PONSONBY, John William, Visct. Duncannon (1781-1847).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



25 Mar. 1805 - 1806
15 June 1810 - 1812
1812 - 1826
1826 - 1832
1832 - 19 July 1834

Family and Education

b. 31 Aug. 1781, 1st s. of Frederick Ponsonby†, 3rd earl of Bessborough [I] and 3rd Bar. Ponsonby [GB], and Lady Henrietta Frances Spencer, da. of John Spencer†, 1st Earl Spencer; bro. of Hon. Frederick Cavendish Ponsonby* and Hon. William Francis Spencer Ponsonby*. educ. Harrow 1790-8; Christ Church, Oxf. 1799; continental tour 1800, 1802-3. m. 16 Nov. 1805, Lady Maria Fane, da. of John, 10th earl of Westmorland, 7s. (2 d.v.p.) 6da. cr. Bar. Duncannon [UK] 19 July 1834; suc. fa. as 4th earl of Bessborough [I] and 4th Bar. Ponsonby [GB] 3 Feb. 1844. d. 16 May 1847.

Offices Held

PC 23 Feb. 1831; first commr. of woods, forests and land revenues Feb. 1831-July 1834, May 1835-Sept. 1841; sec. of state for home affairs July-Nov. 1834; ld. privy seal Apr. 1835-Jan. 1840; ld. lt. [I] July 1846-d.

Ld. lt. co. Carlow 1831-8, co. Kilkenny 1838-d.

Lt.-col. commdt. Marylebone vols. 1803; vice-pres. County Fire Office 1816.


Duncannon, ‘the great manager’ of Brooks’s deemed by Greville to be ‘addicted to politics’, was closely connected with the inner circle of leading Whigs (though he married outside it), who included his cousins Lord Althorp* and the 6th duke of Devonshire, and his brother-in-law William Lamb*, later Lord Melbourne.1 To ‘atone for his silence’ in debate he had become ‘indefatigable in his attendance’ and since 1815 had performed the duties of Whig whip, in which capacity, ‘although his manners were cold, if not forbidding, and he had little of the address or dexterity which distinguished the Tory whipper-in, Mr. [William] Holmes*, he contrived, by the exercise of more honest arts, especially a great readiness to oblige ... to be eminently successful’.2 He frequently acted as an opposition teller in divisions.

At the 1820 general election Duncannon was again returned unopposed in absentia for the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam’s borough of Malton.3 ‘The elections have gone very good’ and in Scotland ‘we are much better off than I expected’, he advised Lord Grey next month, urging him to ‘come up after Easter’.4 He backed the opposition campaign in support of Queen Caroline later that year, although privately he considered it ‘quite shocking to have the country put into such a state for such a person’.5 According to his wife’s kinswoman Mrs. Arbuthnot, 28 Sept. 1820, he was ‘quite sure the bill of pains and penalties would last for years’ in the Commons, for he ‘could name at least twenty persons’ who ‘would impede the proceedings and do everything in their power to weary the House and get them to dismiss the bill’. He ‘alarmed’ her by predicting that ministers would ‘divide very ill’ with ‘about 40 majority’ against the motion condemning the omission of Caroline’s name from the liturgy, 26 Jan. 1821, but in the event they obtained 101.6 He appears to have assumed responsibility for writing all the opposition attendance notes from about this time, when George Tierney retired as leader, until the accession of a Whig ministry and the appointment of Edward Ellice* as patronage secretary in 1830.7 He was a majority teller for Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821. Commenting on the relief bill’s success, 23 Mar., the radical Whig Henry Grey Bennet* noted that ‘several of our enemies’ had decided to ‘vote no more’ and that ‘Duncannon tells me he knows of many who have come to the same resolution’.8 Duncannon and Holmes ‘agreed that we should have a majority of 38 if the whole House were to attend’, reported Joesph Phillimore* the following day.9 Next month Duncannon unwittingly asked the duke of Norfolk to canvass the husband of his divorced wife, Lord Lucan, in support of the bill in the Lords. ‘How awkward he must have felt when he remembered what a mistake he had made’, commented Henry Fox*.10 He voted for parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 13, 27 Apr. 1826. He was part of the ‘large party’ of the Commons who dined with the queen at the lord mayor’s, 21 June 1821.11 He later blamed ministers for the disturbances at her funeral, telling Grey that ‘never was there such short sighted folly’ as when they ‘determined that the City would not show the queen their marks of respect’. Thereafter he assisted the campaign to vindicate Sir Robert Wilson*, who he believed had not ‘done anything that ought to subject him to the sort of language that the government are making use of against him’.12

Early in 1822 Duncannon implored Grey to ‘be in town before Parliament meets’, as all our friends ‘look to you’ and ‘it will give general satisfaction if you will call them together, in fact it is the only possible means of having any meeting’.13 On 15 Apr. Canning thanked him for ‘clearing Tuesday 30th’ for his motion to relieve Catholic peers.14 On 13 July Hume informed him of his ‘intention to oppose several of the grants in the supply’ and requested that he arrange ‘a full attendance’.15 On 7 Oct. 1822, however, Lord Holland warned him that Hume’s attacks on the funds were reconciling ‘all Tories’ and that ‘entre nous, I think it was the tone of your opposition ... at the beginning of last session, which saved the "sinking fund" and prevented the Whigs instead of Canning being sent for on Castlereagh’s death’, adding, ‘your strong ground for contest is Ireland’, for ‘the more Canning can divert attention from thence to public credit and reform the stronger he will be’.16 Writing in similar terms, 2 Mar. 1823, Henry Brougham* recommended ‘a little more discretion’ with respect to Hume’s more ‘absurd and untenable’ propositions, explaining, ‘I prefer addressing these suggestions to you, as [John] Lambton* (to whom I intended at first to write) is ailing and may not like the trouble of talking over the subjects’.17 That month Althorp asked Brougham about ‘some plan of a republican form of government for the opposition’, concerning which ‘Lambton and Duncannon, I believe, have written to you’, saying, ‘I think it rather a bad plan, but ... if you approve of it I shall not object’.18 On 19 Mar. James Abercromby* recounted how Duncannon had shown him ‘a long paper’, the object of which was ‘to unite the whole body ... opposed to ministers by means of a sort of dinner club’, to which his reaction was that ‘to unite 200 people in all points is hopeless, and if we can agree on leading questions ... it would be all that ... can be hoped’. A week later he saw that Duncannon had ‘struck out of the paper ... some of the most objectionable passages’ and observed, ‘we shall see how far it is possible ... to extract from these dinners the means of establishing some plan that may give more effect to future operations’.19 He presented a petition for the abolition of slavery, 4 June.20 On 11 Aug. 1824 George Agar Ellis* encountered the Duncannons on their way to Bessborough and noted how ‘this being their first visit to Ireland, they were in the midst of a most amusingly innocent surprise at the strangeness of the people and the country’.21

Urging Grey to come up, Duncannon insisted that ‘no one’ could ‘so well expose the iniquitous conduct of the government’, who were ‘doing their utmost to put Ireland into rebellion’ by suppressing the Catholic Association, 18 Feb. 1825.22 On the 21st he and Tierney went ‘over the list of the House with a view to the Catholic question’ and correctly concluded that the measure would ‘be carried’.23 He presented a petition for relief, 23 Feb., for which he was a majority teller, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May.24 From Ireland, 2 Sept. he advised Grey that the country

never was so quiet as it is at this moment, and it can only be attributed to a decided union among the Catholics ... and a determination to put aside all minor grievances and quarrels for the purpose of prosecuting their claims ... They talk now only of the means of opposing the government, and ... they never will consent again to have the question clogged with any other measure.

