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 £5 householders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 600

Number of voters:

554 in 1831


10,013 (1821); 13,369 (1831)


10 May 1831HON. JOHN HENRY KNOX333
 Denis Maguire221

Main Article

Of the populous and prosperous commercial centre and port of Newry, straddling the county boundary between Armagh and Down at the head of Carlingford Bay, John Curwen* observed that it ‘has the appearance of opulence, and in the pursuit of trade and business many appeared to be earnestly engaged’, while another traveller, Henry Inglis, noted that this ‘respectable-looking town ... enjoys the rare distinction of having no wretched suburbs dragging their miserable length from every outlet’.1 Like its neighbour Downpatrick, the borough extended into a large area of surrounding countryside and had long since lost its corporation. The householder franchise (it was mistakenly thought to be also vested in the freeholders) produced a comparatively large number of electors, although this was not more than a quarter of the figure of 2,500 which was quoted in the early 1830s.2 The Catholics, who comprised a significant portion of the population, had already made the town a major centre for political activity.3 Their cause was promoted by the local liberal paper, the Examiner, with Protestant and Tory opinion being represented by the Telegraph.

Since the Union, General Francis Needham of Mourne Park had re-established his family’s dormant electoral interest and, although Thomas Oldfield commented in 1816 that it was ‘not sufficient to command the return’, he was subsequently recognized as the sole proprietor.4 He, who held the seat from 1806, succeeded to the Irish title and estates of his brother, the 11th Viscount Kilmorey of Shavington, Shropshire, in November 1818. He thereby became lord of the manor of Newry (so appointing the seneschal and returning officer of the borough), and in county politics he continued his family’s alliance with the dominant Tory interest of the marquesses of Londonderry. He brought forward his elder son at a by-election in March 1819 and he, an inactive supporter of the Liverpool administration, was again returned unopposed at the general election of 1820.5 Having been created an earl in January 1822 (when his son took the Viscountcy of Newry as his courtesy title), Kilmorey later that year unsuccessfully applied to ministers to become a representative peer, emphasizing ‘the severe contests, difficulty and expense I was at to recover the borough of Newry, in which I have now succeeded’.6

In July 1821 over a third of the Newry yeomanry resigned in protest at being forbidden to parade with Orange colours; the following month the town agreed a loyal address to George IV on his visit to Ireland.7 Petitions from the merchants and traders against the importation of foreign butter and alteration of the corn laws were brought up by Lord Newry, 20 May 1822.8 In December the inhabitants approved an address congratulating the lord lieutenant on his escape from injury in the Dublin theatre riots, which was presented to him on 20 Jan. 1823.9 Following the seneschal’s refusal to accede to a requisition, another gathering on 7 Jan. 1824 criticized Kilmorey’s sponsorship of the Newry police bill.10 The ensuing petition was presented, 5 Mar., by Henry Brougham, who also brought up one from Robert Atkinson complaining of abuses in the local post office, 21 June.11 Whatever differences there may have been between the townspeople and their patron, he was praised for his contribution to local improvements at a dinner in his honour in December 1824, when the state of the Newry canal was widely lamented.12 Atkinson took up this subject in correspondence with Lord Anglesey, who had an estate nearby, and apparently threatened to stand at the next election. However, in January 1825 Anglesey’s agent ascertained that ‘the unfortunate man is deranged’, adding that ‘by the by, some opposition to Lord Kilmorey in the borough of Newry by the radical and Catholic party is talked of, but it will be ineffectual’.13 A petition from the Protestant inhabitants for Catholic relief was presented to the Lords by the 3rd marquess of Downshire, 22 Mar., and the Commons by William Plunket, Member for Dublin University, 24 Mar. Other commercial petitions for protection from foreign butter were brought up, 24 Mar., 18 Apr. (and 26 May 1826), while those against alteration of the corn laws and for lower tobacco duties were presented, 29 Apr. 1825, by the county Members Hill and Forde.14

