Tuesday, 8 August 2017

How the Wallis family
fell from grace and
lost Drishane Castle

Drishane Castle … home of the Wallis family until the early 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Drishane Castle, near Millstreet, Co Cork, at the weekend, in search of my grandmother’s grave and stories about the Crowley and Murphy family, I also came across the story of Henry Aubrey Beaumont Wallis, the last Wallis to live at Drishane Castle.

Henry Aubrey Beaumont Wallis was born on in July 1861, the third child but only surviving son of Captain John Richard Smyth Wallis (1828-1868). His mother Octavia (Willoughby) was the illegitimate daughter of Sir Digby Willoughby, 7th Baronet, of Middleton.

When Aubrey was only a boy of seven, Captain John Wallis died on 27 October 1868. Within three years, the widowed Octavia Wallis had remarried: on 4 April 1872, she married Sir George Howland Beaumont, 9th Baronet, of Cole Orton Hall, Leicestershire, in Saint Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge.

As Lady Beaumont, she continued to take an interest in the Drishane Estate on behalf of her son while he was a minor. In the 1870s, the Drishane Castle estate totalled 5,000 acres, and in 1876 Lady Beaumont was involved in architectural improvements and extensions to the house, building new entrance gates and erecting a grand new porch at the castle, with the Wallis arms carved above.

The Wallis arms above the decorative porch built at Drishane Castle by Lady Beaumont (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In 1882, when Aubrey Wallis came to full age, he inherited Drishane in his own name. The estate was placed in Chancery on an application of insurance companies, but the family remained at Drishane and continued to invest in the estate. Slater noted in 1894 that Drishane Castle was still the seat of Major Wallis, although he misspells his surname as Wallace.

However, Henry Aubrey Beaumont Wallis was the last member of the Wallis family to live at Drishane Castle.

Shortly after Aubrey inherited Drishane Castle, he married Elizabeth Caroline Bingham at Kiderpore in Calcutta on 1 March 1883. She was a daughter of the Hon Albert Yelverton Bingham, and a granddaughter of Lord Clanmorris. Aubrey and Elizabeth lived together in India, New Zealand, London, West Africa, and at Drishane Castle, as well as other places, and were the parents of a son and a daughter:

1, Henry Digby Wallis (1885-1914).
2, Audrey Beatrice Jean (1888-1961), who married Francis Ivan Oscar Brickmann, and then married Captain Robert Law.

In 1892, the Wallises returned from the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in West Africa, where he had been a District Commissioner, and they lived at Albert Gate Mansions, London. But Elizabeth soon returned to India, without her husband or her children, claiming her visit to India was for the benefit of her health.
On her return to London, she claimed, she could not ascertain where her husband was living. Later, however, the couple lived together again for some time, in Drishane Castle, in London, and possibly in Molesworth Street, Dublin.

Until then, the Wallis family owned all of Millstreet and the surrounding country property from the Bridge to Drishane. The second portion of Millstreet, from the bridge west to Coomlegane, was the property of the McCarthy O’Leary.

Shop fronts in Millstreet ... in 1900, a rumour spread around Millstreet that the Wallis Estate was to be sold (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

But in the summer of 1900, a rumour spread around Millstreet that the Wallis Estate was to be sold in the Land Judge’s Court. About three-quarters of the town was built on the Wallis estate, a public meeting was called, and a committee was formed to represent the public interest. The committee was chaired by Father Charles O’Sullivan, later Bishop of Kerry.

The committee wanted each holding in the town be sold separately so that householders could buy their own houses, and if the property was to be sold by auction, they wanted the auction to take place in Millstreet. A long, drawn-out court battle began before Mr Justice Rose.

Meanwhile, Lady Beaumont died in London on 19 June 1901 in London, she was buried in Cole Orton, Leicestershire. Her will was probated at £12,196, the equivalent of about £4 million today. By then she seems to have lost all interest in her son’s estate at Drishane, and there was no possibility that anything he inherited from her would save Drishane Castle and estate for the Wallis family.

