The eighteenth-century Irish parliament had its share of larger-than-life characters, as I have pointed out before. One of the most colourful was Thomas Whaley (MP for Newcastle, Co. Down 1785–90 and for Enniscorthy 1798–1800).
The son of an MP, Whaley left school at sixteen years of age with an allowance of £900 a year, and went to Paris with a tutor to ‘complete his education’ – in fact he ran up enormous gambling debts, and had to return to Ireland. He became an MP at eighteen years of age (MPs were supposed to be at least twenty-one).
Whaley was known as ‘Buck’ or ‘Jerusalem’ – he gained the latter sobriquet when he wagered that he would walk to Jerusalem and back within two years. He started off in September 1788 – apparently unconcerned about his parliamentary duties – and arrived back in Dublin in July 1790, thus winning £30,000 or so.
Whaley voted against the Union in 1799; he voted in favour in 1800, having received a £4,000 bribe (Cornwallis noted that Whaley was ‘purchased by Lord Castlereagh’). He lived with a Miss Courtney for some years before marrying another woman, and had several illegitimate children.
Whaley died six weeks short of his thirty-fourth birthday, in somewhat mysterious circumstances, while en route from Liverpool to London – apparently he was stabbed at Knutsford by a woman named Sarah or Sally Jenkinson, perhaps because he was ‘paying attention’ to both her and her sister. He was said to have won her in a wager with the Prince of Wales.
A local historian wrote that ‘A strange circumstance took place just before his funeral. The body had been placed in a leaden coffin and brought into the old assembly room, and the workmen had just made up the coffin, when Mr Robinson, an Irishman, who was also a dancing-master of that day, stepping upon the coffin, danced a hornpipe over the body.’
It was recorded at the beginning of the nineteenth century that ‘the estate of the Whaleys, once very considerable, has all been sold’. Whaley’s memoirs, published in 1906, begin: ‘I was born with strong passions, a lively imaginative disposition and a spirit that could brook no restraint’.