DOHERTY, John (1785-1850), of Stephen's Green, Dublin.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



5 Mar. 1824 - 1826
1826 - 1830
1830 - 9 Dec. 1830

Family and Education

b. 1785, 2nd surv. s. of John Doherty, attorney, of Aungier Street, Dublin and Margaret, da. of David Verner. educ. Chester sch.; Trinity, Dublin 5 Oct. 1801, aged 16; King’s Inns 1803; M. Temple 1805; called [I] 1808. m. 1822, Elizabeth Lucy, da. of Charles William Wall, 5s. 2da. d. 8 Sept. 1850.

Offices Held

Commr. inquiry into fees of cts. of justice [I] 1818-23; KC [I] 1823; solicitor-gen. [I] July 1827-Dec. 1830; bencher, King’s Inns 1828; l.c.j.c.p. [I] 1830-d.

Recorder, Waterford.


Doherty’s father, a Dublin attorney, was dead by the time he was admitted to King’s Inns in 1803. During his time as a student at the Middle Temple he heard Fox address the Commons in support of Catholic relief, 13 May 1805 - or so he claimed in the House, 8 May 1828; it was a cause which he himself consistently espoused. On his call to the Irish bar ‘Long Jack’ Doherty (he was strikingly tall) went the Leinster circuit. Having decided to make himself an expert in court practice (he was never an erudite lawyer) he did well, and built up an extensive general business. An Irish commentator later wrote of him:

He had most of the requisites for great success at the bar. His constitution was vigorous, and capable of enduring the vast labour of a legal practitioner; his character was open and generous, his manners ingratiating, yet withal manly and dignified ... There were intellectual faculties of no common order. His apprehension was rapid; in practical business his discernment was quick and sure; his understanding, though not subtle, or peculiarly adapted for dealing with severely abstract principles, was clear and comprehensive. If he had not imagination of the highest order, he possessed a lively and active fancy, which gave grace, variety and relief to the more sober qualities of his mind.

As a gentleman barrister of the old school, fluent, plausible and charming, he moved easily in Dublin society, where he was a popular figure:

A refined heartiness of spirit; a good-humoured toleration of the absurdities and follies of life, with a quick sense of the ridiculous; a flow of genial feelings, enhanced by winning manners, rendered his company peculiarly attractive.1

Doherty was related through his mother to George Canning*, a member of Lord Liverpool’s cabinet, though the precise family link has not been identified.2 It was, however, with no particular zeal that Canning endorsed Doherty’s application, made originally through Lord Harrowby, lord president of the council, whom he had met on a recent visit to Dublin, for appointment as one of the commissioners of inquiry into the emoluments of officials of the Irish law courts when a vacancy was expected early in 1818. Canning, unable to vouch first hand for Doherty’s professional merits, testified that ‘his private character is not only irreproachable, but highly meritorious’.3 The Irish secretary Robert Peel* decided to appoint Doherty, who was unctuously grateful, though he apparently made an unsuccessful bid to safeguard his interests on the circuit by obtaining special treatment.4 He took up the post in May 1818 and was involved in the production of the commission’s sixth to eleventh reports (Dec. 1818-May 1822).5 In December 1821 he asked Canning (now out of office) to use his influence with Lord Wellesley, the Irish viceroy, to secure him legal promotion, but Canning could not oblige him. Nor could he do so (as foreign secretary) in May 1823, when Doherty pleaded for an escape ‘from my present laborious and painfully invidious place’. At the end of the year, having taken silk, he pleaded pressure of legal business and impaired health as his reasons for resigning the post.6 Thereafter he was regularly retained as a crown prosecutor.

In late February 1824 Doherty informed Canning that he was to be was returned on the Leigh interest for New Ross, where his nephew John Carroll had sat briefly earlier in the Parliament. He preferred to postpone taking his seat until after the spring circuit, but he assured Canning that ‘if ... any question should arise on which you think that my services could be in any degree useful, I beg you may not hesitate to command ... [my] attendance’. Canning congratulated Doherty on his ‘success’, and ‘myself on such an acquisition to the House of Commons’.7 His maiden speech, 11 May, was in a discussion arising out of a petition from a victim of an alleged miscarriage of justice in Ireland. Doherty, insisting that the legal system was ‘under the superintendence of a body of great and good men, who acted with integrity and impartiality’, claimed, implausibly, that in nearly 17 years of practice

he could not charge his recollection with a single instance where the slightest distinction had been made between persons of opposite religious persuasions ... He had reached this country perfectly untainted by party, and ... the present was the first time he had ever opened his lips upon any political question. He admitted that Ireland was divided by factions, and that their influence was most prejudicial to her welfare; but the administration of justice was untouched by them.

