Thomas Whaley (1766–1800)

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’.



Filed under Anecdotes, Biography, Ireland

11 responses to “Thomas Whaley (1766–1800)

  1. helpmaboab

    I wonder what became of Sally.

  2. Don’t know, hmb. When I Google her with ‘Prince of Wales’ I have the disconcerting experience of finding material I wrote myself, nabbed from a defunct website.

    More info on Whaley here.

  3. Rainer the cabbie

    Fascinating !!!
    This fellow, a parliamentarian, walked all the way to Jerusalem, and back, in two years, for a wager.
    They don’t make them like that anymore. 🙂

  4. No, they don’t, Rainer. There were some wild and eccentric people in those days!

    I think Whaley was the one who rode his horse out of a second-storey window in a Dublin hotel

  5. helpmaboab

    Rainer, I think Brendan took a little bit of poetic licence with the ‘walked all the way’ thing, as is his privilege. A lot of the walking was done on passenger ships.

  6. Obviously he didn’t walk on water, hmb. I assumed he walked all the way apart from necessary short sea crossings, but I don’t know.

  7. helpmaboab

    Brendano, the ‘necessary short sea crossings’ included Dublin to Deal, Deal to Gibraltar, Gibraltar to Constantinople and Constantinople to Acre (Acco). It is eighty miles from Acco to Jerusalem as the crow flies.

  8. Thank you hmb … hard to see why it took him two years, then.

    A spot of carousing along the way, perhaps.

  9. helpmaboab

    There may be an element of truth in that, Wiki:

    “Whaley embarked from Dublin on 8 October 1788, with a retinue of servants and a “large stock of Madeira wine” to cheers from the large crowd…”


  10. Sipu

    The Earls of Liverpool were called Jenkinson. Given that the PoW was involved, it is possible, I suppose, that Sally was of that ilk. The first Earl was MP for Cockermouth, which is/was up the road from Liverpool in Cumbria though he normally resided in Surrey and Gloucestershire. The Jenkinsons were an interesting family. One of them, Anthony Jenkinson was the first Englishman to make trade forays into Central Asia and Moscow in the middle of the 16th century. He had personal dealings with Ivan the Terrible. He made a great fortune from his endeavours.

  11. Thanks for that, Sipu … interesting.

    No Jenkinsons among the 2,000 18th-century Irish MPs, so the family doesn’t seem to have diversified to Ireland.

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