Richard Southwell Bourke

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Bourke, Richard Southwell, Earl of Mayo, was born in Dublin, 21st February 1822. The Bourkes of the County of Kildare, whom he represented, were connected by ties of family and property with the county since the War of 1641-'52, when their ancestor, having held a captaincy of horse under the Marquis of Ormond, settled at Kill. The Earl was educated at Trinity College, taking his degree of B.A. in 1844: LL.D. was subsequently conferred upon him. He travelled in Russia in 1845, and published his experiences in a work entitled St. Petersburg and Moscow.

In 1849, on the death of his uncle, and his father becoming Earl of Mayo, the honorary title of Lord Naas devolved upon himself. During more than twenty years he sat in Parliament — for Kildare from 1847 to l852; Coleraine, 1852 to 1857; and Cockermouth, 1857 to 1867 — when, upon the death of his father on 12th August, he became Earl of Mayo. He was an earnest and consistent Conservative, and as such held the post of Chief-Secretary for Ireland in each of the three Derby administrations — March to December 1852, February 1858 to June 1859, June 1866 to 1868. In 1868 he was appointed Governor-General of India, and Knight of St. Patrick. During the Fenian disturbances he had displayed signal ability and statesmanship; nevertheless his suitability for the post of Governor-General was doubted by many. He belied all sinister anticipations, proving one of the ablest administrators that ever ruled India. In the prime of middle life, and possessed of vigorous health, he evinced great activity of body as well as mind, and was constantly on the alert visiting the portions of his viceroyalty that required inspection.

In 1872, he went to the penal settlement at the Andaman Islands, concerning which there had been reports of abuses and maladministration. Returning to embark in the dusk of the evening of the 8th February, he was assassinated by a convict named Shere Ali, who declared that "he had no accomplices, that it was his fate, and that he had committed the act by the order of God." He had long threatened that he would take the life of some distinguished European in revenge for having been imprisoned for murdering a man in a "blood-feud." The Viceroy was only able to totter against a truck, and say faintly to his secretary, "They've hit me, Burne," before he expired. The assassin was executed at Calcutta on the 20th of the same month. There was something very noble in the message Lady Mayo and her family sent him before execution: "God forgive you, as we do." Lord Mayo's remains were brought back to Ireland, were received in military state in Dublin, and were deposited in the family mausoleum near Naas. Lord Mayo had all but attained his 50th year.

A man of genial manners, he was very popular amongst his associates. He was an enthusiastic sportsman, as well in Ireland as in the fiercer and more dangerous sports of India. A public subscription to perpetuate his memory was applied towards the erection of a family mansion. His biography is extremely interesting, and enters fully into his Indian administration. We find the following tribute to his character: "No soldier went over the plan of an expedition or the map of a line of defences with the Viceroy without discovering, as he rode home from Government House, that he had got valuable practical hints. No diplomatist brought him a draft treaty without feeling certain that any fault in scope would be hit, and any deficiency in foresight remedied. Each head of a department found that Lord Mayo had personally weighed his proposals, and had discovered for himself where they were sound and where they were wanting. The whole body of secretaries, men whose function in life it is never to give way to enthusiasm, would have toiled their souls out for him. It was impossible to work near him without loving him: he had a tender considerateness, and a noble trustfulness, and a genial strength, which plucked allegiance from the hearts of men."

Sources

238. Mayo, Earl of, Life: W. W. Hunter, B.A. 2 vols. London, 1875.

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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