28 September 2020
How the Tierney brothers
from Rathkeale became
part of Regency court life
The fortunes of the Perceval family and the Tierney family became entwined in the Regency period, and following last Friday’s visit to Liscarroll Castle I came across the story of how the vast Perceval estates in north Cork almost passed to the Tierney family who had more humble origins in Rathkeale, Co Limerick.
On the death of George III, on 29 January 1820, the heir to the throne, the Prince Regent, lay seriously ill and his doctors had little hope of his recovery. On the evening of 2 February, his condition suddenly became critical and he was attended by a young doctor from Rathkeale, Matthew Tierney (1776-1845), who had arrived in London from Brighton. George IV recovered and Dr Tierney was credited with saving his life.
Matthew Tierney and his brother Edward (1780–1856) were the sons of John Tierney of Ballyscanlan, near Rathkeale, Co Limerick, a small farmer and weaver, and his wife Mary, daughter of James Gleeson. Matthew was born on 24 November 1776 and Edward was born in June 1780.
As boys, they received a modest education at a local hedge school, and Matthew was apprenticed to a local pharmacist in Rathkeale.
He left for London, swearing never to return to Rathkeale, and found a position as a pharmacist’s assistant. There he attended evening classes at Guy’s Hospital and at Saint Thomas’s Hospital, Southwark studying under Dr Saunders and Dr Babington.
Matthew Tierney became a great friend of Dr Edward Jenner, who had pioneered the vaccine against smallpox. Through Jenner’s influence, Tierney was admitted to study medicine at Glasgow University.
Tierney graduated in medicine in Glasgow in 1802, having selected cowpock as his inaugural essay. In the summer of 1802 he set up his own medical practice in Brighton, where he contributed materially to the formation of a vaccine institution in that town – the first that was established outside London – and he was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians in 1806.
At Brighton, Tierney was introduced by his patron, Frederick Berkeley, 5th Earl of Berkeley, to the Prince Regent and future King George IV, who soon appointed him physician to his household in Brighton. He was appointed physician extraordinary to the Prince of Wales in 1809, and in 1816 he became physician in ordinary to the Prince Regent.
While Tierney was in practise in Brighton, he was credited with saving the life of the Prince Regent. His fame spread, his practice grew, he was much in favour at court, and he was made a baronet on 3 October 1818, with the title of Sir Matthew Tierney and with the designation ‘of Brighthelmstone and of Dover Street.’
Following the accession of King George IV, he was gazetted physician in ordinary to the king, and he continued in the same office with King William IV, who in 1831 made him a knight commander of the Royal Guelphic Order of Hanover.
Meanwhile, Sir Matthew had no sons to succeed to the title of baronet he had received in 1818. He was made a baronet yet again on 5 May 1834, with the same designation but with a provision this time that the title could be inherited by his brother and his brother’s descendants.
Tierney published his Observations on Variola Vaccina, or Cow Pock in 1840.
He died at his residence on the Pavilion Parade, Brighton, on 28 October 1845 and was buried in his family vault at Saint Nicholas’s Rest Garden.
Meanwhile, his brother Edward Tierney, who was born in Limerick in June 1780, was apprenticed to a solicitor in Limerick, was admitted to King’s Inns in 1798, and and was called to the bar ca 1806. When his mother died on 2 February 1809, he was living at 2 Catherine Street, Limerick.
He practised as a solicitor in Dublin and kept in touch with his brother in England.
Sir Matthew Tierney married Harriet Mary Jones, daughter of Henry Jones of Bloomsbury Square, London, in 1808 and in 1812 Edward married her sister, Anna Maria Jones, in Saint George’s Church, Hanover Square, London. By then, Edward Tierney was living in a large house at 48 Thomas Street, Limerick. Each bride had a fortune of more than £20,000.
Sir Matthew’s influence with the King procured for his brother, Edward, the appointment of Crown Solicitor for Ulster with a salary of £10,000 a year. Edward visited his brother on several occasions and in court circles in London and Brighton he was introduced to Bridget Wynn, daughter of Glyn Wynn and Countess of Egmont, the beautiful wife of John Perceval, 4th Earl of Egmont.
When Edward Tierney’s first son was born, Lady Egmont and her son Henry were his sponsors, and he was named Perceval Tierney. Lord Egmont appointed Edward Tierney as his agent at his Irish estates in 1823, including Liscarroll Castle and thousands of acres around Churchtown, Kanturk and Buttevant in north Cork.
Tierney was an able manager and he transformed the estate with great improvements.
John, 4th Earl of Egmont died on 31 December 1835 and was succeeded by his only son, Henry, who was godfather to Edward Tierney’s first son. Henry Perceval (1796-1841), 5th Earl of Egmont, was known for his drunkenness and loose living. He had no heir and when he died in 1841, he left all his estates in England and Ireland to his agent, Edward Tierney, while the family titles passed to his distant cousin, George Perceval (1794-1874), 3rd Lord Arden, who became 6th Earl of Egmont without receiving one penny from his ancestral estates.
Sir Edward Tierney succeeded to his brother’s second title in 1845, and died on 4 June 1856 at the age of 76. The title of baronet passed to his son, Sir Matthew Edward Tierney (1818-1860), as third baronet, but he left his estates to his son-in-law, the Revd Sir Lionel Darell (1817-1883).
The sixth earl went to court against Darrell to recover the estates in a remarkable case before the Summer Assizes at Cork in 1863. After four days, the case was settled. Egmont recovered Liscarroll Castle and his and his ancestral estates, but Darell was awarded £125,000 and costs.
Egmont died on 2 August 1874 and was succeeded by his nephew, Charles George Perceval (1845-1897), 7th Earl of Egmont, who sold the Perceval estates in Co Cork, totalling 62,500 acres, to the tenants under the Ashbourne Land Act in 1895.