John Hely-Hutchinson

John Hely-Hutchinson

John Hely later Hely-Hutchinson (1724 – September 4, 1794), Irish lawyer, statesman, and Provost of Trinity College, Dublin,born at Gortroe, Mallow, son of Francis Hely, a gentleman of County Cork, was educated at Trinity College (BA 1744), Dublin, and was called to the Irish bar in 1748.

He took the additional name of Hutchinson on his marriage in 1751 to Christiana Nixon, heiress of her uncle, Richard Hutchinson. He was elected member of the Irish House of Commons for the borough of Lanesborough in 1759, but from 1761 to 1790 he represented Cork city. He represented Taghmon from 1790 to 1794. He at first attached himself to the patriotic party in opposition to the government, and although he afterwards joined the administration he never abandoned his advocacy of popular measures.

It was around this time Hely-Hutchinson sold Frescati House in Blackrock, County Dublin, now the Blackrock shopping Centre.

He was a man of brilliant and versatile ability, whom Lord Townshend, the lord lieutenant, described as by far the most powerful man in parliament. William Gerard Hamilton said of him that Ireland never bred a more able, nor any country a more honest man. Hely-Hutchinson was, however, an inveterate place-hunter, and there was point in Lord North's witticism that if you were to give him the whole of Great Britain and Ireland for an estate, he would ask the Isle of Man for a potato garden.

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

It therefore became necessary for Lord Townshend to turn to other methods for procuring support. Early in 1768 an English Act was passed for the increase of the army, and a message from the king setting forth the necessity for the measure was laid before the House of Commons in Dublin. An address favourable to the government policy was, however, rejected; and Hely-Hutchinson, together with the speaker and the attorney-general, did their utmost both in public and private to obstruct the bill. Parliament was dissolved in May 1768, and the lord lieutenant set about the task of purchasing or otherwise securing a majority in the new parliament. Peerages, pensions and places were bestowed lavishly on those whose support could be thus secured; Hely-Hutchinson was 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" was carried in the session of 1769 by a large majority. Hely-Hutchinson's support had been so valuable that he received as reward an addition of £1,000 a year to the salary of his sinecure of Alnagar, a major's commission in a cavalry regiment, and a promise of the Secretaryship of State. He was at this time one of the most brilliant debaters in the Irish parliament, and he was enjoying an exceedingly lucrative practice at the bar. This income, however, together with his well-salaried sinecure, and his place as prime serjeant, he surrendered in 1774, to become provost of Trinity College, although the statute requiring the provost to be in holy orders had to be dispensed with in his favour.

For this great academic position Hely-Hutchinson was in no way qualified, and his appointment to it for purely political service to the government was justly criticized with much asperity. His conduct in using his position as provost to secure the parliamentary representation of the university for his eldest son brought him into conflict with Duigenan, who attacked him in "Lacrymae academicae", and involved him in a duel with a Mr Doyle; while a similar attempt on behalf of his second son in 1790 led to his being accused before a select committee of the House of Commons of impropriety as returning officer. But although without scholarship Hely-Hutchinson was an efficient provost, during whose rule material benefits were conferred on Trinity College.

He continued to occupy a prominent place in parliament, where he advocated free trade, the relief of the Catholics from penal legislation, and the reform of parliament. He was one of the very earliest politicians to recognize the soundness of Adam Smith's views on trade; and he quoted from the "Wealth of Nations", adopting some of its principles, in his "Commercial Restraints of Ireland", published in 1779, which 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 solicited from several leading politicians their opinion on the state of the country with suggestions for a remedy. Hely-Hutchinson's response was a remarkably able state paper (manuscript in the Record Office), which also showed clear traces of the influence of Adam Smith. The "Commercial Restraints", condemned by the authorities as seditious, went far to restore Hely-Hutchinson's popularity which had been damaged by his greed of office. Not less enlightened were his views on the Catholic question. In a speech in parliament on Catholic education in 1782 the provost declared that Catholic students were in fact to be found at Trinity College, but that he desired their presence thereto be legalized on the largest scale. "My opinion", he said,:"is strongly against sending Roman Catholics abroad for education, nor would establish Popish colleges at home. The advantage of being admitted into the university of Dublin will be very great to Catholics; they need not be obliged to attend the divinity professor, they may have one of their own; and would have a part of the public money applied to their use, to the support of a number of poor lads as sizars, and to provide premiums for persons of merit, for I would have them go into examinations and make no distinction between them and the Protestants but such as merit aught claim".

And after sketching a scheme for increasing the number of diocesan schools where Roman Catholics might receive free education, he went on to urge that:"it is certainly a matter of importance that the education of their priests should be as perfect as possible, and that if they have any prejudices they should be prejudices in favor of their own country. The Roman Catholics should receive the best education in the established university at the public expense; but by no means should Popish colleges be allowed, for by them we should again have the press groaning with themes of controversy, and subjects of religious disputation that have long slept in oblivion would again awake, and awaken with them all the worst passions of the human mind".

In 1777 Hely-Hutchinson became Secretary of State. When Grattan in 1782 moved an address to the king containing a declaration of Irish legislative independence, Hely-Hutchinson supported the attorney-general's motion postponing the question; but on April 16, after the Easter recess, he read a message from the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Portland, giving the king's permission for the House to take the matter into consideration, and he expressed his personal sympathy with the popular cause which Grattan on the same day brought to a triumphant issue. Hely-Hutchinson supported the opposition on the regency question in 1788, and one of his last votes in the House was in favor of parliamentary reform. In 1790 he exchanged the constituency of Cork for that of Taghmon in County Wexford, for which borough he remained member till his death at Buxton on 4 September 1794.

In 1785 his wife Christina had been created Baroness Donoughmore and on her death in 1788, his eldest son Richard (1756-1825) succeeded to the title. Richard, an ardent advocate of Catholic emancipation, was created Viscount Donoughmore in 1797, and in 1800 (having voted for the Union, hoping to secure Catholic emancipation from the united parliament) he was further created Earl of Donoughmore of Knocklofty, being succeeded first by his brother John Hely-Hutchinson (1757-1832) and then by his nephew John, 3rd Earl (1787-1851), from whom the title descended.


*Froude, JA; "The English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century" (3 vols, London, 1872-1874);
*Grattan, H.; "Memoirs of the Life and Times of Henry Grattan" (8 vols, L,ondon, 1839-1846);
*Lecky, William Edward Hartpole; "History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century" (5 volumes, London, 1892) and
*Various authors; "Baratariana", (Dublin, 5773).

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