Doherty, who was named to the select committee on Irish disturbances, 11 May, presented a New Ross petition for Catholic relief, 25 May. He defended the Dublin magistrates’ indemnity bill, 5 June, and voted with government against Brougham’s condemnation of the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. In August 1824, when he was in Ireland for the Kilkenny assizes, he offered to look into some problems with the tenants on Canning’s property there. Canning gratefully accepted, and also picked Doherty’s brains about the talents and character of the highly rated Irish barrister John Henry North, who had flopped in the last session as the new Member for Plympton Erle.8 Doherty voted for the usury laws repeal bill, 8 Feb. 1825. He spoke at some length in support of the Irish unlawful societies bill, 11 Feb., when he emphasized his sincere support for Catholic claims, but uncompromisingly denounced the Catholic Association, whose activities were ‘utterly inconsistent with the spirit of the constitution’. He was publicly attacked in Ireland by Maurice O’Connell*; and Daniel O’Connell*, on his way to London to muster support for the Catholic cause, referred slightingly to the ‘virulent speech’ of ‘that long blockhead’.9 He was appointed to the renewed committee on Irish disorder, 17 Feb. After being condemned in the House as the apologist for abuse and partiality in the Irish judicial system, Doherty made a spirited and detailed reply, 25 Feb. Disclaiming ‘the zeal, and warmth, and prejudice of the advocate’, he reviewed the process whereby he had ‘become, more by accident than either by election or delegation, what I feel myself now in some measure voted to be, the champion of the purity of the administration of justice in Ireland’; he was enthusiastically cheered. He voted for the third reading of the suppression bill later that day. As one of the ‘Irish friendly Members’, in O’Connell’s words, he divided silently for Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, when, in Canning’s absence, he presented a Galway Protestants’ petition in its favour and argued that most responsible Irish Protestants were of like mind. He supported the Liverpool and Manchester railway bill, 2 Mar. He presented a New Ross landowners’ petition against alteration of the butter duties, 12 May 1825.10 There is no trace of parliamentary activity by Doherty in 1826, although he informed Canning from Dublin that he planned to ‘be in the House ... on the 16th of February’, or earlier if required.11 At the general election of that year he stood for the predominantly Catholic city of Kilkenny on the interest of the 1st marquess of Ormonde. Though opposed by a supporter of the Catholic Association, whose campaign organizers legally disputed every vote, and personally attacked elsewhere in the county by O’Connell, Doherty had a comfortable victory. The subsequent petition against him was unsuccessful.12 In October 1826 he complained to Canning that his appointment to an unspecified legal office, which he claimed had been promised to him by the lord lieutenant that summer, had been delayed.13

Doherty voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, when he was given six weeks’ leave to go the circuit. On the formation of Canning’s ministry he was regarded as a candidate for the office of Irish solicitor-general; and Canning indeed selected him, informing Wellesley that his being already in the House had given him the edge over ‘many worthy competitors’. O’Connell considered the appointment of Doherty, as a pro-Catholic, the only ‘single movement in Ireland favourable to an alteration in the system’, and said that it ‘certainly gave great satisfaction’, a view confirmed by Lord Lansdowne on the strength of reports from Ireland.14 A hitch occurred when Lord Manners, the Irish chancellor, an unrepentant anti-Catholic, tried to veto Doherty’s elevation which, as Canning told Wellesley, he condemned ‘as an affront to the whole profession’:

I have no desire to do anything affronting or even unfair to the profession. But we cannot go on here, without one of the Irish law officers in Parliament. Doherty is already in Parliament by his own means. He is at the head of his circuit in Ireland, and I was, and am, advised that he is eminently qualified for the office for which he was recommended.

At the same time, Canning wished Manners to be pacified, though not indulged, by being consulted ‘at large upon the proper selection’. Wellesley’s scheme for a more extensive reshuffle, which would have made the anti-Catholics Joy and Lefroy chief baron and attorney-general respectively, while keeping Doherty as solicitor, foundered on chief baron O’Grady’s refusal to resign except on conditions which government found unacceptable. It would not in any case have propitiated Manners, who repeated to Wellesley ‘in the most distinct terms’ his objections to Doherty’s appointment

first on the political and parliamentary considerations, which (as his Lordship says) solely have suggested ... Doherty’s name on this occasion; secondly, on the superiority of many others, both in point of seniority and knowledge.15

When William Lamb, the new Irish secretary, arrived in Dublin in the first week of July, he reported to Canning that Manners ‘feels he has gone too far, but [that] it is now too late for him to retreat’, and that Doherty himself, who had recently written to Canning pressing the claims of a friend of O’Connell to legal promotion, was ‘naturally annoyed’. Perceiving Manners’s weakening resolve, Lamb gave him the chance to back down with ‘a good grace’; and on 21 July 1827 he swore in Doherty, who wrote to Canning that the chancellor had

excited a general impression among the bar and ... the public here, that his conduct in interposing the delay, has been as unwarrantable as childish ... In order to relieve your mind from any apprehension that my promotion is extraordinary and without a precedent on account of my alleged juniority, I shall only observe that of the last eight persons who have held the office of solicitor-general ... but one was of as long standing at the bar as I am ... I have now been for 20 years in my profession.

