Monday, 24 January 2022

An Irish-born politician
who is buried on one of
the bastions of Valletta

The grave and monument to Lord Hastings on the walls on Valletta … he was born in Moria, Co Down, and raised in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Close to the Osborne Hotel in Valletta, where I was staying last week, the Hastings Gardens are on top of Saint John’s Bastion and Saint Michael’s Bastion, on the west side of the City Gate in the capital of Malta. The gardens offer views of Floriana, Msida, Sliema, and Manoel Island, but their name indicates an interesting connection with an Irish-born general and governor.

Inside the gardens is a monument erected by the Hastings family in honour of Francis Edward Rawdon-Hasting ((1754-1826), 1st Marquis of Hastings, who was a Governor of Malta. Lord Hastings died in 1826 and is buried in the gardens.

Lord Hastings was an Irish-born politician and officer who was Governor-General of India in 1813-1823 and Governor of Malta in 1824-1826. He took the additional surname Hastings in 1790 under the terms of the will of his maternal uncle, Francis Hastings, 10th Earl of Huntingdon.

Hastings was born at Moira, Co Down, on 9 December 1754, the son of John Rawdon, 1st Earl of Moira and Lady Elizabeth Hastings, 13th Baroness Hastings, a daughter of the 9th Earl of Huntingdon. He was baptised in Saint Audoen’s Church, Dublin, on 2 January 1755, and grew up in Moira and in Dublin.

He was educated at Harrow and Oxford, and joined the British army in 7 August 1771. He had was in the British forces for many years during the American War of Independence and fought at the Battles of Lexington and Concord and at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Rawdon was sent to Philadelphia with dispatches and returned to New York for the winter, where he raised a regiment, called the Volunteers of Ireland, recruited from deserters and Irish Loyalists.

He resigned as adjutant general in 1779, but served with the Volunteers of Ireland during the raid on Staten Island in January 1780. His most noted achievement was the victory in 1781 at the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill. He gave up his command in 1781. On the return, he was captured at sea by François Joseph Paul de Grasse, but was exchanged.

Rawdon sat as MP for Randalstown, Co Antrim, in the Irish House of Commons from 1781 until 1783. King George III made him an English peer in 1783 with the title of Baron Rawdon.

When his mother succeeded to the Barony of Hastings in 1789, Rawdon added the surname of Hastings to his own. He inherited Donington Hall, Leicestershire, from his uncle, and rebuilt it in 1790-1793 in the Gothic style; the architect was William Wilkins the Elder.

The monument to Lord Hastings in the Hastings Gardens in Valletta (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

He succeeded his father as 2nd Earl of Moira in 1793, and after that sat first in the Irish House of Lords and then, from 1801, in the British House of Lords.

It was rumoured briefly in 1797 that Rawdon would replace William Pitt as Prime Minister. In the Irish Parliament, Rawdon associated on most questions with the Patriot party of Henry Grattan and Lord Charlemont. In an eve-of-the-Rebellion speech in the Lords on 19 February 1798 he appealed for parliamentary reform and Catholic Emancipation, and denounced the government's policy of coercion.

Hastings presented evidence of the atrocities and tortures visited upon Irish people by Crown forces as they sought to break-up and disarm the United Irishmen who were organising the 1798 Rising. At one point, he was described by Wolfe Tone as ‘The Irish Lafayette.’ He was also the patron of the poet Thomas Moore, who regularly visited Donington Hall.

Rawdon strenuously opposed the government in the wake of the United Irish risings in 1798, and voted against the Act of Union.

As Lord Moira, he entered government in 1806 as Master-General of the Ordnance. However, he resigned the next year.

Lord Moira was appointed Governor-General of the Presidency of Fort William, effectively the Governor-General of India, in 1812 and remained in office until 1821. He was given the title of Marquess of Hastings in 1816, with the additional titles Earl of Rawdon and Viscount Loudoun.

Lord Hastings became increasingly estranged from the East India Company and resigned in 1821, although he did not leave India until early 1823. He was appointed Governor of Malta in 1824 but he died at sea off Naples two years later on 28 November 1826 on board the HMS Revenge, while trying to return home with his wife, Lady Flora.

Lady Hastings returned his body to Malta, and following his earlier directions, cut off his right hand and preserved it, to be buried with her when she died. His body was then buried in a large marble sarcophagus in Hastings Gardens in Valletta. His hand was eventually buried, clasped with hers, in the family vault at Loudoun Kirk.

It is also a Maltese legend that the Hastings Gardens in Valletta took only four hours to be built. Adriano DeVina is the only known architect of the gardens.

Sunset seen from the Hastings Gardens in Valletta last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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