SHAW, Frederick (1799-1876), of 1 Lower Mount Street, Dublin and Kimmage Lodge, co. Dublin

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



1830 - 1831
18 Aug. 1831 - 1832
1832 - 9 Feb. 1848

Family and Education

b. 11 Dec. 1799, 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Robert Shaw* (d. 1849), banker, of 31 Merrion Square and Foster Place, Dublin and 1st w. Maria, da. of Abraham Wilkinson of Bushy Park, co. Dublin.1 educ. Trinity, Dublin 1814, BA and MA 1832, LLB and LLD 1841; Brasenose, Oxf. 1816, BA 1819; King’s Inns 1815; L. Inn 1817, called [I] 1822. m. 16 Mar. 1819, Thomasine Emily, da. of Hon. George Jocelyn, MP [I], of Newport, co. Tipperary, 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. d.v.p. suc. bro. Robert as 3rd bt. 19 Feb. 1869. d. 30 June 1876.

Offices Held

Recorder, Dundalk 1826-8, Dublin 1828-76; sec. to master of rolls [I] 1827; bencher, King’s Inns 1829; PC [I] 15 Jan. 1835.


Shaw, whose father was Member for Dublin, 1804-26, was mostly educated in England and practised at the Irish bar from 1822. Through his wife’s cousin the 3rd earl of Roden, he gained legal office in Dundalk (his father-in-law’s former parliamentary seat) in 1826, and the following year he was briefly secretary to his uncle Sir William MacMahon, the Irish master of the rolls, whose right to appoint to this office was disputed by the lord chancellor.2 He came to prominence in March 1828, when, despite his youth and inexperience, he defeated a wide field of candidates to fill the vacant recordership of Dublin, with a salary of £2,000, of which £1,600 was paid by government.3 This victory was mainly owing to the influence of Roden, who secured the backing of the Irish administration, and his staunchly Protestant allies, who carried weight with the corporation, on which Shaw’s father was a (pro-Catholic) alderman. As Shaw boasted to Lord Ferrard:

I have indeed had a great triumph, with 12 opponents, George Moore [the sitting Tory Member] among them, and all having for a full week the circumstance to work upon of my being certain to come down first from the board of aldermen; with all their united efforts, the cry of party to aid them, they were only able to procure in the Commons 36 votes against me out of 120; in addition a great jealousy was excited there by the support of government.4

Although criticisms were still levelled against him and it was rumoured in 1829 that a bill would be introduced to redefine his status within the corporation, he quickly proved himself efficient in the execution of his judicial duties and dignified in his more ceremonial ones. According to Richard Sheil*, who thought him ‘a most discreet and emphatic orator’, he cut an imposing figure with ‘his solemnity of aspect; his full, large black and brilliant eye; his handsome countenance, overspread with an air of Evangelical as well as judicial solemnity; his grave judicial walk and his recorder emphasis on every word’.5

On the eve of the general election of 1830 Lord Francis Leveson Gower, the Irish secretary, was wary of being seen to endorse his candidacy for Dublin, although he of course preferred him to the sitting Whig Henry Grattan. The Wellington administration considered his being in Parliament incompatible with his tenure of the recordership and thought that the law might have to be altered to prevent his receiving an official salary. At the same time, some of his speeches were considered hostile to ministers and Leveson Gower privately contradicted his public claim that he had had no hand in a recent unpopular attempt to reform the corporation.6 In tandem with Moore, Shaw had the influence of the corporation and the leading guilds, but even among his natural supporters he had repeatedly to explain how he intended to arrange his judicial sittings around his periodic attendance in Parliament, a proposition which the liberal press found hard to accept.7 On the hustings, 4 Aug. 1830, when he emphasized his sympathies for the church and the constitution but called for lower taxation and the abolition of slavery, he insisted that he was eligible to sit in the Commons and that his legal duties would, if necessary, be given priority over his parliamentary activities. He was returned in second place, behind Moore, after a violent, week-long contest against Grattan, who failed to pursue a petition against him.8 According to one newspaper, this election cost him £10,000, as apparently did the two subsequent contests.9

