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

Estimated number qualified to vote:


Number of voters:

39 in 1831


4,851 (1821); 5,752 (1831)1


23 Mar. 1820SIR JOHN POO BERESFORD, bt.  
22 Feb. 1823SIR JOHN WILLIAM HEAD BRYDGES vice Beresford, vacated his seat  
 John Thomas Thorp 15
 William Taylor Copeland 70
 COPELAND vice Brydges, on petition, 4 Aug. 1831  

Main Article

Coleraine, on the east bank of the Bann, was a town of rising commercial importance, particularly through the trade in its eponymous linens.4 Like Londonderry, with which it had many similarities, it had been incorporated in the early seventeenth century under the aegis of the Irish Society (‘The governor and assistants of the new plantation in Ulster’), which was effectively a committee of the common council of the City of London. Although the Society still paid close attention to local affairs, by the early nineteenth century it had largely ceded its influence to the dominant local landowner, the 2nd marquess of Waterford of Curraghmore, county Waterford.5 His interest was exercised by his cousins: John Claudius Beresford† of Glenmoyle, agent to the Irish Society (and sometimes styled the borough’s patron), and Henry Barré Beresford of Learmount, chamberlain of Coleraine from 1823. The representative was generally a member of the family, who supported Lord Liverpool’s administration and opposed Catholic relief. From 1809 to 1812 and again since 1814 he had been Waterford’s illegitimate brother, Admiral Sir John Beresford of Bedale, Yorkshire.6 Although in theory a freeman borough, Coleraine’s franchise was in fact restricted to the corporation, most of whose members were Waterford’s relatives or connections among the local gentry. It consisted of 12 aldermen, including the mayor, and 24 principal burgesses, though vacancies were not always filled. There was no residency requirement and only a handful of the corporators resided within the town or its liberties. The corporation always claimed the sole right of voting in parliamentary elections and there were in any case no freemen, who could only be admitted by the taking of an oath and the payment of the necessary fees, or by ‘ticket’ (gift).7 Yet in 1797, as a compliment to Waterford’s father, 111 militiamen had been elected freemen and, although they were never actually sworn in, the 30 or so who survived until 1830 then assumed an important role. By counting the existing 30 corporators and adding 22 of the freemen of 1797, the boundary commissioners reckoned on a total of 52 voters in 1831, but this must have been a considerable underestimate of the potential electorate, given the number of inhabitants applying for the freedom at that time.8

Beresford, who was returned unopposed at the general election of 1820, was entrusted with the loyal address to the king which was approved at a meeting of the corporation and inhabitants, 6 Jan. 1821, but it is not known whether it was he who brought up the Coleraine petition for inquiry into Irish grand jury presentments, 30 May 1822.9 On his resignation in February 1823, to take up a seat on his own interest for Berwick, Waterford replaced him with his brother-in-law, the army officer Sir John Brydges of Wootton Court, Kent. Local tanners’ petitions for repeal of the leather tax were presented to the House, 21 Feb. 1823, 25 May 1824, while those from the landholders complaining of county assessments and the linen merchants for a protective duty on foreign yarn were brought up, 6, 25 June 1823.10 A petition from the freemasons for their exemption from the Secret Societies Act was presented to the Commons, 10 Mar., and the Lords, 31 May 1824.11 Brydges was again returned at the general election of 1826, but had the Beresfords managed to procure him a promotion, the seat would have gone to the defeated county Waterford Member, Lord George Beresford.12 The latter was active at a Coleraine meeting, 2 Oct. 1828, when a Brunswick Club was formed under the presidency of Sir James Bruce of Downhill, and a further gathering, got up by John Claudius Beresford, condemned the actions of the Catholic Association, 11 Nov. 1828.13 The local Catholics met to forward their claims, 8 Feb. 1829. Although Brydges, who voted against emancipation, boasted in the House, 16 Mar., that most of the electors had signed the hostile county Londonderry petition, the attempt to get up an Orange demonstration on 12 July proved a failure.14 The petition of the local director and manager of the Provincial Bank at Coleraine for mitigating the punishment for forgery was presented to the Commons, 19 May, and the Lords, 10 June, and Brydges brought up petitions from the inhabitants against the coal and stamp duties, 25 May 1830.15

