Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parnell, John

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PARNELL, Sir JOHN (1744–1801), chancellor of the Irish exchequer, born on 25 Dec. 1744, was the only son of Sir John Parnell, bart., of Rathleague, Queen's County, M.P. for Maryborough, by his wife Anne, second daughter of Michael Ward of Castle Ward, co. Down, a justice of the king's bench in Ireland, and sister of Bernard, first viscount Bangor. He was admitted a student of Lincoln's Inn on 7 Jan. 1766. He was never called either to the English or the Irish bar, but was elected a bencher of King's Inns, Dublin, on 11 Feb. 1786. He was appointed a commissioner of customs and excise for Ireland on 16 Dec. 1780, and succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father in April 1782. He appears to have represented Bangor in the Irish parliament of 1761–8, and Inistioge in that of 1776–83. At the general election in the summer of 1783 Parnell was returned for Maryborough and Queen's County, and elected to sit for Queen's County. He spoke for the first time in the house on 11 Nov. 1783, when he vindicated the conduct of the commissioners of the revenue board (Irish Parl. Debates, ii. 112). On the 29th of the same month he warmly opposed Flood's reform bill, and declared that he could not sit patiently by and see the constitution of his country overturned (ib. ii. 248). He succeeded John Foster, afterwards Lord Oriel [q. v.], as chancellor of the Irish exchequer on 22 Sept. 1785, and was sworn a member of the British privy council on 27 Oct. 1786. In February 1788 he brought in a bill for reducing the interest on the national debt from six to five per cent. (ib. viii. 237–9). He defended the administration of the Marquis of Buckingham with considerable vigour during the debate on the address on 22 Jan. 1790 (ib. x. 16–18), and was again returned for Queen's County at the general election in that year. In January 1792 he accompanied the chief secretary for Ireland (Robert Hobart, afterwards fourth earl of Buckinghamshire) to England, where they had an interview with Pitt and Dundas, and succeeded for a time in frustrating the liberal policy of the British government. Parnell, who was a protestant, appears to have told the ministers that ‘there was nothing to fear from the catholics; that they had always receded when met; that he believed the bulk of them perfectly satisfied, and that there would be no dissatisfaction if the subject had not been written upon, and such infinite pains taken to disturb the minds of the people’ (Hobart to Westmorland, quoted in Lecky's History of England, vi. 497). On 18 Feb. 1792 he defended the action of the protestants in Ireland, and vigorously opposed the Roman catholic bill (Irish Parl. Debates, xii. 180–1). On the revocation of the patents to the vice-treasurers of Ireland in 1793 Parnell was appointed a commissioner of the treasury. He opposed Grattan's resolutions on parliamentary reform on 9 Feb. 1793 in order ‘to prevent premature and unnecessary decision’ (ib. xiii. 164). In the same month he reluctantly gave his assent to the Roman catholic bill, thinking ‘the moment ill-chosen and the experiment dangerous to do away at once the principle of a century’ (ib. xiii. 320–2). In September 1794 Parnell was again consulted by Pitt on the question of Irish legislation. On the appointment of Fitzwilliam as lord lieutenant of Ireland, Grattan, in opposition to some of his own supporters, insisted that Parnell, with whom he was on intimate terms of friendship, should remain in office (Lecky, History of England, vii. 38–9). At the general election in the summer of 1798 Parnell was returned for Portarlington and Queen's County, and elected to sit for Queen's County. In November 1798 Pitt personally communicated his intention of carrying the union to Parnell, who deprecated any authoritative announcement of the scheme until the leaders of public opinion in Ireland had been consulted (ib. viii. 294). Parnell, after much confidential communication with Edward Cooke [q. v.], the under-secretary, determined to oppose the measure, it being in his judgment ‘very dangerous and not necessary’ (Lord Auckland's Journal and Correspondence, 1862, iv. 77–8). He was accordingly removed from the post of chancellor of the exchequer in January 1799. He took part in the debate on the address at the opening of the Irish parliament on 22 Jan. 1799, when he announced that he should oppose the proposed measure for a legislative union in limine (Report of the Debate, &c. pp. 5–10). He supported Sir Lawrence Parsons's amendment to the address on 15 Jan. 1800, and again denounced the union (ib. pp. 81–3). On 5 Feb. following he spoke against the articles of union, and declared his belief that ‘the great majority of the people of Ireland were decidedly averse to a union’ (ib. p. 169). On 13 March he moved that the king should be requested to dissolve parliament and take the sense of the constituencies before the legislative union was concluded, but was defeated by 150 votes to 104 (Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 212). On 26 May Parnell once more repeated his objections to the union, and at the same time defended his friend Grattan against an attack from Lord Castlereagh (ib. iii. 240). Parnell represented Queen's County in the first parliament of the United Kingdom, which met at Westminster on 22 Jan. 1801, and appears to have spoken three times in the house (Parl. Hist. xxv. 1036–7, 1274–5, 1551). For the loss of the Maryborough representation he received the sum of 7,500l. (Cornwallis Correspondence, iii. 323). He died suddenly in Clifford Street, London, on 5 Dec. 1801, and was buried in the burial-ground of St. George's, Hanover Square, in the Bayswater Road, where in 1842 a tablet was erected in the chapel to his memory.

