NOLAN, Michael (?1765-1827), of 23 Bedford Square, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1820 - Feb. 1824

Family and Education

b. ?1765, 1st s. of Edward Nowlan of St. Peter’s, Dublin and w. Florinda.1 educ. Trinity, Dublin 3 Jan. 1780, ‘aged 16’, BA 1784, LLB 1787; L. Inn 1784, called 1790. m. Martha Carter Nolan, s.p.2 d. 26 Dec. 1827.

Offices Held

KC 7 Dec. 1818; bencher, L. Inn 1819; c.j. Brecon circ. 1824-d.


Nolan’s father, who styled himself Nowlan, was called to the Irish bar in 1769 and later appointed a commissioner of bankrupts; the date of his death has not been found. Nolan was admitted an attorney in the Irish court of exchequer in 1787, but it was at the English bar that he made his way as a special pleader on the home circuit. He had a taste for analytical writing and in 1795 produced an updated edition of Strange’s Reports of Chancery Cases. The following year he was permitted to deliver a series of lectures at Lincoln’s Inn on the municipal law of England, for which he published an extensive Syllabus,3 and he contributed to the supplement to Viner’s Abridgement of Law and Equity (1799-1806). He made something of a name for himself with his Treatise of the Laws for the Relief and Settlement of the Poor (1805), a digest intended to aid those responsible for administering the poor laws; it enjoyed considerable success and was revised and enlarged three times. He took silk in 1818. At the general election that year he was mentioned as a possible candidate for the venal borough of Barnstaple. In 1819 he was one of the counsel employed by Barnstaple corporation and the London out-voters to argue their case before the Lords against the bill to extend the borough’s franchise. It was later said that he had given his services gratis, and in June 1819 he was reportedly one of the aspirants to the vacant seat there. At the general election of 1820, after the bill had been defeated, he was returned unopposed as a defender of the status quo at Barnstaple, and was said to be ‘friendly to the present government’.4

He was a fairly regular attender who indeed gave general support to Lord Liverpool’s ministry. He defended the king’s bench proceedings bill and was a majority teller for going into committee on it, 20 June 1820. He condemned Newport’s attempt to exclude Thomas Ellis from the House as ‘an act of injustice of the deepest dye’, 30 June. He divided against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820. He voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He dismissed Martin’s proposal to allow persons on capital charges to be defended by counsel, 26 Feb., seeing no need to change ‘the most humane system of jurisprudence that ever existed in any country in the world’. He opposed the forgery punishment mitigation bill, 23 May, maintaining that ‘the sense of the country was that forgery ought to be punished with death’. According to a Tory Member, he spoke ‘with great acuteness and force’.5 He presented but dissented from a Nottinghamshire petition against Catholic claims, 28 Feb., although he did not vote on the issue later that day.6 He divided with ministers on the additional malt duty, 3 Apr., the barracks estimates, 28 May, the duke of Clarence’s grant, 18 June, and retrenchment, 27 June. However, he voted in the minority for inquiry into the currency, 9 Apr. He divided against the disfranchisement of ordnance officials, 12 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 9 May 1821. He voted against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb., and repeal of the salt duties, 28 June 1822. He divided against inquiry into Irish tithes, 19 June, and the motion censuring the lord advocate’s conduct towards the Scottish press, 25 June, and for the aliens bill, 19 July. He voted in the minority for investigation of the Calcutta bankers’ claims on the East India Company, 4 July 1822.

He played a conspicuous part during the 1822 session in attempts to reform the poor laws. He opposed Scarlett’s poor removal bill, 31 May, arguing that it took away that ‘great stimulus to industry’, the pauper’s fear of removal. He was added to the select committee on poor returns, 10 June. In seeking leave to introduce his own poor law amendment bill, 10 July, he explained that it sought to reduce the intolerably heavy burden of poor rates by returning to the original spirit of poor law administration under the statute of 1601. The problem lay in maladministration of laws which, ‘from being originally wise and useful, have been recently perverted into an instrument the most pernicious and destructive to the independence of the lower classes of society’. He proposed to strengthen the Act of 1819, chiefly by enhancing the power of vestries and extending the scope of inquiry into whether a claimant was idle or deserving to all his family, and he wished to empower authorities to hire out the unemployed poor to work; all of this would necessitate keeping detailed lists of the impotent and able-bodied poor and their circumstances. Incidentally, he advocated a ‘well-regulated system of colonization’ to deal with overpopulation. He maintained that his object was not to oppress the poor but to ‘promote their comfort ... preserve their true spirit of independence ... cherish their domestic virtues [and] chase away every lure to laziness and dissipation’. The bill was given its first reading, 24 July 1822, before the close of the session. Nolan had his speech published to increase awareness of his scheme, and sent a copy to the home secretary Peel, to whom he wrote:

