07 February 2016

The kidnapped schoolboy
who inspired novels is still
remembered in Bunclody

James Annesley (1715-1760) … the schoolboy from Co Wexford whose story inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’

Patrick Comerford

Two recent visits to Bunclody and Camolin, Co Wexford, brought back memories of a story I first told over 35 years ago. The tale of James Annesley, the kidnapped heir, and his wicked uncle, Richard Annesley, is a story told in many families with roots in Bunclody. I first heard this story when I was a child, and I first wrote about it in a feature on the River Slaney in The Irish Times [27 July 1980].

It is a story of attempted murders, bigamous marriages, a penniless heir who became a street urchin, the kidnap of a former Bunclody schoolboy, slavery in America, suspicious killings, a punch-up at the races, and protracted court cases.

Francis Annesley (1585-1660), MP for Lismore, Co Waterford, was one of the 11 proprietors in a plan for the Plantation of Wexford

This story is more gripping than the novels it inspired, and it begins in the early 17th century, with Francis Annesley (1585-1660), who was once MP for Lismore, Co Waterford. He received large grants of land and was one of the 11 proprietors in a plan for the Plantation of Wexford.

Although the Plantation of Wexford never developed, the Annesley family became wealthy landowners. Francis received the titles of Baron Mountnorris (1629) and Viscount Valentia (1642), and the Annesley estates stretched into every province. In Co Wexford, they included the Manor of Annesley, later Camolin Park, and Castle Annesley, near Kilmuckridge.

Complicated family tree

Arthur Annesley (1614-1686) became Earl of Anglesey in 1661 and one of the richest landowners in Co Wexford

After the restoration of Charles II, Francis Annesley’s estates in Co Wexford passed to his eldest son, Arthur Annesley (1614-1686), who became Earl of Anglesey in 1661. In Dublin, he acquired land between his town house in College Green and the River Liffey, and this was later developed as Anglesea Street. He had a large family of 13 children, and in the generations that followed, his estates and titles passed through a complicated line of descent that is often difficult to unravel.

Anglesea Street is named after the first Earl of Anglesey was once the financial heart of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

His eldest son, James Annesley (1645-1690), was MP for Co Waterford (1666) before inheriting the titles and estates, including Camolin, in 1686. His eldest son, also James Annesley (1674-1702), became the second earl in 1690 and inherited Camolin when he came of age in 1695. In Westminster Abbey in 1699, he married Lady Catherine Darnley, an illegitimate daughter of King James II. But they separated two years later when she accused him of cruelty and trying to murder her.

Camolin Park House, at the heart of the Annesley estates in Co Wexford, was demolished in the last century (Photograph: collection Tommy Redmond/Dan Walsh)

In 1702, Camolin and the titles passed to James’s next brother, John Annesley (1676-1710), 4th Earl of Anglesey. By 1703, he was one of the largest landowners in Co Wexford, with over 24,000 acres in Camolin, Ferns, Bunclody and elsewhere. But John had no sons, and Camolin and the titles passed to his next brother, Arthur Annesley (1677-1737). Arthur had been MP for New Ross in Ireland and for Cambridge University in England at the same time, and later became Governor of Co Wexford (1727).

Castle Annesley, near Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford, is now in ruins (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, the Annesley estates in Bunclody and Carrickduff had passed earlier to his late uncle, Altham Annesley (1650-1699), who became Lord Altham in 1681. Lord Altham’s widow Ursula held onto the Bunclody estates when he died in 1699, and eventually, through a complicated line of succession, his younger brother, the Very Revd Richard Annesley (1655-1701), became third Lord Altham.

But Richard never inherited the Bunclody estates and never sat in the House of Lords. In the Church of England, he was a canon of Westminster Abbey (1679) and Dean of Exeter Cathedral (1681), and when he died in 1701 he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Rake and gambler

Dunmain House, near Gusserane, Co Wexford, where James Annesley was born in 1715

Dean Annesley’s eldest son, Arthur Annesley (1686-1727), became fourth Lord Altham, when he was only 15 and already a rake and a gambler. By the age of 18, he was married and widowed, and in 1707 he married his second wife, Mary Sheffield, an illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Buckingham.

Arthur lived a dissolute life and squandered his inheritance. He moved to Ireland in 1710 because of the lower cost of living and rented Dunmain House, near Gusserane, south-east of New Ross, from Margaret Pigott Colclough. Arthur and Mary separated briefly, but they were reconciled in 1713, and on 15 April 1715 Mary gave birth in Dunmain House to a son and heir, James Annesley. When the child was baptised in the house, Mrs Colclough was one of his godparents.

Two years later, Lord Altham accused Mary of having an affair with a neighbour, Thomas Palliser, and in a scuffle Altham’s servant struck off Palliser’s earlobe. But it was a charade staged by Altham so he could turn Mary out of house and home. She stayed briefly in New Ross before she fled to England, where she lived in extreme poverty until her death in 1729.

Arthur’s debts continued to mount, but he was unable to get his hands on the family estates. Some had passed to a distant cousin, others were tied up in family trusts, and in November 1719 his widowed aunt, Ursula Lady Altham, leased for ever to James Barry 10,000 acres in Co Carlow and in the Barony of Scarawalsh, Co Wexford, for “£4,000 and 20 broad pieces of gold.” The estates formed present-day Bunclody and Carrickduff, and the Maxwell-Barry family named the town Newtownbarry.

