Co. Wexford


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 7,500 in 1818


 JOHN LOFTUS, Visct. Loftus 
19 July 1802JOHN LOFTUS, Visct. Loftus 
27 May 1806 CAESAR COLCLOUGH vice Loftus, become a peer of Ireland1046
 William Congreve Alcock816
1 June 1807ABEL RAM891
 John Colclough773
 Richard Brinsley Sheridan729
 James Thomas Stopford, Visct. Stopford3133
 George Arthur Annesley, Visct. Valentia2968

Main Article

The leading resident proprietary interest was that of the 1st Marquess of Ely, but Lords Portsmouth (an absentee), Courtown and Mountnorris and the latter’s brother-in-law Sir Frederick Flood*, Lord Spencer Chichester* and, among the gentry, the Alcock, Carew, Colclough and Ram families possessed substantial interests. The independent and Catholic interests had also to be reckoned with, the latter emerging as early as 1797 and growing in importance, reflecting a predominantly Catholic electorate.1

Ely, who obtained a marquessate for his manipulation of his squad of Members in the Irish parliament in favour of the Union2 and who had a virtual monopoly of county patronage, returned his heir Viscount Loftus as one of the Members; the other, Abel Ram, sponsored by Courtown through a marriage connexion, had changed his mind in favour of the Union doubtless at Ely’s behest. Accordingly, in May 1801 Ely informed the Castle that he intended to support the sitting Members at the next election and wished government to secure for them Portsmouth’s interest, which was usually placed at government disposal, to deter sir Frederick Flood from standing on an independent pro-Catholic interest. In July 1801 Flood’s brother-in-law Mountnorris applied likewise for support for him (as well as a representative peerage for himself). Government was embarrassed, as the prime minister had been privately assured by Portsmouth contrary to Ely’s suggestion, that Flood, whom he was prepared to back, was a supporter of administration. The snag was that while the minister was ready to back Ely’s son and Flood, they would not join forces, openly or secretly. A contest seemed likely, but in the event the viceroy induced Mountnorris to make Flood withdraw his pretensions.3 The supposed candidature of George Carr, an act of ‘absolute madness’, was a mere ploy to exert pressure on government on behalf of his sponsor John Knox Grogan of Johnstown, who wished to obtain the family estate forfeited by his attainted brother in 1798. Government not only ignored Grogan’s claims, but snubbed him: first in 1802, when on Carr’s withdrawal he offered his interest to them with this quid pro quo in mind; again in April 1806, when he affected to be prepared to contest the by-election in which his own nephew Colclough was a candidate, and finally in 1807, when, by requiring his unconditional support, they obliged him to abandon any intention of supporting his nephew.4

On Ely’s death in March 1806, his heir proposed to substitute William Congreve Alcock, a distant relative of his and formerly Member for Waterford city. The new Grenville ministry were urged by their Irish chancellor of the exchequer, Sir John Newport, who had ousted Alcock from Waterford, not to support him, as ‘the old independent interests that were always in opposition to Lord Loftus’ were prepared to sponsor Caesar Colclough of Tintern Abbey, then abroad. He was a kinsman of Lady Spencer and his interest was zealously promoted locally by his younger brother John, and in London by the Prince of Wales, who wrote for Portsmouth’s support. Newport also pointed out that if government supported Colclough now, the return, in coalition, of Colclough and his own brother-in-law Robert Shapland Carew (who at present made way for Colclough) could be obtained at the general election. The proviso was that Mountnorris and Sir Frederick Flood, who had an eye to the seat himself, should support this plan. Government, sceptical as to whether it would succeed anyway and not without hope of conciliating Ely, who had grown so powerful at government expense, were reluctant to agree to it: especially when Mountnorris, to whom Ely had offered a borough seat for his support, and Flood demanded rewards for their co-operation. In the end government settled for their neutrality and this was enough to enable Colclough, with Catholic support, to defeat Alcock at the ensuing by-election. Ely was indignant, threatening to raise the subject of government interference in the Lords, particularly in view of the bishop of Ferns’ and the Prince of Wales’ support for Colclough, together with that of the local revenue officers. Nothing came of a petition against Colclough’s return on the ground of his long absence abroad.5

