14 October 2017
The Revd Sir William Augustus
Wolseley (1865-1950), an
exceptional curate in
Kilnaughtin and Aughavallin
Tarbert Historical and Heritage Society,
7.30 p.m., 14 October 2017,
The Bridewell, Tarbert, Co Kerry
Introduction and context
I am sure I am like many of my colleagues who come to a new parish and wonder who our predecessors are. Since early this year [20 January 2017], I have been the priest-in-charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes, and soon after was made Canon Precentor of the three cathedrals in these dioceses.
In some ways I feel blessed that I know or have known so many of my predecessors. But, because of the amalgamation of parishes over the years, and the closure of many churches in North Kerry and West Limerick, I am never going to truly find out who all my predecessors were.
I imagine many of them prayerful and faithful priests and men of prayer. But some of them were mere careerists and pluralists, some were mad or bad … or both. It is interesting to learn about my predecessors in these parishes, and one of the most eccentric of them was a former curate in Kilnaughtin and Glin, the Revd Sir William Augustus Wolseley (1865-1950).
My delight at finding him here over a century ago is partly due to a long-term interest in the history of the Wolseley family. Wolseley is in mid-Staffordshire, between Stafford and Rugeley, north of Lichfield. The coats-of-arms of the Comberford and Wolseley families are inverted reflections of each other, and the families were related by marriage in the 16th century.
Wolseley and Comberford are about 20 miles apart, and one of my earliest contracts as a freelance journalist was to interview Sir Charles Wolseley of Wolseley for the Lichfield Mercury and the Rugeley Mercury in the early 1970s.
We have been in touch again in recent years, and then during a family wedding at the end of last year, I spent a weekend at Mount Wolseley, the ancestral home of Sir William and some other intriguing and eccentric Wolseley baronets.
I think this evening you are going to enjoy some of my stories of these eccentric Wolseleys, including Sir William’s immediate predecessor, Sir Dick Wolseley (1872-1933), the tenth baronet, who was his first cousin once removed and who worked as an elevator operator or ‘lift boy,’ and Sir William’s immediate successor, Sir Garnet Wolseley (1915-1991), the twelfth baronet, who was his second cousin once removed and who was a cobbler, born into poverty on Merseyside.
The Wolseley family in Ireland
The first of the Wolseley family to come to Ireland was William Wolseley from Wolseley in mid-Staffordshire. He fought alongside King William III at the Battle of the Boyne.
William Wolseley died unmarried. His nephew Captain Richard Wolseley (died 1724), was a younger son in the Wolseley family, and bought the 2,500-acre estate of Mount Arran from Charles Butler, Earl of Arran, renaming it Mount Wolseley, which is on the outskirts of Tullow, Co Carlow. He was the father of both Sir William Wolseley, who inherited as the fifth baronet of Wolseley, Staffordshire, and his younger brother, Sir Richard Wolseley, MP for Carlow (1696-1769), inherited Mount Wolseley and became an Irish baronet.
So, Sir Richard Wolseley was the ancestor of the Revd Sir William Wolseley of Tarbert. The Irish baronets were heirs to the English family title, while the present English line, represented by Sir Charles Wolseley (born 1944), the 11th baronet, is descended from the Irish branch of the family, and the Irish branch of the family is in the line of succession to the English title.
The family tree is often very difficult to trace, names are often inherited making it difficult to tell cousins apart, and the Irish title regularly passes to distant cousins time and again, complicating the line of succession.
Probably the most famous of all the Wolseley family members was Frederick York Wolseley, who in 1895 started producing one of Britain’s most famous car marques – the Wolseley. The name dominated the British motor industry for eight decades until 1975, when the last car with the Wolseley name was produced.
His brother, Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley, was one of Britain’s most important military leaders. He was born in Goldenbridge, near Inchicore, Dublin, and in retirement lived in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. He is commemorated in a very decorative monument in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
William Augustus Wolseley’s career
The Revd William Augustus Wolseley was the curate in Kilnaughtin with Aughavallin for almost two decades, from 1888 until he moved to Australia in 1906. While Wolseley was the curate here, Dean Robert Beatty (1833-1921) was the Rector of Kilnaughtin (1878-1921), and from 1891 appears to have lived in Glin.
