John Wilson Croker papers, 1791-1899 and undated (bulk 1809-1857)

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Croker, John Wilson, 1780-1857
Barrister, politician, literary critic, and author. The John Wilson Croker Papers are organized into the following series: Indexed Correspondence, Non-Indexed Correspondence, and Other Papers. The collection consists primarily of letters from English and Irish politicians and personages to Croker, and provide a rich source of material on Great Britain's politics and government in the 19th century.
9 Linear Feet
6300 Items
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

The John Wilson Croker Papers span the years 1791-1899, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1809 to 1857. The collection is organized into the following series: Indexed Correspondence, Non-Indexed Correspondence, and Other Papers. The Indexed and Non-Indexed Correspondence Series consist primarily of letters to Croker. The detailed description of the collection that follows this more general overview specifies the distinctions between these two correspondence series. The collection is a rich source of material on Great Britain's politics and government in the 19th century. Political matters discussed in the correspondence include the following: Canada; Catholic relief; the Church of England; the Conservative/Tory Party; the Corn Laws; Ireland, including its legal, political, social, religious, and economic conditions; naval affairs, including operations in the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812; parliamentary reform; and relations with France and the history of the French revolution. The correspondence also illuminates the patronage system of the early 19th century, the relationships between prominent Conservatives, and the confidence that many Conservative leaders had in Croker's counsel. Statesmen and other prominent figures involved in Irish affairs or Conservative politics with whom Croker had continuing or considerable correspondence include: William Beresford; Robert Saunders Dundas, Second Viscount Melville; Francis Egerton, First Earl Ellesmere; Davies Gilbert; Henry Goulburn; William Richard Hamilton; Spencer Horsey de Horsey; Robert Jenkinson, Second Earl Liverpool; Bartholomew Lloyd; James Major; Anthony George Perrier; and Charles William Stewart Vane, Third Marquess Londonderry. The Other Papers Series contains a folder on the legal and financial matters of Croker and his family, as well as several folders holding letters and diary entries used by Louis J. Jennings to write the first collection of Croker's works.

Croker's interest in French history and politics began with the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which was partially inspired by the French Revolution. On an 1815 trip to France with Robert Peel and William Fitzgerald, Croker began collecting materials on the Revolution and its development into the French empire. His meticulous research about persons, events, and buildings continued through correspondents in France, as demonstrated by a number of items in the collection.

The collection is also a significant source of information on the United Kingdom's patronage system in the early nineteenth century. Many letters involve appeals for positions or discussions of a person's fitness for particular office.

A number of letters in the collection also relate to the legal and social affairs of Ireland and the administration of Dublin University. Correspondents include judges, government officials, attorneys, doctors, university officials, and multiple members of leading families. Salient topics in this correspondence include Catholic Emancipation, public unrest, the Potato Famine, and the administration of the university.

Selected letters and diary entries have been published in The Croker papers: The correspondence and diaries of the late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker ... secretary to the Admiralty from 1809 to 1830, ed. Louis J. Jennings, 3 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1884). Additional information may be found in Myron Franklin Brightfield, John Wilson Croker (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1940). For collections related to the John Wilson Croker Papers, see the William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.

