Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hely-Hutchinson, John (1724-1794)
HELY-HUTCHINSON, JOHN (1724–1794), lawyer and statesman, son of Francis Hely of Gortroe, co. Cork, and Prudence, daughter of Matthias Earbery, was born in 1724, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated B.A. in 1744. In 1748 he was called to the Irish bar, and on 8 June 1751 he married Christiana, daughter of Abraham Nixon of Money, co. Wicklow, niece and heiress of Richard Hutchinson, esq., of Knocklofty, co. Tipperary, whose name he thereupon adopted. In 1759 he entered parliament as member for the borough of Lanesborough; but after the dissolution on the death of George II he disposed of his seat, and from 1761 to 1790 sat as member for the city of Cork. According to Dr. Duigenan he began his political career as ‘a violent and obstreperous patriot;’ but after ‘patriotising for a session or two’ he was taken into the service of the administration, created a privy councillor, and rewarded with the post of prime serjeant-at-law. He proved a valuable acquisition to government, and for his conduct in the matter of the Pensions Inquiry Bill, the Embargo Bill, and the Army Augmentation Bill he obtained the sinecure place of alnager with a salary of 1,000l. a year, together with a reversionary grant of the principal secretaryship of state, to which he succeeded in 1777, and a commission, which he subsequently sold for 3,000l., of major in a cavalry regiment. His unblushing venality and subservience to government aroused the indignation of the ‘patriots,’ and especially of Flood, who declared that he had received more for ruining one kingdom than Admiral Hawke had received for saving three (see the Letters of Philadelphus in Baratariana, where Hely-Hutchinson figures as Sergeant Rufinus). On the death of Dr. Francis Andrews in June 1774 he was appointed provost of Trinity College. The appointment, for which he was academically unqualified, and which was the result of an unworthy intrigue with the secretary of state, Sir John Blaquiere, outraged university sentiment. The ‘Freeman's Journal’ teemed with letters criticising the appointment and unmercifully lampooning the new provost, the ‘Potosi of erudition’ as he was ironically styled. The most notable of these letters, which appear chiefly to have emanated from the pen of Dr. Duigenan, were afterwards published separately under the name of ‘Pranceriana,’ a title derived from what was regarded as a ludicrous attempt on the part of the provost, alias Jack Prancer, to establish a dancing and fencing school in the college in imitation of the university of Oxford. One of the first acts of the new provost was an attempt to convert the representation of the university into a pocket borough for the benefit of his own family. The attempt failed, but it caused much unpleasantness, and resulted in a disgraceful duel between Hely-Hutchinson and a Mr. Doyle, who had offered himself as a candidate in opposition to the provost's eldest son Richard, the future Lord Donoughmore. Meeting his most rancorous enemy, Duigenan, who professed to have been personally injured by Hely-Hutchinson's appointment as provost, one day in the precincts of the Four Courts, Duigenan is said to have threatened to ‘bulge his eye,’ and when Hely-Hutchinson, disdaining to have anything to do with Duigenan, called upon Philip Tisdall, the attorney-general, to answer for his follower's insolence, Tisdall immediately applied for an information in the king's bench against Hely-Hutchinson, which would certainly have been granted had not Tisdall died in the meantime. Tisdall's death rendered vacant one of the seats for the university, and by a considerable stretch of his authority as returning officer Hely-Hutchinson managed to secure the election of his son, who was, however, unseated on an election petition. A similar charge of misusing his powers as returning officer was preferred against him on the election of his son Francis in 1790. The case was heard before a select committee of the Irish House of Commons, and Hely-Hutchinson was acquitted by a majority of one (Report of the Proceedings in the Case of the Borough of Trinity College, Dublin, as heard before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, Ireland, 1791). In 1777, while the former petition was still pending, Duigenan seized the opportunity to publish his ‘Lachrymæ Academicæ,’ an elaborate and envenomed indictment of Hely-Hutchinson in his capacity as provost of the college. The book was censured by the board, and when Duigenan treated the censure with contempt, proceedings were instituted against him for libel. But after lasting fifteen days Judge Robinson finally dismissed the case, declaring he ‘left the school to its own correctors.’
There was considerable truth in Duigenan's allegations; but it is certain that Hely-Hutchinson was a very efficient provost, and that it was to his exertions chiefly that the college owed its modern languages professorships. He could hardly claim to be a scholar, but he was an able and intelligent man, and the ‘Commercial Restraints,’ if not altogether faultless in style, is a work of considerable merit and historical value. In its original form the ‘Commercial Restraints of Ireland’ consisted of a series of letters addressed to the lord-lieutenant, Lord Buckinghamshire, on the commercial distress of Ireland, reviewing the chief causes of it and suggesting means for its alleviation. It was published anonymously in 1779, and its doctrines being regarded as seditious it was ordered to be burnt by the common hangman. On the other hand it was received with unstinted praise by the advocates of free trade, and did much to remove from the public mind the recollection of Hely-Hutchinson's political subserviency. During the free trade debates in parliament he consistently upheld the same doctrines, though not unwilling, it was suspected (Beresford Correspondence, i. 65), to alter his views on condition of certain ‘additional advantages for his family.’ He supported the claim of independence, and warmly advocated an extension of political liberty to the Roman catholics. On the question of the commercial propositions (1785) he supported the government, and being censured by his constituents he defended his conduct in ‘A Letter from the Secretary of State to the Mayor of Cork.’ On the question of the regency, however, he supported the opposition, and one of the last votes he gave was in favour of parliamentary reform. In 1790 he was elected for the borough of Taghmon, co. Wexford, and continued to represent it till his death. He died at Buxton, whither he had gone for the sake of his health, on 4 Sept. 1794.
Hely-Hutchinson was a man of considerable practical ability, and possessed many public and private virtues, numbering among his intimate friends some of the most eminent men of his time, notably Edmund Burke, Lord Perry, and William Gerard Hamilton; but his political career was throughout vitiated by an intense and inordinate desire to aggrandise his family. In the House of Commons he was much esteemed as a ready debater and a master of polished sarcasm. He was an admirer of the drama, and in his youth had lived on terms of intimacy with Quin, who did much to improve his elocution. He accepted a peerage for his wife in 1785, who was accordingly created Baroness Donoughmore. By her he had issue six sons, namely, Richard, first earl of Donoughmore [q. v.]; John, lord Hutchinson, and second earl of Donoughmore [q. v.]; Francis, M.P. for Dublin University; Augustus Abraham; Christopher [q. v.], M.P. for the city of Cork; Lorenzo, and four daughters.
[Burke's Peerage; Commercial Restraints of Ireland, ed. W. G. Carroll, 1838; Lecky's England in the Eighteenth Century; Froude's English in Ireland; Irish Parliamentary Register; Grattan's Life and Times; Duigenan's Lachrymæ Academicæ; Beresford Correspondence; Baratariana; Pranceriana; Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. Hely-Hutchinson's correspondence is in the possession of the Countess Donoughmore. It extends from 1761 to shortly before his death, and includes many letters of interest and importance to the historian, among them being several from Edmund Burke. See Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. p. 35.]