"This article by the late Reverend Patrick Rogers first appeared in the Down and Connor Diocese Historical Society Journal in 1934. The subject William Todd Jones was brought to my attention many years ago by the late Aiken McClelland but further information was elusive. When recently J. F. Rankin brought to my attention this article of this forgotten Lisburn man, I felt it should be reprinted Dr Patrick Rogers died in 1969 and I am grateful to his successor, the Reverend Canon Dallat, for his permission to reprint and to the Reverend Canon F. N. Conway for his help.
Corry's Glen, near Ravernette, must be known to many generations of Lisburn people who have walked or played in its unspoilt surroundings but like me have been unaware of the Jones family who lived in the house near the centre of the Glen. The next time you, the reader, are near Corry's Glen, spare a thought for William Todd Jones. "
In the history of the struggle for Catholic Emancipation in Ireland which occupied the last quarter of the 18th Century, the part played by the Protestant supporters of the cause has been greatly neglected in our history books. No doubt, the average student is aware that Henry Gratten advocated the grant of political rights to Catholics and that Theobald Wolfe Tone formed the United Irishmen to secure these rights, and was seconded, for some unaccountable reason, by the Belfast Dessenters, but beyond this generally speaking - his knowledge does not extend. The history of the period between the establishment of Gratten's Parliament in 1782 and the foundation of the United Irish Society nine years later has not received due recognition, with the result that the contribution of the Irish Protestants towards the gaining of Emancipation has been forgotten. It is true that the primary object of these men was the reform of parliamentary representation, and that for the most part - they supported the Catholic claims in order to strengthen their own position in the eyes of the Government: nevertheless, their action must not be forgotten or undervalued. The fact that the reform party was making common cause with the Catholics undoubtedly hastened the grant of those substantial measures of relief which came in 1792 and 1793 since William Pitt, the Prime Minister, hoped thus to win the Irish Catholics to his side and to break what one of his subordinates called "that strange and unnatural alliance." Moreover, the reformers counted in their body many members whose attitude towards the Catholic Question was inspired by higher motives than mere political expediency. In the present article, I propose to sketch the career of one such person William Todd Jones, Member of Parliament for the Borough of Lisburn from 1783 to 1790.
William Todd Jones was born at Corry's Glen, near Hillsborough, about the year 1755. His family, which claimed relationship with Jeremy Taylor, the celebrated Bishop of Dromore, had formerly been possessed of considerable estates in the neighbourhood, but extravagant living had long since reduced these to a very modest patrimony of 1,000 acres adjoining the Hillsborough property. His father, a doctor of medicine, was the intimate friend of Lady Moira, to whose household he acted as physician for thirty years, and the boy's early life was spent in the company of her ladyship's sons under the hospitable roof of Moira House, until the time came for him to choose a profession. Having expressed a desire to study law, he was sent to Trinity College, Dublin, but after admission to the Irish Bar, he seems to have abandoned the idea of legal practice, and returned to his home to live the uneventful life of a country gentleman of reduced means. He was not fated to enjoy his premature retirement for long. Events were at hand which would rouse the Irish people to an unwonted pitch of excitement, and open new and most inviting avenues of political activity.
In 1778, when Todd James was a young man of twenty three with the dust of Trinity College and the Four Courts still in his throat, the American Revolution was at its height The Irish coasts were menaced by attacks from American and French privateers, and, in the absence of an adequate force of regular troops, the Irish Protestants commenced to arm themselves and to form military companies for home defence. By the beginning of the following year, 30,000 Volunteers had been enroled. Lisburn was a centre of martial activity; two infantry corps were raised among the citizens, and to one of these - the Lisburn Fusiliers - Todd Jones offered his services. Clad in the heavily laced scarlet coatee faced with blue - the Volunteers, like all amateur soldiery, were very partial to elaborate military millinery - the young man was a familiar figure as he rode through the streets on drill evening from his father's house to the parade ground. His zeal soon won him promotion; in a few months he was elected Lieutenant, and by the beginning of 1782 he was wearing the Captain's epaulet. In the February of this year, he was appointed delegate for Carrickfergus to the great Volunteer Convention held at Dungannon, where the citizen soldiers of Ulster demanded the restoration of their country's parliamentary independence. This Convention marked the formal entrance of the Volunteers into the political arena as the allies of Grattan and the "Patriot" party in the legislature. Henceforth the debates in College Green were to occupy their attention even more than rumours of possible French invasions. Officers turned their companies into political clubs, and were enthusiastically supported by the rank-and-file, and the parliamentary session was not much advanced when Grattan found at his back an armed force determined on wresting from England the long usurped rights for which he had contended in vain in the past. The result was the passing of the Act of Repeal whereby the Irish Parliament was declared independent of the Privy Council of England, a victory confirmed in the following year (1783) by the Act of Renunciation.
