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Chapter Fifteen

[Ireland 1800-1850 Copyright © 2001 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Melbourne’s Second Ministry II

(April 1835 to June 1841)

Summary. This period was often regarded as a golden age in Ireland. Agrarian crime had died down, and there was a reforming ministry which tried to remove ancient grievances and to introduce reforms. There were no great popular movements like that for Emancipation in the previous decade or that for Repeal in the following decade which raised tensions and produced strong reactions from Protestants. Railway construction was progressing and steam ships helped the economy. The population was growing rapidly and potato blight had never been heard of. A popular your princess became a popular young queen. The period was not without its problems. Stricter adhesion to religious duties in all the Christian denominations brought religious tensions.


Questions of education and of Orangeism

Economic Matters

O’Connell’s Associations

Other Irish Leaders

Queen Victoria

Irishmen in the Army in India

Ebrington as Lord Lieutenant   


Questions of education and of Orangeism           

After Emancipation, Thomas Wyse devoted himself to the question of how best to further improve Irish education, and this was to lead to more battles in the following decade. Some of his ideas, he claimed, were used by Stanley without acknowledgement in his National Education Act (1831). The Cork Institution for adult education or further studies had been set up at the beginning of the century. Sir John Newport, when he was briefly Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave it a small grant from public funds. The Institute was not a great success, but small grants from the Government were continued up until 1830. When they were discontinued, people in Cork began to think that they should have a proper college or even university in Cork, and Wyse supported them. A Parliamentary Committee under Wyse was set up, and reported, advising the establishment of four colleges in Ireland similar to the Belfast Academical Institute. (This Presbyterian college, like Maynooth, provided third-level courses below degree-level.) O'Connell concurred, but said he would prefer four colleges within a National University. (University College, London, and its rival, King's College, managed by the Anglican clergy, had just been joined to form the University of London. Presumably, it was from here O'Connell derived his idea.)  Nothing was done until Peel took up the proposal.

            The perennial question of the Orange Order came up again, and the Order took the lead in calling for an inquiry into its affairs. As with the finances of the Established Church people supplied for the dearth of hard facts from their own imaginations. The Orange Order was not centrally directed, and the Grand Lodges of Ireland and England did little but provide prestige and some co-ordination. The Order had been nominally suppressed in 1829 and nominally revived when the Suppression Act (1829) elapsed. But local lodges could always continue, perhaps by changing their name. A Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on Orangeism was set up but it reported nothing that was not well known: that where yeomanry units survived they were composed of Orangemen, that some Orangemen took part in faction fights with Ribbonmen along the borders of Ulster, and that some lodges had been set up in the armed forces. The Duke of Cumberland, the English Grand Master, said that these latter had been formed without his knowledge. The king expressed the wish that the Order be disbanded, and the Grand Lodge of Ireland loyally disbanded itself. The Grand Lodge of Armagh then claimed the right of leadership and direction. In view of the continuing murders of Protestants in southern Ireland it is not surprising that violence came to the Orange parades in Belfast, and from this time dates the attacks on Catholic lives and property. The Government continued to regard Orange parades as provocative and they were often banned. [Top] 

Economic Matters         

The growth of the Irish economy continued in the commercial sector, and the population continued to grow in both the commercial and subsistence sectors. Irish joint-stock banks were now well established, and successfully survived a banking crisis in 1836. Attempts were made to start runs on the banks. The Bank of Ireland and the joint-stock banks imported £1.2 million in gold and silver to meet the demand. The assistance of the Bank of Ireland was given chiefly to the smaller banks like the Belfast and Ulster banks. The Agricultural Bank failed but all the others survived. O’Connell commended the work of the Bank of Ireland to maintain credit (SNL 23 Nov. 1836). A Treasury Minute of 15 Nov 1836 declared Bank of England notes to be legal tender in Ireland. This meant that the Bank of Ireland would longer have to import bullion to maintain reserves.  The newspapers commented on the prosperous state of the Irish economy.

 The economic development of Ireland in the pre-Famine period closely resembled that of the United States. The latter was slightly larger, having reached a population of 8 million by 1815, while Ireland reached that figure by 1835. Turnpike roads, canals and waterways, steamships, and railways were being developed. Towns, trade, and the banking system were being expanded rapidly. The population was expanding rapidly onto the marginal soils in the older colonies. There was a large, depressed underclass, mostly slaves. The United States had however two major advantages. The first was that no section of the population was almost totally dependent on a single crop. The other was that there was an almost unlimited supply of land it could expand into.

            Steam packets on the Irish Sea preferred the commodious and deep artificial harbour at Kingstown to the smaller and shallower harbour at Howth. Several steam packet companies were formed, the most famous of which was the British and Irish Steam Packet Company (B and I). The opening of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway in 1830 was followed by the building a line to London, and the through route from London to Liverpool was ready in 1837. After 1837 traffic between London and Dublin switched to the Liverpool route. Work was begun in 1844 on a line linking Chester with Holyhead, Chester being connected at Crewe with the Grand Junction Railway which was itself connected to the London to Birmingham line. These latter two joined to form the London and North Western Railway in 1846. The engineering achievements on it matched those on Telford's road. The engineer, Robert Stephenson, designed a tubular bridge called the Britannia Bridge, to carry the tracks across the Menai Straits. Suspension bridges had proved too flexible for railways. When the line (purchased by the London and North Western Railway Company in 1859) was opened in 1850 a flood of traffic flowed along its tracks until reduced to a trickle in 1921. For various reasons steam propulsion by sea had a far great effect on the Irish economy, than steam propulsion by land. The principal reason was that almost all the major Irish towns were seaports.

