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 the freemen and 40s. freeholders

Number of voters:

about 3,000 in 1806 reduced to 1,800 in 1820


(1821): 175,881


 George Ogle1281
 Jonah Barrington642
31 Mar. 1804 ROBERT SHAW vice Beresford, vacated his seat 
19 Nov. 1806HENRY GRATTAN1675
 John Latouche II1522
19 Oct. 1812HENRY GRATTAN 
30 June 1818HENRY GRATTAN 

Main Article

Despite its being a freeman-freeholder constituency Dublin had, in practice, a largely protestant freeman electorate. Of just over 3,000 electors in 1806, only 382 were freeholders and by 1820 the number had dropped to 138.1 It is also significant that the majority of freeholders had freeholds worth £20 or more. The corporation freemen were therefore the most important element in the constituency and can be divided into what were sometimes two distinct groups: the governing body of aldermen, and the common council, itself fragmented into trades guilds, of which the most important was the guild of merchants. Yet the social and economic structure of the electorate was not of itself a determining factor in elections. The mainly commercial flavour of the electorate certainly led to some preference for Members of proven business experience, but electors were equally keen to be represented by men of personal and political vigour. Moreover, as the capital city, Dublin was more responsive to the great issues of the day than was often the case in the provinces. As the centre of Anglo-Irish social life and the seat of the Irish parliament and English administration, the electorate was often moved by apparently contradictory moods. Thus the predominantly protestant business community could on one occasion unanimously return pro-government candidates, as in 1797, and then become the vehicle of anti-Unionist feeling as in 1798-9; and subsequently, in this period, return the champion of Catholic emancipation, Henry Grattan.

Dublin retained both its seats at the Union, and in 1802 the sitting Members, Ogle and Beresford, were joined as candidates by the city banker John Latouche, and the lawyer and historian Jonah Barrington. Ogle and Beresford were anti-Unionist and anti-Catholic; indeed, Ogle was Grand Master of the Orange Order. Barrington and Latouche, on the other hand, were anti-Unionists, and pro-Catholic, Barrington being supported by Henry Grattan. All four were prepared to support administration (a fact that was never made clear on the hustings), but the Castle favoured Ogle and Beresford and was no doubt pleased to be informed that the Dublin Evening Post pursued a determined course of undermining Latouche and Barrington’s chances. A ministerial lackey wrote: ‘An attempt was this morning made to get Mr Grattan’s speech at the hustings into the paper, but I prevented its appearance. ... Have the goodness to destroy this, etc.’

As all four candidates opposed the Union, the subsequent poll had the appearance of a conflict between Ogle and Beresford, representing pro-Castle and anti-Catholic views, and Latouche and Barrington, representing the independent interests and the Catholic cause. Beresford and Latouche were the victors, and although money was certainly spent lavishly the outcome can be satisfactorily represented as a victory in which the spoils were divided between the two parties.2

It was in this respect that the result of the 1802 election laid the basis of subsequent events. In 1804, for example, the balance between the two parties was preserved by the unopposed return of Shaw, a wealthy banker of pro-government and anti-Catholic views. Moreover the outcome of the very severe contest in 1806 confirmed it. The candidates then were Shaw, who opposed Grenville’s government but courted its support; Latouche, who supported it; and Grattan, who had represented the City 1790-7 and was one of the most notable Irish politicians of his day. At the outset Grattan’s prospects were poor. He was supported by only five of the guilds, whereas Latouche was supported by ten and Shaw by 17. The key issue among pro-Catholic elements was the precise relationship between Grattan, Latouche and the government. There was undoubtedly a strong preference among sections of the electorate for a candidate who was independent of the Castle and this was turned to Grattan’s advantage. In a major speech to the guild of merchants on 7 Nov. he denied that he was being actively sponsored by administration and referred to his adherents as men who had always supported the freedom and independence of the electorate against the power and influence of government. This evidently persuaded enough freemen to vote for him and unseat Latouche, for although he polled more freeholders than the other two candidates, he would have been returned upon his freeman votes alone. Grattan later referred to his triumph as a victory for the ‘principle of toleration and mercy’. Latouche and his friends thought otherwise and unsuccessfully petitioned the House that both Shaw and Grattan had succeeded as a result of bribery, corruption and the polling of unqualified voters.3 The important point, however, is that both parties in the constituency still shared the representation. This they continued to do in 1807, when Grattan for the Whigs and Shaw for the government were returned unopposed. The Castle itself contributed to this compromise by deciding against putting up a second candidate with Shaw, in order ‘to keep this city quiet’.4

After 1807 Shaw took up an increasingly independent position with respect to successive governments and by 1810 had changed his mind on the Catholic question. In other words the former party differences between Shaw and Grattan largely disappeared. Both were returned unopposed in 1812 and 1818. The reasons for this surprising change in the politics of the constituency, although to some extent a matter of conjecture, are probably of the following order. First, the Castle made no further effort to replace either Grattan or Shaw by Members who would represent their own views. In fact, in 1818 Peel refused to aid the canvass of an anti-Catholic candidate, Alderman King, on the grounds that he had no wish to disturb the peace of the city and that, in terms of parliamentary ability, ‘it would bring disgrace on the city of Dublin to prefer King to Grattan’. With this remark Peel put his finger on the second reason: that both Shaw and Grattan were first-rate Members, Shaw in particular taking a consistent and active interest in his constituency affairs. Finally, there can be little doubt that the majority of the predominantly protestant electorate came to approve of the pro-Catholic and independent politics that Grattan and Shaw represented, despite the hooligan assault on Grattan at his chairing in 1818.5

Author: P. J. Jupp


  • 1. Dublin SPO 522/913/9, ‘Contested elections for Dublin City, 1806 and 1820’.
  • 2. Ibid. 620/61/119, 123; Add. 35781, ff. 100-1; New Cork Evening Post, 26 July, 9 Aug. 1802; Saunders’s News Letter, 23 July, 5, 6 Aug.; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss, Beresford to Auckland, 12 Aug. 1802.
  • 3. HMC Fortescue, viii. 399, 440; Dublin Corresp. 10, 12, 15, 19 Nov.; Dublin Evening Post, 13, 20 Nov. 1806; CJ, lxii. 23, 38, 54-55; Fitzwilliam mss, box 70, Grattan to Fitzwilliam, 29 Nov. 1806.
  • 4. Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 18.
  • 5. Add. 40193, f. 217; 40293, f. 217; 40293, f. 50; 40295, f. 153.