Finally, the auction was fixed for July 1901. William Marsh and Sons, Cork, were the auctioneers and the auction was held in the old Court House in Millstreet. The occupiers were the only bidders and their bids totalling £12,200 were submitted to Judge Rose. The landlords were represented by Casey and Clay, solicitors, and the tenants by TM Healy, KC; Tim Healy (1855-1931) was then MP for North Louth and later became the first Governor-General of the Irish Free State.

However, on the application of Casey and Clay, the judge refused to approve the bids of the local people and fixed a date for a sale in his own Court in Dublin. The tenants renewed their bids, but there was a surprise bid of £12,800 from Elizabeth Wallis, the wife of the owner of Drishane Castle. Her counsel naively explained that she had no money but was hoping to source funds from a London financier named Lane. Judge Rose gave her until 1 January 1902 to lodge the money.

When the case came before the judge again, Elizabeth Wallis still had no money. DD Sheehan, who now represented the tenants, persuaded the judge to make a definitive order that if Mrs Wallis did not lodge the money before 1 March 1902 he would reject her offer.

When the court sat again in March, Elizabeth Wallis still had no money. Judge Rose then made an order accepting the tenants as purchasers if they increased their offer to the amount bid by Mrs Wallis. The parish clerk, John M Murphy, had the new bids signed by the tenants, the documents were lodged in court and were accepted. Millstreet Rural District Council assisted the purchases through the Small Dwellings Act, advancing loans to the tenants, and became the first local council in Ireland to do so.

Inside Drishane Castle last weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Separately, Drishane Castle was sold before Mr Justice Rose in the Court of Chancery on 4 June 1902 to Patrick Stack of Fermoy, Co Cork. Aubrey Wallis then became the legal tenant of Drishane Castle and Aubrey and Elizabeth continued to live there.

But soon after the sale, the private lives of the last Wallises at Drishane Castle became the topics of public gossip and salacious newspaper reports when Elizabeth sought a divorce from her husband in 1906. This divorce was legislated for by Act of Parliament and seems to have been one of only two divorces that were allowed in Ireland until divorce was legalised in 1996.

At a hearing in the House of Lords, witnesses were called in support of the Irish Divorce Bill promoted in the name of Mrs Elizabeth Caroline Wallis, of 19 Molesworth Street, Dublin, who sought to dissolve her marriage with Henry Aubrey Beaumont Wallis, of Drishane Castle, Co Cork.

Elizabeth alleged that in 1903, at Drishane Castle, Wallis treated her cruelly, refusing to allow her any money or the use of his horses and carriages, and that on 18 May 1903 he flung her to the ground, wrenching her wrist and bending back her fingers.

In March 1904, Elizabeth left Drishane and never saw her husband again. Later, she claimed, she discovered that between 1896 and 1901 he was having an affair at a flat in Titchfield Street, London, with a woman named Edith Scott.

Elizabeth Wallis gave brief evidence at the hearings in the House of Lords, but there was no appearance on behalf of Aubrey Wallis at the hearing. The Clauses of the Divorce Bill provided that the marriage should be declared void, and that the petitioner could marry again, that her property rights were protected, and that it was not lawful for Aubrey Wallis to marry Edith Scott.

Within four months of the divorce, Elizabeth Wallis was married again, which may indicate that she was not have entirely faithful in the marriage. Aubrey also married again within a year later, in February 1907, this time to Julia Mary Catharine Curteis, the widow of Captain Edward Witherden Curteis (1853-1902), who had played cricket for Kent and the MCC. She was an only daughter and a wealthy heiress, and later inherited Mottram Hall in Cheshire through her mother in 1916.

Aubrey’s hasty second marriage after the divorce also raises questions about the real name of the woman in the affair, and whether Julia was the real Edith Scott?

By the early 20th century, Aubrey Wallis was living in Roskrow-Penryn, Cornwall. When his second wife inherited Mottram Hall, he changed his surname from Wallis to Wallis-Wright. In 1923, he changed his name back again from Wallis-Wright to Wallis, and he died in 1926.

