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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen and 40s. freeholders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

between 800 and 900

Number of voters:

796 in 1830


8,083 (1821); 8,698 (1831)


15 June 1826(SIR) ARTHUR CHICHESTER I, bt.6
 Lord George Augusta Hill5
 Lord Arthur Marcus Cecil Hill241
 Charles Adair198
 (Sir) Arthur Chichester I, bt.46

Main Article

The borough of Carrickfergus, the county town of Antrim, was coextensive with the parish of the same name and formed a county of itself. A seaport eight miles north-west of Belfast, it was largely dependent on its fisheries. By the 1830s it was ‘of no importance whatsoever’ and it was remarked that ‘it is the situation, more than anything within the town, that renders the place interesting’.1 Its corporation consisted of a mayor, between eight and 16 aldermen, 24 burgesses, including the two sheriffs (joint returning officers) and an unlimited number of freemen, who had to be inhabitants admitted by virtue of birth, marriage, apprenticeship, statute or gift.2 Between 1803 and 1819 975 freemen had joined the corporation, but none were added in the ten years after 1819. Only 69 freeholders were registered in the 25 years to 1820, so this element in the electorate, which varied between 800 and 900, was evidently vastly outweighed by the freeman vote, which numbered about 800 in 1820.3 Carrickfergus was mostly Protestant and peaceful, unlike other Irish ‘county boroughs’ which witnessed conflicts of interest between the large Catholic body of freeholders and the Protestant freemen.4

The 2nd marquess of Donegall of Ormeau, near Belfast, who owned large estates in the area, controlled the corporation. The aldermen and burgesses were mainly members of his family and other dependants, and he himself occasionally served as mayor. Yet this position did not always give him a commanding interest in parliamentary elections, and since the Union his family’s patronage of the remaining borough seat had been successfully challenged, on occasion, by a rival or ‘independent’ interest.5 The chief figure in this opposition was the 3rd marquess of Downshire of Hillsborough Castle, whose brother Lord Arthur Moyses Hill was Member for Down. Donegall’s renewed predominance was, however, evident by the time of the general election of 1818, when, in the words of one radical source, Carrickfergus was ‘supposed to possess a less uninfluenced state of representation than any in Ireland’.6 His relation Arthur Chichester of Greencastle, county Donegal, having switched to Belfast, where he had the representation sewn up, and Downshire’s former Member James Craig of Scoutbush declining to poll again, Donegall’s eldest son Lord Belfast was elected unopposed.7 At the dissolution two years later, Belfast and his kinsman effectively changed places. The former withdrew after his initial address, but, failing to gain a county seat, retreated to Belfast borough, while Chichester, an inactive ministerialist, was returned for Carrickfergus without a contest.8 This was with the tacit support of Downshire, who had quietly rebuffed an enquiry about the candidacy of one of his younger brothers or of a local gentleman, Edward Bruce.9 In the early 1820s, at least, Donegall was able to consolidate his position by assiduous management, which included the splitting of leases, local patronage and charitable donations.10

There was an illumination in Carrickfergus to mark the acquittal of Queen Caroline in November, but despite an opposition to it, the town meeting on 23 Dec. 1820 agreed a loyal address to the king.11 A petition from the gentlemen, landholders and merchants for increased duties on the importation of foreign butter was presented to the Commons, 20 May 1822, and one from the mayor, sheriffs and freeholders against the Irish County Treasurers Act was brought up, 19 May 1824.12 In the autumn of 1825, when a dissolution was expected, Marriot Dalway of Bella Hill, son of the deceased former Member Noah Dalway, sought Downshire’s support and addressed the electors.13 The inhabitants’ anti-slavery petitions were presented to the Commons, 19 May, and the Lords, 23 May 1826.14 A dinner was held in honour of the Belfast radical John Lawless, 4 May, when Craig was praised as a ‘faithful defender of the freemen of Carrickfergus’.15 Chichester offered again at the general election, but on the hustings, 14 June 1826, an attack was made on the Donegall interest and Downshire’s brother Lord George Hill was proposed. The poll, which was delayed by the collapse of the grand jury box in the hall, proceeded amid much barracking of the corporation and expressions of indignation against Dalway for not having persisted in standing on the popular interest. Five votes were received for each candidate. The following day, after a message was received from Hill disclaiming any part in the election, another vote was cast for Chichester, who was duly returned.16

