-residents, of whom 20 were qualified as freemen in 1831, ensured the complete hegemony of the patron, since 1798 Edward Southwell, 21st Baron de Clifford, an English absentee whose ‘wishes were always adopted’.2

At the 1820 general election de Clifford again returned his nephew George Coussmaker, like himself a Whig opponent of Catholic claims.3 On Coussmaker’s death the following year he brought in his cousin Sir Josias Rowley, who was also hostile to relief. A petition for a reduction of the county rate and a reform of Irish grand jury presentments reached the Commons, 23 May 1822.4 One for revision of the prison laws was presented by Rowley, 10 Apr. 1826.5 At the 1826 general election de Clifford ejected Rowley, who had given silent support to the Liverpool ministry, and brought in John Russell, the son of Lord William Russell* and a nephew of the 6th duke of Bedford, who in 1822 had married his niece Sophia Coussmaker. The Catholic press welcomed the selection of an ‘ardent friend to emancipation’, but mistakenly lauded him as the ‘son of Lord John, the great reformer’. On the hustings John Cramer protested that he was ‘quite a stranger’ and demanded ‘his attention to several subjects of great interest’ to the borough, including support for the corn laws and Catholic relief. After his unopposed return Russell ‘gave a splendid entertainment’.6 He was absent from the 1827-9 divisions on Catholic relief, for which petitions reached the Lords, 16 Mar., and the Commons, 4 May 1827, and the Wellington’s ministry’s concession of emancipation.7 A Brunswick Club was established in September 1828.8 A petition against an increase in the Irish stamp duty reached the Commons, 24 May 1830.9 Russell was unopposed at the 1830 general election.10 A petition for the abolition of slavery reached the Lords, 15 Mar. 1831.11

At the 1831 general election Russell offered again as a supporter of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, calling on the freemen to ‘unequivocally destroy the exclusive privilege’ which had ‘so long been vested in yourselves’ and ‘extend the franchise to the independent residents’, even though it ‘broke in upon the old fashioned privilege of the corporation’. He was returned unopposed.12 Petitions reached the Lords for an improvement in the ‘defective state of the elective franchise of this town’, 9 Aug., and reform, 13 Oct. 1831, 27 Jan. 1832.13 In October 1831 89 freemen, including 14 Catholics, were admitted ‘as a counterpoise to the reform bill’, but this move was frustrated by the Irish Reform Act, which limited the franchise to the resident freemen created before 1 Mar. 1831, and ‘the object was defeated, and in consequence none ... took the oaths’ except one Jacob Moylan, who became the corporation’s only Catholic member and one of its sergeants-at-mace.14 That December the boundary commissioners found that in addition to the 64 existing freemen there were 122 ‘who had not taken the oaths or paid the fees’, bringing the potential unreformed electorate ‘in the case of a contested election’ in which ‘all qualified’ to 176, of whom 134 were resident and 42 non-resident.15 Petitions for the abolition of Irish tithes were presented to the Commons, 1 Mar., and the Lords, 27 July 1832.16 Finding that there was no known boundary, the commissioners drew a ‘line as close to the town on all sides as circumstances would permit’ and added the village of Scilly, in the south-east. They estimated that the reformed constituency would have 260 £10 householders and 94 resident freemen, but the 1832 registered electorate numbered only 206, of whom 186 polled at the 1832 general election, when, de Clifford’s interest having been effectively curtailed, Russell retired and a local Liberal who had come into ‘a large fortune’ was returned six votes ahead of a local Conservative.17 The borough was contested at ten of the following 15 elections.

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 232.
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xliii. 85; (1835), xxvii. 277-9.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. CJ, lxxvii. 289.
  • 5. Ibid. lxxxi. 223.
  • 6. Southern Reporter, 8 June; Cork Constitution, 8 June; Dublin Evening Post, 10, 20 June 1826; Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C191/1, Stanhope to Cramer, 4 Apr. 1827.
  • 7. LJ, lix. 166; CJ, lxxxii. 432.
  • 8. Dublin Evening Post, 30 Sept. 1828.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxv. 464.
  • 10. Cork Constitution, 17 July 1830.
  • 11. LJ, lxiii. 327.
  • 12. Cork Constitution, 28 Apr., 3, 7 May; Dublin Evening Post, 26 May 1831.
  • 13. LJ, lxiii. 907, 1086; lxiv. 30.
  • 14. PP (1833), xxxiv. 150; (1835), xxvii. 278.
  • 15. Ibid. (1831-2), xliii. 85.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxvii. 156; LJ, lxiv. 406.
  • 17. PP (1831-2), xliii. 85-7; Derby mss 920 Der (14) 125/4, Barrington to Smith Stanley, 16 Nov. 1832.