Boyd, Hugh Macauley (1746–94), political essayist and journalist, was born 6 or 16 April (or October) 1746 in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, or Ship St., Dublin, second son among two sons and two daughters of Alexander Macauley (McAuley) (d. 1766) of Dublin and Glenville, Co. Antrim, MP for Thomastown, and his wife Margaret (or Anne), daughter of Hugh Boyd (qv), entrepreneur in Ballycastle. Alexander Macauley was an ecclesiastical lawyer who published a pamphlet on the need to reform the Irish establishment, and is said to have been friendly with Jonathan Swift (qv) and Arthur Dobbs (qv).
On the death (1765) of his grandfather Hugh Boyd, Hugh Macauley took the Boyd surname. He attended the Rev. Thomas Ball's school in Dublin, and was a classmate of John Fitzgibbon (qv), later earl of Clare, and of Henry Grattan (qv). He entered TCD 8 July 1761 and graduated BA in 1765, having run up debts due to gambling and dissipation. Though still in financial difficulties, he married (29 December 1767) Frances Morphy in London, where he entered the Middle Temple (10 October 1771), and was called to the English bar in 1776. He was friendly with Edmund Burke (qv), Sir Joshua Reynolds, and David Garrick, and was regarded as intellectually brilliant and entertaining, but lacking in application.
He visited Ireland in 1776, supporting his distant relative James Willson, the popular candidate in the Co. Antrim election, by writing the influential Letters from a freeholder, and continued to write on politics in the London Advertiser (1779) and Courant (1779–80). Some of his contemporaries believed that Boyd was the author of the political writings attributed to the mysterious ‘Junius’. While coincidences suggest an acquaintance with ‘Junius’ or his circle, the Letters of Junius are not attributed to Boyd by recent scholarship.
Despite being noted for his radical sympathies, he managed to secure a post with George Macartney (qv) (1737–1806), when the latter went to Madras as governor in 1781; Boyd was sent on an expedition to Trincomalee, and then entrusted with a mission to the king of Candy. This was unsuccessful, and Boyd was captured by the French on his voyage back to Madras. He remained a prisoner on Mauritius and Bourbon for some months, but was freed on parole, and on his return to Madras he was appointed joint master-attendant. This post was very lucrative, but Boyd preferred journalism, and founded in 1792 one of the first English-language periodicals in India, the Madras Courier. The next year he proposed to write essays on society and literature in India, and in 1794 he started a weekly paper, the Hircarrah, as a vehicle for his Indian Observer essays. He was beginning work on an account of his experiences in Candy and Bourbon when he succumbed to fever on 19 October 1794.
He was buried in Madras, leaving a widow and a daughter and son; the latter, Hugh Stuart Boyd (1781–1848), never knew his father, but inherited considerable literary ability, and (despite blindness) became a noted Greek scholar and was tutor of Elizabeth Barrett (Mrs Robert Browning). He was friendly with Adam Clarke (qv), who was a relative. Three portraits of Boyd, by J. Brown, W. Evans, and C. Watson, are in the National Portrait Gallery, London; reproductions appear in L. D. Campbell (ed.), The miscellaneous works of Hugh Boyd. . . (2 vols, 1800) and J. Almon (ed.), The letters of Junius complete (2 vols, 1806).