Thomas Meredith

Thomas Meredith

Thomas Meredith (1777 – 1819) was an Irish clergyman, mathematician, and Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin.

Early life

Thomas Meredith was born at Templerany House, Co. Wicklow in 1777, and baptised at the Protestant church in Rathdrum. He was the eldest son of Ralph Meredith (1748-1799) N.P., of Templerainy House, Co. Wicklow, and later Attorney Exchequer of Dublin, by his wife Martha (1752-1834), daughter of Thomas Chaytor of Charlemont Place, Dublin, after whom he was named.

Not long after Thomas Meredith was born his father moved the young family to Dublin and Templerainy (where the Merediths had lived since 1697) was passed to Thomas' uncle, William Meredith (1752-1791) of Ballykilcavan, Co. Leix. Ralph and William were the sons of John Meredith (1711-1786) of Templerainy House, Co. Wicklow, who c.1750 had his portrait painted by William Hoare (1706-1799) R.A., of Bath.


Initially educated privately by a Mr Crump, Thomas's father signed him into Trinity College, Dublin in 1791 (spelling his name 'Meredyth'). Two years later, in 1793, he was elected a scholar of the College, and in 1795 he graduated with a B.A. degree. Presumably he spent the next few years working on mathematical theories, whilst living in one of his family's properties on Charlemont Place, which clearly impressed the senior fellows of Trinity as in 1805 he was not just awarded his M.A. degree, but he was also elected a Fellow of the College (F.T.C.D.).

In 1810 Meredith was tutor to the future Bishop of Meath, The Most Rev. Charles Dickinson (1792-1842) D.D., P.C. Dickinson's biography [ [ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography] ] states that 'Dr Meredith, reckoned by many as the best lecturer and tutor of his time in college, was so impressed with the manly talents of his pupil, that he urged him to direct his thoughts to the bar, as the certain road to speedy and high advancement'. Dickinson was a close friend of Charles Wolfe and Hercules Henry Graves (1794-1817), Thomas's brother-in-law.

In 1811 he obtained his B.D. degree, and the following year, in 1812, he was awarded a D.D. degree. He retired his fellowship in 1813, leaving his home at 1 Fitzwilliam Square to take the position of Rector of Ardtrea, Co. Tyrone, holding that position until his untimely death. Meredith is remembered as a distinguished mathematician.

Family life

At Dublin on 7 July, 1807, Thomas married Eliza (Elizabeth) Maria (1791-1855), the eldest daughter of The Very Rev. Richard Graves (1763-1829) D.D., S F.T.C.D., Dean of Ardagh, Co. Longford, by his wife, Elizabeth Maria (1767-1827), the eldest daughter of The Rev. James Drought (1738-1820) D.D., S.F.T.C.D., of Ballyboy, King's Co. (Co. Offaly). The marriage settlement, dated the same day, was signed by the bride and groom, Thomas' brother John Meredith (1784-1866) of Dublin & Fairview House, Co. Wicklow, the bride's father, one of the bride's paternal uncle's, John Graves of Fort William, Co. Limerick, and one of the bride's maternal uncles, Robert Seymour Drought of Ridgemount House, King's County. Eliza Meredith was described as ‘a lady of much culture and refinement, and possessed also of great energy and force of character.’ They had seven children. Two died young, one remained in Ireland, and the rest remained in Canada having been taken there when young by their step father. Thomas and Eliza were the parents of William Collis Meredith and Edmund Allen Meredith.

In Dublin the Merediths lived at No.1 Fitzwilliam Square where Thomas kept a collection of books and maps. he inherited land in Co. Wicklow and, from his mother's family, houses in Dublin. When the family moved to Ardtrea in 1813, Thomas was remembered to have never turned a man away from his door, always having a silver piece for those who came to him.

