WALLACE, Thomas II (1765-1847), of Belfield, Donnybrook, co. Dublin

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



21 Aug. 1827 - 1830
20 Oct. 1831 - 1832
1832 - 1834

Family and Education

b. 13 Apr. 1765, o.s. of James Wallace, woollen manufacturer, of Meath Street, Dublin and w. Deborah Bedford. educ. Trinity, Dublin 1789; G. Inn 1795; King’s Inns 1795, called [I] 1798. m. ?Katherine Chapman, 1s. d. 9 Jan. 1847.

Offices Held

KC [I] 1816.


According to a contemporary account of the Irish bar, Wallace was

in several respects a remarkable man. He has for many years held an eminent station in his profession, and is pre-eminently entitled to the self-gratulation of reflecting, that his success has been of that honourable kind in which neither accident nor patronage had any share.

The sketch, first published in July 1826, credited him with ‘the composed and dogged ardour of a Scotchman’, though this was apparently not a hint as to his origins.1 According to King’s Inns admission records, he was born in Bristol, and his parents, for whom no marriage date has been found, were dead by 1795. The James Wallace listed as his father has not been found in the Dublin directories, where a William Wallace appears as a woollen draper in Bridge Street from 1762 to 1791 and a merchant of the same name is recorded at 22 North Cumberland Street in 1792 and 1793. Both premises were occupied by Wallace himself during the early years of the next century, indicating a family link. His presumed marriage has been adduced from the King’s Inns admission record of his only son Thomas, who was born on 31 Mar. 1817. Of his background, his 1826 biographer revealed only that he was without ‘competence or connections’ in his youth and had set upon ‘a solitary plan of self-instruction’ to qualify himself for Trinity.2 From there he progressed to the Irish bar, where, according to a hustings panegyric from Walter Blackney*, his colleague in county Carlow in 1832, he ‘rose by his great talents’ to eminence, but, remaining faithful to his origins, was known as a ‘zealous advocate of the poor’. Regarding his politics, Blackney asserted, somewhat misleadingly, that ‘the company he kept in 1798 shows how his heart beat’ and cited his defence of the United Irishman James Napper Tandy ‘and many others like him’. He was not among the principal advocates named before the celebrated trials of 1800 and 1801.3

Wallace, who retained ‘all the compactness and rotundity of early youth’ with a figure ‘a little above the middle size’, was said to radiate ‘masculine energy’ in the courtroom. His reputation was established in jury trials, where his ‘skill in dissecting a knavish affidavit’ was displayed to the best advantage. But for ‘his political sympathies with Mr. [Henry] Grattan I* and friends of Ireland’, noted his bar profile, his promotion to king’s counsel would have occurred much sooner.4 In June 1827 he was suggested as a candidate for the post of serjeant-at-law by Lord Wellesley, the Irish viceroy, to Canning, the premier, who replied that he knew Wallace ‘by reputation, and I rejoice in his promotion’.5 Although the appointment was not made, the regard for his ability in official circles was further demonstrated by a backhanded compliment from William Lamb*, the Irish secretary, who referred to him in October as one of the ‘ugly customers’ at the Irish bar, from whom a lord chancellor might expect trouble.6 It was with a hint of bitterness that Daniel O’Connell* recorded next month that he was ‘the first of my juniors who got a silk gown for his merits’. (O’Connell had earlier heard a rumour that Wallace was to be made Irish solicitor-general, an honour which, it was later claimed, he had at some unspecified point declined.)7 The two men, who were virtual contemporaries, had fallen out in 1813, when Wallace had demanded that O’Connell take responsibility for his libellous defence speech at the trial of John Magee, the editor of the Dublin Evening Post.8 Wallace had long harboured political and literary pretensions. His first venture into publication was prompted by sheer pique, after it had emerged that his Variations in the Prose Style of the English Language (1796) had been ignored in a Royal Irish Academy prize essay competition in favour of an entry from one of the judges.9 In 1798 he produced Manufactures of Ireland, which, drawing on his family’s experiences, advocated economic protection for the Irish woollen industry. He provoked several ripostes with his Vindication of the Conduct of the Irish Catholics during the late Administration (1807), which sought to rescue the Catholics from the charge of having caused the downfall of the ‘Talents’ ministry by their clamour for emancipation. Denouncing Lord Redesdale, the former Irish chancellor, as a ‘loquacious and busy bigot’, he put the blame on the ministry for its ‘culpable inertness’ in failing to deal with endemic anti-Catholicism in the state, especially among the magistracy. Under the same pseudonym of ‘A Protestant’, he published The Orange System Exposed (1823), in which he called for the disbandment of Orange societies and praised Wellesley for his ‘equal and impartial administration’. His subsequent literary forays included A Review of the Doctrine of Personal Identity (1827), a fairly light treatment of the works of several philosophers, including John Locke, and his Observations on the Discourse of Natural Theology by Lord Brougham (1835), which took issue with the lord chancellor’s materialist belief in the mortality of the soul, which, Wallace contended, took ‘fear from the sinner and hope from the saint!’

