Secret Service Under Pitt



The subsequent career of Dr. Hussey–of whom a glimpse is obtained on a previous page–affords features sufficiently curious to claim a fuller view.

A second mission of secrecy to Spain proved more successful than his first. In 1786 London swarmed with freed negroes, made wicked by idleness, and four hundred of them, with sixty white women in bad health and worse repute, were shipped by the Government to Sierra Leone to form a colony. Eight years afterwards this settlement was attacked by the French; Spain sided against England; Dr. Hussey again repaired to Madrid, healed the rupture, and Sierra Leone is now a bishopric. For these and other services Hussey enjoyed a pension from Pitt.[655]

The ‘Wickham Papers’–published in 1870–reveal the successful efforts of Pitt to sap Napoleon’s power, by paying Pichegru and other French generals on condition that they would do their best to be beaten in battle. Wickham had been sent on more than one secret mission to the Continent, and acquired a shrewd knowledge of the intrigues of men.[656] He was afterwards appointed Under-Secretary at the Home Office, in which capacity he addressed to Lord Castlereagh at Dublin Castle, many letters in 1798, but hundreds of their allusions as printed have been, hitherto, unintelligible. One, referring to the statement drawn up by Arthur O’Connor and the other State prisoners, says:–

I observe also that they have passed very lightly over their connections with the Spanish Government, and yet we have undoubted proof that a direct communication had taken place with some Minister of that country at the time that McNevin was at Hamburg. The Duke of Portland particularly wishes that some of them should be closely questioned as to this point, and the mode now adopted of examining them separately seems to be particularly favourable for drawing the real secret from them. They certainly had audiences of the Spanish Chargé d’Affaires at Hamburg, and, I believe, also of Mr. D. C. at Paris. I have always had strong suspicions that Dr. H.[657] has sent returns of the state and temper of the Catholics in Ireland to the Spanish Government.[658]

‘D.C.’ must be Del Campo,[659] the Spanish Minister already mentioned in Sydney’s letter about O’Leary; and ‘Dr. H.’ can only mean Dr. Hussey, chaplain to the Spanish embassy in London. As such, he was the servant of Spain, and when a conclave of English Catholics named him as envoy to Rome, there to lay before Pius VI. a document of much importance, Del Campo refused him leave of absence. The latter had now ceased to be Spanish minister, and Lord Camden had become the Viceroy of Ireland. Mr. Froude, with warmth, writes: ‘Lord Camden had brought into Ireland, as he supposed, a serpent of healing, but it turned on him and stung him.'[660] This allusion is to Dr. Hussey who, in 1797, became Bishop of Waterford, and at once issued a pastoral charge so ultramontane that it gave quite a shock at Whitehall. He lived in a style of brilliant pretension hitherto unattempted by his brother bishops,–men who, as Shiel states, were wont to pick their steps stealthily, as among penal traps. Dr. Hussey’s elevation to the See of Waterford was due to the British Crown, but may have been influenced by a desire to shelve him in a remote place where he could do scant harm by intrigue.

‘It was as mischievous a performance as ever I read,’ quoth Sir John Coxe Hippesley à propos of Dr. Hussey’s pastoral, ‘and ministers here took care he should know their sentiments on that subject. He was in dudgeon thereat, and the Duke of Portland told me he demanded his passport “to return to Spain;” it was made out, but the doctor thought better of it, and he remains to lend his hand to the tranquillity of Ireland.'[661]

It appears, however, from the Vatican archives that Hussey, in March 1798, did petition the Pope for leave of absence from his diocese, and for a coadjutor, ‘as he could not obtain the consent of the Court of Spain to leave its service.’ He adds that for thirty years he was head of the Spanish Ambassador’s Chapel, London.[662] His amour propre, no doubt, revolted from accepting at Portland’s hands the passport to return to Spain–if, indeed, he could desert his diocese without leave from the Pope. A coadjutor bishop was not granted, but, in reply to the request for leave of absence, it was stipulated by Rome that Hussey should appoint efficient vicars to govern the see while away.[663] Was it of this arrangement that, as Hippesley says, he ‘thought better’? Between the two accounts the diplomat stands confessed. He certainly passed the year 1799 in London, where, true to his instincts, we find him busy as a bee. Writing to J. Bernard Clinch, the influential occupant of a chair at Maynooth, he says of the then mooted Legislative Union:–