As Lord Ellenborough recorded, Shaw made a speech before reading the Dublin corporation’s loyal address to William IV, 27 Oct. 1830, ‘a thing quite unprecedented and which might be inconvenient’.10 He was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, among ministers’ ‘friends’, although a query was marked against his name. He presented Dublin anti-slavery petitions, 4, 5 Nov., and denied that most inhabitants of the city favoured repeal of the Union, 9 Nov. But he was absent from the division on the civil list, 15 Nov., and from the debates on 20 and 23 Dec. 1830, when the O’Gorman Mahon and Hume raised complaints about his inability to fulfil either his judicial or his parliamentary duties. In an extensive rejoinder, 10 Feb. 1831, he showed that the record of his constant sittings since 1828, which he moved to be produced, was owing to the backlog of cases which had needed clearing, and argued that new ones could be dealt with at intensive sittings held at monthly intervals.11 He again attacked the O’Gorman Mahon, who had come off badly on the 10th, in relation to Dublin juries, 14 Feb., and the corporation, 17 Feb., when he accused his antagonist of deliberately attempting to provoke a row and disavowed the use of ‘this sort of Irish political pugilism’. He was obliged to return to Dublin later that month by the illness of his mother, who died on 28 Mar., but was again active in bringing up constituency petitions and making minor contributions to debate in the Commons by the middle of March.12 Stating that he would have voted for Catholic emancipation as accompanied by the franchise bill had he been in the House in 1829, he said that he favoured such moderate alterations as the enfranchisement of large towns, 22 Mar. 1831, when he condemned the Grey’s ministry’s reform bill for leading to the spoliation of the corporations and possible repeal of the Union, which he claimed that Daniel O’Connell*, acting with the ‘characteristic disingenuousness of our countrymen’, clearly intended. He voted against the second reading of the bill that night and presented the petition of the Dublin merchants’ guild against it the following day.

Shaw, who, as he made clear in his address, had been travelling back to London when he learnt of the sudden dissolution, offered as an anti-reformer at the general election of 1831. His having missed the crucial division on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment (on 19 Apr.) was useful ammunition for those who opposed his sitting while serving as recorder, on which subject he was again forced on to the defensive, not least because those who had originally secured him the post, Lord Anglesey and William Lamb* (Lord Melbourne), were now key members of the Grey ministry.13 Like Moore, for whom he plumped, he blamed his defeat at the hands of two reformers, after a bitter ten-day poll, on the creation of bogus freeholders and the direct interference of the Irish government.14 He declined to contribute to the cost of the ensuing election committee, but on its unseating the Members in August, he immediately offered again at the subsequent by-election.15 Nothing came of the bill, introduced by James Grattan, Member for Wicklow, 8 Aug., to prevent Irish recorders sitting in Parliament, or of Hume and O’Connell’s objections to the grant for the Dublin recorder’s salary, 31 Aug. Having persuaded the like-minded Lord Ingestre* to enter with him, Shaw gained widespread support among the high Tories and Protestants. By condemning the ministerial corruption prevalent at the general election, he managed to present himself in a moderate and independent light at the start of another severe contest, 18 Aug. 1831, from which he emerged a week later at the head of the poll.16

On 5 Sept. 1831, when an ultimately unsuccessful petition was entered against his return, Shaw took his seat and voted in the majority for John Benett’s amendment to the motion to issue the Liverpool writ alleging gross bribery at the previous election there. He brought up the first of a large number of Galway petitions relating to its franchise, 7 Sept., when he stated his opposition to reform and the disarming of the Irish yeomanry. He clashed with Henry Grattan, now Member for Meath, that day and again on the 9th, when he intervened against the ministerial plan for national education in Ireland. He divided for inquiry into how far the Sugar Refinery Act could be renewed with due regard to the interests of the West Indies and against going into committee on the truck bill, 12 Sept. He conceded the case for disfranchising government officials who held their posts during pleasure, 14 Sept., when he was brought up short by the Speaker on trying to justify his friends’ conduct at the Dublin by-election, but he reiterated that police magistrates were independent of the Castle, which provoked another quarrel with Grattan, 21 Sept. He described his own involvement with the Irish master of the rolls in his dispute with the Irish chancellor over judicial patronage, which became the subject of parliamentary investigation, 16 Sept. He voted against the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reintroduced reform bill, 21 Sept. 1831.