In the political agitation of these months the Lisburn people played a conspicuous part. A Constitutional Club was established in the town with a branch in Belfast for the advancement of the popular cause, and its members, very many of whom were Volunteers, attained prominence by their outspoken declarations and addresses. In their deliberations, much deference was paid to the well reasoned opinions expressed by the Captain of the Fusiliers, and so high an estimation was formed of his abilities and his integrity that, at the general election held in the autumn of 1783, he was returned as M.P. for he borough, his colleague being another Volunteer officer of "Patriot" views - Colonel William Sharman of Moira. At the same time, he was appointed one of the delegates from Co. Antrim to the Grand National Convention of Volunteers which was to meet in the Rotunda, Dublin, in the following November for the consideration of a plan of parliamentary reform.
Ever since the passing of the Act of Repeal, the question of reform had been under discussion by the "Patriot" party. It was clear to everyone outside the Ascendancy which was ruling Ireland, that the grant of parliamentary independence would prove worthless without a very definite improvement in the representation of the people in the legislature. The number of "pocket" boroughs, the prevalence of the landlord interest, the total exclusion of the Catholics from political rights and the curtailment of the franchise to a very small section of the Protestants combined to make the Irish Parliament of Grattan's time anything but representative of the people. To amend this state of affairs, to buy out the "pocket" boroughs and to extend the right of voting at least to the middle class Protestants was the next item on the political programme of the Volunteers, and it was for this purpose that the assemblies of the four provincial armies agreed to hold a National Convention in Dublin at which some definite plan of reform should be agreed on and submitted to Parliament. A secondary consideration but one ultimately to prove of vital importance - which the delegates would have to decide, was the question of the extension of franchise to Catholics. The majority of the reform party both in Parliament and among the Volunteers were strongly opposed on principle to such extension, but there were sufficient members in favour of it to make its discussion at the Convention a matter of necessity. It is in this connection that Todd Jones came to the forefront with his bold advocacy of a Catholic franchise.
His family belonged to the Established Church of Ireland, but, even at this stage, he was noted for a broad-mindedness which resembled more the religious indifference of Wolfe Tone than the narrow orthodox Protestantism of the average Ulster squire With the Dissenters who were very numerous in his neighbourhood, he was on very amiable terms, but his friendliness to the Catholics was the result of training rather than of association. He was a Freemason, and the Freemasons, on the whole, were inclined to favour the Catholic claims. Some of their leaders boldly supported Emancipation, and the lodge of which Todd Jones was a member - Orange Lodge. No. 257 of Belfast had recently attained notoriety by reason of its liberal policy. This lodge had been founded about the beginning of the Volunteer period, and was called after William III, whose views on religious toleration appear to have been better understood and appreciated by Todd Jones and his associates than they are by the Belfast citizens of the present day. The Lisburn Constitutional Club, too, was composed of liberal-minded Episcopalians and Dissenters, and there can be no doubt that membership of these two institutions - the Masonic and the political - had done much towards shaping the ideas which the young Lisburn captain was to enunciate with such consistency both in Parliament and in the councils of the Volunteers.
On 10th November, 1783, the Grand National Convention of the Volunteer delegate: met in the Rotunda, Dublin, under the presidency of the Earl of Charlemont, General of the Army of Ulster. Three weeks were spent in discussions before a plan o1 parliamentary reform was completed under the guidance of Henry Flood. During this time, the claim of the Catholics to vote at elections was advanced by their self appointed champion, the brilliant but eccentric Frederick Augustus Hervey, Earl of Bristol and Protestant Bishop of Deny. Bristol found great support and encouragement in the attitude of the Belfast delegates and certain others from the North who made no secret of their determination to work for this measure of political Emancipation, which they believed to be demanded as much by expediency as by justice. Todd Jones was particularly active. In company with other Ulster Volunteer officers he approached the Catholic Committee with a proposal to the effect that the Volunteers would advocate the grant of a limited Catholic franchise if the committee guaranteed their support in the campaign for parliamentary reform. The Committee readily agreed, but the officers soon discovered it impossible to fulfil their part of the bargain, so strong was the opposition ranged against them in the Convention. To Charlemont and Flood the idea of a Catholic franchise, however limited, spelt danger to their Protestant edifice, the Irish State; the delegates, following their lead and disturbed by Government intrigues, rejected Todd Jones' proposal, and despite the recommendations of the small liberal minority and the vague threats of Bristol, the plan of reform was drawn up without any reference to the long denied rights of the Irish Catholics.
