Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Fall Of The Beresford Dynasty

After the rise, the fall of the Beresford dynasty - minor rather than major colonial officers
Jun. 29th, 2010 at 9:11 PM

John the Commissioner had 4 sons and 3 daughters. First son was Marcus (who underwent "a mortification" at the age of 33), then George (my great x 4 grandfather), then John Claudius who became Lord Mayor of Dublin and was, if it is possible, worse than his father, then Rev. Charles. The daughters were Catharine, Annette Constantia, and Jane.

George (b. 1765) became Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh. In 1794 he married Frances Bushe, daughter of Gervais Parker Bushe (MP for Kilkenny) and Mary Grattan. Mary Grattan was the sister of Henry Grattan who was therefore Frances' uncle. (more about Henry Grattan later)

George and Frances had a son, John (b 1796) who became Colonial Secretary of St Vincent (now in St Vincent and the Grenadines) and he married Harriet Eliza Wylly, daughter of William Wylly, Chief Justice of St Vincent. St Vincent has a total land area of 344 square km and an estimated population today of 105,000, so it doesn't sound like a very important colonial posting. It was handed to the British by the French in 1783 (at Treaty of Versailles, winding up British-French hostilities over the American Revolution), but was only really secured against native rebellion in 1796, the year John was born. He must have gone there before 1822 because he married the Chief Justice's daughter in that year (he was 26). As Colonial Secretary, he presided over the abolition of slavery in 1834 - he was certainly there in 1835 and 1836 (he is mentioned signing legislation in John Anderson's 1836 'Journal of St Vincent During the Apprenticeship') and he was there in 1831 according to svgancestry.com. I have one source that says he retired to England, but I can find no official record to support this.

John's aunt Jane (see above) married Sir George Fitzgerald Hill, a baronet and the leading local representative of the mainly absentee Beresford landlords, in 1788. An entry in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland catalogue records that his correspondence "inevitably reflects the wider political concerns and ambitions of that dynasty, including their electoral interests in Co. Waterford, 1805-1830". Family nepotism continued, as Sir George became Governor of St Vincent, where his nephew by marriage was already Colonial Secretary, in 1830-33 and then Governor of Trinidad, where he died in 1839. Moreover, John named his 4th son John Hill (1832-63). John Hill Beresford became Colonial Secretary for the Island of Tobago which, as we know, has a close association with Trinidad (though he died at the tender age of 31).

When thinking of John B and his uncle George F. Hill I cannot help but think of Marlon Brando's character in the Pontecorvo movie Burn (aka Queimada) in which Brando's character explains how wage labour is more efficient than slavery.

This is from the National Library of Trinidad and Tobago (the two were not unified until 1889):

Sir George Fitzgerald Hill was the governor who presided over the abolition of the last of the slavery days in Trinidad. Sir George came here in 1833, at the advanced age of 71, and the tumultuous period from Emancipation in 1834 up to the Abolition in 1838 quite exhausted him. He had the unique distinctions of reading both the emancipation and the “abolition” proclamations from a window in the Treasury Building, where Government House was located at the time. He was already 78 years old, and the fatigue proved too much for him. He died on March 8, 1839, seven months after the abolition, and his grave can be seen as the first one from the west in that little cemetery in the Botanic Gardens, Port-of-Spain. His wife, Lady Hill, had died in November 1836, and she was the one who, on her death-bed passing, had asked to have her “eternal rest” in the Botanic Gardens.

The son of John and Eliza, George William (b. 1823), married Elizabeth Hannah Nicholson Maclean, daughter of Captain Donald Maclean (I can't get anywhere with this ancestor - there are more Donald Macleans than you can poke a stick at). George William and Hannah migrated to Australia where GW became Secretary to the South Australian Parliament. Many years ago a colleague of mine wrote his PhD thesis about early South Australian politics and, in his researches, he came across GW whom he described to me as "alcoholic". The South Australian descendants of George and Hannah generally were professionals (mainly lawyers and stockbrokers) or even minor industrialists, though at least some of them tried to maintain a sort of aristocratic hauteur. I don't get on with them very well and declined their invitation to the 150th anniversary of GW's arrival in 2008.