He made his first known attempt to enter Parliament in 1818, when he offered for Drogheda on the independent interest. He added further colour to a fierce contest by fighting a duel with the town’s recorder, ‘in which two shots were fired on each side, but fortunately without injury to either party’. After a narrow defeat, he petitioned unsuccessfully against the return.10 At a pro-Catholic meeting at the Dublin Rotunda the following February he made a name for himself by silencing a disruptive Orange element with ‘stern, determined, almost terrific energy’, after Grattan himself had been ineffective.11 Although he declined to stand again for Drogheda at the 1820 general election, he was nominated ‘without his consent’ by his supporters. In his absence on the circuit, he was defeated after a five-day poll. A petition lodged by his partisans was not pursued. At the same election he gave a plumper for Richard Talbot, the sitting Member for county Dublin, and on the hustings said a few words against his wealthy challenger, Thomas White.12 Press speculation before the 1826 general election suggested that Wallace had abandoned Drogheda to act as agent for Lord George Beresford* in county Waterford, but he confounded this report by making a grand entry to the borough ‘in the company of the Grattans’ (presumably Henry junior, shortly to become Member for Dublin, and his brother James, Member for county Wicklow). He retreated on finding another independent candidate in the field, but reappeared four days into the contest to renew his claims. After a declaration in favour of Catholic relief and a narrow escape from assault by a mob, he polled his travelling contingent of 24 out-voters and departed. If he contemplated a challenge to the return, it never materialized.13

His quest for a berth ended in August 1827, when he came in on a vacancy for Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, where the seats were at the disposal of the trustees of Sir Leonard Thomas Worsley Holmes*. His profile of the previous year had predicted that once in the House ‘his career there will be neither "mute" nor "inglorious"’, but in the event he did not live up to such expectations, though he was a willing speaker, primarily on Irish issues. On other matters, he tended to side with ministers. He spoke in favour of petitions for Catholic relief, noting that ‘it is impossible for things to go on as they are in Ireland’, 19 Feb., and presented two from county Meath, 20 Mar., and one from Drogheda, 5 May 1828. He voted accordingly, 12 May, when he made a prolix and ill-judged attempt to convince Peel, the home secretary, that denial of Catholic claims was a contravention of the Glorious Revolution settlement. Richard Sheil* cited the speech as a prime example of the ‘accident and obstinacy’ that caused Wallace to disappoint as a Commons performer:

He rose at three in the morning, on the fourth night of the Catholic debate, and commenced with the Treaty of Limerick. He plunged, as I have heard it observed, at once into one of the old moats of that ancient city, and lost himself in the ooze, if I may so call it, with which his infelicitous topic was overspread.14