I am anxious so far as lies in my power to ease government of the labour and possible unpopularity of a task, which either they or some individual like myself must soon undertake. But even if under immediate impressions you should deem it worthy of further consideration, I shall not feel disappointed if after discussion you should think it ought to be given up. I will add that the bill has been generally circulated throughout the country, and that so far as I can judge from the large correspondence which it has brought upon me, its principal provisions are not disapproved.

The bill was reintroduced, 27 Mar., but set aside at the report stage, 27 June 1823.7

Nolan divided against parliamentary reform, 20 Feb., 2 June 1823. He voted with government for the sinking fund, 3 Mar., against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and against inquiries into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 21 Apr., and delays in chancery, 5 June. He divided in the minorities to refer the silk bill to a select committee, 9 June, and against the Irish tithes composition bill, 16 June. That March he had solicited the living of Bradworthy, Devon for the son of a constituent. Nothing was done, and four months later he wrote to the patronage secretary to the treasury, Lushington:

A letter I have just received convinces me that it is not less for the interest of government than my own that my request should be complied with ... Considering the priority of my application and the proximity of the vicarage to the place I represent, I do think my claim entitled to preference over those which I am given to understand are made for the presentation.

This expression of ‘warm interest’ did the trick, as Liverpool told him.8 In September 1823 Nolan applied to Peel for the vacant puisne judgeship on the Chester circuit. The decision on this appointment was postponed, at Liverpool’s insistence, until ministers gathered in London at the end of the year. Peel then favoured giving it ‘at once’ to Nolan, who had ‘given a very steady and useful support to the government and ... is the best qualified of the candidates’. Liverpool and lord chancellor Eldon preferred Thomas Jervis, for reasons of expediency, but Nolan was promised the next vacancy.9 On 25 Feb. 1824 he obtained leave to reintroduce his poor law amendment bill. It was presented by William Thompson the next day, when Nolan was informed by Peel that he was to fill the place on the Welsh bench made vacant by the retirement of William Wingfield.10 He was obliged to seek re-election at Barnstaple, but faced strong opposition from two other candidates and was pushed into second place behind the brewer Frederick Hodgson.11 At the general election in 1826 he considered, but thought better of, standing for Bridgwater, and tried again at Barnstaple, where he finished a poor third.12 He died in December 1827 and left estates in counties Kilkenny and Meath to his wife, while his property at Geraldstown, near Naas eventually passed to his younger brother, the Rev. Frederick Nolan (?1781-1864), vicar of Prittlewell, Essex; his personalty was sworn under £5,000 and resworn under £7,000 in 1828.13

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Terry Jenkins / David R. Fisher


  • 1. IGI (Ireland)
  • 2. PROB 11/1736/91.
  • 3. LI Black Bks. iv. 66-68.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 104-5; Alfred, 14 Mar. 1820; The Times, 10 June 1826; Add. 38458, f. 310.
  • 5. Dorset RO D/BKL, Bankes’ jnl. 128 (23 May 1821).
  • 6. The Times, 1 Mar. 1821.
  • 7. Add. 38294, f. 172; 40354, f. 327.
  • 8. Add. 38293, f. 52; 38295, ff. 200, 228; 40362, f. 101.
  • 9. Add. 38195, ff. 153-5; 40304, ff. 150, 208; 40359, f. 307.
  • 10. Add. 40362, f. 101.
  • 11. The Times, 9-11 Mar. 1824.
  • 12. Ibid. 25 May, 10, 13, 14 June 1826.
  • 13. PROB 8/221; 11/1736/91; Gent. Mag. (1864), ii. 788-91.