Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Connor, Arthur

O'CONNOR, ARTHUR (1763–1852), Irish rebel, was born on 4 July 1763 at Mitchelstown, co. Cork, of a well-to-do protestant family. His father, Roger Connor, was a large landed proprietor. His mother was Anne, daughter of Robert Longfield, M.P. (1688–1765), and sister of Richard Longfield, created Viscount Longueville in 1800. Roger O'Connor [q. v.] was his brother. Arthur, after attending schools near Lismore and at Castlelyons, entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1779, as a fellow-commoner, under the name of Connor, and graduated B.A. in 1782. In Michaelmas term 1788 he was called to the Irish bar, but never attempted to practise. In 1791 his uncle, Richard Longfield, afterwards Lord Longueville, whose heir he was, procured him a seat in the Irish parliament as member for Philipstown. The French revolution had turned O'Connor into a republican. In parliament he manifested very liberal sentiments, and strongly supported the catholics. He declared that his views were well known to his uncle, and were not resented by him. After an eloquent speech in the house on 4 May 1795, in which he strongly supported the catholic claims, he resigned his seat. It is improbably said that Pitt was so impressed by O'Connor's oration that he offered him an important government post (Madden, United Irishmen, ii. 233).

In 1796 O'Connor joined the ‘United Irishmen,’ but took no oath, and, with Lord Edward Fitzgerald, formed the first ‘Leinster Directory.’ In February 1797 he was arrested on a charge of seditious libel, and was imprisoned for six months in Dublin Castle. On his release he became chief editor of the newly started ‘Press,’ the organ of the United Irishmen, and he was appointed one of the executive of the United Irishmen, but resigned in 1798. Going to England, he was arrested at Margate with the Rev. James O'Coigly, John Binns [q. v.], and others. In May he was brought to trial at Maidstone for high treason, and many notable leaders of the English opposition, including Fox, Sheridan, Erskine, Moira, and the Duke of Norfolk, appeared as witnesses in his favour. He was acquitted, but was at once rearrested on another charge. An abortive attempt was made to rescue him, and the Earl of Thanet and an abettor were imprisoned for the exploit. His well-known connection with the ‘Press’ rendered him very obnoxious to the English government, and it was established that he had negotiated with Hoche on the French frontier. He was consequently kept in prison with other state prisoners. He consented during 1799 to give the government information of the nature and extent of the Irish conspiracy, without implicating persons; and he gave important evidence in his examination before the House of Lords. O'Connor and his fellow-prisoners, however, strongly protested against the published report of this examination, and denied its accuracy. They were therefore not released, but were despatched to Fort George in Scotland in April 1799. On his way thither he distributed among his fellow-prisoners a curious poem, which has been often reprinted. It bears two senses, and may be read by taking the lines alternately either as a loyal or disloyal effusion. In June 1803 he was liberated and sent to France.

O'Connor on his arrival in France had interviews with Bonaparte, and was treated as an accredited agent of the Irish revolutionists during Emmet's rebellion. Though Napoleon disliked O'Connor's blunt manner and straightforwardness, he appointed him on 29 Feb. 1804 a general of division, chiefly, it appears, because O'Connor had lost his property in Ireland. He was never employed in active service, and ‘was the only superior officer in France who had not been decorated with the cross of the Legion of Honour’ (Reminiscences of an Emigrant Milesian, by Andrew O'Reilly, i. 219). He married in 1807 Éliza de Condorcet, the only daughter of the philosopher, and in 1808 bought some property at Bignon which had belonged to Mirabeau. For the rest of his life he took little part in public affairs beyond editing a paper of advanced religious opinions—‘Journal de la Liberté Religieuse’—and publishing a few books. He became a naturalised Frenchman in 1818, and died at Bignon on 25 April 1852.

O'Connor, unlike the Emmets and Lord Edward Fitzgerald, was little of an enthusiast. He was ill-tempered, cynical, and harshly critical of others. He frequently quarrelled with his associates, and on one occasion was challenged by Thomas Addis Emmet [q. v.], whose memory he slandered in his work on ‘Monopoly.’ He disliked McNevin and William Lawless, who reciprocated his enmity; and in his later years was furiously opposed to O'Connell and the priests. His early sympathies with the catholics were inspired by his political views. Though of a very suspicious and churlish disposition, his ability was notable, as his writings and speeches testify.

His published works are: 1. ‘The Measures of a Ministry to prevent a Revolution are the certain Means of bringing it on,’ by ‘A Stoic,’ Cork, 1794. 2. ‘Speech on the Catholic Question, May 4th,’ 8vo, 1795. 3. ‘Letter to the Earl of Carlisle,’ 8vo, 1795. 4. ‘Address to the Free Electors of the County of Antrim,’ 8vo, 1796. 5. Another address to the same, 8vo, 1797. 6. ‘State of Ireland,’ 8vo, 1798. 7. ‘Letter to Lord Castlereagh from Prison,’ 8vo, 1798. 8. ‘Letter to Lord Camden,’ 8vo, 1798. 9. ‘État actuel de la Grande Bretagne,’ 8vo, 1804 (an English version appearing also). 10. ‘Letter to General Lafayette,’ 8vo, 1831. 11. ‘Monopoly the Cause of all Evil,’ 8vo, 1848; translated as ‘Le Monopole cause de tous les Maux,’ 3 vols. 8vo, 1849–50. With Arago, he edited ‘The Works of Condorcet,’ 12 vols. 1847–9.

[Biographie Générale, xxxviii. 451–4; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography, pp. 383–4; Madden's United Irishmen, 2nd ser. ii. 289–324; Byrne's Memoirs, iii. 11–12; Biographical Anecdotes of the Founders of the late Irish Rebellion, by a Candid Observer, 1799, pp. 38–43; Lecky's Hist. of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, vols. iii. iv.; Public Characters of all Nations, 1823, iii. 41–42; Ann. Reg. 1795; Moore's Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald; Biogr. Dict. of Living Authors, 1816; Fitzpatrick's Secret Service under Pitt; Brit. Mus. Cat.; authorities cited in text.]

D. J. O'D.