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Chapter Eight

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

Canning to Wellington 

(April 1827 to April 1829)

Summary. This chapter deal with the political events which followed the death of Lord Liverpool except for the Catholic Question which is dealt with in a separate chapter. The other major issue as far as Ireland was concerned was education for some Catholics objected to the Kildare Place Society. Another issue coming to the fore was the property of the Established Church and the related one of tithes. Feeling in the country and Parliament was gradually turning back towards the Whigs. When Canning died, and Goderich gave up the job, the king sent for Wellington hoping that no Emancipation Bill would be introduced.







Canning (April to August 1827) 

            [April 1827] Four separate ministries existed or were formed between January 1827 and January 1828, those of Liverpool, Canning, Goderich, and Wellington. Changes succeeded each other so rapidly that a given Prime Minister did not have his own choices in particular offices. Parliament was in recess most of the time. In addition, in 1828, several senior ministers resigned from Wellington's cabinet over the East Retford affair, enforcing another reshuffle. 

            Lord Liverpool died unexpectedly in April 1827 at the age of fifty seven. George Canning succeeded him. Peel resigned, fearing the introduction of a Catholic Bill, as did also Goulburn in Ireland. Canning was able to come to an agreement with some of the Whigs, party lines again becoming blurred in the centre. Lord Lansdowne, an Irish Whig peer, became Home Secretary. Thomas Spring Rice, MP for Limerick, became Under-secretary in the Home Office with special responsibility for Irish affairs, especially in the House of Commons. Frederick Conway in the Dublin Evening Post reflected the satisfaction among Catholics and Whigs that the old ascendancy faction was being at last rooted out from Dublin Castle.

            In Ireland Wellesley was continued in office for the moment but the king wanted him removed elsewhere. Canning chose the Marquis of Anglesey, but Wellesley wanted another office before he would move. In the event Wellington was Prime Minister before Anglesey arrived. (It should be recalled that Anglesey had at one stage run off with the wife of a third Wellesley brother, and she was the current marchioness - it is not clear if this had any affect on affairs.) The Hon. William Lamb became Irish Secretary. He had been married to an Irish lady, Lady Caroline Ponsonby (better known as Lady Caroline Lamb), but had divorced her because of her adultery with Lord Byron. Soon afterwards he succeeded to the peerage as Lord Melbourne, by which name he is usually known. Plunket expected to be made Irish Lord Chancellor, but the king would not approve. Canning tried to make him English Master of the Rolls, but the appointment was very unwelcome in London. Canning then made him Chief Justice of Common Pleas and Baron Plunket, Lord Norbury having been induced to resign. Lord Manners remained as Lord Chancellor. Henry Joy, who was opposed to Emancipation, and who had been Solicitor General since 1822 succeeded Plunket as Attorney General. John Doherty, a moderate who could work with both Canning and Peel, became Solicitor General. In the summer, the Irish Lord Chancellor, Lord Manners retired. (In the past, historians have at times uncritically accepted verdicts or bon mots of O'Connell about his political opponents. Manners was a very unpolitical person.)

            Canning postponed action on the Catholic question until the following session and the Catholic Association eased up on its agitation. On 6 June 1827 there was a motion put forward for an enquiry into Irish Grand Juries. It was observed that the presentments had amounted to £470,000 in 1801, but were now double that figure. The Grand Juries were responsible for agreeing to the presentments and fixing the county cess to pay for them. Twenty three persons were selected by the sheriff at his sole discretion, and the only qualification needed was that they be Forty-Shilling freeholders. They were given unlimited powers of taxation. The sheriff, if he wished, could exclude the gentlemen from a whole barony, and there were examples where this had been done. The motion was proposed by Mr. G. Dawson and seconded by Thomas Spring Rice. Mr Lamb did not object. In fairness to the Grand Jurors, the Government since 1801 had been heaping duties on the counties. But all agreed that what had been satisfactory in the past, now needed amending. One objection frequently mentioned was that there were too many presentments and trials; in Down, for example there were 973 different items to be considered in four days, which amounted to two minutes per item. In Tyrone, only one minute was devoted to each case. Conway in the Post noted that there had been enquiries into the matter in 1815, 1816, 1822, and 1825 but nothing of importance had been done. [Top] 


The discussions between the Catholic bishops and the Government with regard to education continued. A Report from the Commissioners of Irish Education Enquiry revealed that there were in Ireland 11,823 schools with 12,530 masters or mistresses. The average number of pupils was 560,459. (Average per school 47, but many of these attended only in summer and autumn.) Schools with Catholic masters numbered 8,300 with on average 408,285 pupils. Church of Ireland schools numbered 3,098 with 93,452 pupils.  Dissenters 1,123 schools with 43,412 pupils.