John Hely Hutchinson I* later recalled that the House, ‘though tired to death, was anxious to hear him’, until he ‘wasted twenty minutes in endeavouring to show how the law officers of the crown in Ireland might have put down the Catholic Association. Nothing could have been more uncalled for or more injudicious’.15 Wallace spoke against the Irish Subletting Act, which he believed would unfairly penalize the small landholder, 19 Feb. He presented a Drogheda petition for its repeal and expressed his particular concern at the possibility of its retrospective operation, 21 Mar. From personal experience, he called for Irish sheriffs to be subjected to a legal requirement of promptitude in compiling returns of jurors, 20 Mar. On 2 Mar. he was appointed to the select committee on the civil government of Canada. (The previous month, he had been sent a petition from French Canadians complaining of their treatment at the hands of their Scottish Presbyterian neighbours, though there is no record that he presented it.)16 He welcomed Sugden’s bill to facilitate the payment of debts out of real estate, 6 May 1828.

Wallace called for a more precise wording for proclamations to be inserted in the Irish unlawful societies bill in order to assist its enforcement, 13 Feb. 1829. He did not think that a measure to drain Irish bogs would ‘produce any good effect’, 26 Feb. On 9 Mar. he introduced a bill to extend the law against the abuse of charitable trusts to Ireland, which was given a second reading, 12 Mar., and passed the House, 23 Mar., but progressed no further. As Planta, the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary, had predicted, he voted for the concession of Catholic emancipation, 6 Mar. He asserted that many signatories to anti-Catholic petitions were influenced by ‘undue means’ and were therefore not competent to judge the question, 12 Mar. In private, however, he warned Peel that the bill’s definition of a Catholic might be too loose to ensure their effective exclusion from church appointments.17 Commenting on a petition against alleged abuses of the Irish office of sub-sheriff, he insisted that legal redress was already available, 14 Apr. 1829. That day he presented two petitions against the Irish Subletting Act, which he complained was being exploited by unscrupulous landlords. He welcomed the ensuing amendment bill, 16 Feb., 5 Mar. 1830. He voted against Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. In March he was again mentioned as a candidate for the Irish serjeantcy, though Lord Francis Leveson Gower*, the Irish secretary, offered him little encouragement and privately considered that he had no political claims to the position.18 On 10 May he presented petitions for the construction of a road leading north from Waterloo Bridge and from a Mayo clergyman against libels allegedly contained in petitions previously presented by O’Connell, whom he ritually exonerated. He voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May 1830. Next day he presented a petition from Kilkenny printers for the equalization of Irish and English newspaper stamp duties.

At the 1830 dissolution Wallace retired from Yarmouth. It was widely expected that he would offer again for Drogheda, but on ‘finding the field preoccupied’ at the nomination he declined.19 Following the accession of the Grey administration, Wallace professed ‘sincere respect for Lord Anglesey’, the reappointed Irish viceroy, ‘and a wish to support his government’, but deemed ministers’ prosecution of O’Connell for unlawful assembly to be ‘erroneous’. Despite their long-standing quarrel, he wrote to O’Connell to say so, 19 Jan. 1831, with the rider that ‘no just inference can be made of any adoption on my part of your political principles’. The gesture signalled a reconciliation, despite O’Connell’s subsequent unauthorized publication of the letter, much to the consternation of the Irish government.20 Anglesey described Wallace’s intervention as ‘very indecorous’ on the part of a king’s counsel, while Hely Hutchinson ascribed it to frustrated ambitions for office and found in it confirmation of his view that ‘whatever his character may be as a lawyer, he has no common sense’.21 Later that year Wallace offered his opinion on two Irish judicial appointments to Lord Melbourne, the home secretary, ‘perhaps too freely’, as he later admitted.22 In April 1831, however, Anglesey assured Grey that he had ‘knocked under’, and when he offered for Drogheda at the general election shortly afterwards he obtained the support of ministers.23 His past record on the subject notwithstanding, he proclaimed himself ‘unqualifiedly favourable to reform’, whereupon a local newspaper retorted that he had previously been a ‘thick and thin supporter of ministers to the extent of muzzling the press’. After an eight-day poll he was defeated, for which he blamed the freemen out-voters.24 O’Connell, however, privately noted that ‘Wallace, on whom I relied for Drogheda, is doing only mischief. There are some men born with heads that see all matters upside down and act accordingly’.25 Nothing came of Wallace’s threat to challenge the eligibility of his opponent, John Henry North, before the latter died in September. On offering for the vacancy, Wallace declared himself ‘a thorough radical reformer’, though he actively sought the support of his erstwhile enemies on the corporation, and the strictures he had so recently passed on his late adversary gave way to eulogies of ‘his much lamented and estimable friend’. He was returned unopposed, according to Edward Smith Stanley*, the Irish secretary, ‘by mere bragging’, as ‘he had not a shilling and would not have stood a poll’.26

