Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pery, Edmond Sexton
PERY, EDMOND SEXTON, Viscount Pery (1719–1806), eldest son of the Rev. Stackpole Pery, and grandson of Edmond Pery, esq., of Stackpole Court in co. Clare, was born in Limerick in April 1719. His family came originally from Lower Brittany, and rose into prominence in the reign of Henry VIII. Educated to be a lawyer, Edmond was called to the Irish bar in Hilary term 1745, and speedily attained a high position in his profession. In 1751 he was elected M.P. for the borough of Wicklow. He at first acted with government, but gradually adopted a more independent attitude, and was teller for the rejection of the altered money bill on 17 Dec. 1753. The journals of the Irish House of Commons bear witness to his activity in promoting the interests of Ireland, and particularly of the city of Dublin, of which he was a common councillor. On 7 Jan. 1756 he presented heads of a bill for the encouragement of tillage; on 28 Feb. heads of a bill for the better supplying the city of Dublin with corn and flour; and on 2 March heads of a bill to prevent unlawful combination to raise the price of coals in the city of Dublin. Most of his measures gradually found their way into the statute-book, but at the time he experienced considerable opposition from government, and at the close of the session 1756 he thought himself justified in opposing the usual address of thanks to the lord lieutenant, the Duke of Devonshire.
In the following session he took part in the attack on the pension list (cf. Walpole, Memoirs of the Reign of George II, iii. 70), and, in order to secure proper parliamentary control of the revenue of the country, he supported a proposal to limit supply to one year, with the object of insuring the annual meeting of parliament. In consequence of a rumour of an intended union with England, a serious riot took place in Dublin in September 1759, and Pery thought it right to co-operate with government. There, however, appears to be no foundation for Walpole's statement (ib. p. 254) that he allowed himself to be ‘bought off,’ though it is probable he was offered the post of solicitor-general, which was afterwards conferred on John Gore, lord Annaly [q. v.] He displayed great interest in the prosperity of his native city; and when Limerick was in 1760 declared to be no longer a fortress, he was instrumental in causing the walls to be levelled, new roads to be made, and a new bridge and spacious quays to be built. At the general election of 1760 he was returned without opposition for the city of Limerick, which he continued to represent in successive parliaments till his retirement in 1785.
In 1761 he had a serious illness. On his return to parliament he recommenced his onslaught on the pension list. An amendment to the address, moved by him at the opening of the session in October 1763, opposing the view that the ‘ordinary establishment’ included pensions, was adopted by the house, and was the means of wresting a promise from government that no new pension should be granted on the civil list ‘except upon very extraordinary occasions.’ But all his efforts to obtain an unqualified condemnation of the system (Hib. Mag. vii. 668, 800; Commons' Journals, vii. 227) ended in failure. On the resignation of John Ponsonby [q. v.], Pery was elected speaker of the Irish House of Commons on 7 March 1771. He did not, as was usual, affect to decline the honour conferred upon him, but on being presented for the approbation of the crown he admitted that it was the highest point of his ambition, and that he had not been more solicitous to obtain it than he would be to discharge the duties of the post. On 1 May he was sworn a member of the privy council.
