HARTY, Robert Way (1779-1832), of Merrion Square East, Dublin and Prospect House, Roebuck, co. Dublin
Available from Cambridge University Press
Family and Educationb. 27 Dec. 1779, 4th s. of Timothy Harty (d. 1799) of Kilkenny and Mary, da. of John Lockington. m. 21 Mar. 1807, Elizabeth, da. of John Davis of Eden Park, 4s. 3da. cr. bt. 15 Sept. 1831. d. 10 Oct. 1832.
Common cllr., Dublin 1804-11, sheriff 1811-12, sheriff’s peer 1812-22, alderman 1822-d., ld. mayor 1830-1.
Harty was the youngest of four brothers, of whom the eldest, William, was a Dublin physician and the other two, John and Joseph, were officers in the 33rd Foot. A hosier, with business premises at 9 Westmoreland Street and 7 Lower Ormond Quay, he built up a considerable private fortune and, having in 1804 been elected to the common council as one of the representatives of the hosiers’ guild, of which he was a freeman, he gradually gained a high position in the corporation of Dublin, on which his brother-in-law Alderman Thomas McKenny, his sister Susannah’s husband, was one of the few prominent Whigs. As sheriff, in 1812 he gave great offence by empanelling an impartial jury to try the Catholics who were being prosecuted by government.1 He moved the resolutions praising the late Member Henry Grattan at a meeting of Dublin electors, 13 June, and in the corporation he seconded the unsuccessful amendment in favour of adopting his son and namesake, rather than Thomas Ellis*, as the prospective candidate, 19 June 1820; he voted for Henry Grattan* junior in the by-election that month.2 He was expected to have made himself unpopular by speaking against the motion for the corporation to petition against the Catholic peers bill, 22 May 1822, but, after this question had been postponed, he surprisingly beat the anti-Catholic Sir Nicholas Brady by one vote (53-52) in the aldermanic election that day.3 Nothing came of a rumour in June 1827 that, like other disgruntled aldermen, he might resign in protest at the corporation’s failure to elect its sheriffs that year.4 On 22 Jan. 1830 he was in the minority of eight aldermen for the admission of the respectable Catholic merchant Ignatius Callaghan to the freedom.5
Harty’s nomination as lord mayor elect was confirmed by 79-19 in the common council, 23 Apr. 1830.6 He complained about the general neglect of Ireland at the Dublin meeting to petition against the increased Irish stamp and spirit duties in May, and in July he led the delegation which unsuccessfully called on the former county Londonderry Member George Robert Dawson* to stand for the borough as a pro-Catholic, commercial and government candidate.7 He was listed among the aldermen who opposed the return of the recorder Frederick Shaw* for the city at the general election that summer, when he was reported to have voted for Nicholas Leader* in the Kilkenny contest.8 He was sworn in as lord mayor, 30 Sept., when his civic dinner, in the presence of the duke of Northumberland, the lord lieutenant, was notable for the attendance of radicals such as Richard Sheil* and the fact that the usual Orange toast to the ‘glorious memory’ was omitted.9 He presented the corporation’s loyal address to the new king, in person, 27 Oct., but the custom of conferring a baronetcy was not adhered to on this occasion.10 Refusing to comply with the O’Connellite requisition for a meeting to petition for repeal of the Union, 3 Dec. 1830, he told the deputation that delivered it that
though, in common with my fellow citizens, I was decidedly opposed to the enactment of the legislative Union, I cannot now, after a lapse of nearly 30 years, recognize in its repeal a measure of such practical and unmixed good as could compensate for the unequivocal mischief that must ensue from reviving and maintaining a continued state of agitation in the public mind, after its most recent and salutary subsidence.11
His neighbour, Mrs. O’Connell, reported to her husband two days later that his
speech was most impertinent and he deserves to be well humbled. How glad I am I did not visit the lady mayoress. I waited to know how he would act after his return from London. His head has been turned by the compliments there paid to him and he forgets that he was once one of the people and glad to have their support.12
In February 1831 and subsequent months, he convened meetings to organize the provision of relief for the poor of Dublin and the West of Ireland.13 He supported parliamentary reform at the meeting of inhabitants which he chaired, 15 Mar. 1831, but was unable to prevent the corporation petitioning against the Grey ministry’s reform bill the following month.14
After what he described as ‘a restless night - no sleep till day break’, Harty yielded to the request of his friends and offered for Dublin as a reformer, with Louis Perrin*, against the sitting Members George Moore and Frederick Shaw, the corporation’s candidates, at the general election of 1831.15 Although he was attacked in the Tory press as ‘vulgar, illiterate and wholly uneducated’, with no credibility in commercial circles, he was described by the lord lieutenant Lord Anglesey, who pleaded with the prime minister to secure him a baronetcy ‘in case it should be necessary to engage him to withdraw in order to secure Perrin’s return’, as ‘most respectable in every way’.16 Having advocated reform as a cure for the stranglehold of the boroughmongers and denied that any parliamentary vote he might give for the reform bill would conflict with his corporation oath to uphold the rights of the freemen, he was elected in first place, narrowly ahead of Perrin, after