Canning assured him in reply that there had never been any question of his being sacrificed to the bigotry of those ‘of both persuasions who would have been glad to stir up a controversy’.16

As the session had ended three weeks after Doherty’s formal appointment, his re-election was delayed until Parliament met again. In the interim, he remained in office under Lord Goderich, adding his own testimony to the anxiety felt by Irish pro-Catholics that Lord Lansdowne should not resign.17 He retained his place in the duke of Wellington’s ministry, and in February 1828 sought re-election for Kilkenny, where he was challenged by his opponent of 1826. Attacked on the hustings for putting himself ‘under the control’ of the anti-Catholic Peel, the home secretary, he reaffirmed his attachment to the principles of Canning, whom he eulogized. He was an easy winner of the ensuing contest.18 He apparently added to his income by taking over ex-officio responsibility for excise prosecutions in a new arrangement of that business.19 He soon became the favourite and the trusted henchman of the new lord lieutenant, Lord Anglesey, who to Peel praised his ‘very able’ management of the prosecutions of conspirators at Clonmel assizes in April. Doherty took his seat, 29 Apr. 1828. Soon afterwards Anglesey sent him a letter of introduction to the Whig Lord Holland, who had expressed a wish to meet him:

He is a delightful person: frank, high minded, moderate in his politics yet perfectly firm, prudent, highly talented. I am quite sure you will like him much. I hardly ever met with a man who has inspired in me such early confidence. I think he is rather desponding about his own country and does not believe that any material improvements can be effected.20

He made his first speech on Catholic relief in the Commons in support of Burdett’s motion, 8 May 1828, when he urged that the question, essential as its settlement was to the tranquillity and prosperity of Ireland, should be ‘set at rest’ by ‘acceding to the just demands’ of Catholics. Lord Seaford, who was in the gallery, deemed it ‘a very good speech, in a very good style, very good temper and very good taste, and (which is a rare merit in a lawyer) very agreeable to listen to’.21 He was in the favourable majority, 12 May. He approved the principle of Davies’s bill to curb the duration and expense of borough polls, 15 May, and called for its extension to Ireland. On the resignation of Huskisson from the ministry Doherty also told Lamb, who also went out, that he ‘will pause before he resigns’. He did not do so, to the immense relief of Anglesey, who described him as ‘the man whose views are more in unison with mine than any other I have met with’. He explained to Anglesey that he had briefly considered resignation, but had concluded after the Huskissonites’ public explanations that their ‘retirement has not been on any public or political principle or that I am in any manner so connected with the parties involved as to render it necessary for me to resign’.22 He opposed Grattan’s amendments to the Irish malicious injuries bill, 16 June, arguing that the existing law afforded adequate protection to Catholic chapels and clergy; Grattan wondered, in a letter to O’Connell, whether this line would be ‘thought good law ... in the Orange North’.23 Doherty voted for Poulett Thomson’s usury laws amendment bill 19 June 1828. On a visit to Ireland towards the close of the year Lord Palmerston*, a seceder in June, was told by Doherty that the Irish government

could just keep the country together till Parliament met, and hand it over to the table of the House, but could not be answerable for more. He was very shy, however, of entering deeply into the subject with me; but I understood that he was the guiding adviser of Lord Anglesey.24

Doherty gave ‘valuable assistance’ to Peel in drafting the bills to suppress the Catholic Association, implement Catholic emancipation and adjust the Irish franchise, and attended cabinet meetings on this legislation.25 In debate on the suppression bill, 10 Feb. 1829, he answered Ultra criticism of ministers’ change of heart, and delivered a ‘eulogium on Canning’: for Lord Sandon* it was ‘just what one had been wishing for, and in a servant of the present government it was particularly handsome’; while George Agar Ellis* thought the speech ‘admirable’.26 Doherty voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar. On 13 Mar. he suggested that the number of hostile petitions emanating from the lower orders of Dublin merely strengthened the case for settling the issue; and three days later he presented and set great store by petitions from Irish Catholic and Protestant barristers in favour of emancipation, which he said would be ‘eminently successful in tranquillizing Ireland’. He defended the Irish franchise bill, 19 Mar., when he did ‘well’ according to the Whig Member Lord Howick, 26 Mar.,27 and refused to be drawn by an Ultra’s allegation that Catholic bishops could not legally exist in England, 9 Apr. He saw no need for government to interfere to prevent abuses in the appointment of Irish sub-sheriffs, 14 Apr. He spoke against O’Connell being allowed to take his seat without swearing the oath of supremacy, 18 May. He was a teller for the majority in the division, as he was against adjournment of the debate on the ecclesiastical courts bill, 21 May 1829.

