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Belfast
Borough constituency
House House of Commons
Created 1801 (1801)
Abolished 1885 (1885)

Belfast was an Irish Borough constituency in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Comprising the city of Belfast, it elected one Member of Parliament (MP) from 1801 to 1832, and then two MPs from 1832 until the constituency was divided for he 1885 general election.

Contents

Summary

From To Chamber Members
1801 1832 House of Commons of the United Kingdom 1
1832 1885 House of Commons of the United Kingdom 2

Representation

Under the Act of Union 1800 the Parliament of Ireland was merged with the Parliament of Great Britain to form the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The 300 members of the Irish House of Commons were reduced to 100 Irish members of the United Kingdom House of Commons. As part of that process Belfast lost one of its seats.

There was no new election for the 1st Parliament of the United Kingdom. In Irish constituencies, where the number of seats were reduced from two to one, the MP to go to Westminster was selected by drawing lots.

Boundaries and Boundary Changes

The map and other details relate to the modern area of Belfast, but are included in this article to give a general idea of the location of the historic constituency.

This constituency was the Parliamentary borough of Belfast in County Antrim. In 1832 and 1868 the boundaries of that borough were extended.

In the redistribution of 1885 Belfast was further expanded (including parts of County Down as well as County Antrim) and split into four single member divisions; Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West.

Electoral system and electorate

The parliamentary representatives of the borough were elected using the bloc vote for two-member elections and first past the post for single-member ones.

Until 1832 the electorate were the members of Belfast Corporation (the local Council). This had long been resented by reformers as it made the constituency a pocket borough of the Marquess of Donegall.

In 1784 a petition was sent to the Parliament of Ireland.

"Your petitioners in the most humble and respectful manner, take leave to represent to your Hon House,

That Belfast is a large and populous town, containing above 15,000 inhabitants, carrying on a very extensive foreign commerce, as well as inland trade, and paying annually upwards of £80,000 towards the public revenue.

That this numerous body of people not being represented in your Hon House, are, contrary to the fundamental principle of the constitution, governed by laws to which they give no assent; for although the borough of Belfast sends two Members to parliament, yet those members are returned (under the immediate direction of a noble peer) by five or six Burgesses, in the appointment of whom your Petitioners have no share, and therefore the members so returned cannot in any sense, be deemed the Representatives of your Petitioners."

In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that there were no contested elections, for the United Kingdom Parliament, in the constituency until reform took place.

In 1832 the electorate was consideraby extended by the Irish part of the Reform Act 1832. Boroughs in Ireland were given a uniform franchise for the first time. The vote was given to occupiers of land valued at least £10 and resident freemen by birth or servitude (descent from or apprenticeship to an existing freeman of the borough) or who were admitted before March 1831.

Members of Parliament

Key to parties: C Conservative, L Liberal, P Peelite Liberal Conservative, T Tory, W Whig.

From To Name (Party) Born Died
1801 1814 Sir James Edward May, Bt (T) 5 October 1751 23 July 1814
1814 1816 Sir Stephen Edward May, Bt (T) c. 1781 28 October 1845
1816 1818 John Michel (T) 10 February 1765 5 April 1844
1818 1820 Arthur Chichester (T) c. 1769 25 May 1847
1820 1830 Earl of Belfast (T) 10 February 1797 20 October 1883
1830 1832 Sir Arthur Chichester, Bt (W) c. 1769 25 May 1847
1832 1835 Lord Arthur Chichester (L,C) 30 September 1808 25 January 1840
1832 1837 James Emerson Tennent (L,C) 7 April 1804 6 March 1869
1835 1835 John McCance (L) 1772 11 August 1835
1835 1837 George Dunbar (C) 17 August 1875
1837 1838 James Gibson (L) 5 February 1880
1837 1838 Earl of Belfast (L) 10 February 1797 20 October 1883
1838 1845 James Emerson Tennent (C) 7 April 1804 6 March 1869
1838 1841 George Dunbar (C) 17 August 1875
1841 1842 William Gillilan Johnson (C) 1808 9 April 1886
1842 1847 David Robert Ross (L) 1797 27 July 1851
1845 1852 Lord John Chichester (C,P) November 1811 22 April 1873
1847 1852 Robert James Tennent (L) 1803 25 May 1880
1852 1860 Richard Davison (C) 1796
1852 1866 Sir Hugh McCalmont Cairns (C) 27 December 1819 2 April 1885
1860 1868 Samuel Gibson Getty (C) 15 December 1877
1866 1868 Sir Charles Lanyon (C) 1813 31 May 1889
1868 1878 William Johnston (C) 1829 17 July 1902
1868 1874 Thomas McClure (L) 4 March 1806 21 January 1893
1874 1885 James Porter Corry (C) 8 September 1826 28 November 1891
1878 1885 William Ewart (C) 22 November 1817 1 August 1889

Notes:

  • (1) Lord Arthur Chichester and James Emerson Tennent changed party allegiance in 1834 (L,C).
  • (2) Lord John Ludford Chichester cganged party allegiance by 1847 (C,P).