On 2 Dec. 1825 he added that ‘the Catholics are violent upon their intentions’ and ‘if [William] Plunket* should persuade the Association ... not to present their petition’, it ‘will give very general disgust’.25 He declined to attend the Association dinner for the ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’, 2 Feb. 1826.26 Finding that his brother Frederick had decided not to come to England at the impending dissolution, he told Holland, 10 Apr. 1826, ‘I fear I must make up my mind to go over for some time to Ireland and stand for Kilkenny, where we shall have a contest’.27 On 1 June Lady Carlisle reported that he had gone ‘for six months’ and that ‘Lord Normanby is to come in for Malton instead of Higham Ferrers, in case the latter should be wanted for Duncannon’.28 ‘The opposition do not seem to be exerting themselves much and Lord Duncannon (their chief manager) is gone to Ireland’, remarked Mrs. Arbuthnot, 10 June:

Lady Duncannon and her eleven children are also gone, to her great joy, for he is become a great flirt and is encouraged in neglecting her by her own sister, Lady Jersey, who does all she possibly can to engross him entirely to herself ... In Ireland Lady Duncannon has her husband to herself and, as he is au fond very amiable and domestic, he devotes himself there to her and his children, and she consequently means to keep him there as much as she can’.29

At the general election Duncannon duly stood for county Kilkenny on the family interest as ‘a friend to civil and religious liberty’. The newly formed independent club having got up an opposition, in case of failure Devonshire seated him at Bandon Bridge. After a five-day contest, however, he was returned in second place for the county, for which he chose to sit. At the declaration he promised not to be ‘an absentee’ and to ‘come to Ireland every year’.30 Next month he notified Holland that the Waterford election, at which he had ‘been on the spot from the beginning’, had been ‘a very great triumph for the Catholics’ and ‘conducted much to their credit’:

I think, however, it has opened a new view of the state of Ireland as connected with the Catholic question, and not a very pleasing one to those who have property here, if that question is not speedily put to rest. The priests have tried their strength and succeeded against the landlords, and ... unless something is soon done ... the whole power, at present in the south of Ireland, will be in their hands.31

On 20 Aug. 1826 Lord Lansdowne reported finding the Duncannons

living with no society but their numerous progeny. She is expecting hourly to be confined, he most usefully occupied with his own affairs, of which it is fortunate that he has taken measure, for they have been cruelly mismanaged [although] with his excellent sense and determined will, he cannot fail to do much for himself and his family.32

He became a vice-president of Dr. Murray’s Education Society for the free instruction of the poor founded at the end of that year.33

Commenting on rumours of a negotiation to bring Lansdowne into the Liverpool ministry, 22 Jan. 1827, Mrs. Arbuthnot noted that ‘Duncannon says it is nearly concluded and, as he is not of Lord Lansdowne’s party, he is against it’.34 He brought up petitions for Catholic claims, 27 Feb., 10 Apr. Following Lord Liverpool’s stroke, he was one of those who met at Norfolk House ‘to go through the list of Members’ and ‘learn the strength of the unbending parties’ for the forthcoming division on Catholic relief, for which he was a minority teller, 6 Mar.35 He assured Grey, 29 Mar., that the vote reflected the ‘present new turn of affairs’ rather ‘than the real state of the question’ and that ‘the majority was principally owing’ to the fact that Members ‘voted on the question of whether Peel or Canning should govern us’.36 He was a minority teller for Tierney’s amendment to withhold the supplies, 30 Mar., and inquiry into the Irish estimates, 5 Apr., and was reported to be ‘bent on voting’ for Lethbridge’s motion asking the king to appoint an administration united on the Catholic question, which was withdrawn next day.37 Following the appointment of Canning as premier, 12 Apr., Duncannon told Wilson, a Whig supporter of the new ministry:

Though we differ ... upon this subject, I do not think we do to as great a degree as you think, for I am decidedly of opinion that Canning’s government is to be supported, if it is possible ... but I cannot go the length of saying that if a Protestant majority should be insisted on in the cabinet that I should think any great gain had been accomplished ... That one may be formed with a few Protestants in it, which will give us a hope of a better system of government, I allow ... but unless it is clearly understood how it is circumstanced in relation to ... [the Catholic] question, I do think it would be a complete dereliction of principle in opposition to give support ... I do not say that the ... question must be immediately forced upon them, or any step taken to prevent their going on, if it should appear that their government is formed on liberal principles, but if they have allowed themselves to be pledged against a question of such importance, I cannot express any great joy at the change.38

On 14 Apr. Sir James Macdonald* urged Lansdowne to accept office in a government ‘formed without any restrictions on the Catholic question’, saying that ‘Duncannon, backed by Lord Sefton* and some of the most unlikely men, is of the opinion that nineteen in twenty so think. He tells me too that the opposition was computed by the late ministry at 220; but that it may be fairly taken at 200, he having 180 on his list to write notes to’.39 The duke of Bedford complained, 22 Apr., ‘I regret that such men as Duncannon and Ebrington can talk of giving an unqualified support to Canning, solely to deny the intolerant ministers from returning, of which I think there is no chance whatsoever, if the Whigs present an unbroken phalanx’.40 Two days later Lord Binning* reported a ‘schism among the Whigs’ on the question of whether Lansdowne should enter the cabinet without the appointment of a pro-Catholic Irish government, with ‘Grey, Tierney, Duncannon, and they say Holland being adverse’.41 On the 26th Lansdowne, who had accepted office following the appointment of Lamb as Irish secretary, told Devonshire that ‘Duncannon approves decidedly of the arrangement in its present form and enters exactly into my feelings about it’.42 Three days later Charles Williams Wynn*, president of the board of control, informed Canning that he had ascertained ‘that the charge of malignancy against Lord Duncannon was quite groundless and that he both he and his brother have been uniformly anxious and active to promote the junction’, adding, ‘he might therefore be advantageously taken into council’.43 Describing the ‘strange’ scene in the House resulting from the new arrangements, Thomas Creevey* remarked that ‘Duncannon now counts noses on the other side, and sits on the treasury bench’, 6 May.44 A few days later, however, it was noted by Lady Jersey that

Duncannon seems as much out of sorts as possible. To me he says very little, for it did so happen that at an early period of these transactions, upon my saying that I was sure that Canning as prime minister would not be at liberty to act as he might wish about the Catholic question, Duncannon told me that I was completely mistaken, that he knew the contrary to be the case, and that he did in consequence do all he could to promote the junction.45

He was in the majority against ministers for the disfranchisement of Penryn, 28 May, after which Mrs. Arbuthnot met him

and some others afterwards at Lady Jersey’s and they were quite jumping for joy. However, true to the system, though Duncannon told me he had never been so pleased in all his life, he went the next morning to Mr. Planta and pretended he was excessively sorry and lamented it very much! However, Mr. Canning is too sharp to be deceived by such falseness.46

Following the defeat of the government’s corn bill in the Lords, 2 June, Greville observed that Duncannon, who ‘is entirely in the confidence of the moderate Whig party, says it is impossible the thing can go on in this way’, and that if the peers in the household who had voted against ministers were ‘not dismissed’, it would ‘be such a proof of the feebleness of government as will disgust all the Whigs and make their support very lukewarm’. On 17 June he reported that Duncannon had told him the Whigs were ‘extremely dissatisfied’ and ‘want Canning to display his power by some signal act of authority’, and that the refusal of Lord Manners, the staunchly Protestant Irish chancellor, to appoint Sir Patrick Bellew*, a Catholic, to the commission of the peace had ‘so disgusted Duncannon that he was very near withdrawing his name from the commission, and if he had his example would have been followed by many others ... [but] Lord Spencer dissuaded him’.47 Commenting on the ministry’s difficulties, 6 July, Charles Arbuthnot* noted that Holmes had complained that the Whigs up to the very last day of the session ‘would not consent to receive treasury notes, and that they never would attend unless they were summoned by Lord Duncannon’.48 Later that month Duncannon did not find Ireland ‘in so comfortable a state as he expected’.49 Following the appointment of Lord Goderich as premier, under whom Lansdowne remained home secretary, Duncannon wrote to Abercromby, 19 Aug.:

I never expected the king to surrender to [the] Whigs; as it is, I think Lord Lansdowne has decided rightly ... If the king will consent to certain measures, which from the temper of the times, and more particularly of Parliament, is absolutely necessary, retrenchment among the first, it may go on, otherwise I know in the Commons it cannot. You are not perhaps aware to what an extent the government would be deserted, if they did not appear when Parliament meets to be seriously engaged on this subject ... Do not think I am making difficulties, but I am bound to say what I know will happen.