Wallace voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, gave steady support to its details, and voted for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He presented a petition from Drogheda landholders against grand jury assessments and tithes and for the extension of the vote to Irish £10 leaseholders, 26 Jan. He voted with ministers on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He objected to an amendment bill to the Irish Subletting Act on the premise that the law was intrinsically a bad one, and was a minority teller against a clause allowing absolute power to landlords to prevent subletting, 20 Feb. He presented a petition from the procurators-general of the Dublin court of prerogative and faculties against a precipitate response to the report of the Irish ecclesiastical commissioners, 5 Mar. On 15 Mar. he introduced a bill to delay implementation of the provisions of the Friendly Societies Act of 1830, which passed, 16 Apr. and gained royal assent, 23 May (2 Gul. IV, c. 37). He divided for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and, citing the ‘intense anxiety’ that prevailed among his constituents, spoke against a call to adjourn the debate on withholding the supplies, 14 May. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May, but was in the minorities for O’Connell’s motion to extend the franchise to £5 freeholders, 18 June, and for removing the liability of electors to pay municipal taxes before they could vote, 29 June. He made brief interventions on the wording of two clauses, 25 June, and proposed an amendment to prevent ‘vexatious’ objections to freeholder registrations, 6 July, which he withdrew after receiving ministerial assurances. He was in the minority of 29 against the bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 6 June. On 4 July he endorsed the petition of a sacked Dublin post office employee. He voted with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16 July. In the belief that ‘every judicial officer should be placed in situation above all suspicion’, he was a majority teller for disqualifying the recorder of Dublin from sitting in Parliament, 24 July 1832.

According to Blackney, at some late point in 1832 Wallace crossed the floor to sit ‘at the back of Mr. O’Connell’, a gesture prompted by his disenchantment with ministers over the issue of Irish tithes.27 On 14 Feb. he welcomed their efforts to meet grievances, praising Smith Stanley’s ‘very able exposé’, but two days later he was in the minority for printing the Woollen Grange petition for the abolition of tithes. On 8 Mar. he denounced the ‘hasty and injudicious’ report of the select committee, notably its recommendations for the recovery of arrears, although he conceded that ministers’ actions were ‘generally characterized by frankness and candour’. He reiterated his objections, 13 Mar., was in the minority for a thorough overhaul of the tithe system, 27 Mar., when he warned that ‘the peace of Ireland is at hazard’, and voted against a levy for arrears, 30 Mar. He proposed a lengthy amendment to the report endeavouring to justify the ‘passive opposition’ offered to tithe payment, 2 Apr., and was appointed to the select committee on Irish unrest, 31 May. He was in a minority for postponing the tithe bill until the next Parliament, 13 July, being of the opinion that the proposed reforms were ‘a mockery, if not an insult’ and would do nothing to satisfy Irish opinion, 24 July. That day he was a teller for the minority of 16 for an amendment to appropriate Irish first fruits revenues. On 1 Aug. 1832 he proposed an amendment for the ‘complete extinction’ of tithes and a new land survey to set a fair replacement charge, which was lost by 60-8. He was in another minority on the bill that day, when his numerous interventions on minor details led Lord Althorp to charge him with resorting to delaying tactics.