Parnell was a ‘plain, frank, cheerful, and convivial’ man, who ‘generally preferred society to trouble, and seemed to have rid himself of a heavy weight when he had executed an official duty.’ Though for many years in possession of extensive patronage, ‘he showed a disinterestedness almost unparalleled, and the name of a relative or of a dependant of his own scarcely in a single instance increased the place or the pension lists of Ireland’ (Barrington, Historical Memoirs of Ireland, i. 119–20). He married in 1774 Letitia Charlotte, second daughter and coheiress of Sir Arthur Brooke bart., of Cole-Brooke, co. Fermanagh, by whom he had five sons, viz: 1. John Augustus, who was dumb and a cripple from his birth; he succeeded his father in the baronetcy, and died on 30 July 1812. 2. Henry Brooke, created Baron Congleton [q. v.] 3. William [q. v.], who took for a short time the additional surname of Hayes, and died in 1821. He resided at Avondale, co. Wicklow, and was the grandfather of Charles Stewart Parnell [q. v.] 4. Thomas. 5. Arthur; and one daughter, viz. Sophia, who married, on 21 Aug. 1805, George Hampden Evans of Portrane, co. Dublin. Parnell was a great-nephew of the Rev. Thomas Parnell [q. v.], the poet. His great-grandfather, Thomas Parnell, left Congleton in Cheshire, where the family had long resided, and went to Ireland in the time of Charles II. Some ‘Lines to the Memory of the late Sir John Parnell, bt.,’ will be found in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for December 1801 (p. 1127). There is a portrait of Parnell at Castle Ward, Downpatrick, in the possession of Viscount Bangor. It was painted at Rome, but the name of the painter is unknown.

[Memoirs and Correspondence of Viscount Castlereagh, 1848–9, vols. i. ii. and iii.; Correspondence of Charles, first Marquis Cornwallis, 1859, vols. ii. and iii.; Barrington's Historic Memoirs of Ireland, 1833, i. 118–21, ii. 374–428; Memoirs of the Life and Times of Henry Grattan, 1839–46, iv. 123, v. 14, 23, 26, 95, 142–5, 191; Plowden's Historical Review of the State of Ireland, 1803, vol. ii. pt. i. pp. 410–11, pt. ii. pp. 820, 827–9, 915, 1020–1, 1041–2; Froude's English in Ireland, 1874, ii. 388, iii. 41, 89, 94, 116, 122; Lecky's History of England, iv. 505, vi. 437, 488, 515, 521, 567, viii. 336, 342, 344, 477; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878, p. 428; Cecil Moore's Brief History of St. George's Chapel, p. 57; Gent. Mag., 1801, pt. ii. pp. 1155–6; Burke's Peerage, 1892, pp. 180, 317; Foster's Peerage, 1883, p. 179; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. viii. 509–11, ix. 98; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 214, 665, 675, 680, 685, 690; Lincoln's Inn Register; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. iv. 308.]

G. F. R. B.