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:

15 by 1831


2,877 (1821); 3,005 (1831)


1 Mar. 1824JAMES FARQUHAR vice Ricardo, deceased
6 Aug. 1830SIR CHARLES OGLE, bt.
7 May 1831SIR WILLIAM RAE, bt.

Main Article

Portarlington, lying on the River Barrow with its left bank in King’s County and its right in Queen’s, had ‘little commerce’ and ‘no extensive manufactures’, the prosperity of its mainly Protestant population being ‘ascribed to its possessing a greater proportion of resident gentry than is generally to be found in towns of its size in Ireland’. The municipal corporations commissioners reported that ‘a feeling of mutual animosity had long subsisted’ between the inhabitants and its self-elected Protestant corporation of two bailiffs, 12 burgesses (one of whom was annually elected sovereign) and an unrestricted number of freemen, who by 1831 had become ‘virtually extinct’ and limited to a ‘sole favoured individual’. (Attempts by ‘several residents’ to obtain the freedom on the grounds of apprenticeship or birth, and on payment of 20s., were unsuccessful in 1830 and 1832.) Two-thirds of the corporators were non-resident and a quarter were close relatives of its spendthrift and degenerate patron John Dawson, 2nd earl of Portarlington (1781-1845), whose tight control of the borough and sale of the seat, ‘commonly to a total stranger’, was said to furnish him with £800 a year. The 1831 boundary commissioners noted that ‘of the first six individuals of whom we made inquiry on entering the town (though otherwise intelligent persons), not one knew the name of their present representative’.1

At the 1820 general election the radical political economist David Ricardo, who the previous year had paid £4,000 for a four-year term and lent Portarlington £25,000 on mortgage at six per cent, was again returned unopposed. Portarlington’s claim for nomination to the colonelcy of Queen’s County militia in February 1823 was considered ‘out of the question’ by Goulburn, the Liverpool ministry’s Irish secretary, as he had ‘been in opposition till lately, his borough is let for a number of years to an opposition Member’ and ‘he has not, till the lease expires, the power of giving what he considers the equivalent for the appointment’.2 On the death of Ricardo later that year Portarlington, citing a ‘written agreement’, instructed his solicitors to return Ricardo’s eldest son Osman ‘to the "present" Parliament’; but Edward Wakefield, a contender in the event of a vacancy, explained to Henry Brougham*, 17 Dec. 1823, that

the agreement cannot be found and Mr. Osman Ricardo says he will not go in as a stopgap ... If there is an agreement for a term or Lord Portarlington willing to enter into such an agreement ... he will be returned, but not merely for the present Parliament.3

Portarlington, who was said by Lord Lauderdale to be ‘anxious to find another good purchaser, without giving a halfpenny whether he makes use of his vote to destroy the corruption from whence he springs’, eventually came to terms with the civil lawyer James Farquhar, a Scot, who was returned unopposed.4 He gave general support to the ministry, opposed Catholic claims and parliamentary reform, and came in quietly at the 1826 general election, to the satisfaction of Lord Liverpool, who now regarded Portarlington as ‘a decided friend to government’.5 Farquhar remained hostile to Catholic claims, for which a petition was presented to the Commons, 7 May 1828, and in 1829 opposed the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, against which Protestant petitions reached the Commons, 9 Feb., and the Lords, 30 Mar. 1829.6 He stood down at the following year’s dissolution, whereupon Portarlington informed Lord Francis Leveson Gower, the retiring Irish secretary, that he was prepared to place the seat at Wellington’s disposal in return for support as an Irish representative peer.7 This did not happen, but Admiral Sir Charles Ogle of Worthy, Hampshire, was returned unopposed as Portarlington’s paying nominee and a supporter of the ministry. He opposed the Grey ministry’s reform bill and retired at the 1831 dissolution. Pierce Mahony†, a Dublin solicitor and former parliamentary agent of the Catholic Association, then offered terms, but these were rejected because Portarlington wished to give the nomination to Wellington, who after consultation with Peel selected the former lord advocate Sir William Rae. Charles Arbuthnot*, who was responsible for the Tory opposition’s election fund, put aside £2,000 for him and he was returned unopposed.8 Petitions for use of the ‘whole Bible’ in a national scheme of Irish education were presented to the Lords, 20 Feb., and the Commons, 27 Feb. 1832.9