            Sir Henry Parnell's great Holyhead Road was hardly opened for five years, and public and private money spent on canals was still unrecouped, when a new factor came on the scene. This was the possibility of applying the power of steam to rail travel. The total tonnage carried on Irish canals in 1837 was about 600,000 tons. The railways were to transform every country in western Europe and also the United States, and became closely bound with the social and political fabric of the countries concerned up until the Second World War. A dramatic illustration of what was to come was shown on the tiny Dublin to Kingstown Railway almost as soon as it was open. A newsagent chartered a special train to rush the news of Peel's first speeches as Prime Minister in 1835 from the boat to the printing presses in Dublin. Until the coming of the electric telegraph in the 1850's along side the railway tracks, tidings, good or bad, from abroad came along these tracks. A few years earlier, in 1828, the newsagents had relied on post chaises to bring news from Clare.

In 1835, ten years after the matter was originally raised, practical proposals for railways were again put forward. That Dublin should be linked with Belfast seemed obvious, though the completion of the full hundred-mile route was not considered feasible as a single contract. Two companies were formed, one to build a railway southward from Belfast, and the other to build one northward from Dublin. When these were underway, a third company would be formed to link them by overcoming the formidable obstacles between Drogheda and Portadown. The northern line, or Ulster Railway, got its Act through Parliament in 1836, just in time to proudly date its origin from the reign of William IV. It had seven miles of track working by 1839 and twenty six miles, from Belfast to Portadown, working by 1842. Two rival companies were bidding for the line between Dublin and Drogheda, and Parliament finally decided on the proposed coastal route.

The first meeting of the projectors of the Dublin to Drogheda line met in October 1835, and William Cubitt the builder was appointed engineer. O’Connell was the chairman of the parliamentary committee set up to examine the proposal. Sheil was also a member of the committee that was largely composed of Irish members. The line along the coast was chosen because it ran through populated areas. The highest summit was only 82 feet compared with 255 feet for a more inland route. Surveying of the proposed coastal line commenced in 1836. Because of delays in starting, largely caused by the rival projectors, the track of the Dublin to Drogheda Railway did not cover the twenty-nine miles to Drogheda until 1844. By 1842 there were thirteen and a half miles of track, including the six of the Dublin to Kingstown railway. An Institute of Irish Civil Engineers was established in 1835, and a Chair of Engineering was established in Trinity College, Dublin in 1842.

            As soon as the proposals for railways began to be put forward several questions of public policy arose. Ireland had no Board of Trade, so a Board of Commissioners of Railways was established to regulate railway affairs and to inspect, and pass or reject, new stretches of track. The first three railways adopted three different gauges, and the (possibly apocryphal) story is told that the Commissioners settled on a national gauge for railways by adding the gauges together and dividing by three. The Irish gauge became and remained 5 feet 3 inches. The newly independent kingdom of Belgium had made railways a virtual state monopoly, involving itself directly in the construction of railways and determining which cities should be linked to which. (The example of Catholic Belgium, whose area did not exceed that of Munster, breaking away from a Protestant king, establishing a Catholic system of education, and using the power of the state to promote economic development, had a powerful influence on Catholic Repealers, especially among the clergy.)

             The Government required the Railway Commission to study the present state of the Irish economy, to make projections of possible future developments, and, if possible, to safeguard past investments such as that in the canals, to avoid duplication of investment such as would be occurred by constructing parallel lines, and in general to provide information for Parliamentary Committees on railway Bills. The Commission thoroughly studied investment prospects in Ireland and reported that both central Ireland and Ulster were sufficiently provided with canals. But if a trunk railway were constructed south-westward from Dublin branches could be run off from it to all the major towns in the south. Similarly, if a trunk line were run in a north-westerly direction, all those parts not covered by the Leinster or Ulster canals could be most economically developed. The Government hesitated a long time before rejecting the proposals in the Report of the Inquiry Commission, and concluded that development should be left to free enterprise and market forces. In 1839, before finally abandoning the Report it proposed to provide the sum of two and a half million pounds towards their construction but withdrew the proposal when it seemed likely to be defeated in Parliament on the issue.

            Trade Union violence, especially in Dublin, became a major source of concern in the 1830's. There was a major outbreak of trade union violence in Dublin. As with the related agrarian violence it is virtually impossible to identify who was responsible. In 1833 and again in 1838 the Lord Mayor of Dublin called public meetings to see what could be done to eliminate the problem. Like Bristol, Dublin was falling behind places like Liverpool as a manufacturing and commercial centre and notably behind Tyneside as a shipbuilding centre. Even worse, it was beginning to fall behind Belfast. The violence certainly had no official connection with the Trades Political Union and O'Connell was rather inclined to blame Orange or Protestant trade unionists. (He may have been right. On the other hand the links between agrarian terrorism and violent trade unionism would need to be studied. Country workers were always coming to Dublin looking for work.) The Trades Political Union was not a Trade Union Congress: it dealt purely with political affairs. Archbishop Murray too wrote a pastoral letter to the working tradesmen in his diocese warning them against illegal activities, and telling them that restitution must be made if they injured others.