That autumn Downshire requested the preparation of ‘a full and correct report of the extent and amount of the estates in the corporation, the number of voters, their qualifications and the different interest which they have gone with’, as using this information he was ready, ‘when the time arrives, to act decidedly with regard to the borough’.17 According to a calculation of the strengths of the various interests, in November 1826 there were 898 electors, of whom ‘not more than 800 will vote’. Apart from a high proportion of votes unaccounted for, the two main sides were divided into the ‘independent interest’ on 285 (of which Downshire held 42), although it was noted that no more than 200 would poll, and ‘Donegall’ with 241 (of which the marquess himself was credited with 89).18 Downshire acknowledged receipt of this report with the comment that ‘it will require management’.19 He evidently concerned himself with strengthening his interest, as his agent even once advised him to receive one Duncan, who, although ‘his appearance and manner are not very prepossessing’, was a useful informant, ‘brim full of the airs and consequence of a potwalloper’.20

The corporation’s petition against Catholic emancipation was brought up in the Lords, 10 June 1828, and that autumn a Brunswick Club was established in the town under Chichester’s presidency.21 The inhabitants’ hostile petitions were presented to the Commons, 4 Mar., and the Lords, 25 Mar. 1829.22 When in the autumn it was reported that Lawless intended to start at the next election, one paper commented that ‘if there is liberality in Carrickfergus, there is also a sprinkling of good, constitutional Protestantism, as well as sound sense’.23 The Irish Franchise Act, which raised the property qualification in counties, did not affect the Carrickfergus freeholders, of whom only 40 had been added to the register in the preceding eight years. In September 1829 a concerted effort was made to admit freemen, but although Chichester, the mayor, was sympathetic, he allowed his colleagues to restrict the number chosen to 33 and in July 1830 about 100 inhabitants failed to gain admission. The town clerk reported that 125 of the 890 freemen were non-resident and (implying that there were about 100 freeholders) gave the size of the electorate as 860 ‘as near as can be made out’, many freemen having moved abroad.24

Given the property that Downshire had acquired and the popularity his cause had gained in the borough, Hill was able to accept a requisition to stand at the general election of 1830, when both his family and the Chichesters canvassed in expectation of a severe contest.25 Chichester was only eight votes behind Hill at the end of the first day, 5 Aug. 1830, but resigned claiming that ‘the most corrupt and unwarrantable practices’ had been employed to suborn Donegall’s tenants. Meanwhile, the young army officer Charles Adair, son of Thomas Benjamin Adair of Loughanmore, had been nominated as a second string, and Hill was joined by another of his brothers, Lord Arthur Marcus Cecil Hill†. The poll was kept open for five days, until both Hills were ahead of Adair, as it was thought possible that Lord George, who had led from the start, might be vulnerable to a petition.26 Downshire, who observed that Lord George’s success had ‘exceeded my expectations’, boasted that his interest had obtained 552 (or 69 per cent) of the 796 votes cast.27 But, if his victory was probably owing to his relative financial advantage over Donegall, he undoubtedly incurred costs; he remarked that these and other expenses, including the purchase of a small estate at Carrickfergus, ‘will be heavy pulls and will retard the repayment of the debt of which I never lose sight’.28

A petition, which alleged bribery and that Lord George Hill should have been a burgess at the time of his election, was entered on Chichester’s behalf, 15 Nov. 1830, and the following day Lord Arthur Marcus Hill’s petition, claiming the seat in the event of his brother’s disqualification, was brought up. On 16 Dec. Sir Robert Inglis presented a petition from Lord George Hill, whose law agents were active on his behalf, contending that the original petition, which was in the names of 30 electors, was ‘a gross fraud and imposition on the House’. A select committee was appointed, 17 Dec. 1830, and to it, on the 20th, was referred a petition from 15 of the 30 electors stating that they had not signed the first petition to which their names were attached. On 4 Feb. 1831 Inglis reported from the committee, which had examined a large number of witnesses, that 14 signatures had been forged, one belonged to someone who was dead and another signatory was not a freeman. Clearly concerned that the House would take a dim view, the freemen and freeholders forwarded a petition in condemnation of the affair, which was brought up by Henry Villiers Stuart, 10 Feb. Nothing in the end came of Inglis’s motion on 22 Feb. to censure the two men found to have been privy to the fraud, Hutcheson Posnett, an accountant, and John Morison Eccleston, a schoolmaster.29 Unaccountably ignoring these findings, the election committee, which decided on a technicality that Hill had been properly elected, ruled that none of the petitions was frivolous or vexatious, 25 Feb. 1831.30