During the minority of the 3rd marquess (who had succeeded his father in July 1826), the management of his interest was undertaken by the heads of the family. In late 1829, when no dissolution was expected before Waterford came of age (in 1832), the Beresfords ruled out any suggestion that their county Londonderry Member, the now pro-Catholic George Dawson, could retreat to a safe berth at Coleraine.16 That year Barré Beresford sought to increase their local patronage by making the town a warehousing post and improving the markets, and in 1830 a clock was donated for the town hall and a poor house was established.17 Such precautions were probably motivated by the knowledge that the Irish Society, which had sent a deputation to Ulster in 1827, had begun to take a greater interest in its possessions.18 When George IV’s death led to an early dissolution in 1830, the Society sent over its governor Alderman John Thorp†, former Whig Member for London. At the general election he acted in conjunction with the unfranchised inhabitants, whose cause the Society had decided to champion, believing that it had a right to ensure the franchise was properly exercised.19 Despite some disaffection, the Beresfords could count on about 20 of the corporators, including one of their stooges, the long-serving mayor, for whom a dinner was held on 9 July 1830.20 They were, however, handicapped by the absence of several burgesses at other elections and, for example, by the antagonism of the Rev. Thomas Bewley Monsell, archdeacon of Derry, who resigned in protest at the seating for Armagh by Primate Beresford of the former chief secretary Henry Goulburn, who had followed Wellington in conceding Catholic emancipation.21 Another burgess, the outgoing Londonderry Member Sir George Hill, who had some idea of coming in as a locum, was thought unlikely to be present as he was fearful of being arrested for debt.22 Worst of all, after legal consultations, it was discovered that Brydges had never fulfilled the technicality of being chosen a freeman prior to his election as Member, and so he had to be rushed over to the town for the first time.23 Meanwhile, the Irish Society had circulated a pamphlet entitled A Concise View of the Origin, Constitution and Proceedings of the Irish Society, attacking the existing franchise of the borough. According to Barré Beresford, their erstwhile friend Dawson, whom they blamed for the opposition, had ‘written a most violent and false statement as to the borough of Coleraine’, in which ‘he invites the inhabitants to call on the Irish Society to open the borough and to call on us to account for the misapplication of funds for a century’.24

Brydges was elected a freeman, 12 Aug. 1830, when, as had been expected, a number of inhabitants and some of the unsworn freemen of 1797 presented themselves for admission as burgesses. Although they had been advised that they would retain a majority even if new freemen were allowed, the Beresfords were understandably anxious about conceding such a precedent. Nevertheless, after much discussion, during which Brydges blundered by declaring that he would represent only the existing electors and so provoked the nomination of Thorp against him, 17 inhabitants were enabled to tender (15 for Thorp and two for Brydges). The sitting Member was re-elected, with the votes of the 22 corporators present, but a protest was lodged against his return.25 Barré Beresford observed that ‘as an attack on our family it has failed completely for there seemed the best feeling’ and ‘the people brought in were very low, none of the merchants or shopkeepers attended’. Yet it brought further problems for the Beresford interest in the form of the resignations of several corporators, who complained ‘that Dawson should be deemed worse than Goulburn’ and favoured the admission of new freemen.26 In September the Beresfords tried to ward off attempts to examine the corporation records by the Irish Society’s deputation, whose arrival in Coleraine was greeted with popular delight. However, Barré Beresford took care to ensure that its members should be shown the positive contribution that the corporation had made to the town, and he reported to the archbishop that although calls had been made for the electorate to be enlarged, their discussions had ended amicably.27 The dominant group on the corporation nevertheless ruled against electing any of the 1797 freemen or other applicants, 1 Oct.; a total of 97 individuals were refused admission that year.28 Thorp’s petition, alleging that the franchise was in the freemen and that the mayor had acted wrongly in closing the poll early, was lodged, 15 Nov. 1830. In a counter-petition, brought up on 26 Feb. 1831, the leading corporators pleaded necessary attendance at the assizes, and the matter was put off till 19 Apr., when it was allowed to lapse because of the imminent dissolution.29 As well as meetings to complain about British soldiers being compelled to attend religious services overseas, 13 Jan., and to address the lord lieutenant against repeal of the Union, 14 Feb., much pressure was exerted in favour of parliamentary reform, and the inhabitants’ petition for the Grey ministry’s reform bill, approved on 15 Mar. with 600 signatures, was presented to the Commons, 21 Mar.30 Anti-slavery petitions were brought up in the Commons, 9 Mar., and the Lords, 18 Apr. 1831.31