This selfish action was soon to meet with well merited retribution. The Commons secure in the knowledge that the delegates had alienated the great mass of the nation refused to consider the plan submitted by Flood, and the Grand National Convention was obliged to declare itself adjourned "sine die".
Todd Jones returned home in company with the Belfast Delegates very ill pleased with the political fiasco which he had witnessed, and more than ever convinced of the absolute necessity of forming a political alliance with the Catholics. Without such an alliance, he saw that all hope of parliamentary reform was vain, for the Parliament would never consider the demands of the reform party as long as the Catholic remained indifferent. If, however, the Catholics could be enlisted on the side of reform, by the promise of the franchise, the authorities might be forced to make concessions. In other words, Reform and Emancipation would have to go hand in hand, a conclusion which, at a later date, was to inspire Theobald Wolfe Tone in the foundation of the United Irish Society. Moreover, Todd Jones believed that, apart from the question of expediency, the Catholics had a strict right to a voice in the choice of their legislators, and that the withholding of this right was an injustice which called for immediate redress. A statement and defence of his views was published in his celebrated "Letter to the Electors of Lisburn" which appeared in January, 1784. The effect of this pamphlet was far reaching, and did much to dispel the mist of objections and prejudices which were arising in Ulster at the proposal of alliance with the Catholics.
In the following March, Henry Flood managed to bring his reform scheme before the Irish commons, but the measure was rejected by 159 votes to 85. Irritated by this second humiliation, the Volunteers throughout the country began to recruit their numbers and perfect their organisation as a warning to the Government that they were not prepared to acquiesce in the defeat of their political leaders. The project of a Catholic alliance now found favour in Antrim and Down; resolutions in its support were passed in the local Reform Clubs; the Volunteers of Belfast, Downpatrick and Newry invited to their ranks for the purpose of military training "persons of every religious persuasion", and, as a sign of their liberal principles both the Belfast infantry companies paraded in full uniform on Sunday, May 30th, and marched to Mass in the newly erected St. Mary's Church. In Dublin, the Protestants citizens, hitherto noted for their exclusive attitude towards Catholics, declared themselves in favour of a gradual extension of the franchise to the latter, and the resolutions passed in their meetings met with the approval of the Ulster Dissenters. Todd Jones was jubilant, and looked upon the desired alliance as already consummated.
His joy, however, was short lived. Lord Charlemont was unaffected by the wave of liberalism, which, indeed, he believed to be fraught with danger for the Irish Protestants; the possibilities inherent in a Catholic electorate dismayed him so much that he determined to do all in his power to avert the political union of Catholics and Protestants. He won to his side a number of influential Presbyterian divines, and with their aid he managed during the summer of 1784 to persuade the Volunteer leaders of the North to discountenance the friendly overtures which certain of their number had begun. The Belfast and Newry Volunteers refused to abandon their support of the Catholic franchise, and Todd Jones took his lordship severely to task in an open letter to the Volunteers reviewed in Belfast, but elsewhere Charlemont's warnings had their effect. Tacitly, the Volunteers of Ulster agreed to desist from all political dealings with the Catholics, and their example was followed by their comrades in other provinces. In a letter to the Lisburn Club, Todd Jones sadly commented on the shattering of his hopes:
"How long this kingdom is to groan under their (the Protestant Ascendancy's) chains, and how long Protestants themselves are to labour under a more grievous slavery of the mind and the thraldom of bigotry, is known only to the supreme dispenser of liberty and truth."
In support of the reform campaign, a National Congress of Reformers was called to meet in Dublin in October, 1784. Todd Jones was elected a delegate from Lisburn with instructions "to procure such extension of the tight of suffrage to the Catholics as should not endanger but should invigorate the Constitution." When the Congress assembled, however, he found the great majority of the members so hostile to the introduction of the Catholic Question that his considered it useless to make any more. Not indeed, that it mattered. This latest attempt at reform proved another humiliating fiasco, and the delegate from Lisburn, was provided with yet another argument against Protestant exclusiveness.
For some years, political activity on the popular side languished, until 1789, when the influence of the French Revolution roused into energy the party of reform. In June. the Whig Club - a very select association of reformers - was founded in Dublin by Lord Charlemont, and in the March of the following year a branch was established it the North by his friend, Dr. Haliday of Belfast This was the Northern Whig Club which, despite the best intentions of its founders, was to become the training ground of many Ulster patriots of advanced views. Todd Jones was one of the original members, but his democratic spirit bore very unwillingly with the narrow conservatism of Charlemont and Haliday. In the summer of this year (1790) he met with an unexpected reverse. During the General Election which took place in May and June, he lost his seat for Lisburn, as did his colleague. A petition alleging every species of undue influence was drawn up by the defeated candidates, only to meet with ill success, Parliament being prorogued before the date fixed for hearing.
