O’Brien Banknote Guide: Beresford & Co, Dublin (1794-1810)


In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there were hundreds of small banks issuing their own paper money. Due to the monopoly enjoyed by the Bank of Ireland (a quasi-central bank), they tended to stay small and under-capitalised.

  • Beresford’s Bank, however, grew to be one of the largest and, by 1803, circulated an average of £700-800,000 worth of banknotes p.a. – a massive sum in those days !

John Claudius Beresford

John Claudius Beresford was the third son of the Rt. Hon. John Beresford (1738-1805) – described in 1782 as ‘an able, experienced, and laborious man’ and said to hold places worth £3,000 p.a. – a huge personal income in those days too !  His father, one of the wealthiest men in Ireland also held the following positions:

  • Member of Parliament for Co. Waterford (1761-1800)
  • Lord Deputy of Co. Waterford (1763-
  • Taster of Wines, Port of Dublin (1772-1805)
  • Irish Revenue Commissioner (1780-1802)
  • Trustee, Irish Linen Board (1782)
  • Member, Irish Board of Trade (1802)

Under Pitt’s administration, the Rt. Hon. John Beresford became virtually king of Ireland and was on that account dismissed by Earl Fitzwilliam in 1795. Beresford not only retained his salary but soon had the satisfaction of seeing his dismisser recalled and himself reinstated but not before the police had to intervene to prevent a duel between the two men – apparently, Fitzwilliam accused Beresford of ‘maladministration’ and ‘malversation’ and Beresford demanded the satisfaction of a duel.

John Claudius Beresford (23 October 1766 – 20 July 1846) was quite powerful and an active member of the Anglo-Irish establishment. He was:

  • UK Member of Parliament representing Dublin City 1801–1804 and Co. Waterford 1806–1811. He was a member of the Tory Party.

Prior to the Act of Union, John Claudius

  • Served as a storekeeper for the Port of Dublin (1783-)
  • Appointed to a wealthy sinecure post of Inspector-General of Exports and Imports
    • an office that requires or involves little or no responsibility, labour, or active service
  • He was returned by his father, Hon. John Beresford, for the family borough of Swords to the Irish House of Commons (1790-1799)
  • In 1798 he was returned as MP for Dublin City, helped by his position in the port, and as a partner in a leading Dublin bank and a member of Dublin Corporation.
  • He took a prominent part in the Irish House of Commons
    • In line with the position of the Orange Order, he was an ardent opponent of the Act of Union (taking the opposite position to his father).
    • he resigned his post at the port on 25 January 1799 so as not to be tainted by it or by the suggestion that his actions were motivated by a desire to retain it
    • he unsuccessfully moved the reduction of the proposed Irish contribution to the imperial exchequer in the debates on the Act of Union
    • He was an active member of the Dublin Lodge of the Orange Order (1795)

Beresford’s Bank, Dublin

Some time around the year 1794, John Claudius Beresford founded a bank: the original partners were Beresford, James Woodmason and Thomas Needham.

  • Beresford lived at Abbeyville, nr. Malahide (built c.1790) in 1794 and Woodmason lived in nearby Emsworth (completed c.1794). It is the only villa attributed to Gandon that has survived.
    • An underground tunnel once linked the two properties.
  • Woodmason was an Irish entrepreneur involved in printing and stationery. In June 1792 he announced that he was opening a gallery in Exchequer Street, Dublin dedicated to large scale paintings; the Shakespeare Gallery was launched in May 1793.
    • His Dublin gallery was not successful however as the Irish economy was experiencing a turbulent period, and in January 1794
    • He opened The New Shakespeare Gallery in Leadenhall Street, London and this move to London proved to be a prosperous decision as he was appointed official stationary supplier to the Commissioners of the Revenue in the same year.
      • Stationer, Irish Revenue Commisioners (1794-)
  • Needham seems to have been the more ‘junior’ partner of the three and left Beresford’s Bank in August 1797 to form a new bank with Sir Thomas Lighton.
    • Later, Needham, along with Sir Robert Shaw and Ponsonby Shaw co-founded Shaw’s Bank at Foster Place, College Green, Dublin in 1799 – one of the few Irish private banks which survived the crises of the early 1800s and continued on in business until it merged with the Royal Bank of Ireland in 1836.

During the United Irishman rebellion of 1798, Beresford led a yeoman battalion which fought against the rebels with a particular ferocity. He kept a riding school in Dublin, which acquired an evil reputation as the chief scene of the floggings by which evidence was extorted from the United Irishmen.

  • As such, he became identified as one of the leading opponents of the rebellion, and the rebels deliberately burnt the banknotes issued by his bank.
    • He also acquired a reputation for persecuting political opponents throughout his political career.

In 1795 the Directors of the Bank of Ireland decided that credit would no longer be given for any private banker’s notes or drafts until payment in cash had been received by the Bank from the Bankers in question.

