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JOHN ARTHUR WYNNE (1801 – 1865)

John Arthur Wynne was born in 1801. The eldest surviving son of Owen Wynne V was an Irish landowner, politician, Under-Secretary of State for Ireland and a Privy Councillor. On his father’s death in 1841, he inherited Hazelwood House. As the son of a wealthy family, he was educated at Winchester School and Christ Church, Oxford. He married Lady Anne Wandesford Butler, the daughter of James Butler, 1st Marquess of Ormonde. She died eleven years after her marriage, while helping with Famine relief, having given birth to four children.

John Wynne succeeded his father as Member of Parliament for the borough in 1830. This was by his father’s nomination rather than by election. He was elected again as a Conservative Member of Parliament for Sligo in 1856, resigning in 1860 by becoming Steward of the Manor of Northstead. He was made an Irish Privy Counsellor in 1852. He also served as High Sheriff of Co. Leitrim in 1834 and of Co. Sligo in 1840. In 1843 John Wynne was appointed a member of the Devon Commission which under the chairmanship of the Earl of Devon, was set up by Peel to examine how far the Irish land system was responsible for the prevailing discontent and disturbance and how far Parliament should interfere. Of the five commissioners, four were Irish landlords and the chairman an Englishman who owned property in Ireland. This prompted O'Connell's comment that it would be as reasonable to consult butchers about the lenten fast as to consult landlords about the rights of tenants. After sitting for two years the commission failed to recommend the reforms later called the 'three Fs', fair rent, fixity of tenure and freedom for the tenant to sell his interest in the holding. It did propose a limited right to compensation for improvement, but a bill to this effect was defeated in the House of Lords and the report of the commission was no mere whitewash. In 1843, as famine became more severe, John Wynne reduced his rents thereby lowering his annual income by £1,280. He also paid for tenants’ passage to Canada. Rent arrears inevitably increased, under pressure of the Irish situation, and after much agitation by the Anti-Corn Law League in England, Sir Robert Peel in 1846 repealed the Corn Laws. Wynne was offered, and accepted, the office of Under-Secretary in Dublin Castle, at the same time being made a Privy Councillor.

In 1856 John Wynne re-entered politics and was elected for the borough by a majority of 31 votes in a total poll of 265. The poll shows the restricted nature of the franchise even after the Reform Act. His opponent was John Patrick Somers, who had defeated John Martin in 1837. He appears to have been a much more colourful personality than Wynne. In 1857, when Wynne and Somers contested the seat again, Wynne petitioned to unseat his opponent. The committee, appointed to try the merits of the election, decided that Somers should be unseated, and Wynne declared elected after three Somers votes were transferred to Wynne and a further three votes of voters who were rejected by the poll clerk were awarded to Wynne. Wynne was re-elected in 1859, but advancing ill-health caused him to resign a year later. Bribery and violence reached their peak in the Sligo election of 1868 Parliament had had enough. In 1870 the borough constituency was abolished by a disfranchisement act. Between 1847 and 1852, he was chairman of the Board of Guardians, the body responsible for the relief of poverty. He also helped found the Sligo Mental Hospital. In his later years he devoted himself to agricultural improvement and afforestation. He had served his community well. He died on a visit to Tuam in 1865 and was then succeeded by his son Owen VI.

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