The freemen of Carrickfergus met to agree a petition critical of Donegall’s management of the corporation, 4 Dec., but one for moderate parliamentary reform was stifled at a turbulent town meeting, 23 Dec. 1830.31 A radical reform petition, got up early the following year, was presented to the Lords by the prime minister Lord Grey, 3 Feb., and to the Commons by the chancellor Lord Althorp (after Hill had rebuffed it), 26 Feb. 1831.32 The inhabitants’ anti-slavery petition was brought up in the Commons, 7 Mar., and one for reducing the duty on West Indian sugar was presented by Sir Robert Bateson, 14 Mar., and to the Lords by Downshire, 15 Mar.33 The reform address from the freeholders and others was forwarded to Grey for presentation to the king in April. At the dissolution that month Donegall’s son Lord Hamilton Francis Chichester addressed the electors as a friend to moderate reform, but he soon ended his canvass, claiming that ‘a continuance of it would be contrary to my feelings as well as to the freedom of election’.34 Hill, who had voted for the ministerial reform bill, 22 Mar., 19 Apr. 1831, was returned unopposed at the general election.

By mid-1831 the electorate was thought to number 851, comprising 30 aldermen and burgesses (of whom 25 were non-residents), 782 freemen (including 104 non-residents) and 39 freeholders.35 The corporators, who contemplated petitioning against the clause in the Irish reform bill which deprived their sons of the future exercise of the franchise, allowed the admission of 373 new freemen in August 1831; as 318 of these did not immediately pay the stamp duty, the number of electors only rose to about 900.36 A petition, perhaps the one organized in 1830, complaining of certain irremediable grievances against the corporation was presented by Thomas Spring Rice, 30 Mar. 1832. Petitions from the inhabitants against the ministerial plan of Irish national education were brought up in the Lords, 9 July, and the Commons, 11 July.37 Although in August the corporation addressed the duke of Wellington to thank him for his opposition to the Irish bill, the inhabitants celebrated the passage of the reform bill that month.38 It had been calculated that there would be only 133 £10 voters in the town itself, but that maintaining the large district surrounding it would add an extra 389. These, with the 174 reserved right freemen and 26 others, would have given an electorate of 732. In fact, after a chaotic attempt to have the 300-odd newly admitted freemen properly registered in October, the electorate in December 1832 amounted to 1,024, the highest figure for any single Member Irish constituency.39

At the general election of 1832 Hill retired and Sir Arthur Chichester, who had to abandon Belfast, offered as a Liberal against the Conservative candidate Conway Richard Dobbs, eldest son of Richard Dobbs of Castle Dobbs (and the grandson and great-grandson of former Members). According to one private commentator, ‘Downshire having retired from this borough supports a high Conservative against Sir A.C. from family jealousy’. It was also observed that ‘the heavy purse has generally succeeded in carrying the day’, and an eye-witness commented that ‘the bribery is most scandalous’, no doubt because of the high proportion of poor voters.40 Dobbs defeated Chichester by 495 to 447, but the election committee, chaired by Daniel O’Connell, voided the return and noted that ‘similar corrupt practices have prevailed at former elections’. In expectation of legislation to throw the borough into the county, no new writ was issued before the general election of 1835, when the Conservative Peter Kirk of Thornfield was elected on the Downshire interest.41 The municipal corporations report of that year, which reiterated the evidence of electoral bribery and recommended abolition of the freeman element in the franchise, condemned Donegall’s control of the corporation, which it described as ‘self-elective and wholly irresponsible, and ... of questionable legality’.42

