Newenham, Sir Edward (1734–1814), politician, was born 13 May 1734 at Coolmore, Co. Cork, youngest son among three sons and three daughters of William Newenham, landowner, and Dorothea Newenham (née Worth). His mother died shortly after his birth and his father died in 1738. He then moved to Dublin where his grandfather Edward Worth and subsequently his Aunt Jane became his guardians. Educated at Dr Thompson's school at Hillsborough, near Leixlip, Co. Kildare, he entered TCD on 19 March 1751 but left after a year. Embarking on the grand tour, he returned to Ireland, where he lived in Dublin. He married (4 February 1754) Grace-Anna, daughter of Sir Charles Burton (1702–75), MP for Dublin (1749–60) and friend of the radical MP Charles Lucas (qv); they had eighteen children. Newenham also knew Lucas and they admired each other and shared many of the same political views. Although strongly opposed to the Burton family's pro-government politics, Newenham benefited from the connection and received much support from them. In 1763 he became high sheriff of Co. Dublin and the following year used his wife's substantial dowry to purchase the lucrative office of collector of excise for Co. Dublin. As collector of excise he established a reputation as a ruthless enforcer of the law, particularly against the smugglers of Rush, Co. Dublin, and was knighted on 19 November 1764 in recognition of his services.
Involved in various Patriot clubs, he became MP for Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford (1769–76) and for Co. Dublin (1776–97). In parliament he was more noted for the violence of his language than the force of his arguments. He strongly opposed the lord lieutenant Lord Townshend's (qv) plans to divide the revenue board and in 1772 was dismissed as collector of excise. Given his tendency to live beyond his means, the loss of an annual salary of £600 a year seriously damaged his already shaky finances. However the dismissal allowed him greater freedom to act independently and he became increasingly critical of the administration, denouncing George III's ministers as agents of despotism. In particular he regularly and effectively used the press (especially the Freeman's Journal) to attack Townshend, criticise government corruption, and disseminate his brand of popular protestant patriotism. His abrasiveness led him to fight two duels in 1774 and his incessant criticism of the government resulted in a duel with John Beresford (qv) in 1778; both men escaped injury. Newenham was a strong supporter of the American colonists, and a correspondent of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington; he was proud of these connections but routinely exaggerated their importance. With the formation of the Volunteers, Newenham became colonel of the Liberty corps and played a leading role in the Volunteer agitation for free trade (1779–80) and legislative independence (1781–2).
Lacking the eloquence or charisma to attract followers himself, after 1782 he tended to follow the lead of Henry Flood (qv). An advocate of political, social, and agrarian reform, he corresponded with English reformers such as Richard Jebb and in 1783 voted for Flood's motion on parliamentary reform; he also had links with James Napper Tandy (qv) and other Dublin radicals. He believed that the protestant constitution established by the Glorious Revolution of 1689 (which he regarded as a near perfect political arrangement) should serve the interests of the broader protestant public rather than just a clique of privileged aristocrats. However, like many protestant whigs, he distrusted catholics and believed that if given political rights they would use their power to oppress and expropriate protestants. He steadfastly opposed catholic relief and withdrew from the reform movement in 1784 when some reformers pressed for catholic enfranchisement. He also opposed measures which he believed would increase government power such as the commercial propositions (1785) and the Dublin police act (1786). On 4 November 1785 he assembled his Volunteer command in front of the statue of King William III (qv) at College Green and unfurled a banner proclaiming ‘Reject the English propositions or else’ (Kelly, Prelude, 213).
Concerned at the growth of catholic assertiveness in the 1790s, he became a champion of the protestant ascendancy in 1791–2 and voted against catholic emancipation in 1795. The growth of the United Irishmen and the threat of revolution in the later 1790s hardened his anti-catholicism and he became an ultra-protestant loyalist who opposed all reforms and advocated harsh measures to deal with disaffection. During these years he was often distracted from politics by serious financial problems, and was forced to sell many of his properties, including Belcamp House in Dublin, which he had built in the 1780s. He did not stand for parliament in 1797, after which he was on the periphery of Irish politics. He settled in Galway in 1794, where he became a JP, but after attacks by Defenders moved to Limerick, and from there to Tipperary, before returning to Dublin (1798). He was obliged to flee to England for a time to escape his many creditors. After the 1798 rebellion he supported the act of union as the only means of safeguarding the protestant ascendancy. In 1802 he campaigned in Dublin for John Claudius Beresford (qv), the son of his old rival, in the general election, making his final public speech in July of that year. Events such as the uprising of 1803 and catholic agitation for emancipation convinced him that protestants were under siege and he became increasingly fearful and bigoted in his latter years. He died 2 October 1814 at his home at Retero, Blackrock, Co. Dublin. His nephew, Thomas Newenham (qv) was a politician and writer.
Sir Edward suffered from an inflated sense of his own importance, a difficulty in working with others, and a lack of political vision. Most leading figures in government regarded him with contempt and Jonah Barrington (qv) described him as ‘a good Irishman, but a busy, buzzing, intermeddling member of parliament and one of the most credulous, feeble and fanatical of all Irish intolerants’ (Coyle, 29). Although not a first-rank politician, he was important as a representative of a tradition of popular protestant radicalism that developed into an extreme anti-catholic loyalism in the 1790s.