At the general election of 1826 Lord Newry withdrew in favour of his brother-in-law John Henry Knox, a younger son of the 2nd Viscount Northland, who controlled the representation of Dungannon. Knox canvassed on the Kilmorey interest and one possible challenger, the young barrister Hugh Marmaduke O’Hanlon, son of Patrick O’Hanlon of Narrow Water Castle, issued an address from London declining to offer despite his dismay at the reduced state of the town. The disgruntled merchants and traders held a meeting on 12 June, when criticisms were voiced of Lord Newry’s inattentiveness and Kilmorey’s stranglehold on the representation, in hopes of choosing a candidate with commercial expertise. An approach was made to the Liverpool merchant John Gladstone*, but he had already started for Berwick, and the mercantile interest settled for Knox on receiving assurances that he would attend to their affairs in Parliament. The radical inhabitant William Henry McWherther in the end declined to poll against Knox, who was introduced by Trevor Corry of Abbey Yard, cousin of the former Member and Irish chancellor of the exchequer, Isaac Corry. Knox was therefore returned unopposed, but the anti-Kilmorey mob caused considerable uproar during the election.15

The petition from the chamber of commerce for repeal of the coal duties was presented by Knox, 9 Mar. 1827, and tanners’ petitions against the leather duties were brought up, 2 Apr. 1827, 14 Mar. 1828.16 Thomas Kelly, Catholic bishop of Dromore, who had his seat at Newry, chaired the meeting of Catholics there in January 1828; the ensuing petitions were brought up in the Commons by Knox, 18 Feb., and in the Lords by Downshire, 9 June.17 Nothing eventually came that autumn of the plan for John Lawless to lead a Catholic procession into Newry, where on 22 Sept. 1828 a Brunswick Club was established under Kilmorey’s presidency.18 The following year even the Catholics were said to be against the details of the emancipation bill, and hostile petitions were presented to the Lords, 9 Feb., 6, 19 Mar., and the Commons by Moore, Member for Dublin, 4, 9 Mar., and Astley, Member for Wiltshire, 27 Mar. 1829.19 The emancipation cause was supported in speeches at the dinner, presided over by the leading Catholic resident Denis (or Dennis) Maguire, to celebrate the consecration of a new chapel in May.20 After it had been agreed to adopt the provisions of the general Irish Paving Act late the previous year, Knox brought up the petition for the Newry Navigation Company bill, 20 Feb., and supervised its passage to royal assent on 19 June 1829.21 The commercial interests met on 28 Apr. to formulate a petition against the increased Irish stamp and spirit duties; this was presented by Knox on 10 May 1830, when Brownlow, Member for county Armagh, brought up a similar one from the letter-press printers of the town.22

Repeatedly depicted in the Telegraph as the pattern of a diligent man of business, Knox offered again at the general election of 1830. His reputation was enhanced by his arrival with documents, expedited by Anglesey, now lord lieutenant, allowing the local navigation to be transferred to the Newry Canal Company, which formally took place on 26 July. That day Knox also attended a town meeting which called for the banning of party processions following the ugly disturbances there on the 12th. Isaac Burke Bethel, a Dublin barrister, offered to stand on the interest of the ‘humble and honest fellows’ who opposed the proprietor, and Kilmorey thought it prudent to be resident in case of a contest. In fact, his son-in-law was again returned unopposed as a ministerialist at the election, when Kilmorey’s £10,000 contribution to the improvement of the canal was praised by Knox’s seconder Isaac William Glenny, son of the seneschal, Isaac Glenny of Littleton House.23 A declaration against repeal of the Union was got up in November 1830, but the Examiner sponsored a counter-declaration and on 2 Jan. 1831 Maguire chaired a Catholic meeting to raise a subscription for Daniel O’Connell*.24 The Wesleyan Methodists’ anti-slavery petition was presented to the Commons, 28 Mar., and the Lords, 20 Apr. 1831.25

Following a requisition headed by Maguire’s name, a reform meeting was held on 22 Mar. 1831, when unwarranted fears were raised about the disfranchisement of the £5 householders under the Grey ministry’s reform bill. The petition agreed that day was forwarded to Grey, who brought it up in the Lords on 12 Apr., and Knox, who appears not to have presented it to the Commons.26 He, who had voted against the second reading of the bill, 22 Mar., sought to justify his unpopular conduct in an open letter to his constituents, 26 Mar., in particular by stressing his approval of important aspects of the proposed changes. He claimed to have redeemed himself by his vote in the ministerial minority, 19 Apr., and offered again by emphasizing to the electors that ‘on the principle of reform there is not a shade of difference between us’. Nothing came of another opportunistic address from Bethel against the borough being ‘impounded forever in the parks of the Needham family’; Anglesey, the reinstated lord lieutenant, commented to Grey that he had urged Downshire, the county’s leading Whig landlord, ‘to try Newry against Kilmorey, but I doubt if he has the nerves for it’. So at the general election it was left to Maguire, who had helped on 27 Apr. 1831 to get up an address congratulating the king on dissolving Parliament, to stand as a ‘thorough-paced reformer’.27