Elections

After 1832, when registration of voters was introduced, a turnout figure is given for contested elections. In two-member elections (when the exact number of voters is unknowmn) this is calculated by dividing the number of votes by two. To the extent that voters did not use both their votes this will be an underestimate of turnout. If the electorate figure is unknown the last known electorate figure is used to provide an estimate of turnout.

Where a party had more than one candidate in one or both of a pair of successive elections change is calculated for each individual candidate, otherwise change is based on the party vote.

Co-option 1 January 1801: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Tory James Edward May Co-opted N/A N/A
Tory gain from new seat Swing N/A
General Election 12 July 1802: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Tory James Edward May Unopposed N/A N/A
Tory hold Swing N/A
General Election 17 November 1806: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Tory James Edward May Unopposed N/A N/A
Tory hold Swing N/A
General Election 15 May 1807: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Tory James Edward May Unopposed N/A N/A
Tory hold Swing N/A
General Election 23 October 1812: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Tory Sir James Edward May, Bt Unopposed N/A N/A
Tory hold Swing N/A
  • Death of May
By-Election 16 September 1814: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Tory Sir Stephen Edward May, Bt Unopposed N/A N/A
Tory hold Swing N/A
  • Appointment of May as Collector of Customs in Belfast Port
By-Election 3 May 1816: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Tory John Michel Unopposed N/A N/A
Tory hold Swing N/A
General Election 8 July 1818: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Tory Arthur Chichester Unopposed N/A N/A
Tory hold Swing N/A
General Election 16 March 1820: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Tory Earl of Belfast Unopposed N/A N/A
Tory hold Swing N/A
General Election 15 June 1826: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Tory Earl of Belfast Unopposed N/A N/A
Tory hold Swing N/A
General Election 6 August 1830: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig Sir Arthur Chichester, Bt Unopposed N/A N/A
Whig gain from Tory Swing N/A
General Election 20 May 1831: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Whig Sir Arthur Chichester, Bt Unopposed N/A N/A
Whig hold Swing N/A
General Election 21 December 1832: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Lord Arthur Chichester 834 29.81 N/A
Liberal James Emerson Tennent 723 25.84 N/A
Liberal Robert James Tennent 625 22.34 N/A
Liberal William Sharman Crawford 616 22.02 N/A
Turnout 1,659 85.59 N/A

Note: 1,420 electors voted. J. Emerson Tennent and presumably Chichester ceased to support Lord Grey in 1834 (see Emerson Tennent's article in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

General Election 17 January 1835: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative James Emerson Tennent 773 35.01 +9.17
Liberal John McCance 719 32.56 +32.56
Conservative Lord Arthur Chichester 713 32.29 +2.48
Liberal John French 3 0.14 +0.14
Turnout 2,137 65.84 -19.75

Note: 1,407 electors voted. Stooks Smith suggests there were 1,451 registered electors. Walker gives the electorate figure as above.

  • Death of McCance
By-Election 27 August 1835: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative George Dunbar 162 66.39 +66.39
Liberal Robert James Tennent 82 33.61 +33.61
Majority 80 32.79 N/A
Turnout 2,458 9.93 -55.91
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing N/A

Note: Stooks Smith suggests there were 1,508 registered electors. Walker gives the electorate figure as above. Stooks Smith also indicates that 'Mr Tennent resigned in consequence of a decision of the Assessors'.

General Election 5 August 1837: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal James Gibson 941 25.90 +25.90
Liberal Earl of Belfast 922 25.38 +25.38
Conservative James Emerson Tennent 901 24.80 +24.80
Conservative George Dunbar 869 23.92 -42.47
Turnout 3,641 50.51 +40.58

Note: 1,839 electors voted. Stooks Smith suggests there were 1,926 registered electors. Walker gives the electorate figure as above.

  • 8 March 1838: On petition Gibson and the Earl of Belfast were unseated and Emerson Tennent and Dunbar declared elected
General Election 10 July 1841: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative James Emerson Tennent 927 26.85 +1.95
Conservative William Gillilan Johnson 913 26.44 +26.44
Liberal Earl of Belfast 821 23.78 -1.60
Liberal David Robert Ross 792 22.94 +22.94
Turnout 4,234 45.75 -4.76

Note: 1,740 electors voted. Stooks Smith suggests there were 1,937 registered electors. Walker gives the electorate figure as above.