On 31 Aug. he assured Lansdowne of his

entire concurrence in what you have done. I am quite aware of the difficulties of your present situation, but as those difficulties increase, you have a right to expect the support of those who have forced them upon you ... For the sake of this country in particular I should deplore any change, if it is practicable to carry on the present government. The Catholics generally and notwithstanding all you may hear, are satisfied, and I am persuaded that if a change was now to take place that satisfaction would turn to complete despair ... Circumstances may occur to make it impossible for the present government to go on, but I do think the clamour of many of our friends most unreasonable and unfair. I would only ask them to witness the feeling expressed by the Tories in Ireland at the prospect of a change.50

‘We owe all our misfortunes to a little faction at Brooks’s, consisting of Brougham ... Wilson ... Burdett, and Duncannon’, Bedford, who disapproved of the new arrangements, complained that month, adding, ‘each had his own views, and it is no difficult matter to surmise by what their views were directed’.51 On 9 Sept. Sir John Newport* assured Holland that Duncannon ‘thinks very much as you do respecting this business, but tells me that many of our friends feel and express great dissatisfaction. One in particular wrote him that he supposed Peel would be the next person introduced into the cabinet’.52 Explaining his support to Althorp a week later, Duncannon observed:

I should have regretted that Lord Lansdowne had gone out on the appointment of [John] Herries* [to the exchequer] ... I cannot think the appointment of a man without weight in Parliament or political connections in the country was a good reason for retiring. I will in short support, not from approving, but from dreading the return of those who have been put out ... The generality of the Catholics are beginning to feel some confidence, notwithstanding the untoward appearance of some of the Irish appointments, and if Lord Anglesey is really coming [as viceroy] with a determination not to inquire into the religious opinions of any man the best results must be expected.53

Writing in similar terms to Holland, 29 Sept., Duncannon added that he remained opposed to asking the Catholics to halt their campaign:

It is true that Ireland must be benefited by having a Catholic secretary and Lord Lansdowne as home secretary ... but ... I should deeply regret ... attempts ... by persons connected with the government to induce the Catholics to forgo their petition. To this at least I will not be a party, and be assured if successful at the present moment, it would be ruinous ... I have written to Althorp some time since, but have not heard from him. I fear from what I hear we do not agree.

Assuring Holland that the Catholics would support government ‘if they find that the report industriously circulated here is not true (that the Catholic question is to be postponed)’, 10 Oct., he continued:

From Althorp I heard the other day; not a satisfactory letter. He talks of neutrality, which I confess from so sensible a person surprizes me, because in the present state of things it is impossible. Neutrality, as I have tried to explain to him, is in fact opposition, and if he succeeds in pursuing it, he does that which he dreads [and] makes the king powerful by weakening his government. I rather fear ... that Lords Tavistock* and Milton* have also taken this fancy of strict neutrality ... Does it not appear to you an odd way to accomplish their end?

Later that month he confirmed that ‘Althorp, [Lord] Milton, etc., look at the present state of things in a very different light from us’, having ‘taken a line which must be fatal to any government formed like the present’, and asked, ‘are government taking any steps to ascertain who are friends and who foes? If they are not, no time should be lost ... [as] when Parliament meets it will be too late to do so and ... I know that six months ago this was not attended to’.54 Relaying his remarks to Lansdowne, 2 Dec. 1827, Holland observed that Duncannon

is a great oracle on such matters and ... it is right you should know what is said by so sincere and judicious a friend. You should impress on Huskisson as I did on ... Canning the necessity of unreserved and frequent communication with him on the state of temper of the House.55

That month Lady Caroline Lamb, in the final stages of a fatal illness, told Lady Duncannon that she never heard Duncannon’s name ‘without crying’, as ‘all the under people and Dr. Roe told me he was the person [who] spoke most severely against me and wanted me locked up in a madhouse, so that I feared his very name’. On 26 Jan. 1828 he was notified of her death.56

Following the appointment of Wellington as premier, Newport informed Holland, 15 Jan. 1828, that Duncannon had for ‘some time’ speculated that Goderich was ‘wholly unsuited to take the lead’ and ‘that the fabric disjointed by his vacillation must soon fall to pieces’.57 He was a majority teller for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., presented petitions for Catholic claims, 28 Feb., 15 Apr., and was a majority teller for relief, 12 May, after which he agreed with Sir Francis Burdett* and Brougham ‘that the line to take was that of moderate satisfaction at the lowered tone of the enemy, and an expectation ... that if the Catholics persevere they must succeed’.58 He was named by the cabinet minister Lord Ellenborough among those who ‘would willingly act with the government if Lord Grey belonged to it’, in a statement to Wellington, 28 May.59 He successfully moved for the printing of papers on the grand jury and constabulary of county Kilkenny, 18 July. That month he advised Ellenborough that Daniel O’Connell* ‘would not be quiet’ following his return for county Clare.60 On 6 Aug. Richard Sheil* informed O’Connell that Duncannon had ascertained from Holland that there were ‘great doubts as to ... your admissibility’.61 Writing to Grey from Ireland, 16 Sept., Duncannon reported that the ‘greatest expectations’ had been raised by Wellington’s rumoured intention to concede emancipation, but feared that the ‘moment is gone for making such a measure’ because the Association, whose power ‘is at present beyond belief’, had ‘mixed up their question with parliamentary reform’.62 On 27 Sept. he confronted O’Connell about demanding pledges from candidates in support of emancipation and reform:

I differ from you, not because I object to the subjects alluded to or undervalue their importance, but because I think the first of such paramount consequence that the mixing any other matter with it weakens the first pledge ... You have now brought the Catholic question to that point that it must be successful unless it is marred by some unfortunate and unexpected circumstance ... Wellington ... will not easily extricate himself from what his speech fairly conveyed ... but ... if he was called on to name the means of relieving himself from some of the difficulty, he could not devise a more likely one ... than raising in his opponents’ ranks a question like parliamentary reform. I would require a positive and distinct pledge from every Irish Member to oppose any government that does not make the Catholic question its object, but I would do this simply and in such a way that it could not be evaded ... I am actuated only ... by an anxiety to forward the Catholic cause, and by a conviction ... that the introduction of other matters must injure that cause.63

Visiting the Duncannons at Bessborough that autumn, Creevey admired their patronage of the nearby village of Piltown. On 23 Oct. he accompanied Lady Duncannon to a Munster provincial meeting of the friends of civil and religious liberty ‘in an immense Catholic chapel’ at Kilkenny where

Duncannon was to be voted into the chair, and as he could not be so without making a speech, she was nervous to the greatest degree, public speaking being quite out of his line. However, he acquitted himself to ... the satisfaction of all; and upon my saying to her, ‘Come! We are in port now: nothing can be better than this’, she said, ‘How surprised I am how well he is speaking!’, and then, having shed some tears, she was quite comfortable ... It was a prodigious day for Duncannon for, with the exception of Power and Tighe, not one of the Protestant gentry present gave Duncannon a vote at the last election, nor did they ever attend a Catholic meeting before.