After Thomas’s death Eliza moved with her young family back to her parents Dublin home on Harcourt Street. In Dublin, on 26th February, 1824, and without the approval of her parents, she re-married a widowed relation of hers, 'her childhood sweetheart' (according to Lady Isabel Burton), The Rev. (James) Edmund Burton (1776-1850), ‘who wasted every farthing of his Irish property before emigrating to Canada’. He was the son of The Rev. Edward Burton (b.1747) of Newgarden House, Co. Galway, by his wife Maria Margaretta Campbell, whose sister was Elizabeth Maria Campbell (1750-1797), Eliza (Graves) Meredith’s maternal grandmother. The two Campbell girls were the daughters of The Rev. John Campbell (1724-1772) LL.D., Vicar-General of Tuam, and a first cousin of John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll and the ‘three beautiful Gunnings’, by his wife Sarah Lejeune/Younge (who was rumoured to be an illigitemate granddaughter of King Louis XIV of France by the Countess de Montmorency, the wife of her grandfather in name). Edmund Burton was the uncle of the celebrated and much written about explorer Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) Kt., F.R.G.S., 'the most interesting personality of the nineteenth century'.

A few years prior to meeting Eliza, Edmund Burton had been granted convert|1000|acre|km2 of land (which by the time he left he had increased by a further 1,447 acres) at Rawdon, Quebec, Terrebonne County, then a four day journey north of Montreal. He was sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London to be the region's first Anglican minister there. In the summer of 1824, leaving her eldest and two youngest sons in Ireland, Eliza went to Canada taking her remaining children with her and her new husband's family (ten children) to his house and farm, ‘Burtonville’, outside Rawdon, where the village of Ste. Julienne is found today. They lived there until 1833 when they returned to Ireland, taking up residence at Cloyne, Co. Cork. Eliza 'conveniently' left all the Burton children by his first marriage in Canada, according to them, 'in an unconcerned manner'. By Mr Burton she had a further six children, though her son Edmund wrote to his brother William in 1844 concerning their half sister, Frances, saying that 'all the Graves' (underlined) entertain such a decided antipathy to Mr Burton that I do not think they would feel disposed to undertake the charge in anyway of one of his children'. Though the Meredith children didn't seem to be at all close to their step brothers and sisters, they did take a great interest in their half brothers and sisters' education and welfare.

hooting a Ghost

There is a curious story told about Meredith shooting at a ghost with a silver bullet in a book called "Memorials to the Dead" (published 1903, page 462), in regards to the ‘sudden and awful visitation’ that took his life in 1819. The excerpt below is taken from a letter by The Rev. W. Ernest R. Scott, written in 1924 to Lt.-Colonel Colborne Powell Meredith (1874-1966) of Ottawa, one of Thomas’s grandsons.

The Rev. Ernest Scott, then the Rector of Ardtrea, was married to Adelaide (sister of James Creed Meredith), daughter of Sir James Creed Meredith (1842-1912), by his third wife Ellen Graves Meredith, a daughter of Thomas Meredith’s eldest son, The Rev. Richard Graves Meredith (1810-1871):

"In the parish of Ardtrea, in the County of Tyrone, Ireland, stands the big rectory in which I took up my abode, with my family, on my appointment to the living in 1914. It is a curious house, with a curious history - a huge, grim, rambling building standing in the midst of forty-five acres of grounds (which would have been more in the time of Thomas Meredith). Erected over a century ago (1805) for a wealthy incumbent (the man who Meredith succeeded), at a time when parochial values were very different from what they are today, the atmosphere of the place seems to be impregnated with that peculiar blend of mystery and superstition which surrounds so many old houses of the kind. The rectory of Ardtrea, however, would appear to have more justification than most for the mixed feelings with which it is regarded by the simple country folk around."

"Its very situation lends itself to thoughts of the mysterious. Magnificent beech trees stand upon the lawn (which it is said were planted by the sons of Thomas Meredith), and other forest giants and mournful yews are ringed about the grey old mansion. The long carriage-drive, too, is guarded by a noble avenue of great trees, and thick masses of ivy cluster upon the walls which flank the great wooden door enclosing the courtyard."

"If its situation and appearance bears the impress of the unusual, so likewise do its traditions. One of its first inhabitants (the second), Dr Thomas Meredith, a former Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, Rector of Ardtrea for six years, and great-grandfather of my wife, died within its doors in 1819 from a ‘sudden and awful visitation’, as his tombstone states."