On the hustings, 3 May 1831, Knox reiterated his new-found liking for the bill and a letter from Anglesey, who had been primed by O’Connell, was produced in his support. At least in the Tory press, he was given credit for his commitment to the town’s commercial concerns and his conscientious insistence on retaining his right to act as he thought fit over reform. Maguire, whose cause was tied in with the inhabitants’ desire to liberate the borough franchise, advocated reform but refused to be drawn on more radical measures or repeal of the Union. He kept almost level with Knox until the seventh day, when the margin was 96-1 against him and he therefore resigned 112 adrift, with Knox claiming that he still had another 60 to 80 electors unpolled. He blamed his defeat on Kilmorey’s influence, including over the ‘commoners’ resident in the rural districts, of whom about 70 voted for his opponent and only three for him.28 A dinner was held to celebrate Knox’s victory, 18 May, when Kilmorey’s agent Thomas Henry denied that any of his tenants had been intimidated, and Maguire, whose agent George Ogle was later presented with a piece of plate in testimony to his exertions, was entertained at the Catholic Poor School that evening.29 Bishop Kelly, who had embroiled himself in the election by the zeal with which he pointed out that those swearing to undervalued houses, apparently a constant practice, were guilty of perjury, provoked a further furore about this at the end of the year. In addition to the 554 who voted at the election and the 70 then unused and ‘unripe’ votes, 311 were registered in July and October 1831, giving a total electorate of 935.30

The petition of the Newry mechanics for reform and repeal of the Union was brought up on 24 June by Lord Shrewsbury in the Lords, where Downshire presented one from the inhabitants for the introduction of poor laws to Ireland, 28 June 1831.31 The merchants’ petition for protection of West India planters’ properties was brought up in the Commons by Brownlow, 20 July. O’Connell presented the Catholics’ petition against the continuation of the grant to the Kildare Place Society, 16 Aug. 1831, and Lord Cole, Member for Fermanagh, brought up that from the Presbyterians against the ministerial plan for national education in Ireland, 26 Mar. 1832.32 Knox’s continuing anti-reform votes were strongly condemned in the Examiner, which objected to the extensive limits of the borough remaining unchanged on the ground that it would increase Kilmorey’s influence. Several advanced Whigs spoke for reducing the size of the constituency in the Commons, 9 July, and on the 17th Edward Ruthven, radical Member for Downpatrick, presented the Newry petition to this effect.33 In September 1832 the proprietors of the Examiner, John Morgan and John Stevenson, were given a dinner on their release from prison following the paper’s libel relating to the previous year’s Armagh contest.34

With 2,550 houses, of which 820 were valued at £10 a year, there were reckoned to be about 700 qualified electors under the Reform Act, together with 300 or 400 reserved rights electors whose houses were worth between £5 and £10.35 There were 1,017 listed on the register at the general election of 1832, in the run-up to which the opposing sides in the borough were active. In November Maguire was brought forward by the Friends of Independence and Freedom of Election as a Liberal and the recently founded Newry Union Club gave a Conservative dinner in honour of Henry.36 Kilmorey died that month, when one radical Belfast newspaper recorded that

the only drawback, that we know of, on his truly excellent character, arose from his political predilections and his hankering after boroughmongering. The representation of Newry had been a thing of trade before it came into his hands and, like most people with similar views, he tried to make the most of it.37

The penurious 2nd earl, as Lord Newry became, decided to abandon the borough, which he later claimed had cost his father £3,000 a year. Knox retired and Kilmorey stifled the approach made to his younger brother Colonel Francis Henry Needham. The seat was apparently offered to the Conservative leadership as a fallback for William Holmes* or William Mackinnon*, neither of whom found a seat, but it was Downshire’s brother Lord Arthur Marcus Cecil Hill† who, having thrown up his attempt on Downpatrick, entered as a Conservative and defeated his Catholic and radical opponent in a fierce contest.38 Hill retired at the dissolution in 1834 and thereafter the seat mostly alternated between Liberals and Conservatives, while the port, despite the impetus given to it by the success of the ship canal, went into a steady decline.39