Describing the meeting to Grey, 9 Nov., Duncannon remarked that if Protestants ‘in other places’ had attended similar ones, ‘there would have been much less of the violent language that has been so much complained of’. ‘That [Wellington] will do something is probable’, he added, ‘but it is equally probable that he will push an adjustment that will give general dissatisfaction, I mean an alteration in the elective franchise’.64 That month Mrs. Arbuthnot put Wellington ‘on his guard’ against further communication with Lady Jersey about the details of emancipation, as ‘through Lord Duncannon, it all went to the Catholic Association’.65

Duncannon brought up petitions for repeal of the Irish Vestry and Subletting Acts, 26 Feb., 27 Mar. 1829. He presented petitions for Catholic emancipation, 26 Feb., 4 Mar., and voted accordingly, 6, 30 Mar. He had been listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as ‘opposed to securities’ in late February, and with Althorp had seen Arbuthnot ‘two or three times’ to say ‘they would oppose such a measure as would disfranchise the freeholders’.66 On 4 Mar. Greville noted that Duncannon had declared that ‘nothing shall induce him to support it, and he would rather defeat the whole measure than consent to it’.67 Writing to Maurice Fitzgerald* from Ireland, 7 Mar., Lord Donoughmore observed:

I was always aware that Duncannon would be outrageous on the subject of the 40s. freeholders. When he was in this country, I thought him inclined to go to lengths unbecoming a man of his rank. I am not intimate with him, but as far as I know him, I do not estimate highly his intellectual powers ... One must chose a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater ... If there be many persons of Duncannon’s feelings in the ... Commons, who would vote against the general bill on account of the disfranchisement of the freeholders, it will at least have this bad effect, that it will not go up to the Lords in as triumphant a manner as was originally hoped.68

In his first known speech, 10 Mar., Duncannon announced his opposition to the disfranchisement bill. On the 18th he presented and endorsed a hostile petition, observing that it would have been ‘much more agreeable’ and consonant with his ‘usual habits to have given a silent vote’ against this ‘most unjust’ measure, but that he felt obliged to state his objections, since his opinions were ‘exactly the reverse’ of those of his ‘usual political associates’. Next day he explained that he had agreed to the 40s. freeholder franchise being ‘given up’ in 1825 because it had not then been used in a ‘constitutional manner’, but argued that it had since been exercised legitimately and called for the safeguards against abuses of the new £10 franchise to be applied to the ‘whole constituent body’. On 20 Mar. he moved for the committee on the bill to implement measures against the fraudulent registration of 40s. freeholders. ‘Painful as it is to me, at all times, to stand up in the House’, he declared, ‘and much more painful, when it is to oppose those with whom I am accustomed to agree, I have made up my mind ... if the £10 freeholder can be made a bona fide freeholder by this Act, so can the 40s. freeholder’. His motion, for which he was a minority teller, was crushed by 220-20. On 26 Mar. he announced that he would desist from further opposition, but without abandoning his objections. ‘Duncannon has resumed his sane senses’, commented Althorp, ‘although he will vote against the disfranchisement bill, but he admits that he hopes the whole measure will succeed’.69 That day Duncannon ‘begged’ Henry Grattan not to move an amendment enabling O’Connell to take his seat, as it might be an ‘impediment to the success of the measure’.70 Following the passage of emancipation, Arbuthnot informed Peel, the home secretary, 15 Apr., that Duncannon had spoken about the ministry’s ‘thanks to the Whigs’ and ‘said what had fallen from you in our House and from the duke in his had been quite perfect, and so had been thought by those who did not wish to make mischief’.71 They ‘had a long conversation ... on the state of parties generally’, recounted Mrs. Arbuthnot, in which Duncannon

appeared to think there were many persons in the Houses of Lords and Commons who, if the Grey party became connected with the government, would join. He abused Lord Lansdowne most violently, said nobody ever had behaved so ill or so shabbily as he did when he joined Canning, that he completely left all his party in the lurch and gave up all their political objects and that they had all determined to oppose if the Canning government had met Parliament again. I don’t pay much attention to what Lord Duncannon says as I think him about the most dishonest politician I know, and his connection with O’Connell and the Catholic Association is a disgrace to him.72

That day O’Connell reported that Duncannon had gone to see Vesey Fitzgerald, president of the board of trade, to ascertain whether ministers would continue to oppose his admission. Two days later Ellenborough saw Duncannon at Lady Jersey’s talking ‘big about O’Connell’s power and, in the same sense in which he talked to Fitzgerald, wishing to induce the government to let him take his seat’.73 On 15 May Duncannon, having ‘fixed’ a day for this ‘grand experiment’, guided O’Connell ‘through the necessary forms in the steward’s office’ and presented him to the Speaker in the hope that he would be permitted to take his seat without swearing the old oath of supremacy.74 This was refused, following which he obtained leave for O’Connell to be ‘heard in support of his claims’ that day and was a minority teller for allowing him to take his seat unhindered, 18 May. In his last known votes in this Parliament, he divided for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May, and for the issue of a new writ, 2 June, and against the grant for the marble arch sculpture, 25 May. Congratulating O’Connell on his unopposed re-election for Clare, 4 Aug., he regretted that the ‘very dangerous illness of Lady Duncannon after her confinement’ had prevented him from writing sooner and declared, ‘there is no one who is more sincerely rejoiced than I am at your triumph’, as ‘any other result ... would have disgraced this country, who must ever look to you as having mainly contributed to the great measure of Catholic emancipation’.75 Giving Grey ‘anything but a good account’ of the government of the duke of Northumberland, the new Irish viceroy, 31 Aug., he acknowledged the ‘visible improvement’ in the ‘quiet counties’ since emancipation, but apprehended ‘a new spirit’ in others, in which the ‘old system will be overthrown’. On 4 Nov. 1829 he warned that ‘nothing can persuade the people they can have justice, they have so long been prosecuted by tithe proctors’.76 That autumn Lord Francis Leveson Gower, the Irish secretary, reported finding him ‘very eager’ on the Irish grand jury laws, but ‘not at all I think sweeping or irrational’.77 No trace of parliamentary activity has been found for the 1830 session.

At the 1830 general election Duncannon offered again for county Kilkenny, stressing his support for emancipation, liberty of the press, tax reductions and economy. He was returned unopposed.78 ‘I see the papers talk of government losing 23 or 24 by the Irish elections’, Agar Ellis informed Brougham, 15 Aug., adding, ‘if you write to Duncannon, express to him the absolute necessity of his being in England in October so that he may take his measures betimes’.79 Sending Brougham a ‘rough statement’ of the Irish returns, which were ‘more against the government than in England’, 27 Aug., Duncannon observed:

You will ... see a very obstreperous set from this country. The people are for the first time looking to the conduct of their representatives and ... they will be very cautious of supporting government. There are many returned for England whose names I do not know, and I cannot therefore make out a list, and of Scotland I know little. Upon the whole I should say they have lost near 30 ... The great thing ... against them more than the actual return, is the spirit that has shown itself both in England and in Ireland.80

