Thomas Whaley, 1765-1800

Buck Whaley as a boy

Thomas Whaley, often known as Thomas 'Buck' Whaley or 'Jerusalem Whaley from his exploit, for a large wager, of visiting Jerusalem and returning to Dublin within two years, was briefly resident on the Island. The account of this trip, written by around 1797 some 8 years after his return to Dublin, was contained in two finely bound volumes of Memoirs that were intended for publication, but which was prevented by the untimely and sudden death at Knutsford of the author whilst travelling from Liverpool to London. These manuscript memoirs were recognised some century after his death and published with an extensive introductory preface in 1906 as "Buck Whaley's Memoirs" - the preface of this volume would appear to have served as the main reference for most later accounts. It would appear that Whaley was born 15 Dec 1765 and not 1766 as stated by Sullivan..

A later image, or "what purports to be a portrait" was noted by Sullivan as appearing on p9 of the Town and Country Magazine of 1789 [elsewhere Sullivan rates this magazine as gossip]

[T Whaley] - labelled "The Jerusalem Pilgrim"
[T Whaley] - labelled "The Jerusalem Pilgrim"

Whaley was one of that generation of Irish young men referred to as 'Bucks' notorious for their often drunken exploits, and by his own account, squandered a fortune of some £400,000, mostly on gaming, such that around 1796 he, like many other debtors, moved to the Isle of Man to better avoid his off-Island creditors. He, or at least his long term mistress or companion, Maria Courtenay arrived by March 1796, as she bought from John Taubman(Nunnery) a parcel of land, part of the Nunnery How on the south side of Douglas River on which by January 1798 'the buildings called Fort Ann are now erected' - the land cost £21 with £3 3s annual ground rent, but the building costs were significant and by January 1798 she and Thomas Whaley borrowed £635, at 5% interest,from the said John Taubman giving as security the land and buildings - a later deed noted that John Taubman was 'induced' to loan a further £101 to Whaley to complete the building work on the same security.

There is an oft reported story that Whaley's favourite servant Jack was drowned by shipwreck bringing money to Whaley but that his body was washed ashore on Island and the money found on the body. Mary Straton Ryan relates that in late November 1795 that whilst bringing gold to Whaley his lifelong friend and lawyer Sam Faulkner (+ his nephew) were drowned en route to the Island and that this might have been the impetus for Whaley to set down his memoirs in which he noted "dissipation can produce no enjoyment and that tumiltuous pleasures afford no real happiness". Ryan also notes that around this period Whaley often travelled incognito as Mr Jackson to avoid creditors. In the publication "Dictionary of Shipwrecks off the Isle of Man [Adrian Corkill 2001] there is a note that the sailing vessel Bee, Robt Pattison master with 3 crew, bound from Dublin to Whitehaven in ballast was caught in a violent gale of Saturday 21 Nov 1795 and wrecked on Langness - all perished including the 3 passengers and that the body of an elderly gentleman was washed ashore the following day with 40guineas and a gold watch in his pockets. A Samuel Fauckner[?Faulkner] of Ireland is noted in Malew burial register as wrecked off Langness and buried on 21 Nov 1795 - the master + the three crew are noted as buried in December also in Malew.

Maria Courtenay

Maria Courtenay
Maria Courtenay
(taken from a painting in Collection of Metropolitan Museum + incorrectly labelled Mrs Whaley)

Whaley writes [Chap 5 book 2 p270]

It was at that period [mid 1789-1791] I happily formed an acquaintance with a lady of exquisite taste and sensibility from whom I have never since separated. She has been a consolation to me in all my troubles-her persuasive mildness has been a constant check on the impetuosity of my temper, and at this moment, constitutes, in my retirement, the principal source of all my felicity.

The name in several places is rendered Courtney but the only document that bears her signature (her will) has Courtenay

the other deeds where she signed were enrolled thus have only scribal copies of the name but in one the name Courtnay has been corrected by the scribe to Courtenay.

Whaley states that he had his son, Thomas, with him during a visit to Paris in January 1793 and remained with him whilst Maria returned to England for money to get Whaley out of yet another gaming debt. Thus I suspect Thomas junior was born at latest early 1790.

