PARSONS, William, Lord Oxmantown (1800-1867).
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Family and Educationb. 17 June 1800, 1st s. of Lawrence Parsons†, 2nd earl of Rosse [I], of Birr Castle, nr. Parsonstown, King’s Co. and Alice, da. of John Lloyd, MP [I], of Gloster, King’s Co. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1819; Magdalen, Oxf. 1821, hon. fellow 1862-d. m. 14 Apr. 1836, Mary, da. and coh. of John Wilmer Field of Heaton Hall, nr. Bradford, Yorks., 6s. (2 d.v.p.) 1 da. d.v.p. styled Lord Oxmantown 1807-41; suc. fa. as 3rd earl of Rosse [I] 24 Feb. 1841; KP 4 Jan. 1845. d. 31 Oct. 1867.
Rep. peer [I] 1845-d.
Pres. Brit. Assoc. 1843-4, R. Soc. 1848-54; visitor, Maynooth Coll. 1845-d.; chan. Dublin Univ. 1862-d.
Ld. lt. King’s Co. 1831-d.
Col. King’s Co. militia 1834.
Oxmantown’s father had been a prominent opponent of the Union in the Irish House, where he had represented Dublin University, 1782-91, when he succeeded to the family’s seat for King’s County, but on taking his place at Westminster he became a supporter of the Addington and Pitt ministries and was rewarded with office in the Irish treasury in 1805. In 1807 he succeeded to his uncle’s earldom of Rosse and in 1809 was elected an Irish representative peer and appointed Irish joint-postmaster general, a non-resident sinecure worth £1,500 a year with a ‘great deal of patronage attached to it’, which he held under successive governments until his resignation on the fall of the Wellington administration.1 In March 1820 it was reported that a ‘conspiracy’ had been detected to assassinate Oxmantown and his father on account of their attempts to preserve the tranquility of King’s County, and that a ‘party of military and constables’ had been sent to protect them.2 At his father’s desire he matriculated in February 1821 at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took first class honours in mathematics. On coming of age later that year he stood on the family interest for a vacancy for King’s County, where his supporters hoped ‘those abilities which he has displayed in his collegiate courses, both in Dublin and in Oxford, will, before long, recommend his lordship to one of the highest eminences to which a great statesman may laudably aspire’. Threats of opposition came to nothing and he was returned in absentia.3 He seconded a motion at a county meeting for an address to the king on his arrival in Ireland, 9 Aug. 1821.4 A radical commentary of 1823 noted that he had shown ‘no trace of attendance in the last three sessions’, but two years later he was reported to have ‘attended frequently, and voted with ministers’, though he often took an independent line.5 His first recorded vote was with the Liverpool ministry against reform of the Scottish representation, 2 June 1823. He divided against inquiries into chancery delays, 5 June, and the currency, 12 June, but was in the minorities against the beer duties bill, 13, 17 June 1823, and the grant for repairs to Windsor Castle, 5 Apr. 1824. On 3 May he complained that the Irish tithes bill was ‘too much in favour’ of the ‘extortionate clergyman’. He was in the minority to condemn the trial in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824. He divided for suppression of the Catholic Association, 15 Feb. 1825. He was granted a month’s leave on account of ill health, 25 Feb. He warned that alteration of the corn laws would result in a ‘complete dependency’ on foreign corn, ‘throw much of our tillage lands out of cultivation, and thereby diminish the numbers of that hardy population of agricultural labourers’, 28 Apr. He voted for Catholic relief, 10 May. He divided for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 30 May, 6, 10 June 1825. On 3 Apr. 1826 he promised his father that he would inquire about what had ‘really’ been said ‘against the post office’ by Sir John Newport from ‘any Members I may know who were in the House at the time’, but on 7 Apr. he reported that he had ‘not been able to ascertain that Newport made any charge’ other than manifesting ‘some impatience at the report of the commissioners not yet being out’.6 He voted with ministers for the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr., against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr., and against Russell’s resolutions to curb electoral bribery, 26 May 1826.
