Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pope-Hennessy, John

1194838Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46 — Pope-Hennessy, John1896Charles Alexander Harris

POPE-HENNESSY, Sir JOHN (1834–1891), colonial governor, the son of John Hennessy of Ballyhennessy, co. Kerry, and of Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Casey of Cork, was born in Cork in 1834 and educated at Queen's College, whence he went to the Inner Temple. He entered parliament in 1859, two years prior to his call to the bar, as member for King's County. In his election address he expressed confidence in Mr. Disraeli's foreign policy, but maintained an independent attitude on Irish questions. He was the first Roman catholic conservative who sat in parliament.

In parliament Pope-Hennessy proved zealous and hard-working, and made some reputation. In regard to Ireland he obtained the amendment of the poor law (1861–2), urged the amendment of the land laws and the reclamation of bogs as a means of staying the emigration of the Irish population (1862), and opposed the government system of education on the ground that it was ‘anti-national.’ The select committee which recommended the system of open competition for admission to the public service was largely due to his exertions; for promoting the passage through parliament of the Prison Ministers Act (1863), he was publicly thanked by the Roman catholics of England; and for amendments in the Mines Regulation Acts by the miners of Great Britain.

On 21 Nov. 1867 Pope-Hennessy was appointed governor of Labuan. The post was of small value, and his administration was hardly successful. On 2 Oct. 1871 he returned to England. From 27 Feb. 1872 to 16 Feb. 1873 he acted as governor of the Gold Coast, in which capacity he took over from the Dutch the sovereignty of Fort Elmina, receiving from the Dutch governor, in the presence of the native chiefs, the ancient gold and ivory baton of De Ruyter (Colonial Office List, 1881). He made an impression on the native races, who still keep ‘Pope-Hennessy's day’ once a year. On 27 May 1873 he was made governor of the Bahamas, came home on leave on 22 June 1874, and never returned.

In 1875 he received the more important government of the Windward Islands, the seat of which at that time was Barbados. In January 1876 he laid before the legislature his first proposals for an amended administration, tending in the direction of ‘federation’ of the Windward Islands. The Barbadians, always fearful of any tampering with their ancient constitution, formed the Barbados Defence Association, and the planters were soon avowedly hostile to Pope-Hennessy. He was accused of employing secret emissaries to influence the negro labourers against the planters; riots were common, special constables were sworn in, and the military were called out. On 17 May a motion was passed to address the queen for his recall. Despite this opposition, he proceeded steadily with projects of reform. He further exasperated the planters by condemning the financial administration of the assembly and the severe treatment of native labourers. He strove to promote emigration of the negroes to other West India islands; he put an end to flogging as a punishment, and introduced tickets of leave. Prison reform was a favourite subject with him, but he dealt with it somewhat recklessly, releasing on one occasion as many as thirty-nine prisoners in one day. The provision of medical aid to the poor and extension of educational facilities also occupied his attention. His popularity with the negroes was exceptional; but in November 1876 the home government removed him to Hongkong.

He visited the United Kingdom in 1877 on his way to the east, and was presented with the freedom of Cork (3 March). He arrived at Hongkong on 23 April 1877. There his policy resembled that which he had adopted in Barbados, and his general administration soon raised feelings of ‘the profoundest dissatisfaction.’ He quarrelled with the commander-in-chief, embroiled himself with the governor of Macao, and was censured by the colonial office, while no private persons of any standing would go to government house. On 7 March 1882 he relinquished the government.

Pope-Hennessy's holidays from Hongkong had been spent in Japan, and for most of 1882 he remained resting in England. In September he acted as chairman of the repression of crime section at the Social Science Congress at Nottingham, and read a paper on crime which was based on his experience as a colonial governor. On 26 Dec. he was gazetted to the government of the Mauritius.

Arriving in the Mauritius on 1 June 1883, Pope-Hennessy, with characteristic vigour, espoused the cause of the French creoles, who seemed to him an oppressed nationality. The hitherto dominant English party bitterly resented his attitude. In 1884 an elective element was, owing to his efforts, introduced into the constitution. The governor was hailed as a benefactor by the creole population, who raised the cry of ‘Mauritius for the Mauritians.’ Charles Dalton Clifford Lloyd [q. v.] arrived in February 1886 as colonial secretary and lieutenant-governor, and his leanings towards the English party embittered the situation. In May the governor and lieutenant-governor were openly quarrelling, and four unofficial members of council prayed for the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into Pope-Hennessy's administration; at the same time an address of confidence in the governor was sent to Downing Street by his friends. In September 1886 a royal commission was issued to Sir Hercules Robinson, governor of Cape Colony, directing him to proceed to Mauritius and hold an inquiry into the governor's administration. Sir Hercules arrived early in November 1886, and on 16 Dec. suspended Pope-Hennessy from office. On 1 Jan. 1887 the secretary of state (Lord Knutsford) telegraphed to the latter to come to England and explain his action. On 12 July 1887, after a long inquiry, Lord Knutsford decided that sufficient cause had not been shown for the removal of Pope-Hennessy, though he had been guilty of ‘want of temper and judgment,’ of ‘vexatious and unjustifiable interference’ with the magistrates, and undue partisanship. Accordingly Pope-Hennessy returned to the colony and served out his time, retiring on pension on 16 Dec. 1889.

On his return home, Pope-Hennessy brought a successful action against the ‘Times’ for libel in connection with his administration at Mauritius. During 1890 he bought Rostellan Castle, the home of Sir Walter Raleigh, near Cork, and turned his attention once more to Irish politics. In a letter to Lord Beauchamp of 12 Jan. 1891, resigning the membership of the Carlton Club, he wrote: ‘Though a conservative in principle, I am still in favour of the policy of the Irish party.’ After the split occurred between Parnell and the bulk of the home rule party [see Parnell, Charles Stewart], Pope-Hennessy contested North Kilkenny as an anti-Parnellite home ruler in December 1890, and, despite Parnell's personal efforts against him, carried the seat by a majority of 1171 votes after a violent contest. Pope-Hennessy's health suffered greatly from his electoral exertions, and he died at Rostellan on 7 Oct. 1891, within a few hours of Parnell himself. He married Catherine, daughter of Sir Hugh Low, resident at Perak.

Pope-Hennessy was ‘an able and typical Irishman, quick of wit and repartee,’ of humane and sympathetic but impulsive temperament. His failure as a colonial governor was due to his want of tact and judgment, and his faculty of ‘irritating where he might conciliate.’ Unhappily, too, his mind worked tortuously, and he never acquired the habit of making definite and accurate statements. Pope-Hennessy published in 1883 ‘Raleigh in Ireland;’ he wrote articles at different times in magazines, and contributed papers to the ‘Transactions’ of the British Association, of the mathematical section of which he was for a time secretary.

[Times, 8 Oct. 1891; Official Records; various colonial newspapers; private information.]

C. A. H.