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 £5 householders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

between about 50 and about 80


4,684 (1821); 5,218 (1831)



Main Article

Lisburn, six miles south-west of Belfast on the north bank of the Lagan, was described by Henry David Inglis in 1834 as ‘a clean, neat and lively town, enjoying a good trade’, primarily in linens.1 The borough, which was unincorporated, lay in the parish of Lisburn (or Blaris) and the seneschal of the manor of Killultagh served as its returning officer. By the Irish Act of 35 George III, c. 29 (1795) the franchise had been restricted to inhabitants of houses valued at £5 or over, and there were 72 registered electors in 1820 (a total of 704 being admitted between 1795 and 1823).2 Since 1794, when he had succeeded his father, the proprietor of the entire town and much of the vicinity had been the 2nd marquess of Hertford of Ragley Hall, Warwickshire, and Sudbourne Hall, Suffolk, the lord chamberlain. Thomas Oldfield, who wrongly stated that the resident freeholders also had the right to vote, commented that the tenure of all the electors ‘derive from the marquess, at whose recommendation the Member is returned’. At the general election of 1818, Hertford, a querulous septuagenarian, brought in John Leslie Foster, amid scenes of triumphant Protestantism, rather than another friend of Lord Liverpool’s administration. When Foster chose to sit for Armagh, Hertford in February 1819 returned his nephew and ward Horace Beauchamp Seymour, a Waterloo veteran.3 Re-elected unopposed at the general election the following year, Seymour gave silent support to government and voted against Catholic relief.4 A town meeting on 18 Dec. 1820 agreed a loyal address to the king over the Queen Caroline affair.5 In June 1822 Hertford’s only son Lord Yarmouth, who had sat for Lisburn from 1802 to 1812 and at this time represented Camelford, succeeded as 3rd marquess and took charge of the electoral patronage. The inhabitants’ anti-Catholic petition was presented to the Commons, 16 Apr. 1823, and others were brought up against colonial slavery, 8 Apr. 1824, and for repeal of the coal duties, 19 May 1824, 16 May 1825.6

Hertford’s trusted agent, the Rev. Snowden Cupples, rector of Lisnagarvey and seneschal of the manor, reported in December 1824 his surprise ‘that the Catholic rent is levied at Lisburn, and some Protestants contribute to it - these indeed are chiefly radicals in principle’. Hertford, however, assured his friend Peel, the home secretary, that ‘I receive accurate accounts of the disaffected and am enabled to decline renewing the leases of the Catholic rent people if I, on consideration, shall feel I ought to do so’.7 Orangeism was rampant at the 12 July procession in 1825, when the Rev. Philip Johnson, vicar of Derriaghy and a justice of the peace, was accused of inciting violence. The case was referred to the Irish administration, and the attorney-general William Plunket*, although himself pro-Catholic, observed:

I think the magistrate has given an explanation quite sufficient to do away any necessity for his removal. I doubt whether it would be expedient to write to him merely to animadvert on his wearing the ribbon. Perhaps it would be expedient to set him right on the law, and apprize him of the necessity of undeceiving the lower orders in this respect.8

Another anti-Catholic ministerialist, Hertford’s first cousin Henry Meynell, a former captain in the navy, was returned at the general election of 1826, when Seymour transferred to Bodmin. The Johnson affair was raised in the Commons by Charles Brownlow, 29 Mar. 1827, when a motion for the production of the relevant papers was opposed by Peel and Goulburn, the Irish secretary, and was defeated by 124-69.

Petitions from the poorer inhabitants for their assisted emigration to North America were presented to the Commons, 22 Feb. 1827 (by Meynell), 17 Mar. 1828, and one from the cotton weavers complaining of distress was brought up by Brownlow, 14 June 1827.9 The petitions of the Catholics of Lisburn and Hillsborough in favour of their claims were presented to the Commons, 10 Mar. 1828, 13 Mar. 1829, by Brownlow and Lord Castlereagh, and to the Lords by Lord Downshire, 16 May 1828, 12 Mar. 1829.10 Following a requisition, Cupples chaired a meeting, 13 Oct., at which it was agreed to form a Brunswick Club under the presidency of James Watson of Brookhill, and a dinner was held on 4 Dec. 1828.11 Hertford followed Peel in supporting the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill in early 1829, but Meynell defied orders by voting against it. The petition of the noblemen, gentlemen, clergymen and inhabitants of Lisburn was brought up in the Commons, 12 Mar., and in the Lords, 23 Mar., probably by MacNaghten, the county Member, and Lord O’Neill, respectively. John Croker*, Hertford’s friend and agent, informed Peel that month that ‘Lisburn is in the hands of the Protestants at present’, but he urged him to alter the £5 franchise in order to prevent lower class Catholics coming to dominate the electorate.12 The inhabitants approved petitions against the introduction of the poor laws to Ireland, 19 Apr. 1830, but they were apparently not brought up in either House.13

