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George Robert Dawson (1790-1856)

George Robert Dawson was born on 24 December 1790. He was the son of Arthur Dawson, MP, and Catherine Tyrone of Castle Dawson, Co. Londonderry. He was educated at Harrow and at Christ Church, Oxford. From there, he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1811. While at Harrow he became friends with Robert Peel, who became his mentor throughout Dawson's political career. He was appointed as Peel's private secretary when Peel became Chief Secretary to Ireland in 1812. Dawson married Peel's sister Mary on 9 January 1816.

He became the Tory MP for County Derry [Londonderry] in 1815, on the death of the Hon William Ponsonby and held the seat until 1830. He then sat for Harwich between 1830 and 1832. He was Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs between 1822 and 1827, Financial Secretary to the Treasury from 1828 to 1830, Secretary to the Admiralty from 1834 to 1835, and Commissioner and Deputy Chairman of Customs between 1841 and 1856. In 1830 he was made a Privy Counsellor.

In August 1828, Dawson made a speech in Derry, announcing his conversion to Catholic Emancipation, which was thought to herald a ministerial about face. The following year, the Tory government of the Duke of Wellington passed the Catholic Emancipation Act. However, it seems from the Greville Diaries that Dawson had no idea that the government was planning to introduce the legislation and his speech almost upset Wellington's plans.

In the 1840s, the Irish Famine hit all areas of Ireland, but the death toll in the Castledawson area would have been much higher, were it not for the compassion of the Rt Hon. George Robert Dawson. At the time, Dawson occupied the castle and as a result of his caring and zealous intervention, saved the lives of many of the people by opening a soup kitchen at his home.

At the time, Dawson wrote from Castledawson to Sir Thomas Fremantle, a former Irish Chief Secretary, saying

I can think of nothing else than the wretched condition of this wretched people…I do not exaggerate when I tell you that from the moment I open my hall door in the morning until dark, I have a crowd of women and children crying out for something to save them from starving. The men, except the old and infirm, stay away and show the greatest patience and resignation. I have been obliged to turn my kitchen into a bakery and soup shop to enable me to feed the miserable children and mothers that cannot be sent away empty. So great is their distress that they actually faint on getting food into their stomachs…death is dealing severely and consigning many to an untimely tomb…I see enough to make the heart sick…hundreds will die of starvation…

Dawson died in 1856. He and his wife had five children:

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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