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Select document: ‘The present state of Ireland’, 1749

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2016


The effectiveness of the government of Ireland throughout the period of its rule by England and then Britain depended on the accuracy of the information provided to Dublin Castle and sent from thence to the political masters, based largely in London. The text reproduced below is one of a large number of manuscripts that were sent periodically in the early modern period and the eighteenth century to inform those not resident in Ireland about conditions in the country. Some of these are calls to action for various monarchs or their ministers, with prescriptions for the ‘reform’ of Ireland.

Research Article
Copyright © Irish Historical Studies Publications Ltd 2009

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1 For an excellent guide to ‘information’ and its use in the eighteenth-century British Empire, see Bayly, C. A., Empire and information: intelligence gathering and social communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge, 1996).Google Scholar

2 The early modern period provides a large number of examples of this type of ‘prescriptive’ manuscript, such as Richard Beacon’s Solon his follie (1594), Edmund Spenser’s View of the present state of Ireland (1596) or William Petty’s Political anatomy of Ireland (1672). For various views on these materials, see Barnard, T. C., ‘Crises of identity among Irish Protestants, 1641–1685’ in Past and Present, 127 (1990), pp 3983CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Canny, Nicholas, Making Ireland British, 1580–1650 (Oxford, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, ch. 1; and Brady, Ciaran (ed.), A viceroy’s vindication: Sir Henry Sidney’s memoir of service in Ireland, 1556–78 (Cork, 2002), introduction.Google Scholar

3 A good example of this is the manuscript, probably composed by Sir William Temple in 1695, that advised ministers on how to deal with the constitutional ‘sole right’ controversy. See Gibney, John, ‘Select document: a discourse of Ireland, 1695’ in Irish Historical Studies, 136 (2005), pp 449-61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4 Thomas Waite to Charles Yorke, 1 June 1749 (B.L., Add. MS 35633, f. 96).

5 The document, entitled ‘Some account of Ireland by Mr Thomas Waite’, was sent in November 1748 (B.L., Add. MS 35,605, ff 325–33), and a transcript can be had from the author.

6 The biographical information comes from Sainty, J. C., ‘The secretariat of the chief governors of Ireland, 1690–1800’ in R.I.A. Proc, sect. C, 77 (1977), pp 133Google Scholar, and Edward Weston to George Stone, 4 June 1747 (P.R.O.N.I., Wilmot papers, T/3019/890).

7 Weston told Stone that he ‘took [Waite] into my family’ and, indeed, the connection was close enough that Waite later married Weston’s niece, Lucy Grant, in 1750.

8 As law clerk, Waite had a salary of £200 per annum, making the £500 sum a large bonus, although he complained that it was only £100 more than clerks had received in previous years for enquiries that had not led to legal proceedings. For this, see Waite to Philip Yorke, 16 July 1747 (B.L., Add. MS 35605, f. 293), and Sainty, J. C. (ed.), Officials of the secretaries of state, 1660–1782 (London, 1973), p. 46.Google Scholar

9 For more detail, see Burns, R. E., Irish parliamentary politics in the eighteenth century (2 vols, Washington, 1990), ii, 84-6.Google Scholar

10 Johnston-Liik, E. M., History of the Irish parliament, 1692–1800 (6 vols, Belfast, 2002), vi, 4767.Google Scholar

11 For examples of this expertise, see Malcomson, A. P. W., Nathaniel Clements: government and the governing élite in Ireland, 1725–75 (Dublin, 2006), pp 65, 119, 150, 212, 245–6Google Scholar; Magennis, Eoin, The Irish political system (Dublin, 2000), pp 42-3.Google Scholar

12 Waite to Wilmot [15 June 1772] (P.R.O.N.I., Wilmot papers, T/3019/6327). The situation was no better five years later. See Waite to Lord George Germain, 28 Nov. 1776 (N.L.I., Heron papers, MS 13034 (2)).

13 In 1768 Lord Townshend awarded Mrs Waite a £400-per-annum pension (Waite to Wilmot, 2 June, 2 July 1768 (P.R.O.N.I., Wilmot papers, T/3019/5766, 5774)), and in 1773 this was exchanged for the sinecure post worth £600 per annum. See Johnston, E. M., Great Britain and Ireland, 1760–1800 (Edinburgh, 1963), p. 58Google Scholar, n. 2. For a detailed account of her work as housekeeper and the responsibilities of other staff, see Lucy Waite to Mrs Richard Heron, 20 Dec. 1776 (N.L.I., Heron papers, MS 13034 (5)).

