Rev. William Jackson

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Jackson, William, Rev., born of an Irish family, possibly in England, in the middle of the 18th century. His father held a post in the Prerogative Court, Dublin. Early in life he maintained himself as a tutor in London, and afterwards, entering the Church, he became a popular preacher in Tavistock Chapel, Drury-lane. He was next chaplain to the Duchess of Kingston, on whose behalf he engaged in a controversy with Foote, the comedian. He went over to Paris on the business of the Duchess about 1790, and continued to reside there. Early in 1794 he came to Ireland on a secret mission to the leaders of the revolutionary party. Passing through London, he divulged his plans to an old friend John Cockayne, an attorney, who immediately entered into private communication with Pitt. In Dublin, Jackson and Cockayne had interviews with Tone, Rowan, and Lewins, relative to French assistance. Cockayne revealed everything that had passed to the Government, and on the 28th April 1794 Jackson was arrested on a charge of high treason, at Hyde's Coffee-house, in Palace-street, Dublin. He was tried a year afterwards, and upon Cockayne's evidence convicted.

Brought up to receive sentence, 30th April 1795, he managed before entering the court to swallow a quantity of arsenic — in the hope, we are told, that in dying before conviction his little property might be preserved to his family. As he entered the dock he whispered to one of his counsel: "We have deceived the senate." The scene that ensued was one of the most dramatic enacted in those exciting times. His fortitude did not forsake him to the last; for it was scarcely perceived by the spectators that he was ill, when he fell down in the agonies of death, and after a few minutes' struggle died in the dock. In his pocket was found a paper with a few verses from the 25th Psalm, commencing: "Turn thee unto me and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted." His remains were followed to St. Michan's (where his tombstone may now be seen) by an immense number of mourners. In Newgate before his trial he wrote a reply to Thomas Paine. A volume of his sermons was printed after his death. Cockayne was requited for the sacrifice of his old friend and client by a pension of £250.

Sources

331. United Irishmen, their Lives and Times: Robert R. Madden, M.D. 4 vols. London, 1858-'60.

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