Author: Philip Salmon


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xliii. 21; H.D. Inglis, Ireland in 1834, ii. 270, 271; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 269-71.
  • 2. PP (1835), xxviii. 304, 307; PRO NI, Downshire mss D671/C/12/339.
  • 3. S. McSkimin, Hist. and Antiquities of Carrickfergus (1823), 201; PP (1824), iii. 671, 672; (1825), xxii. 205; (1835), xxviii. 307, 308, 317, 318.
  • 4. A.P.W. Malcomson, John Foster, 164.
  • 5. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), vi. 219; Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 169-73; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 625, 626; W. A. Maguire, Living like a Lord: 2nd Mq. of Donegall, 90, 92-94.
  • 6. Late Elections (1818), 461.
  • 7. Belfast News Letter, 3, 7 July 1818.
  • 8. Ibid. 25 Feb., 3, 7, 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. Downshire mss C/12/237.
  • 10. Maguire, 94, 95.
  • 11. Belfast News Letter, 21 Nov., 22 Dec. 1820, 2 Jan. 1821.
  • 12. CJ, lxxvii. 282; lxxix. 386.
  • 13. Belfast News Letter, 18 Nov. 1825; Downshire mss C/12/309.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxi. 372; LJ, lviii. 364.
  • 15. Belfast Commercial Chron. 26 Apr., 6 May 1826.
  • 16. Ibid. 10, 17 June 1826.
  • 17. Downshire mss C/2/240/1.
  • 18. Ibid. C/12/328.
  • 19. Ibid. C/2/251/1.
  • 20. Ibid. C/2/372.
  • 21. LJ, lx. 526; Belfast News Letter, 7 Oct. 1828.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxiv. 103; LJ, lxi. 281.
  • 23. Belfast News Letter, 4 Sept. 1829.
  • 24. Ibid. 2 Oct.; Belfast Guardian, 25 Sept. 1829, 13 July 1830; PP (1829), xxii. 4, 5, 250, 251, 264, 265; (1830), xxxi. 323; (1835), xxviii. 308.
  • 25. Belfast News Letter, 30 July, 1 Aug. 1830; Downshire mss C/1/611; PRO NI, Johnson Smyth mss D2099/5/26, 27.
  • 26. Belfast News Letter, 6, 10, 13 Aug.; Belfast Guardian, 6, 10, 13 Aug. 1830.
  • 27. PRO NI, Londonderry mss T1536/3O; Wellington mss WP1/1134/44.
  • 28. Maguire, 95; Downshire mss C/2/442/1; C/5/413.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxvi. 66, 89, 180, 181, 185, 186, 192, 193, 196, 211, 234, 298; PP (1830-1), iii. 179-299; Downshire mss C/1/653A; C/2/447/1.
  • 30. CJ, lxxxvi. 298; Belfast News Letter, 1 Mar. 1831.
  • 31. Belfast News Letter, 7, 28, 31 Dec. 1830.
  • 32. Belfast Guardian, 4 Feb.; The Times, 28 Feb. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 310; LJ, lxiii. 200.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxvi. 347, 372; LJ, lxiii. 328.
  • 34. Belfast News Letter, 5, 29 Apr., 6, 13 May 1831.
  • 35. PP (1831-2), xliii. 22, 23.
  • 36. Ibid. xxxvi. 626; (1835), xxviii. 308; Belfast Guardian, 28 June, 2 Sept. 1831.
  • 37. CJ, lxxxvii. 238, 482; LJ, lxiv. 362.
  • 38. Belfast News Letter, 24 Aug.; Belfast Guardian, 24 Aug. 1832.
  • 39. PP (1831-2), xliii. 22, 23; (1835), xxviii. 308, 317; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 313.
  • 40. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 125/4, Barrington to Smith Stanley, 16 Nov.; Northern Whig, 3, 17, 20, 24 Dec.; Belfast News Letter, 13 Nov., 18, 21 Dec. 1832; PRO NI D2381/1; T. Hoppen, ‘Politics, law and nature of Irish electorate’, EHR, xcii (1977), 771, 772.
  • 41. PP (1833), viii. 1-139; Maguire, 95; Letters of Great Irish Landlord ed. Maquire, 163-5.
  • 42. PP (1835), xxviii. 316, 317, 340, 342.