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 freeman

Estimated number qualified to vote:

263 in 1831

Number of voters:

69 in 1830


8,969 (1821); 9,600 (1831)


15 Mar. 1820JOHN HYDE 
12 Aug. 1830Hon. George Ponsonby66
 Richard Smyth3
4 Dec. 1830PONSONBY re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

Youghal, a port and market town on the south coast ‘much frequented during the summer for sea bathing’, had a ‘considerable trade’ with England in the export of agricultural produce. The Boyles, earls of Shannon, had long dominated the representation and management of its self-elected corporation of ten aldermen (one of whom was annually elected mayor), an unlimited number of burgesses (comprising retired bailiffs) and freemen created by ‘special favour’.1 Since 1812, however, the control of Henry, 3rd earl of Shannon, had been threatened by the reviving interest of his Whig kinsman the 6th duke of Devonshire, who laid claim to about a third of the borough, including ‘certain lands which had been recovered from the River Blackwater’ on which ‘several members of the corporation and the corporate body itself’ had erected ‘valuable tenements’, including the assembly rooms. After unsuccessfully opposing Shannon’s nominee at the 1812 general election, Devonshire had launched legal proceedings to recover the ‘soil and bed’ of the river granted under a patent to his ancestor Sir Richard Boyle, 1st earl of Cork; and although he received setbacks in 1816 and 1818, it was widely acknowledged that his purse would be ‘too heavy for the corporation to stand long against him, more especially when seven judges say the law of the case is in his favour’.2

At the 1820 general election Shannon retained the backing of the corporation and returned his brother-in-law John Hyde of Castle Hyde, a supporter of Catholic relief. There was no opposition.3 Commenting on the progress of Devonshire’s lawsuit that April, William Davis, Sir Richard Brooke of Killeagh’s agent in County Cork, reported that the corporation had stated their case ‘in so full and comprehensive a style that conviction followed in most persons present’, but that the judge had ‘desired the jury to find a verdict for the duke’, so that ‘it now goes before the twelve judges’ and ‘from thence to the Lords’ on appeal. ‘If a reconciliation could be accomplished between the duke and Lord Shannon’, he added, ‘it would be most desirable’, but ‘the duke will not hearken to any terms till the borough is given up’, and ‘if that was done, it is said he would secure all individual property’, with which Shannon would ‘not comply’.4 While the appeal was pending, Devonshire’s agents offered to keep all corporation property ‘which had been converted to public uses’ accessible and to compensate all private owners in return for a ‘recognition’ of Devonshire’s claims and ‘the acquisition of some political influence’. In October 1820 ‘an arrangement’ was ‘nearly concluded’ with the mayor, one Ball, who agreed to ‘the question of title’ and ‘to the basis of compensation’ for private owners ‘with the following differences only, that the leases proposed ... as equivalents for half the amount of such compensation shall, instead of 21 years, be made for the several now subsisting terms ... and that the several tenants ... shall have the option, either to accept ... or to relinquish their respective holdings ... on being paid the full amount’.5 Devonshire’s auditor James Abercromby*, however, ‘steadily adhered to the terms ... originally proposed’, much to the fury of Shannon’s friends, who complained that it must ‘make little difference to the duke ... to pay in full ... instead of the measure of half money and half leases’, with its ‘greater dependence ... from people who must pay full rents to his grace’.6 Commenting on the related discussions about ‘politics’, 25 June 1821, Davis explained:

It was proposed for the duke to have an alternative return of Members for a limited time, during the life of Lord Shannon. His [Shannon’s] answer was that he could keep the borough of Youghal, but that as his wish was to have no half measures, his faithful friends should be settled with as promised ... Give my friends full compensation and I will give my influence to the duke. This handsome offer of Lord Shannon’s was not met as expected, and proceedings are going on again, and carried into the court of errors to prepare for the House of Lords.