On 30 Aug. Russell reported having ‘heard one bad thing for the ministry ... Duncannon is coming over to oppose them; he approves of the duke and Peel, but cannot support the ragged regiment of Goulburn and Twiss’.81 He was of course listed by the Irish agent Pierce Mahony† as a ‘contra’ and by Planta as one of the ministry’s ‘foes’, but he was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. Following the appointment of Grey as premier, he was one of those who persuaded Brougham to accept the lord chancellorship.82 That month, ‘on account of his acquaintance with borough history and details, more especially in Ireland’, he became one of the ‘committee of four’ responsible for the drafting of the reform bills.83 It was later claimed by Russell that Duncannon had supported Lord Durham’s proposal to adopt the ballot at the desire of Althorp, the chancellor of the exchequer.84 Duncannon was a signatory to the committee’s ‘report on the state of the representation’ submitted to Grey, 14 Jan. 1831, and the author of the Irish ‘plan of reform’, which was later taken up by Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary. In an ‘explanation’ of its clauses, 26 Jan., Duncannon recommended that in the boroughs the new householder franchise be raised from £10 to £12, as there was ‘no regular mode of rating’, and that the term of registry be reduced from eight to three years, as ‘persons so often change their residence’.85 Neither proposal was adopted. He ‘did not think it right’ for a minister (as he then was) to join the Irish Members who expressed concerns to Smith Stanley about the bill later that year, but privately he advised him: ‘I agree with them entirely in two of their objections’, on ‘the question of value’, where ‘every sort of fraud will be practised’, and registration, which ‘I beg you to consider’ taking ‘at special sessions’, as ‘the greatest inconvenience is felt by the people’ in the ‘delay of county business at quarter sessions, and this of course will be much increased by the increase of registry’. On 3 June 1831 he urged Smith Stanley to ascertain what would ‘be the effect of admitting leaseholders in the different counties ... particularly Tipperary’, as ‘my belief is that it will nearly double the number of voters in that county; I know it will in Kilkenny’.86

On 2 Feb. 1831 Agar Ellis, who had resigned as first commissioner of woods and forests, received ‘a note from Duncannon to say he is appointed my successor’, as which ‘he will do very well’.87 That day Duncannon assured Smith Stanley that he had ‘no apprehensions’ about his re-election, but Holland feared that it would ‘not be convenient to vacate his county just now’.88 ‘I am much pleased with Duncannon’s appointment’, commented Bedford, 3 Feb., but ‘I hope and trust Duncannon’s ci devant friend O’Connell may not be able to do him any mischief’.89 On 7 Feb. O’Connell notified Alexander Dawson* that

Duncannon is a man for whom I have the highest respect ... but he is now ‘one of my prosecutors’ and as the ministry are determined to crush me, I must carry the political war into their quarters ... If the prosecutions be not forthwith withdrawn, I will be obliged to give Lord Duncannon a violent contest and perhaps a complete defeat ... I console myself for the feeling of ingratitude towards Lord Duncannon by giving this warn[ing] - Valeat quantum.90

Anglesey ‘deplored’ that he was ‘not upon the spot’ in the ensuing contest against a Repealer and feared he would be beaten because of a ‘great dearth of money’, 22 Feb. ‘He has been living at his estate and done more good and acquired more influence than most Irish landlords’, observed Greville, ‘but O’Connell holds up his finger and not a soul dares support him’. A few days later, however, reports emerged of his probable success.91 This would be ‘a tremendous blow to the wretch O’Connell ... but above all it would be a signal and well deserved triumph’ to the ‘whole family’, commented Creevey, 25 Feb.92 After a six-day poll he was returned in absentia.93 He and O’Connell reputedly ‘met a week after as if nothing had happened’ and ‘understood one another better from that day’.94 He introduced a departmental bill to alter the boundaries of the Forest of Dean, 11 Mar., which he guided through its second, 31 Mar., and third reading, 16 Apr. On 20 Mar. he urged Grey to ‘press upon’ Smith Stanley and Plunket, the Irish lord chancellor, the necessity of dropping the proceedings against O’Connell, as ‘a slight punishment will only tempt him to do all the mischief he can’, while ‘a severe punishment would I know be considered by almost all those who are supporting your government as unjust’. ‘I am aware of the difficulties of letting him off’, he added, but it would ‘give you a hold over him greater than you can in any other way obtain’. The charges were soon dropped, whereupon Duncannon assured Grey, 29 Mar., that O’Connell will offer the reform bill ‘his entire support’ and ‘do his best to prevent the agitation of any other question’. 95 Shortly before the reform bill’s introduction, Thomas Macaulay* had reported that Duncannon, ‘who knows the House of Commons better than any other man it, Billy Holmes excepted’, was ‘quite confident of success’, 7 Mar.96 Following the ministry’s defeat on the timber duties, however, Maurice Fitzgerald* told Wellington, 19 Mar., that Duncannon believed ‘the division proves the reform bill will be defeated on the second reading’ and ‘will advise Grey’, over whom he ‘has great influence’, ‘to dissolve Parliament immediately’.97 He was a majority teller for its second reading, 22 Mar., when Macualay related how ‘the tellers scarcely got through the crowd, for the House was thronged up to the table ... but you might have heard a pin drop as Duncannon read the numbers’.98 He presented a Kilkenny petition for the Irish bill, 30 Mar. On 7 Apr. he went ‘through all the alterations’ to the bill with Althorp, Lord Durham and Sir James Graham* and was observed by Herries ‘sowing promises and threats in all directions to catch or nullify votes’, in which ‘hitherto, according to our accounts, he has had little success’.99 He defended his department’s plans for a new street to Waterloo bridge, 18 Apr. 1831. Next day he was a minority teller against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill: he had previously advised Greville that ‘he did not believe the ministers would be beaten, but if they were they should certainly dissolve instantly’, and that ‘he should have liked to dissolve long ago, but they owed it to their friends not to have recourse to a dissolution if they could help it’.100

At the ensuing general election Duncannon offered again for county Kilkenny, insisting that the election was only about reform, on which he rested his claims.101 He had been advised by O’Connell, who was now supplying him with regular Irish election reports, that he had no need to ‘think of the election or to come over’, but, concerned at rumours of another opposition, he asked O’Connell for support, 27 Apr., explaining, ‘I have talked so openly to you ... that I can have no difficulty in saying ... that I am anxious not to be taken away ... for a longer time than is necessary, as great exertions are needed here against the opposers of the bill’. O’Connell assured him that the repeal candidate had withdrawn, saying he ‘put the compliment on me of having declined in consequence of my letter to him, but I am too candid to do so by you’.102 At the nomination Duncannon commended the reform bill for ‘extinguishing non-resident voters’ and ‘annihilating the disgraceful system of borough nomination’. Pressed on the Irish measure, he declared that he saw ‘no objection’ to an increase of Members, but that ‘they should also recall that 19 close Irish boroughs were to be opened, which would virtually increase the representation of the people’. He was returned unopposed.103 ‘Upon the whole the elections are going better than I expected’, he informed Grey, 10 May 1831.104