On 30 May 1832 Edward Wilmot of Woodbrook, near Portarlington, who the previous session had informed Lord John Russell* of ‘the state of the borough’ and called for ‘some change’, wrote in similar terms to Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, to ‘correct’ a report that ‘there were only five or six boroughs which had so small a number as fifteen electors’, all of which ‘were flourishing’. Portarlington, he asserted, ‘retains out of its free corporation of fifteen members and all its former freemen but five voters’ and had ‘lost all its corporation lands and an extensive commonage with other possessions, having been first crippled, then plundered’ by its patrons. On 5 June he urged the necessity of ‘drawing such a line to mark the future extent of its borough privileges as may prevent its relapsing again into the same hands which now possess it’.10 Portarlington was one of ten Irish boroughs with under 300 voters which Dominick Browne unsuccessfully proposed for disfranchisement during the reform debates, 9 July 1832. Finding that the existing limits of the borough were ‘very imperfectly known’ and ‘in no way connected with the exercise of the franchise’, the boundary commissioners resolved to ‘disregard them entirely’. (In a private letter one of them had complained that the sovereign ‘would not give us any information that he could on any pretext withhold’, and that a churchwarden who was ‘married to the daughter of Lord Portarlington’s steward positively refused to give us any’.)11 However, their recommendation against enlargement on the ground that ‘the country for miles round would scarcely afford a single £10 voter’, and against including Old Deer Park, an area to the north, as it would only add an extra 14 householders, meant that ‘the whole of the land contained’ in the reformed constituency was the ‘property in fee of Lord Portarlington’, although there were ‘for the most part intermediate lessees between his lordship and the occupying tenants’. Prompted by Wilmot, Smith Stanley decreed that Jonathon Clarke, the recorder and sovereign ‘in alternative turn with another’ for ‘the last twenty years’, should be ‘ineligible as the registering officer’, 20 Aug. 1832.12 It was estimated that the constituency would have 185 electors under the Irish Reform Act, but those registered numbered only 137 (135 householders and two freemen), of whom 131 polled at the 1832 general election, when Rae retired and the Conservative Thomas Gladstone* was returned one vote ahead of the ‘corporation candidate’, Portarlington’s younger brother Colonel George Lionel Dawson Damer.13 Damer was elected unopposed in 1835 and, after surviving a challenge in 1837, sat undisturbed until his retirement in 1847.

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xliii. 115-19; (1835), xxvii. 446-54; Derby mss 920 Der (14) 130/4.
  • 2. Add. 37300, f. 252.
  • 3. Brougham mss.
  • 4. Add. 51700, Lauderdale to Lady Holland, 17 Dec. 1823.
  • 5. Add. 40305, f. 205.
  • 6. CJ, lxxxiii. 324; lxxxiv. 14; LJ, lxi. 313.
  • 7. NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. M. 738, Leveson Gower to Wellington, 22 July 1830; Wellington mss WP1/1126/13.
  • 8. Wellington mss WP1/1182/28, 1186/9; PRO NI, Wellington mss T2627/3/2/296.
  • 9. LJ, lxiv. 616; CJ, lxxxvii. 148.
  • 10. Derby mss 130/4.
  • 11. Ibid. 127/4, Gipps to Gossett, 28 Nov. 1831.
  • 12. Ibid. 130/4, Smith Stanley to Wilmot, 20 Aug. 1832.
  • 13. PP (1831-2), xliii. 115-19; (1833), xxvii. 305; (1835), xxvii. 454.