James Annesley spent part of his childhood in Bunclody and went to school there (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Murder and kidnapping

The wandering heir … a Victorian illustration of Lord Altham’s heir James Annesley wandering the streets of Bunclody or Dublin

In 1720, Arthur moved to Carrickduff, on the Carlow side of Bunclody, with his new mistress, Sally Gregory, and sent his young son James to a school run by James Dempsey in Bunclody. In 1722, they moved from Carrickduff to Dublin, but Sally took a dislike to James, and the boy was thrown out of the house and left to roam the streets. He briefly attended a school run by Barnaby Dunn in Werburgh Street, but fended for himself, running errands for students at Trinity College Dublin, and found shelter in the home of John Purcell, a butcher, on Arran Quay.

In Dublin, James Annesley briefly attended a school in Werburgh Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Lord Altham died suddenly in Inchicore on 16 November 1727. Sally Gregory and Arthur’s younger brother Richard were both suspected of poisoning him, but there was no autopsy and no investigations, and Arthur was buried in the crypt of Christ Church Cathedral two nights later at public expense.

Arthur Annesley was buried at night in the crypt in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, after his suspicious death (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Young James was now the heir to his father’s titles and debt-encumbered estates. But he also stood in way of his avaricious and ambitious uncle, Richard Annesley (1693-1761), who was once tried as a highwayman and was known as the “greatest rogue in Europe.”

After his father’s death, James Annesley was kidnapped near Essex Bridge in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Richard arranged to have the boy kidnapped near Essex Bridge in Dublin, declared he was dead and assumed the title of Lord Altham. Ten years later, with the death of his childless cousin Arthur in 1737, Richard also assumed the Irish titles of 7th Baron Mountnorris and 7th Viscount Valentia, and the English titles of 6th Baron Annesley and 6th Earl of Anglesey, with seats in both Houses of Lords, and also became Governor of Co Wexford.

But his kidnapped nephew would return to challenge his claims and to question the legitimacy of his marriages.

After his kidnapping, James was sold as an indentured servant in 1728 on his uncle’s orders. After 12 years of virtual slavery in Delaware, he escaped in 1740 and made his way on foot to Philadelphia where he found passage on a merchant ship to Jamaica. There he enlisted as a midshipman on HMS Falmouth under Admiral Edward Vernon.

When he was discharged in 1741, James settled in England. There, while out shooting sparrows near Staines in 1742, he killed a poacher. During his trial, he told the court dramatically: “I claim to be Earl of Anglesey and a peer of this realm.” Last-minute testimony proved the shooting was accidental, and James returned to Ireland to claim his birthright.

In the ensuing court case, Richard Annesley claimed James was not the legitimate son of Mary Sheffield, but the illegitimate son of Joan ‘Juggy’ Landy. James, for his part, said Joan was his wetnurse, and witnesses said Joan’s own child had died at the age of 3 or 4.

The court ruled in favour of James in 1743. Now the family estates and titles were rightfully his, but Richard refused to give up the battle. James narrowly escaped an assassination attempt and then was beaten up by hired thugs at the Curragh Races. His uncle was convicted for these offences in Athy, Co Kildare, in 1744, but continued to call himself Lord Anglesey.

However, poverty prevented James from enforcing the court rulings, and he died in England at the age of 44 in 1760. He had married twice, but his only son, Bankes Annesley (1757-1764), died at the age of 7 before ever claiming his rights.

Bigamy in Camolin

Richard Annesley (1745-1824), former MP for Irishtown and Blessington, was a cousin and near contemporary of the scheming Richard Annesley

Meanwhile, the de facto Lord Anglesey continued to enjoy his estates and his titles until he died at Camolin Park on 14 February 1761. However, legal doubts surrounded the legitimacy of his own children and their rights to succeed to his titles and properties. A serial bigamist, he had married at least four women, including Ann Prust (1715), Ann Simpson (1715), Juliana Donovan (1741 or 1752), the daughter of a Camolin publican or a Wexford merchant – depending on the rumours of the day – and Anne Salkeld (1742).

The cases depended on whether a marriage certificate dated 1741 was made out in 1752 and backdated on purpose. In 1765, the Irish courts ruled that Arthur Annesley (1744-1816), the only son of Richard and Juliana, was legitimate and he inherited Camolin and his father’s Irish titles as 8th Viscount Valentia. But in 1771, the English courts denied his legitimacy. Unable to claim his father’s English peerages, Arthur still became Governor of Co Wexford (1776-1778) and was given the Irish title of Earl of Mountnorris in 1793.

Annesley Bridge in Dublin is named after the other Richard Annesley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

His was a near-contemporary of his namesake and second cousin, Richard Annesley (1745-1824), former MP for Irishtown, Kilkenny, and Blessington, Co Wicklow, who gave his name to Annesley Bridge in Dublin and became 2nd Earl Annesley in 1802.

Lady Lucy’s Wood … a lingering memory of the Annesley family in Bunclody (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Meanwhile, the Annesley connection with Newtownbarry or Bunclody was revived in 1789 when Lady Juliana Lucy Annesley (1772-1833), daughter of Arthur and granddaughter of the wicked uncle Richard, married Colonel John Maxwell-Barry (1767-1838), later 5th Lord Farnham, in 1823. His father, Bishop Henry Maxwell, built Saint Mary’s Church in Bunclody.

Lady Lucy’s Seat in Bunclody was named after her, the Millrace Hotel is built on the site of Lady Lucy’s Wood, and the rooftop restaurant is known as Lady Lucy’s Restaurant.

The story that scandalised polite society in the 18th century inspired Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering (1815) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped (1886). A more recent racy account was published in America by Roger Ekirch, Birthright – The Story that Inspired Kidnapped (2010).

Dunmain House remains a private family home. The Annesley family sold Camolin Park in 1852, the house was demolished in the 20th century, and Camolin Park is now a national forest.

Camolin Park is now a national forest park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canon Patrick Comerford lectures in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This feature was published in the ‘Church Review’ (Dublin and Glendalough) in February 2016.

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