Dean Beatty was related to Admiral Beatty of World War I fame. He was the Rector of Kilnaughtin with Aughavallin from 1878 and Kilfergus (Glin) was joined to his parish in 1891. A senior priest in the diocese, Beatty was successively Canon Treasurer (1903-1905), Canon Chancellor (1905-1911) and Dean of Ardfert (1911-1917). He lived at Carnaville, Glin, with his sisters Rebecca and Louisa, and never married. When he died on 7 February 1921 at the age of 88, he was buried in the churchyard at Saint Paul’s Church, Glin, where his headstone says he was ‘40 years Rector of Kilnaughtin Parish.’
So, we know a lot about Dean Beatty. But neither the standard reference books nor the popular accounts of the unusual circumstances of William Wolseley’s life give much attention to the almost two decades he spent in these Church of Ireland parishes in Tarbert and Ballylongford.
William was born on 19 April 1865, the only son of Charles Wolseley (1809-1889) and a grandson of the Revd William Wolseley, Rector of Dunaghy (1831-1846), Co Antrim, in the Diocese of Connor. He was descended through an obscure branch of the family from the first baronet, Sir Richard Wolseley, and Charles Wolseley could never have expected that his only son was going to become the heir to this family title.
This was a strongly clerical branch of the Wolseley family, and the young William had two uncles who were priests, including the Ven Cadwallader Wolseley, who was Archdeacon of Glendalough, a canon of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and Rector of Saint Andrew’s, Dublin.
So the young William was probably thinking of ordination from an early age, without any thoughts of a title or celebrity.
William Augustus Wolseley was educated in Rathmines at a then-famous school run by the Revd Dr Charles William Benson and at Trinity College Dublin, where he graduated BA in 1887. He was awarded the Wall Biblical Scholarship in 1888, and earned a first class Theological Exhibition in 1889 that entitled him to the Divinity Testimonium, then the basic qualification from TCD for ordination in the Church of Ireland.
Within a year, he was ordained deacon in 1888 by the Archbishop of Dublin, Lord Plunket, on behalf of the Bishop of Limerick, and he was appointed curate of the parish of Kilnaughtin with Aughavallin in the Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe. In 1889, he was ordained priest by Charles Graves, the Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe.
William Wolseley remained a curate in this parish for 18 years until 1906. During his time in this parish, he supplemented his income as a tutor to the Hewetson family, and his name appears only once in the parish baptismal records in Kilnaughtin.
He may have spent most of his time in Hewetson family household. But what brought Wolseley to this part of Ireland and to this diocese?
He was a second cousin of the Ven William Hulbert Wolseley (1821-1899), then Vicar of Kilrush, Co Clare (1862-1899) and Archdeacon of Kilfenora (1885-1899), and also, briefly, one of my predecessors in so far as he too was the Precentor of Killaloe (1857-1859).
But this connection was too remote to explain how William Wolseley came to this parish: at the time, Kilrush was less accessible from Tarbert than it is today, and the Dioceses of Limerick and Ardfert were not united with the Diocese of Killaloe until 1976, almost a century later.
William Wolseley remained a curate in this parish for 18 years before moving to West Australia in 1906. In Australia, Wolseley was the Rector of Ravensthorpe, West Australia (1906-1910), and then worked in Denmark, West Australia (1910-1920). He returned to England in 1920 to work in parishes in the Diocese of Durham and the Diocese of Newcastle. He was the Senior Curate of Christ Church, Felling (1921-1923), and Curate of Saint James, Burnopfield (1923-1927).
So, he had been ordained for almost 40 years and was in his early 60s when he was still working as a curate in a small rural parish in the north of England. Not where an aspiring priest might have expected to be at that stage in his life, considering he came from a titled family with many senior clerics among his close relatives and a senior, distinguished general who was his second cousin.
What did he do for the next five years, between 1927 and 1932? I am not sure what he was doing, but during that time he had the bishop’s permission to officiate in the Diocese of Durham.
He was the Vicar of Alnham in rural Northumberland from 1932. That year, at the age of 67, he married Sarah Helen Grummitt, daughter of William Cotton Grummitt of Grantham, Lincolnshire, on 16 June 1932. A year later, in 1933, he inherited the Wolseley title in the most unexpected way from his very distant cousin.
The story is told in the parish of Alnham that the news came one day by post so that nobody but the Wolseleys knew about it. That morning, the butcher from Rothbury arrived in the village in his van and knocked on the vicarage door, calling: ‘Butcher Mrs Wolseley.’ There was no reply, so he tried again: ‘Butcher Mrs Wolseley.’ This time the response was: ‘Lady Wolseley if you please.’