  • On petition Emerson Tennent and Johnson unseated and new writ issued
By-Election 18 August 1842: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal David Robert Ross 886 39.47 +16.53
Conservative James Emerson Tennent 859 38.26 +11.41
Conservative Lord Hamilton Francis Chichester 500 22.27 +22.27
Turnout 4,234 (1841) 53.02 +7.27

Note: Stooks Smith comments that 'a compromise was entered into by which one of each party was to be returned'.

  • Resignation of Emerson Tennent
By-Election 20 August 1845: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Lord John Ludford Chichester Unopposed N/A N/A
Conservative hold Swing N/A
General Election 9 August 1847: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Robert James Tennent 929 39.28 N/A
Peelite Lord John Ludford Chichester 747 31.59 N/A
Conservative George Suffern 689 29.13 N/A
Turnout 9,672 12.23 N/A
General Election 13 July 1852: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Richard Davison 1,259 37.51 +37.51
Conservative Hugh McCalmont Cairns 1,193 35.55 +35.55
Liberal Robert James Tennent 904 26.94 -12.34
Turnout 2,697 62.22 +49.99
General Election 3 April 1857: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Hugh McCalmont Cairns 1,479 28.54 -7.01
Conservative Richard Davison 1,410 27.20 -10.31
Liberal John Robinson McClean 995 19.20 +19.20
Liberal John Francis Ferguson 733 14.14 +14.14
Liberal Thomas McClure 566 10.92 +10.92
Turnout 3,518 73.66 +11.44
By-Election 5 March 1858: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Hugh McCalmont Cairns Unopposed N/A N/A
Conservative hold Swing N/A
General Election 2 May 1859: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Sir Hugh McCalmont Cairns Unopposed N/A N/A
Conservative Richard Davison Unopposed N/A N/A
  • Resignation of Davison
By-Election 15 June 1860: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Samuel Gibson Getty Unopposed N/A N/A
Conservative hold Swing N/A
General Election 15 July 1865: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Sir Hugh McCalmont Cairns 1,822 40.12 N/A
Conservative Samuel Gibson Getty 1,728 38.05 N/A
Liberal Lord John Hay (Royal Navy admiral of the fleet) 991 21.82 N/A
Turnout 3,415 66.49 N/A
By-Election 13 July 1866: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Sir Hugh McCalmont Cairns Unopposed N/A N/A
Conservative hold Swing N/A
  • Appointment of Cairns as Lord Justice of Appeal in Chancery (of England and Wales)
By-Election 2 November 1866: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Charles Lanyon 1,263 98.98 N/A
Conservative William McMeechan 13 1.02 N/A
Majority 1,250 97.96 N/A
Turnout 3,615 35.30 N/A
Conservative hold Swing N/A
General Election 21 November 1868: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative William Johnston 5,975 39.06 +39.06
Liberal Thomas McClure 4,202 27.47 +27.47
Conservative Sir Charles Lanyon 3,540 23.14 -75.84
Conservative John Mulholland 1,580 10.33 +10.33
Turnout 12,168 62.86 +27.56
General Election 5 February 1874: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative James Porter Corry 8,412 39.70 +39.70
Conservative William Johnston 8,176 38.58 -0.48
Liberal Thomas McClure 4,096 19.33 -8.14
Conservative John Rea 506 2.39 +2.39
Turnout 15,979 66.31 +3.45
  • Appointment of Johnston as Inspector of Fisheries
By-Election 2 April 1878: Belfast
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative William Ewart 8,241 62.74 +62.74
Conservative Robert Seeds 4,895 37.26 +37.26
Majority 3,346 25.47 N/A
Turnout 20,005 65.66 -0.65
Conservative hold Swing N/A
General Election 1 April 1880: Belfast (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative William Ewart 8,132 30.06 -32.68
Conservative James Porter Corry 7,683 28.40 +28.40
Conservative Robert Seeds 6,119 22.62 -14.64
Liberal John Shaw Brown 5,122 18.93 +18.93
Turnout 21,188 63.85 -1.81
  • Constituency divided in the 1885 redistribution

References

  • The Parliaments of England by Henry Stooks Smith (1st edition published in three volumes 1844-50), 2nd edition edited (in one volume) by F.W.S. Craig (Political Reference Publications 1973)
  • Parliamentary Election Results in Ireland, 1801-1922, edited by B.M. Walker (Royal Irish Academy 1978)
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See also

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