Next month he reported that Devonshire’s agents had begun serving eviction notices ‘for the purpose of intimidating’ the Youghal corporators, some of whom had ‘expended large sums in taking and improving what was formerly slob’ and ‘are much to be pitied’.7 On 13 Jan. 1822 Abercromby informed Devonshire:

I have so often told you that I thought the tiresome business of Youghal was likely to be closed and I have been so often disappointed that I have lately abstained from saying anything on the subject ... It has ended in the mayor coming over, though he did so without any encouragement from me ... You will have gained all that you could reasonably expect or desire ... It was hoped that by getting the control of the property of those individuals who were members of the corporation, you would have them so much at your mercy, that they would desert from Lord Shannon to you ... It seemed to me to be very hard now to take without compensation the property of others ... It is also to be remembered that but for a bad law which allows the heir of a person who had never been in Ireland to reclaim his property at a greater distance of time than would have been allowed to the heir of a resident proprietor, you would not have succeeded ... I have therefore agreed that the buildings should be valued according to their present worth, that one half of the value shall be now paid by you, and they shall have leases for 21 years at a rent so much below their present rent as will reimburse them for the other half ... By these measures you have a hold over the corporation as your tenants ... and they in return agree to support your candidate ... I have great doubts whether you will be able to keep the borough as close as it has been, but still you and the corporation united will always have a preponderating influence.8

In addition to the compensation, costing ‘over £20,000’, on abandoning the litigation Devonshire waived his claim for costs against members of the corporation, who in return acknowledged his ‘exclusive right’ to nominate all future officers, including the mayor.9 ‘You cannot imagine the pleasure I have in ... bringing this long contested matter to a close’, Abercromby observed, 15 Jan., adding, ‘it has given me more trouble and ... anxiety than any other single transaction in which I have been engaged’.10 On 16 May the transfer of patronage to Devonshire was formally ‘secured by the admission of himself, and more than 50 of his friends, to the freedom’.11 Commenting on Devonshire’s visit to Ireland that September, Lord Donoughmore observed that the ‘people of Youghal are to give him a great dinner’ with ‘the mayor in the chair; a tolerably good symbol that his ... triumph there is complete’.12 He was lavishly entertained by the corporation that month and presented with his freedom in a gold box. ‘The poor old members of the corporation suffered a little but behaved very well ... and drank the House of Cavendish’, Devonshire noted in his diary.13 On 14 Oct. 1822 Abercromby complained to Lord Duncannon, the opposition whip, that Hyde had ‘said nothing about resigning, which is very odd after he wrote to the people of Youghal to say he should do so, and he did not come to our dinner, which I regard as an act of total abdication’.14 He did not vacate. Petitions for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 19 May 1824, 6 Mar. 1826, and the Lords, 1 Mar. 1826.15

At the 1826 general election George Ponsonby, Earl Grey’s brother-in-law and a former Member for county Cork, came forward as Devonshire’s nominee, saying that he had ‘good reason to believe’ that Hyde had ‘no intention’ of standing. He was returned unopposed.16 He voted for Catholic claims, for which petitions were presented to the Lords, 14 Feb. 1827, 12 Feb. 1829, and the Commons, 26 Feb. 1827, 15 Apr. 1828, 17, 26 Mar. 1829.17 A Brunswick Club was established in September 1828.18 Petitions against Catholic emancipation, which Ponsonby of course supported, reached the Commons, 10 Feb., and the Lords, 2 Apr. 1829.19 Petitions for repeal of the Irish Subletting and Vestry Acts were presented to the Lords, 23 Feb. 1829, and the Commons, 24 June 1829, 12 Feb., 21 May 1830.20 Petitions reached the Commons against alteration of the Irish fishery bounties, 22 Feb., the monopoly of the East India Company, 12 May, and Irish stamp duty increases, 12 May, 15 June 1830.21