Australian newspapers that reported his inheritance described him as ‘a rather eccentric clergyman, notorious wherever he went for the prodigious rate at which he preached.’ I am not sure yet whether this means that he preached too quickly, far too often, or that he preached for far too long … I am still hoping to find out in the parish records.
The 11th baronet retired from parish ministry in 1942. He was then in his late 70s, and he died at the age of 84 on 19 February 1950. He had no children and the title passed to yet another distant cousin, a cobbler living in a four-room flat in Bromborough, Cheshire.
Inheriting the title
William Augustus Wolseley has direct connections with two extraordinary people as the immediate successor and the immediate predecessor, successively, of the ‘elevator baronet’ and the ‘cobbler baronet,’ all three inheriting a family title through a bewildering set of circumstances in an entangled family tree.
When Sir John Richard Wolseley (1834-1874), 6th Baronet, died aged 40, he was succeeded in the title by his brother Sir Clement James Wolseley (1837-1889), probably the last of the family to live at Mount Wolseley. The estate was sold for £4,500 in 1925 by Sir John’s daughters to the Patrician Brothers, who were founded in Tullow in 1808 by Bishop Daniel Delaney.
Meanwhile, the title of baronet in the Irish branch of the Wolseley family began to pass out in an ever-widening circle of distant cousins, and even the printed and online versions of the family tree are confusing and show many inconsistencies.
The eighth baronet, the Very Revd Dr Sir John Wolseley (1803-1890), was the Dean of Kildare (1859-1890) when he inherited the title on 16 October 1889. He only held the title for three months, and died on 26 January 1890. In all, seven successive holders of the title have died without immediate, direct heirs.
The tenth baronet, Sir Reginald Beatty Wolseley (1872-1933), known as Dick Wolseley, was the son of a Dublin doctor, Dr Cadwalader Brooke Wolseley (1845-1884). He was born in Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal, and was probably less aware of the Wolseley title than the fact that he was a cousin of Admiral Beatty.
He inherited the family title when his cousin died in 1923, but he never used this title. Instead, he sought anonymity in self-imposed exile, working as an ‘elevator boy’ at the Black Hawk Bank Buildings in Waterloo, Iowa, for 18 years and living as plain Dick Wolseley.
That is, until his secret came out in May 1930. His mother’s dying wish was to visit her son who had become Sir Reginald Wolseley. She persuaded him to return to England. A day after her arrival in Iowa, Dick married his mother’s nurse, Marian Elizabeth Baker, a woman who was 18 years his junior. The day after their marriage, Marian returned to England on the understanding that he would follow her.
But the new Lady Wolseley realised that Dick, or Sir Reginald, was too set in his ways and that he was unwilling to move. He claimed he had taken the title and married her out of gratitude for the way she had cared for his mother. ‘I took the title for my wife,’ he said, ‘on marrying her out of gratitude for what she did for my mother. The title will be of advantage to her in English society. A lady is a lady over there.’
Dick obtained a divorce from Marian on the grounds that she had ‘harassed him’ with telegrams trying to persuade him to return to England. However, she was not going to give way too easily. She returned to Iowa and in January 1932, she persuaded him to move, their divorce was annulled and Sir Reginald and Lady Wolseley moved to England.
Dick, Sir Reginald, died 18 months later near Ilfracombe in Devon on 10 July 1933. Only a few villagers attended his funeral in Berry Harbour; 12 farmers carried his coffin, and his wife was dressed entirely in white. Lady Wolseley, who became a Justice of the Peace, died on 20 June 1934. Meanwhile the title passed to yet another distant cousin, the Revd Sir William Augustus Wolseley (1865-1950), who had succeeded as 11th baronet.
When the former curate of Kilnaughtin died in 1950, it was not clear who was going to inherit the title.
When he inherited the title, Sir Garnet Wolseley was then earning £5.10s a week as a shoe-maker and he rode on a bicycle to work in a backstreet shop each day when he became the 12th baronet.
By then, the Wolseley lineage had become so distant and dispersed that Debrett’s Peerage began an international search for an heir to the title. It seemed at the time that the heir would be a very distant cousin and two Americans vied for the title: Noel Wolseley, of Manchester, New Hampshire, and Charles William Wolseley, of Brooklyn, New York. The search seemed to be reaching a conclusion when a widow living in Wallasey, near Liverpool, Mrs Mary Alexandra Wolseley (née Read), claimed the title on behalf of her son, Garnet Wolseley, a 35-year-old shoemaker.