"Exactly what this was no one seems to know, but the story runs that a governess employed by Dr Meredith was troubled by a ghost, which took the form of a lady arrayed in white - possibly, averred local tradition, the Virgin Saint Trea, who lived hereabout in the fifth century. This apparition greatly troubled the good doctor, and on the advice of a friend he charged a gun with a solid silver bullet and lay in wait for the midnight visitor. In due course a report (shot) was heard, and next day the Rector lay dying upon the flagged floor of a basement room. From that hour the country-people looked a skant upon the ‘haunted’ house, and avoided it whenever possible."

Another variation of the story appears in "True Irish Ghost Stories" by John Drelincourt Seymour, a relative of Thomas' wife, under the chapter 'Legendary and Ancestral ghosts'. [ [ Scary Stories - Legendary And Ancestral Ghosts ] ] :

"In the Parish Church of Ardtrea, near Cookstown, is a marble monument and inscription in memory of Thomas Meredith, D.D., who had been a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and for six years rector of the parish. He died, according to the words of the inscription, on 2nd May 1819, as a result of "a sudden and awful visitation." A local legend explains this "visitation," by stating that a ghost haunted the rectory, the visits of which had caused his family and servants to leave the house."

"The rector had tried to shoot it but failed; then he was told to use a silver bullet; he did so, and next morning was found dead at his hall-door while a hideous object like a devil made horrid noises out of any window the servant man approached. This man was advised by some Roman Catholic neighbours to get the priest, who would "lay" the thing. The priest arrived, and with the help of a jar of whisky the ghost became quite civil, till the last glass in the jar, which the priest was about to empty out for himself, whereupon the ghost or devil made himself as thin and long as a Lough Neagh eel, and slipped himself into the jar to get the last drops. But the priest put the cork into its place and hammered it in, and, making the sign of the Cross on it, he had the evil thing secured. It was buried in the cellar of the rectory, where on some nights it can still be heard calling to be let out."

Relationship with Charles Wolfe

The Rev. Charles Wolfe (1791-1823) of Blackhall, Co. Kildare, was much attached to and a great admirer of Thomas Meredith, although fourteen years his younger. He was the Curate of nearby Donoughmore, and a frequent guest at Ardtrea. Chiefly remembered today for his poem "The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna" (so highly acclaimed by George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron), Wolfe was also the author of the inscription on Meredith's memorial at the Church of Ardtrea. The memorial is made of black and white marble and is surmounted by the Meredith crest and coat of arms (the lion rampant, halved with three goat's heads):

"Sacred to the memory of THOMAS MEREDITH D.D., Formerly Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, And 6 years Rector of this Parish. A man who gave to learning a beauty not its own, And threw over Science and Literature the lustre of the Gospel And the sweet influence of Christianity. The talents which he clothed in humility And his silent and unobtrusive benevolence Were unable to escape the respect and admiration of society: But those who witnessed him in the bosom of his family And shared the treasures of his conversation Seldom failed to find the ways of wisdom more pleasant than before And to discover fresh loveliness in that Gospel Upon which his hopes and his ministry were founded He was summoned from a family of which he was the support and delight And from the flock to which he was eminently endeared On 2nd May 1819 in the 42nd year of his age By a sudden and awful visitation but he knew That his Redeemer lived. ‘Erected by his Sons’."

Charles Wolfe wrote a second epitaph for Thomas Meredith, intended for his tomb itself. It read,

"Here lies in this lone spot, this holy shade,"
"One less for earth than heavens high mansions made,"
"Whose virtues all in paths untrodden moved,"
"Too little known, alas ! Too much beloved !"
"Whom talent, science, wisdom, goodness crowned,"
"With wreaths as gentle as these flowers around,"
"Whose modest beauty shun all common eyes,"
"To bless this sacred spot, these purer skies,"
"And like his bloom in home's sequestered Vale,"
"To him who gave them all their sweets exhale,"
"But us't to human praise he sought not such,"
"Unheeding all but his he loved so much,"
"Then be our task to fit our minds to raise"
"In purer Worlds a fitter song of praise,"
"For them alone to know his worth is given"
"Who lived on earth as Saints shall live in Heaven."

