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:

1,300 in 1831


28,679 (1821); 28,821 (1831)



Main Article

The cathedral city of Waterford, a county of itself situated on the navigable River Suir about 16 miles from the sea, could accommodate ships of ‘very large burden’, enabling it to export more agricultural produce than any other Irish port, mainly to England.1 Its self-elected and exclusively Protestant corporation of 21 common councilmen (two of whom were elected annually as sheriffs) and 19 aldermen (of whom one was elected annually as mayor) and a theoretically unlimited number of freemen had for many years been dominated by the families of Harry Alcock of Wilton, county Wexford, who in 1813 had succeeded to the estates of his older brother William Congreve Alcock, Member, 1801-3; Cornelius Bolton of Faithlegg, county Waterford, Member in the Irish Parliament, 1776-83; Robert Shapland Carew†, Member in the Irish Parliament, 1776-1800, and his brother-in-law Sir John Newport, Member since 1803. The Beresford family, headed by the Tory 2nd marquess of Waterford, a county magnate, retained some influence as the largest resident landowners, but the number of freeholders never exceeded 80 and the constituency continued to be dominated by the freemen, whose numbers peaked at about 1,240 in 1830. (Residents could be admitted by birth, servitude, marriage or ‘special favour’, but were not disqualified by subsequent non-residence.) On 10 Jan. 1818, in a compact ‘arranged with great exactness’ between Alcock, Newport and his brother William, head of the family’s Waterford bank, and James Wallace, it had been agreed:

In the first place Mr. Alcock and his friends pledge themselves to support Sir John Newport for the representation of the city of Waterford during the lifetime of the said Sir John ... or for such time as Sir John shall consider himself capable of efficiently discharging the duties of that situation. At the expiration of either event Mr. Alcock to be supported by every exertion of the Newport family and their friends in the future representation ... in the promotion of which Mr. William Newport pledges himself that his sons shall concur ... And after the death of the said Harry Alcock ... the Newport family to nominate the next candidate for a period of five years, then the other contracting parties and their successors to nominate for the next five years and so on alternately for ever.

In 13 further clauses they agreed to share the nomination of aldermen, take turns at appointing the mayor, sheriffs and other officers, with the minor posts being classified ‘according to their respective value or annual income’, ‘withdraw’ as far as possible all offices and salaries from the Bolton family, reduce corporate expenditure and only admit freemen by ‘mutual consent’.2 ‘In consideration of certain support which he was to give them in their secret and mysterious corporate doings’, a local commentator later observed, Newport ‘purchased from them his return for life’.3 In 1831 the boundary commissioners reported that Newport’s ‘uninterrupted’ tenure of the seat almost ‘since the Union’ was ‘the only instance of the kind that is to be found in Ireland’.4

At the 1820 general election Newport was again returned unopposed as a supporter of Catholic emancipation and ‘promoter of Irish commerce’.5 The collapse of his family’s bank later that year, precipitated by a ‘partial run’ on its notes and the suicide of William, left ‘many ruined’ and ‘destitute’ in the city, but perhaps because of a personal donation of £5,000 from Newport there were no political recriminations.6 Newport of course supported Catholic claims, for which petitions reached the Lords, 23 Feb. 1821, 18 June 1824, 18 Mar. 1825, and the Commons, 24 June 1824, 1 Mar. 1825.7 Hostile petitions were presented to the Lords, 11 Apr. 1821, 10 May 1825.8 Petitions reached the Commons for the commutation of Irish tithes, 4 Mar. 1822, and the abolition of slavery, 12 Mar. 1824.9 In March 1825 the Catholic rent committee, led by one Thomas Meagher, met to terminate their activities following the suppression of the Catholic Association and pay tribute to Newport.10 During the rumours of a dissolution that September, Thomas Spring Rice* observed that the staunchly Protestant Beresfords, whom the Catholics intended to oust from the county representation, had ‘redeemed some of their family offences by a frank and honourable support given to Newport’.11 Attempts by the ‘independents’ to get up an opposition came to nothing at the 1826 general election, when Newport spoke of his declining health and inability to be ‘as active as before’.12 Rejecting local criticism of his unopposed return, the Catholic agitator John Matthew Galwey† of Duckspool, Dungarvan, told Thomas Wyse*:

