Saturday, 25 May 2013

Old photo investigation Part 4 -- Thomas Reynolds

You'll remember Henry Fitzgerald Reynolds from the very first of his photos that I found, taken in 1931. I blogged about it here. When I went back to Brighton that second time I also found this photo that I thought might be of Henry -- it's a much older photo, so he should look younger (though he seems to look exactly the same age in all the photos I have of him that are definitely him) but I'm not convinced it's actually him. There are no clues written on the back. What do you think?

In this post, I'm going to track back through Henry's father's ancestors, rather than his mother Matilda's (her family were the Hamilton's of Fintra). Henry's father was Walter Reynolds, born in Melton near Hull in 1839 and one of four children of Andrew Fitzgerald Reynolds (born 1795) and Mary Thompson (born 1798). Andrew Fitzgerald Reynolds was descended from a long line of Irish gentry, so you may wonder what he was doing in less-than-glamorous Hull and I think I can shed some light on that. The family lived at Melton Hall, demolished in the 1950s. The land was developed as the Melton Hall housing estate, one of the roads of which is Reynolds Close, surely in remembrance of the family who had lived in the Hall. Only the coach house seems to have survived the redevelopment:
Andrew Fitzgerald Reynolds was born in Ireland, the son of Thomas Reynolds and Harriet Witherington, both born in 1771. This is where it gets really interesting, but also where my history knowledge gets extremely ropey, so I apologise if I make any errors.
This weeny picture is the only image I can find of Thomas Reynolds -- 'my' Henry's great-grandfather. His father, Andrew, had made his fortune in Dublin manufacturing woollen and silk poplins and other textiles -- he was credited with introducing silk manufacture to Ireland. Thomas was born on 12 March 1771 at 9 West Park Street, Dublin. He was one of fourteen children, of whom six died in infancy.
     When Thomas was eight years old he was sent to Dr Crawfurd's School in Chiswick, as a parlour-boarder. He was there for four years and in his last year spent all the holidays at the house of the artist Joshua Reynolds (who must surely have been a relation), who taught him to draw. In 1783 he went to a Jesuit seminary in Liege, Belgium. Returning to Ireland aged 17, in 1788, he inherited money from his father (which he would not actually be able to access until he was 21) who died shortly after his return -- although significantly less than he might have inherited, had the advent of cotton fabrics not drastically reduced the income from his father's firm and landed him in debt.
     It was while he was living at home with his mother that he accompanied a young lady to a masked costume ball. As part of his costume Thomas had been wearing a diamond pin in his hat which was worth a lot of money. When he rolled home the next morning, the hat pin was missing. He told his mother that the girl had needed money (it's not quite clear whether she 'demanded' money or was in genuine need) and that he had given her all his cash along with the pin so that she could pawn it. He intended to redeem it in a few days' time. Thomas's mother considered it a matter of theft and wanted to call in the police -- but Thomas said that the pin was his to do with as he wished (he had inherited it some time previously). There was an unholy row and Thomas fell ill from all the stress. He stayed in bed with a 'putrid fever' for seven weeks and there were fears for his life.
     As soon as he could, Thomas went on a European tour with his best friend from school, hoping to improve his health. From Rotterdam, to Paris, then through Switzerland to Italy; they returned to Paris at the height of the French Revolution. Only a few days after he arrived there the Bastille was stormed. Frightened by what was unfolding, he hurried back to Dublin. Life continued pleasurably there.
     On 25 March 1794, when Thomas was 23, he married Harriet Witherington, whose family owned a drapery business on Grafton Street in Dublin. Harriet was one of ten children, including a sister four years older than her called Martha.