His only son, Henry Digby Wallis, was born in New Zealand and went to school at Wellington in Berkshire. As a child might have expected to grow up to inherit Drishane Castle. He was 28 and a lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards when was killed in action on 21 October 1914, at St Julien in Belgium. A memorial plaque in Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church, Youghal, Co Cork, says: ‘He died as he lived, a very gallant gentleman.’

If Aubrey Wallis’s first marriage was unhappy and became a public scandal, then his daughter Audrey Beatrice Jean (1888-1961) also had an unhappy first marriage. Audrey was born on 23 January 1888, and she was still only 20 she married Francis Ivan Oscar Brickmann, an officer in the Indian Army, on 5 January 1909. She was divorced in 1921, and within weeks she married Captain Robert Law, MC, of Rosnaree, Slane, Co Meath, on 4 June 1921.

It is said that an ancestor of the Law family had fought with King William at the Battle of the Boyne. The Law family was a long-established clerical family in the Church of Ireland, and the Revd William Samuel Law (died 1760), was the first of four successive generations of distinguished clergy: the Revd Robert Law (1730-1789), the Revd Francis Law (1768-1807), who married Bellinda Isabella Comerford from Cork, and the Revd Patrick Comerford Law (1797-1869) of Killaloe, Co Clare.

Robert William Law, a first cousin of the Revd Patrick Comerford Law, was the father of Michael Law (1795-1858), of Castle Fish, Co Kildare. He founded the Law & Finlay Bank, and was also a Director of the Bank of Ireland. He married Sarah-Ann, daughter of Crofton Vandeleur Fitzgerald of Carrigoran, Co Clare, and they had four sons who were successful in their chosen careers.

However, poor health forced Michael Law to close his bank and on his doctor’s orders he left Ireland to live on the continent, where he died while his sons were still children or in their teens: Robert Law (1836-1884) later lived in Newpark, Co Kildare; Michael Law (1840-1905) became a judge in British administered Egypt; Sir Edward Fitzgerald Law (1847-1908) became a colourful adventurer who later became effectively the Finance Minister of Greece; and Sir Archibald Fitzgerald Law (1853-1921) was a colonial judge in Malaya.

The eldest son, Robert Law (1836-1884) of Newpark, Co Kildare, was the father of Michael Augustine Fitzgerald Law (1861-1917), of Bearmond, Drogheda, who is buried in the old churchyard in Duleek with other members of the family, including his wife Mary and their son, Major Francis Cecil Law, who died in 1958.

Captain Robert Law (1890-1973), of Rosnaree, Slane, Co Meath, was a son of Michael Augustine Fitzgerald Law, of Bearmond, Drogheda, Co Meath. Robert was brought up in Drogheda and educated at Haileybury. He was an officer with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers during World War I, and was decorated with the Military Cross.

After World War I, it is said, he shot 12 bull elephants in West Africa but was charged by the thirteenth which left him badly mauled. When he emerged from the jungle with a hoard of ivory, he claimed he had survived on a diet of bananas only.

Shortly after, he eloped with the former Audrey Beatrice Wallis of Drishane Castle, Millstreet. She divorced her first husband, he sold Bearmond, and they moved to Rossnaree, near Slane and Newgrange, Co Meath.

Audrey Law died on 28 October 1961. Her son, Major Michael Law (1923-1975), was the father of Robert Law (1955-2004), who married Aisling Stuart, daughter of Imogen Stuart and great-grand-daughter of Maude Gonne. The Law family continues to live at Rosnaree, which has featured on RTÉ television as a country house wedding venue and is known for its summer art schools.

The complex marital affairs of Aubrey and Audrey, father and daughter, may be long forgotten in Millstreet, but the Wallis family is still remembered in Millstreet in the name of the Wallis Arms Hotel in the centre of the town opposite my grandmother’s former home, pub and shop.

A tree-lined avenue on the former Wallis estate at Drishane Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

(Updated: 13 August 2017)

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