Shaw spoke in defence of the Protestant establishment on the address, 6 Dec., and, blaming the Irish government for yielding to the prevailing clamour over tithes as over much else, 15 Dec. 1831, he forecast that Ireland was ‘fast approaching some calamitous convulsion’. He objected to the loss of the freeman franchise, including in Dublin, 12 Dec., and voted against the second, 17 Dec. 1831, and third readings of the revised reform bill, 22 Mar. 1832. He was in the minorities for Hunt’s amendment to exempt Preston from the £10 householder qualification, 3 Feb., and Waldo Sibthorp’s relative to Lincoln freeholders, 23 Mar. In addition to numerous short contributions to debate and continuous activity on Dublin affairs, from early February he spoke frequently to attack the intimidation used to prevent the collection of Irish tithes, voting against government on the arrears bill on 9 Apr., and repeated ad nauseam his criticism of the national education plan, against which he presented innumerable petitions. He urged the inclusion of the reference to Providence in the preamble to the cholera bill, 15 Feb., and called for the adjournment of the House, 20 Mar., so as not to continue proceedings into the national fast day on the 21st. He supported the bill to give the Irish master of the rolls the power to appoint his own secretary, 22 Feb., and introduced the Irish court of chancery bill, 13 Apr., but both measures were put off that session. He was a minority teller against the Catholic marriages bill, 2 Apr., and the recommittal of the Irish registry of deeds bill, 9 Apr. Having praised Wellington’s attempt to form an administration, 18 May, he voiced fears about potential unrest in Ireland that day and on the 23rd. He spoke and voted against the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, when his prediction that revived Catholic fortunes under the reformed system would swiftly lead to the end of the Irish church and the Union plainly revealed him as an alarmist. (That he was not an extreme authoritarian was demonstrated by his support for restricting the use of the death penalty, 30 May, and showing leniency in a newspaper libel case, 31 May.) He clashed with the Grattans over the level of reform sentiment in Dublin, 1, 5 June, and brought up the corporation’s hostile petition, 25 June, when he opposed the idea of doubling the city’s representation since it would only give O’Connell the nomination of two more Members. He voted for Alexander Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 27 June. His attempt to make rent the basis of the £10 qualification was much criticized, 29 June, and his defence of the rights of Irish freemen brought him close to endorsing calls for repeal of the Union, 2 July, when he was teller for his own unsuccessful motion to preserve the rights of Irish freemen admitted since 30 Mar. the previous year (defeated 128-39). He intervened several more times on the details of the Irish bill, 2, 6 July, and again defended the existing freeman franchise, 3 Aug. 1832.

Denying that he was himself an Orangeman, he damned the Irish party processions bill as a flagrant injustice since it outlawed Protestant but not Catholic ceremonials, 14, 25 June 1832. He warned that he would oppose it clause by clause, 27, 28 June, and on the 29th Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, postponed it, conceding that it could not be passed in time for the Protestant marches in July. Shaw ruled out the introduction of poor laws as a means of dealing with distress in Ireland, 3 July. He was granted three weeks’ leave on urgent business, 9 July, and so was presumably absent during the debates on Hume’s failed bid to disqualify the recorder of Dublin from sitting in Parliament, 18, 24, 31 July. He spoke and voted against Sir John Burke’s amendment to the Irish tithes bill, 1 Aug., and for Thomas Lefroy’s against the retrospective character of the ecclesiastical courts bill, 3 Aug., and divided against going into committee on the Greek loan, 6 Aug. Furious to find the party processions bill revived when he was almost the only Irish Member still attending that session, he forced divisions against all its clauses, 8 Aug., when his constant apologies for having to abide by his self-imposed promise to obstruct its passage at every opportunity kept the chamber in fits of laughter. According to the junior minister Tom Macaulay*, who described Shaw as ‘an honest man enough, but a great fool and a bitter Protestant fanatic’:

We were all heartily pleased with these events. For the truth was that these 17 divisions occupied less time than a real hard debate on the bill would have occupied and were infinitely more amusing. The oddest part of the business is that Shaw’s frank good natured way of proceeding, absurd as it was, has made him popular. He was never so great a favourite with the House as after harassing it for two or three hours with the most frivolous and vexatious opposition. This is a curious trait of the character of the House of Commons.17

Justifying his conduct as a response to ministers’ apparent breach of faith about the bill, he announced he would give government no further trouble over it, 9 Aug. 1832.