Writing to Sir Henry Parnell MP for Queen’s County on the state of education in his diocese in 1821 Dr Doyle said that nearly all Catholic children attended school in the summer and autumn, and were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. (Teaching religion was very much the duty of the clergy except in specifically Church schools.) But the masters were usually very ignorant, the schools mere huts, and boys and girls were mixed up together. For want of space the plans of neither Lancaster nor Bell could be introduced. There were no funds to buy forms or books or to pay a salary sufficient to attract a master capable of instruction. In the towns the schools were better, especially those of the Kildare Place Society, but the fact that the master was a Protestant and the Bible (Protestant) used as a textbook with the master undertaking to expound it was sufficient to exclude Catholics. In general, in the three counties of Kildare, Carlow, and Queen’s County, the children of the better classes and farmers received a very imperfect education from those incompetent to teach, and the poor were not taught at all. He concluded by saying that the Catholic schools in his diocese were fairly typical of those in rural areas of Leinster and Munster. Catholic schools, from his limited experience, were virtually non-existent in Ulster and Connaught. Catholic education was better provided for in the larger towns (Fitzpatrick I, 129).

Doyle was dealing only with the Catholic schools in his diocese that he inspected on his visitations of the parishes. When figures for adult literacy became available later in the century county Antrim in the most Protestant part of Ireland had the best figure. It is clear that most schools had only one teacher. But there could be several such schools in a parish, especially if there was a town in the parish. Most of the schools in towns were in rented rooms that were at least dry in winter. The hedgeschool masters did not regard the teaching of religion as being part of their duties, so Confraternities of Christian Doctrine had been developed to meet the need. These had been very successful in Carlow even before Doyle’s arrival, as he found when he examined an immense crowd presented by a parish priest for confirmation. In the towns women conducted many of the schools. The Kildare Place Society also trained women teachers.

The Ninth Report of the Commissioners of Irish Education Enquiry (October 1827) noted that Catholic bishops did not believe that the children should be taught directly from the Bible, but from the catechism, harmonies of the gospels, or synopses of Bible History. In this way, the essential doctrines of the Bible could be taught, without exposing the children to the more unsavoury episodes. There can be little doubt that Protestant religious teachers practised judicious skipping. The majority of the Commissioners were agreed that as much religious education as possible should be given together. They concurred with the views of Dr. Murray, and were preparing such books. They objected to offensive notes in the Douai version of the Bible, but Dr. Murray had assured them that all such notes were removed from the latest (1826) version. The Report describes the discussions with Archbishop Magee of Dublin and Lord John George Beresford, the primate, in Armagh, both of whom insisted that only the Authorized Version of the Bible could be used in a Bible harmony. Archbishop Curtis, though kept informed, allowed Murray to act for him. [Top] 

Goderich (August 1827 to January 1828) 

[August 1827] During the summer recess of Parliament, Canning, to the astonishment of all Europe, died suddenly also at the age of fifty seven after being prime minister for only four months. Lord Goderich took over as Prime Minister, but disliked the job intensely. He left Canning's appointments largely untouched. As Irish Lord Chancellor he appointed an English equity lawyer of no particular political affiliations named Anthony Hart. Hart appointed several Catholic gentlemen as magistrates, including in their number Denys Scully. Lord Manners had resigned in July.

            About this time faction fighting began to spread in Munster. On fair days, and other occasions, gangs of young men from different parishes would engage in pitched battles with each other. They were supposed only to use sticks and protected their heads by putting straw in their hats. But occasionally edged weapons were used. The police, and the Catholic Association tried hard to put down the practice. More seriously, there began to be increasing violent attacks on the police. Typically, a group of young men on a fair day would try to cut off small groups of policemen. The police, fearing for their lives, would use their muskets. One suspects the influence of agrarian criminals behind these attacks, but as usual, nothing can be proved.