Whatever my reason may tell me upon a cool inquiry,

my feelings rejoice at it. I told the Chancellor of your Exchequer here, that I would prefer a Union with the Beys and Mamelukes of Egypt to that of being under the iron rod of the Mamelukes of Ireland; but, alas! I fear that a Union will not remedy the ills of poor Erin. The remnants of old oppression and new opinions that lead to anarchy (to use the words of a foolish milk-and-water letter) still keep the field of battle, and until one side be defeated, the country is not safe. Another project upon which I have been consulted is, to grant salaries or pension to the Catholic clergy of the higher and lower order.[664] The conditions upon which they are to be granted, as first proposed to me, are directly hostile to the interests of religion, and, taken in the most favourable point of view, must be detrimental to the Catholics, by cutting asunder the slender remaining ties between the pastor and his flock, by turning the discipline and laws of the Church into a mercantile, political speculation, and must end in making the people unbelievers, and, consequently, Jacobins–upon the French scale. Whether the prelates of Ireland have courage or energy enough to oppose any such project so hurtful to religion, I will not say. Indeed, the infernal Popery laws have lessened the courage of the clergy, as well as destroyed the honesty and morals of the people, and my affection for my native land is not so effaced as to enable me to say with our countryman, after he had gone to bed, ‘Arrah, let the house burn away; what do I care, who am only a lodger?'[665]

Dr. Hussey had been so long condemned to observe the Carthusian rule of silence that he seemed, when freed from restraint, like an opened flask of ‘Mumm.’

It has been said that only in the confessional, or in chaunting, is this Trappist vow wholly dispensed with. The desire for shrift is implied by pointing to the mouth and beating the breast. To a man orally gifted like Hussey this restraint must, indeed, have proved painful, and accounts for the wonderful reaction in which he now revelled.

As a preacher, he made a sensation in the West End second only to that subsequently awakened by Irving’s sermons at Hatton Garden. Charles Butler was present at one preached by Dr. Hussey on the small number of the elect. He asked whether, if the arch of Heaven were to open and the Son of Man, bursting from the mercy in which He is now enveloped, should stand in that church and judge his hearers, ‘it were certain that three or even two–nay, trembling for myself as well as for you, is it quite certain that even one of us,’ thundered Dr. Hussey, ‘would be saved?’ ‘During this apostrophe,’ writes Butler, ‘the audience was agonised–at the interrogation there was a general shriek–some fell on the ground–the greatest triumph of eloquence I ever witnessed.'[666]

‘Dr. Hussey was no favourite at Rome–possibly through lay intrigue, to which Gonsalvi was but too open,’ observes an octogenarian priest of Waterford. The Holy See, however, quite recognised Hussey’s powers as a diplomatist, for one of his last acts was to draw up the Concordat between Pius VII. and Napoleon–in which delicate mission he obtained the thanks of both. A long account of Hussey’s interview at the Tuileries is given by England; and how struck Napoleon was with his arguments and expression.

The ‘Burke Correspondence’ describes Dr. Hussey’s resolute attitude in requiring that the rights of Catholic soldiers should be recognised. The ‘O’Renehan Papers’ supply further details. At Clonmel Gaol he demanded the release of a Catholic soldier who had refused to receive religious instruction from the parson. The officer in command insulted Dr. Hussey, adding that he would flog him but for his coat. ‘You wear the coat of a brave man,’ said the bishop, ‘and no one but a coward ever uttered such a threat; I dare you to touch me.’ ‘You shall not remain here, sir,’ cried the officer, sulkily. ‘Nor the soldier either,’ replied Hussey, ‘for I shall report your conduct this day, and obtain his release.’ He did write to the Duke of Portland, and the soldier was discharged from prison.[667]

People were puzzled as to how Hussey managed, in penal days, to have influence with the Home Secretary. The most secret doings of the executive were known to Hussey. Lord Cloncurry mentions in his ‘Memoirs’ (p. 64), that all his motions in London in 1798 were carefully watched by a spy, and he adds: ‘My kind informant was Dr. Hussey, who had been private secretary to the Duke of Portland.’

How he first came in touch with the King’s ministers, and even with the King himself, happened in this way. When Spain joined France in assisting America to throw off the English yoke, the Spanish minister quitted London, giving to Hussey authority to complete certain diplomatic negotiations.

