Co. Tyrone


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 20,000 in 1812 reduced to 10,000 in 1815


1 Mar. 1802 JOHN STEWART I vice Corry, become a peer of Ireland
20 Oct. 1812HON. THOMAS KNOX
1 July 1818(SIR) JOHN STEWART I, Bt.

Main Article

Tyrone, a large and populous Ulster county in which Protestants outnumbered Catholics, did not go to a poll in this period despite some contention among the leading proprietary interests of Lords Abercorn, Belmore, Northland, Caledon and Mountjoy and of the Stewarts of Killymoon. The latter, represented by James Stewart, who had succeeded his father to a county seat in 1768 and had held it ‘against government’, as his friend Charles James Fox alleged in 1806, for nearly 40 years, drew extensively on ‘the old presbyterian faction’ of independent freeholders for support. By 1802, however, they were said to be less devoted to him than formerly and he relied on Caledon’s interest to sustain him. The other Member in 1801, Viscount Corry, was returned in 1797 on the interests of his father (Belmore) and the Marquess of Abercorn.1

As both Members opposed the Union and James Stewart was in opposition, while Corry was expected to be so, a contest seemed likely at the next election, unless Corry’s father died before it, an event which, as Corry had neither brother nor son, was sure to create a vacuum. John Stewart, a poor relation of the Killymoon family who had risen from a Tyrone rectory to be attorney-general under Abercorn’s aegis, began in May 1801 an attempt to step into the vacuum by angling for support from Caledon, who might be tempted to promote his own ambition for promotion in the peerage thereby. Meanwhile, Abercorn had 1,260 votes registered, ‘nearly a quarter of the whole county’, on John Stewart’s behalf. In November 1801 Corry requested government neutrality at the next election, without any pledge of friendship to them. The chief secretary’s reaction was: ‘It may possibly not be enough for Ld. Abercorn that we should be neutral, and then we shall lose one, and not get the other’. The premier Addington, though in general disposed to neutrality in Irish county elections, felt that he had ‘no alternative’, given the ‘personal and public claims’ of Abercorn and the ‘situation and character’ of his nominee, but to support John Stewart, 28 Dec. 1801. Corry was apprised of this at once, but on 1 Jan. 1802 addressed the county, stressing his independence. On 4 Jan. John Stewart advertised, stressing that he meant no opposition to James Stewart, and that if his office were thought unsuitable for a county Member he would give it up. The chief secretary thought this address ‘foolish’.2

Corry had just begun his canvass at Strabane when his father died at Bath, 2 Feb. 1802: ‘joyful tidings’ to the Abercorn interest, which thereby secured John Stewart’s unopposed return at the by-election and at the ensuing general election. Opposition was attempted: in the by-election Northland’s heir Thomas Knox, who until his quarrel with Abercorn had been county Member, professed a wish to stand. He had in October 1801 circulated a complicated proposal to Abercorn and Belmore, attempting to prescribe a coalition to ensure the succession to the county representation of their eldest sons. After Stewart’s return, Lord Powerscourt’s younger son, Col. John Wingfield, was put up on the interests of Powerscourt, Mountjoy and Charlemont (which had opposed the Union) and secured the acquiescence of James Stewart. Thereupon Belmore took umbrage. John Stewart, realizing that Belmore did not wish to be guarantor of the anti-Unionist coalition, urged Abercorn to come to terms with him. Belmore’s father had refused an English title for support of the Union and Belmore a representative peerage; but Stewart was sure an English peerage for him would secure the county for 20 years, effectively excluding both Wingfield and Thomas Knox. Otherwise, Abercorn’s interest would be defeated. An alliance between Abercorn and Belmore then took place, which checked the opposition and secured the return of John Stewart along with James Stewart. Belmore, however, did not obtain an English peerage, despite his allies’ pressure on government, and when Abercorn could not obtain a representative peerage for him either, even from his friend Pitt in 1804, a rift ensued. After Pitt’s death Lord Sidmouth was Abercorn’s only contact in the cabinet, though he applied to Lord Grenville on Belmore’s behalf.3

When Sir John Stewart and his patron went into opposition to Grenville’s ministry in 1806, the latter, already committed to the support of their friend James Stewart, decided to encourage the pretensions of Thomas Knox, who had in March offered to give up the county if Abercorn let him sit for Dungannon, against Sir John. The chief secretary had informed Grenville, 1 May 1806:

The present Members are Sir John Stewart (who is brought in by Lord Abercorn) and Mr James Stewart, who is a steadfast friend to the present government. Mr Knox is opposed to Sir John Stewart, and asks the assistance of government, but no answer can be given to his application ... till we know the relation in which you stand to Lord Abercorn. Knox, like all candidates, professes to have the best founded hopes of success, but I hear that his father gives his interest against him.

