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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of John Hely-Hutchinson, Lawyer & Statesman

CH35304John Hely (later Hely-Hutchinson), Irish lawyer, statesman, and Provost of Trinity College Dublin, dies on September 4, 1794 at Buxton, Derbyshire, England.

Hely is born in 1724 at Gortroe, Mallow, son of Francis Hely, a gentleman of County Cork. He is educated at Trinity College Dublin (BA 1744) and is called to the Irish bar in 1748. He takes the additional name of Hutchinson upon his marriage in 1751 to Christiana Nixon, heiress of her uncle, Richard Hutchinson.

Hely-Hutchinson is elected member of the Irish House of Commons for the borough of Lanesborough in 1759, but from 1761 to 1790 he represents Cork City. He at first attaches himself to the patriotic party in opposition to the government, and although he afterwards joins the administration, he never abandons his advocacy of popular measures.

After a session or two in parliament he is made a privy councillor and prime Serjeant-at-law. From this time he gives a general, though by no means invariable, support to the government. In 1767 the ministry contemplates an increase of the army establishment in Ireland from 12,000 to 15,000 men, but the Augmentation Bill meets with strenuous opposition, not only from Henry Flood, John Ponsonby and the habitual opponents of the government, but from the Undertakers, or proprietors of boroughs, on whom the government has hitherto relied to secure them a majority in the House of Commons.

It therefore becomes necessary for Lord Townshend to turn to other methods for procuring support. Early in 1768 an English Act is passed for the increase of the army, and a message from King George III setting forth the necessity for the measure is laid before the House of Commons in Dublin. An address favourable to the government policy is, however, rejected as Hely-Hutchinson, together with the speaker and the attorney general, do their utmost both in public and private to obstruct the bill. Parliament is dissolved in May 1768, and the lord lieutenant sets about the task of purchasing or otherwise securing a majority in the new parliament. Peerages, pensions and places are bestowed lavishly on those whose support could be thus secured. Hely-Hutchinson is won over by the concession that the Irish army should be established by the authority of an Irish act of parliament instead of an English one.

The Augmentation Bill is carried in the session of 1769 by a large majority. Hely-Hutchinson’s support had been so valuable that he receives as reward an addition of £1,000 a year to the salary of his sinecure of alnager, a major’s commission in a cavalry regiment, and a promise of the Secretaryship of State. He is at this time one of the most brilliant debaters in the Irish parliament and is enjoying an exceedingly lucrative practice at the bar. This income, however, together with his well-salaried sinecure, and his place as prime serjeant, he surrenders in 1774 to become provost of Trinity College, although the statute requiring the provost to be in holy orders has to be dispensed with in his favour.

For this great academic position Hely-Hutchinson is in no way qualified and his appointment to it for purely political service to the government is justly criticised with much asperity. His conduct in using his position as provost to secure the parliamentary representation of the university for his eldest son brings him into conflict with Patrick Duigenan, while a similar attempt on behalf of his second son in 1790 leads to his being accused before a select committee of the House of Commons of impropriety as returning officer. But although without scholarship Hely-Hutchinson is an efficient provost, during whose rule material benefits are conferred on Trinity College.

Hely-Hutchinson continues to occupy a prominent place in parliament, where he advocates free trade, the relief of the Catholics from penal legislation, and the reform of parliament. He is one of the very earliest politicians to recognise the soundness of Adam Smith‘s views on trade and he quotes from the Wealth of Nations, adopting some of its principles, in his Commercial Restraints of Ireland, published in 1779, which William Edward Hartpole Lecky pronounces one of the best specimens of political literature produced in Ireland in the latter half of the 18th century.

In the same year, the economic condition of Ireland being the cause of great anxiety, the government solicits from several leading politicians their opinion on the state of the country with suggestions for a remedy. Hely-Hutchinson’s response is a remarkably able state paper, which also shows clear traces of the influence of Adam Smith. The Commercial Restraints, condemned by the authorities as seditious, goes far to restore Hely-Hutchinson’s popularity which has been damaged by his greed of office. Not less enlightened are his views on the Catholic question. In a speech in parliament on Catholic education in 1782 the provost declares that Catholic students are in fact to be found at Trinity College, but that he desires their presence thereto be legalised on the largest scale.