At the ensuing general election Brydges, who had voted against the reform bill, was opposed by another member of the Irish Society, the London alderman William Copeland, on behalf of the inhabitants.32 Copeland, who was introduced by the shopkeeper James Gribben as a Protestant reformer, had 70 votes tendered but rejected, and Brydges, who was proposed by the former Antrim Member Edmund MacNaghten, had all the objections against his 16 corporation voters overruled.33 The Beresfords, who were worried by the future effect of the continued popularity of reform, evidently exploited corporation funds, paying, for example, £150 for the services of an assistant barrister.34 Copeland’s petition, which again challenged the corporation’s interpretation of the franchise, was presented to the House, 1 July, and after lengthy committee proceedings it was decided that the 23 of the 70 tendered voters who had been admitted as freemen in 1797 (but not the 49 others who tendered, one of whom withdrew) were legal. This gave Copeland a majority and he was duly seated, 4 Aug., in place of Brydges, who retreated to Armagh.35 The independent inhabitants paraded their success in Coleraine, but although 36 freemen (presumably intended by the Beresfords as a counterweight to their opponents) were chosen, 1 Oct., and the remaining freemen of 1797 were sworn (on the payment of £1 10s. or £1 13s. 4d. each) on the 14th, all other applicants were rebuffed and just over a 1,000 claims were refused at another corporation meeting, 4 Oct.36 The inhabitants’ petition for the continuation of the Kildare Place Society grant was presented to the Commons, 5 Oct., by the county Member Sir Robert Bateson, who brought up the delayed petition about religious services on the 12th, and to the Lords by Lord Downshire, 7 Oct. 1831.37

A meeting of inhabitants, 14 Jan. 1832, agreed resolutions in defence of the Protestant interest.38 In the House, 23 Jan., Copeland moved for returns of the number of freemen granted and refused admission since 1715, the corporation’s properties and the emoluments of its officials. Brydges and others objected on the ground that these were private documents, but had the support of Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Catholic leader, and Marcus Beresford, Member for Berwick, and the motion was agreed without a division; they were produced on 18 Apr.39 During the ministerial crisis in May an abortive attempt was made to get up an anti-reform procession, which one radical paper described as ‘most contemptible and every way worthy of the expiring faction by which it was supported’.40 In the slightly enlarged borough, there were expected to be 214 electors under the Irish Reform Act: 184 £10 occupiers (another 64 of the £10 houses were unoccupied, out of a total of 1,163), four men paying rent of £10 for their houses and 26 reserved rights burgesses and freemen.41 In fact, there were 207 registered electors at the general election of 1832, when the Beresfords, who considered that with good management they could regain control of the borough, put up Sir John Beresford against the Liberal Copeland, who still had the active support of the Irish Society. Beresford was returned as a Conservative on the casting vote of the mayor (98-97), but another committee, which once more ruled in favour of the residual freemen of 1797, again seated Copeland, who held the seat until 1837.42 The corporation, which was steadily criticized for its corruption and incompetence, was abolished in 1840, and the chief influence in the mostly Conservative town fell into the hands of John Boyd of Dunduan House, who was Member for Coleraine, 1843-52 and 1857-62.43

