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Social and economic issues

Diary extracts (with transcripts) and other useful sources are discussed below.  Where possible, images of the source items have been provided and can be viewed online.

 

Extracts from the Duke's diaries

30 June 1845 (Ne 2F 7/1, p.188)

The state of Ireland is said to be dreadful at this time - People are leaving the country as fast as they can afraid for their lives - L[ad]y Scarbrough told me today that two gentlemen clergyman connected with her by marriage, Rev[eren]ds Mark Beresford & L'Estrange, feel it to be necessary to leave their livings with their families, altho' anxious & excellent Clergymen & that all others who can afford it propose to do the same - Murder is so common & the Murderer so protected, that the life of no one is safe - if the destruction of any one is doomed, a stranger from a distance is hired for a few shillings, he does the deed & instantly decamps & his detection & arrest rendered impossible by the invariable protection afforded in every case by the bystanders or neighouring peasantry & all this goes on without any apparent interference on the part of the Government -

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Contemporaries were frequently concerned by the perception that Ireland was a lawless nation. Many, like Newcastle, were convinced that murder was widespread and that it was carried out under the protection afforded by neighbours and sympathisers. As a strict Protestant, Newcastle was particularly alarmed by the sectarian (or religious) nature of such crimes, as this entry indicates.

 

Other relevant sources

Use the links to view images of these sources.  Transcripts are available for download:

 

Coercion and Conciliation

Nineteenth century governments generated a great deal of detailed information about the state of law and order in Ireland. Statistics like these in Ne C 9523, showing the breakdown of offences by county, could be used to support the extension of coercive powers. Reformers suggested that governments needed to remedy Ireland's economic and political ills in order to secure law and order.

Early nineteenth century governments used a process of 'coercion' (force and discipline) and conciliation (relief and reform) to maintain the Union with Ireland. Many arguments in favour of 'coercion' (increasing government powers to search, arrest and imprison individuals) were based on the perception that Ireland was a criminal and lawless nation. Ne C 9520 illustrates a government response to Irish 'lawlessness'.

Murders and attempts to murder were the most serious cause of concern in the governance of nineteenth century Ireland. The publication of statistical evidence such as that in Ne C 9522 was used to prove the need for 'Peace Preservation' and 'Protection of Life' Bills. However, critics dismissed such measures as 'Coercion Acts' and regarded them as further attempts to control the Irish.

Political considerations were always important in the discussion of Irish legislation in Parliament. In Ne C 9452/1, William Sharman Crawford (a supporter of federal union between Britain and Ireland) suggests a political strategy to Lord Lincoln (the Chief Secretary to Ireland) which would prevent a 'factious' opposition to the Coercion Bill by Daniel O'Connell (the leading Irish politician of the period). As the letter shows, 'Coercion Bills' had been a frequent subject of political controversy during the 1830s and 1840s. After the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, governments were faced with a strong and vocal group of Irish M.P.s in Parliament whose voice could not be ignored.

Ne C 9339/2 , a report of a crime at Mullingar in County Westmeath during June 1846, shows how local officials documented an 'outrage'. The incident involved a farmer being shot at on his way home because of a dispute over land. This was one of many documented cases of 'agrarian crime' which contributed to official tables of statistics and perceptions about the 'lawless' Irish.

The report concerning the strength of the Constabulary Force in Ireland (Ne C 9352/1-2) was sent to Lord Lincoln as Chief Secretary to Ireland. The Chief Secretary was the government official with immediate responsibility for matters of law and order in Ireland. The Chief Secretary represented Irish affairs in the House of Commons and worked closely with the Home Secretary and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Land and Hunger

Land - its occupation, sale, condition and improvement - was (together with political rights) the most important area of disagreement between Britain and Ireland during the early nineteenth century. In the 1840s, Sir Robert Peel's ministry attempted to gain the support of Irish Catholics through a series of educational and landholding measures. The Freeman's Journal (Ne C 9505) makes the case for the importance of the land issue and the cause of tenant rights.

In spite of Peel's attempts to gain the support of Irish Catholics during his 1841-6 ministry, My 171/1 reveals the limits which he imposed on government intervention. Peel's preference for individual exertion by local proprietors over 'the unwise interference of the Government and reliance on the Government' in Ireland is particularly notable.

The Established Church

In letter Ne C 9274, Sir Robert Inglis offers a strong defence of the historic rights of the Anglican Church to its endowments (finance and property). Inglis was well-known for his defence of the Church against Catholics and Dissenters. The subject of 'endowing' the Catholic Church with funds was a particular cause of dispute in the nineteenth century. Supporters of endowment felt it would conciliate the Irish Catholics and secure their loyalty to Britain. However, critics like Inglis had deep religious and political objections. Hostility to the Maynooth Grant (in 1845) was closely connected with these concerns.

Throughout the 1830s, the position of the Anglican Church of Ireland as the established (or recognised state) Church in Ireland was a key area of political debate. Although it only represented a minority of the population, the Church of Ireland held substantial property and Catholics paid tithes (or tenths) towards its upkeep. The Whigs, under Lord John Russell, called for the 'appropriation' of the Church's surplus revenues. This money would be applied to the benefit of Irish Catholics and Presbyterians as well as Protestants. Appropriation was opposed by the Conservatives under Peel and by conservative Whigs such as Stanley and Graham. In Pw H 165/1-2, Lord George Bentinck discusses the issue, considers a compromise with the Catholics to be politically 'impracticable', and states his own preference for the payment of Catholic priests from state funds.

Politics and Electioneering

Following the passage of Catholic Emancipation, in 1829, a number of groups began to campaign for Irish self-government and the repeal of the Act of Union. In Ga C 1/17, Lord Westmeath makes a 'disinterested' defence of the Union on the basis of its political, economic and strategic benefits.

The problems of political representation were always of pressing concern to Ireland. In Ga C 1/44, Lord Rossmore seeks the support of the Nottinghamshire aristocrat Lord Galway for a reform of the 'representative peerage' system. From 1801, Ireland was represented in the House of Lords by 28 Irish peers who were elected for life (by-elections occurring at the death of a representative). Rossmore's concern was to ensure the representation of Ireland by 'resident' peers: many, like Galway, continued to live on their estates in Britain.

The letter My 371 provides valuable evidence of the election contest for King's County [County Offaly] in December 1832. The contest saw the election of Lord Oxmantown and Nicholas FitzSimon and the defeat of the Earl of Charleville's heir, Lord Tullamore. Rosse relays the colour, energy and political calculation involved in election contests of the period - characteristics which were familiar to observers on both sides of the Irish Sea. He also indicates the violent turn which politics could take in Ireland. References to 'intimidation', the removal of arms and the presence of troops during the election remind us that religion and the maintenance of law and order were important factors in Irish political life. The political influence of landlords over their tenants was uncertain and political divisions had not been healed by Catholic Emancipation (1829) and the Irish Reform Act (1832).

 

Next page: Catholic Emancipation

 

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