At the 1830 general election Ponsonby offered again. Encouraged by the recent decision of the Wexford election committee that men serving a seven-year apprenticeship were entitled to their freedom, one Richard Smyth also came forward and, in an attempt to ‘open the borough’, tried to have ‘120 persons admitted’ who had been ‘previously refused by the mayor’. At the poll the assessor rejected the votes of 23 freemen ‘sworn in by Smyth himself’, prompting expectation of a petition, but the lawyers then ‘discovered’ that newly admitted freemen ‘could not vote for six months’, whereupon Smyth retired, leaving Ponsonby to be returned, claiming ‘nearly unanimous’ support. ‘The blow up at Youghal turned out to be a mere flash in the pan’, George Lamb* informed Devonshire, 8 Aug. 1830. Remarking that Smyth’s voters would be ‘certainly free’ in future, however, the Dublin Evening Post reported that ‘the borough is completely opened, this looks well for the cause of liberty’.22

Petitions for the abolition of slavery were presented to the Commons, 10, 25 Nov., and the Lords, 11 Nov. 1830.23 Following his appointment to office in the Grey ministry that month Ponsonby was re-elected unopposed.24 A petition from the inhabitants for repeal of the Union reached the Commons, 10 Dec., and was met by counter-petitions to the Lords, 17 Dec., and the Commons, 23 Dec. 1830.25 On 29 Mar. 1831 Daniel O’Connell presented and endorsed a petition from the inhabitants complaining that the charter of the corporation had been ‘most grossly violated’, there ‘being no recorder ... except an old woman’ who was ‘an absentee’, and demanding that if the House ‘will not altogether abolish these abominable nuisances, Irish corporations, they will at least mitigate the evil, by ordering a recorder to be appointed, who will administer the law with justice and impartiality’.26 Ponsonby of course supported the ministerial reform bill, for which petitions reached the Lords, 25 Mar., and the Commons, 30 Mar. 1831.27 At the 1831 general election he offered again on the ‘same principles’, but in case of trouble he also started for county Londonderry, where he withdrew after being returned unopposed for Youghal.28 Petitions against the grant to the Kildare Place Society and for a revision of the criminal laws reached both Houses, 9 Aug. 1831.29 Petitions for the abolition of Irish tithes were presented to the Commons, 4 Oct. 1831, 23 July 1832, and the Lords, 5 Mar. 1832.30 One in support of the Kildare Place Society and against the new plan of Irish education reached both Houses, 16 July 1832.31

Finding that the ‘ancient liberties’ of the borough were ‘not connected with the exercise of the elective franchise’, the boundary commissioners proposed limits which were the ‘most compact that we have been able to draw around any town that we have visited’.32 On 13 June 1832, however, O’Connell protested to the House that ‘a great number of voters’, who had ‘hitherto been entitled to vote for the borough’, would as a result be ‘thrown out of the borough’ and ‘added to the county’, thereby enabling Devonshire ‘to exercise as complete control over Youghal as he will over Dungarvan’. A select committee, which included Ponsonby, was appointed to investigate, 5 July. When called to account, the commissioner George Gibbs explained that it ‘would have been contrary’ to his instructions ‘to have included the liberties’ and cited a letter from the mayor, 16 Feb. 1832, stating that

I do not think any inconvenience would be experienced or discontent created, by confining the franchise within the town and suburbs only ... Several respectable persons residing in the liberties ... are registered freeholders for the county ... who most probably would not like to relinquish or exchange that franchise for a minor one. Many of them so circumstanced are freemen of the corporation.

On 23 July 1832 the committee reported in favour of extending the limits ‘somewhat beyond those assigned’ along the north and south coasts, a scheme which Gibbs had ‘thought of when ... on the spot’ but had not felt ‘justified’ in proposing at the time, and which he told the committee would add ‘not more than ten’ householders.33 It was estimated that the reformed constituency would have 336 newly qualified £10 householders (including the ten ‘liberty-voters’) and 87 resident freemen, of whom 74 would jointly qualify as householders, but the 1832 registered electorate numbered only 297.34 Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, was advised that Devonshire’s interest, ‘if properly managed’, would continue to return the Member, particularly if he selected ‘a candidate resident near the town’, but that ‘if this be mismanaged a Repealer will come in’.35 Following the candidature of O’Connell’s son John, however, a local agent told Devonshire that ‘at Youghal you have no hope ... because all your Protestant merchants, whom you bought at a high price, would be combined against if they opposed the popular Catholic candidate, and would afterwards call upon you to redeem their ruin’.36 At the 1832 general election Ponsonby declined an ‘unwinnable’ contest and O’Connell was returned as a Repealer after a token challenge by a Conservative.37 He was re-elected in 1835 but retired in 1837, when another Liberal was returned. It has been suggested that the influence of Devonshire, whom the boundary commissioners praised as a ‘great benefactor’, was ‘extinct’ by 1834, but in 1841 his cousin Charles Compton Cavendish* was returned unopposed as a Liberal.38