Some erroneous impressions prevailed to the prejudice of this singular man. Cumberland blows hot and cold: speaks of the honours Hussey received from Spain, and that he had clearly no repugnance to those that his Church could give. ‘He had no wish to stir up insurrection; but’–adds Cumberland–‘to head a revolution that should overturn the Church established, and enthrone himself primate in Armagh, would have been his glory and felicity–and, in truth, he was a man, by talents, nerve, ambition, and intrepidity, fitted for the boldest enterprise.’ This impression seems partly due to a Good Friday sermon, in which Dr. Hussey announced the speedy emancipation of the Catholics, and the downfall of sectarianism in Ireland. He established new schools, hospitals, and convents in Waterford, and endowed them with gold.

The widespread feeling of distrust in public men which certain incidents of the time aroused is curiously shown by the remark of Sylvanus Urban, when announcing Hussey’s death. ‘The enemies of administration said he was employed by Government to sow the seeds of dissension with a view to bring about the Union. Others considered him an agent of France.'[668] We have seen, on the authority of Froude, that he turned on his former friends in the Cabinet, and stung them; while Edmund Burke, writing to Hussey on his famous pastoral, says:–

From the moment that the Government, who employed you, betrayed you, they determined at the same time to destroy you. They are not a people to stop short in their course. You have come to an open issue with them. On your part, what you have done has been perfectly agreeable to your duty as a Catholic bishop and a man of honour and spirit.

This was almost the last letter written by Burke.

The Pelham MSS. contain the following curious letter addressed by Hussey to Pelham, afterwards Lord Chichester, and a most influential member of the Government. Hussey’s informant was, no doubt, Edmund Burke:–

Waterford: April 19, 1797.

Sir,–I received this day a letter from a friend of mine who sits in Parliament, who heard you defend the meaning of some sentiments in a pastoral letter, supposed to be addressed to the Roman Catholic clergy of this diocese by the Right Reverend Dr. Hussey, against the admixture of fulsome flattery and captious malevolence of a placeman, and though the intimacy that once subsisted between us has ceased, I will not be inferior in generosity to any man, and accordingly I embrace this occasion to thank you for the justice you do me. If done some months ago it would silence some malevolent whispers and have obliged your humble servant,


An account of Maynooth College by one of its professors appears in the ‘Irish Magazine’ for February 1808; and it is mentioned as a fact not generally known that Burke was ‘attended spiritually in his last illness by Dr. Hussey.’ In the accounts of Burke’s funeral Dr. Hussey’s presence is recorded; and it is told by Dr. England that when Hussey approached his old friend Portland in the graveyard, the duke turned abruptly away. ‘Crosses’ continued to come. Pelham, replying to Dr. Duigenan on February 22, 1799, declared that the Board of Maynooth had displaced their president for non-residence.

Hussey with all his friendship for Burke was no friend to his son. A letter from John Keogh to Hussey, dated October 2, 1792, and seemingly communicated by the latter to Dundas, then Home Secretary, is preserved among the Secret Irish State Papers in London. It repudiates Burke’s son who had been sent to Ireland by his father as an agent on behalf of the Catholics, and tells Dundas that he was wholly unauthorised to speak for that body. According to Tone’s journal of September 1792, Keogh regarded young Burke as a spy sent by Dundas. He was wrong, for Hobart, writing to Nepean, on October 4, 1792, states that Dundas took credit with Westmoreland for having given Burke a chilling reception on his return to England. This was the youth of whom Buckle says, ‘Never can there be forgotten those touching allusions to the death of that only son, who was the joy of his soul and the pride of his heart, and to whom he fondly hoped to bequeath the inheritance of his imperishable fame.’

Hussey was succeeded as an intermediary between the Irish Catholics and the Crown by Dr. Moylan, Bishop of Cork. This prelate–who had denounced the French when their fleet lay in Bantry Bay, for which he would have lost his head had they been able to land–became a great favourite with Pitt and Portland.

The duke in a letter dated Bulstrode, July 27, 1800, states:–

There can be, and there never has been, but one opinion of the firmness, the steadiness, and the manliness of Dr. Moylan’s character, which it was agreed by all those who had the pleasure of meeting him here, was as engaging as his person, which avows and bespeaks as much goodwill as can be well imagined in a human countenance.