In 1829 there were no freemen or freeholders and at the general election of 1830, when Meynell was returned unopposed, there were 56 registered electors, a fall of 17 since 1826.14 Anti-slavery petitions were presented to the Commons, 2 Dec. 1830, 22 Feb., 7, 28 Mar. 1831, and the inhabitants’ petitions for abolition of the sugar duties were brought up by Sir Robert Bateson, in the Commons, 14 Mar., and by Downshire in the Lords, 15 Mar.15 Early that year the gentlemen, clergy and inhabitants addressed the lord lieutenant against repeal of the Union.16 On 22 Mar. 1831 Croker complained to Hertford that

Mark [sic, presumably for Thomas Baucutt Mash, comptroller] of the lord chamberlain’s office was sent to Seymour, Henry Meynell and others to say that they must vote with ministers or resign. They consulted ... Wellington, who advised them to resign. The great duke of Devonshire [the lord chamberlain] himself then sent for them, and told them that they must either resign or vote. They answered that ‘they would do neither’, so that they must dismiss them.17

Meynell, like Seymour, duly voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill that day and was sacked from the minor household office which he had continued to hold under William IV. As Thomas Creevey* noted on the 24th, ‘Grey spoke about it to the king at the levee yesterday, and the job was done out of hand’.18

At the general election of 1831 Meynell, who was praised for his opposition to reform, was again returned unopposed and was chaired.19 The petition of the Methodists of Lisburn for the continuance of the grant to the Kildare Place Society was presented to the Commons, 27 July 1831.20 In December that year there was a newspaper report of a ‘sham’ reform petition with only 40 signatures, and a hostile one was agreed at a meeting on the 31st and eventually had over 2,000 names to it; neither seems to have been brought up at this time.21 The ‘Conservators’ hurriedly organized a congratulatory address to the king when Grey resigned in May 1832, but this was abandoned when he returned to office.22 A petition from the inhabitants for the reform bill was presented to the Commons by Brownlow, 14 June, and one against the death penalty for forgery was brought up in the Lords by Grey, 7 Aug.23 Hertford feared that the boundary commissioners were trying to dilute his interest by including Lord Donegall’s estate in the borough, although he noted that ‘the gentlemen of the town behave admirably’.24 Under the reform legislation, the boundary, which had not before been clearly defined, was extended to take in the whole of the town, including a suburb across the Lagan in county Down. There were at that time 81 registered electors, another 60 not having yet been entered for the requisite 12 months, and it was thought a possible 400 had not bothered to come forward. Of the 992 houses, 354 were valued at over £10, but it was calculated that there would be 275 £10 electors.25 In fact there were only 91 registered, the lowest number in any Irish borough, at the time of the general election in December 1832.26 A contemporary observed that Hertford ‘can return any one he pleases’.27 Standing as a Conservative, the sitting Member was returned unopposed and Hertford, observing the wreck of his electoral interests in Antrim and several English boroughs, commented that ‘Meynell has succeeded, which is nothing’.28 He retired in 1847, when Seymour resumed his seat, which he held for the last four years of his life. Except for the period 1852-7, Lisburn, which benefited from Hertford’s improvements, remained a Tory stronghold until its disfranchisement in 1885.29

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Belfast Dir. (1819), 147-58; H.D. Inglis, Ireland in 1834, ii. 272; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of Ireland (1837), ii. 278.
  • 2. PP (1824), iii. 672; (1831-2), xliii. 95; (1835), xxviii. 491-3.
  • 3. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), vi. 219; Peep at the Commons (1820), 22; Key to Both Houses (1832), 349; Hist. Irish Parl. ii. 173-4; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 626, 627.
  • 4. Add. 40298, f. 28; Belfast News Letter, 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Belfast News Letter, 23 Jan. 1821.
  • 6. CJ, lxxviii. 208; lxxix. 264, 386; lxxx. 419.
  • 7. Add. 40371, ff. 127, 129.
  • 8. Add. 40332, f. 298.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxii. 216, 561; lxxxiii. 177; The Times, 23 Feb., 15 June 1827.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxiii. 151; lxxxiv. 133; LJ, lx. 450; lxi. 121.
  • 11. Belfast Guardian, 10, 14, 17 Oct., 9 Dec. 1828.
  • 12. Add. 40320, f. 110.
  • 13. Belfast Guardian, 27 Apr. 1830.
  • 14. PP (1829), xx. 256, 266; (1830), xxxi. 331.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxvi. 144, 288, 347, 372, 445; LJ, lxiii. 328.
  • 16. Belfast Guardian, 8 Mar. 1831.
  • 17. Croker Pprs. ii. 112.
  • 18. Creevey Pprs. ii. 225.
  • 19. Belfast News Letter, 17 May 1831.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxvi. 703.
  • 21. Belfast Guardian, 6, 9 Dec. 1831, 10, 17 Jan.; Belfast News Letter, 6 Jan. 1832.
  • 22. Northern Whig, 28 May 1832.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxvii. 398; LJ, lxiv. 434.
  • 24. Add. 60289, f. 3.
  • 25. PP (1831-2), xliii. 95-97; (1835), xxviii. 491, 494, 495.
  • 26. M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 313.
  • 27. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 125/4, Barrington to Smith Stanley, 16 Nov. 1832.
  • 28. Belfast News Letter, 21 Dec. 1832; Add. 60289, f. 73.
  • 29. Lewis, ii. 278, 280; K.T. Hoppen, Elections, Politics, and Society in Ireland, 288.