In July 1806 Abel Ram, foreseeing that he might be the victim of a coalition of Colclough and Carew at the general election, tried, but failed to obtain Lord Grenville’s support, which he had claimed locally to have. In October Ely made a last bid to preserve his influence and secure Alcock’s return by suggesting a compromise with Mountnorris, whereby each would return a county Member and he would find a borough seat for the latter’s heir Lord Valentia. Complaining of government’s hostility to him, he emphasized that his nominee for Wexford city, Wigram, was well disposed to government and made him his go-between. This suggestion tempted the government as Caesar Colclough was a prisoner of war in France, but they were informed by the Irish chancellor that John Colclough, who had now come forward in place of his brother, was unlikely to relinquish his pretensions and that such a bargain with Ely, an arch-Protestant, would alienate the Catholic interest. Despite reservations about John Colclough’s respectability, government therefore adhered to Newport’s proposal for supporting Colclough and Carew. Sir Frederick Flood, speaking also for Mountnorris, declared that he would support them as a protest against ‘the shameful state of vassalage in which a certain noble family had held the county for 17 years’. Failing a last bid by Ely to depose Colclough by buying a seat for him, Ram, who had also tried once more for government support at Colclough’s expense, made a virtue of declining a poll. Alcock also declined. Flood was rewarded with the office of custos rotulorum, which Mountnorris had previously requested for himself. Mountnorris now sought an English peerage, but this was too much to ask.6

Ely’s opportunity for revenge came within a year, when the Portland ministry dissolved Parliament. They supported Ram and Alcock at his bidding and secured the interests of Portsmouth and Mountnorris for them. Carew not only withdrew, hoping apparently for a compromise to be arranged, but gave his interest to Alcock. Colclough, left without a running partner, made a notional choice of Richard Sheridan*, without the latter’s knowledge. A poll commenced, but was brought to a halt when Alcock challenged Colclough to a duel for trespassing on the votes of tenants of an English widow Mrs Cholmondeley, which he had been promised, and, on 30 May, shot him dead before the assembled county.7 ‘That’s one way of getting an election’, remarked George Tierney*, discounting a ‘vague report’ that Sheridan was to shoot Alcock’s colleague Ram, ‘which will make matters even again’. The chief secretary’s comment was: ‘As this is reckoned fair in Ireland, it created no sensation in the county’. Yet Colclough became a Catholic martyr and Alcock, after being acquitted of murder, and surviving a petition of 9 July 1807 against his and Ram’s return, went mad.8 A petition to the House to discharge him on this account in 1811 was rejected, but there was no question of his standing again. Ram too, though he clung to his candidature until the eleventh hour and pretended he would stand another time, could not afford a contest against Sir Frederick Flood and Robert Shapland Carew junior in 1812. Ely did not obtrude himself in this election, being disappointed that government had not better rewarded his services and expense in 1807, which he thought ground enough to transfer his brother from the bishopric of Killaloe to that of Elphin. Flood, who was supported by Mountnorris for one Parliament only, with a view to the introduction of his son Valentia as county Member, was pledged to complete independence and support for Catholic claims, as was Carew, who shared his father’s Whig politics. Flood, the most forceful Wexford Member in this period, boasted of having been returned unanimously by over 10,000 electors.9

In 1818 the fiercest contest ever remembered took place. The 2nd Earl of Mountnorris having, as anticipated, sponsored his heir Lord Valentia (George Arthur Annesley) to replace Flood, and Courtown his heir Lord Stopford (James Thomas Stopford), Carew formed an alliance in March 1817 with Caesar Colclough, brother of the victim of 1807, who had since returned from abroad. Mountnorris believed that this coalition would gain him the support of those independent gentlemen who had previously supported the Ely interest, now in abeyance; but he agreed to a coalition between his son and Stopford and they received government support against the two Whigs by April 1817. The Castle proceeded to help Mountnorris mop up the oustanding uncommitted interests, and, confident of victory, he declared before the poll began, ‘we have nearly the whole aristocracy of the county with us’. The chief secretary hoped to gain one, if not both seats. There were, however, few Catholics who supported the aristocratic junto. Courtown’s only fear was that the priests would interfere at the instigation of Dr Ryan, bishop of Wexford and ‘prevent the tenants coming in to poll’ for his son. He wished the Castle to circumvent this. Mountnorris, too, applied for the votes of Catholics living on crown lands, who would otherwise support Carew and Colclough. The latter were the popular candidates and, in the ensuing poll, inflicted on the young aristocrats ‘one of the greatest defeats ministers have sustained in Ireland’. In a close battle, in which Mountnorris complained that his son’s colleague, who came nearer to winning a seat, did not provide effective support, it was probably the Catholic vote that swayed the election.10