If we forget old friends it will injure us very much and when Sir John Newport could not afford a contest we ought not to be so displeased at his making any bargain for a seat for life; his not being in the House would be an injury to not only our cause but to Ireland.13

Petitions from the Protestants against Catholic claims were presented to the Lords, 26 Feb., and the Commons, 2 Mar. 1827.14 Favourable petitions reached the Commons, 19 Feb., 5 Mar. 1827, 12 Feb. 1828, and the Lords, 27 Feb. 1827.15 One for better protection of the shipping interest reached the Commons, 12 Mar. 1827.16 In early July 1828, a highly successful meeting of the new Catholic rent committee was held in support of Daniel O’Connell’s* candidacy for county Clare, attended by a wide cross-section of ‘the middling and working classes’. A few days later, at the prompting of the Waterford Chronicle, Wyse chaired a meeting of the ‘friends of civil and religious liberty’ at which an Independent Club was established for ‘securing permanently for the city a free and liberal representation’ and restoring ‘every citizen to such political and municipal privileges as he may be entitled to’, 7 July. At its inaugural dinner attended by Richard Sheil* the following month, a network of parochial subcommittees to examine the legal claims of excluded freemen was started.17 A dinner in support of Wyse, its principal architect, was attended by 150 persons, 4 Nov. 1828.18 Following the recall of Lord Anglesey, the Irish viceroy, in January 1829, Wyse and the club applied to the mayor for an address from the city in his support, which was refused. On 15 Jan. they drew up their own resolutions at a meeting chaired by Newport, who spoke of his support for the ‘freedom’ to hold such events.19 Newport of course supported the Wellington ministry’s concession of emancipation, for which petitions reached the Lords, 12 Feb. (along with ones for repeal of the Irish Vestry and Subletting Acts), 24 Feb., 17, 30 Mar., and the Commons, 16 Feb., 17 Mar. A hostile one was presented to the Lords, 24 Mar.20 On 11 May, amidst growing concern about Newport’s health, the Beresford agent George Meara informed the primate that

the Catholics have announced themselves as candidates ... in case of a vacancy by Newport’s death, viz. Henry Winston Barron† [of Belmont House, Ballyneale, proprietor of the Waterford Chronicle] and Thomas Wyse ... These two will divide the Catholic interest and I think it very possible that a Protestant might be returned ... Barron has just made a communication ... offering his support to your ... family in the county provided you support him in the city. It appears to me more prudent for your ... family and their friends to remain unpledged, at least for the present. It is said that the corporation will remain neutral between the two Catholics.

Writing again at the end of that month, he reported that Newport had ‘no intention of resigning’.21 On 24 June Wyse, despite having recently denounced the corporation as rotten and dishonest at a club dinner, was admitted as a freeman at the instigation of Newport. He was joined by another Catholic later that year.22 Next month Lord Beresford advised the primate that Barron now ‘required’ an answer to ‘his proposition’.23 He ‘is trying to intimidate us into support for the city’, observed the family’s candidate for the county vacancy Lord George Beresford* on hearing rumours that Barron might also start, 21 July, but ‘I would rather give up ... than accede to his demands’, as ‘he is a shuffling, dirty blackguard’.24 ‘We have declined as it would be something degrading to us, from the character of the man’, William Carr Beresford informed the primate, 10 Aug. 1829.25 Later that year the Beresfords publicly exposed Barron’s offer, destroying his chances in the county by-election.26 A petition complaining of the mayor Michael Evelyn’s ‘unwarrantable conduct’ and ‘partisanship’ in holding a dinner in support of Beresford reached the Commons, 23 Feb. 1830.27 One for inquiry into the monopoly of the East India Company reached the Lords, 1 Mar.28 Meetings were held that April to condemn the proposed Irish taxes, on which ‘all parties’ were ‘united’, and against which petitions reached the Commons, 6 May, and the Lords, 21 May, 17 June.29 On 28 June, following the death of George IV, Meara advised the primate:

There is ... likely to be a contest in the city. Newport will not, if opposed, stand ... If he be opposed I believe there will be three candidates, Wyse, John Doherty* [the Irish solicitor-general] and Barron. It should be considered how the family interest in the city can be used to the best advantage. Neutrality hitherto has been deemed most advisable, but I don’t think we shall gain much by this course.30

Next day the corporation, in which it was noted that there had ‘lately’ been ‘some falling out’, publicly abandoned the compact of 1818 with a series a ‘new rules’ disavowing any further involvement in the representation and encouraging claimants to the freeman franchise to come forward. The municipal corporations commissioners later commented that their actions had ‘opened’ up the corporation and ‘restored’ it to ‘a constitutional character’. The Waterford Mail, however, was sceptical: ‘Little Johnny [Newport] is an alderman and he is at the very bottom of ... these humbug new rules, flung out as a placebo to the citizens’, they asserted, adding, ‘For God’s sake will nobody oppose this nominee of the hocus pocus of the mayor ... Are we forever to have the corporation thrusting a representative upon us without any choice or will of our own?’31

At the 1830 general election Newport duly offered again, citing his opposition to repeal of the Union. ‘Probably he will not be opposed’, predicted Meara, 3 July. Two days later 200 freemen announced their ‘determination’ to support ‘any new candidate’ who was not connected with the corporation, following which a meeting chaired by one John Firth was held at Delavy’s Tavern, at which the ‘decided sense’ was that the ‘habitual consent’ given to Newport’s return was ‘dangerous to the liberties and freedom of citizens’, 8 July. ‘Everything is quiet in the city as yet, although attempts are being made to raise opposition’, Meara reported two days later.32 Rumours continued to circulate of the candidacy of Barron and Wyse, to the latter of whom a freeman well-wisher wrote, ‘I am informed you are going to become a Member for the city of Waterford’, 1 Aug.33 Wyse, however, was by now closely allied with Newport and would surely have stood only in order to steal votes from Barron and assist Newport’s return. At the nomination, 5 Aug. 1830, there was ‘some expectation’ that William Christmas of Tramore, a former high sheriff and Brunswicker who had seconded Beresford in the 1826 county contest, might ‘come forward’ in response to an invitation to which he had ‘partially acceded’, but he did not appear, later pleading ‘shortness of time’ while pledging to stand in future. Newport was proposed by Wyse, who blamed the ‘Beresford faction’ and the Waterford Mail for trying to create an opposition, and returned unopposed.34 A petition against colonial slavery was presented to the Commons, 4 Nov. 1830.35 Petitions for repeal of the Union reached the Commons, 9 Nov., 6, 8 Dec. 1830, and the Lords, 15 Feb. 1831.36 On 11 Feb. a petition from the corporation for the extension of the franchise to all resident £8 occupiers and £10 householders and the creation of a ‘respectable constituency’ which would not be prone to venality and landed influence was presented to the Commons. One in similar terms reached the Lords, 25 Feb.37 Petitions for the better regulation of education grants and against the Kildare Place Society were presented to the Lords, 14 Feb., and the Commons, 16 Feb.38 One for repeal of the Irish Vestry Act reached the Lords, 18 Feb.39 Newport supported the Grey ministry’s reform bill, for which petitions were presented to the Lords, 8, 28 Feb. (also calling for the secret ballot), 21, 30 Mar., and the Commons, 19, 29 Mar.40 At a meeting of the reformers, 8 Apr., Barron expressed doubts about whether Newport would stand again on account of his age (74), which were dismissed by his nephew Robert Shapland Carew*, the chairman, who reported that Newport intended to see the reform bill carried, after which he was ‘determined to retire’. ‘In case of opposition’ a subscription was started.41 Fearing trouble, on 29 Apr. O’Connell urged the Whig manager Lord Duncannon* to appoint two additional local magistrates ‘who will take care that the peace shall not be broken by the paid conservators’, and recommended Roger Hayes, ‘a retired barrister living in Waterford with a fortune of at least £1,500 and James Esmonde, worth more than £1,000’. Nothing came of this, although next year Hayes became the city’s first Catholic appointment to the bench in centuries.42

