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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in £5 householders

Number of voters:

250 in 1784; 393 voted in 1818


(1831): 4,779


10 May 1801 SAMUEL CAMPBELL ROWLEY vice Rowley, appointed to office 
 Hon. Fulk Greville Upton87
 John Wilson Croker105
 Edward Southwell Ruthven57
 John Wilson Croker122
9 Mar. 1815 WILLIAM RICHARD ANNESLEY, Visct. Glerawly, vice Hawthorne, appointed to office154
 Edward Southwell Ruthven151
30 June 1818WILLIAM RICHARD ANNESLEY, Visct. Glerawly260
 Edward Southwell Ruthven133

Main Article

The principal property interest in the householder borough and county town of Downpatrick belonged to the Southwells, an Anglo-Irish family whose base was in Limerick. In 1776 one of their number, Edward Southwell, succeeded to estates in Gloucestershire and the distinction of becoming 20th Baron (de) Clifford. From 1777, when he died, until the end of this period his heir, another Edward, was the nominal patron of the borough, although in practice his interest declined and fell under the control of his relations, the Rowley family of Leitrim, and, by 1812, of his agent, Miller. Because of this and of the growth of the electorate (which after 1793 included some of the Catholics in the town) the borough soon attracted the attention of other interested parties. Thus by the time of the Union Lord Downshire had an interest there, as did Edward Southwell Ruthven and Charles Stewart Hawthorne. The subsequent history of elections therefore follows the pattern of contests between these interests, in which considerable sums of money were spent. It should also be noted, however, that at least five of the six contests were fought on lines of government versus opposition.1

Immediately before the Union the Members were de Clifford’s relations, Clotworthy and Josias Rowley. Josias lost his seat at the Union ballot; Clotworthy resigned his on appointment to office and was duly replaced by his son Samuel. At the general election in 1802 Samuel Rowley withdrew to Kinsale and, with the approval of the Castle, the de Clifford interest put forward Fulk Upton, a brother of Lord Templetown, a nearby Antrim peer. He was opposed and defeated by Hawthorne, a local merchant. A Castle official remarked ruefully that Upton had been beaten as a result of ‘an utter defeat of management during the poll’ on de Clifford’s account.2

Soon after Lord Grenville succeeded Pitt in 1806, his Irish secretary urged him to decide whom his government would support in the borough, it being likely that Hawthorne would withdraw. Grenville was reluctant to alienate de Clifford for political reasons, but was eventually persuaded that, even with official support, his decaying interest had no chance of defeating the likely candidature of Ruthven, supported by both Hawthorne and, more significantly, Lady Downshire, who had invested in borough property and opened her purse for Ruthven. Thus at the election official support was given to Ruthven. He was opposed initially by Josias Rowley, who now managed the de Clifford interest, and by the rising young John Wilson Croker, a colleague of one of the Rowley family in the Irish revenue, who no doubt was encouraged by them to try his luck. Presumably by design, Rowley quickly withdrew from the contest and gave his interest to Croker. Ruthven subsequently refused Croker’s invitation to resign and won the election. Croker petitioned against the return, but although he was convinced that some £4,000 had been illegally spent during the election, he was unable to find proof of it; in any case the House was dissolved before any judgment was made.3

Croker and Ruthven were adversaries again in 1807. Croker was supported by the de Clifford interest which continued to be managed by the Rowleys, and had so convinced the chief secretary of his success that he was promised up to £2,000 from the Castle’s election funds. Lady Downshire again supported Ruthven, although she had agreed to ally with the Whig de Clifford in returning Sir Samuel Romilly*, if Croker happened to decline. A rather extraordinary situation therefore emerged, whereby the interest of the Whig de Clifford was used to support the candidature of a political opponent, Croker.

Croker initially felt his prospects to be good, although he reported to the Castle that the local government employees were hostile to him and that the Catholics were planning how to give concerted support to Ruthven. The canvass soon degenerated into a brawl. Croker feared that ‘the mob intoxicated by whiskey and the exhortations of their priests should attempt to prevent a return altogether’ and informed the chief secretary that if Hawthorne, who was supporting Ruthven, could be removed, he could manage his ‘popish mob’. Croker eventually persuaded the Irish government to send Maj. Swan, deputy of the Dublin police, to quell the riots and to see fair play. Lady Downshire’s agents, acting for Ruthven, saw this move in a somewhat different light and reported to her the gist of a conversation which Ruthven and Hawthorne had with Swan, as to the object of his mission:

He said he came there by direction to keep the peace of the town, which it was apprehended might be disturbed—to this it was observed that the town was perfectly peaceable and that if it were otherwise the local magistracy were fully sufficient to act and to prevent any disturbance, and that he might think there was some deference due to them. He said he had determined to call out the Guard, and have street patrols, and that if anyone on his side misbehaved he hoped Mr Ruthven’s party would refer to him, and that if any on Mr Ruthven’s side misbehaved he would inform them—to this Mr Hawthorne replied that he should protest against calling out the Guard unless there was a necessity for it and that if this were attempted he would not suffer the military to intimidate the electors in Mr Ruthven’s interest, which appeared to be intended; but would call out his corps of about 200 yeomanry to protect the exercise of their franchise.4