Doherty was reported to be ‘much alarmed’ at ‘the state of things’ in Ireland in late July 1829.28 Soon afterwards John Leslie Foster* laid claim to succeed James McClelland as a puisne baron of exchequer. Peel and Wellington had no objection provided the arrangement could ‘be made without giving just cause of dissatisfaction to Doherty’. Asking Lord Francis Leveson Gower, the Irish secretary, to sound him, Peel observed:

I should be rather surprised if Doherty should wish to be a puisne judge, because the acceptance of it might exclude him from the higher judicial stations to which after some additional service as solicitor or attorney-general he might naturally aspire; elevations from a puisne judgeship to a chief judgeship are not very desirable or popular out of the profession, and there is always the claim of the existing law officers in the way ... I cannot think it would be wise in him at his time of life, and with his fair prospects, to take one now.

Leveson Gower consulted Doherty on his return to Dublin, ‘looking dreadfully ill and exhausted’, from a trial at Roscommon, and found him quite prepared to acquiesce in Foster’s promotion:

I really believe, however, that if the proposal were made to him merely for a matter for his own consideration, the love of a quiet life would prevail; and I have felt that I was fully justified in assuring him that his laying aside his claim to a puisne judgeship now, would strengthen rather than impair its validity on a future occasion, if he chose to put it forward. I should be sorry in the present state of the country to lose the assistance of his very extraordinary talent as a public prosecutor.29

Later in August 1829 Doherty acted for the crown in the prosecution at Clonmel assizes of four Protestant policemen accused of murdering a number of Catholics by opening fire during disturbances at Borrisokane, Tipperary in June. He made it plain from the start that his sympathies lay with the accused, whom he believed to have acted under provocation; and, to the fury of O’Connell and the nationalists, all four were acquitted by the Protestant jury.30 Henry Greville reported that Doherty had conducted the trial ‘with consummate skill’; while Peel, writing to Leveson Gower, commented that

I cannot condole with Doherty on account of the trouble and vexation which he has met with ... I rejoice that he has had the opportunity of manifesting, under very trying circumstances, so much temper, ability and firmness. Whatever be the nominal character in which he appeared, he had a duty to discharge which was paramount to every other, and which he did discharge like an honest man, namely to promote the discovery of the whole truth, and the execution of impartial justice.31

For his own part Doherty, who felt that he had been placed in a ‘false position’, claimed that there had been ‘a deliberate attempt to swear away the lives of innocent men by an artfully concocted story’, and that he had resisted enormous pressure from the policemen’s enemies to

lend myself to achieve a conviction ... by producing the doubtful and suspicious evidence of partisans, and by withholding the testimony of clear, impartial, disinterested and intelligent witnesses who were capable to my knowledge of elucidating the entire transaction.

He deplored ‘the continuance of a savage and bigoted feeling notwithstanding the passage of the relief bill’, and urged Leveson Gower to encourage government to give the Irish police their ‘countenance and protection’ by increasing their numbers. After gauging the state of feeling on arrival in Clonmel, he had taken the precaution of having full shorthand notes of the trial taken, which he thought would come in useful, possibly in the form of a pamphlet, to help him meet the parliamentary inquiry into his conduct threatened by O’Connell and Robert Otway Cave. Soon afterwards, at the civil action of Byng against Callaghan at Cork, when Doherty agreed to settle at the request of Callaghan’s counsel, he was approached by O’Connell, retained on the same side, who, ‘in violation of every feeling which should restrain a lawyer and a gentleman, muttered that my conduct in that case was like my proceeding in Clonmel, a mere humbug’. O’Connell’s view was that Doherty had ‘botched’ and made ‘a special bad hand’ of the Byng case, as was only to be expected as a result of ‘employing great geese’.32 Their mutual antipathy was intensified in late October 1829 by O’Connell’s dramatic intervention in the trials of the Doneraile conspirators at a special commission in Cork. Doherty, prosecuting with what seemed excessive vigour, secured the capital conviction of the first four accused. Leveson Gower was delighted to report that the case had been ‘admirably as usual conducted by Doherty’; but when O’Connell appeared on behalf of the remaining prisoners, his brilliant cross-examination exposed the contradictory nature of the evidence of the prosecution witnesses, while he personally humiliated and ridiculed Doherty and showed up his professional shortcomings. The first batch of men defended by O’Connell were discharged when the jury failed to agree, and subsequent ones were acquitted. Charges were dropped against the remainder, and the sentences on the first four were commuted to transportation. O’Connell, carried away by his triumph, repeatedly and vituperatively denounced Doherty at public meetings, orchestrated a press campaign against him, and threatened to bring impeachment proceedings against him for his conduct of the Borrisokane and Doneraile trials.33

