Devereux, Richard (1795–1883), merchant, shipowner, and philanthropist, was born 13 June 1795 in Wexford, eldest son among four sons of Richard Devereux of Wexford, corn merchant and maltster, and his wife Christine (née Herron), daughter of a prosperous Wexford shipowner and maltster. In common with many other children of the catholic merchant class he was initially educated at a small school in George St., Wexford town, run by a protestant gentleman, Mr Behan. After completing his education at the protestant diocesan school in Spawell Road, Wexford, he was apprenticed to his father's counting house, where he displayed both an aptitude for finance and an early talent for mercantile affairs.
On his father's death he became senior partner in the family business, Devereux Brothers, then primarily dealing in corn. However, by operating schooners on both the cross-channel and coastal routes Richard rapidly expanded his business. The increase in his wealth was reflected in a rising stature within the local community; thus in 1827 he sat on a committee to improve the grounds of the Franciscan church. In 1837 he founded Devereux Shipping with his brother John Thomas. The first ship to be launched, a ninety-ton schooner called Slaney, was built in the firm's own boat yards and operated on the Canadian timber route and later the Mediterranean fruit and grain trade. Obtaining timber from source enabled him to increase profits and thus expand further through the expansion of his fleet.
However, it was the repeal of the corn laws (1846) that provided him with the opportunity to become one of the wealthiest merchants in the country. In 1846 he entered the Black Sea grain trade with the 143-ton schooner Vision. This trade increased to the extent that the firm replaced the schooners on this route with barques and brigs of between 350 and 500 tons. In the same year his stature as the premier merchant in the town became evident when he successfully opposed a scheme by John Edward Redmond (1806–65) that proposed the reclamation of much of the port. This rivalry with the Redmond family was to remain a prevalent feature of mercantile life in nineteenth-century Wexford.
Devereux's concern for the people of Wexford during the famine was readily apparent when he brought (1846) the first shipment of Indian corn into Ireland to help feed the poor. Throughout the years of famine (1845–9) he travelled incessantly to procure food. His charity was dictated by a piety instilled by his devout mother and illustrated by attendance at mass twice daily. He also made an annual retreat to Mount Melleray and had a chapel in his house. As his wealth increased his contributions became larger and his drive to succeed in business was dominated by a desire to use his wealth for the benefit of the catholic church and the town's people.
In 1849 Devereux invited the Christian Brothers to Wexford to set up a school. With the consent of Bishop James Keating (1783–1849) of Ferns, and at a cost of £1,000, he constructed a school and dwelling house for the Christian Brothers in the Faythe. Two years later (1851) Devereux expressed his support for the foundation of the Catholic University by presenting Archbishop Paul Cullen (qv) with a cheque for £500. In 1853 he invited the Redemptorist Fathers to stay at his home during their first mission to Wexford. In that same year it was decided to erect a new school in memory of the late parish priest, Fr John Synnott, and Devereux offered to meet the costs on the condition that it was run by the Christian Brothers. Work on the new school was completed in 1859.
In the intervening period (1850–58) Devereux was also involved in plans to build a new parish church to accommodate a growing congregation. These took shape when Canon James Roche (1801–82) was appointed parish priest in 1853, and proposed the building of twin churches. Devereux and Roche, with the blessing of Pope Pius IX, helped devise a public subscription fund to raise money for the churches. Thus in 1858 the twin churches of the Immaculate Conception at Rowe St. and of the Assumption at Bride St. were completed at a cost of £54,000. In 1858, having already provided the Sisters of Mercy with money for the construction of a new convent and school at Summerhill, he also presented them with an additional school at George St. (this moved to St John's St. in 1945).
This period witnessed such a phenomenal increase in the amount of grain being brought to Wexford by Devereux's ships that he established a mill on a site between Paul Quay and South Main St. This mill was not as efficient as those that employed roller mills, and he therefore changed its operations to grind maize. Combined with the collapse of the Black Sea grain trade in the 1860s, this led him to source corn and grain in Galatz (Galati) on the Danube. He also increased his involvement in the Canadian timber trade with the construction of three new Canadian-built schooners, Saltee (1863), Hantoon (1864), and May Queen (1868).
During the 1860s and 1870s Devereux continued to use his wealth to fund schools, monasteries and convents, particularly in Wexford, New Ross, Enniscorthy, and Gorey, but also in Dublin, in Cabra, Glasnevin, and Marino. He also had a deep interest in the moral instruction and welfare of the poor, bequeathing bookcases, books, and money to the Catholic Young Men's Association in 1855 and donating 123 volumes to each of Co. Wexford's eighty libraries at a cost of £5,000. As president of the St Vincent de Paul Society he often paid lengthy visits to the poor of Wexford and made a munificent investment of £30,000 to be used for their benefit. In 1879 he purchased the lease on Kenny's Hall in South Main St. and donated the building to the Society of St Vincent de Paul.
Devereux's ships flew a flag with a white ‘D’ on a blue background. By 1880 he had forty ships registered in his name, and the premises of the firm covered the entire length of Paul Quay, from King St. to the custom house. In addition, he owned one of the largest flourmills of its time (from which Mill Road in Wexford derives its name) and a millstone quarry near Loftus Hall on Hook Head. He lived at South Main St. In recognition of his dedication to the church and the cause of education he was created a knight of the Most Holy Order of St. Gregory the Great (1854) by Pope Pius IX. He died 6 March 1883 at his residence and reputedly left a fortune of £250,000, most of which was bequeathed to charitable causes. On the day of his funeral, all commercial buildings in the town closed and ships flew their flags at half-mast. He was buried in the graveyard of the Franciscan friary. There are known to be three portraits of him in existence. Two have passed into private collections and one remains in the Presentation convent, Wexford.
