Joseph Holt

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Holt, Joseph, a leader in the Insurrection of 1798, was born at Ballydaniel, County of Wicklow, in 1756, of Protestant parents, descended from English planters in the reign of James I. At the breaking out of the insurrection he lived near Roundwood, in the County of Wicklow — a substantial farmer, a wool-buyer, and barony constable. From his own account, he does not seem to have been an United Irishman, or to have been engaged in any of the political plots of the time, but upon his house being burnt down by the yeomanry, he took to the mountains and gathered round him a formidable band of insurgents.

It was "the possession of these superior qualities — for Holt's acts were his own, he had no instructor — added to his strict enforcement of discipline, and attention to the comforts and wants of his men, that enabled him, as the leader of a war of mountain skirmishes, to defy for six months the united efforts of the royal army, and the numerous corps of yeomanry [sometimes chasing parties into the very suburbs of Dublin] in an area of little more than twenty miles square, within thirty miles of Dublin at its further or ten at its nearest point of approach. Nor was it by skulking in the wild and secluded districts of bog and mountain which the County of Wicklow presents — a county the appearance whereof was most happily compared by Dean Swift to a frieze mantle fringed with gold lace. Holt frequently came in contact with detachments of the army sent against him, and seldom shunned an engagement.

In one instance, by the melancholy slaughter of a large body of the 'Ancient Britons,' he executed what in military parlance would be termed a brilliant affair; and when Holt was beaten or outnumbered, he generally contrived to effect his retreat without any serious loss; on one occasion in particular, when he was supposed to be surrounded by the King's troops, Holt retired with his corps unbroken." There is scarcely a glen in Wicklow that has not been rendered notable by his exploits. Through the negotiation of Mrs. Latouche with Lord Powerscourt, Holt surrendered on 10th November 1798, on condition that his life was to be spared and that he was to be transported to New South Wales with his family. Though he strenuously denies the imputation in his memoirs, passages in the Castlereagh Correspondence state that he "gave much information."

He sailed along with other convicts from Cork on the 24th August 1799, and reached Port Jackson after a five months' voyage. He received a free pardon for good conduct in 1809, and in 1812, having amassed a little property, returned home. On the home passage of sixteen months, he was shipwrecked on the Falkland Islands, and encountered other adventures. In the year 1814 he settled at Dunleary (now Kingstown), as a publican, and invested his savings in house property.

He died on 16th May 1826, aged about 70: his family returned to New South Wales. Holt is described as five feet ten inches in height, well made, of compact muscle, and remarkably athletic and vigorous; his hair was black, his eye-brows heavy and bushy; his eyes small, dark, and penetrating. He had the power of readily assuming a commanding or determined look, but there was nothing ferocious in his appearance, and his smile was beaming with benevolence. His manners were simple and unaffected. His voluminous memoirs, copied from his dictation by an illiterate amanuensis, were carefully edited by Crofton Croker, in 2 vols. in 1838, and are a valuable contribution to the history of Ireland and New South Wales. The first volume recounts his adventures in Ireland, the second deals principally with his life in Australia.

Sources

87. Cornwallis, Marquis, Correspondence: Charles Ross. 3 vols. London, 1859.
Cotton, Rev. Henry, see No. 118.

165. Holt, Joseph, Memoirs: Edited by Thomas C. Croker. 2 vols. London, 1838.

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