It was 35 years ago, on St Patrick’s Day 1983, that the archive of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington, arrived at the University of Southampton.This collection of around 100,000 political, military, official and diplomatic papers for the first Duke was accepted for the nation in lieu of duty on the estate of the seventh Duke of Wellington and allocated to the University of Southampton by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The official opening of the Wellington Suite, the archive accommodation created to house the archive took place in May 1983, and was attended by the Duke and Duchess of Wellington.
Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) was born in Ireland, the son of Garret Wesley, first Earl of Mornington, and Anne Hill, who was the daughter of the first Viscount Dungannon. The archive forms the principal collection of papers of Wellington and covers all aspects of his career from 1790 until his death in 1852. Papers relating to Ireland feature heavily within the collection, ranging from maps and plans to extensive series of papers on parliamentary and government business.Wellington started his career as aide-de-camp to two successive Lords Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Westmorland and Earl Fitzwilliam, 1787-93. Between 1790 and 1797 he sat in the Irish Parliament as Member for the family seat of Trim. Wellington was Chief Secretary for Ireland, 1807-9, managing the government interest in Parliament at Westminster and government business in Ireland. Within this material is much on security and maintaining the peace during a period of turbulence and threat of invasion by Napoleonic France.
In a letter from Wellington to Lord Hawkesbury, Secretary of State for Home Affairs, 23 April 1807, he sends details of the preparations made in Cork to deal with the threat of invasion:
“There are two regiments of cavalry and ten battalions of infantry at Cork and in the neighbourhood, which could be assembled at any point in the course of a few hours.
There is a depot of artillery at Cork, a heavy brigade at Fermoy, and a depot at Clonmell, about forty miles from Cork, so that there are means of defending that part of the kingdom if the fleet should turn out to be an enemy.”
[MS 61 WP1/167/18]
Between 1818 and his death in 1852, Wellington held a number of political offices and official posts, including serving twice as Prime Minister. Several thousand letters for the period 1819-32 relate to Ireland, including political, economic and social discussions and material on the introduction of the Catholic Relief Bill. The descriptions of this material can be accessed through the Wellington Papers Database.The main series of Wellington’s correspondence for the period 1833 onwards includes material relating to the Irish representative peerage, politics and elections in Ireland, parliamentary bills, church reform, education, the Irish church, tithes, law and order and military defence, the Young Ireland movement and the prospect of a rising in 1848, as well as the Wellington monument in Dublin. The connection between Wellington and Ireland also can be found amongst papers for the numerous societies and organisations with which he was associated. One such was the Benevolent Society of St. Patrick set up to provide “relief for the poor and distressed Irish residing in and around London, and that of their children”. Wellington was a Vice President of the Society in 1820 and was voted as chairman for the following year. The list of subscribers for 1820 listed his donation as 121 guineas: a donation of 20 guineas made the donor a governor for life. The Society held an annual festival, usually on St Patrick’s Day. The festival in 1820, held at the City of London Tavern with George Canning in the chair, was delayed until the 6 May due to the death of the King. The Investigator or Quarterly magazine for 1820 reported that:
“The children were, after dinner, paraded through the room. Their appearance was exceedingly interesting; all of them being clean, healthy and robust. Several fine young women, who were educated by the society, who are now earning a comfortable and reputable livelihood closed the procession… The Duke of Wellington was nominated chairman for the ensuing year, which office was handsomely accepted by His Grace. The treasurer then read the list of subscriptions, the total of which, including a bequest of £500 by Captain Morritt, was £1,800.”
The Wellington archive is complemented by a number of other significant manuscript collections that relate to Ireland. These include the Congleton archive (MS 64) which contains personal, family, estate and political papers for the Parnell family, Barons Congleton, from the sixteenth to the twentieth century; the Broadlands archives (MS 62); the Carver manuscripts (MS 63), a collection of papers of the family of Wellington’s older brother Richard Wellesley, first Marquis Wellesley; and papers of the Earls of Mornington (MS 226 and MS 299).
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.