Maria was assumed to be Whaley's wife both in Paris and on Island - there is a baptism, recorded at Douglas St George's on 13 December 1797, of Sophia Isabella daughter of Thomas Whalley(sic) and Maria Courtenay without any note concerning the illegitimacy of the child, though the illegitimacy of their son Thomas was noted when he died intestate in 1820[see ERD Oct 1827 463]. However Maria was to be dead with a year - her will dated the 23 January 1798, the same date as she and Thomas signed the mortgage with John Taubman, left her estate to her four children Thomas, Richard, Ann and Sophia Isabella with Thomas Whaley senior as executor, the witnesses were John Curry, Valentine Goold and Thomas Stowell who was also a witnesses of the deed - this will passed though a court held in Kirk Patrick on 27 September 1798, whereas normally a will is probated by a court held in the parish of residence - the court appointed Thomas Whaley as guardian of the children. The decree noted that Maria had signed it "when of sound and disposing mind memory and understanding" - which somewhat suggests that she became ill sometime afterwards - possibly connected with the birth of her 4th child. However no burial can be found for Maria on Island. According to Mary Stratton Ryan Maria was a cousin of Capt Hugh Moore, Whaley's fellow traveller to Jerusalem - she also suggests that the manuscript of the the Memoirs (now in the London Library) was written in a feminine hand unlike the known hand of Thomas Whaley.

Whaley was elected, aged 18, as the member for Newcastle Co Dublin in the Irish House of Commons which he held until 1790; in 1797 he was again elected , this time for Enniscorthy, until he died in 1800. His death on 2nd November 1800 occurred at Knutsford, Cheshire, en route from Liverpool to London - he had married the Honorable Mary Catharine, daughter of Nicholas Lawless, first Lord Cloncurry and sister to Valentine, 2nd Lord Cloncurry who was at the time held in the Tower of London on suspicion of treason arising from the 1798 Irish troubles, thus she was a widow within the year. (It is interesting to note that Valentine Lawless gained some 'fame' over his divorce action for reason of adultery by his wife with his one time friend Sir John Piers (another stranger who came to the Island to evade legal actions elsewhere and was noted as a duellist).

There are two petitions recorded in 1798 Lib Canc - both being attempts by creditors to prevent Thomas Whaley, legally a stranger, from leaving the Island without settling his debts; the first [petition No 178]by James Wright was for 15s 10d and dismissed by the court of 1 Nov 1798 presumeably by then another similar case had been settled, this was petition No 184 dated 19 Sep 1798 by John Graves was for 12s and a saddle - this was dismissed the 1st Nov court stating "this cause coming on to be called in the ordinary course of proceedings the complainant's attorney alledged that this action had been brought for the purpose of holding the deft to bail" but court noted that bail had been given by sd defendant [ie a bond entered into by a resident that debts would be paid].

Thomas Whaley's death resulted in an initial petition by James May that Whaley was considerably indebted to him and others and that his relations were all beyond seas (i.e. off Island) - initially a court decree appointed James May as administrator of Whaley's Manx estate but Mary Whaley petitioned to point out a will lodged in England that appointed her brother-in-law Lord Clare (Lord Chancellor of Ireland) and Valentine Goold as executors, and petitioned for administration of his Manx estate.. She must have settled the debts though no details are given - she had by Whaley's will been given the care of his children. The untangling of the mortgage on Fort Anne is documented in a number of deeds.

It is appropriate here to point out much confusion re the portrait of Maria (Met Museum Accession no 47.138) - one subsite of Metropolitan Museum ( that it is by John Hoppner and references Katharine Baetjer, British paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575-1875, New York; New Haven and London, 2009, nr. 91- and probably dates from c.1795 when the dress would have been height of fashion, some provenance is given in that the painting which was thought to have possibly passed down through the family of Sophia Isabella was sold in 1902 by a dealer to J P Morgan and was gifted to Museum - they have mistakenly labelled it Mrs Whaley which she never was which leads to confusion with the lost painting of the Honorable Mrs Whaley which was by George Chinnery ( an extract from A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913 states that Chinnery went to Ireland in 1797 and organized the exhibition held in 1800 by the newly-formed "Society of Artists of Ireland" .... To this he sent one large subject-picture, "Satan's arrival on the confines of Light," eight portraits in oils, including "Thomas Whaley," "the Hon. Mrs. Whaley," and "the Countess of Clare," and three portraits in crayons.(Note Lord Clare was Whaley's brother in law so maybe the two portraits were a marriage present ?) These two portraits of Whaley and his wife the Honble Mrs Whaley are those reported as hung in the drawing room and probably were done just before marriage in Jan 1800, the disappearance of which is discussed by Sullivan.