Martha/Matilda Witherington
Back in July 1785, aged 18 (some accounts say she was 16) Martha -- who changed her name to Matilda -- had eloped with Theobald Wolfe Tone. Wolfe Tone is famous as one of the Society of United Irishmen, a group which first formed with liberal ideas of reforming the Irish Parliament but which then evolved into a revolutionary group, inspired by the American and French Revolutions. The Society had formed in October 1791, a month after Tone had published a highly influential pamplet, "Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland", which argued for unity between Protestants, Catholics and Dissenters to throw off the English yoke.
The United Irishmen in 1798 including Wolfe Tone, at the back in profile and Lord Edward Fitzgerald, far right
In line with the French Revolution, the Society's ultimate aim (at the beginning) was to separate religion from politics. Their movement spread quickly thanks to the dissemination of pamplets, newspapers and ballads. Spokesmen (I'm sure they would all have been men) travelled the country to recruit new followers.
     In February 1793 France declared war on Britain and, shortly afterwards, the Society of United Irishmen was outlawed. By 1794, when Thomas Reynolds became Wolfe Tone's brother-in-law, it was an underground movement dedicated to bringing about a revolution against English rule. That same year, a 'memorandum' that Tone had written for private consumption, describing Ireland as 'ripe for revolution' came to the attention of the English government. Several people were arrested but Tone was able to arrange to emigrate to America, where he arrived in May 1795, with Martha. Apparently he disliked the Americans, finding them less 'revolutionary' than he had hoped.
     From America he was able to travel to Paris where he persuaded the French to send a force of 15,000 men to invade Ireland in order to overthrow the British. The idea was that the Irish people would then rise up, following the French lead. The expedition set off in December 1795 with Tone on board one of the 43 ships in the fleet and it was only thanks to severe gales that the attack failed. Apparently Tone was full of contempt for the French sailors who held back from trying to make land.
The failure of the French invasion of Ireland by Gillray
Wolfe Tone stayed in France and continued to try to raise troops to invade Ireland. Three much smaller attacks were made in 1798, one of which Tone accompanied. On 12 October 1798 the ship he was on surrendered to the British and he was taken prisoner. He  was swiftly tried and condemned to be hanged a month later but committed suicide before the sentence could be carried out.
     Meanwhile, back in early 1797, Thomas Reynolds had joined the United Irishmen, having been invited to do so and seemingly thinking the Society was only intent on helping the lot of the disenfranchised, oppressed Catholics. Not long after this he was given a cheap lease on Kilkea Castle in County Kildare through the good offices of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, another leading United Irishman. It was a lucky break as he was apparently virtually bankrupt by this point. He and Harriet went to live there:
Kilkea Castle
On 19 February 1798 Thomas attended a meeting of the United Irishmen in Leinster and, according to his account, only then realised just how revolutionary their intentions were -- that they intended to overthrow the government by armed force. Terrified, he turned informer. His son (Henry's great uncle), also called Thomas, later wrote an immensely long and almost obsessively detailed biography of his father that attempted to set his actions in a positive light: that he was motivated by a desire to save his country from the horrors of bloody revolution -- and also that many unscrupulous people with whom he had had (unbelievably complicated) financial dealings took the opportunity of the affair to ruin his reputation.
     Thomas acted as a witness at several of the trials of the conspirators -- in fact he was treated with such hostility by their lawyers that it seemed as if he himself were on trial. But they were found guilty whereas he received the freedom of the City of Dublin from the grateful government. He hoped the affair had blown over and took a house in Leinster Street in Dublin, but there was intense hostility towards him from the Irish people and he wasn't safe. His house was attacked by a mob at least once and there had been attempts to assassinate him. Fearing for his safety, the family fled to Allonby, a tiny place on the Cumbrian coast, across the Irish Sea.

While Reynolds was in the north of England he received an official letter from the British government offering him a pension of £1000 a year for life to compensate him for the total ruination of his life following his actions in exposing the planned Irish revolution (his son thought this sum wholly inadequate). The British also presented him with this medal:
 Thomas took his family back to Dublin but the government there urged him to leave as they couldn't guarantee his safety. They gave him letters of introduction to people of high standing in England, including the Prime Minister and on 1st January 1800 he left Ireland for good and moved to London with Harriet and his two young sons. They bought a house in Portman Square but life amongst the well-to-do of London meant that their outgoings exceeded their income and they decided to move to Swansea. On their way to Swansea they found that they were passing within three miles of the small town of Usk, where Harriet's sister Catherine was living with her husband and one of her brothers, Henry Witherington. This brother had testified against his brother-in-law Thomas at the conspiracy trials and so Thomas refused to go to the house to visit them. They put up at an inn and sent word that they were there, so that Catherine could come to see her sister. That same day, according to Thomas's son's account, Henry Witherington turned up at the inn and retracted everything he had said at the trial and asked for Thomas's forgiveness, which was given. The wounds having been healed, Thomas and Harriet changed their plans and rented a house in Usk instead.
extract from The Life of Thomas Reynolds, 1839
Henry Witherington's marriage, referred to above, was to Maria Bird, one of the six daughters of Colonel Henry Bird who lived in a Gothic house in the middle of nearby Goitre Wood:
Colonel Bird had been a soldier in America, during which time he had reportedly rescued a young European girl who had been captured by Native Americans during a raid on her home and brought up as a Native American. She was called Elizabeth Hicks and she married the Colonel. He built the house in the middle of Goitre Wood in an effort to replicate something of the wilderness he had experienced in America. Colonel Bird died in 1800 but Elizabeth outlived him by 42 years.
The sign of the local pub commemorates the couple.

