KEMMIS, Thomas Arthur (1806-1858), of 98 Mount Street, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. 16 Mar. 1806, o.s. of Henry Kemmis, barrister, of Dublin and Maria, da. of Arthur Dawson, MP [I], of Castle Dawson, co. Londonderry. educ. Eton 1820-3; Christ Church, Oxf. 1825. m. 14 Sept. 1833, Henrietta Anne, da. of Charles Kemeys Kemeys Tynte*, 1s. suc. fa. 1857. d. 25 Dec. 1858.
Lt. 1 Ft. Gds. 1826, capt. 1830, half-pay 1834, ret. by 1844.
Kemmis belonged to a branch of the family (the name was otherwise spelt Kemeys) who came originally from Monmouthshire and settled in Ireland in the eighteenth century. His grandfather, also Thomas (1753-1823), held the office of Irish crown solicitor from 1801, and his father, who sat in the Irish Parliament for Tralee, 1798-1800, and supported the Union, subsequently practised at the Irish bar, took silk and chaired the Dublin quarter sessions.1 Kemmis abandoned university for a military career and, while still a serving officer in the Guards, was returned unopposed for East Looe at the general election of 1830. His colleague Henry Thomas Hope, whose father had recently acquired a controlling interest in the borough, had been an Eton contemporary.2
The duke of Wellington’s ministry regarded him as one of their ‘friends’ (his maternal uncle was Peel’s brother-in-law George Dawson*, secretary to the treasury), and he voted with them in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov. 1830. A week later he wrote to his mother:
This country will owe much gratitude to any ministers who can ward off the impending storm, and I shall be glad of the change if those who succeed them show any capacity in managing affairs, for it is much more important to us all to see the country saved from revolution ... I am convinced that tranquillity will not be re-established until the higher classes make sacrifices which at present do not enter their thoughts. Although favourable to prerogative I hate practical oppression and most certainly the lower classes of this country suffer under it more than the labourers of despotic kingdoms.
He thought that if the Tories ‘return within a year I shall not be sorry, as to have begun in opposition gives one a better chance of getting on in the House’. Following the introduction of the Grey ministry’s reform bill he reported, 9 Mar. 1831, that
the excitement here is extreme, nothing but the bill is talked about and no one gives a fair opinion. Those who are independent tell you their wishes when you ask their opinions and the county Members who are in fear of dissolution will not speak out. I believe there are about 100 persons in that situation, wishing but afraid to vote against the bill, and their uncertainty makes each party claim the future victory. To my mind the argument is very simple, viz., whether society after 1831 will bear what has failed in all ages before 1831? I was thinking of speaking upon it ... thinking that it was unlucky for Henry Hope [who had recently succeeded his father] to have, at such a crisis, returned a Member who gave no assistance to his cause ... I sit more among the Tories than he does, the Tories who have not forgiven the apostates ... Yesterday when Mr. Praed attributed the present state of things to their yielding [Catholic] emancipation ... I thought him partly right, for though I do not attribute the feeling of the people to it, I think it the cause of the weakness of government.3
He divided against the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he again came in unopposed for East Looe. He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and in the minorities for Gordon’s adjournment motion, 12 July, and use of the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July. During the discussion on the proposed disfranchisement of East Looe, 22 July, he replied to Daniel O’Connell’s jibe against its close borough status with a reference to the large number of Irish seats under his own ‘nomination’. He voted to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and against the bill’s third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept. He paired against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and divided against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., the third reading, 22 Mar., and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May 1832. He voted against ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan. He defended the retention of flogging in the army as a punishment of last resort, 2 Apr., and recommended that courts martial be allowed greater powers to order custodial sentences, 19 June. He divided in the minority against a bill to ban Orange marches in Ireland, 25 June 1832.
Following the disfranchisement of East Looe Kemmis made no known attempt to continue his parliamentary career. Through his marriage to the daughter of Charles Kemeys Tynte* he forged a link with an English branch of his family, and by 1845 he was resident at Croham Hurst, near Croydon, Surrey, of which county he became a magistrate. On his father’s death in 1857 he received a share of the family estates in King’s County (Offaly), Queen’s County (Leix), and counties Louth and Dublin.4 He died in December 1858 and left a life interest in his Surrey property to his widow and his landed estates at Longford, Queen’s County and Darrow, King’s County, to his only child Arthur Henry Nicholas Kemmis (1834-1918).5
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Authors: Howard Spencer / Terry Jenkins
- 1. W. Kemmis, Fam. of Kemmis, 1-5, 39-40; C.G. Bolton, ‘Parl. Background to Irish Act of Union’ (Oxford Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1959), 47 and app.; Gent. Mag. (1857), i. 629.
- 2. West Briton, 13 Aug. 1830.
- 3. Cornw. RO FS/3/1092/9, 19.
- 4. Gent. Mag. (1859), i. 218; PROB 11/2255/555; IR26/2105/662.
- 5. Kemmis, 48.