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Tandy, James Napper (DNB00)


TANDY, JAMES NAPPER (1740–1803), United Irishman, born at Dublin in 1740, was the son of a respectable merchant in that city. The name of Napper he owed probably either to his mother or to the connection that had for many years subsisted between his father's family and that of Napper of county Meath. Both families had long been settled in Ireland, and from an inquisition post mortem taken at Clonee in September 1695 it appears that their properties in that county adjoined each other. The Nappers of Loughcrew were probably the more influential, and from 1695 to about 1750 represented the boroughs of Trim and Athboy in parliament. Afterwards the name seems to have disappeared from the list of landed gentry in the county, though surviving in that of Napper-Dutton and Napper-Tandy, the former having come into possession of Loughcrew.

Tandy, after receiving a fair commercial education, began life as a small tradesman in Dublin ironmonger, it is supposed but he very soon interested himself in politics. 'His mind turned more towards the expansion of the rights of the people than the extension of his own commercial concern.' Subsequently he disposed of his business and established himself as a land agent and collector of rents. He was an enthusiastic admirer of Dr. Charles Lucas [q. v.], and, having been elected a representative of the guild of merchants on the common council, he acquired considerable notoriety by his assaults on municipal corruption. His name figured regularly in the list submitted to the mayor and aldermen from which the sheriffs of the city were annually selected, and was as regularly passed over by them. But in the city itself he was extremely popular, and his influence more than once turned the scale in favour of the popular candidate both at municipal and parliamentary elections. As a speaker on these occasions he was forcible, fluent, and pointed, but his language was coarse and often incorrect. On the outbreak of the American war in 1775 he declared himself warmly on the side of the colonies, and four years later, when, in consequence of the severe restrictions placed on Irish commerce, the industrial enterprise of the country was paralysed to such an extent that Dublin swarmed with beggars and bankrupt merchants, he came forward with a proposal pledging Irishmen not to purchase or use goods of English manufacture till the obnoxious restrictions were withdrawn. He threw himself heart and soul into the volunteer movement, being one of the first to join the regiment of which the Duke of Leinster was elected commander. But subsequently becoming dissatisfied with what he regarded as the duke's political lukewarmness, he withdrew from the regiment, and was shortly afterwards appointed to the command of a small volunteer corps of artillery. When the critical day, 27 May 1782, arrived on which parliament met to receive the decision of the ministry touching its claim to legislative independence, the duty of guarding the approaches to the house was assigned to Tandy and his corps of artillery. He played an equally conspicuous part on 10 Nov. 1783 when the volunteer convention, with the bishop of Derry as the most prominent figure, proceeded through the streets of Dublin to the Rotunda for the purpose of discussing, and it was hoped of settling, the question of parliamentary reform.

That day saw Tandy at the height of his fame. With the decline of the volunteer movement his influence began to wane. Being charged in parliament by the attorney-general, John Fitzgibbon (afterwards Earl of Clare) [q. v.], with having fomented the riots that took place in Dublin at the beginning of the Duke of Rutland's administration in 1784, Tandy denied the allegation in a public advertisement couched in the most offensive language. Fitzgibbon, who regarded him with undisguised contempt, took no notice of his abuse, and merely kept out of his way when Tandy, in order to fasten a quarrel on him, paraded the lobby of the house with a sword significantly displayed at his side. In the autumn of 1785 Tandy headed an agitation against the amended commercial propositions, and at his instigation the corporation, to Rutland's in ignation, passed a set of resolutions condemning them. He was admitted a member of the Whig Club, and at the general election in 1790 contributed very largely by his exertions to the return of the popular candidates, Lord Henry Fitzgerald and Grattan for the city, and Sir Edward Newenham and John Finlay for the county of Dublin. His enthusiasm for the principles of the French revolution was unbounded, and as leader of the advanced protestant party in the city his co-operation was of great assistance to Theobald Wolfe Tone [q. v.] and Thomas Russell (1767–1803) [q. v.] in founding a branch of the United Irish Society in Dublin towards the close of 1791. He was elected first secretary of the society, and was indefatigable in his efforts to promote a reform of parliament by cultivating a better understanding between the catholics and protestants. His activity in this direction did not escape notice, and on 20 Feb. 1792, during a debate on the catholic petition, the attorney-general, John Toler (afterwards Earl Norbury) [q. v.], remarked with congenial vulgarity, ‘We are not this day to be taught by political quacks, who tell us that radical reformations are necessary in parliament. I have seen papers signed Tobias m'Kena, with Simon Butler in the chair and Napper Tandy lending his countenance. It was rather odd they could not contrive to set a better face on the matter; but, sir, to use the language of an honourable member behind me on a recent occasion, “such fellows are too despicable for notice,” and therefore I shall not drag them from their obscurity.’ This pointed allusion to his personal ugliness so enraged Tandy that he sent forthwith to Toler for an explanation. No explanation being given, it is said that a meeting was arranged and that Tandy failed to keep the appointment; but the accuracy of the statement is open to question. The following night the Hon. James Cuffe (afterwards Lord Tyrawley) brought the subject before the house, and, in consequence of his complaint, the house voted Tandy to have been guilty of a breach of privilege in challenging the attorney-general, and ordered the sergeant-at-arms to take him into custody. Accordingly, on 22 Feb., he was arrested at his own house in Bride Street on the speaker's warrant; but he managed to elude the vigilance of his captor, and a proclamation offering a reward for his apprehension was published by the lord-lieutenant, the Earl of Westmorland, at the suit of the House of Commons, in the ‘Dublin Gazette.’ On 18 April, being the last day of the session, Tandy surrendered and was brought before the bar of the house. At the instigation of Richard Sheridan, M.P. for Charlemont borough, he refused to answer any question put to him, and was in consequence committed for contempt to Newgate; but, parliament being prorogued an hour or two afterwards, he was immediately set at liberty.

