John Beresford

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Beresford, John, Right Hon., an Irish statesman, was born at his father's house in Dublin, 14th March 1738. He was the second son of Marcus, Earl of Tyrone, whose ancestors first settled in Ireland in 1574. Tristram Beresford arrived in James I.'s reign as manager for the London Company of Planters in Ulster. His mother was Baroness Le Poer, heiress and representative of a long line of barons, descending in direct male succession from Roger Le Poer, a knight who accompanied Strongbow to Ireland. From Kilkenny School John Beresford proceeded to Trinity College, where he graduated A.B. in 1757. He then entered at the Middle Temple, studied law for nearly three years, and was called to the Bar in 1760.

In April 1761 he was returned Member for the County of Waterford, which constituency he continued to represent uninterruptedly till his death — for forty-four years. He applied himself with great assiduity to the discharge of his parliamentary duties, and soon became a power in the House. In 1768 he was sworn on the Privy Council, and in 1770 was appointed a Commissioner of Revenue. Eventually he succeeded to the post of First Commissioner, and it was under his administration, and much at his instance, that the new Custom House in Dublin was built, between 1781 and 1791, that near Essex-bridge proving quite unsuitable for the increasing trade of the port of Dublin. It was also largely through his exertions that the widening and extending of the Dublin quays, and the opening up of Sackville and other streets were accomplished. His political position was strengthened in the year 1774 by his taking as his second wife Barbara Montgomery, a celebrated beauty, sister to Lady Mountjoy, and to the Marchioness of Townshend. During the administrations of the Duke of Portland and Lord Temple (1782 to 1783) he confined himself to routine duties; but on the arrival of the Duke of Rutland, to whom Mr. Pitt had entrusted the government of Ireland, he threw his whole energies into political affairs. Holding opinions diametrically opposed to Grattan and the national party on almost all questions, he strenuously supported Orde's Trade Propositions, and sided with Mr. Pitt in the matter of the Regency.

The almost overwhelming power and influence which the Beresfords attained in the government of Ireland was signally put to the test in 1795, when Lord Fitzwilliam came over, 4th January, as Lord-Lieutenant, to inaugurate a policy of concession both on religious and political questions. He took Grattan and the leaders of the liberal party into his councils, and Mr. Beresford was immediately dismissed from his various offices, although still left in the enjoyment of his salary. Lord Fitzwilliam afterwards gave the following reasons for this step: "When, on my arrival here, I found all those apprehensions of his dangerous power . . were fully justified, when he was filling a situation greater than that of the Lord-Lieutenant himself, and when I clearly saw that if I had connected myself with him, it would have been connecting myself with a person labouring under heavy suspicions, and subjecting my government to all the opprobrium and unpopularity attendant upon his maladministration — what was then my choice? . . I decided at once not to cloud the dawn of my administration by leaving in such power and authority so much imputed malversation; but in doing this, I determined, whilst I determined to curtail him of his power, and to show to the nation that he did not belong to my administration, to let him remain in point of income as well to the full as he had ever been. I did not touch, and he knew that I did not intend to touch, a hair of the head of any of his family or friends, and they are still left in the full enjoyment of more emoluments than ever was accumulated in any country upon any one family."

Mr. Beresford immediately proceeded to London, where his influence with the Ministry was so great that within a few weeks Lord Fitzwilliam was recalled. The illness of Mrs. Beresford, who expired near London on 19th May, deferred until 28th June a hostile meeting with Lord Fitzwilliam, provoked by strictures made by the latter in letters to Lord Carlisle. The duel was interrupted by a peace officer. Mr. Beresford, in a letter to a friend about this time, gives the following account of the sequel: "Lord Fitzwilliam then turned to me and said, 'Now, Mr. Beresford, that we have been prevented from finishing this business in the manner I wished, I have no scruple to make an apology,' which he did, and hoped it would be satisfactory to me. . . He then hoped that I would give him my hand, which I did, and he said, 'Now, thank God, there is a complete end to my Irish administration.'" Next month Mr. Beresford returned to Dublin, and was restored to all his offices. In the events that soon followed-the Rebellion and the Union-he sided with Lords Castlereagh and Clare; and few contributed more than he to the successful carrying-through of the Union, or had more to do with the fiscal arrangements consequent thereupon.

It was a bitter mortification to him that his son John C. Beresford threw up a good government appointment, and voted against the measure. Before many years were over, however, — in November 1804 — in a letter to a friend, we find him deploring many of the results of the change. He entered the Imperial Parliament for Waterford. In 1802 he was, at his own request, relieved from official duties; and the three remaining years of his life were spent between his London residence, and Walworth, his seat in the County of Londonderry. He was all through life devoted to gardening and agriculture. He died after a short illness, on 5th November 1805, aged 67.

A portion of his correspondence, edited by a grandson, and published in two volumes in 1854, is replete with valuable information on current events, and remarks upon public characters. His brother became Marquis of Waterford in 1789, and his grand-nephew, the 3rd Marquis, killed out hunting in 1859, was a nobleman of great sporting notoriety. The influence of the Beresfords is further shown by the fact that among his descendants, within fifty years after his decease, may be counted an archbishop, a bishop, a governor of a colony, a colonial secretary, an M.P., a colonel, a lieutenant-colonel, a knight of the Legion of Honour, a privy-councillor, and several officers of rank; while he had one brother an earl, another an archbishop and a baron; one nephew an archbishop and primate, and another a lieutenant-general.

Sources

30. Beresford, Correspondence of Right Hon. John: Right Hon. William Beresford. 2 vols. London, 1854.

54. Burke, Sir Bernard: Peerage and Baronetage.

281. Peerage for the People: William Carpenter. London, 1835.

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