  • 1. J.C. Curwen, Observations on State of Ireland (1818), ii. 328; H.D. Inglis, Ireland in 1834, ii. 280; MacCabe’s Dir. of Newry (1830), 1, 16; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 430-2.
  • 2. PP (1829), xxii. 251; (1830), xxxi. 324; (1831-2), xliii. 111; (1835), xxviii. 521; Peep at Commons (1820), 22; Key to Both Houses (1832), 368.
  • 3. New Hist. Ireland, v. 91, 92.
  • 4. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), vi. 229; Oldfield, Key (1820), 327; [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 307; Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 223-4; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 647, 648.
  • 5. Add. 40296, f. 34; 40298, f. 34.
  • 6. Add. 40353, f. 75.
  • 7. Belfast News Letter, 6 July, 10 Aug. 1821.
  • 8. CJ, lxxvii. 282; The Times, 21 May 1822.
  • 9. Belfast News Letter, 3, 28 Jan. 1823.
  • 10. Ibid. 16, 20 Jan. 1824.
  • 11. CJ, lxxix. 126-7, 526; The Times, 6 Mar., 22 June 1824.
  • 12. Belfast News Letter, 17 Dec. 1824.
  • 13. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/23A/164.
  • 14. LJ, lvii. 144, 145; CJ, lxxx. 258, 259, 315, 354, 355; lxxxi. 384; The Times, 23, 25 Mar., 30 Apr. 1825.
  • 15. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 6, 9, 13, 16 June 1826.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxii. 299, 381; lxxxiii. 169; The Times, 10 Mar. 1827.
  • 17. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 15 Jan. 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 78; LJ, lx. 522.
  • 18. Anglesey mss 32A/2/130, 131; Newry Commercial Telegraph, 23 Sept., 3 Oct. 1828.
  • 19. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 24 Mar., 3 Apr. 1829; LJ, lxi. 14, 130, 225; CJ, lxxxiv. 103, 115, 177.
  • 20. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 8 May 1829.
  • 21. Ibid. 5, 9, 16, 19 Sept. 1828; CJ, lxxxiv. 66, 67, 400; PP (1835), xxviii. 522, 523.
  • 22. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 27, 30 Apr., 18 May 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 394.
  • 23. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 15 June, 2, 9, 13, 16, 20, 27, 30 July, 3, 6, 17 Aug. 1830; PRO NI, Castlereagh mss D3030/N/204; TNA HO100/235, f. 100.
  • 24. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 19, 23, 26, 30 Nov., 3 Dec. 1830, 4, 7 Jan. 1831.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxvi. 445; LJ, lxiii. 483.
  • 26. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 22, 25 Mar., 19 Apr. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 408.
  • 27. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 5, 26, 29 Apr., 3 May 1831; Anglesey mss 28C, pp. 105, 106.
  • 28. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 121/2, Anglesey to Smith Stanley, 28 Apr.; Newry Commercial Telegraph, 6, 10, 13 May; Belfast News Letter, 10, 13 May 1831.
  • 29. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 20, 24, 31 May, 22 Nov. 1831.
  • 30. Ibid. 6 May, 29 Nov., 9, 13, 20, 27 Dec. 1831; PP (1831-2), xliii. 111.
  • 31. LJ, lxiii. 750, 765.
  • 32. CJ, lxxxvi. 678, 757; lxxxvii. 223.
  • 33. Ibid. lxxxvii. 497; Newry Examiner, 27, 31 Mar., 30 May, 6, 23, 27 June, 11 July 1832.
  • 34. Newry Examiner, 26 Sept. 1832.
  • 35. PP (1831-2), xliii. 112.
  • 36. Newry Examiner, 14 Nov. 1832.
  • 37. Northern Whig, 29 Nov. 1832.
  • 38. Newry Commercial Telegraph, 11, 18, 21, 25, 28 Dec. 1832, 1, 4 Jan. 1833; Wellington mss WP1/239/7, 18, 19, 25, 27; PRO NI, Downshire mss D671/C/37; C/12/547.
  • 39. New Hist. Ireland, v. 256, 262.