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


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Birth of Marguerite Gardiner,Novelist & Journalist

marguerite-power-farmer-gardinerMarguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington, Irish novelist, journalist, and literary hostess, is born near Clonmel, County Tipperary on September 1, 1789. She becomes acquainted with Lord Byron in Genoa and writes a book about him.

Born Margaret Power, she is a daughter of Edmund Power and Ellen Sheehy, small landowners. She is “haphazardly educated by her own reading and by her mother’s friend Ann Dwyer.” Her childhood is blighted by her father’s character and poverty, and her early womanhood made wretched by a compulsory marriage at the age of fifteen to Captain Maurice St. Leger Farmer, an English officer whose drunken habits finally bring him as a debtor to the King’s Bench Prison, where he dies by falling out of a window in October 1817. She had left him after three months of marriage.

Marguerite later moves to Hampshire, England to live for five years with the family of Thomas Jenkins, a sympathetic and literary sea captain. Jenkins introduces her to the Irishman Charles John Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington, a widower with four children and seven years her senior. They marry at St. Mary’s, Bryanston Square, Marylebone, on February 16, 1818, only four months after the death of her first husband.

Of rare beauty, charm and wit, Lady Blessington is no less distinguished for her generosity and for the extravagant tastes she shares with her second husband, which results in encumbering his estates with debt. On August 25, 1822 they set out for a continental tour with Marguerite’s youngest sister, the 21-year-old Mary Anne, and servants. On the way they meet Count Alfred D’Orsay, who had first become an intimate of Lady Blessington in London in 1821, in Avignon on November 20, 1822, before settling at Genoa for four months from March 31, 1823. There they meet Lord Byron on several occasions, giving Lady Blessington material for her Conversations with Lord Byron.

After that they settle for the most part in Naples, where she meets the Irish writer Richard Robert Madden, who is to become her biographer. They also spend time in Florence with their friend Walter Savage Landor, author of Imaginary Conversations which she greatly admires.

It is in Italy, on December 1, 1827, that Count D’Orsay marries Harriet Gardiner, Lord Blessington’s only daughter by his former wife. The Blessingtons and the newly-wed couple move to Paris towards the end of 1828, taking up residence in the Hôtel Maréchal Ney, where the Earl suddenly dies at the age of 46 of an apoplectic stroke in 1829. D’Orsay and Harriet then accompanied Lady Blessington to England, but the couple separates soon afterwards amidst much acrimony. D’Orsay continues to live with Lady Blessington until her death. Their home, first at Seymour Place, and afterwards Gore House, Kensington, now the site of the Royal Albert Hall, become a centre of attraction for all that is distinguished in literature, learning, art, science and fashion. Benjamin Disraeli writes Venetia whilst staying there, and it is at her home that Hans Christian Andersen first meets Charles Dickens.

After her husband’s death Lady Blessington supplements her diminished income by contributing to various periodicals as well as by writing novels. She is for some years editor of The Book of Beauty and The Keepsake, popular annuals of the day. In 1834 she publishes her Conversations with Lord Byron. Her Idler in Italy (1839–1840), and Idler in France (1841) are popular for their personal gossip and anecdotes, descriptions of nature and sentiment.

Early in 1849, Count D’Orsay leaves Gore House to escape his creditors. Subsequently the furniture and decorations are sold in a public sale successfully discharging Lady Blessington’s debts. She joins the Count in Paris, where she dies on June 4, 1849 of a burst heart. On examination it is discovered that her heart is three times normal size.

(Pictured: Marguerite, Countess of Blessington, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1822)


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Death of Thomas “Buck” Whaley

Thomas Whaley, Irish gambler and member of the Irish House of Commons commonly known as Buck Whaley or Jerusalem Whaley, dies on November 2, 1800, in England.

Whaley is born in Dublin on December 15, 1766, the eldest surviving son of the landowner, magistrate and former Member of Parliament Richard Chapell Whaley. At the age of sixteen, he is sent to Europe on the Grand tour, accompanied by a tutor. He settles in Paris for some time, maintaining both a country residence and town house, but is forced to leave Paris when his cheque for the amount of £14,000, to settle gambling debts accrued in one night of gambling, is refused by his bankers. Following his return to Dublin, Whaley, at the age of eighteen, is elected to the Irish House of Commons in 1785 representing the constituency of Newcastle in County Dublin.

While dining with William FitzGerald, 2nd Duke of Leinster at Leinster House, wagers totaling £15,000 are offered that Whaley cannot travel to Jerusalem and back within two years and provide proof of his success. The reasoning of those offering the bets is based on the belief that, as the region was part of the Ottoman Empire and had a reputation for widespread banditry, it will be too dangerous for travelers and it will be unlikely that Whaley can complete the journey.

Whaley embarks from Dublin on October 8, 1788. He sails first to Deal, Kent, where he is joined by a companion, a Captain Wilson, and then on to Gibraltar. In Gibraltar, his party is joined by another military officer, Captain Hugh Moore. The party sets sail for the port of Smyrna, although Wilson is prevented from travelling any further due to rheumatic fever. The remaining pair make an overland journey from there to Constantinople, arriving in December.

The British ambassador in Constantinople introduces Whaley to the Vizier Cezayirli Gazi Hasan Pasha. Taking a liking to Whaley, Hasan Pasha provides him with permits to visit Jerusalem. Whaley’s party leaves Constantinople on January 21, 1789 by ship and sail to Acre, Israel. He encounters the Wāli of Acre and Galillee, Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar. Al-Jazzar, notoriously known as “The Butcher” in the region he rules, takes a liking to Whaley and, though he dismisses the documents issued in Constantinople as worthless, he permits Whaley to continue his journey.

Whaley and his companions make their way overland to Jerusalem, arriving on January 28. During his visit, he stays at a Franciscan monastery, the Convent of Terra Sancta. It is a signed certificate from the superior of this institution, along with detailed observations of the buildings of Jerusalem, that provide the proof needed to prove the success of his journey. They stay for little over a month before returning overland to Ireland.

Whaley arrives back in Dublin in the summer of 1789 to great celebrations and collects the winnings of the wager. The trip costs him a total of £8,000, leaving him a profit of £7,000.

Following his Jerusalem exploit, Whaley remains in Dublin for two years and later spends time in London and travelling in Europe, including Paris during the Revolutionary period. Due to mounting debts, he is forced to sell much of his estate in the early 1790s and these financial problems also lead to his departure from Dublin.

Thomas Whaley dies on November 2, 1800 in the Cheshire town of Knutsford, while travelling from Liverpool to London. The cause of death is attributed to rheumatic fever, although a popular story circulated in Ireland is that he is stabbed in a jealous rage by one of two sisters, both of whom are objects of his attentions.