14 For the appointment to the Privy Council, see Buckinghamshire to Lord Suffolk, 20 Feb. 1777 (N.L.I., Heron papers, MS 13035 (3)).

15 Buckinghamshire to Hotham Thompson, 27 Feb. 1779 (P.R.O.N.I., Hotham papers, T/3429/1/14), quoted in Malcomson, Nathaniel Clements, p. 245.

16 Waite to Philip Yorke, 16 July 1747 (B.L., Add. MS 35605, f. 293).

17 This was a complaint in Ireland at this time as well. See Magennis, Eoin, ‘Land of milk and honey: the Physico-Historical Society, improvement and the surveys of mid-eighteenth-century Ireland’ in R.I.A. Proc, sect. C, 102 (2002), pp 199-217.Google Scholar

18 Waite to Philip Yorke, 12 Mar. 1748 (B.L., Add. MS 35605, f. 306).

19 It is a shame that there is no ‘Waite collection’ of inward correspondence, but what is extant is his voluminous and often indiscreet letters among the papers of Sir Robert Wilmot, Sir George MacCartney, the Yorkes, Edward Weston, Lord George Sackville and several others.

20 In the 1748 manuscript, Waite uses printed materials such as the details of Ireland’s geographical divisions - which could be taken from any Dublin directory - and the legislation passed in the 1747–8 session. The latter, Waite did not detail, but he does point Philip Yorke to the Dublin Gazette of 19 April 1748 for more information, while the best directory of this period was the Gentleman and Citizen’s Almanac, published annually in Dublin.

21 Examples of such materials would be A view of the rise of the incorporated society (Dublin, 1748), and Bindon, David, An abstract of the number of Protestant and popish families in the several counties and provinces of Ireland … (Dublin, 1733).Google Scholar

22 Sir Mathew Decker, Essay on the causes of the decline of the foreign trade. It is unclear whether Waite used the 1747 London edition or the 1749 Dublin one. In the 1749 document, he also uses SirDecker’s, MathewThe advantages which may arise to the people of Ireland by raising of flax and flax-seed considered (Dublin, 1732)Google Scholar, published by order of the Dublin Society.

23 Waite to Philip Yorke, 16 July 1747 (B.L., Add. MS 35605, f. 293).

24 ‘Some account of Ireland’ (B.L., Add. MS 35605, f. 325). Throughout his career in Ireland, Waite remained cautious about how his frank letters could be used, and he repeatedly asked his English correspondent to burn letters, which were often marked private or secret. For example, Waite to Wilmot, 19 Apr. 1768 (P.R.O.N.I., Wilmot papers, 173019/5732) is marked ‘Burn! Burn!’, as it recounts a rumour (which proved accurate) that Irish M.P.s would vote down a proposed augmentation of the army.

25 Commons Jn. Ire., vii, 248–9. For more on the Irish debt, see C. I. McGrath, ‘The Irish experience of “Financial Revolution”, 1660–1760’ in idem and C. Fauske (eds), Money, power and print; interdisciplinary studies on the Financial Revolution in the British Isles (Newark, 2008), pp 189–208.

26 For more detail on this phenomenon, see Magennis, Eoin, ‘Coals, corn and canals: the dispersal of public monies, 1695–1772’ in Hayton, D. W. (ed.), The Irish parliament in the eighteenth century: the long apprenticeship (Edinburgh, 2000), pp 7186.Google Scholar

27 However, he was well aware of the unpopularity of pensions. See Waite to [Edward Weston], 4 Oct. 1748 (P.R.O.N.I., Wilmot papers, T/3019/1148).

28 This was a view that was becoming more widely espoused in this period. See Harris, Bob, Politics and the nation: Britain in the mid-eighteenth century (Oxford, 2002), pp 238-9CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Magennis, Eoin, Politics and the market in eighteenth-century Ireland (forthcoming).Google Scholar

29 The Wilmot papers are full of correspondence on this issue in the autumn of 1748. See Waite to Weston, 30 Aug., 1, 6, 20 Sept., 1 Oct. 1748; same to Wilmot, 26 Oct. 1748 (P.R.O.N.I., Wilmot papers, T/3019/1121, 1122, 1130,1140, 1150, 1176).

