A Compendium of Irish Biography/Wolfe, Arthur, Viscount Kilwarden

A Compendium of Irish Biography  (1878)  by Alfred Webb
Wolfe, Arthur, Viscount Kilwarden

Wolfe, Arthur, Viscount Kilwarden, son of John Wolfe of Forenaghts, County of Kildare, was born in 1793. He was educated at Trinity College, and soon rose to eminence at the Bar. He was appointed Solicitor-General in 1787; Attorney-General in 1789; and became Chief- Justice of the King's Bench in 1798. For his support of the Union he was raised to the peerage in 1800. He was by no means a great lawyer, but was of a noble and humane disposition. He refused to strain the law against those tried before him for taking part in the Insurrection of 1798, and displayed great spirit on the occasion of Wolfe Tone's trial by court-martial. When Emmet's emeute took place, on the evening of the 23rd July 1803, he was at his country residence, four miles from Dublin, Hurrying to town with his daughter and nephew to attend a privy council at the Castle, his carriage was stopped in Thomas-street by a crowd of insurgents, who demanded his name. He said: "It is I, Kilwarden, Chief-Justice of the King's Bench," whereupon a wretch, whose brother he had sentenced to death some years previously, rushed forward, and plunged his pike into his body, crying, "You are the man I want." Lord Kilwarden's nephew was killed immediately, while his daughter found her way to the Castle and entered the Chief-Secretary's office in a state of distraction. The military at once cleared the street, and the Chief-Justice was found dying on the sidewalk. Wine was brought, but he could not drink it. He was carried to the watchhouse in Vicar-street, where he lingered about an hour. Major Swan and the other officers present swore they would erect a gallows whereon to hang all the prisoners next morning, when Lord Kilwarden feebly asked: "What are you going to do. Swan?"—"Hang these rebels, my Lord." Whereupon the Chief-Justice rejoined: "Murder must be punished; but let no man suffer for my death, but on a fair trial, and by the laws of his country." Barrington speaks of him as a "good-hearted man, and a sound lawyer. … In feeling he was quick, in apprehension slow, … He had not an error to counterbalance which some merit did not exhibit itself," [1] [2] [3]

  1. Barrington, Sir Jonah, Personal Sketches of his own Time: Townsend Young, LL.D. 2 vols. London, 1869.
  2. Irishmen, Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished, Rev. James Wills, D.D. 6 vols. or 12 parts. Dublin, 1840–'7.
  3. Unite Irishmen, their Lives and Times: Robert R. Madden, M.D. 4 vols. London, 1858–'60.