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. According to the census, the town had 4,851 inhabitants in 1821; this had fallen to 3,774 in 1831, when 1,978 inhabitants of Killowen parish (a suburb on the other side of the Bann) were added to give a total for the borough of 5,752. PP (1833), xxxix. 37.
  • 2. voted
  • 3. tendered
  • 4. J. C. Curwen, Observations on State of Ireland (1818), i. 211, 212; H.D. Inglis, Ireland in 1834, ii. 226-8; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), i. 384-6; PP (1831-2), xliii. 33; (1836), xxiv. 21, 52.
  • 5. J. Betts, Story of Irish Soc. (1921), app. pp. xi, xii; R. Smith, Irish Soc. 69, 70; J.S. Curl, Londonderry Plantation, 114, 426; Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 278; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 671.
  • 6. Add. 40298, f. 9; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), vi. 243; Oldfield, Key (1820), 324.
  • 7. PP (1829), xxii. 250; (1830), xxxi. 324; (1831-2), xliii. 33; (1836), xxiv. 21-23, 30; Peep at the Commons (1820), 20.
  • 8. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 638, 639; xliii. 33, 34, 36; (1836), xxiv. 26, 32; Key to Both Houses (1832), 313, 314.
  • 9. Belfast News Letter, 9 Jan., 6 Mar. 1821; CJ, lxxvii. 300.
  • 10. CJ, lxxviii. 59, 371, 425; lxxix. 412.
  • 11. Ibid. lxxix. 144; LJ, lvi. 285.
  • 12. PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/24.
  • 13. Belfast News Letter, 7 Oct., 18 Nov. 1828.
  • 14. Londonderry Chron. 18 Feb., 15 July 1829.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxv. 446, 474, 475; LJ, lxii. 697
  • 16. Pack-Beresford mss A/101, 120.
  • 17. PRO NI, Primate Beresford mss D3279/A/4/10; Lewis, i. 387.
  • 18. Report of Deputation to Ireland in 1827 (1829), 3-34; Retrospect of Affairs of Irish Soc. of London (1843), 17, 18.
  • 19. CLRO, Irish Soc. Archives IS/CM/19, pp. 463, 464, 482; Retrospect, 14, 62-64; PRO NI, Education facsimile 39; Pack-Beresford mss A/162-4.
  • 20. Belfast Guardian, 16 July 1830; Pack-Beresford mss A/161, 164, 174, 176, 181.
  • 21. Primate Beresford mss D3279/A/4/46-48; Pack-Beresford mss A/160, 167, 207.
  • 22. Pack-Beresford mss A/162, 170, 171, 179.
  • 23. Ibid. A/164-6, 171, 180, 182.
  • 24. Ibid. A/162, 167, 175; Wellington mss WP1/1149/20.
  • 25. Pack-Beresford mss A/173, 177, 178, 186-8, 199, 201; Transactions relative to Corporation and Borough of Coleraine, 3-6; Retrospect, 62-64; PP (1831-2), xliii. 33; (1836), xxiv. 32; H.J. Perry and J.W. Knapp, Cases of Controverted Elections (1833), 474, 479-81.
  • 26. Pack-Beresford mss A/189, 191-4, 196, 204, 206.
  • 27. Ibid. A/195, 198-200, 202; Irish Soc. Archives CM/19, pp. 486-92; Belfast News Letter, 7 Sept. 1830; PP (1836), xxiv. 32.
  • 28. PRO NI, Carr Beresford mss T3396, H.B. to Abp. Beresford, 30 Sept., to Lord Beresford, 4 Oct., Jones to Abp. Beresford, 4 Oct. 1830; Transactions, 6-31; Perry and Knapp, 479; PP (1836), xxiv. 32, 34.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxvi. 81, 82, 197, 308, 309, 326, 503, 504; PP (1836), xxiv. 32; [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 187, 188; Perry and Knapp, 474; Retrospect, 14.
  • 30. Belfast News Letter, 21, 25 Jan., 18, 22 Mar.; Belfast Guardian, 18 Feb. 1831; PP (1836), xxiv. 52; CJ, lxxxvi. 415.
  • 31. CJ, lxxxvi. 355; lxiii. 446.
  • 32. Irish Soc. Archives CM/20, pp. 85-87; Retrospect, 14,15, 24, 56, 84.
  • 33. Belfast News Letter, 12 May 1831; PP (1831-2), xliii. 34; (1836), xxiv. 32, 33; PRO NI, Babington and Croasdaile mss D1514/2/6/1 (ms pollbook); D. Murphy, Derry, Donegal and Modern Ulster, 82.
  • 34. Pack-Beresford mss D664/F/1, pp. 87-91; PP (1836), xxiv. 44, 45.
  • 35. CJ, lxxxvi. 603, 706, 707, 725; Babington and Croasdaile mss 2/6/2-4 (ms cttee. procs.); PP (1831-2), xliii. 34; Perry and Knapp, 474, 478.
  • 36. Belfast News Letter, 19 Aug., 7 Oct.; Derby mss 920 Der (14) 127/5, Garvagh to Stanley, 24 Nov. 1831; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 627; xliii. 33, 34; (1836), xxiv. 33, 34.
  • 37. CJ, lxxxvi. 891, 908; LJ, lxiii. 1073.
  • 38. Londonderry Sentinel, 21 Jan. 1832.
  • 39. CJ, lxxxvii. 43, 287; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 633-50. For similar material see PP (1834), xliii. 572, 573; (1837), vol. xi, pt. ii, pp. 637, 638.
  • 40. Northern Whig, 28 May 1832.
  • 41. PP (1831-2), xliii. 34.
  • 42. Carr Beresford mss T3396, H.B. to Lord Beresford, 2 June; Londonderry Sentinel, 4, 11 Aug., 1, 8, 15, 22 Dec. 1832; PP (1836), xxiv. 32-34; Perry and Knapp, 472-4, 476, 502.
  • 43. Inglis, ii. 227; PP (1836), xxiv. 28, 29, 44, 45, 51, 52; Curl, 428; K.T. Hoppen, Elections, Politics and Society in Ireland, 64, 303, 304.