At the 1831 general election Newport duly offered again as a reformer, amidst reports that ‘an opposition, and a very powerful one too’ was expected. Unable to attend the nomination owing to ‘advanced age and infirm health’, he was again proposed by Wyse and seconded by Carew. After denouncing Newport as the ‘dictator’ of a ‘closed borough’, which had refused to admit its opponents as freemen, Counsellor Daly (oddly also a freeman) then proposed Christmas, who was seconded by one Richard Cower. A lengthy debate ensued in which Barron assisted Wyse in defending Newport. After a show of hands Christmas declined a poll, leaving Newport to be returned unopposed in absentia.43 Petitions reached the Commons for abolition of the grant to the Kildare Place Society, 20 July, the introduction of Irish poor laws, 27 July, and disarming the Irish yeomanry following the Newtownbarry massacre, which the House voted against printing by 238-76, 11 Aug. 1831.44 Duncannon’s recommendations to Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, for the removal of freeholders from county cities such as Waterford by the Irish reform bill came to nothing that year, at the end of which the boundary commissioners observed that the ‘40s. freeholders had not been made so numerously in Waterford for electioneering purposes as in most other places’.45 Petitions for the abolition of Irish tithes were presented to the Lords, 8 May, and the Commons, 13 June 1832. One for repeal of the Irish Vestry Act reached the Commons, 8 May 1832.46 That month Henry Villiers Stuart* became the city’s first lord lieutenant.47 Newport of course continued to support reform, for which petitions demanding additional Irish representatives reached the Lords, 7 Feb., and the Commons, 10 Apr., 18 June 1832. One to withhold the supplies until the English bill had passed was presented to the Commons, 23 May. A petition against the new plan of Irish education reached the Commons, 20 June 1832.48

By the Irish Reform Act Waterford regained the second seat it had lost at the Union. The boundary commissioners were ‘not authorized to curtail’ the ‘limits connected with its elective franchise’ and estimated that 967 inhabitants would qualify as £10 householders and 50 as £10 leaseholders and that about 150 non-resident freemen would be disfranchised, so that with the remaining 753 resident freemen and 77 freeholders (seven qualified at above £20, 30 at £10, and 40 ‘reserved for life’ at 40s.), there would be a ‘probable’ reformed constituency of 1,847.49 In the event, however, the registered electorate was 1,241, of whom 614 were £10 householders, 548 freemen, 61 freeholders (15 qualified at £50, 17 at £20, one at £10 and 28 at 40s.), and 18 leaseholders.50 Sending Lord Lansdowne a copy of his resignation address denouncing the repeal campaign shortly before the 1832 dissolution, Newport explained:

I felt myself bound ... to impress on my countrymen my conviction of the unjustifiable and perilous extent to which O’Connell and other agitators desire for their own depraved and selfish objects to commit the people of Ireland: nowhere has that spirit more actively displayed itself than in this city.51

Ministers found it ‘difficult to say’ who would succeed at the 1832 general election, when Wyse stood with Newport’s backing as a Liberal against Christmas and the Repealers Barron and Hayes. They correctly surmised, however, that ‘Christmas, who is called a Conservative, is safe’ and that the contest would be between Wyse and Barron. With O’Connell’s assistance the latter was returned in equal first place after a contest in which 1,140 polled.52 Barron and Wyse successfully contested the next two general elections and after being defeated by two Conservatives in 1841 were reseated on petition the following year.

Author: Philip Salmon


See M. Kiely and W. Nolan, ‘Politics, land and rural conflict in county Waterford, c.1830-1845’, in Waterford Hist. and Society ed. W. Nolan and T. Power, 459-94.