            O’Connell called a meeting in the Corn Exchange to discuss the outrages with the official trade unions. He was outspoken in his attack on the use of violence. The demands of the journeymen were that the number of apprentices taken on should be limited, that all journeymen should be paid the same wage, and that the workmen had the right to decide who was employed or not employed. There were two issues here: one the right of journeymen to impose conditions on the masters, and the other the use of violence to enforce trade union rules on other workmen. Amid scenes of great excitement, various trade unionists denied that O’Connell had any right to interfere. Conway of the Post considered that those who openly opposed O’Connell were of the Orange faction. The majority of skilled tradesmen in Dublin at this time were probably Protestants. O’Connell pointed out that while it was legal for tradesmen to combine for a common objective, the use of violence to attain their ends was illegal. Another point he criticised was that the various trades could create monopolies for themselves by excluding from their ranks those they did not like or who disagreed with them. Unlike Lawless he had little feel for the concerns of the common man.

The Irish Municipal Reform Act (1840) removed all powers to regulate trade from the trade guilds and from the city Corporations. Whether for this or for other reasons trade union violence died out. This Act applied to about ten cities and corporate towns. Masters no longer had rights to determine the conditions of their trade, so most towns were placed in the same position as the open countryside. For centuries, as the countryside had become more peaceful, and the use of waterpower spread, the builders of factories had in any case been moving outside the towns. The era of the regulation of trade by the guilds of masters had come to an end. But in the 1830’s the issues were still between the masters of the guilds and their journeymen in the old skilled trades, and not between factory owners and factory workers. The print workers rather than the linen workers were now the most radical. Though unions were legal, agreements they made could be construed by the courts as being in restraint of trade as so unenforceable. Also, if criminal acts were committed in the course of a strike, the other members were likely to be charged with criminal conspiracy. Trade Union law was not changed until 1875. Nor were the feudal relations of masters and servants abolished until the Shop Acts of the 1880s. [Top]    

O’Connell’s Associations 

O'Connell, after 1835, had little alternative but to support the Whigs. Even if he could put them out he could only put in Peel. With the fiasco of the Repeal debate, he lost credibility, and from 1835 to 1841 (the so-called  'Drummond era') was the heyday of the moderate Catholic Whigs, often former 'Vetoists'. The Whig Government was friendly to the Catholics and was plainly trying to do its best for them. Whenever possible the Whigs appointed Catholic MPs. Richard More O'Ferrall became a junior Lord of the Treasury until 1839, when he became Secretary of the Admiralty. Thomas Wyse then succeeded to the former post. O’Loghlen, Woulfe, and Ball were made law officers and then judges. Lord Killeen, now Earl of Fingall, became a lord-in-waiting to the young queen, and escorted her on horseback when she went riding. He and Sir Patrick Bellew were Lords Lieutenant of their counties. Sheil had to wait until 1837 before getting a post, a minor one as a commissioner for Greenwich Hospital (for military invalids), but the following year he was made Vice-president of the Board of Trade. One by one, even O'Connell's own relatives applied for and accepted Government posts such as assistant barristers.

O'Connell himself was extremely anxious to get an important public office, but the fact that Melbourne (and most of the aristocracy) regarded O’Connell as vulgar did not help his ambitions for high public office. O'Connell did nothing to help himself in this. During Melbourne's second ministry, his influence in Ireland was constantly declining, and any wish to conciliate him declined. On the fall of Peel’s ministry in April 1835 O’Connell dissolved the Anti-Tory Association, and formed the Franchise Association, ostensibly to register voters. What he achieved in his parliamentary career was minimal, for he was always in opposition. But it is impossible to write about this period without constantly mentioning him. He was always news. Gavan Duffy noted the fanatical support he had from the ordinary people through every change, right or wrong. But he was also losing much support. This was partly because of his caustic tongue, but also because he was unable to work with equals or men of ability. He just wanted obedient followers (Duffy). . Melbourne’s Coercion Act expired on 1 August 1835.

At a meeting of the Franchise Association in May 1835, he decided to turn his broad humour on a young Tory candidate of Jewish origin called Benjamin D’Israeli, who had stood in Taunton but was defeated. Disraeli (as he is better known) had stood as a candidate in High Wycombe (Bucks) in 1832 and had written to O’Connell for assistance, and O’Connell replied favourably. Disraeli then used the letter on his placards. By 1835 Disraeli had moved towards the Tories and attacked O’Connell in a speech. According to the report in the Pilot  (4 May 1835) O’Connell recounted how he had assisted in the Radical interest the young novelist personally unknown to himself in High Wycombe, but he had since moved to the Tories. ‘He has falsehood enough, depravity enough, and selfishness enough to become the fitting leader of the conservatives’. He denied that he was opposed to Jews as such for there were many good Jews. ‘They were once the Chosen People of God. There were miscreants among them however also, and it must have been from one of those that D’Israeli was descended (roars of laughter). He possesses just the qualities of the impenitent thief who died on the cross whose name I verily believe must have been D’Israeli (roars of laughter). For aught I know the present D’Israeli is descended from him, and with the impression that he is, I now forgive the heir-at-law of the blasphemous thief who died on the cross’. Disraeli was eventually elected for Maidstone in Kent in the General Election in 1837. During his first speech, he was mercilessly drowned out by O’Connell’s supporters. Only Sheil sympathised with him and advised him to persevere and the House would eventually listen to him. And so it proved.