  • The regulation did not affect the four Dublin private banks, including Beresford & Co. and the system of ‘clearing notes’ continued.

In 1795, Sir Thomas Lighton (17??-1805) joined Beresford’s Bank. A native of Strabane, Co. Tyrone, he made his fortune with the East India Company in India and lived at Merville, Co Dublin. In the early 1790s he had No. 22 St. Stephen’s Green North built as his Dublin residence.

  • He married Anne Pollock, daughter of William Pollock (11th December 1777)
  • High Sheriff of Co. Dublin (1790)
  • Knighted and made Baron of Merville in Dublin (1791-1805)
  • Member of the Irish Parliament for Tuam (1790-1797)
  • Member of the Irish Parliament for Carlingford (1798-1800)

Following the suspension of cash payments in 1797 many new banks were formed, particularly in the south of Ireland, leading to a large increase in the issue of private bank notes, where in many cases, this lead to them becoming the principle circulating medium. It soon became obvious that most of the recently established private banks had issued notes far in excess of their resources and the Directors of the Bank of Ireland decided to refuse to accept any notes of the private banks – this led to the closure of most of the small, under-capitalised  private banks.

Beresford and Woodmason continued in partnership and, in 1798, were joined by one James Farrell – not much is known about Farrell, apart from the fact that he left Beresford’s Bank a year later.

By 1803, Beresford’s bank was issuing more notes than any other private bank in Ireland and, in that year, put 189,300 notes into circulation.

  • From 1799-1803, Beresford’s issued an average of £700-800,000 worth of notes p.a.
    • When the Directors of the Bank of Ireland eventually decided to refuse to accept any notes of the “four reputable private banks of unquestioned integrity,” this state of affairs led to the eventual closure of Beresford’s Bank.
      • Beresford’s Bank went into voluntary liquidation in 1810.
      • All its creditors were paid in full, i.e. all notes were honoured.
      • Hence, Beresford’s banknotes are scarce
1802 Dublin, Beresfords Bank, contemporary forgery of Bank Post Bill for Three Guineas, 14 December 1802, stamped forgery

Being one of the ‘bank of unquestioned integrity’ allowed Beresford’s to issue huge volumes of notes and this attracted forgers. The above note is a contemporary forgery of a Bank Post Bill for Three Guineas, 14 December 1802, stamped forgery.

  • Beresford & Woodmason continued in partnership until 1808, when they were joined by Benjamin Ball, Matthew James Plunkett and Philip Doyne, Jnr.
    • After Beresford’s Bank went into voluntary liquidation in 1810, it thereafter became Ball & Co and remained in business until taken over by Northern Banking Co in 1888.
    • All three of three new partners went on to run this new Ball’s Bank
  • In that year, Woodmason either died or retired and Beresford’s Bank moved from it’s original location (2 Beresford Place) to 27 Henry Street.

Early Irish Banknotes – Beresford & Co

These banknotes are categorised into chronological order, thence by signature(s) and denomination.

  • Type A
    • Signatories:
      • John Claudius Beresford, James Woodmason, Thomas Needham (1793-94)
    • Known Denomination(s):
      • no denominations known
  • Type B
    • Signatories:
      • John Claudius Beresford, Sir Thomas Lighton, James Woodmason, Thomas Needham (1794-97)
    • Known Denomination(s):
      • £10 Post Bill
  • Type C
    • Signatories:
      • John Claudius Beresford, James Woodmason (1797-98)
    • Known Denomination(s):
      • 1 Guinea
  • Type D
    • Signatories:
      • John Claudius Beresford, James Woodmason, James Farrell (1798-99)
    • Known Denomination(s):
      • 1½ Guineas
  • Type E
    • Signatories:
      • John Claudius Beresford, James Woodmason (1799-1808)
    • Known Denomination(s):
      • 1 Guinea
      • Post Bill – 3 Guineas
      • Post Bill – 3½ Guineas
  • Type F
    • Signatories: John Claudius Beresford, Benjamin Ball, Matthew James Plunkett, Philip Doyne Junior
    • Known Denomination(s):
      • 30 Shillings
      • 1 Guinea

Life after Banking:

In 1810 James Claudius Beresford withdrew from the firm and declared bankruptcy. This prevented his attendance at Parliament in Westminster for some months. In June he resigned his seat through appointment as Escheator of Munster, being succeeded by his kinsman, Major General Sir William Carr Beresford.

  • In 1812, Beresford attempted to get a government appointment but was refused as he already had a good pension.

He seems to have recovered his solvency by 1814 because he then served as Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1814–15, where he was known for his “princely hospitality”, but thereafter withdrew from public life.

Portrait of John Claudius Beresford, wearing the chain of office of the Lord Mayor of Dublin 1814-15

Portrait of John Claudius Beresford, wearing the chain of office of the Lord Mayor of Dublin 1814-15. (Portrait by William Cumming)




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