Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
One of the ancient Catholic tribes
The Bodkins were one of the ancient Catholic tribes of the town of Galway, the most prominent branch by the early nineteenth century being the Bodkin family of Annagh, county Galway.2 This Member, about whose private life almost nothing is known, was the eldest son of Thomas Bodkin, presumably the Captain Bodkin of the 9th Foot who was reported to have eloped with the daughter of a Norfolk gentleman in 1798 and apparently married that year at the church of St. Stephen, Norwich.3 He, who was promoted major in 1803 and joined the half-pay list (under the 8th reserve regiment) the following year, succeeded his father James to Rahoon, near Galway, in November 1823 and was a leading liberal in county Galway politics until at least the 1830s.4 John James, who is to be distinguished from at least two other Galway contemporaries called John Bodkin, also became active in local affairs, for instance by chairing the meeting held in Dunmore, near his residence at Quarrymount, 19 Dec. 1824, when it was denied that the area was in a state of unrest.5
1826 – 1831
Bodkin, who seconded the nomination of Richard Martin* for county Galway at the general election of 1826, signed the requisition for the Catholics’ meeting in Galway in July and assisted in promoting local petitions later that year.6 He moved the resolution condemning Peel and the other seceding ministers for opposing Catholic relief at the county Galway Protestants’ meeting in April, and spoke strongly against the resident Ultra Lord Lorton (for having refused to allow the O’Conor Don*, a Catholic agitator, to speak at a meeting in 1812) at the county Roscommon Catholics’ gathering in October 1827.7 A member of the county Liberal Club in Galway by August 1828, he was attacked by Lorton at the end of that year in Roscommon, where the Catholics afterwards came to his defence as a respectable Catholic landowner. In March 1829 he was in the chair at the Dunmore meeting which approved petitions to both Houses in favour of emancipation.8He attended the Kilcloony dinner in honour of Daniel O’Connell* in June and the Galway meeting to promote the cause of its unfranchised Catholic traders in August 1829.9 One of James Staunton Lambert’s* committee, he seconded him at the county Galway election, 13 Aug. 1830, when he put a series of nine radical pledges to the candidates, and that autumn he signed the resolutions of the Election Club for promoting the independence of the county.10 He chaired a reform gathering in Dunmore, 20 Mar., and spoke for the Grey ministry’s reform bill at the county meeting, 3 Apr., when he denied that the Catholics would exploit it to create an hegemony over the Protestants.11 A Catholic and a Repealer, he stood for his native town as a liberal candidate and, having forced the withdrawal of another reformer, was returned unopposed at the general election of 1831, when he proposed Lambert for the county. He promised to help advance the cause of independence against the corporation, which was under the control of the former county Member James Daly, and chaired the meeting to petition for the enfranchisement of its Catholic traders, 12 May, and another at which attempts were made to gain mass admissions to the freedom, 3 June 1831.12
Praised in his constituency for his assiduity
Bodkin voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning the proceedings on it, 12 July 1831, and steadily for its details. However, he divided against the grants for professorial salaries at Oxford and Cambridge, 8 July, and civil list services, 18 July, and for swearing the original Dublin election committee, 29 July. He obtained leave to introduce the Galway Docks Act amendment bill on the 19th and oversaw its passage during the session.13 Praised in his constituency for his assiduity, he told a local priest, 19 July, that he was dissatisfied with government’s attitude to agricultural distress in the west of Ireland and would have differed with ministers were it not for the reform question.14 In August it was reported of his place in the ranks of the Irish Members that he was ‘one of the staunchest fellows among them; no two ways in him. Plain, blunt – what some would call vulgar – but not disagreeably vulgar, for it is associated with kindness of heart and great firmness of purpose’. According to one newspaper anecdote, he took umbrage at the cavalier treatment given by the Irish secretary, Smith Stanley, to a communication he showed him urging relief from distress; he wrote to the editor to rebut it.15 He was critical of Irish policy on advocating the introduction of poor laws, 10 Aug., and the disarmament of the yeomanry, 11 Aug., when he was in the minority for printing the Waterford petition to this effect, but he thanked Smith Stanley for the grant for national education, 9 Sept. He divided for prosecuting those guilty of bribery at the Dublin election, 23 Aug., but did not vote to censure the Irish administration for improper interference that day. He was granted three weeks’ leave on urgent business, 14 Sept., and missed the divisions on the second reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the reform bill, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. 1831.