In May 1836 O’Connell was finally unseated on petition following the General Election in 1835, but a seat was vacated for him in Kilkenny and he was immediately returned to Parliament. (With regard to this election Conway of the Post recommended to one of the candidates that he should stand in Texas and drive out Santa Anna. An account of the battle of the Alamo on 6 March was copied from the New Orleans Bulletin of the 1 May and the news, by fast packet, had reached Dublin by 17 May DEP 17 May 1836).

He founded the National or General Association for good purposes in July. Few attended the first meetings, but these included the indefatigable Lawless. The Government did not object to it but it was too innocuous to last. O'Connell liked excitement. No Tribute had been organised in 1836. He needed the Rent if he was to keep himself at all in the forefront of politics. It was estimated that he spent £100,000 defending himself during the election petition against him. This enabled him to keep the system of Rent-collectors at least intact. Without a burning issue before the public, the Rent was inclined to fall off.

It was during this period that O'Connell was accused of taking a £2,000 bribe from Mr. Raphael who personally had no doubt who the money was for, and another of £1,000 from the Manchester mill owners to oppose a factory Act. However, as O’Connell pointed out, a candidate would normally spend £2,000 in a contested borough election. He took an active part in promoting Irish railway ventures and was able to render great services to the promoting companies. One is free to speculate if money changed hands, and the Young Irelanders were convinced that both O'Connell and the members of his 'Tail' freely took advantage of opportunities to enrich themselves. The money from the Rent was kept in an account in O’Connell’s name and was used by him alone. It was never audited, a fact to which Peter Purcell, the coach proprietor, objected. The Rent was managed by a man called Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick who got a percentage of the receipts (Duffy).

 This General Association was so innocuous the Archbishop Murray and Archbishop Crolly felt they could join. It ceased to meet in 1837 after Victoria ascended the throne, and was dissolved in October of that year. A year later in October 1838 O'Connell formed the Precursor Society (named after John the Baptist, but not everyone saw the point.) with the proclaimed aim of seeking reforms, or failing that, another Association to seek Repeal would be formed. In 1839 he wound up the Precursor Society and started an Electoral Reform Society with the avowed intention of re-starting the Repeal campaign if further electoral reform was not conceded. Two Bills were brought in on the subject, one of them by Lord Stanley, but neither was passed. In April 1840, O’Connell was calling his association the Loyal National Repeal Association, giving as his reason that the Irish franchise was more restricted than that in England.

MacHale joined the Repeal Association. Murray continued to subscribe to it, though never attending meetings. Though inclined to support O’Connell as a great Catholic champion, Murray was doubtful if Repeal would ever be conceded.  MacHale was given a sharp rebuke by Rome, which said that it had been reported to it that he was taking part in political meetings, and desired him to take no part whatever in them. Apart from the advantages that would accrue to the Irish Catholic clergy if a Catholic parliament were established in Dublin, the Catholic clergy had another reason for taking part in politics. Since the overthrow of Charles X in France, and the expulsion of foreign monks, a strong anti-clerical movement was growing up in Catholic countries. The Liberals as they were called, saw the Church as closely involved with monarchy, aristocracy, and reaction. Dr Paul Cullen, at this time in Rome, saw a need for the clergy to become involved in popular movements, lest the anti-clerical Liberals should take charge. (Liberalism on the Continent was very different from that in England, and papal condemnations of it did not apply in the United Kingdom.)

The Protestants established a rival association called the Protestant Association of Ireland. Its aims were to disseminate Protestant literature, to register Protestant electors, to help persecuted Protestants who were numerous in the south of Ireland, to establish Protestants on farms and in businesses by means of a loan fund, and to use every legal means to encourage Protestant tradesmen and servants (SNL 2 Aug 1836). In July 1836 the Government and the police successfully prevented Orange demonstrations under a temporary Party Processions Act (1836). Various other restrictions, such as the sale of spirituous drinks to members, were placed on the Orange Order but it was not suppressed. The Grand Lodge, or controlling lodge of the Order dissolved itself. The County Armagh Grand Lodge, as mentioned above, then claimed primacy and leadership over the other lodges. Doubtless, in this way the provisions of the Convention Act were avoided. There was always confusion between Protestant Associations and strictly Orange Associations, and between Protestant religious associations and Protestant political associations. Morpeth increased the number of stipendiary magistrates especially in northern counties to act as a check on local magistrates with Orange sympathies. The Orange faction called them ‘spypendiary magistrates’ (Dublin Evening Mail 11 Aug., 3 Sept. 1845). Parliament was prorogued on 20 August 1836. [Top] 