The right of the commons to shelter Toler was, however, sharply criticised, and Tandy, having in the meantime been acquitted by a volunteer court-martial of any unsoldierlike or dishonourable behaviour in the matter, pursued his advantage by instituting proceedings against the Earl of Westmorland for publishing the proclamation for his apprehension. The grounds of the action were, first, that no subject could be taken into custody on a charge of a breach of privilege without having been first brought before the bar of the house; and, secondly, that no such functionary as a viceroy, legally appointed, existed in Ireland, the Earl of Westmorland, like his predecessors, owing his appointment to letters patent under the great seal of England, which was not recognised in the Irish courts of law. The case was argued before Chief-justice Scott in the court of common pleas on 21 June, and resulted in a verdict for the lord-lieutenant. The prosecution, conducted by Butler, Emmet, and MacNally, no doubt touched a weak point in the constitution; but the verdict was the only one which in common-sense could be given. Tandy of course found many sympathisers. At a United banquet at Belfast on 19 April ‘Napper Tandy and the Rights of the Subject’ was drunk with enthusiasm, and his expenses defrayed out of the funds of the society. The rejection of the catholic petition stimulated agitation, and during the summer and autumn great preparations were made for holding a catholic convention in Dublin. The occasion seemed to Tandy a favourable one for reviving the volunteer movement on a wider basis, and, with the assistance of Archibald Hamilton Rowan [q. v.], he actually raised in Dublin two battalions of ‘a national guard,’ each a thousand strong, with green uniforms, harp buttons, and in the place of the crown a cap of liberty. Government, however, taught by experience, issued a proclamation against unauthorised bodies assembling in arms, and before the eventful day arrived Tandy, Rowan, and a printer named Carey found themselves standing alone on the parade-ground. An attempt to bring about a coalition between the Defenders and the United Irishmen proved even less successful. For an action having been begun against him for publishing a pamphlet called ‘Common Sense,’ containing some very severe reflections on the Beresford family, and the trial fixed for the Dundalk assizes on 16 Feb. 1793, Tandy was on his way thither when information reached him that his secret had leaked out and that a charge was to be preferred against him of having taken the Defender oath at Castle Bellingham in county Louth. The danger was too great to be faced, and so, forfeiting his securities, he fled the country.