It was soon discovered that Mary’s late husband was descended from a line in the family that many had thought had died out in the 19th century. Experts from Debrett’s examined the competing claims. The American contenders were ruled out, and the quiet, pipe-smoking bachelor cobbler became the 12th baronet of Mount Wolseley, Co Carlow.
The new Sir Garnet’s wife, Lillian Mary Ellison, had been a telephone operator in Liverpool, and they lived ordinary working-class lives in post-war England until a genealogical quirk transformed them into international curiosities as Sir Garnet and Lady Wolseley.
Lilian and Garnet had been married on 12 August 1950 in Wallasey Town Hall in Cheshire. They had known each other for 12 years, since they worked together in a grocery shop in Wallasey. Now a genealogical quirk of fate transformed them into international curiosities as Sir Garnet and Lady Wolseley. A quiet, pipe-smoking cobbler had suddenly become the 12th baronet of Mount Wolseley, Co Carlow, but this new-found accidental status brought no wealth, property or privilege. Overwhelmed by the media attention, they emigrated in June 1951 to Canada, where Lady Wolseley’s uncle, Andrew Ellison, lived in Brantford.
‘In Canada, I hope to live the life of a lady,’ she said. But they soon found there are few class distinctions in Canada and they became merely objects of curiosity. They moved from one address to another, and Sir Garnet, who liked to be known as George, worked as a press operator at Cockshutt Farm Equipment and later as a gardener at the city parks department, until he retired in 1979. Lady Wolseley worked for a while at Bell Telephone and at a sweet shop.
Sir Garnet died in Canada on 3 October 1991. Lady Wolseley died at Brantford General Hospital at the age of 94.
Since Sir Garnet’s death, the title has not passed officially to a 13th baronet. The presumed baronet, Sir James Douglas Wolseley from Texas, has not been able to prove his claims to the title successfully, his name is not on the Official Roll of Baronets, and so the baronetcy has been considered dormant since 1991.
Robbing the Crown Jewels
For some time in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, I have noticed a wooden piece above the door into the sacristy, with a simple but fading carved inscription that reads: ‘A.G. Wolseley (1858-1933) In Christ.’ Above is a colourful image of the Visit of the Magi.
I wondered who he was and found myself on a trail the led through Edwardian scandals, the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels, a brutal murder during the Irish War of Independence and blackmail in this family of eccentric baronets.
Athelstane George Wolseley was born in Dublin in 1858, the son of Richard J Wolseley, an engineer, and his wife, Elizabeth Anne (née Hughes). He was a clerk in the Irish Law Commission and for many years he shared household arrangements with Sir Arthur Edward Vicars, Ulster King-at-Arms, who was at the centre of a scandal following the theft of the Irish ‘crown jewels’ from Dublin Castle in 1907.
Wolseley was at the centre of one of the early controversies involving Saint Bartholomew’s Church. In 1890, he presented a brass sanctuary cross to the church in memory of his mother, Elizabeth (née Hughes), who died on 13 May 1887. The Select Vestry agreed to the cross being placed behind the altar. Acting on behalf of the Protestant Defence Association, Colonel Fox Grant complained to the Diocesan Court in 1892. The controversy spilled over into the pages of the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette (now the Church of Ireland Gazette), the Church Times, The Irish Times, the Daily Express and other daily newspapers.
Grant eventually took his case to the Court of the General Synod, which upheld his appeal in 1894, and the cross was moved to another position, but the controversy continued.
Wolseley and Sir Arthur Vicars had lived together for some time in the 1890s as guests of Canon Richard Travers Smith in Saint Bartholomew’s Vicarage on Clyde Road, and in 1897 Wolseley was the People’s Churchwarden of Saint Bartholomew’s. By the 1901 census, when Wolseley was 42, the Census shows he and Vicars were living at 80 Wellington Road.
Vicars was one of Ireland’s distinguished experts on heraldry and genealogy. He had a distinguished career until 1907 and the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. As Registrar of the Order of Saint Patrick, Vicars had custody of the insignia of the order, also known as the crown jewels. They were found to be missing on 6 July 1907, four days before a visit to Dublin by King Edward VII.