Other Irish Leaders        

Feargus O'Connor had now left Ireland altogether, and was seeking radical reform after the manner set out in the 'People's Charter'. Feargus O’Connor published his ‘People’s Charter’ but as it was opposed by O’Connell and the Political Trade Union it received little support in Ireland. The main objection of the Trades’ Union was that O’Connor seemed too ready to resort to arms. It has often been noted that five out of the six major demands of the Chartists were eventually conceded, the exception being annual elections to Parliament. The six points were universal male suffrage, secret ballots, equal electoral districts, no property qualification for MPs, payment of MPs and annual elections. O'Connor, and his leading Chartist associate, another Irishman named Bronterre O'Brien, were somewhat ambiguous with regard to the use of 'physical force'. There was one thing on which O'Connell never wavered and that was his opposition to the use of force. O’Connor wrote a violent pamphlet against O’Connell saying he was a ‘monster of selfishness, hypocrisy, and malice’. He denounced his ‘shiftings, shufflings, gross falsehoods, brutal insolence, mercenary greediness, and utter baseness of this vile and noxious intriguer’. He claimed he was never in earnest about Repeal, and just used the issue to draw attention to himself (SNL 5 Dec 1836 citing the London Times). O’Connor’s point was that O’Connell should back either the democratic proposals contained in the Charter to get benefits for the Irish people, or wholeheartedly and sincerely seek Repeal for the same end. Many of those who supported O’Connell, like Archbishop Murray and Frederick Conway, were well aware of his numerous personal shortcomings. So it is surprising that the high-minded young writers of Young Ireland who supported him almost to the point of idolatry a decade later were apparently blind to his failings. O’Connell’s brand of politics was precisely what they wished to purge from Ireland. (American historians can debate whether Tammany Hall was derived more from O’Connell or from Young Ireland. But O’Connell would never have tolerated murder and violence.) 

            William Sharman Crawford, the Radical landlord from county Down made several attempts to bring forward legislation on points he was interested in but got little support. He was a son of William Sharman, an MP in the Irish Parliament, and he took the additional surname of Crawford when he married an heiress. He had been a supporter of Emancipation. About 1830, he began putting forward theories that the tenant should be given some compensation for the improvements he made in the course of his tenancy. In Ireland, the tenant not the landlord was responsible for such matters as fencing, draining, and the construction of buildings. In Ulster, customs which varied from district to district had grown up and had been tolerated by the landlords: that an incoming tenant was bound to pay something to the outgoing tenant as a payment for such improvements like draining or fencing he had done, or for other reasons. He wished to have this practice extended to the whole of Ireland and enforced by statute. There were great difficulties in establishing a legal basis for it. There was no problem so long as it was just custom enforced by public opinion. But could a statute be passed which permitted an affluent tenant to make vast improvements and then force his (possibly) bankrupt landlord to compensate him or else renew the lease? Crawford introduced Bills on the subject in 1835 and 1836 but they never reached the Second Reading. He advocated ideas on a federal constitution for the United Kingdom but did not press for them for the moment. He adopted the principles of the Chartists and did not consider them impracticable. He usually differed from O'Connell on any point. But if O'Connell could not work with an Ulster liberal landlord like Crawford there was no hope of him working with the Tories. Typically, when he attended one of O’Connell’s meetings to offer his assistance, O’Connell jested about him all the time.  The Presbyterian leader, the Rev. Henry Cooke was not impressed and told him so. Cooke later challenged O’Connell to an open debate on the question, conducted fairly, and not just ranting before groups of his own followers in Munster. Lord Cloncurry made an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile O’Connell and Crawford in October 1836.

In the same month O’Connell’s wife died. The Earl of Fingall died on 30 July 1836 and was succeeded in the title by his son Lord Killeen. The stamp duty on copies of newspapers was reduced in September from 2 pence to one penny, the price of the newspapers being reduced accordingly. A decision in the Court of Exchequer on 1 Dec. 1836 discharged a defendant under a writ of rebellion without costs by saying that his appearance in the court purged contempt without reference to the original charge. This allowed the defendant to file his answers very late in the session, thus forcing the clergyman to bring the action again in the following session at his own cost (DEP 1 Dec. 1836). 

            Parliament re-opened after Christmas on 31 January 1837. January was marked by a series of great Protestant meetings. Marcus Costello presided at meeting of the General Association in January. The Trades Political Union continued to meet. The Government prepared its Poor Law Bill on the lines proposed by Nichols. The Corporations Bill and Church Bill were re-introduced. [Top] 

Queen Victoria 

[1837] On 24 May 1837 the Princess Victoria reached the age of eighteen which meant that if her uncle the king died there would not be a regency. Buckingham Palace was nearly ready for occupation. The Princess Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent who was also Countess of Dublin, agreed to be a patron of the bazaar held in the Rotunda in aid of the Sisters of Charity. The Countess Mulgrave and the Countess of Fingall were also patrons. The Duchess of Kent and the Princess Victoria promised some small articles of their own handiwork for the sale. The church of the Trappist or Cistercian Abbey of Mount Melleray was nearing completion, and Saunders’ Newsletter, which was not bigoted, carried a description of a visit to the monastery. Sir Francis Burdett joined the anti-popery faction because he could not stand O’Connell.

             On 20 June 1837, William IV died and the new queen was instructed in her duties by the aged Lord Melbourne. As a woman she was excluded from the throne of Hanover, which passed to her uncle, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. On 17 July 1837 Parliament was dissolved and, according to custom, the queen summoned a new Parliament, and a general election was called.

Like her uncle, George IV, the queen was, all her life, very fond of Ireland and the Irish. O'Connell was a devoted royalist, and once again, one feels that Melbourne let slip a precious opportunity. A Governor Generalship, if not of India, then perhaps of Canada or Australia, accompanied by a peerage bestowed by the young queen would surely have been accepted by him. Melbourne however regarded him as a very vulgar person (SNL 14 Oct 1837 citing the London Times).