Thomas Reynolds and his family moved back to London, via Bath. They also spent time in Sidmouth after all the children had been ill with measles.
Sidmouth in 1803

Sidmouth and the surrounding area was a hotbed of reform-minded English aristocrats who happened to be sheltering a number of radical Irishmen while they planned their next assault on the hated British occupiers of Ireland. It suited them to be on the south coast of England as much of their support was coming from revolutionary France, just across the Channel. When Thomas arrived there, simply looking to help his children to convalesce, they believed he'd been sent to spy on them. Threatening letters were sent and nasty gossip was spread. Soon they were hurrying back to London.
     As before, the Reynolds couldn't afford to live in London and Thomas had to find something else to do. He managed to get the position of Postmaster (of the English postal service) in Lisbon, with the promise that as soon as a consulship came up, it would be his. So it was that in 1817 Thomas was offered the post of British Consul in Iceland -- which may have seemed something of a poisoned chalice. He only accepted the post on the understanding that he would do the job at arm's length, from Copenhagen, although he did visit Reykjavik in the summer of 1818.
from Thomas's son's account of their visit to Iceland
Reykjavik in the early 19th century
After a year or so, he transferred the consulship to his son, also called Thomas, and in fact the younger Thomas met his wife Caroline Ross, a Dane, while he was living in Copenhagen. But although Thomas had hoped that the British government would keep their word and give both his sons posts so that they could earn a living, in 1822 there was a key change at the Foreign Office and the new Foreign Secretary, George Canning, declared that neither Thomas or his sons would ever be given any position by him. In a final effort to find peace and, perhaps, prosperity, at last, the family moved to Paris, perhaps a surprising choice of home as it was bristling with the very Irishmen who had become Thomas's arch enemies when he supposedly informed on them back in Dublin in 1798. His son's biography is full of accounts of slights and threats -- whips were shaken at his wife and daughters in the Tuileries gardens, duels were fought. 'My' Henry's own grandfather, Andrew Fitzgerald Reynolds, fought a duel with pistols with his father's chief irritant, Thomas Warren, in which he accidentally fired off his only bullet before he had taken aim at Warren. Warren then had as much time as he wanted to fix his gun on Fitzgerald (as he was known), but failed to kill him.
     Thomas Reynolds died of cholera in his house on the Faubourg Saint Honore on 18 August 1836. His body was interred in a vault in Welton near Hull, close by Melton, where a family friend was the vicar. Henry's grandfather went to live at Melton Hall (and practise as a barrister), perhaps to be close to his father's burial place. One gets the feeling that the terrible travails of Thomas's life had bound them all tightly together, in a bid for sheer survival. Perhaps they wanted to be near him even after his death, to protect his resting place. The family probably also wanted to continue to keep their heads down, given the strength of feeling against them in Ireland and among supporters of the Irish cause, and no doubt Hull seemed as safe a haven as anywhere.
Welton church
My Henry was born in Hull on 8 June 1865.

I hope you're enjoying these tales spun from old photographs. I think I have just one more to tell -- coming soon...

3 comments:

Anna said...

Wow, what a lot of research you've done - an interesting family!

terrance reynolds said...

Wow this is amazing I do believe that this may be part of me as well I have Irish ties from 1908 back to sir Michael Reynolds of 15th century and sir Joshua Reynolds of 16th century

Jane Housham said...

Hi Terrance
I'm so pleased you've found my blogpost and that it was interesting to you. What an incredible family to be related to! When I was doing all this research into it, I occasionally had to remind myself that I'm not actually related to them, but was just looking into the background of the photos I'd found in a secondhand shop!