Sullivan would appear to rely solely on one source for this period of Whaley's life - that being a book dealing with Knutsford by the Rev Henry Green published 1859. He states that Mary occupied Fort Anne after the death of Thomas and that Thomas junr and later Richard attempted to complete the building. However it is known that when Mary's brother Lord Cloncurry on his release from the Tower of London in 1801 felt it expedient to go to Italy for some 3 years, accompanied by two of his sisters, one of whom was the recently widowed Mary - it was in Italy he married his young wife whose dalliance with Sir John Piers led to divorce. Mary by a deed dated 1 July 1801 [CTD Mic 1801 4] comes to an agreement with John Taubman as to money owed etc on the mortgage and by deed dated 30 July 1801 with Thomas Stowell to whom Taubman had assigned [sold] the mortgage when it started to default. From a letter in National Library of Ireland dated 25 May 1802 it appears she had departed Dublin and was in Chelenham from where she was noted as ready to depart. Cloncurry had returned to Ireland by 1805 presumeably accompanied by his sisters. By September 1809 Mrs Whaley was advertising Fort Anne, "so well known that it needs no comment" for sale or to be let - it was noted that Mrs Whaley was now at the fort [eg see Manx Adv 23 Sep 1809, though by 1812 Mrs Whaley is also recorded as an annual subscriber towards the IoM Auxiliary Bible Society and to the building of the Lancastrian school. Thomas Whaley junr was noted as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy in 1813 but by 1816 he must have returned to the Island as in February 1816 Mrs Whaley was advertising that no person should treat for Fort Anne Cottage, gardens or grounds other than with herself or Mr Whaley [eg Manx Adv 7 Mar 1816] - in an obituary statement dated 30 Nov 1820 it was noted that late Thomas Whaley acted as agent for Mrs Whaley. Mrs Whaley by deed dated 24 July 1827[Braddan ERD May 1828 471] sold it for £1000 to Thomas Taylor + his wife Sophia Isabella Whaley, presumably after this period Fort Anne was set to a tenant as Taylor was in London when it was sold to Sarah Ann StJohn in 1831. Mary has been noted as dying on 18 Oct 1830 at Conyngham Hall, Yorkshire.


The eldest son Thomas Whaley, noted as Lieut Thomas Whaley, given an excellent character refernce in a letter to the London Morning Post reprinted in the Manx Advertiser[16 Nov 1820], died intestate in 1820 considerably in debt with claims of around £400 from several creditors - the principal creditor Philip Garrett(surgeon, Douglas) was appointed administrator - Mary Whaley had also placed a claim for £350 owed to her. Again she must have satisfied the creditors but with the additional problem that as an intestate illegitimate Thomas's estate (i.e. his share of Fort Anne) would pass to the Lord; The Duke of Atholl however agreed to release any legal claim he might have - this deed also indicated that Sophia and her brother Richard were to only two surviving children of Maria Courtenay. Mary then sold Fort Anne to her by now married daughter Sophia and her husband with the proviso that they pay Sophia's brother Richard £1000. It is possible that Richard was off Island by this time - though an illegitimate son to a Richard Whaley and Catharine Shimin was noted in the Malew baptismal register in 1819. though no presentment for fornication is noted in the court records.


Mary Stratton Ryan "The Jerusalem Pilgrim Thomas Whaley (1766-1800) of Castletown and Font Hill, Co Ladis" Carloviana pp 59-66, 2016 [magazine pub by Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society Co Carlow, Republic of Ireland]




Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2018