30 ‘Mr Waite’s paper on the present state of Ireland’ [May 1749] (B.L., Add. MS 35919, ff 269–70).

31 ‘Some account of Ireland’ (B.L., Add. MS 35605, ff 327, 329).

32 For more on Sir Richard Cox, see Magennis, Irish political system, pp 35–7 and Connolly, S. J., Divided kingdom: Ireland, 1630–1800 (Oxford, 2008), pp 244-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

33 ‘Some account of Ireland’ (B.L., Add. MS 35605, f. 330).

34 Ibid., f. 333. For more on Boyle, see Magennis, Irish political system, pp 23–34, and Hewitt, Esther (ed.), Lord Shannon’s letters to his son (Belfast, 1982), pp xxviii-xxxvii.Google Scholar

35 The modern printed version of this can be found as ‘Report on the state of popery, 1731’ in Archivium Hibernicum, 1 (1912), pp 10–27; 2 (1913), pp 108–56; 3 (1914), pp 124–59; 4 (1915), pp 131–77.

36 These ratios are on the high side for the size of the Catholic majority. For more, see Connolly, S. J., Religion, law and power: the making of Protestant Ireland, 1660–1760 (Oxford, 1992), ch. 5.Google Scholar

37 ‘Mr Waite’s paper on the present state of Ireland’ [May 1749] (B.L., Add. MS 35919, ff 275–6).

38 For more detail on the charter schools, see Milne, K., The Irish charter schools, 1730–1830 (Dublin, 1997)Google Scholar, passim, and Jones, M. G., The charity school movement (Cambridge, 1964), pp 227-10.Google Scholar

39 My thanks to the British Library for permission to reproduce the document.

40 See 'Act to prevent the exportation of Irish woollens’, 10 & 11 Will. Ill, c.10 [Eng.] (1699) for more details.

41 Quotation taken from [ SirDecker, Mathew], Essay on the causes of the decline of the foreign trade (Dublin, 1749), pp 55-6.Google Scholar

42 The advantages which may arise to the people of Ireland …, p. 18. This was the first pamphlet published by order of the Dublin Society, founded in 1731.

43 For details, see ‘Act for granting an aid to His Majesty for disbanding the army and other necessary occasions’, 10 Will. Ill, c.l [Eng.] (1699).

44 The regulation of the Irish army remained under annual English statute law until 1780, when the perpetual Irish Mutiny Act was passed, followed in 1782 by an act that limited the duration of the legislation allowing more control. See Guy, Alan, ‘The Irish military establishment, 1660–1776’ in Bartlett, T. and Jeffery, K. (eds), A military history of Ireland (Cambridge, 1996), pp 211-46 (p. 216).Google Scholar

45 See ‘Act to ... build and finish the barracks in this kingdom’, 10 Will. Ill, c.4 [Ire.] (1699).

46 See ‘Act for reviving, continuing and explaining and amending several temporary statutes ...’, 11 Geo. II, c.13 (Ire.) (1738) for the maintenance and allowances paid to barrack masters.

47 For details, see n. 33.

48 For further details, see the 1697 ‘Act for banishing papists exercising any ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and all regulars of the popish clergy out of this kingdom’, 9 Will. Ill, c. 1 [Ire.], and the 1704 ‘Act for registering the popish clergy’ [Ire.] (1704), 2 Anne, c.7.

49 Probably Cardinal Guiseppe Renato Imperali (1651-1737), cardinal protector of Ireland.

50 This is almost certainly the ‘Act to prevent the further growth of popery’, 2 Anne, c.6 [Ire.] (1704),

51 See ‘Act to prevent the further growth of popery’, 2 Anne, c.6, s.6 [Ire.] (1704), preventing Catholics from buying land in their own or another’s name, and restricting them to leases of no more than thirty-one years.

52 The annual grant from George II was started in 1741, while the taxes granted by parliament began in 1747, and produced over £1,100 per annum until the late 1780s. See Milne, Irish charter schools, pp 55–150.

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