            About this time too occurred what became known as the 'Doneraile Conspiracy'. Apparently, some men in Doneraile, in county Cork, conspired to murder a magistrate. O'Connell, like most others, assumed that there had actually been a conspiracy of sorts. This would not have been unusual at the time. The event is chiefly famous for O'Connell's defence of some of those charged, a point to which we will return. 

            Concern was growing with regard to those evicted under the Sub-letting Act (1826). That those on sub-divided property had to be evicted could scarcely be denied. Sir Henry Parnell noted pertinently that even if the landlords handed over all their land to their tenants that would only postpone the disaster and make it greater when it occurred. A cogent reason for ending subletting was the fact that productivity on the tiny patches was only about one quarter of what was attained on the landlord's desmesne lands with their larger fields and more modern methods of cultivation. Emigration was being considered as a possibility, and a Parliamentary Committee was set up to study the matter. Edward G. Stanley, MP for Preston, said his family (the earls of Derby) had three estates in Ireland, and described how his family had coped with sub-division. They only retained tenants with between 30 and 150 acres. They treated those evicted with the utmost humanity, and all departed quietly, though some had driven off their cattle to avoid seizure by the middleman. The average rent was 17 shillings an acre, but in recent years it was often not paid, and the landlord had to support the poorest in hard times. Spring Rice said that those evicted normally had enough money to support themselves for one year (about £5). If they went to England, and could not find work, they were liable to be returned under the Sturges-Bourne Act. However, it seemed that in Scotland, a year’s continuous work in a parish entitled a man to a ‘settlement’. The influx of evicted tenants into towns lowered wages, made living conditions worse, and brought a great danger of the fever. He favoured emigration. He also doubted if the population was increasing, for there was only one census, and this was regarded as inaccurate, even if Mr. Shaw Mason was skilled in those matters. Conway noted that Sir John Newport’s Act allowed a summary process of eviction at quarter sessions, and distraint of standing crops.

Emigration up to this point had principally affected Ulster but it was now spreading to Munster. An attempt from England in 1820 to establish a colony in South Africa to relieve overcrowding nearly met with disaster. A similar attempt from Ireland to plant a colony in Brazil in 1827 fared even worse and the colonists returned. Conway in the Post was in favour of compelling all landlords to re-settle their surplus tenantry in the colonies, and forcing them to dispose of some of their land to do this. He also thought that surplus Church revenues could be used for this purpose (DEP 4 Oct. 1827).

            It was one thing for a landlord to give a gratuity to evicted tenants to enable them to travel to England to find work; it was another thing to persuade illiterate Gaelic-speaking cottiers who had never been outside their own parishes to go. To prevent them reoccupying their cabins on the consolidated farms the landlord’s agents pulled down the cabins, a feature of the affair which has become stuck in Irish folk memory. Those evicted frequently went to the nearest town and constructed a little hut on the outskirts, so extensive shantytowns grew up. Many others found a patch of bog to squat on. These were the people most vulnerable to a failure of the potato.

            The English did not welcome the Irish workers, for an influx of them into a region drove down wages. Nor did trade union leaders in Dublin welcome them either for the same reason. Many people, including the Irish Catholic bishops, began to call for an Irish Poor Law. By this they meant, the provision of sufficient public works such as the making of roads or the draining of bogs that would both give employment and improve the economy. There were problems with this. The extent of unemployment and underemployment was so great that even if the remuneration was set at bare subsistence level it could draw up to a quarter of the population into public works. Many people were sceptical about the value of public works for improving the economy, and the Great Famine was to prove their doubts justified. On the other hand, if public works were undertaken, less wealthy landlords, now burdened with crippling rates, either could not or would not undertake the essential improvement, that of their own estates. This point was cogently argued by Thomas Spring Rice and prevailed for the time being. O'Connell supported this view though he was far from being an 'improving landlord'. Some modifications to the Sub-letting Act (1826) were eventually brought in.  