Wolfe wrote a letter in 1817 demonstrating how he valued Meredith’s friendship :

"I am surrounded by grandees, who count their income by thousands, and by clergymen innumerable; however, I have kept out of their reach; I have preferred my turf-fire, my books, and the memory of the friends I have left, to all the society that Tyrone can furnish… with one bright exception. At Meredith’s I am indeed every way at home; I am at home in friendship and hospitality, in science and literature, in our common friends and acquaintance, and in topics of religion."

In a brief memoir to Charles Wolfe's life, published in 1842, by The Ven. John A. Russell (Archdeacon of Clogher), Meredith is introduced as follows :

"The following letter (quoted below) gives an affecting account of the death of a valued friend, to whom he (Wolfe) had lately become particularly attached, the Rev. Dr Meredith, formerly a fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and then rector of Ardtrea. He was esteemed one of the most distinguished scholars in the university to which he belonged. His genius for mathematical acquirements especially, was universally allowed to be of the first order; and his qualifications as a public examiner and lecturer were so eminent, as to render his early retirement from the duties of a fellowship a serious loss to the college. Of our author's talents he entertained the highest opinion; and his congeniality of disposition soon led him to appreciate fully the still higher qualities of his heart."



Wolfe wrote a letter to a friend, headed ‘Castle Caulfield, May 4th, 1819’, expressing his anguish at Meredith’s death and expressing his deep friendship towards him :

"My Dear… I am just come from the house of mourning! Last night I helped to lay poor Meredith in his coffin, and followed him this morning to his grave. The visitation was truly awful. Last Tuesday (this day week) he was struck to the ground by a fit of apoplexy, and from that moment until the hour of his death, on Sunday evening, he never articulated. I did not hear of his danger until Sunday evening, and yesterday morning I ran ten miles [16 km] , like a madman, and was only in time to see his dead body. It will be a cruel and bitter thought to me for many a day, that I had not one farewell from him, while he was on the brink of the world. Oh… one of my heart-strings is broken ! The only way I have of describing my attachment to that man, is by telling you, that next to you and Dickinson, he was the person in whose society I took the greatest delight. A visit to Ardtrea was often in prospect to sustain me in many of my cheerless labours. My gems are falling away; But I do hope and trust, it is because 'God is making up his jewels'. Dr Meredith was a man of a truly Christian temper of mind. We used naturally to fall upon religious subjects; And I now revert, with peculiar gratification, to the cordiality with which 'we took sweet counsel together' upon these topics. You know that he was possessed of the first and most distinguishing characteristic of a Christian disposition, humility. He preached the Sunday before for _, and the surmon was unusually solemn and impressive, and in the true spirit of the Gospel. Indeed, from several circumstances, he seems to have had some strange presentiments of what was to happen. His air and look some time before his dissolution had, as _ told me, an expression of the most awful and profound devotion."

The Very Rev. Richard Graves (1763-1829), Dean of Ardagh (Co. Cork) wrote in 1819 :

"… and now another apparently most calamitous visitation presents itself, in the sudden death of my beloved and excellent son-in-law, by apoplexy, a disorder of which of all men he seemed least liable."

An article was written for the "Dublin University Magazine" in 1842 by Robert Perceval Graves (son of John Crosbie Graves (1776-1835), a first cousin of Thomas Meredith’s wife, Eliza) celebrating the achievements of his friend Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865). Thomas Meredith was one of the first to recognise Hamilton’s extraordinary intellectual abilities:

"We well remember to have heard, long before we ever saw our friend, of Dr Meredith, formerly Fellow of Trinity College, and a man of great learning and ability, reporting with expressions of astonishment, that he had examined in the country a child of six or seven, who read and translated and understood Hebrew better than many candidates for fellowship; this child was young Hamilton."

On his death in 1819, "Freeman’s Journal of Dublin" reported:

"Learned, amiable, and unassuming, he (Thomas Meredith) was unfeignedly respected and sincerely beloved by his numerous acquaintance and friends, all of whom deeply deplore his premature departure. He has left behind him an amiable and disconsolate widow and a family of seven children, most of whom are yet too young to feel the irreparable loss which they have sustained."


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