On 23 June 1831 Duncannon introduced bills for repairs to Buckingham House garden wall and the construction of a new street to Waterloo bridge, and reintroduced the Dean Forest boundaries bill, which he defended at its second reading, 27 June. (It received royal assent as 1 and 2 Gul. IV, c. 12 on 2 Aug.) He clashed repeatedly with Hume over the costs of the wall bill, 28 June, but successfully guided it through the House to become law as 1 and 2 Gul. IV, c. 1 on 11 July. He rebutted criticism of the Waterloo bill, 8, 11 July, when he insisted that ‘the woods and forests are now very differently managed to what they were formerly; not a shilling can now be laid out without the sanction of Parliament’. (It received royal assent as 1 and 2 Gul. IV, c. 29 on 27 Sept.) He was a government teller for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and in many of the subsequent divisions on its details. On 12 July he complained in debate that Irish tithes had been calculated in a ‘way most favourable to the clergyman’, with ‘reference to the prices of grain in the seven years from 1814 to 1821’. He was a minority teller against disqualification of the Dublin election committee, 29 July, and voted with his ministerial colleagues on the controversy, 23 Aug. Warning Grey of how ‘disinclined your friends in Parliament from Ireland are for coming here’, 31 July, he blamed the ‘unfortunate misunderstanding in all our Irish appointments, in every case putting in enemies and rejecting friends’, and asked how ‘can you hope to carry a Catholic population by such measures?’105 He upheld complaints that Catholics had been excluded from the Kilkenny jury, 10 Aug., and next day divided in the minority for printing the Waterford petition for disarming the Irish yeomanry, saying that it was with ‘extreme regret’ that he differed from Althorp, but that he felt obliged to support the ‘feelings of the people ... who consider that they suffer under unredressed wrongs’. Holland deemed it ‘lamentable’ that he ‘voted against the government’.106 On 11 Aug. Duncannon, at the behest of the Irish Members, who had given assurances that they were ‘not actuated by any feeling of hostility’, urged Grey to receive a deputation from them, but at their ensuing meeting they threatened to go into opposition unless there was a change in the government’s Irish policy. By then Duncannon had taken his wife to Ireland following the death of their second son William on foreign naval service. ‘I can easily get a pair’ and ‘have nothing that ... presses except Buckingham Palace, which Ellice will kindly undertake to do for me’, he informed Grey, 14 Aug.107 Declining Holland’s offer of a retreat at Ampthill, 16 Aug., he insisted ‘the best thing for us is to go altogether away’.108 ‘Duncannon goes to Ireland for six weeks and leaves the woods and forests, Waterloo bridge, reform and Buckingham House to take care of themselves’, commented Holmes, 18 Aug., adding, ‘I hear he is going to give up his office’.109 Concerned at what might happen during his absence, Duncannon ‘strongly’ recommended to Brougham that Sir Henry ‘Parnell* or some other person occasionally talks to the Irish Members ... They are easily managed with fair words and a little concession to their wishes goes a long way with them ... and I am always afraid of misunderstanding and consequent violence’.110 On 30 Aug. Smith Stanley recommended that Duncannon’s appointment as lord lieutenant of Carlow ‘be put in immediate communication with the chancellor’, as the ‘magistrates want a hint in that county’. He was soon in place, to the approval of the Catholic press.111 On 2 Sept. Althorp, contemplating the reshuffle that would follow his anticipated succession as Earl Spencer, advised Ebrington that although Duncannon’s view of the state of Ireland was ‘pretty correct’, he did not think he ‘would do for Irish minister’, as it was ‘impossible for an Irish county Member to steer a steady course in the present excited state of public feeling there’.112 ‘Duncannon in his present mood would be quite the other extreme’ to Smith Stanley, concurred Holland, ‘but his good sense and temper might make him steer a more even course, or he might be counterpoised by his lord lieutenant’.113 Duncannon paired for the passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and was not listed in the majority for Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831. Later that month Mrs. Arbuthnot recounted that there had been ‘another tiff in the cabinet’, in which Duncannon had ‘prevailed upon Lord Grey to make O’Connell attorney-general for Ireland’, but Smith Stanley had refused, threatening that ‘if this appointment took place, he should resign’.114

Following the rejection of the reform bill by the Lords, Duncannon was listed by Lord Palmerston* as one of those who wished ‘to make the bill more extensive and radical’ rather than ‘more moderate’.115 On 16 Oct. he implored Grey to avoid a long prorogation and take vigorous measures with the Lords:

The fears of the people and I am sorry to say of many of our friends are excited by certain speeches of yours and Althorp’s, and a postponement till after Christmas would I know only confirm them. There is a very strong feeling that the £10 franchise is to be touched. I know ... that this cannot be, but you must make allowances for those who do not know you so well. Schedule A and the £10 franchise are in fact the bill, and no one of us could ever show our faces again, that in the slightest degree being altered ... I write strongly on this subject because I know that very little is wanting to bring on again all the questions of ballot, annual or triennial parliaments [and] universal suffrage.

Dismissing his notion of getting the bill through the Commons before Christmas as ‘the most chimerical hope that was ever entertained’, Grey replied, 28 Oct.:

I can never receive any communication from you of this nature, without a feeling that it has been prompted by a sincere desire to assist ... but really government is pressed upon matters which it ought to belong to them to determine ... If in what you say about vigorous measures for carrying the bill through the ... Lords you mean a creation of peers ... I have no hesitation in stating ... that it is impossible. Not less than 80 to 100 would do. This would be destructive to the ... Lords and almost equally to the ... Commons, from where the new peers must chiefly be taken, and how could you meet so many new elections? Really people talk of these things without having considered them.

Unabashed, Duncannon retorted:

What is to be gained by a long recess? The chance of converting those who, be assured, will disappoint you ... On the other hand, what is to be lost? The support of the whole people of this country, and with it, of those who have supported you in Parliament, to which I would add almost an equally great evil, the formation of societies and unions in ... almost every parish in England, which perhaps you may not find so easy to put down when the bill is passed ... It is not a very pleasing task for me ... but I should not be acting kindly by you if I did not tell you openly how great a discontent will be produced by a prorogation beyond Christmas ... When you adopted the decisive measure of dissolving the Parliament to carry the bill, I never doubted that for your own honour, your character, and the consistency of your measures, you must adopt an equally decisive measure in the Lords.116

On 21 Nov., two days after the decision to recall Parliament for 6 Dec., Edward Littleton* encountered Duncannon in Ellice’s room, ‘writing to O’Connell and the Irish Members’, and was ‘amused’ by a letter he showed him from Hume, ‘abusing him’ for not having given a keeper’s position at Hyde Park to a ‘servant of his’ who had held out for nine months for a higher salary.117 Alarmed at reports that O’Connell would not attend, Duncannon vainly urged him to ‘come over’ and ‘give us your powerful support’ and ‘ensure as much attendance as possible from other Irish Members’, 28 Nov.118 ‘Duncannon ridicules the notion of having put O’Connell in a state of probation’ and ‘says he might have been fixed and saved’, Holland remarked the following day, noting that Duncannon’s preference was ‘for vigorous measures and ten eldest sons being called up’ to get the bill through the Lords.119 Commenting on Althorp’s reluctance to ‘let his troops fight a little short’ in the recalled Parliament that month, Brougham reported that ‘Duncannon is in perfect despair. He and all others whose opinion is worth having say there never was a minute when Althorp could not beat the enemy by 70, and yet he and Graham are always taking it for granted they are in a minority’.120

On 9 Dec. 1831 Duncannon introduced bills for the amalgamation of the surveyor-general’s office with that of the woods and forests and for a portion of the land revenues to be put towards the completion of Buckingham House, which should ‘not be allowed to go into decay’ after ‘so much expense’. He saw them through the Commons and they received royal assent as 2 Gul. IV, cc. 1, 3, on 13 Feb. 1832. That month O’Connell informed him ‘candidly’ of his ‘abhorrence’ of Smith Stanley’s Irish policy, citing his failure to consult one single Irish Member on the Irish reform bill and surmising, ‘I have an idea that you ... are as rigidly excluded as I am ... Is this not insulting?’ ‘He must be insane’, O’Connell added after hearing the terms of Smith Stanley’s inquiry into Irish tithes, to which Duncannon responded, 26 Dec.:

I rejoice that you have made up your mind to be here on the first day of the session ... I must, however, disagree with you in the very severe censure you pass on the present Irish government ... You make no allowance for the situation in which they came into power and the difficulty of altering old habits and prejudices ... You may think Stanley’s proposal does not go far enough but surely it will be a great advantage to relieve the people from tithe proctors, ecclesiastical courts and process servers ... With respect to the Irish reform bill, I regret as much as you can do that it does not give additional Members to Ireland and that some other alterations are not made in it, but I cannot shut my eyes to this, that it opens nineteen boroughs and gives a free election to the other towns and cities. This must counterbalance many defects ... I am sure you will use your talents and assiduity when you are here in improving rather than condemning generally measures that are in themselves good.121

