Saturday, August 11, 2018

Vere Hunt in a crashing machine

‘Set out at two o’clock for Tipperary . . . Soon after I had the misfortune to find myself in a crashing machine, for, crash went the front spring of the crazy depository in which I was journeying, and, having extricated myself by a judicious leap-out from the ill-fated vehicle, I perambulated ankle-deep to the aforesaid Bruff, when, then and there arriving, I found the parlour of the Inn occupied by Cork butchers and discontented farmers.’ This is the entertaining Vere Hunt - soldier, politician, gambler and enlightened landlord - writing in his diary about market day at Bruff, in the county of Limerick, Ireland. He died two centuries ago today, leaving behind a series of diaries only a few extracts of which have ever been published.

Hunt, born in 1761,
 at Curragh Chase in County Limerick, was the oldest son of Vere Hunt and his second wife Anne Browne. He had one brother, John Fitzmaurice, and a sister, Jane. He inherited his father’s estate, and, in 1784, married Eleanor daughter of Lord Glenworth, the Protestant bishop of Limerick. He was elevated to a baronetcy the same year, and also became High Sheriff of County Limerick. He showed loyal support to the King and raised and commanded three regiments of foot during the French Revolutionary Wars. On returning to Ireland he was made MP for the Borough of Askeaton in 1797, but the Borough was disenfranchised at the Union, and he left politics in 1800.

Hunt was the founder of a village called New Birmingham in Tipperary, which he had built to service a coal mine he owned at Glengoole. He is remembered as a progressive landlord, often seeking ways to improve the lot of his tenants. However, he was not a great entrepreneur. He purchased Lundy Island, for example, believing it would save him from paying British taxes. After installing an Irish colony there, the place soon became a liability, and it was many years before the family was able to dispose of it. He appears to have had a tendency to gambling, which led him to spend some in a debtor’s jail in London. He was also known to have a strong liking for the theatre and literature. Vere’s only son Aubrey was educated at Harrow with Lord Byron and Robert Peel, and went on to have five sons and three daughters. He was grandfather to the poet and critic Aubrey Thomas de Vere and to the politician and social commentator Sir Stephen de Vere, 4th Baronet. He died on 11 August 1818. A little further information can be found at Wikipedia, the Limerick City website, and the Glengoole website.

Hunt left behind some diaries, most of which 
(1796-1809) are held by Limerick City Library - a full description of them can be found around page 40 in this large Word file on the Hunt and De Vere family holdings. Although the diaries have never been published in book form, the Dublin Magazine published some extracts in 1943, and then Melosina Lenox-Conyngham included a significant batch of those extracts in her Diaries of Ireland - An Anthology 1590-1987 (Lilliput Press, Dublin 1998). Some pages can be read online at Amazon, but a pdf of all the pages on Hunt can be read online at the Limerick City website. The following extracts are all taken from Lenox-Conyngham’s book.

28 March 1798
‘The County [Limerick] met at one over the Exchange. I proposed that it be recommended to landlords to give a temporary abatement to poor tenants on account of the fall of grain, and to pay tythes for those under £10 a year rent. It was negatived. A memorial was sent to the Lord Lieutenant signed by thirty-six Justices to proclaim the entire county as in a state of insurrection. Dined at Harry Fosbery’s and got drunk.’

9 April 1798
‘My dear wife & darling Aubrey went to Limerick on their way to Dublin & probably England to avoid the dangers of this unhappy distracted county ... A guard mounted. Then came back to dinner, lonesome! I cd not eat a bit.’

17 April 1798
‘Heard that my Uncle Harry’s son, Phineas, was the head of the United Irishmen about Cappah, but that he gave himself up to General Sir James Duff and made a full discovery.’

19 May 1798, Dublin
‘Dined at Tom Quin’s. At nine an express came for the Surgeon-General, who dined with us, to go off to dress Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s wounds, who had just been taken by Major Sirr and Justices Swan and Ryan.’

23 May 1798, Dublin
‘The town in great confusion and a rising expected every hour ... Went to the Castle, saw Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s uniform ... Lord Rossmore showed me an impression of the Great Seal found on Lord Edward ... People taken up every instant and flogged by military law to get confessions ... Determined to send my family off without delay, called with a hackney coach for Lady Hunt, Aubrey and Jenny Bindon, and set out for the Prince of Wales Packet. She could not sail, the wind being foul, and we all slept on board. Heard from Captain Hill of the Lady Fitzgibbon that Frank Arthur, Dr Hargrove, Doctor Ross (all from Limerick) and others were apprehended, and from my Uncle William Hunt that his son Billy was taken up.’

