Emmet, Robert (1729–1802), state physician, was born 29 November 1729 at Tipperary, younger of two sons of Christopher Emett, physician, and Rebecca Emett (née Temple); his mother was a descendant of the powerful Temple political dynasty based at Stowe, Buckinghamshire. Educated locally, he decided on a career in medicine and studied at Edinburgh University, where he graduated MD. Moving to Cork, he soon built up a considerable practice. An admirer of William Pitt the elder, Dr Emmet raised a subscription to erect a statue in his honour in Cork. He married (November 1760) Elizabeth, daughter of James Mason of Co. Cork; they had seventeen children but only four survived to adulthood. Their eldest son, Christopher Temple (qv), was named after his paternal grandparents; they also had a daughter, Mary Anne (qv), who married the barrister Robert Holmes (qv). But Dr Emmet is now chiefly remembered for the achievements of his two younger sons, the United Irish revolutionaries Thomas Addis (qv) and Robert Emmet (qv).
Specialising in fever cases, on 25 February 1770 Robert Emmet was appointed state physician for Ireland, after purchasing the office from the widow of the former holder for £1,000. The same year he sold his house at Dunscombe Marsh, in Cork, and moved to Dublin, where he lived with his family at Molesworth St., and later at 109 and 110 St Stephen's Green. ‘Remarkably punctual and precise’ (Madden) in money matters, he once angered his son Thomas Addis, who went days without speaking to him, by being too parsimonious with a relative (ibid., 9). Appointed a governor of Swift's hospital for the insane in 1770, he was later presented with a large piece of silver plate from that body in recognition of his many services. Emmet received about £300 a year for his work at Swift's, and a further income of about £1 a day as state physician. He was in regular contact with the American branch of the Temple family, and on 4 February 1782 the British government awarded him an annual pension of £50, to be kept in trust for relatives who lost property during the war of American independence. The same year he subscribed £2,000 capital to help establish the Bank of Ireland. When George Grenville (qv), 3rd Earl Temple, was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland, Robert Emmet benefited greatly from the patronage of his distant cousin. In 1783 he used this connection to have his patent as state physician split in two, so that Thomas Addis could have his name added to it; when his son resigned in 1788, he sold his share for £1,000.
Anxious to have his salary as state physician increased, in 1785 Dr Emmet appealed to John Temple, his relative in America, to use his influence with the new prime minister, William Pitt the younger; as a result his salary was raised to £400. In 1787 Earl Temple, now marquess of Buckingham, returned to Ireland as lord lieutenant, and Emmet's brilliant barrister son, Christopher Temple, wrote a poem, ‘The decree’, in his honour. The death of Christopher Temple later that year came as a bitter blow.
In politics Dr Emmet was a Patriot, despite his position as state physician, and was not afraid to make his views known in public. As Sir Edward Newenham (qv) wrote to the distinguished Benjamin Franklin in America, although Dr Emmet held an official situation, he ‘yet votes and speaks on the side of the constitution at all public meetings and elections’ (12 January 1786, American Philosophical Society, Franklin papers, xxxiv/4). Some Irish Patriots had problems with Emmet's political fervour. Henry Grattan (qv) thought him eccentric and privately mocked him; he later remembered that one of Emmet's plans for parliamentary reform had been to give each MP a different number of votes depending on his prestige in the country. From an early age Emmet inoculated his children with strong patriotic principles, and in his famous speech from the dock in 1803 Robert paid an eloquent tribute to the teaching of his father. This education was later condemned by John Philpot Curran (qv), once a close family friend. He would often mimic Emmet giving his children their ‘morning draught’: ‘Well, Temple, what would you do for your country? Addis! Would you kill your brother for your country? Would you kill your sister for your country? Would you kill me?’ (Grattan, Life, iv, 356). In March 1798 Thomas Addis was arrested, and Dr Emmet retired from active practice, his health in decline and his peace of mind shattered. Despite the charge of treason over his son, he retained his sinecure as state physician until his death. He died 9 December 1802 at his country home at Casino, Milltown, Co. Dublin, and was buried at St Peter's church, Aungier St., Dublin.