Doherty (who was said by the Whig Thomas Spring Rice* to be ‘much the worse for wear since the special commission at Cork’)34 voted against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform scheme, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. He had a hit at O’Connell when defending the bill to amend the Irish Subletting Act, 16 Feb., dismissing his arguments for repeal and deploring his demagogic activities; Lord Althorp rebuked him for ‘reviving in the House disputes which had occurred elsewhere’.35 Yet he acquiesced in O’Connell’s request for a fortnight’s delay to the committee stage, 5 Mar. On 29 Apr. he challenged O’Connell to bring on his much vaunted motion for repeal of the Union and, on a personal note, demanded to know when he intended to carry out the threat to arraign his professional conduct. When O’Connell blustered and prevaricated Doherty, who, according to John Hobhouse*, had at the start of the session predicted that O’Connell would ‘turn out nothing’ in the Commons, pressed home his advantage.36 He expressed mock surprise that Warburton and his radical cronies should question the efficiency of the rocket corps on account of its smallness, 30 Apr: he ‘belongs to a small body which makes up, by the frequency of its attacks, for its numerical deficiency’. When O’Connell moved for a return of people killed by armed policemen in Ireland, 4 May, Doherty denied his allegation that the standard response to trouble was ‘to put the people to death without scruple’ and taunted him with his failure to substantiate the personal charges against him. He did so again, 10 May, when O’Connell, goaded into action, gave notice of motions on the subject.37 The following night Doherty opposed O’Connell’s motion for production of a copy of the inquest on a person killed by a policeman, who had been acquitted, as ‘contrary both to principle and precedent’: if conceded it would make the House a court of appeal from criminal trials. Anticipating O’Connell’s motion of 12 May for the return of the depositions of prosecution witnesses in the Doneraile trials, he accused him of ‘preparing the bridge by which he intended to escape’: his plan was ‘by two steps, to secure himself a safe retreat, the first of which was to move for documents which could not be granted; and then to say he could not go on, because he did not get them’. Planta, the patronage secretary, assured Peel that on both these occasions O’Connell ‘has sunk immeasurably low, and Doherty has done himself great credit’.38 Doherty extracted his full measure of revenge for his Doneraile humiliation when, on O’Connell’s motion for papers, 12 May, he ‘operated on’ his adversary for two and a half hours, giving him one of the severest verbal lashings, coldly polite but scathingly venomous, ever administered by one Member to another.39 O’Connell deferred his notice of a motion on the Borrisokane affair and, after initial prevarication, 18 May, informed Doherty that he did not intend to proceed with it, 7 June. They had civil exchanges on O’Connell’s renewed call for the production of returns of fatalities in affrays with the police, 19, 20 May, when O’Connell accepted an amendment proposed by Doherty, who professed anxiety for full consideration of the subject, though he remained convinced that ‘such a force, armed as it now is, is absolutely necessary to maintain good order’.

Doherty voted against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and was in the ministerial minorities against the Galway franchise bill, 24, 25 May 1830. On that day he regretfully endorsed the dismissal of his friend Sir Jonah Barrington from the Irish bench, as ‘just and necessary’. He made light of objections to the Scottish and Irish paupers removal bill, 4 June. He divided with his ministerial colleagues for the grant for South American missions and voted against abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. On 24 June, after defending the Subletting Act amendment bill, he attacked O’Connell for his recent letter ‘to the lower orders of Ireland’ calling for a run on the banks in Munster:

He does this not with the hope of procuring a gold currency for Ireland, but with the declared, absurd, and vain notion that he can drive ministers from their object by his declaration of ‘war to the knife’.

He likened O’Connell to a crazed actor who shouted ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre in an attempt to ruin the proprietor because they did not get on. Having just returned from Ireland, he spoke of the

sufferings which are apprehended to impend over the poorer classes ... [and] which no effort, perhaps, can altogether arrest, but which may be grievously aggravated by violence and indiscretion: so easy is it for folly to achieve mischief; so difficult for wisdom to accomplish good.

