Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ponsonby, Frederick George Brabazon

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PONSONBY, FREDERICK GEORGE BRABAZON, sixth Earl of Bessborough (1815–1895), second son of John William Ponsonby, fourth earl [q. v.], was born in London on 11 Sept. 1815. He was educated at Harrow from 1830 to 1833, and, proceeding to Trinity College, Cambridge, graduated M.A. in 1837. He studied for the law, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn on 16 June 1840. He was an enthusiastic cricketer, commencing his career in the Harrow eleven, when on 3 Aug. 1832 he played at Lord's in the match with Eton. At Cambridge he also played in the university eleven. Afterwards, when he was at the bar, he appeared in such important matches as Kent v. England and Gentlemen v. Players. After 1843, owing to an accident to his arm, he gave up playing at Lord's. In 1845, with J. L. Baldwin, he founded the I Zingari Club, and took part in their performances. He was a member of the committee of the Marylebone Club, and, having a great knowledge of the game, managed many of the matches at Lord's. He had a free and forward style of hitting, and also excelled at long-stop and mid-wicket. The Harrow eleven were for many years indebted to him for tuition, and many of their successes against Eton and Winchester were due to his instruction. He was also a good actor at Cambridge in private theatricals. With Tom Taylor, William Bolland, G. Cavendish Bentinck, and others, he originated, in 1842, the Old Stagers at Canterbury in connection with the Canterbury cricket week, and for many years he took part in their entertainments.

On the death of his brother, John George Brabazon, fifth earl of Bessborough, on 28 Jan. 1880, he succeeded as sixth earl, but sat in the House of Lords as Baron Ponsonby and Baron Duncannon. In politics he was a liberal. When Mr. Gladstone's ministry in 1880 appointed a commission to inquire into the land system in Ireland, Bessborough was nominated a member. His colleagues were Baron Dowse, The O'Conor Don, Mr. Kavanagh, and William Shaw [q. v.] The commission, which became known by Lord Bessborough's name, reported in 1881, advising the repeal of the Land Act of 1870, and the enactment of a simple uniform act on the basis of fixity of tenure, fair rents, and free sale. The policy of buying out the landlords was deprecated, but additional state aid for tenants anxious to purchase their holdings was recommended. The Bessborough commission marks an important stage in the history of Irish land legislation, and led to Mr. Gladstone's land bill of 1881. Lord Bessborough was himself a model landlord. He was unremitting in his attention to the interest of his tenants in co. Kilkenny, and through the troubled times of the land league there was never the least interruption of friendly relations between him and them. Although for a long time a follower of Mr. Gladstone, he did not vote in the divisions on the home rule bill in the House of Lords in 1893. He died at 45 Green Street, Grosvenor Square, London, on 12 March 1895, and was buried at Bessborough. He was unmarried and was succeeded by his brother Walter William Brabazon Ponsonby, who was rector of Canford Magna, Dorset, from 1846 to 1869.

[Thornton's Harrow, 1885, pp. 250, 276; Lillywhite's Cricket Scores, 1862, ii. 193; Cokayne's Peerage, 1887, i. 353; Times, 15 Jan. 1881 p. 7, 16 March p. 4, 19 March p. 14, 30 March p. 4, 13 March 1895, p. 10.]

G. C. B.