At the 1826 general election he offered again as a supporter of Catholic emancipation and was returned unopposed.7 He voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828, and presented favourable constituency petitions, 28 Apr., 6 May 1828. On 25 Sept. he warned Gregory, the Irish under-secretary, of a likely ‘conflict of the most serious nature’ at the ‘well armed’ town of Shinrone, King’s County, where Denis Egan, a member of the Catholic Association, intended ‘with a very large mob to pass through’, and asked ‘what course the magistracy should pursue’. The following day Lord Francis Leveson Gower, the Wellington ministry’s Irish secretary, offered a ‘sufficient military force for the prevention of any illegal assemblage in your lordship’s area’, but also recommended ‘warning the leaders and their deluded followers’ in a way that should ‘by no means ... assume ... a tone of entreaty or deprecation, which might compromise the dignity of the civil authority and the government’. On 29 Sept. Oxmantown informed Leveson Gower that Egan had complied with the wishes of the magistracy and that the ‘display of military force had a powerful influence on deterring the people from assembling’.8 He signed the Protestant declaration got up in Dublin in favour of Catholic relief the following month.9 In February 1829 Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, predicted that he would vote ‘with government’ for emancipation, but he was absent from the division of 6 Mar. He presented favourable constituency petitions, 24, 30 Mar., when he divided for the bill’s third reading. Speaking against the introduction of an Irish poor law, 7 May, he denied that ‘money paid to the poor’ was ‘not a loss’. On 2 June 1829 he added that ‘no greater cruelty’ could be inflicted on ‘the peasantry of Ireland, than to persuade them that they will be supported without industry’, since ‘when they are told that they will be provided for by law, they will then yield to the inactivity natural to all’. He presented and endorsed a counter-petition from Clara, King’s County that day against one for the introduction of poor laws ‘signed by nobody of the least respectability’, and commended another hostile constituency petition, hoping that ‘Ireland may not have inflicted upon it a system from which England has already suffered so much’, 26 May 1830. He spoke against the disfranchisement of East Retford, saying that he had always been ‘opposed to parliamentary reform’, 2 June, and divided for the issue of a new writ, 4 June 1829. He was granted three weeks’ leave to attend the assizes, 10 Mar. 1830. He contended that as soon as an Irish curate received his curacy, he should ‘at the same moment, receive his license ... instead of being left, as he is at present, in a state of dependency upon his rector, differing but very little from that of a servant upon his master’, 27 Apr. He was ‘decidedly hostile’ to Hume’s proposal to abolish the office of Irish lord lieutenant, as it would ‘greatly increase absenteeism’, which was ‘one of the greatest evils that can exist in a country’, 11 May. He voted for repeal of the Irish coal duties, 13 May. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, but for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, as ‘a less severe punishment would operate more beneficially’, 24 May. He introduced a bill to facilitate summary proceedings before Irish magistrates, 28 May, and was appointed to the committee on it the following day, but it went no further. He was in the minority for reducing the grant for South American missions, 7 June 1830.
At the 1830 general election Oxmantown offered again, professing ‘perfect independence’ from party, and was returned unopposed.10 He was listed by ministers as one of their ‘friends’, but he was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. Both he and his father signed the declaration against repeal of the Union in early March 1831.11 On 10 Mar. he argued that it would be ‘detrimental’ to Ireland to permit the continued cultivation of tobacco. He voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., but was absent from the division on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he stood as a ‘decided and uncompromising supporter’ of reform and topped the poll.12 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, but only gave sporadic support to its details, usually as a pair. He presented a petition from Maryborough, Queen’s County, against alteration of the Irish distillation regulations, 17 Aug. He was granted leave on account of ill health for ten days, 12 Sept., and a fortnight, 26 Sept., and was absent from the division on the reform bill’s passage, 21 Sept. He paired for the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, but is not known to have voted for any of its details and was absent from the division on the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish bill, 1 June. He divided for the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 23 May. He welcomed a bill to transfer the King’s County assizes from Philipstown to Tullamore that day and was a majority teller for its second reading, 1 June. He was appointed to the select committee on Irish disturbances, 31 May, and presented a petition from the sheriff of King’s County for a renewal of the Insurrection Act, 15 June. He warned that ‘the introduction of the poor laws into Ireland would ... decrease the rate of wages [and] increase ... the influx of the Irish peasantry into this part of the kingdom’ and voted against a tax on absentee landlords to provide permanent provision for the poor, 19 June. He presented and endorsed the petition of a ‘most respectable man’ who had been dismissed from the Dublin post office for exposing fraud, saying he had been ‘most harshly treated’, 4 July 1832.
At the 1832 general election Oxmantown offered again and was narrowly returned in second place as a Liberal. He retired at the 1834 dissolution in order to concentrate on his significant experiments with large astronomical telescopes, which he had begun in 1827. In the early 1840s, after succeeding his father in the peerage, he constructed a ‘monster’ telescope at his Birr Castle residence at an estimated cost of £20,000. Known as the ‘Leviathan of Parsonstown’, it was the largest in existence for over six decades. He sat in the Lords as a ‘moderate Conservative’ representative peer from 1845.13 Oxmantown, a progressive landlord and philanthropist, died at Monkstown, County Dublin, in October 1867.14 The Times remarked of his political career that ‘though he shrank from the prominence of a parliamentary debater, he occasionally spoke on subjects on which he felt it due to his constituents to express his opinion’.15 He was succeeded by his eldest son Laurence (1840-1908), a Conservative Irish representative peer from 1868.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 728-9; Add. 40296, f. 48; Wellington mss WP1/1152/21.
- 2. The Times, 6, 9 Mar. 1820.
- 3. Dublin Evening Post, 21, 31 July, 4, 7 Aug. 1821.
- 4. Ibid. 14 Aug. 1821.
- 5. Black Bk. (1823), 181; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 478.
- 6. PRO NI, Rosse mss D/22/21-22.
- 7. Westmeath Jnl. 8 June; Dublin Evening Post, 10, 20, 27 June 1826.
- 8. Add. 40335, ff. 165-6, 212.
- 9. Dublin Evening Post, 7 Oct. 1828.
- 10. Ibid. 27 July, 14 Aug. 1830.
- 11. Ibid. 5 Mar. 1831.
- 12. Ibid. 3, 5, 10, 12, 19 May 1831.
- 13. Oxford DNB; The Times, 2 Nov. 1867.
- 14. Gent. Mag. (1867), ii. 813.
- 15. The Times, 2 Nov. 1867.