Several factors operated in Knox’s favour at this juncture: Abercorn’s ‘implacable hostility’ to government and the termination in 1805 of a life which ended a lease vital to his interest; the overcoming of James Stewart’s anxiety that the contest would harm him, which Caledon helped to dispel by plumping for him; Knox’s securing, in return for a pledge of support in some future contingency, the interest of Belmore, who was still pressing for a representative peerage, promised to direct Knox’s politics and claimed to have the largest single interest in the county; and his profession of adherence to the prime minister when they met in June 1806, which clinched matters.4 Sir John Stewart did not risk a contest then, or at the election of 1807, which came too soon for Abercorn to be able to re-establish his defective registration. Stewart staked his claim by a ‘very active canvass’, in which he contrived to get Caledon’s second votes and then withdrew, Belmore having, despite his disappointment at not getting a representative peerage from the Grenville ministry, decided to stand by their friend Knox, now in opposition. Knox had been prepared to come to terms with Abercorn but was, as usual, rebuffed. James Stewart, in turn, rejected an overture from Abercorn’s camp, and his friends’ resolution to support Knox proved decisive, though he solemnly denied that he was joining with Knox. The only consolation was the acquisition of Mountjoy, who allied himself with Abercorn with the bait of a representative peerage. Sir John Stewart was inclined to give up the struggle until Abercorn assured him that his heir, though of age, was not to be substituted for him. The Portland ministry, confronted with two Members in opposition, awarded county patronage to Abercorn and Sir John, though resentful at times of the former’s excessive demands.5

By 1812 the Abercorn registration was restored and, with the influence of government ‘at Lord Abercorn’s disposal’, Sir John Stewart, again his nominee, was in a strong position. Knox had decided to give up the county, and showing his heedlessness of the consequences by voting for Catholic relief in 1812 (the first Tyrone Member to do so since the Union), made way for his son and namesake, who coalesced with Sir John. The odds were now against James Stewart, who had ‘to contend against the united weight of Lords Belmore, Northland and Abercorn’, although Caledon, who remained loyal to him, reported that ‘the smaller independent interests are favourable to him’. The Prince Regent also expressed private sympathy for James Stewart, but beyond a broad hint to Lord Conyngham, who had some interest, the viceroy could do little about it, believing that while Sir John Stewart was the only candidate likely to support government, he could not ‘with propriety interfere against Mr Knox’, whose family were bringing in a government nominee for the borough of Dungannon, to the exclusion of Knox’s father.6 James Stewart declined a contest and Abercorn expected government to make up for their ‘gross and notorious neglect’ of him. Belmore, too, drawn into the coalition of grandees by Sir John Stewart, renounced his allegiance to Lord Grenville on the question of Catholic relief and by October 1815 was pressing for a representative peerage, claiming that Knox was his Member and had ‘no chance of continuing to represent the county of Tyrone’ without his assistance. Knox had proved to be a member of the Grenvillite opposition like his father, and Belmore, whose agent with government was Sir John Stewart, was unable to get him to toe the government line as a quid pro quo for his representative peerage.7

On 20 Apr. 1816 the viceroy asked Sir John Stewart if Belmore could ‘put Knox out’. Stewart told him that he and Belmore would pledge themselves ‘to return two Members friendly to government’ and that Abercorn would support any person they nominated. An attempt to come to terms with Knox in May 1816 having failed, the grandees were prepared to abandon him at the next election. Knox was aware of this, but having the family borough of Dungannon in view he would not relinquish for the present.8 In 1818 Stewart, the younger of Killymoon, was positively encouraged by the Castle, who knew nothing of his politics and cared less, to oppose Knox. Belmore, being given to understand that he would serve his own ambitions best by deserting Knox for Stewart, did so. Knox then withdrew, falling back on Dungannon. Thus a contest was again averted, though the Castle soon found that they had exchanged one foe for another.9

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Add. 35746, f. 27; 47569, ff. 283, 284; An Intro. to the Abercorn Letters ed. Gebbie, 218; PRO NI, Caledon mss 3/52.
  • 2. Caledon mss 3/39-41; An Intro. to the Abercorn Letters, 212, 213; Sidmouth mss, Abbot to Addington, 2 Nov.; PRO 30/9/1, pt. 2/1, Addington to Abbot, 28 Dec. 1801, reply 4 Jan.; Dublin Evening Post, 19 Jan. 1802; Add. 35712, f. 86.
  • 3. An Intro. to the Abercorn Letters, 215; Abercorn mss IB2/3/1-31; IB3/9/11; IB3/12/4; IK17/33, 36-42; IK18/38, 42-43, 49; IK19/3.
  • 4. HMC Fortescue, viii. 126, 145, 164, 175, 185, 258; Fortescue mss, Knox to J. King, King to Grenville, 11 June 1806; Abercorn mss IB3/12/8, 11-14, 20-28.
  • 5. Fortescue mss, R. to H. Alexander, 4 May, Belmore to Grenville, 14 May, Knox to same, 18 May; Abercorn mss IB3/13/5, 7, 10-29; IB3/14/8, 12, 14; IB3/15/3, 12, 18, 21, 22; IK19/49; Wellington mss, Castlereagh to Wellesley, 26 May, Wellesley to Abercorn, 21 June [1807], to Liverpool, 18 Jan. 1809.
  • 6. Add. 35650, f. 367; 40185, f. 43; NLI, Richmond mss 66/921, 74/1815; Fortescue mss, Knox to Grenville, 21 Aug. 1811, 25 Aug., 23 Oct. 1812; Caledon mss 10/1, 2, 5, 6.
  • 7. Add. 38571, f. 223; 40248, ff. 268, 274, 415; 40289, f. 185; 40291, f. 76.
  • 8. PRO NI, Belmore mss H/2/5-11; Abercorn mss IB3/23/30.
  • 9. Add. 40278, f. 225; 40295, ff. 137, 141; 40298, f. 40.