Shaw was fully expected to stand for Dublin as a Conservative at the following general election, but he feared the popularity of the repealers; had he been able to pledge himself to vote against the Union, O’Connell would have been delighted to bring him in with a radical.18 To the regret of the corporation, who voted him an address of thanks for his parliamentary services, he therefore transferred his pretensions to Dublin University, where he was admitted to a degree (on the basis of his Oxford one) to qualify for the elective franchise. Thwarting the hopes of the more extreme and eccentric Evangelical James Edward Gordon*, with whom he had an angry exchange of letters, he was returned with Lefroy after a contest against two Liberals in December 1832.19 According to James Grant, who believed that he never fulfilled the expectations that his friends had held on his entering Parliament, Shaw was ‘a voluble speaker, cold and monotonous on ordinary topics, but violent, both in matter and manner, in the highest degree, when the clergy, the church or the Orangemen are attacked’.20 He was very influential during Lord Haddington’s brief period as lord lieutenant, 1834-5, which became known as the Shaw viceroyalty, and was the acknowledged leader of the Irish Conservatives in the Commons in the 1830s. He retired from the representation of the College in 1848 and from the recordership of Dublin a few weeks before his death in June 1876. His father’s baronetcy, which he had inherited from his elder brother in 1869, passed to his eldest son Robert (1821-95), who was a third cousin of the playwright George Bernard Shaw.21

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Hist. Irish Parl. vi. 263.
  • 2. R.L. Sheil, Sketches of Irish Bar (1854), ii. 358-60.
  • 3. Dublin Evening Post, 11, 22 Mar. 1828; Cal. Ancient Recs. Dublin, xviii. 255; PP (1835), xxvii. 112-113.
  • 4. Add. 40397, f. 423; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/31F, pp. 15-23, 27-30; PRO NI, Foster mss T2519/4/2167.
  • 5. Dublin Evening Post, 1 Apr. 1828, 5 May 1829; Sheil, ii. 360-1; New Monthly Mag. (1831), ii. 2.
  • 6. NAI, Leveson Gower letter bks. Leveson Gower to Gregory, 28 June, to Singleton, 11, 15, 30 July 1830.
  • 7. Dublin Evening Post, 1, 6, 13, 20, 27 July; Dublin Morning Post, 21, 23 July 1830.
  • 8. Dublin Evening Post, 5, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 9. Freeman’s Jnl. 7 May 1831; Oxford DNB.
  • 10. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 403.
  • 11. PP (1830-1), viii. 66-67.
  • 12. Dublin Evening Mail, 25 Feb. 1831.
  • 13. Ibid. 29 Apr., 4 May; Dublin Evening Post, 3 May 1831.
  • 14. Dublin Evening Post, 7, 19, 21 May 1831.
  • 15. Ibid. 12 Aug.; Wellington mss, Holmes to Arbuthnot, 9 Aug.; NLI, Farnham mss 18611 (2), Lefroy to Farnham, 9 Aug. 1831.
  • 16. Dublin Evening Mail, 15, 17, 19 Aug.; Dublin Evening Post, 20, 25, 27 Aug. 1831.
  • 17. Macaulay Letters, ii. 173-4.
  • 18. Dublin Evening Post, 18, 21 Aug., 1 Sept.; Warder, 6 Oct. 1832; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1921, 1929.
  • 19. Cal. Ancient Recs. Dublin, xix. 78-79; Dublin Evening Post, 15 Nov., 13, 20 Dec.; Warder, 1 Dec. 1832; J. Wolffe, Protestant Crusade in Great Britain, 75-76.
  • 20. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 151-2.
  • 21. The Times, 1, 3 July; Warder, 1, 8 July 1876; DNB; Oxford DNB.