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Wakefield, Account of Ireland, i. 281-2.
  • 2. G. C. Bolton, The Passing of the Irish Act of Union, 173-5.
  • 3. PRO 30/9/1, pt. 1/5, Ely to Abbot, 14 May; 30/9/1, pt. 1/5, Ely to Abbot, 14 May; 30/9/9, pt. 1/4, audience bk. 24 July, 7 Aug., 3 Nov.; Sidmouth mss, Portsmouth to Addington, 1 Apr. 1801; Add. 35735, f. 70; 35781, ff. 32, 41.
  • 4. PRO 30/9/1, pt. 3/5, Grogan to Stewart, 8 Dec. 1801; PRO NI, McPeake mss C/18, J. to C. Colclough, 24 Feb. 1802; Dublin SRO, 530/220/4, 534/242/11, 620/61/128; NLS mss 12910, Elliot to Newport, 3 May, 29 Oct. 1806; Wellington mss, Wellesley to Ely, 22, 27 May, Trail to Wellesley, 30 June 1807.
  • 5. HMC Fortescue, viii. 76, 81, 94, 98-99, 109, 126; Fortescue mss, Mountnorris to Grenville, 1 June; Spencer mss, Colclough to Spencer, 28 Feb., Grenville to same, 8 Apr., Elliot to same, 15 June; NLS mss 12910, pp. 45, 54, 86, Elliot to Newport, 14, 15, 27 Apr.; 12917, Newport to Elliot, 2, 12, 16 Apr., 9, 10, 14 May; 12914, Grenville to Elliot, 10, 12, 16, 24 Apr., 5 May; PRO NI, McPeake mss C/18, J. to C. Colclough, 13 Dec. 1804, 11 Apr. 1806; NLI, Newport mss, Elliot to Newport, 27 Apr., 3 May 1806; CJ, lxi. 425, 480.
  • 6. HMC Fortescue, viii. 197, 211, 216, 225, 229, 393, 398, 400, 405, 408, 411, 414, 417, 435; Fortescue mss, Ely to Grenville, 20 Oct., Ram to same, 21 Nov. 1806; NLS mss, 12910, Elliot to Newport, 20, 29 Oct.; 12914, Grenville to Elliot, 27, 31 Oct.; 12917, Newport to Elliot, 27 May, 16, 30 June, 2, 9 July, 18, 29 Oct., 10 Nov.; Spencer mss, Ely to Spencer, 20 Oct., Spencer to Bedford, 28 Oct., Bedford to Spencer, 6 Nov.; Dublin Evening Post, 17, 20, 29 Nov. 1806.
  • 7. Add. 38283, f. 241; 40221, f. 40; Dublin Evening Post, 27 May; Fortescue mss, Carew to Grenville, Thurs. [29 Apr.], Grenville to Mountnorris, 30 Apr., reply 5 June, Newport to Grenville, 4 June; Wellington mss, Wellesley to Ely, 22 may, to Rev. Rodgers, 30 May 1807.
  • 8. J. Barrington, Personal Sketches, i. 306; CJ, lxii. 664; Add. 51585, Tierney to Holland, Fri. [5 June 1807]; Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 17, 43, 69.
  • 9. Add. 40218, ff. 3, 5, 7; 40222, ff. 12, 94; NLI, Richmond mss 66/888.
  • 10. Add. 38283, f. 241; 40188, f. 156; 40193, ff. 74, 154; 40263, f. 312; 40264, f. 240; 40271, f. 375; 40272, f. 53; 40277, f. 219; 40278, ff. 116, 229, 307, 311; 40293, f. 40; 40295, f. 138; Morning Chron. 28 July; Morning Herald, 24 June 1818.