O’Connell privately admitted that Doherty’s ‘foolish’ tirade had been ‘cheered’, but reckoned that he had given as good as he got in reply, by ‘laughingly’ landing ‘some wicked hits upon his ignorance, dexterity, etc’. The former Tory minister William Vesey Fitzgerald* observed to Peel that ‘Doherty seems to me to be the only man who has the courage to stand up to O’Connell’.40 Doherty defended the Irish arms bill, 3 July; persuaded O’Connell to drop his petition for senior proctors of the Irish prerogative court to be allowed to take apprentices, 6 July; spoke against opposition calls for provision for a regency the same day, and voted for the administration of justice bill, 7 July 1830. At the general election he made no attempt to come in again for Kilkenny, where the hostility to him was now intense, and was accommodated at Newport by the duke of Northumberland, the Irish viceroy.41

When O’Connell renewed his motion for a return of casualties in incidents with the police, 5 Nov. 1830, Doherty cast doubt on whether they could be ascertained, and was promptly accused of callous indifference. He asked Spring Rice not to press government to rush into legislation on the complex problem of abuses in the office of sheriff in Irish towns, 8 Nov. On O’Connell’s presentation of a petition for repeal of the Union the following day, Doherty challenged him to raise the issue directly, but O’Connell would not commit himself. Doherty forcefully opposed O’Connell’s motion for repeal of the Subletting Act, 11 Nov., and was a teller for the hostile majority in the division. Sir Henry Hardinge, the new Irish secretary, suggested to Ellenborough that Doherty might usefully be made chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster if Wellington could be prevailed on to shift Charles Arbuthnot*; but they thought this most unlikely.42 He was included in the government minority on the civil list, 15 Nov., but it was indicated in a letter to The Times of 22 Nov. that he had paired on their side. O’Connell had flattered himself in June that if there was a change of government Doherty would ‘get notice to quit’; but the Grey ministry, who reappointed Anglesey as Irish viceroy, showed no disposition to remove him.43 When O’Connell presented another repeal petition, 19 Nov., Doherty accused him of ‘whispering away character’ by circulating false stories of mass evictions on Lord Fitzwilliam’s Irish estates. O’Connell, who told his wife that his subsequent ‘dressing’ of Doherty was not reported, protested to Anglesey at ‘the most wanton assault made on me ... by the gentleman who is understood to be your solicitor-general for Ireland’. He threatened to refuse all co-operation with the new Irish government, though he subsequently modified his tone in response to a conciliatory letter from Anglesey. By 24 Nov. O’Connell had reason to believe that Doherty was not to be kept on as solicitor; and a week later was even hopeful that he ‘will not get any situation’.44 According to his own later account, Doherty declined Lord Grey’s offer of the Irish attorney-generalship, ‘not wishing to accept political office from that party’.45 On 4 Dec. Anglesey informed Lord Melbourne, the home secretary:

I know that Doherty’s remaining where he is is unpopular; but I had nothing to do with it. I was asked [by Grey], Did I object to him? I said, No. I said I had liked him whilst I was in Ireland, but it is utterly false that it was through my influence that he was kept. It is not, however, meant to keep him where he is. He and Joy [the attorney-general] must both go to the bench; and I am making some arrangements that cannot be objected to. Yet there is no pleasing everybody.46

In the final arrangement, Joy became chief baron of the exchequer and Doherty lord chief justice of the common pleas. His appointment provoked cries of outrage among the Irish nationalists. O’Connell was furious, taking it as a personal insult; but Anglesey, who was running out of patience with him, explained the irony of the situation to Holland, 11 Dec:

Our law arrangements were fully weighed and discussed, and I do believe they cannot be amended, but there is no pleasing everybody and more particularly those who ... [are] determined to be at perpetual war. I am almost ashamed to acknowledge that the very appointment most cried out against was settled with a view of doing a kind act by O’Connell, by removing his master (for so Doherty certainly was in the House of Commons) from under his nose. Yet the ungrateful man turns round and grumbles at it, as of a deep grievance.47

On Anglesey’s official entry to Dublin there were cries of ‘Dirty Doherty’; and at a repeal meeting, 28 Dec. 1830, O’Connell asserted that ‘from pure hatred to me ... has a briefless, talentless barrister been made a chief justice’. Anglesey, who believed that Doherty’s appointment was ‘merely the pretext’ for O’Connell’s ‘hostility’ to the ministry, found ‘the brutal violence’ threatened against him so ‘frightful’ that he was ‘obliged to give him a guard in his house’.48