Bodkin, who in October denied a rumour that he would soon retire, voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and again generally divided for its details. He was obliged to miss the National Political Union meeting in Dublin in January 1832, but an anonymous address in a local newspaper early the following month defended his record as a steady reformer, despite his notable absences and seeming indifference.16 He sided with ministers against producing information on Portugal, 9 Feb., but voted for inquiry into Peterloo, 15 Mar., and reduction of the barracks grant, 2 July. He voted for printing the Woollen Grange petition for the abolition of Irish tithes, 16 Feb., and to postpone discussion on this subject until the select committee had completed its deliberations, 8 Mar.; he objected to coercive measures being implemented prior to alteration of the Irish church’s finances, but urged his Irish colleagues not to resort to counterproductive opposition, 13 Mar. He voted for the second reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., but missed the division on Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May. He divided for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, but for enfranchising £5 freeholders and £30 rent payers, 18 June, and he defended the right to vote enjoyed by the 40s. freeholders in Galway, 29 June 1832.
His properties, including the rebuilt Quarrymount, were sold through the encumbered estates courts in 1869
To the regret of his constituents, who voted him an address of thanks, 28 Oct. 1832, Bodkin withdrew at the dissolution that year. Apparently despairing of the Commons doing any good for Ireland, he denounced the niggardly Irish reform bill and the pusillanimous tithe legislation (he declared that he would refuse to pay his own dues), but promised to work for the independence of the borough and repeal of the Union.17 He sat as a Repealer for county Galway, 1835-47, being joined in the House in 1841 by a distant relation, William Henry Bodkin, Member for Rochester.18 His properties, including the rebuilt Quarrymount, were sold through the encumbered estates courts in 1869 and he died, presumably in straitened circumstances, at Calais in January 1882.19 His grandson Father William Bodkin, S.J. (b. 1867), son of Dominic George Bodkin of the royal marines, was rector of Stonyhurst (where John James may have been educated), 1907-16, and served as English Provincial, 1917-21.20
- 2.J. Hardiman, Hist. Galway (1820), 8-10; P. Melvin, ‘Galway Tribes as Landowners and Gentry’, in Galway Hist. and Soc. ed. G. Moran and R. Gillespie, 352-4.
- 3.Gent. Mag. (1798), i. 352; IGI; Connaught Jnl. 2 May 1831.
- 4.Hardiman, 316; Galway Weekly Advertiser, 23 Nov. 1823.
- 5.Dublin Evening Post, 23 Dec. 1824; Connaught Jnl. 26 May 1831, 9 Oct. 1834.
- 6.Connaught Jnl. 22 June, 17 July, 7 Sept. 1826.
- 7. Dublin Evening Post, 10 Apr., 3 Nov. 1827.
- 8.Connaught Jnl. 4 Aug.; Roscommon and Leitrim Gazette, 22, 29 Nov.; Roscommon Jnl. 6, 13 Dec. 1828, 14 Mar. 1829.
- 9.Connaught Jnl. 13 June, 17, 31 Aug. 1829.
- 10.Ibid. 12, 16 Aug., 30 Sept., 4 Oct. 1830.
- 10. Ibid. 12, 16 Aug., 30 Sept., 4 Oct. 1830.
- 11.Ibid. 24 Mar.; Galway Weekly Advertiser, 4, 7 Apr. 1831.
- 12.Connaught Jnl. 28 Apr., 2, 5, 9, 12, 23 May, 6 June 1831.
- 14.Connaught Jnl. 17, 25 July 1831.
- 15.Freeman’s Jnl. 13, 18 Aug. 1831.
- 16.Connaught Jnl. 27 Oct. 1831, 9 Feb.; Dublin Evening Post, 12 Jan. 1832.
- 17.Connaught Jnl. 29 Oct., 5, 19 Nov. 1832.
- 18.F.F. Smith, Rochester in Parl. 158, wrongly states that they were brothers.
- 19.M. Bence-Jones, Guide to Irish Country Houses, 236; Melvin, 372.
- 20.Catholic Who’s Who (1929), 40-41.