17 January 1800, Dublin
‘Got into the harbour at daylight and after landing, proceeded to Dublin on foot and put up at Quin’s Hotel in Crow Street. In the evening to the House of Commons and most warmly welcomed by Lord Castlereagh. Called on Lord Glentworth and consulted him on my expectations from Government. Strongly advised by him not to take any bargain, as those who acted steadily and honourably to the Government would be more liberally treated than if they made a contract.’

3 April 1811, Curragh Chase
‘This morning at four o’clock departed this life, John Leahy, who lived for seventy or eighty years with my father and me, and who lived as a pensioner with me for the last twenty years. His honesty and fidelity were great, and I sincerely lament the departure of so old, tried and valuable a domestic. Ordered a coffin to be made for him of the old elm-tree, coeval with himself, or rather antecedent to him, which was blown down last winter. Kill a lamb and dine on a forequarter of it, fish etc. Dr Lee the parish priest of Adare with me. After dinner, he and I go up to Leahy’s house, where I give directions for his wake, funeral etc. Lee sleeps here.’

17 May 1813, Dublin
‘Look in at Gilbert and Hodges, see some books bespoke by Aubrey, and see for the first time the celebrated Archibald Hamilton Rowan, who walked in attended by two monstrous and beautiful Danish dogs.’

4 June 1813, Dublin
‘Very fine day, and being the King’s birthday, the town was in bustle and hurry from morning till night. In the early part of the day a Review in the Phoenix Park, where all ranks and classes were crowded together to see poor soldiers sweating and stinking, and great Militia officers, from the mighty Colonel to the puny Ensigns, exhibiting their bravery and military acquirements. City Buckeens on hired horses and with borrowed boots and spurs; young misses slipping away from their mammas to meet their lovers; old maids taking snuff, and talking and thinking of old times; pickpockets waiting for a lob, and old bawds and whores for a cull; handkerchiefs in constant employ, wiping dust, sweat and dander from the face and head; coaches, landaus, gigs, curricles and jaunting cars in constant jostle and confusion in the backstreet to avoid paying money and the shops open to try to get some; mail coaches making a grand procession through the principal streets.

A Levee at the Castle, attended as usual by pimps, parasites, hangers-on, aidecamps, state-officers, expectant clergymen, hungry lawyers, spies, informers, and the various descriptions of characters that constitute the herd of which the motley petty degraded and pretended Court of this poor fallen country is made up. Alas, poor Ireland.

I spent the day lounging about, seeing what was to be seen, and, in proud feelings of superior independence, looked down with utter contempt of the weakness of an administration, imbecile, evasive, and mouldering into contempt; and every loss of public opinion and respect ever must attend the paltry pretended administration of this despicable and degraded country.

After dinner take a rambling circuit over Westmoreland Street and up Anglesea Street. Lounge into booksellers’ shops, then to Crow Street to see, according to ancient custom, all the blackguard boys collected to insult and pelt with small stones, gravel, periwinkles, etc. the ladies who go to the Play on this night. Boxes being free for the ladies, consequently it may be supposed what degree of respect is due to that class of the tender sex who avail themselves of enjoying a theatrical treat.’

3 November 1813, Dublin
‘Omitted in my journal yesterday that I saw the new Lord Lieutenant, Lord Whitworth, for the first time, it being his weekly day of giving audience, and of keeping up the mockery of state in this fallen and degraded sham-court.

He drove in from the park with his wife, the Duchess of Dorset, and one aide de camp, in a plain coach and four postilions in buff cloth, plain jackets, and two out-riders. The castle seemed deserted, few, I believe, seeking audience; and except the mere hangers-on, secretaries and clerks, two or three Generals and Judges, I presume, from appearance, His Excellency was not much annoyed by visitors.’

18 October 1814, Bruff
‘Arrived in Bruff at half past one. Fair day there and meet many friends in Bennett’s Inn, all in desponding strains, lamenting the decreased value of fat cattle, the best fat cows bringing this day but twelve guineas each. Milch cows high from £18 to £20, pigs tolerably high, sheep low. Set out at two o’clock for Tipperary and meet near Kilballyowen a very fine threshing machine for Decourcy O’Grady. Soon after I had the misfortune to find myself in a crashing machine, for, crash went the front spring of the crazy depository in which I was journeying, and, having extricated myself by a judicious leap-out from the ill-fated vehicle, I perambulated ankle-deep to the aforesaid Bruff, when, then and there arriving, I found the parlour of the Inn occupied by Cork butchers and discontented farmers to whose society I would have unfortunately been consigned for the day but for the hospitality of John Bennett who invited me to his house, where I fared capitally both in board and bed. I was highly pleased at seeing there in a very small square pond opposite his hall door, duck, mallard, cooter and various other wild fowl in great abundance and perfect tameness, and I was particularly amused by the eccentricities of Standy Bennett who, in his way, is both clever and entertaining ... he is about to publish a book of poems, which of course I will be among the first to have. In bed at eleven and sleep like a top.’

The Diary Junction

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