Doherty, who was suspected of ‘working with the anti-reformers’ at the general election of 1831,49 served as lord chief justice for almost 20 years. ‘As a judge’, in the words of an obituarist, ‘he was painstaking, calm and urbane; but his knowledge of the law as a science is said to have been far from profound’.50 Hobhouse was in his company in Scotland in September 1834, and referred to Doherty, who ‘looks as young as ever’, and his fellow guest Lord Gillies as ‘two of the most agreeable men of their time’: they ‘kept us in a roar of laughter, with very little pause’. Hobhouse also recalled that Doherty now ‘spoke to me of O’Connell with more of respect than I ever heard from any other man’.51 No evidence has been found to substantiate the story that on the formation of his ministry late in 1834 Peel tried to persuade Doherty to leave the bench and return to the Commons; and indeed Doherty applied unsuccessfully at this time to Wellington for a peerage, claiming that he could strengthen the new government’s hand in the Lords on legal and Irish questions.52 He repeated the application when Peel came to power in 1841, observing that estates in Carlow which he had inherited from his nephew Carroll, together with his own Irish property, would enable him comfortably to sustain the dignity. He went on:

There are some (perhaps far too partial friends) who are good enough to say that I should be found not an altogether useless addition to the House of Lords, having had a long and intimate acquaintance with Ireland; possessing opportunities for observation and acquiring information which would entitle me to speak with somewhat of authority on Irish affairs; and a moderation in my political views which might not be unserviceable in restraining the violence of some who do me the honour of saying that they are much influenced by my opinions.

Peel did not encourage him to expect gratification of his wishes.53

Doherty died of ‘a disease of the heart’ in September 1850 at Beaumaris, Anglesey, his customary summer holiday resort.54 An obituary in an Irish nationalist newspaper assessed him, perhaps unfairly, as

a man of ordinary mould. He had slight pretensions to genius - in truth none at all; but he had a strong and cultivated intellect, which was sharpened and improved by practical knowledge of the world; and with this he combined singular tact and address, which spurned the questionable aspect of intrigue; a rich store of humour which passed for wit, but had no claims to that rare quality; and a fluent, sonorous, self-possessed style of elocution, which passed for eloquence, but had as little of the genuine article as his broad humour had of wit.55

By his will, dated 30 Aug. 1850, Doherty directed that his Dublin house at 5 Ely Place be sold or let for the benefit of his wife, who was to receive the annual proceeds of a sum of £9,000 settled on her at their marriage. He had borrowed that amount from Charles William Wall, the surviving trustee of the settlement, on the security of insurance policies on his own life; and to enable Wall to pay the premiums he had transferred to him £2,800 in London and North Western Railway Company stock. This was to be applied for his wife’s benefit, and after her death to be divided equally among his children, along with the £9,000 and the residue of his estate. Doherty bequeathed the Carlow property inherited from Carroll to his eldest son John, subject to a mortgage debt of £15,000, which he wished to remain a charge on it. John also got the livestock and agricultural equipment of his farm at Black Lion, Carlow. He confirmed an annuity of £200 settled by Carroll on his sister Letitia as a valid charge on the Carlow estates, and directed that she be paid the interest on the sum of £700, which he had borrowed from her. From the annual rental of houses in Francis and Thomas Streets, Dublin he devised small annuities to the spinsters Eliza Jones and Margaret Moore, the latter being about 21 years of age.56 This evidence of borrowing gives some credence to the stories that Doherty had lost ‘a large fortune’ through ‘unsuccessful speculations in railways’ and had ‘never fairly rallied from the depression induced by this misfortune’. At the same time, his personal estate was sworn under £60,000 in the province of Canterbury, £7,000 in the province of York, and £14,000 in Ireland; and the former figure was resworn under £70,000 in 1852 and under £80,000 in 1854.57

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


Oxford DNB; F.E. Ball, Judges in Ireland, ii. 346-7.

