John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, Irish barrister and judge known as The Lord Earlsfort between 1784 and 1789 and as The Viscount Clonmell between 1789 and 1793, is born in County Tipperary on June 8, 1739. Sometimes known as “Copperfaced Jack”, he is Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench for Ireland from 1784 to 1789.
Scott is the third son of Thomas Scott of Scottsborough, County Tipperary, and his wife Rachel, daughter of Mark Prim of Johnswell, County Kilkenny. His parents are cousins, being two of the grandchildren of Nicholas Purcell, 13th Baron of Loughmoe. His elder brother is the uncle of Bernard Phelan, who establishes Château Phélan Ségur, and Dean John Scott, who first plants the gardens open to the public at Ballyin, County Waterford and marries a niece of Scott’s political ally, Henry Grattan.
While at Kilkenny College, Scott stands up to the tormentor of a boy named Hugh Carleton, who grows up to be Viscount Carleton of Clare. They become firm friends, and Carleton’s father, then known as the “King of Cork,” due to his wealth and influence, invites him to their home and becomes his patron. In 1756, Carleton sends both the young men off, with equal allowances, to study at Trinity College, Dublin and then the Middle Temple in London. On being called to the Irish bar in 1765, Scott’s eloquence secures him a position that enables him to pay £300 a year to his patron, Francis Carleton, who through a series of disappointments has been declared bankrupt. He continues to gratefully support his patron until Hugh Carleton is financially able to insist that he take up the payments to his father. Scott in later life turns against Carleton, describing him in his diary as a “worthless wretch.”
Admitted to King’s Inns in 1765, Scott is entitled to practice as a barrister. In 1769 he is elected as the Member of Parliament for Mullingar, a seat he holds until 1783. The following year he is made a King’s Counsel (KC). In 1772 he is Counsel to the Board of Revenue and in 1774 is appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland (1774–1777). Three years later, he is elected a Privy Councillor and Attorney-General for Ireland (1774–1783). He is dismissed from the latter position in 1782 for refusing to acknowledge the right of England to legislate for Ireland. In 1775, he is awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Law (LL.D.) by Trinity College, Dublin. He holds the office of Prime Serjeant-at-Law of Ireland between 1777 and 1782. He is Clerk of the Pleas of the Court of the Exchequer in 1783 and is elected Member of Parliament for Portarlington between 1783 and 1784.
In 1784, Scott is created 1st Baron Earlsfort of Lisson-Earl, County Tipperary, following his appointment to Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. In 1789 he is created 1st Viscount Clonmel, of Clonmel, County Tipperary and in 1793 is created 1st Earl of Clonmel. By the 1790s he has an annual income of £20,000. Due to heavy drinking and overeating he becomes seriously overweight, and this no doubt contributes to his early death, although his diary shows that he makes frequent efforts to live a more temperate life. Drinking also produces the red face which earns him the nickname “Copper-faced Jack.”
In 1768, Scott marries the widowed Catherine Anna Maria Roe, daughter of Thomas Mathew, of Earl Landaff and sister of Francis Mathew, 1st Earl Landaff. She dies in 1771. In 1779, he marries Margaret Lawless, daughter and eventual heiress of banker Patrick Lawless of Dublin. He leaves a son and heir and a daughter by his second marriage.
Scott lives at Clonmell House, 17 Harcourt Street, Dublin. He also keeps a country residence, Temple Hill House, in County Dublin. Clonmell Street in Dublin is named in his honour, as is Earlsfort Terrace, also in Dublin. He also gains a reputation of being an experienced duelist.
In 1797, in the last conversation he would have with his wife’s cousin, Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, he exclaims, “My dear Val, I have been a fortunate man in life. I am a Chief Justice and an Earl; but, believe me, I would rather be beginning the world as a young (chimney) sweep.” He dies at the age of 58 the following year on May 23, 1798.
(Pictured: John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, oil on canvas by Gilbert Charles Stuart)