            Victoria was a fierce Whig and she was anxious that the Whigs should win the general election. She detested the Tories, especially Peel, and Melbourne had to explain to her the constitutional propriety of being on speaking terms with the leader of the Opposition with whom she might have to work. He also reassured her that the party that had been supported by any of her predecessors never lost an election. The Tories made considerable gains in England, but in Ireland still had only about thirty seats. (In 1841 the Tories won despite the queen’s opposition; with the reform of Parliament, the scope of the incumbent Prime Minister to influence the outcome of elections had virtually come to an end.) In 1837, O'Connell was returned for Dublin, Sheil for Tipperary, Wyse for Waterford, Ball for Clonmel, and Richard Montesquieu Bellew for Louth. Kilkenny borough put up two candidates on the Whig side, O'Connell and the Radical, Joseph Hume. Voting was kept slow until it was clear that O'Connell would win in Dublin, and was then switched to Hume who was returned. Hume was also standing in Westminster. Jack Lawless went to assist him, and died suddenly from a hernia during the election. Hume was defeated in the normally radical county of Middlesex but sat for Kilkenny. In Kerry, the Tories took two out of the three seats.

The prospectus was issued by the company that intended building the junction railway from Drogheda to Portadown. John MacNeill was named engineer in charge with William Cubitt as consulting engineer.  

            On the 20 November 1837, Victoria opened her first Parliament and the brief initial session closed on 23 December. The main business was not begun until after Christmas, when Parliament re-convened on 16 January 1838. The Irish Tithe Bill, the Irish Poor Law Bill, and the Irish Municipal Reform Act were introduced again, not having passed all their stages when the king died. As already noted the Tithe Bill was finally passed without the appropriation clause, on terms that could have been obtained five years earlier. The Poor Law Act was passed on the lines decided by the Government, but the Corporations Bill did not pass until 1840. The queen was crowned on 28 June 1838 and Michael O’Loughlen was made a baronet in the coronation list. In this session of Parliament the Tithes Act and the Poor Law Act were passed, but the Commons rejected the amendments of the Lords to the Corporations Bill. Parliament rose on 16 August, after sitting for 176 days. The Government commenced organising the poor law unions. Though the poor law came into operation in 1839, the workhouses were not ready until 1840. On 28 August 1838 O’Connell started the Precursor Society. 

MacHale, Dr. Mant of Down, and Dr. Cooke continued their attacks on the National Board of Education. MacHale had the odd habit of dating his letters to Lord John Russell and others by the current saint’s day, such as the Feast of St. Gregory or the Feast of St. Celsus, and signing himself provocatively as John Tuam. The implication was that the bishop of the Established Church had no right to the title. The correct legal title of a Catholic bishop was Mister, but normally they were called doctors by courtesy, though few of them had academic degrees even from continental universities. Archbishop Murray published a letter to the Catholics of Ireland in the Dublin Evening Post defending his position as a commissioner for National Education (DEP 23 Oct 1838). He refuted MacHale’s objections in detail. MacHale replied, and the correspondence between them was published in various newspapers. Murray noted that MacHale never approached him directly regarding any difficulties he had with the system.            

[1838] The great Temperance Crusade, preached by the Capuchin friar, Fr Theobald Mathew, commenced in 1838. The Temperance Movement, which was actually a Total Abstinence Movement, began in America about 1830, and was soon introduced into Ireland by some Quakers. A great deal of the terrible poverty in Ireland as well as neglect of family life and the education and training of children was caused by the easy availability and abuse of alcohol, not to mention adulterated spirits.  (In those days common items like tea and flour and alcohol were normally adulterated.) Some attempts were made to form local societies, but the movement met with little success until Fr. Mathew began to preach in 1838. On the 10 April 1838 he took the pledge, saying the words ‘Here goes, in the name of the Lord’. The Irish bishops were somewhat sceptical about it, but Mathew saw his crusade as a work of the Holy Spirit. Thousands, and then millions, took the pledge never to drink alcohol again in their lives. Temperance bands were formed and temperance parades became a feature of Irish life. O'Connell saw the benefits of sobriety in an independent Ireland and wished to harness the Temperance Movement with the Repeal Movement. But Fr Mathew refused to become involved in political matters. During the Famine, the Movement gradually collapsed, and by 1850 was only a shadow of its former self. Though Fr. Mathew’s spectacular temperance crusade is the best known, yet the temperance movement was largely a Protestant movement. In general, the Catholic clergy were opposed to total abstinence, while many Protestants considered drinking alcohol in any circumstances an evil. 

In 1832 a young English Benedictine priest called William Bernard Ullathorne went to work in Australia, and was appointed an official Catholic chaplain by the Government. He made a study of the penal system, for Australia was then a penal colony. On his return to the United Kingdom in 1836 he was asked by Thomas Drummond to publish his report which he called ‘The Horrors of Transportation’, the Irish Government paying the costs of printing. In 1838 he returned to Australia, taking with him several Irish Sisters of Charity to establish a convent in Sydney. They arrived in January 1839, where Ullathorne paid a special tribute to the assistance he had received from Archbishop Murray (Ullathorne, DNB). It was one of Drummond’s aims to end the custom of holding Irish prisoners sentenced to transportation in the insalubrious hulks of warships and to lodge them in more sanitary conditions in prisons on shore (DEP 17 Oct 1839). 