            Feeling in the Government was turning towards freeing trade and lessening of Government intervention, a tendency that was to become intensified when the Whigs under Lord Grey came into power. But even the Tories, the more mercantilist, interventionist, and protectionist of the two political parties, were moving in the same direction. MacHale's fierce attacks on Lord Grey's administration were made from a very old-fashioned Tory point of view. He was a Connaughtman, and it remains a mystery why the people of Ulster eagerly embraced free trade to their benefit while the people of Connaught suffered from it. The Linen Board that had existed for over a hundred years to promote the Irish linen industry was wound up. Linen exports were virtually stagnant, having risen from 41 million yards in 1799 to only 44 million in 1823. John Foster, so long connected with the Board, died about the time it was wound up. Mulhollands and others in Belfast connected with the industry commenced introducing machinery. Thereafter exports increased rapidly. There was a meeting of the shareholders of the proposed Hibernian Railway between Limerick and Waterford. [Top]           


[January 1828] In January 1828 Lord Goderich resigned. Some thought that the king would send for Wellesley, but he sent for Wellington instead. Wellington was not a politician and he found the office as distasteful as Goderich had done. He had a strong sense of duty and was a much tougher character. The king probably felt that Wellington would not bring in an Emancipation Bill. But Wellington was not opposed to a Bill in principle. As early as his time as Irish Secretary he wrote that such a Bill should not be introduced until the whole cabinet was united behind it. He was obviously thinking of Pitt's debacle. Peel returned as Home Secretary, and Goulburn became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Wellesley refused office. Anglesey was confirmed as Lord Lieutenant and came to Dublin a few months later. Some of Canning's supporters stayed in office, but were not particularly happy. In May 1828, several of them including William Huskisson, and William Lamb, resigned. There was a question of suppressing the two corrupt boroughs of Penryn and East Retford, and they wished the seats transferred to two of the new great manufacturing towns, but Wellington preferred to amalgamate them with the neighbouring counties. Lord Francis Leveson-Gower, a younger son of the Marquis of Stafford, became Irish Secretary. William Vesey Fitzgerald accepted the office of President of the Board of Trade, and so had to resign his parliamentary seat in Clare and seek re-election. This gave O'Connell a chance to gamble for the leadership of the Irish Catholics. When he was defeated by O'Connell the Government had to find Fitzgerald another seat in the pocket borough of Newport in Cornwall. (After the abolition of the office of Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer he was subsequently Minister to the Swedish Court and Paymaster General of the Forces. He was MP for Clare from 1818. He became MP for Ennis in county Clare his former seat in 1831, and was raised to the British peerage as Baron Fitzgerald and Vesey by Peel in 1834.) 

            Lord John Russell, the rising Whig star, proposed the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, and the Bills passed through Parliament and received the royal assent. The very important Irish Towns Policing Act (1828) was passed. This was the first major Act dealing with municipal reform in Ireland. By it each town (which had no corporation) was allowed to appoint Commissioners to manage its affairs without having to apply for a separate Act of Parliament. These powers went far beyond those granted in the original charters, and dealt with ‘lighting, watching, paving, cleansing and supplying water’ (SNL 25 Sept. 1828). It now sufficed to apply to the Lord Lieutenant for permission to appoint commissioners. These commissioners would not be magistrates. The Act was immediately adopted in Clonmel, Newry, Lurgan, Portadown, Tullamore, Ballymoney, and Banbridge; five of the seven were in Ulster. (Note 'police' from Greek and Latin politia means also the government of a town. In 1922 it was found that six Irish towns were still governed under this Act, never having adopted the later Acts of 1847 and 1854.) The codification of Irish criminal law was completed and followed a similar codification carried out in England by Peel. No changes in the law were introduced. Peel in 1828 introduced a proper police force for the suburbs of London, all the built up areas outside the medieval city. It was called the London Metropolitan Police, and was the first modern reformed police force in England. Their nickname was Bobby, after Robert Peel, following the precedent of Charlies after Charles II. The Irish nickname, peelers, later spread to England. 

            Saunders Newsletter in February 1828 published a list of the number of Irish acres possessed by each diocese. The dioceses of the Church of Ireland alone possessed over 600,000 acres. The richest see was Derry with 94,836 acres, followed by Armagh 63,470 acres, Kilmore 51,356 acres, Tuam 49,281 acres, Clogher 32, 317 acres, Elphin 31,017 acres, Dublin 28,781 acres, Cork 22,755 acres, Meath 18,374 acres, and Cashel 12,800 acres. These 11 sees had 418,872 between them. But as Leslie Foster pointed out, the rents from these were very low, and the bishops got most of their income from renewal fines. However, the Whigs got the idea that there was vast surplus revenues that could be tapped, and eventually much later in the century, the lands were confiscated. 