Duncannon was a majority teller for the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and for many of its details. Warning Grey of the country’s dissatisfaction ‘with the slow progress we are making’ and that ‘our friends are very clamorous in their complaints of having been hurried to London’, where ‘little or nothing has been done’, he advocated ‘the absolute necessity of sitting on Wednesdays, and from 12 to 6 on every Saturday, till the reform bill is passed’, 3 Feb. 1832.122 At dinner with Holland the following day he ‘urged vehemently the manifold and forcible reasons for creating peers and the dangers of neglecting or even postponing that measure’.123 He was a majority teller for the third reading, 22 Mar. That month Russell, on hearing Holland remark that a majority in the Lords on the second reading was ‘literally certain’, advised him to ‘go over the list with Duncannon’.124 Shortly before that division, 10 Apr., Duncannon predicted that the bill would be carried by ‘but two’ votes, but in the event it passed by nine.125 He was ‘apprehensive’ about the success of Ebrington’s address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, for which he duly voted, 10 May.126 During the ensuing crisis he conferred with Agar Ellis about a ‘strong address’ calling on the king to create sufficient peers to ensure the bill’s passage.127 On 20 May he put the idea to Lord Howick* that ‘again the occasion is afforded’ of bringing O’Connell into government.128 He was a ministerial teller in the divisions on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July. During the debate on the first occasion Denis Le Marchant† recorded that Duncannon had taken him ‘aside and said if we were to divide now we should be in a minority or something like it’, but owing ‘to Ellice and others canvassing’ they got ‘a small majority’.129 He was a government teller in the division on their relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He presented a petition for giving an additional Member to Kilkenny city instead of Dublin University, 21 Feb. He was in the minority against the Irish registry of deeds bill, 9 Apr. He was a majority teller for the second reading of Irish reform bill, 25 May, and divided against an increase in the Scottish county representation, 1 June 1832.

On 3 Jan. 1832 Holmes reported that Duncannon was ‘very much alarmed about the state of Ireland’ and ‘talking of martial law’.130 He voted against Hobhouse’s Vestry Act amendment bill, 23 Jan. Commenting on Smith Stanley’s threat to resign rather than allow any spoliation of the Irish church, Le Marchant observed that Duncannon ‘is very unhappy’ and says Brougham has ‘been trying to get Lord Grey round to moderate measures’, 26 Jan.131 Urging the case for the abolition of tithes to Grey, 4 Feb., Duncannon recommended using the land tax and first fruits revenues to support payment of the clergy and alleviate the Catholic population from the cess, a ‘tax more offensive and more odious to them than even tithe’. ‘I do not think there would be so much difficulty as you seem to anticipate’, he insisted, 8 Feb.132 On the 14th John Croker* noted how Duncannon had opposed Smith Stanley ‘point blank’ in the tithes committee, but conjectured that they ‘take opposite sides for the purpose of consolidating opposite parties and keeping their majority together’, with Grey and Smith Stanley endeavouring ‘to manage the moderates, and Duncannon and Ellice to keep well with the radicals’.133 That day Ellenborough heard that Duncannon ‘would not agree to the [tithes] report unless there was distinct pledge that "the name and character of tithes should be done away with"’, which was ‘impossible’, and there would therefore ‘be a schism in the government’; but he then learnt that he had ‘given in’.134 He was in the minority for printing the Woollen Grange petition for the abolition of tithes, 16 Feb. On 30 Mar. he announced that he was ‘prepared to support’ Smith Stanley’s Irish tithes coercion bill on the ‘implicit’ understanding that it was to be ‘followed by a measure for the extinction of tithes’, but warned that ‘the people of Ireland never will be satisfied until that pledge is redeemed’. He voted accordingly, 14 July, 1 Aug., being, according to Greville, well ‘aware of the false position in which the government is placed, pretending to legislate with a knowledge that their laws cannot be enforced’.135 Following his arrival in Ireland later that month, he reported ‘a bitter feeling against the government’ and ‘a most extraordinary state of excitement on the tithe question’, which would damage his ‘chance of being returned’ at the next election.136 On 10 Sept. he apologized to Grey for ‘boring’ him with another ‘long scrawl’ on tithes, but explained, ‘I am anxious you should know my opinion’ as ‘you think me prejudiced to certain views’, but ‘such I assure you is not the case’. Feeling that he ‘must allude’ to his support of the tithes bill, he submitted a draft of his county Kilkenny election address to Grey, who made ‘some alterations’, which included changing his call for ‘an entire alteration of the tithe system’ and ‘permanent reform in every branch of the church establishment’ into support for ‘a new system, whereby tithes might be extinguished’ and ‘reform of ... defects in the established church’.137 On 7 Oct. he warned Holland that he had ‘very little chance’ on ‘account of voting for the tithe bill’. ‘Duncannon will be ousted’, remarked Ralph Sneyd.138 ‘You had better retire immediately and either stand in Surrey or come in for Malton’ as ‘there is no good in your being beat in Kilkenny’, advised Russell, 12 Oct. On 10 Nov. Althorp ‘strongly’ urged him to stand for Nottingham, where a ministerial candidate was wanted and the expense would be ‘very trifling’.139 Next day Grey offered him New Windsor, which the king had placed at his disposal. ‘Windsor would do the best, but I leave it entirely to you’, Duncannon replied, 14 Nov.140 Learning of his retirement from Kilkenny, O’Connell wrote:

I cannot venture to dispute the decision you have come to, connected as you are with government ... What a pity it is that you should be the victim of Lord Anglesey’s want of intellect and ... Stanley’s insane presumption, you, I will say, naturally the most popular person that ever belonged to the party of the Whigs; you, whom everybody esteems and respects; you, to whom the Catholics owe a debt of gratitude and in whose personal qualities everybody places unlimited confidence ... I have had an intimation from Nottingham that you were to stand for that city, and you will smile at hearing that I have been called on for your character. What a strange resolution! As if you were not yourself, although belonging to the nobility, a more sincere and practical reformer than any one member of this political Union.141

Duncannon was returned in second place for Nottingham as a Liberal at the 1832 general election. To the surprise of many, he was appointed home secretary on Melbourne’s accession as premier in July 1834, when he was given a United Kingdom peerage in an attempt to strengthen the government in the Lords.142 ‘Who could ever have thought of him in such a station?’, remarked Greville:

His proper element seemed to be the House of Commons, where he was a bustling, zealous partisan and a very good whipper-in; but he cannot speak at all, and though a tolerably candid talker, his capacity is slender; he has no pretensions of any sort to a high office, and nothing but peculiar circumstances could put him in one.143

On Melbourne’s return to office in 1835 he was made lord privy seal and resumed his post at woods and forests, where he oversaw the completion of Buckingham Palace and the National Gallery, various metropolitan improvements and the design of the new Houses of Parliament.144 A street linking Pall Mall with the Strand bears his name. He continued to assist the Whigs in the management of their elections, in which he was considered a ‘great authority’ by Arbuthnot, who noted in 1841 that his predictions had nearly ‘always been right’.145 Appointed Irish viceroy in the Russell administration in 1846, the ‘first resident landlord’ to hold that office ‘for a generation’, his tenure was overshadowed by the famine. He died in harness of ‘dropsy on the chest’ less than a year later, ‘his days having no doubt been shortened by his devotedness to its duties’, according to Le Marchant, who added, ‘often have I known the Whigs, especially whilst in opposition, saved from very serious blunders by his firm, and almost pertinacious remonstrances’.146 He was ‘of great use’, Brougham recalled of his role in Grey’s ministry, ‘but more in private as an adviser in consultation than in public. He was really a very sensible, staunch and worthy man, but he was no orator’.147 He was succeeded in the peerage by his eldest son John George (1809-80).148

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Philip Salmon


See D. Howell-Thomas, Duncannon (1992).