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 725; PP (1831-2), xliii. 145.
  • 2. L. Proudfoot, Urban Patronage, 207-12; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 640-1; PP (1835), xxvii. 308; Chatsworth mss 598; PRO NI, Brooke mss T2975/5/47.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Brooke mss T2975/5/45.
  • 5. PRO NI, Shannon mss D2707/A3/2, Hitchcock to mayor of Youghal, 12 Oct., Exham to same, 31 Oct. 1820; Brooke mss T2975/5/51.
  • 6. Chatsworth mss 598; Shannon mss D2707/A3/2, Greer to Shannon, 23 Apr. 1821.
  • 7. Brooke mss T2975/5/56, 57.
  • 8. Chatsworth mss 598.
  • 9. L. Proudfoot, ‘Landlord Motivation and Urban Improvement’, Irish Econ. and Soc. Hist. xviii (1991), 19; Urban Patronage, 213.
  • 10. Chatsworth mss 599.
  • 11. PP (1835), xxvii. 308.
  • 12. TCD, Donoughmore mss D/28/5.
  • 13. The Times, 18 Sept. 1822; Urban Patronage, 215.
  • 14. Bessborough mss F1.
  • 15. CJ, lxxix. 387; lxxxi. 121; LJ, lviii. 67.
  • 16. Southern Reporter, 6 June; Cork Constitution, 8, 20 June; Dublin Evening Post, 10, 20 June 1826.
  • 17. LJ, lix. 73; lxi. 28; CJ, lxxxii. 231; lxxxiii. 238; lxxxiv. 145, 173.
  • 18. Sligo Jnl. 30 Sept. 1828.
  • 19. CJ, lxxxiv. 20; LJ, lxi. 331, 337.
  • 20. LJ, lxi. 65; CJ, lxxxiv. 415; lxxxv. 20, 457.
  • 21. CJ, lxxxv. 89, 410, 412-13, 552.
  • 22. PP (1831-2), xliii. 146; Chatsworth mss; Dublin Evening Post, 12 Aug.; Cork Constitution, 12, 17 Aug. 1830.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxvi. 52, 133; LJ, lxiii. 37, 39.
  • 24. Cork Constitution, 9 Dec. 1830.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxvi. 164, 204; LJ, lxiii. 182.
  • 26. CJ, lxxxvi. 460.
  • 27. LJ, lxiii. 378; CJ, lxxxvi. 465.
  • 28. Cork Constitution, 3, 10 May; Belfast News Letter, 10 May; Dublin Evening Post, 26 May 1831.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxvi. 739-40; LJ, lxiii. 907.
  • 30. CJ, lxxxvi. 890; lxxxvii. 512; LJ, liv. 81.
  • 31. CJ, lxxxvii. 492; LJ, lxiv. 383.
  • 32. PP (1831-2), xliii. 147.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxvii. 464, 512, 518; PP (1831-2), v. 3, 6-10.
  • 34. PP (1831-2), xliii. 147.
  • 35. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 125/4, Barrington to Smith Stanley, 16 Nov. 1832.
  • 36. Cited in ‘Landlord Motivation’, 11.
  • 37. Urban Patronage, 284; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1930.
  • 38. PP (1831-2), xliii. 147; ‘Landlord Motivation’, 23.