‘After a long concealment and many adventures’ he reached Philadelphia towards the end of 1795, just in fact on the eve of Tone's departure for France. Fixing his residence at Wilmington on the Delaware, where he could enjoy the society of Mrs. Tone and Hamilton Rowan, he stayed there till the success of Tone's mission and the likelihood there seemed of the French making a fresh attempt on Ireland drew him to Paris in February 1798. Accustomed always to hold a foremost place in the confidence of his countrymen, his vanity was wounded by finding himself less regarded than Tone, and that notwithstanding the fact that shortly after his arrival he had given himself out as an old officer and a man of great property in Ireland, to whose standard thirty thousand United Irishmen would fly the moment it was displayed. Such trash as this raised Tone's wrath and led to a quarrel between them; but it served Tandy's purpose, as he was at the time in dire distress for his next meal. The directory, being willing to make an experiment that would cost them little, gave him the title of general, appointed him commander of the Anacreon, a swift-sailing corvette, and assigned him a small party of soldiers to form the nucleus of an Irish army, together with a liberal supply of small arms and ammunition. The Anacreon sailed from Dunkirk on 4 Sept., and twelve days later Tandy landed on the little island of Rutland off the coast of Donegal. On going ashore his first business, after taking formal possession of the place and hoisting an Irish flag, was to publish a ridiculous proclamation calling on the Irish to avenge their slaughtered countrymen, and ‘strike from the blood-cemented thrones the murderers of their friends.’ But the peasantry he had come to rescue had fled at his approach, and, learning from letters seized in the post-office that the expedition under Humbert had been defeated, Tandy was, after being on shore about eight hours, carried back to his ship in a disgusting state of intoxication. Bearing northwards to avoid the English cruisers, the Anacreon fell in with two small merchantmen which struck to her, one of them, however, not without a sharp fight, during which Tandy sat on deck with a pint bottle of brandy, directing operations.

Reaching Bergen in safety, he determined to make his way back overland to Paris. The snow was falling and it was bitterly cold when he arrived at Hamburg on the evening of 22 Nov. and took up his abode at the sign of the American Arms. His movements had been accurately reported to the English government, and in consequence of instructions from Lord Grenville, the British resident, Sir James Crawford, at once applied to the chief magistrate, Klefeker, for a warrant to arrest him and his three companions, Blackwall, Corbet, and Morres. The demand placed the senate in an awkward dilemma, and it was only after long and anxious deliberation that they consented to grant it. Accordingly, shortly after four o'clock the following morning, 24 Nov., Crawford with a posse of police invested the American Arms. Early though it was, Tandy, who had passed a jovial evening with his friends preparatory to his intended departure that day, was found busy writing. On being asked for his passport he presented a pistol at the head of the officer, who closed with him and wrested it from his grasp. He and his three companions were clapped in irons and confined in separate guardhouses. But the event had no sooner transpired than the French minister, Marragon, demanded his release and that of Blackwall as French citizens. The demand was opposed by Crawford, and the senate, dreading to offend either England or France, decided to preserve its neutrality by keeping them in prison, but unironed. More than one unsuccessful effort was made to rescue Tandy; but after the fall of the directory in 1799 the senate yielded to pressure from England, and on 29 Sept. the four prisoners were transferred at midnight on board an English man-of-war. A vast concourse of people awaited their arrival as they proceeded from Sittingbourne to Rochester, and thence over Blackfriars Bridge to Newgate. Being removed to Dublin, Tandy was on 12 Feb. 1800 brought before the court of king's bench on a charge of having incurred the penalty of high treason by failing to surrender at the time appointed by the act of amnesty. As he was at the time in the custody of the government, and therefore physically unable to surrender, the charge fell to the ground, and he was acquitted with the concurrence of Lord Kilwarden. He was, however, immediately rearrested and sent to Lifford to stand his trial for the part he had played in the invasion of Rutland Island. Pleading guilty on 7 April, he was convicted and sentenced to be executed on 4 May following. It is probable that the sentence would have been carried out but for the energetic intervention of the first consul of the French republic. The fact was that his surrender by the senate of Hamburg had created a widespread sensation, and Lord Grenville was himself not satisfied that international law had not to a certain extent been violated. It at any rate suited Bonaparte's purpose to have no doubts on the subject. Hamburg had to pay a fine of four and a half million francs, and when her magistrates protested that no other choice had been left them by England, he silenced them by saying ‘Eh bien! N'aviez-vous pas la ressource des états faibles? N'étiez-vous pas les maîtres de les laisser échapper?’ Still it is by no means certain that Bonaparte was justified in demanding the extradition of Tandy and Blackwall. Harder, who has investigated the subject, decides strongly against him; and in regard to Napoleon's treatment of Hamburg says, ‘So musste Hamburg, welches seine Neutralität strenge gewahrt hatte, dem frevelhaften Uebermuthe des französischen Revolutionshäuptlings sich beugen’ (p. 72). Government, however, was fully alive to the difficulties that were likely to arise in the event of Tandy being executed. On 15 Feb., before the trial had taken place, Cornwallis suggested that, considering his age and incapacity to do further mischief, ‘the mode by which he came into our hands,’ and his long subsequent confinement, banishment might be sufficient punishment for him. The suggestion was approved by the home government. After his conviction Tandy was removed to Wicklow gaol, and there he remained when Cornwallis quitted Ireland in May 1801. His successor, Lord Hardwicke, proposed to transport him to Botany Bay; and, when a threat on the part of Tandy's son to make public the facts of the case prevented this, repeated attempts were made to save the credit of government by persuading him to consent to banishment either to America or Portugal. It is doubtful how the matter would have ended had not Bonaparte brought pressure to bear on Addington, refusing even, it is with some probability said, to sign the treaty of Amiens unless his demand for Tandy's liberation was complied with. Eventually Tandy was unconditionally set at liberty. The circumstances of his release were not generally known, and Lord Pelham, during a debate in the House of Lords on the malt tax, insinuated that it was in return for valuable information given by him to government. This statement Tandy promptly stigmatised in the public press as a lie. On landing at Bordeaux on 14 March 1802 he received a public ovation; a banquet was given in his honour, and he was raised to the rank of a general of division. Later on there was some talk of his taking part in the projected expedition to Louisiana, the real object of which was supposed to be Ireland. But, contracting a dysentery, he died, after a short but painful illness, on 24 Aug. 1803. His funeral was attended by the whole army in the district and an immense concourse of citizens.