Brunel’s Great Western crossed the Atlantic from east to west inaugurating the era of the great transatlantic liners. (The first ship actually to cross the Atlantic against the prevailing winds was the Sirius, which sailed from Cork and arrived several hours ahead of the Great Western. But it was merely a demonstration, and was never intended to cross the Atlantic regularly.) Steamships reduced the time for crossing the Atlantic to fourteen days. Letters could reach Dublin from London in 22 hours by rail and steam packet. By the end of 1838 Parliament had approved the construction of nine Irish railways, some of them very short.            

Robert Owen lectured in Ireland and his ideas were received with considerable interest as a way of relieving poverty. He convinced clergymen that factories need not be synonymous with sin! One or two 'utopian communes' run on paternalistic lines by landlords were started, the most famous at Rahaline, co Cork, but like most of the utopian ventures of the period in America they failed. But a workers' co-operative was not the same thing, and the peasants were used to the idea in the rundale system of land-tenure. [Top] 

Irishmen in the Army in India      

War had broken out on the North West Frontier of India. The British Army was filled with Irishmen and there was no criticism of the British advance into Afghanistan to forestall the Russians. The general in charge of the advance was an Irishman named Sir John Keane (Lord Keane) of Waterford, and the victories of the British Army were noted with satisfaction. Keane was born in Waterford in 1781 and had fought in the Peninsula and in the American War. In 1833 he was made commander-in-chief in India and held that post until 1839. In 1838, a Persian army besieged Herat in western Afghanistan, so in October 1838 a British army was assembled on the Indus under Keane. He was told to advance into Afghanistan and replace the ruler with one more favourable to the British.  Keane had accomplished his mission and withdrawn the bulk of his forces back to Lahore before the disaster at the Khyber Pass in 1841.

            Sir Charles Napier was sent out to take command and in 1841 planned the second advance into Afghanistan. His father had been Lord Carhampton's chief field engineer in Ireland, and had been appointed by Cornwallis as Comptroller of Irish Army accounts. These were in a chaotic state but he reduced them to order. Insurgents unsuccessfully besieged the family house at Celbridge, co. Kildare in 1798 when Charles was sixteen. His earliest military service was with the army in Ireland. He was sent to India in 1841 to stabilise the North West Frontier which was very restless following the destruction of part of the British army on the retreat from Kabul. He captured Scinde, which led to the famous joke in Punch (Peccavi - I have sinned) which did less than justice to a complex situation. In 1843 the 22nd foot, nearly all Irish, under General Sir John Pennefather, was the only European force at the victory of Miani. Pennefather was the son of a clergyman in Tipperary. He later fought at the battle of Inkerman.

In 1843 another Irishman, Viscount Hugh Gough, a Limerickman, was appointed commander-in-chief in India and defeated a Mahratta Army at Agra in 1843 during a dispute over the succession to the throne of Gwalior. He had fought with the Irish regiment, the 87th foot (the Faughs) at Talavera. After the Peninsular War, he had retired to his estates in Tipperary. He was sent to capture the forts at Canton in 1841, before going to India.  In 1845, he had to defend British India against an invasion of the Sikhs from the Punjab. The strong Irish connection with India begun by the Wellesley brothers and Lord Moira was being maintained.

            These generals had learned their craft under Wellington, and he had learned his craft in India. Wellington had become commander-in-chief of the army in 1827 on the death of the duke of York, but had to give up the command when he became Prime Minister. He became commander-in-chief again in 1842 but was then too conservative for the post. He resisted all reforms as long as possible, and the poor state of the army that was sent to the Crimea in 1854 must to a considerable extent be attributed to him.

            All Irishmen supported these Irish forces abroad and believed in the rightness of their cause. Most believed, as was the common belief at the time, that the people of India could be governed either by the British, or by the French, or by their own appalling war-lords. They had no other choice. O'Connell wished that the Irish regiments would be gathered into an Irish Army to fight under its own flag for the young queen. (The Canadians also insisted on this in 1914.) In the following decade, with the rise of Young Ireland, a division of opinion with regards to the army in India and elsewhere arose. Protestants and loyalists (in both northern and southern Ireland) continued to give the army their unquestioning support up to the Second World War. With the Young Irelanders, the fact that the Sikhs were fighting the 'British' Army showed that they were fighting for their freedom. ('My enemy's enemy is my friend'.) 

            [1839] On 6 January 1839, there occurred a storm known as ‘The Night of the Great Wind’. This night was to become famous seventy years later when applicants for the new old age pension were allowed to testify that they remembered it in order to qualify themselves. In theory, complete registers of births and baptisms were kept in the parishes, but Catholic records tended to be scanty. The Foster estate at Collon, now called Oriel Temple, and owned by Lord Ferrard, famous for its trees, suffered very badly. [Top] 