A Viceregal Commission was set up in January 1908 to investigate the theft of the crown jewels. Vicars and his barrister Tim Healy, later Governor General of the Irish Free State, refused to attend the commission’s hearings. The commission’s findings were published on 25 January 1908, and Vicars was dismissed as Ulster King of Arms five days later.
The theft of the regalia also drew attention to the living arrangements of Wolseley and Vicars. The Earl of Aberdeen, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the last person to wear the regalia, was shocked when he read a secret police report alleging ‘scandalous conduct’ by the Ulster King of Arms.
Vicars was defended by his half-brother, Pierce Charles de Lacy O’Mahony, of Grangecon, Co Wicklow, relying on evidence given by Athelstane Wolseley, then the principal clerk in the Land Commission and a churchwarden of Saint Bartholomew’s.
Under questioning, Wolseley told O’Mahony: ‘I cannot conceive anyone bringing such an accusation against your brother … except for the purpose of blackmailing or from some malignant motive … I know what a high opinion [Canon Travers Smith] had of your brother.’
Some years ago, in a letter to The Irish Times in 2000, Gregory Allen compared ‘the hounding of Vicars with the treatment of Roger Casement in 1916.’ George Bernard Shaw recalled in 1927: ‘You could go nowhere in London at the time without hearing this scandal whispered.’
Vicars left Dublin and moved to Kilmorna, south of Tarbert and between Listowel, Co Kerry, and Athea. He married Gertrude Wright in Ballymore, Co Wicklow, on 4 July 1917. He continued to protest his innocence in the ‘Crown Jewels’ theft until his death, even including bitter references to the affair in his will.
When his house was ransacked in 1920, the raiders may have thought he had secreted away the Crown Jewels. His house was burned down in the night and he was shot dead before his wife on 14 April 1921. A week later, he was buried in Leckhampton, Gloucestershire. His widow never returned to live in Ireland.
In 1927, the recovery of the regalia, the Grand Master’s jewelled badge and star were offered in return for the payment of a ransom by President WT Cosgrave, but they have never been seen in public since then, and their whereabouts remain a mystery.
For his part, Athelstane Wolseley continued to live in Ballsbridge, and in 1908 and again in 1919, he was the Vicar’s Churchwarden of Saint Bartholomew’s, and People’s Churchwarden in 1914. He lived alone at 48 Wellington Road (1911, 1913). In 1928, as the Parish Treasurer of Saint Bartholomew’s, he organised a fund the defray the costs incurred by the Vicar, the Revd Walter Cadden Simpson, who had been strictly admonished by the Ecclesiastical Courts for infringing the canons of the Church of Ireland. Simpson had to pay the costs, which came to more than £500, but Wolseley’s fundraising, including £125 brought in through an appeal in the Church Times, met the costs within a year.
When Wolseley died some years later on 8 October 1933, he was buried with his parents Richard and Lizzie Wolseley and his elder brother William in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross, Dublin. The new vestry doors in Saint Bartholomew’s erected in his memory in 1934 were designed by the architect and town planner Manning Robertson. Above the doors, the mosaic of the Epiphany is the work of Kate O’Brien and is a memorial to Canon Walter Simpson (1872-1958), former Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s (1918-1951).
Vicars, with his genealogical expertise, ought to have known which branch of the Wolseley family his one-time companion was descended from, and that he was eventually in line to succeed to the family title, given the many Wolseley title holders who were dying without heirs. If he did know this, it is curious then that this line of descent never appeared at the time in either Debrett’s Peerage or Burke’s Peerage.
Even the printed and online versions of the family tree are confusing and show many inconsistencies. However, my own recent research confirms Athelstane Wolseley’s line of descent within the Wolseley family.
It is curious to note that had Athelstane Wolseley ever married and had children, the family title would have passed to his descendants instead of the former Merseyside cobbler, Sir Garnet Wolseley.
As for Mount Wolseley near Tullow, Co Carlow, when Sir John Richard Wolseley (1834-1874), 6th Baronet, died aged 40, he was succeeded in the title by his brother Sir Clement James Wolseley (1837-1889), probably the last of the family to live at Mount Wolseley. The estate was sold for £4,500 in 1925 by Sir John’s daughters to the Patrician Brothers. They ran it as a school, and today it is a popular golf resort and wedding venue and hotel.
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This paper was prepared for the Tarbert Historical and Heritage Society on 14 October 2017.