Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Beresford, John (1738-1805)

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BERESFORD, JOHN (1738–1805), Irish statesman, was the was the second son of Marcus, Earl of Tyrone, and Lady Catherine, Baroness de la Poer, the heiress of a long line of barons, and was born in Dublin 14 March 1738. He was educated at Kilkenny school, and at Trinity College, Dublin, graduating B.A. in 1757. He was called to the bar in Hilary term 1760, but never practised. In November of the same year he married Constantia Ligondes of Auvergne, whom her aunt, the Countess Moira, to the great displeasure of the Roman catholic clergy, had persuaded to accompany her to Ireland rather than enter a convent as she had intended. At the new election on the death of George II in 1760, Beresford was, through his family influence, returned for Waterford, which he continued to represent till his death. From the beginning he attended with great diligence to his parliamentary duties, devoting much pains to finance and the mastery of practical business. In 1756 he was appointed to privy councillor, and in 1770 one of the commissioners of revenue. In the following year he offered for the speakership, one of the great objects of his ambition; but as Lord Townshend, the lord-lieutenant, objected to conjoining the two offices, he reluctantly withdrew his claims. His first wife having died in November 1772 he married, in June 1774, Barbara Montgomery, a celebrated beauty, who, with her sister, Judy Mountjoy, and the Marchioness of Townshend, was depicted by Sir Joshua Reynolds as one of the 'Graces' in the painting now in the Royal Academy. The marriage greatly strengthened the political position of Beresford, and, assisted by his plodding perseverance and undoubted merit as an administrator, he gradually succeeded in wielding an almost, unlimited, though an unobtrusive and hidden, authority in Irish affairs. Promoted first commissioner of revenue in 1780, he not only introduced important reforms in the methods of revenue collection, but improved in many important respects the architecture and street communication of Dublin. Under his auspices the splendid new custom-house was begun in 1781, and completed in ten years at a cost of about 400,000l., the quays were widened and extended, and the opening up of Sackville Street and other lines of communication was accomplished. After Pitt became prime minister of England, Beresford, under the administration of various lord lieutenants, was practically entrusted with the management of Irish affairs, and his advice guided Pitt in his whole political policy towards that country. He arranged with Pitt in 1784 the clauses of Mr. Orde's hill for the removing of the trade restrictions of Ireland, which was bitterly and successfully opposed by Grattan on account of a clause binding the parliament to re-enact England's navigation laws. He was also at one with Pitt in the matter of the regency. Evidence of his increasing influence is to be found in his appointment, in 1786, to be a privy councillor of England. Although his authority was threatened with sudden extinction In 1795, when Lord Fitzwilliam was sent over as lord lieutenant to inaugurate a policy of concession, it proved strong enough, not only to defeat the benevolent intentions of the English government, but to institute a political departure of a totally different kind. Lord Fitzwilliam found on his arrival that Beresford 'was filling a situation greater than that of the lord lieutenant himself,' that he was 'virtually king of Ireland,' and that the weight of his 'unpopularity' with the party of Grattan would completely nullify all attempts to reconcile them. He therefore at once dismissed him from office, and though he continued to him his full salary of 2,000l., this, it was added in carefully guarded language, was merely for long and laborious at attendance. Such a severe measure at once brought matters to a crisis between Lord Fitzwilliam and the cabinet, and in a few weeks he was recalled. In his letters to Lord Carlisle he had made use of expressions imputing 'malversations' to Beresford, and as he declined an explanation or apology, a hostile meeting was arranged to take place at Kensington, which was prevented by the interference of the police. After the recall of Fitzwilliam, Beresford returned to his old duties. The failure to put into operation a policy of conciliation led almost inevitably to the idea of a union with Great Britain as an ultimate means of overcoming Irish discontent, and while doubtless Beresford was in a great degree responsible for its adoption he also contributed his assistance in adjusting the arrangements by which it was brought about. After its accomplishment he retained office till 1802, to superintend the fiscal arrangements consequent thereupon between the two kingdoms. In the imperial parliament he continued to represent Waterford. His remaining years were spent between the fulfilment of his parliamentary duties in London and the recreations of agriculture and gardening at his seat at Walworth, Londonderry, where he died, after a short illness, 5 Nov. 1805. By his first wife he had four sons and five daughters, and by his second five daughters and three sons.

[Beresford's Correspondence of Right Hon. John Beresford, printed for private circulation, 1854; Gent. Mag. lxxv. 1083-4; Grenville Memoirs (George III), ii. 310-38; Stanhope's Life of Pitt.]

T. F. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.23
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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