At the 1832 general election Wallace abandoned Drogheda, where his failure to give an unequivocal pledge in support of repeal of the Union had provoked dissatisfaction. At O’Connell’s behest, it was claimed, he stood for county Carlow, to which he possessed no obvious link. His proposer pledged ‘honest Tom’ to support the abolition of tithes and vote by ballot, but again he refused to be bound to support repeal of the Union. A hostile squib dismissed him as a political adventurer and condemned his hustings performance as ‘unmeaning verbiage, pitiful special pleading, and nisi prius sophistry’, but admitted that there was not ‘a single blemish’ on his private character. He was elected and survived a petition.28 In the reformed Parliament he was classed as a Liberal and continued to speak on Irish matters. His initial address before the 1835 election was noted to have contained a typographical error, which, to the delight of his opponents, pledged him ‘to stand by the country, and its deformed constitution’.29 As O’Connell had anticipated, he declined another contest, according to the local press because of a lack of funds, and he made no further bid to re-enter Parliament.30 In September 1834 he had written to Melbourne expressing his desire ‘to promote the success and stability of your lordship’s administration’ and urging the appointment of Irish judges ‘of sound and liberal principles’, though he denied that it was himself that he had in mind.31 His antipathy to O’Connell had returned by 1843, when he urged Peel, the Conservative premier, to adopt repressive measures.32

Wallace died in January 1847 at his Belfield residence just south of Dublin, ‘after a very brief illness’.33 His only son and heir was listed at this address as a practising barrister in 1853, having previously shared his father’s chambers at 76 St. Stephen’s Green. He had disappeared from the directories ten years later, but Belfield apparently remained in the family until the end of the century.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Authors: Howard Spencer / Philip Salmon


  • 1. W.H. Curran, Sketches of the Irish Bar (1855), 325, 327.
  • 2. Ibid. 326.
  • 3. Carlow Sentinel, 1 Dec. 1832; The Times, 12 May, 20 Nov. 1800.
  • 4. Curran, 327-9, 334-6.
  • 5. Canning’s Ministry, 320, 326.
  • 6. Brougham mss, Lamb to Brougham, 14 Oct. 1827.
  • 7. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1399; Carlow Sentinel, 1 Dec. 1832.
  • 8. O’Connell Corresp. i. 475; iii. 1431.
  • 9. Curran, 353-4.
  • 10. The Times, 10 July 1818; CJ, lxxiv, 23, 83.
  • 11. Curran, 350-2; The Times, 16 Feb. 1819.
  • 12. Dublin Evening Post, 14, 18, 25, 28 Mar. 1820; CJ, lxxv. 162, 293.
  • 13. Drogheda Jnl. 10, 14, 17, 21 June 1826.
  • 14. R. Malcolmson, Carlow Parl. Roll, 43.
  • 15. TCD, Donoughmore mss E/372, Hely Hutchinson to Donoughmore, 30 Jan. 1831.
  • 16. Add. 38755, f. 36.
  • 17. Add. 40399, f. 91.
  • 18. NAI, Leveson Gower letterbks. 3, Leveson Gower to Wallace, 5 Mar., to Singleton, 13 Mar. 1830.
  • 19. Drogheda Jnl. 27, 31 July 1830.
  • 20. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1751a-1754.
  • 21. Add. 51568, Anglesey to Holland, 23 Jan. 1831; Donoughmore mss E/372, Hely Hutchinson to Donoughmore, 30 Jan. 1831.
  • 22. Add. 37307, f. 168.
  • 23. PRO NI, Anglesey mss, Anglesey to Grey, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 24. Dublin Evening Post, 5, 10, 14 May 1831.
  • 25. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1802.
  • 26. Drogheda Jnl., 2, 15, 22 Oct.; Grey mss, Smith Stanley to Grey, 23 Oct. 1831.
  • 27. Carlow Sentinel, 1 Dec. 1832.
  • 28. Ibid. 15 Sept., 1, 15, 22 Dec. 1832; CJ, lxxxviii. 115, 161, 241, 414.
  • 29. The Times, 1 Jan. 1835.
  • 30. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 2143, 2148; Carlow Sentinel, 29 Nov., 13 Dec. 1834.
  • 31. Add. 37307, f. 168.
  • 32. Add. 40525, f. 231.
  • 33. Dublin Evening Post, 12 Jan. 1847.