Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Trench, William Steuart
TRENCH, WILLIAM STEUART (1808–1872), Irish land agent and author, was born on 16 Sept. 1808 at Bellegrove, near Portarlington. He was the fourth son of Thomas Trench, dean of Kildare (brother of Frederic Trench, first lord Ashtown, and of Richard Trench, the husband of Melesina Trench [q. v.]). His mother was Mary, eldest daughter of Walter Weldon of Rahenderry. William received his education at the royal school, Armagh, and at Trinity College, Dublin. Embracing the calling of a land agent, he passed some years in learning the duties of that profession, obtaining in 1841 the gold medal of the Royal Agricultural Society for an essay on ‘Reclamation.’ After holding some subordinate positions he was appointed agent to the Shirley estate in county Monaghan in April 1843. This post he resigned in April 1845 for reasons which are stated in his ‘Realities of Irish Life.’ In December 1849 Trench was appointed agent to the extensive estates of the Marquis of Lansdowne in Kerry, and, in addition to these, he took charge of the property of the Marquis of Bath in Monaghan in 1851, and that of Lord Digby in the King's County in 1856. These appointments he held down to his death.
Trench's experience of the management of Irish land ranged from the period immediately prior to the famine to that of Mr. Gladstone's first Land Act, and in 1868 the interest which was then aroused in the social condition of Ireland led him to give to the public the record of his experiences in a book entitled ‘Realities of Irish Life.’ His activity of mind, shrewdness of observation, and thorough knowledge of the Irish peasantry, joined to very considerable powers of vivid and picturesque description, admirably qualified the writer for a work of this kind. The book was an immediate success, and passed through five editions in a twelvemonth. The ‘Edinburgh Review’ wrote of it: ‘We know of no book which conveys so forcible and impressive a description of the Irish peasantry,’ and that ‘the scenes are depicted with the popular force, humour, and pathos of Dickens in his best and earliest works.’ In 1871 Trench published ‘Ierne: a Tale,’ in which he endeavoured to treat the same topics in the form of a story, and in particular to describe the faith of the Irish peasantry in their indefeasible ownership of the land; but the book did not achieve the success of its predecessor. In the preface to ‘Ierne’ Trench mentions that he had written in 1870 a sketch of the history of Ireland from the earliest times to the act of settlement, with a view of ‘tracing the secret springs from which disaffection flows,’ but that the work was suppressed after a large portion had been printed. In 1871 and 1872 a series of tales by Trench, entitled ‘Sketches of Life and Character in Ireland,’ appeared in ‘Evening Hours,’ a monthly periodical. In power and interest they were in no way inferior to ‘Realities of Irish Life.’ They were somewhat abruptly discontinued, owing probably to the author's failing health, and were not separately published.
Trench died at Carrickmacross, the seat of Lord Bath, on 10 Aug. 1872. He married, in April 1832, Elizabeth Susannah, daughter of J. Sealy Townsend, master in chancery in Ireland, by whom he left a son, John Townsend Trench.[Burke's Peerage, under ‘Ashtown;’ Edinburgh Review, vols. cxxix. and cxxxiii.; Fraser's Mag. vol. lxxix.]