His younger brother, and Richard's third son, John Thomas Devereux (1801–85), merchant, shipowner, philanthropist, and MP, was born 1 September 1801 in Wexford. Like his brother he was educated at Mr Behan's school in George St. (where he established a lasting friendship with his classmate, the future Canon Roche) and the protestant diocesan school. After following his brother into their father's counting house, he became a partner in Devereux Brothers on his father's death. In 1847 he was selected by the Repeal Association to contest Wexford borough in the Westminster election, and was returned unopposed. As the repeal movement disintegrated, he sat with liberals, but later became part of the independent opposition with others such as Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (qv), and supported widening the franchise, admitting Jews to parliament, and tenant right. He was again returned unopposed as MP for Wexford in 1852 and 1857, and retired in 1859 to return to the family business full-time. In his capacity as a partner he was credited with opening ports that had not previously traded with Ireland. His success in contributing to the growth of the business was also attributed to careful speculations on the London corn exchange. By the 1880s he had eighteen vessels registered in his own name and had built up a considerable personal fortune.
Like his brother Richard he was a considerable and unostentatious benefactor to charity and the church. He was consistently listed in local newspapers as one of the most generous contributors to the poor. His generosity is also evident in that he assisted his daughter, Mary Anne Locke (qv), with the foundation (1879) of the Sisters of Mercy convent in Kilbeggan. He contributed a large proportion of the total of £7,000 that Mary Anne gave to the sisters to pay for buildings, and an endowment to provide the convent with an income. He lived at ‘Rocklands’, Wexford, and later in a house on George St. that was subsequently demolished; when in London, he resided at the Reform Club. In 1858 he was made a DL of Co. Wexford. He died 31 December 1885 and was buried in the family vault in the graveyard of the Franciscan monastery.
He married first Mary Curran of Waterford, a cousin of Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, first archbishop of Westminster; they had three sons and two daughters. He then married a Miss Fitzgerald, sister of the judge John David Fitzgerald (qv), who subsequently became Lord Fitzgerald and lived at Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford. He married lastly (24 May 1870) Josephine Owens of Castle Talbot. There were no children from his last two marriages.
James Devereux, brother to Richard and John Thomas, and second of the four sons, was a founding director (1832) of the Corn Exchange Buildings Co. with other prominent Dublin businessmen, including Arthur Guinness (qv) and Sir James Jameson (qv). He was also a corn merchant and maltster at Great Brunswick St. in Dublin during the 1830s. The remaining brother of Richard and John Thomas, and youngest son, Nicholas Devereux (d. 23 March 1840), married Anne Scallan, daughter of a brewer on Spawell Road. In 1827 Nicholas founded the Bishopswater distillery on a site of six acres beside the banks of the Bishopswater river. The distillery was a major source of employment in Wexford and had its own blacksmiths, cooperage, and cart-making facilities. Although the Devereux connection ended with the death of Nicholas, the distillery remained a dominant feature of the town until the 1920s, when the site was taken over by Pierce's engineering works.
The only child of Nicholas Devereux, and nephew of Richard and John Thomas, Richard Joseph Devereux (1829–83), merchant, shipowner, and MP, was born in Wexford in 1829. He was educated at Oscott College (near Birmingham), Mount St Mary's, and Namur, Belgium. After leaving school he entered the business of his uncles to train as a merchant. Despite his relative youth he was returned as a town councillor (1852–62) for St Mary's ward in 1852. In addition to being a successful merchant in his own right, at the age of 25 (1854) he already had several vessels registered in his name.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Wexford politics was dominated by the Devereuxs and the Redmonds, and when John Thomas Devereux resigned as MP in 1859, John Redmond (1806–65) took the seat, to be replaced by Richard Joseph Devereux in 1865. In parliament Devereux sat with the liberals, but by the election of 1868 his popularity had begun to wane and he faced an independent challenger for the seat, William Radley Standish Motte. Motte had purchased the bankrupt Bagnalstown & Wexford railway in 1866 and claimed that he had been invited by numerous influential voters to oppose Devereux. Both men stood on a similar platform that included support for the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the denominational system of education, and the improvement of the port. Devereux was attacked for defaulting on his promise during the 1865 election to remain independent of any party. With the support of the Redmond family Motte's campaign grew in confidence, and on polling day (17 November 1868) Motte was initially elected by a show of hands. Devereux demanded a poll and the returning officer proposed to adjourn proceedings for two days. Motte then shocked all present by announcing his withdrawal in order to avoid conflict. Although the returning officer then declared Devereux elected, six supporters of Motte lodged a petition with the court of common pleas, opposing his election on several grounds including intimidation. The petition was upheld and the return of Devereux was ruled to be void (January 1869) but the seat could not legally be granted to Motte as he had withdrawn. Devereux was eventually returned as MP for the borough when the election was rerun in February 1869. In 1870 he was appointed a member (1870–73) of the admiralty commission for the town, and the following year became an alderman (1871–6) for St Mary's ward. He resigned from Westminster in 1872.
Richard Joseph married (1850) Kate, daughter of William Hegarty, esq., RN, and had four sons, including twins, and one daughter. They lived at Summerhill, Wexford town. He died 16 September 1883 and was buried in the family vault in the graveyard of the Franciscan friary.