  • 1. Life of Campbell i. 408; Greville Mems. v. 447.
  • 2. Le Marchant, Althorp, 47-48.
  • 3. Yorks. Gazette, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Grey mss.
  • 5. Howell-Thomas, 97.
  • 6. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 39, 66.
  • 7. A. Mitchell, Whigs in Opposition, 39; A. Aspinall, ‘English Party Organization’, EHR, xli (1926), 398.
  • 8. HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 44.
  • 9. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 141-2.
  • 10. Fox Jnl. 66.
  • 11. Grey Bennet diary, 104.
  • 12. Grey mss, Duncannon to Grey, 17 Aug. [n.d.], 25 Aug. 1821.
  • 13. Grey mss.
  • 14. Duke Univ. Lib. Ponsonby mss.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. Bessborough mss F150.
  • 17. Ibid. F52.
  • 18. Add. 76369, Althorp to Brougham, 17 Mar. 1823.
  • 19. Brougham mss, Abercromby to Brougham, 19, 26 Mar. 1823.
  • 20. The Times, 5 June 1823.
  • 21. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary.
  • 22. Grey mss.
  • 23. Ibid. Tierney to Grey, 21 Feb. 1825; Buckingham, ii. 216.
  • 24. The Times, 24 Feb. 1825.
  • 25. Grey mss.
  • 26. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1278.
  • 27. Add. 51724, Duncannon to Holland, 10 Apr. 1826.
  • 28. Castle Howard mss, Lady Carlisle to Morpeth.
  • 29. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 30.
  • 30. Dublin Evening Post, 17, 20, 23, 27 June 1826.
  • 31. Add. 51724.
  • 32. Add. 51690.
  • 33. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1441.
  • 34. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 74.
  • 35. The Times, 28 Feb., 11 Apr. 1827; Canning’s Ministry, 40.
  • 36. Grey mss.
  • 37. Castle Howard mss, Holland to Carlisle [Apr. 1827].
  • 38. Canning’s Ministry, 103.
  • 39. Lansdowne mss.
  • 40. LMA, Jersey mss 510/412.
  • 41. Canning’s Ministry, 233.
  • 42. Chatsworth mss 1469.
  • 43. Canning’s Ministry, 272.
  • 44. Creevey Pprs. ii. 116.
  • 45. Add. 48406, f. 125.
  • 46. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 123.
  • 47. Greville Mems. i. 175-6, 178-9.
  • 48. Canning’s Ministry, 340.
  • 49. Russell Letters, ii. 71.
  • 50. Lansdowne mss.
  • 51. Walpole, Russell, i. 135.
  • 52. Add. 51833.
  • 53. Add. 76380, Duncannon to Althorp, 16 Sept. 1827.
  • 54. Add. 51724.
  • 55. Lansdowne mss.
  • 56. Lady Bessborough and her Family Circle ed. Lord Bessborough, 290-1.
  • 57. Add. 51834.
  • 58. NLS mss 24748, f. 115.
  • 59. Ellenborough Diary i. 126.
  • 60. Ibid. i. 162.
  • 61. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1479.
  • 62. Grey mss.
  • 63. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1491.
  • 64. Creevey Pprs. ii. 171-3, 182-3; Grey mss.
  • 65. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 222.
  • 66. Ibid. ii. 242.
  • 67. Greville Mems. i. 263.
  • 68. PRO NI, Fitzgerald mss MIC/639/13/7/9.
  • 69. Add. 76369, Althorp to Brougham, 29 Mar. 1829.
  • 70. Greville Mems. i. 280.
  • 71. Add. 40340, f. 213.
  • 72. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 267-8.
  • 73. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1552; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 20.
  • 74. Greville Mems. i. 292; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1562, 1569.
  • 75. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1596.
  • 76. Grey mss; ibid. Howick jnl. 4 Sept. 1829.
  • 77. NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. M. 737/99-100, Leveson Gower to Peel, 6 Sept. 1829.
  • 78. Kilkenny Moderator, 31 July, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 79. Brougham mss.
  • 80. Ibid.
  • 81. Add. 51680.
  • 82. A. Aspinall, Brougham and the Whig Party, 187; Brougham, Life and Times, iii. 74, 76, 79.
  • 83. Parker, Graham, i. 119; Creevey Pprs. ii. 264; Walpole, i. 165.
  • 84. Brougham mss, Russell to Brougham, 15 Nov. 1837.
  • 85. Grey mss, reform committee to Grey, 14 Jan., ‘Duncannon’s plan of reform’, ‘Heads of a bill’, Duncannon to Grey, 26 Jan. 1831.
  • 86. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 116/7, Duncannon to Smith Stanley [n.d.], 3 June 1831.
  • 87. Agar Ellis diary.
  • 88. PRO NI, Anglesey mss 27A/99, 31D/13.
  • 89. Add. 51670, Bedford to Lady Holland, 3 Feb. 1831.
  • 90. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1764.
  • 91. Anglesey mss 29B/61-63, 68, 69; Greville Mems. ii. 121.
  • 92. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 25 Feb. 1831.
  • 93. Kilkenny Moderator, 16, 19, 26 Feb. 1831.
  • 94. Torrens, Melbourne, i. 360.
  • 95. Grey mss.
  • 96. Macaulay Letters, ii. 6.
  • 97. Wellington mss WP1/1179/2.
  • 98. Macaulay Letters, ii. 10.
  • 99. Grey mss, Durham to Grey, 8 Apr. 1831; Arbuthnot Corresp. 145.
  • 100. Greville Mems. ii. 137.
  • 101. Kilkenny Moderator, 27 Apr. 1831.
  • 102. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1799-1802.
  • 103. Kilkenny Moderator, 11 May 1831.
  • 104. Grey mss.
  • 105. Ibid.
  • 106. Holland House Diaries, 28.
  • 107. Grey mss.
  • 108. Add. 51724.
  • 109. Arbuthnot Corresp. 148.
  • 110. Brougham mss.
  • 111. Anglesey mss 31D/59; Dublin Evening Post, 4 Oct. 1831.
  • 112. Devon RO, Earl Fortescue mss 1262M/FC 87.
  • 113. Brougham mss, Holland to Brougham, 27 Oct. 1831.
  • 114. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 433.
  • 115. Southampton Univ. Lib. Broadlands mss PP/GC/RI/11.
  • 116. Grey mss.
  • 117. Hatherton diary, 21 Nov. 1831.
  • 118. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1850.
  • 119. Holland House Diaries, 86.
  • 120. NLS mss 24748, f. 120.
  • 121. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1862a.
  • 122. Grey mss.
  • 123. Holland House Diaries, 124.
  • 124. Ibid. 149.
  • 125. Baring Jnls. i. 94.
  • 126. Three Diaries, 246.
  • 127. Agar Ellis diary, 18 May 1832.
  • 128. Grey mss.
  • 129. Three Diaries, 196-7; Le Marchant, 391-2.
  • 130. Add. 40402, f. 2.
  • 131. Three Diaries, 186.
  • 132. Grey mss.
  • 133. Croker Pprs. ii. 150.
  • 134. Three Diaries, 195.
  • 135. Greville Mems. ii. 309-10.
  • 136. Add. 51724, Duncannon to Holland, 18 Aug. 1832.
  • 137. Grey mss.
  • 138. Add. 51724; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC17/77.
  • 139. Ponsonby mss.
  • 140. Grey mss.
  • 141. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1849, where this letter has been incorrectly dated as 1831.
  • 142. Melbourne Pprs. 205; Holland House Diaries, 260.
  • 143. Greville Mems. iii. 60.
  • 144. See Howell-Thomas, 198-248.
  • 145. P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 45; Arbuthnot Corresp. 224.
  • 146. Gent. Mag. (1847), ii. 82-3; Le Marchant, 50-52.
  • 147. Brougham mss, autobiog. fragment.
  • 148. Gent. Mag. (1847), ii. 82-3; Le Marchant, 50-52.