John Leslie Foster

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John Leslie Foster, FRS (c. 1781 – 10 July 1842) was an Irish barrister, judge and Tory Member of Parliament (MP) in the United Kingdom Parliament. In 1830 he was appointed a Baron of the Court of Exchequer of Ireland.

He was the son of William Foster, Bishop of Clogher (1744-1797) and nephew of John Foster, 1st Baron Oriel. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and St John's College, Cambridge.[1]

Early life[edit]

After his father’s early death, his uncle, John Foster, oversaw his further education, encouraged him to travel and employed him (presumably part-time) as his private secretary in an office for the loss of which he was later compensated on the Union with Great Britain with an annuity of £10 5s [2]


On 9 August 1814 he married Letitia Vesey-Fitzgerald, daughter of James Fitzgerald, with whom he had five sons and a daughter, including the Australian politician, John Foster Vesey-Fitzgerald.

In the summer of 1814 he acquired his family seat at Rathescar, Co. Louth, an estate where his uncle, John Foster had lived in the 1770s and where John Leslie Foster undertook substantial repairs and alterations.


John Leslie Foster was called to the Bar in Ireland in 1803 and was sometime a member of Lincoln's Inn. In 1804 he published an "Essay on the Principles of Commercial Exchanges, particularly between England and Ireland". He was one of the Commissioners appointed for improving the Bogs of Ireland.[3]

From 1807 to 1812 he represented Dublin University, having first contested the seat in 1806. He returned to the bar in 1812, but in 1816 was brought back to Parliament at the instigation of the government as member for Sir Leonard Holmes' borough of Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.

At the 1818 general election, he was elected for both Lisburn and Armagh City. He chose to sit for the latter constituency and served from 1818 to 1820.

From April 1818 until its abolition in 1826, he was Counsel to the Commissioners of the Irish Board of Customs and Excise. Between 1824 and 1830 he was the MP for County Louth, and from 1825 was a director of the Drogheda Steam Packet Company. He also acted as Mayor of Drogheda during this period.

On 24 June 1824, he was appointed to the Royal Commission for inquiring into the nature and extent of the Instruction afforded by the several Institutions in Ireland established for the purpose of Education where he served with the other Commissioners: Thomas Frankland Lewis, William Grant, James Glassford and Anthony Richard Blake.[4] In this office Foster is reported by the Roman Catholic politician and barrister, Richard Lalor Sheil, to have taken the part of “a knight-errant against popery” whose “object was to bring out whatever was unfavourable to the Catholic Priesthood; while [his fellow Commissioner] Mr Blake (himself a Roman Catholic) justly endeavored to rectify the misconstructions of his brother inquirer”.[5]

Co. Louth Election – 1826[edit]

At the Co. Louth Election in August 1826 John Leslie Foster was knocked down to second place in the two-seat constituency by Alexander Dawson, a candidate put up by O’Connell’s ascendant Catholic Association. After the turbulent election John Leslie complained to his sister that: ‘the priests attacked me in all their Chapels … they made it distinctly a matter of Eternal Damnation to vote for me & an atonement for Sin to vote against me’.[6] The Catholic Association had already gained success in Co. Waterford and this election was a precursor to their further success two years later in Co. Clare.

Catholic Emancipation[edit]

Although John Leslie Foster was (as he assured the House of Commons in February 1829) ‘no Orangeman’, he was a persistent opponent to Catholic Emancipation. His speech opposing Henry Grattan's 1812 Catholic Relief Bill was published as a pamphlet in 1817.[7] However, following the election of O’Connell as MP for Co. Clare in July 1828, it became clear to Peel and the government that continued opposition was unsustainable. Foster was eventually brought round to support the Emancipation Bill once proper safeguards had been offered.

On 25 January 1829, Lord Ellenborough, Henry Goulburn, J. C. Herries, William Vesey-Fitzgerald, Lord Lyndhurst, Lord Francis Leveson-Gower, John Henry North, John Leslie Foster, John Doherty and George Dawson (Peel’s brother-in-law) met at Peel’s to discuss the matter. If Emancipation was to be granted, a concession was needed and the Forty-Shilling Freeholders' Bill was brought forward. Lord Ellenborough recorded that ‘Peel told us he had seen [John] Leslie Foster who was for a settlement, but strongly against paying the Roman Catholic clergy. He will therefore support the [Roman Catholic Relief] Bill. … Foster [is] consulting with the cabinet how Catholic emancipation may best be brought about!’[8]

On 30 March 1829, when the 1829 Roman Catholic Relief Bill received the Royal Assent, Foster’s concession, the Forty Shilling Freeholders’ Bill was also approved. This was the ‘security’ that John Leslie Foster, John Henry North and William Vesey Fitzgerald had helped to frame, but although intended to prevent ‘the freeholder from being the tool of the landlord, or the slave of the priest’, it turned out to be an ineffective and unpopular measure.

Court of Exchequer of Ireland[edit]

Foster did not stand at the 1830 general election as it had long been agreed by Peel and Leveson-Gower that, following the abolition of his post as Counsel to the Revenue in January 1828, his claims to promotion were ‘very much superior’ [9] to any others and, following his retirement from politics, John Leslie Foster was appointed as a Baron of the Court of Exchequer of Ireland on 16 July 1830.[10] He later moved to the Court of Common Pleas and died while on circuit at Cavan on 10 July 1842.[11]

He served as Treasurer of King's Inns from 1832–33 and from 1838-39.


  1. ^ "Foster, John Leslie (FSTR801JL)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ British Library, Peel papers, Add. MS 40298, f. 3.
  3. ^ "The Gentleman's Magazine". ii. 1842: 424. 
  4. ^ A copy of the Report of the Commission is available at: (accessed 18/11/2012).
  5. ^ R. L. Sheil, Sketches of the Irish Bar, (New York, 1854) ii, pp 260-1.
  6. ^ 22 July 1826, John Leslie Foster to Countess de Salis, 22 July 1826, in N.C.F. de Salis (ed.), Letters to the Countess, (London, 2014).
  7. ^ Foster, John Leslie. "A Report of the Speech of J. L. Foster in the House of Commons on ... the petition of the Catholics of Ireland". London, 1817. Retrieved 19 June 2016. 
  8. ^ Edward Law, Lord Ellenborough, A Political Diary (2 vols, London, 1881), i, 349-50.
  9. ^ British Library, Peel Papers, Add. 40336, f. 266.
  10. ^ Morning Post, 19 July 1830.
  11. ^ "The Gentleman's Magazine". ii. 1842: 424. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Knox
Member of Parliament for Dublin University
Succeeded by
William Plunket
Preceded by
Richard Wellesley and
Sir Henry Montgomery, Bt
Member of Parliament for Yarmouth
With: Richard Wellesley to 1817
Alexander Maconochie 1817–1818
John Singleton Copley 1818
Succeeded by
William Mount and
John Taylor
Preceded by
Daniel Webb Webber
Member of Parliament for Armagh City
Succeeded by
William Stuart
Preceded by
Thomas Skeffington and
John Jocelyn
Member of Parliament for County Louth
With: John Jocelyn to 1826
Alexander Dawson from 1826
Succeeded by
John McClintock and
Alexander Dawson