Dr. Hussey, as the first President of Maynooth, regarded it with paternal anxiety; and as he was now in deep disfavour with the Government, he asked Dr. Moylan to plead for it, and probably draughted the words. The lay seminary of Maynooth, in which Judge Corballis and other able men received their education, was threatened with suppression at this time.

Whoever was the adviser of this measure [writes Dr. Moylan] consulted more his bigotry than the welfare of his Excellency’s administration, or the dictates of sound policy, for what could be more impolitic than the suppression of the only house for the lay education of the Roman Catholic youth immediately under the eye and inspection of Government, and under the direction of trustees who must have the confidence of Government–an establishment in which the principles of loyalty and attachment to his Majesty’s Government and to our excellent Constitution are, I am bold to say, as strongly inculcated into the minds of the pupils as in any college or other place of education in his Majesty’s dominions.

Dr. Moylan adds:–

So violent an act gives cause to suspect that it is only a prelude to other unfriendly measures, and in particular to the suppression of the college at Maynooth, of which we shall ever remember with gratitude that your Lordship has been the comer-stone.[669]

Pelham usually endorses his letters with a memorandum of his reply–but in this instance none seems to have been given. Dr. Hussey regarded uneasily the threatened downfall of the house which he had raised. The estrangement of old friends, and prolonged anxiety, preyed upon him, and in the following year he dropped down dead. This event occurred at Tramore, near Waterford. He had

Fondly hoped–his long vexations past–
Here to return, and die at home at last.

The Bishop outlived O’Leary by eighteen months, and attended the funeral of his rival. His own was marked by a painful incident. Polemic and party spirit ran so high that some militia and soldiers attempted to throw the coffin into the river Suir; a disgraceful riot took place, and several lives were lost.[670] My correspondent was puzzled to account for an occurrence so painful, but it is clearly traceable to the friction which had arisen between Dr. Hussey and certain military officers. He was fortunate in not living to see the extinction of the Lay College at Maynooth which had known his fostering care.


[655] For other instances in which priests acted as secret agents see Appendix.

[656] One letter conveys the proposal of a much respected ecclesiastic ‘to foment an insurrection in the Cevennes.’ Wickham Correspondence, i. 165.

[657] Hussey was residing in Ireland from 1795. Four years previously his friend, Bishop Egan of Waterford, recommended him at Rome as worthy to succeed ‘the illustrious’ Archbishop Butler of Cashel. See O’Renehan Papers.

[658] Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 264.

[659] It may be said that the prefix ‘Mr.’ disturbs this belief; but all Wickham’s letters thus describe foreign diplomats. For example, he writes to Lord Grenville on October 5, 1796: ‘I have had in my own hands, and read, a despatch of Mr. La Croix to Mr. Barthelemy,’ etc.–Wickham Correspondence, i. 462.

[660] English in Ireland, iii. 215. As Dr. Hussey, an Irishman by birth, had been president from 1795, of the college at Maynooth, it is not quite correct to say that the young Englishman, Lord Camden, who became Viceroy in 1797, brought Hussey to Ireland.

[661] Castlereagh Correspondence, iii. 89.

[662] See Brady’s Episcopal Succession, ii. 75. (Rome, 1876.)

[663] Ibid.

[664] In 1799, it appears that Bishop Douglas of London was anxious that a provision should be made for the English Catholic clergy; in other words, that they should be pensioned. See Castlereagh Papers, iii. 87.

[665] In March 1799, as I find from the Pelham MSS., Dr. Moylan, Bishop of Cork, urges in the name of his colleagues a State endowment of the clergy.

[666] Hussey, as the friend of Johnson, is allotted a niche by Boswell.

[667] I find in the Pelham MSS. an interesting paper of eight folios, in Hussey’s autograph, as regards an alleged systematic interference with the religious tenets of soldiers, and handed by himself to the Government. There is also a letter from Portland, dated November 1, 1796, concerning the alleged appointment by the Pope of Dr. Hussey as Vicar Apostolic over the Catholic military of Ireland. Pitt, in giving him authority over Catholic chaplains, did so on the understanding that, as a staunch anti-Jacobin which he was, he would stamp out disaffection in the army.

[668] Gentleman’s Magazine, September 1803, p. 881.

[669] Cork, January 1, 1802; the Pelham MSS. Pelham had been Chief Secretary for Ireland when Maynooth College was founded.

[670] The late Very Rev. Dr. Fitzgerald, P.P., Carrick-on-Suir, to the Author, September 19, 1888.

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