Todd Jones at this time was resident in Dublin, where he was a disgusted spectator of the ill fated manoeuvres of the Opposition in the House of Commons. He came very much into contact with the democratic party among the Catholics led by John Keogh and Richard McCormick, Secretary of the Catholic Committee, and his sincerity it furthering their struggle for Emancipation won him their confidence from the start. In their estimation, he was classed along with Wolfe Tone, as one of their most trusted allies, and no Catholic meeting of importance in the capital was held without him. Or November 9th, 1791, a meeting of the Catholics and Protestants - eighteen in number - was called by James Napper Tandy, for the purpose of establishing a branch of the United Irish Society, which had been founded a month previously in Belfast by Wolfe Tone. Tandy's proposal was carried unanimously, and the resolutions of the parent body were adopted, after which eighteens persons not present were balloted for, and declared members of the new club. The fast of these was Todd Jones. As an United Irishman, he exerted himself to win recruits to the Society, and to reply to the attack: of hostile critics. At the beginning of 1792 he issued a forty-two page pamphlet entitled "A Letter To The Societies of United Irishmen Of Belfast" in which he dealt with one of the stock objections brought against the grant of political power td the Catholics, namely, the alleged insecurity of Protestant land tenures under
Catholic electorate. His popularity with the Dublin Catholics was immense. At the Catholic Convention held in December, in Tailor's Hall, Back Lane, and sometime: called "The Back Lane Parliament," delegate after delegate spoke of his invaluable services to the Catholic Cause. In the course of a speech punctuated with rounds o. applause, Dr McDermot paid tribute to his consistency in supporting emancipation from the time of the Volunteers, in spite of the opposition of his co-religionists and the timidity of the Catholics.
"He stood forth for us at a time when we shrank from the consideration of our own cause," proclaimed McDermot. "He took up the Catholic cause from principle: from principle he has ever since adhered to it. In Convention and in Parliament, with his voice and with his pen, his ardent friendship has been invariably exerted for us...He stood forth, I say, almost alone, the Protestant advocate of Catholic freedom-if eve the Catholics of Ireland forget the magnitude of his services, may the stain o ingratitude pursue them to posterity. "
In the April of the following year, 1793, a Catholic Relief Bill was passed by the his legislature granting the franchise to Catholics of certain property qualifications and the Catholic Committee content with this concession, decided to withdraw from political activity altogether. The last meeting was held on the 22nd of the month when thanks were returned to their Protestant allies. Wolfe Tone was asked to accept the sum of £1,500 with a gold medal suitably inscribed, and the Hon. Simon Butler was voted £500. The Committee then proceeded, with the enthusiastic approval of all present, to make the following offer to their staunch friend:
"To William Todd Jones the sum of £500 for his eminent services to the Catholic cause, making with the like sum heretofore presented, the sum off �l,000, and that the third further sum of £500 be also presented to him, provided that there shall be funds to make good the same, after the positive engagements of the Committee shall have been discharged. "
With this recognition of his services, the political career of William Todd Jones may be said to have come to an end. Sometime before the passing of the Relief Bill, he had gone for some unknown reason to live in Wales, where he spent the next ten years of his life. These years brought great tragedy to his country and to his friends both Catholic and Protestant, and his exile must have proved exceeding bitter. In 1802 on revisiting Ireland, he was involved in a quarrel with that alleged historian, Sir Richard Musgrave, over certain references which appeared in the latter's very biased account of the Rebellion of 1798. The matter terminated in a duel in which Musgrave was wounded. In the following year, while on a visit to one of his Catholic friends, Dr. Calanan of Clonakilty, Co. Cork, Todd Jones was arrested by the Orange yeomen, and taken to Cork gaol on a charge of high treason. He remained in prison for almost two years without having been brought to trial. Little is known of his release. In 1818, he was residing in Rostrevor, Co. Down when he met with an accident which proved fatal. On Sunday, 15th February, he was returning from a visit to a friend's house when one of his carriage horses bolted, and he was thrown heavily to the ground. The injuries to his head were so severe that he died within a few hours.
Of the private life of William Todd Jones we know little worth recording. His name is barely familiar to students of the Emancipation period. Yet if any man of the time deserves mention in our histories, it is the liberal minded Member of Parliament for Lisburn who spent himself in the cause of his oppressed fellow-countrymen.