a severe contest, and he again advocated reform at their election dinner, 31 May 1831.17 The high level of his expenses, which one observer put at over £7,000, apparently caused him to differ with his colleague and the Irish government.18 The following month the Irish secretary Smith Stanley wrote to Anglesey about Harty’s request for a baronetcy, stating that ‘he seems in an awkward position, as he is universally called Sir Robert and he keeps saying that his patent is not yet made out. If there be no intention of making him, he will be furious’. Anglesey replied that Harty was ‘an energetic and independent character [who] has stood up against very pernicious corporation abuses and has stood manfully forward at a very critical moment’, but denied either having promised a baronetcy or £5,000 towards payment of his election expenses. Under further pressure from Smith Stanley, who related that Harty had received groundless assurances of its bestowal from members of the lord lieutenant’s entourage, Anglesey made the case for awarding a baronetcy to Lord Grey, who was not unsympathetic.19
Harty raised the issue of Irish distress, which he said was caused by high taxation and landlord absenteeism, on the address, 22 June 1831, when he doubted whether charitable action and the possible introduction of poor laws, although welcome in themselves, would be sufficient to provide relief; with his strong accent and Irish colloquialisms, this maiden speech and later ones were cruelly ridiculed in the Dublin Evening Mail.20 He defended the agricultural interest on the subject of West Indian sugar duties, 30 June, 20 July, and supported the Dublin wine merchants’ petition against higher duties, 12 July. He urged that Irish revenues should be retained for expenditure there, 5 July, but welcomed the grant for paying salaries to the commissioners of public works in Ireland, 22 July, when he was active in the committee on the Dublin and Kingstown railway bill.21 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least twice against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July, for using the 1831 census to determine the disfranchisement schedules, 19 July, and generally for its details. Said to be almost unregarded in the Commons, he made a last minute appeal to the Dublin election committee to allow him to call more witnesses, but was unseated by it, 8 Aug., and so disqualified from offering again at the ensuing by-election.22 Before leaving London that month, he pestered Smith Stanley about receiving at least £4,000 in expenses, a disagreement which had still not been resolved when he wrote again to Smith Stanley in October 1831, and his outstanding baronetcy, which, because he had been found guilty of bribery, Grey was now unwilling to sanction.23
Harty, whose locum Alderman Richard Smyth had had to suppress censure motions against him in the corporation, 22 July 1831, was much criticized for his ‘sham baronetcy’ on his return to Ireland the following month, but finally received it, under cover of the coronation honours, in September.24 On 16 Sept. he chaired the grand Dublin meeting to petition the Lords in favour of the reform bill, the last major act of his mayoralty, which ended on the 30th.25 With only one dissentient, the common council voted to disfranchise him for absenting himself from his official duties without permission, but this was overruled in the court of aldermen, 14 Oct. On a separate charge, that he had voted in the Commons against compensation to the leading corporator Sir Abraham Bradley King for the loss of his patent as king’s stationer in Ireland (on 11 July), he explained in a public letter to the sheriffs, 21 Oct., that he had brought pressure to bear in King’s favour on several Members during the debate, at the end of which he had intended to speak, but had instead been accidentally locked in for the division. However, King resentfully insisted, in a printed reply, 3 Nov., that Harty had promised him his vote and had betrayed him as a friend. Thereafter he was almost ostracized by the mostly Tory corporation; for instance, the grand jury decided to dispense with its usual dinner that term out of personal hostility against him.26 He attended reform meetings in Dublin in May and June and was involved in the Liberal registration campaign there in August 1832, when he was rumoured to be canvassing himself, although not as a repealer.27 Harty was reported by Sheil to be
a good-humoured, rosy-faced, blue-eyed person, with a prompt and ready smile, accompanied, however, with a consciousness of that dignity which £50,000 and a baronetcy, the reward for his honourable services as lord mayor, are calculated to impart.28
He died of cholera in October 1832, when he was remembered for his ‘great ingenuousness of manners and natural uprightness of mind’.29 He was succeeded in his title consecutively by his eldest son, Robert (1815-1902), and his youngest, Henry Lockington (1826-1913).
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. Burke PB (1930), ii. 1192; R.L. Sheil, Sketches of Irish Bar (1854), ii. 361.
- 2. Dublin Evening Post, 15, 22 June 1820; Report of Procs. at Election for Dublin (1820), 78.
- 3. Dublin Evening Post, 23 May 1822; Cal. Ancient Recs. Dublin, xvii. 456.
- 4. Dublin Evening Post, 12 June 1827.
- 5. Ibid. 23 Jan. 1830.
- 6. Warder, 24 Apr. 1830; Cal. Ancient Recs. Dublin, xviii. 411-12.
- 7. Dublin Evening Post, 15, 18 May, 27, 29 July 1830.
- 8. Morning Reg. 4, 12 Aug. 1830.
- 9. Dublin Evening Post, 30 Sept., 2, 5 Oct.; The Times, 4 Oct. 1830.
- 10. Cal. Ancient Recs. Dublin, xviii. 485-91.