In 1777 Hely-Hutchinson becomes Secretary of State. When Henry Grattan in 1782 moves an address to the king containing a declaration of Irish legislative independence, he supports the attorney general’s motion postponing the question. On April 16, however, after the Easter recess, he reads a message from the Lord Lieutenant, the William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, giving the king’s permission for the House to take the matter into consideration, and he expresses his personal sympathy with the popular cause which Grattan on the same day brings to a triumphant issue. Hely-Hutchinson supports the opposition on the regency question in 1788, and one of his last votes in the House is in favour of parliamentary reform. In 1790 he exchanges the constituency of Cork for that of Taghmon in County Wexford, for which borough he remains member until his death at Buxton, Derbyshire on September 4, 1794.

(Pictured: Portrait, oil on canvas, of John Hely-Hutchinson (1724–1794) by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792))


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The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 Receives Royal Assent

coat-of-arms-of-the-united-kingdomThe Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, the culmination of the process of Catholic emancipation throughout the United Kingdom, receives royal assent on April 13, 1829. In Ireland it repeals the Test Act 1673 and the remaining Penal Laws which had been in force since the passing of the Disenfranchising Act of the Parliament of Ireland of 1728. Its passage follows a vigorous campaign that threatens insurrection led by Irish lawyer Daniel O’Connell. The British leaders, starting with the Prime MinisterArthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,  and his top aide Robert Peel, although personally opposed, give in to avoid civil strife. Ireland is quiet after the passage.

In 1778, English Catholics are relieved of the restrictions on land inheritance and purchase. A savage reaction to these concessions produces the Gordon Riots of 1780, and the whole history of Catholic Emancipation is one of struggle against great resistance. In 1791 the Roman Catholic Relief Act repeals most of the disabilities in Great Britain, provided Catholics take an oath of loyalty. In 1793 the army, the navy, the universities, and the judiciary are opened to Catholics, although seats in Parliament and some offices are still denied. These reforms are sponsored by William Pitt the Younger, who hopes thereby to split the alliance of Irish Catholics and Protestants. But Pitt’s attempt to secure a general repeal of the Penal Laws is thwarted by George III. Pope Pius VII consents to a royal veto on episcopal nominations if the Penal Laws are repealed, but the move fails. In Ireland the repeal of Poynings’ Law in 1782 is followed by an act (1792) of the Irish Parliament relaxing the marriage and education laws and an act (1793) allowing Catholics to vote and hold most offices.

The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 permits members of the Catholic Church to sit in the parliament at Westminster and to hold all but a handful of public offices. O’Connell had won a seat in a by-election for Clare in 1828 against an Anglican. Under the then extant penal law, O’Connell as a Catholic, is forbidden to take his seat in Parliament. Peel, the Home Secretary, until then is called “Orange Peel” because he always supports the Orange (anti-Catholic) position. Peel now concludes, “Though emancipation was a great danger, civil strife was a greater danger.” Fearing a revolution in Ireland, Peel draws up the Catholic Relief Bill and guides it through the House of Commons. To overcome the vehement opposition of both the House of Lords and King George IV, the Duke of Wellington works tirelessly to ensure passage in the House of Lords, and threatens to resign as Prime Minister if the King does not give Royal Assent.

With the Universities Tests Act 1871, which opens the universities to Roman Catholics, Catholic Emancipation in the United Kingdom is virtually complete.


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Birth of Sir Philip Francis

philip-francisSir Philip Francis, Irish-born British politician and pamphleteer, is born in Dublin on October 22, 1740. He is known as an antagonist of Warren Hastings, the first governor-general of British India.

The son of Dr. Philip Francis, a man known by his translations of Horace, Aeschines and Demosthenes, Francis is educated in Dublin and London and holds a variety of clerical posts in the government from 1756 to 1773. He may have written the Letters of Junius, a series of bitter lampoons against the government of King George III published by a London newspaper from 1769 to 1772, when he was a clerk in the war office. The authorship of the letters has been assigned to Francis on a variety of grounds, including a computer-aided analysis of the Junius texts in the 1960s.

In June 1773 the prime minister, Lord Frederick North, appointed Francis a member of the newly created four-man council that is to rule British possessions in India with Governor-General Hastings. He leads two of his colleagues in a struggle against Hastings, in part because he covets Hastings’ job, but there are also differences between the two men on policy matters, including land-revenue collection. Although Hastings gains the upper hand by 1776 after two of the opposing councilors die, Francis continues his attacks and, in 1780, the governor-general wounds him in a duel.

Returning to England in 1781, Francis turns public opinion against Hastings with a series of anonymous pamphlets. He enters the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in 1784 and is the moving spirit behind Hastings’ impeachment, begun in 1788. The acquittal of Hastings in 1795 embitters Francis deeply and leads to his defeat in a parliamentary election. He served again in Parliament from 1802 to 1807, at which time he retires from politics. He is knighted in 1806.

Sir Philip Francis dies in London on December 23, 1818.