  • 1. S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 685-87.
  • 2. PP (1830), xxxi. 332; (1831-2), xliii. 134; (1835), xxviii. 143-49; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 694-6.
  • 3. Waterford Mail, 10 July 1830.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xliii. 136.
  • 5. Ramsey’s Waterford Chron. 21 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. The Times, 13 June, 28 July 1820; W.P. Burke, ‘Newport’s Waterford Bank’, Jnl. Cork Hist. and Arch. Soc. iv. (1878), 279-86.
  • 7. LJ, liv. 62; lvi. 436; lvii. 132; CJ, lxxix. 537; lxxx. 140.
  • 8. LJ, liv. 189; lvii. 779.
  • 9. CJ, lxxvii. 78; lxxix. 155.
  • 10. NAI, Newport mss M. 482/11, Meagher to Newport, 12 Mar. 1825.
  • 11. Lansdowne mss, Spring Rice to Lansdowne, 2 Sept. 1825.
  • 12. The Mail, 10, 17 June 1826.
  • 13. NLI, Wyse mss 15023 (2), Galwey to Wyse, 7 Sept. 1826.
  • 14. LJ, lix. 107; CJ, lxxxii. 256.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxii. 190, 277; lxxxiii. 41; LJ, lix. 113.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxii. 305.
  • 17. F. O’Ferrall, Catholic Emancipation, 174, 220-23; Dublin Evening Post, 10 July 1828; J.J. Auchmuty, Sir Thomas Wyse, 115.
  • 18. Dublin Evening Post, 15 Nov. 1828.
  • 19. Waterford Mail, 14 Jan.; Dublin Evening Post, 24 Jan. 1829.
  • 20. LJ, lxi. 29, 77, 214, 266, 307; CJ, lxxxiv. 34, 145.
  • 21. PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/56, 60.
  • 22. PP (1833), xxxiv. 152; Auchmuty, 124.
  • 23. PRO NI, Primate Beresford mss D3279/A/4/14.
  • 24. Ibid. A/4/25.
  • 25. Ibid. A/4/33.
  • 26. Dublin Evening Post, 7, 28 Nov. 1829.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxv. 94.
  • 28. LJ, lxii. 44.
  • 29. Pack-Beresford mss A/133; CJ, lxxxv. 381; LJ, lxii. 476, 737.
  • 30. Pack-Beresford mss A/149.
  • 31. Waterford Mail, 3, 7 July 1830; PP (1835), xxviii. 149; Power, 255.
  • 32. Waterford Mail, 7, 10, 14 July 1830; Pack-Beresford mss A/151, 153.
  • 33. Wyse mss 15024 (4), T. Maken to Wyse, 1 Aug. 1830.
  • 34. Waterford Mail, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 35. CJ, lxxxvi. 35.
  • 36. Ibid. 49, 148, 158; LJ, lxiii. 228.
  • 37. CJ, lxxxvi. 238; LJ, lxiii. 253.
  • 38. LJ, lxiii. 222; CJ, lxxxvi. 256.
  • 39. LJ, lxiii. 241.
  • 40. Ibid. 212, 262, 345, 401; CJ, lxxxvi. 406, 456.
  • 41. Waterford Mail, 9, 13 Apr. 1831.
  • 42. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1802.
  • 43. Waterford Mail, 27 Apr., 7, 11 May 1831.
  • 44. CJ, lxxxvi. 678, 703, 745.
  • 45. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 116/7; PP (1831-2), xliii. 135.
  • 46. LJ, lxiv. 191; CJ, lxxxvii. 298, 396.
  • 47. NLI, Villiers Stuart mss T. 3131/I/2/1, 2.
  • 48. LJ, lxiv. 42; CJ, lxxxvii. 266, 332, 410, 420.
  • 49. PP (1831-2), xliii. 136-7.
  • 50. Ibid. (1833), xxvii. 308.
  • 51. Lansdowne mss, Newport to Lansdowne, 30 Sept. 1832.
  • 52. Derby mss 125/4; The Times, 16 Nov. 1832; PP (1833), xxvii. 308.