            In London, Lord Brougham and his friends had started England’s third university, that of University College, London, in 1828, where those who were not members of the Church of England could be admitted to degrees. Members of the Church of England retaliated by forming an opposition college, called King’s College. The two were joined in a federal structure to form London University in 1836. This was to form the model for the new university in Ireland in the 1840’s. 

            The jurisdictions of the manor courts received a severe blow when Baron Richard Pennefather, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, reversed fifty decrees from seneschals’ courts on the grounds that the boundaries of the jurisdictions were no longer known with certainty, nor could the seneschals produce their patents. The baron added that such courts were an absolute nuisance, and expressed surprise that anyone with a fair claim in law should resort to such courts. Conway in the Post (20 March 1828) expressed his agreement with the judge. 

            [1829] In February 1829, the Irish bishops started to formally record the decisions taken at their annual meetings that have continued to this day. When Peel revealed his proposals for Emancipation without the veto, they wrote to Rome (17 Feb. 1829) to inform the Pope of the changed situation. The new Pope Pius VIII (1829-30) replied promptly so the relevant decisions regarding the mode of elections had obviously already been decided. The Rescript Cum ad gravissimum was published on 17 October 1829. In it the acquired right of the parish priests to elect bishops in Ireland was recognized. They only, but including members of the chapter, if there were such, should propose three names of suitable persons to the Pope, not indicating any order of merit, but simply stating their merits for his choice. This list should also be sent to the bishops of the Province, and they too could indicate the merits of each. The bishops could not add a different name. The Pope’s freedom to choose from outside the list was undiminished. Nor were unofficial ‘postulations’ forbidden, or canvassing in Rome. The British Government kept up contact with the Holy See on the matter, normally through the British minister to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany at Florence, or until 1837 through the Hanoverian minister to the Holy See. There was an element of hypocrisy in Peel’s refusal to deal directly with Rome. Canning had wished to establish normal relations with a European power. The post of minister to the Court of Tuscany, later offered to Sheil, was therefore one of considerable importance. Domestic nomination, in the sense that British subjects, i.e. the parish priests, should elect and the Pope merely confirm was strongly ruled out. 

In 1828, Richard Barrett, formerly of the Patriot, launched a paper called the Pilot, specifically to promote Catholic interests. Though the editor was a Protestant, it was adopted by O’Connell who supplied it with copy. It reported the meetings of the Catholic Association extensively. The newly launched Star of Brunswick a weekly tabloid version of the Evening Mail, like the Brunswick Clubs, took its name from the ruling dynasty. It included unusual tit-bits of information such as that under Wellington the British army incurred the deaths of 54,283 men and 3807 officers. The greatest number of casualties was incurred in 1813 when 14,966 men and 1025 officers were killed. The highest proportion of casualties was at Waterloo where 1 in 40 were killed as against 1 in 74 at Vittoria and 1 in 90 at Salamanca. The proportion lost in the naval battle at Trafalgar was 1 in 41; the danger of being killed being much higher in naval battles. It also recorded that in the great new squares in Dublin Protestant gentlemen occupied 416 houses and Catholic gentlemen only 22. Of those trading on the main shopping streets in Dublin, 411 were Protestant and 92 were Catholics. One needs to be reminded at how much Dublin, the great centre of the Reformation in Ireland, was a Protestant city at the time. In the five years of its existence, the strongly Protestant Dublin Evening Mail had gained the largest circulation of any newspaper. The number of newspaper stamps purchased for the Mail in 1828 was 470,570, for Saunders’ 403,500, for the Dublin Evening Post 287,500, for the Dublin Evening Packet 179,000, for the Weekly Register 173,240, for the Freeman’s Journal 151,120, for the Morning Register 148,880, for the Dublin Morning Post 108,000. 

In January 1829 the Earl of Northumberland replaced Anglesey as Lord Lieutenant. Anglesey had annoyed Wellington when the latter was engaged in very difficult negotiations with the king regarding Emancipation. Stephen Woulfe was appointed Assistant Barrister for Cavan, the last appointment of Anglesey. Northumberland did not actually take over from Angelsey until March. Parliamentary time in the first four months of the years was taken up largely with the Bill for Catholic Emancipation, and the related bills.



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