Ebrington as Lord Lieutenant 

Viscount Ebrington (Hugh Fortescue, later 2nd Earl Fortescue) succeeded Normanby in February 1839. The latter was transferred to the Colonial office where Lord Glenelg (Charles Grant) had been blamed for mishandling the rebellion in Canada. Sittings of Parliament resumed on 5 February 1839, and the Bill to reform the Irish Corporations was again introduced. Questions began to be raised regarding the repeal of the Corn Laws. There was revival of agrarian terrorism in various parts of Ireland. This undermined the argument of the Whigs that concessions to the Catholics would produce peace, and strengthened the hands of the Tories. A Select Committee of the House of Lords was set up to examine the question. Ebrington arrived on 3rd April 1839. Ebrington was hastily raised to the peerage in his own right as Baron Fortescue, the viscounty being one of his father’s titles. There was a brief scare, in which the hopes of the Tories rose, when Melbourne resigned on 7th May 1839. But the queen refused to accept Peel's request that the ladies of the bedchamber include some Tories. When Sheil accepted office as Vice-president of the Board of Trade he stood for re-election in Tipperary and was returned. Joseph Hume brought forward a motion not to renew the charter of the Bank of Ireland that would place all the Irish banks on an equal footing, but this was defeated. Parliament rose on 27th August 1839, the Corporations Bill still not passed. Saunders’ Newsletter reported the recent discoveries in France and England that led to the development of photography. In September 1839 O’Connell wound up the Precursor Society and returned to his old tactic of demanding Repeal. He had to work for the moment through the Trades Political Union. But paradoxically there was hope for O'Connell on the horizon; the Tory vote in Ireland was beginning to strengthen. 

[1840] Parliament re-assembled on 16 January 1840. On the 6th May Rowland Hill’s private plan to adopt the experiment of a universal penny post with pre-paid adhesive stamps, came into operation. Though the Government was opposed, though Spring Rice had expressed some interest, he was powerfully assisted by some members of Parliament including O’Connell. The latter said that the cost for an Irishman to send a letter to Ireland and get a reply was more than a fifth of his weekly wage. The Government was forced by their backbenchers to introduce a Bill. The Lords, led by the Duke of Wellington, did not oppose the legislation. In the Commons, Peel was opposed to the measure, and when he came to office removed Hill from any direction of the scheme. As Gladstone later remarked, his reform ‘had run like wildfire through the civilised world’. He did not receive a reward in the form of a knighthood until 1860 (Hill DNB). 

The old struggles over the corporations, the railways, and education continued. So too did the anti-popery campaign. But the Whigs and Tories had come to an agreement over the corporations, and when the Catholics actually managed to take them over they found they had very few powers left. This furnished O’Connell grounds for re-starting the Repeal agitation, claiming that Irish corporations were less favoured than the English. The Tories insisted on and obtained the concession that the franchise should be restricted to those with an income of £10 per annum instead of £5, thus favouring the richer Protestants. 

MacHale’s attacks on the National Board grew ever stronger, and the exchanges of letters between him and Murray continued in the newspapers. Conway of the Post described MacHale as being ‘full to over-flowing of extreme and uncompromising Catholicity, and of a hatred as extreme and virulent as it is manifestly indecent, against the National Board of Education’, and always seeking ‘possible lapses of the Board into any shade, the most evanescent, of heterodoxy’ (DEP 5 Feb 1839). It was Ireland’s misfortune that MacHale’s brand of Catholicism prevailed. The Presbyterians of the Synod of Ulster however came to an agreement with the Board. They had to accept separate periods for secular and religious instruction. The Board conceded that the book of extracts from scripture were not obligatory. Consequently the Presbyterians could use the whole bible during periods of religious instruction, while parents who objected could provide for religious education in other ways. The decision of the Presbyterians disappointed the hard-line Tories who were holding out for compulsory full scriptural education for all children (Dublin Evening Mail 26 February 1840). Typically MacHale claimed that the Government had made concessions to the Presbyterians but not to the Catholics. But thereafter, national schools tended to be denominational in practice. The Subscribing Presbyterians came together to form the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. On 15 April Drummond died.  

O’Connell expected Melbourne’s ministry to collapse, so believing that Peel would form the next ministry, he, as noted earlier formed a Repeal Association in April. He gained the support of several bishops of MacHale’s faction, Dr. Blake of Dromore, Dr. Browne of Galway, and Dr Cantwell of Meath, but otherwise few people were interested. The total income of the Repeal Association during the first nine months was £2,688, almost all of it from Dublin and Leinster. Ulster contributed the sum of £2 and 2 shillings (Pilot 13 Jan 1841). Murray, though his personal preference was for an Irish Parliament, did not consider the issue to be practical politics. There were also others who agreed, and considered that only an armed insurrection would achieve that end. But O’Connell and the bishops ruled out a resort to violence.

The Whig ministry was palpably running out of steam and losing support in Parliament. The London Times noted that the Government had succeeded in getting only 17 bills passed in the previous session, all of them minor and uncontroversial. Parliament rose on 11 August 1840. In opposition, Peel had put together a formidable team. In December 1840, in Carlow, Col. Bruen a Tory landowner won a by-election. There was no candidate for Repeal willing or able to stand, so the contest was with the Hon. Frederick Ponsonby, the local Whig leader. Col. Bruen considered that most of the Catholic voters supported him. Cork was the first city to adopt the new form of corporation, followed rapidly by Belfast which became a corporate town. Elections had to be held to replace the members of the old boards. 

[1841] Parliament re-assembled on 26 January 1841. In February a Rescript was received from Rome backing Murray’s stance on the National Board, but allowing individual bishops to choose for their own dioceses.  On 4th June 1841, the Government was defeated and Melbourne advised Victoria to send for Peel. O'Connell's political career was saved. Parliament was dissolved on 22 June 1841 having last barely four years. 



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.