Biographical / historical:
Date Event
1780 Dec. 20
Born in Galway, Ireland
Student at Trinity College, Dublin University
Studied law in London at Lincoln's Inn
1801 Jan. 1
Act of Union became law, creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and a unified Parliament
Called to the Irish bar
1804 May-1807 May
Customs comptroller for Wexford, Waterford, and Ross May
Published Familiar epistles to Frederick Jones, Esq, on the present state of the Irish stage
1806 May 25
Married Rosamund Carrington Pennell
Stood for British Parliament in Downpatrick and defeated
Member of Parliament
1808 July-1808 Nov.
Locum tenens for Sir Arthur Wellesley, chief secretary for Ireland, during his first campaign in Portugal and Spain
Published A sketch of the state of Ireland, past and present
Helped found the Quarterly Review
Secretary to the Admiralty
Published Battles of Talavera: a poem, about Wellesley during the Peninsular War
Published A key to the orders in council
Published Letters on the subject of the naval war with America in the Courier, using the penname Nereus
Visited Paris for the second time with Sir Robert Peel and William Fitzgerald; began research on the French Revolution
Croker's son, Spencer Perceval Croker, died at the age of three
Published Letters of Mary Lepel, Lady Hervey
Published Royal Memoirs on the French Revolution
Published Letters to and from Henrietta, Countess of Suffolk, and her second husband, the Hon. George Berkeley; from 1712 to 1767
Published Letters from the Hon. Horace Walpole, to the Earl of Hertford, during His Lordship's embassy in Paris
1830 Jan.
Used the label "Conservative" for the Tory party in the Quarterly Review
Published a new edition of James Boswell's Life of Johnson, with Journal of a tour to the Hebrides
Parliamentary Reform Act passed; Croker retired from Parliament
Close friend, Francis Charles Seymour-Conway, Third Marquess of Hertford, died; Croker executor of estate
Repeal of the Corn Laws
Croker edited and published John, Lord Hervey's Memoirs of the reign of George the Second
Formally gave up connection to The Quarterly Review
1857 Aug. 10
Died at home in West Molesly, England
Publication of Works of Alexander Pope, by Whitwell Elwin and William John Courthope, using materials Croker collected prior to his death
Louis J. Jennings published the Croker papers: The correspondence and diaries of the late Right Honourable John Wilson Croker . . .

John Wilson Croker was a barrister, politician, literary critic, and author. He was tied to many prominent Tory leaders, and was among the first to call theirs the Conservative Party. Very early in his political career he became a friend of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. A strong defender of the Tory party, Spencer Perceval appointed him secretary to the Admiralty when Perceval assumed the office of Premier (Prime Minister). Although some Members of Parliament initially disapproved of Perceval's choice, decrying Croker as a novice and a political rather than a professional figure, Croker held the office through three subsequent premierships. He served in Parliament from 1807 to 1832, standing for Downpatrick (1807-1812), Athlone (1812-1818), Yarmouth (Isle of Wight) (1819 Mar 16-1820), Bodmin (1820-1826), Aldeburgh (1826-1827 May, 1830-1832), and Dublin University (1827 May 15-1830). Croker retained his affection for Ireland, long maintaining both a home and a law practice there, as well as a desire for Irish office. His support of Catholic emancipation led him to electoral loss while standing for several Irish districts, and on those occasions he was appointed to Parliament for "rotten" or "pocket" boroughs controlled by his friends. Although he supported Parliamentary reform that would have abolished some such boroughs, he opposed the Reform Act of 1832 as too radical and used it as an excuse to retire from elected office.

Croker's great passion was for literature; he wrote literary criticism as well as his own poetry, biography, history, and articles on foreign affairs and domestic politics. He had a life-long interest in French politics, particularly as it related to the French Revolution, despotism, and social stability. In the late 1820s, the Guardian, which Croker helped establish twenty years earlier, experienced a change in editorial staff and a concomitant shift in policy. Coincident to these changes, Croker's contributions began to focus on political rather than literary and foreign affairs. After he retired from Parliament, Croker used the Guardian to defend many Conservative positions, particularly those of Robert Peel. Croker's support of and friendship with Peel ended, however, when Peel endorsed the repeal of the Corn Laws. In his later years, Croker concentrated primarily on history and biography.

For a detailed history of Croker's life, see William Thomas, "Croker, John Wilson," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-2005, and "Croker, John Wilson," The history of Parliament on CD-ROM, 1998.

Acquisition information:
The John Wilson Croker Papers were acquired by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as purchases from 1960-1997.
Processing information:

Processed by Owen Yeates, January 2006

Encoded by Owen Yeates and Paula Jeannet

Completed April 2006

Accessions 60-199 to 97-065 were merged into one collection, described in this finding aid.

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[Identification of item], John Wilson Croker Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University