Edward Marcus Despard

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Despard, Edward Marcus, Colonel, was born in the Queen's County in 1755. He early embraced a military life, and saw service in the West Indies, on the Spanish main, and in the Bay of Honduras, where he was appointed superintendent of the British colony. He is described as having been highly educated, and gifted with fascinating manners. He was at one time the companion and friend of Nelson. At the taking of Honduras, he is said to have advanced money of his own for Government purposes; and although thanked by Parliament for his conduct, the money was not refunded. Irritated by the delays and difficulties thrown in the way of repayment, he offended the Ministry by strong and angry expostulations, and then appealed in vain to Parliament. He became very much embarrassed, and entering politics, joined the London Corresponding Society, and was incarcerated under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act in 1799.

Lord Cloncurry visited him in Coldbath-fields Prison, and found him in a cell only six feet by eight, poorly furnished, without fireplace or window. Through influence brought to bear on the Government, he was removed to better quarters, until his liberation on the expiration of the Suspension Act some years afterwards. Doubtless his mind was disordered by the many indignities he underwent, for when Lord Cloncurry met him in London in 1802 he "looked like a man risen from the grave," and declared that "though he had not seen his country for thirty years, he never ceased thinking of it and of its misfortunes, and that a main object of his visit to me was to disclose his discovery of an infallible remedy for the latter — a voluntary separation of the sexes, so as to leave no future generation obnoxious to oppression."

He soon afterwards engaged in a conspiracy, having ramifications in the chief English centres of population, for overturning the British Government, was arrested in a public house in Lambeth, on 16th. November 1802, and brought to trial in the following February. Found guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy on account of his previous character and services, he was, with six of his associates, executed at the Borough Jail, London, on 21st February 1803, aged about 48. To the last he acted with dignity and firmness, "confidently predicting, notwithstanding his fate, and perhaps that of many who might follow him, the final triumph of the principles of liberty, justice, and humanity over falsehood, despotism, and delusion." A full account of his trial will be found in Howell's State Trials, Lord Cloncurry provided for his widow, a Creole, and she resided for many years in his family at Lyons, Hazlehatch.


7. Annual Register. London, 1756-1877.

34. Biographie Générale. 46 vols. Paris, 1855-'66. An interleaved copy, copiously noted by the late Dr. Thomas Fisher, Assistant Librarian of Trinity College, Dublin.

42. Biographical Dictionary: Rev. Hugh J. Rose. 12 vols. London, 1850.

82. Cloncurry, Valentine, Lord: Personal Recollections. Dublin, 1849.

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