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Belfast (UK Parliament constituency)

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Title: Belfast (UK Parliament constituency)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: James Emerson Tennent, George Chichester, 3rd Marquess of Donegall, Hugh Cairns, 1st Earl Cairns, List of MPs elected in the United Kingdom general election, 1832, May baronets
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Belfast (UK Parliament constituency)

Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Replaced by Belfast East, Belfast North, Belfast South and Belfast West

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 the 1885 general election.


  • Summary 1
  • Representation 2
  • Boundaries and Boundary Changes 3
  • Electoral system and electorate 4
  • Members of Parliament 5
  • Elections 6
  • References 7
    • See also 7.1
  • External links 8


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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

Election 1st Member 1st Party 2nd Member 2nd Party
1801 Sir James Edward May, Bt Tory
1814 by-election Sir Stephen Edward May, Bt Tory
1816 by-election John Michel Tory
1818 Arthur Chichester Tory
1820 Earl of Belfast Tory
1830 Sir Arthur Chichester, Bt Whig
1832 Lord Arthur Chichester Liberal
(Conservative from 1834)
James Emerson Tennent Liberal
1835 John McCance Liberal Conservative
1835 by-election George Dunbar Conservative
1837 James Gibson Liberal Earl of Belfast Liberal
1838 by-election George Dunbar Conservative James Emerson Tennent Conservative
1841 William Gillilan Johnson Conservative
1845 by-election Lord Arthur Chichester Conservative
1847 Peelite Robert James Tennent Liberal
1852 Richard Davison Liberal Sir Hugh McCalmont Cairns Conservative
1860 by-election Samuel Gibson Getty Conservative
1866 by-election Sir Charles Lanyon Conservative
1868 Thomas McClure Liberal William Johnston Conservative
1874 James Porter Corry Conservative
1878 by-election William Ewart Conservative
1885 constituency divided: see North, East, South and West divisions


  • (1) Lord Arthur Chichester and James Emerson Tennent changed party allegiance in 1834 (Change from Liberal to Conservative).
  • (2) Lord John Ludford Chichester changed party allegiance by 1847 (Part of Peelite faction).


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.

  • Death of May

  • Appointment of May as Collector of Customs in Belfast Port

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).

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

  • Death of McCance

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'.

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

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

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

  • Resignation of Emerson Tennent

  • Resignation of Davison

  • Appointment of Cairns as Lord Justice of Appeal in Chancery (of England and Wales)

|votes = 506 |percentage = 2.39 |change = +2.39


  • Appointment of Johnston as Inspector of Fisheries

  • Constituency divided in the 1885 redistribution


  • 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)

See also

External links

  • Peter Robinson MP provides details on his web-site of the Parliamentary boundaries and electoral history of Belfast since the Union and provides brief biographies of Belfast MPs
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