  • 1. Dublin Univ. Mag. xxix (1847), 741-2. See also Gent. Mag. (1850), ii. 658.
  • 2. His fa. may have been a trustee of the will, 8 Oct. 1773, of Canning’s paternal grandfa. (Reg. Dublin Deeds, ii. 543).
  • 3. Add. 40273, ff. 3, 5, 13; Harewood mss HAR/GC/87, Doherty to Canning, 30 Mar. 1818.
  • 4. Add. 40275, ff. 183, 294; 40276, f. 56.
  • 5. PP (1819), xii. 330; (1822), xiv. 382.
  • 6. Harewood mss 87, Doherty to Canning, 29 Dec. 1821, 18 May, 26 Dec. 1823.
  • 7. Ibid. Doherty to Canning, 28 Feb., reply, 2 Mar. 1824.
  • 8. Ibid. Doherty to Canning, 8 Aug., 7, 21 Oct., replies, 11 Aug., 1 Oct. 1824.
  • 9. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1168, 1170.
  • 10. The Times, 13 May 1825.
  • 11. Harewood mss 87, Doherty to Canning, 27 Jan. 1826.
  • 12. Add. 40334, f. 171; Dublin Evening Post, 1, 20 June; The Times, 27, 30 June; Harewood mss 87, Doherty to Canning, 22 June 1826; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1490.
  • 13. Harewood mss 87, Doherty to Canning, 29 Oct. 1826.
  • 14. Canning’s Ministry, 213, 313, 321; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1389-90.
  • 15. Canning’s Ministry, 319-21, 326, 332; Greville Mems. i. 176, 178.
  • 16. Canning’s Ministry, 341, 342, 351, 355, 356; O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1397; Greville Mems. i. 181.
  • 17. Lansdowne mss, Rice to Lansdowne, 7 Sept. 1827.
  • 18. Kilkenny Moderator, 12, 16 Jan., 16, 20, 23 Feb., 1, 5 Mar. 1828.
  • 19. Add. 40396, ff. 203, 207.
  • 20. Lord Anglesey, One-Leg, 371; Add. 40325, ff. 23, 25, 27, 29; 51567, Anglesey to Holland, 4, 16 May 1828; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/32A/2/47.
  • 21. TNA 30/29/9/5/65.
  • 22. Anglesey mss 31A/75; 32A/2/62; Add. 51558, Anglesey to Lamb [July]; 51567, same to Holland, 1 June 1828.
  • 23. O’Connell Corresp. iii. 1461.
  • 24. Ashley, Palmerston, i. 184; Anglesey, 200.
  • 25. Peel Mems. i. 351; Ellenborough Diary, i. 348, 350, 374, 382, 385; Greville Mems. i. 263.
  • 26. Harrowby mss, Sandon to Harrowby, 12 Feb.; Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 10 Feb. [1829].
  • 27. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 19 Mar. [1829].
  • 28. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 77.
  • 29. Add. 40337, ff. 99, 106, 112, 115.
  • 30. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1601, 1608; Dublin Evening Post, 22, 27 Aug., 1 Sept.; The Times, 25, 27, 28, 31 Aug. 1829; Add. 40337, f. 142.
  • 31. Greville Mems. i.315; Add. 40337, f. 166.
  • 32. Add. 40327, f. 55; 40337, f. 147; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1604.
  • 33. D.O. Madden, Ireland and its Rulers, i. 64-92; O. MacDonagh, Emancipist, 10-12; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1616; Arbuthnot Corresp. 126; Dublin Evening Post, 27, 29, 31 Oct., 3 Nov.; The Times, 28, 31 Oct., 3-6 Nov. 1829.
  • 34. NLS mss 24770, f. 39.
  • 35. Howick jnl. 16 Feb. [1830].
  • 36. Broughton, Recollections, iv. 8.
  • 37. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1674; Howick jnl. [10 May 1831].
  • 38. Add. 40400, f. 170.
  • 39. NAI, Leveson Gower letter bks. Leveson Gower to Singleton, 13 May; Howick jnl. 12 May [1830]; MacDonagh, 35; Madden, i. 96-101; Dublin Univ. Mag. xxix (1847), 744.
  • 40. MacDonagh, 35; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1683, 1684; Add. 40323, f. 153.
  • 41. Dublin Evening Post, 8 July 1830; Add. 40327, ff. 184, 185.
  • 42. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 432.
  • 43. O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1686.
  • 44. Ibid. iv. 1726-8, 1730, 1732, 1736; Anglesey, 377.
  • 45. Add. 40486, f. 243; Dublin Univ. Mag. xxix (1847), 746.
  • 46. Anglesey, 245.
  • 47. Dublin Evening Post, 9, 23 Dec. 1830; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1744; Add. 51568; Anglesey, 245-6.
  • 48. Anglesey, 247; Dublin Evening Post, 30 Dec.; O’Connell Corresp. iv. 1751, 1854; Anglesey mss 28C, pp. 22-24; 29B, pp. 8-11, 49.
  • 49. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 117/8, Rice to Smith Stanley, 29 May 1831.
  • 50. The Times, 12 Sept. 1850; Gent. Mag. (1850), ii. 658.
  • 51. Broughton, v. 16, 17.
  • 52. The Times, 12 Sept. 1850; Wellington Pol. Corresp. ii. 218.
  • 53. Add. 40486, ff. 243, 245.
  • 54. The Times, 12 Sept. 1850.
  • 55. Freeman’s Jnl. 11 Sept. 1850.
  • 56. PROB 11/2127/109.
  • 57. Freeman’s Jnl. 11 Sept. 1850; IR26/1893/78.