Very different are the estimates that have been formed of his character. ‘Homer,’ says Froude, ‘had drawn Napper's portrait three thousand years before in Thersites’—‘a coward in action, a noisy fool in council.’ This is unjust. To Mr. Lecky it seems that ‘perhaps the most remarkable fact in his career is the wide and serious influence it for a short time exercised in the affairs of Europe.’ But even more remarkable is the posthumous fame he has acquired as the hero of that most plaintive and popular ballad, ‘The Wearing of the Green:’

I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand,
And he said ‘How's poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?’
'Tis the most distressful country, for it's plainly to be seen
They are hanging men and women for the wearing of the green.

Perhaps the fairest estimate is, after all, that of Sir Jonah Barrington, who knew him personally. ‘His person,’ he says, ‘was ungracious, and his language neither graceful nor impressive; but he was sincere and persevering, and, though in many instances erroneous and violent, he was considered to be honest. His private character furnished no ground to doubt the integrity of his public one; and, like many of those persons who occasionally spring up in revolutionary periods, he acquired celebrity without being able to account for it, and possessed an influence without rank and capacity’ (Historic Memoirs). An engraved portrait of him from an original by Petrie is in Madden's ‘United Irishmen,’ 2nd ser. ii. 20.

[Madden's United Irishmen, 3rd ser. i. 63–73; Biographical Anecdotes of the Founders of the late Irish Rebellion, by a Candid Observer, London, 1799; m'Dougall's Characters, pp. 278–81; Charlemont MSS. ii. 132, 305; Rutland MSS. iii. 132, 249, 250, 331; Grattan's Life of Grattan, i. 464, iv. 64; Parliamentary Register, xii. 202, 231–5; Proceedings in certain Actions wherein James Napper Tandy, Esq., was Plaintiff … Reported to the Society of United Irishmen of the City of Dublin, 7 Dec. 1792; Musgrave's Memoirs of the different Rebellions, p. 121; MacNeven's Pieces of Irish History; Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 391, iii. 142, 143, 189, 338, 355; Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 306, 373, 400, 405, 407, ii. 6, 77; Annual Register, xl. (Chron.) 101–2; Harder's Die Auslieferung der vier politischen Flüchtlinge … im Jahre 1799, Leipzig, 1857; Fitzpatrick's Secret Service under Pitt, 2nd edit.; Wolfe Tone's Autobiography, ed. O'Brien; Corbet's Conduct of the Senate at Hamburg revealed, Paris, 1807; Howell's State Trials, xxvii. 1194–1243; Tandy's (Jas.) Appeal to the Public … in which several characters are involved, Dublin, 1807; Watty Cox's Irish Magazine, 1809, p. 52; Abbot's Diary, i. 445; Froude's English in Ireland; Lecky's Hist. of England in the Eighteenth Century; Wills's Irish Nation, iii. 340–2.]

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