The election began on 19 May under this ominous cloud and soon ran in Croker’s favour. Ruthven’s friends complained bitterly of the conduct of the returning officer: ‘the poor insane tool of a seneschal who had nothing to lose and to whom gaol or transportation would be little punishment’ and who, they claimed, struck out 50 of Ruthven’s good votes before returning Croker. Ruthven’s friends were convinced that the most ‘flagitious daring conduct’ in ‘the whole history of electioneering depravity’ would secure their candidate’s success on petition, but the House decided in favour of Croker.5

In 1812 Croker’s adversary proved to be Hawthorne, supported once again by the Downshire interest. As in 1807 Croker’s prospects initially appeared bright, as de Clifford had, for some reason, decided he would support anyone who opposed Hawthorne. Miller, de Clifford’s new agent, thought otherwise and, ignoring the directives from Gloucestershire, made it known in Downpatrick that de Clifford tenants might vote as they pleased. Croker and Hawthorne therefore embarked on a canvass, Croker soon announcing to his friends in the government that he had a majority of 20 good votes over his rival, but that there were some 62 ‘doubtful’, most of whom would only succumb to money. He therefore begged the Irish government to send him funds to compete with the Downshire faction, who ‘think a vote not too dear at £60 which is pretty well at the beginning of a canvass’. The election began on 13 Oct. and within a day the courthouse was ‘in the possession of the mob’. Three days later Croker, who had not received any assistance from the government but had written to his agents for £1,000, calculated that Hawthorne would have a majority, but that if it did not exceed 20 he would win on petition. In the end Hawthorne was returned; Croker at first did not intend to petition, ‘because I wish it to be distinctly understood that he owes my forebearance and his seat to the government’. He soon determined otherwise, only to have his petition thrown out on a legal technicality. It brought an end to Croker’s connexion with Downpatrick, which he later recalled had cost him £12,000.6

In contrast to the situation at the beginning of this period the borough was now generally regarded as ‘open’ and the by-election of 1815, caused by Hawthorne’s taking office, tempted a number of potential candidates. From the start Ruthven was a certain competitor for the opposition and the key issue at the Castle was the best candidate for their support among the following: Matthew Forde, a local man ‘of good estate in the vicinity of Downpatrick’; Sir Josias Rowley; Lord Glerawly, another man of local estate; Sir Henry Blackwood, brother of Lord Dufferin; and even Croker, who toyed with the idea of another contest in the borough. After protracted correspondence the Castle eventually selected Blackwood, on the assumption that he would receive the support of Hawthorne, a close friend of Lord Sidmouth, the Home secretary. Hawthorne disappointed them by withdrawing his support from Blackwood and the latter immediately retired, to support the only candidate who came forward to challenge Ruthven at the poll, Lord Glerawly. In a keenly fought election, Glerawly succeeded. As it was generally admitted that he had little or no personal interest in the borough, his victory may be attributed to the support he received from de Clifford’s agent Miller and the £4,000 he personally spent. Nothing came of a petition against his return, in which Ruthven accused Glerawly of calling in the military to intimidate voters; Glerawly allegedly bought off Ruthven for £1,500.7

Three years later, the contest was repeated, but on this occasion Glerawly was supported by both Hawthorne and the Castle. Ruthven was therefore beaten for the third time in 11 years.

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Procs. R. Irish Acad. lix, sec. C, no. 1 (1957), 26.
  • 2. Add. 35723, ff. 64-65; Dublin SPO 520/131/2, anon. to Littlehales [28 June]; New Cork Evening Post, 26 July 1802.
  • 3. HMC Fortescue, viii. 314, 398; CJ, lxii. 25, 26; Belfast News Letter, 18 Nov. 1806; Add. 40183, f. 44.
  • 4. Fortescue mss, Lady Downshire to Grenville, 16 May 1807.
  • 5. Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 41; Wellington mss, Croker to Wellesley, 9, 13, 18 May, Hawkesbury to same, 15 May; Belfast News Letter, 26 May 1807; CJ, lxii. 590.
  • 6. Add. 40183, ff. 17, 27, 29, 31, 34, 46, 48, 57, 83; 40184, f. 108; 40280, f.58; Dublin Corresp. 19 Oct. 1812; CJ, lxviii. 63.
  • 7. Add. 40182, ff. 158, 160; 40183, ff. 25, 106, 108, 180, 251, 275; 40200, ff. 33, 37, 105; 40209, f. 132; 40212, f. 77a; 40243, f. 231; 40275, f. 250; 40277, f. 257; 40287, ff. 195, 213a, 222; 40288, ff. 26, 43-44, 77a; 40295, f. 63; CJ, lxx. 187, 408; PRO NI D365, Pilson diary (copy), 4 Apr. 1836.