Ponsonby, Frederick George Brabazon (1815–95), 6th earl of Bessborough , landowner and politician, was born in London on 11 September 1815, the second son of John William Ponsonby (qv), 4th earl of Bessborough, lord lieutenant of Ireland (1846–7), and Lady Maria Fane, third daughter of John Fane, 10th earl of Westmorland (qv). Educated at Harrow (1830–33) and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took an MA in 1837, he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn, London, in June 1840. A well-known cricketer at Harrow and Cambridge, he was also for many years an enthusiastic amateur actor and playwright. On the death of his brother, John George Ponsonby (1809–80), 5th earl of Bessborough, in January 1880, he succeeded to the earldom and took up residence at the family seat and estate at Piltown, Co. Kilkenny. He also sat in the house of lords and in 1881 became a magistrate and deputy lieutenant for Co. Kilkenny, positions he held until his death.
With growing levels of rural violence and agrarian agitation in Ireland during 1880 the prime minister, W. E. Gladstone, sought to take the pulse of the nation in respect of landlord and tenant relations. In July 1880 he appointed Bessborough to chair a royal commission to inquire into the workings of the 1870 Land Act and make recommendations for future legislation. The commission interviewed 700 witnesses, including eighty landlords and over 500 tenant farmers. Three of the five commissioners – Bessborough, Baron Richard Dowse, and William Shaw (qv) – recommended the extension of the ‘3 Fs’ to Irish tenant farmers – fixity of tenure, free sale, and fair rents – as well as more enticing interest rates for farm purchase. The report explained the problems of the Irish land system in terms of a misapplication of English land law to Ireland; landlord–tenant relations were different in England and Ireland and the land laws should reflect this. The other commissioners, Arthur Macmorrough Kavanagh (qv) and the O'Conor Don (qv), produced their own reports dissenting from the main findings.
The recommendations of the majority report were encapsulated in Gladstone's land bill introduced in parliament in April 1881 which became law in August 1881. The Bessborough commission is thus linked to perhaps the most far-reaching reform of land laws in Ireland in the nineteenth century, in which the principle of dual ownership between landlord and tenant was enshrined. A liberal in politics, Bessborough abstained from voting in the division on the home rule bill in the house of lords in 1893.
Bessborough was known as a fair and benevolent landlord on his 24,000 acre Kilkenny estate. He was interested in improving the farming techniques of his tenantry, and he was a committee member of the RDS. He died, unmarried, on 12 March 1895 at his residence in London, and was succeeded by his brother, Rev. Walter William Brabazon Ponsonby (1821–1906).