His conduct in the chair fully approved the wisdom of his election. For not only did he preserve that strict impartiality which his position demanded, but at a time when the privileges of the commons were extremely liable to infringement he stood forth as their zealous defender. On 19 Feb. 1772 the house was equally divided on a motion censuring an increase in the number of commissioners of the revenue. Pery gave his casting vote in favour of the motion. ‘This,’ said he, ‘is a question which involves the privileges of the commons of Ireland. The noes have opposed the privilege: the noes have been wrong; let the privileges of the commons of Ireland stand unimpeached, therefore I say the ayes have it’ (Grattan, Life of Grattan, i. 109; Hib. Mag. viii. 27). Again, in presenting the supplies to the lord lieutenant at the close of the session 1773, he spoke boldly and forcibly on the deplorable state of the country, and on the necessity of removing the restrictions placed by England on Irish commerce. Equally patriotic and regardful of the privileges of the commons was his declaration that the Tontine Bill of 1775 was virtually a bill of supply, and therefore to be returned to the house for presentation to the lord lieutenant. In 1776 the friends of the late speaker Ponsonby made an ineffectual effort to prevent his re-election. Though debarred by his position from taking any open part in the political struggles of the day, he lent a generous support to the Relief Bill of 1778, and it was chiefly to his judicious management that the bill, though shorn of its concessions to the presbyterians, was allowed to pass through parliament. In 1778 he visited England in order to promote the concession of free trade. He approved of the volunteer movement, and Grattan derived great practical assistance from him in the struggle for legislative independence. He was re-elected to the speakership in 1783. He objected to Pitt's commercial propositions of 1785; but feeling the frailties of age pressing upon him, he resigned the chair on 4 Sept., and retired from parliamentary life. In recognition of his long and faithful services his majesty George III was pleased to grant him a pension of 3,000l. a year, and to raise him to the peerage by the title of Viscount Pery of Newtown-Pery in the county of Limerick. Though strongly opposed to the union, he declared that, if it were really desired by parliament and the country, he would feel it his duty to surrender his own opinion, and to give his best assistance in arranging the details of it (Lecky, Hist. of England, viii. 295). Ultimately he voted against it. He died at his house in Park Street, London, on 24 Feb. 1806, and was buried in the Calvert family vault at Hunsdon in Hertfordshire.
Pery married, first, on 11 June 1756, Patty, youngest daughter of John Martin, esq., who died without issue; secondly, on 27 Oct. 1762, Elizabeth Vesey, eldest daughter of John Denny, lord Knapton, and sister of Thomas, viscount De Vesci, by whom he had issue two daughters: Diana Jane, who married Thomas Knox, eldest son of Thomas, viscount Northland; and Frances, who married Nicholas Calvert, esq., of Hunsdon in Hertfordshire. His daughters inherited his personal property; but the family estate, worth 8,000l. a year, descended to his nephew, Edmund Henry Pery, earl of Limerick [q. v.] To judge from such of his speeches as have been preserved, Pery was a terse rather than a brilliant speaker; but his conduct in the chair was greatly admired by Fox, on his visit to Dublin in 1777. In private life, notwithstanding his grave and somewhat severe demeanour, he was polite and urbane, and to young people extremely indulgent.
An engraved portrait is prefixed to a short memoir of him published during his life in the ‘Hibernian Magazine’ (vii. 575). He published anonymously in 1757 ‘Letters from an Armenian in Ireland,’ very pleasantly written, and containing some curious and valuable reflections on the political situation in Ireland. His correspondence and memoranda of his speeches form part of the collection of Lord Emly of Tervoe, co. Limerick, of which there is some account in the eighth report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission (App. pp. 174–208).[Hibernian Mag. vii. viii.; Grattan's Life of Henry Grattan, i. 104–12; Journals of the House of Commons, Ireland, passim; Hardy's Life of Charlemont; Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George II; Official List of Members of Parliament; Gent. Mag. 1806, pt. i. p. 287; Beresford Corresp. i. 27, 42, 48, 79, 114; Lenihan's Hist. of Limerick, p. 322; Lecky's Hist. of England, iv. 414, 478, 509, viii. 295, 344; Hist. MSS. Comm. 1st Rep. p. 128, 3rd Rep. p. 146, 8th Rep. pp. 174–208, 9th Rep. App. ii. 54, 12th Rep. App. ix. (Earl of Donoughmore's MSS.), 12th Rep. App. x. (Earl of Charlemont's MSS.), 13th Rep. App. iii. (MSS. of J. B. Fortescue); MSS. Brit. Mus. 33100 ff. 320, 481, 33101 f. 101, 34417 f. 254, 34419 ff. 129, 178; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xii. 867; Webb's Compendium.]