Giffard, John (1746–1819), accountant general of the Irish customs and acting grand master of the Orange order, was born 14 February 1746 (NS), the only child of John Giffard, attorney, of Great Torrington, Devon, and his wife Dorcas Robinson (née Murphy), daughter of Arthur Murphy of Oulartleigh, Co. Wexford. Giffard senior, the disinherited grandson of John Giffard of Brightley, Devonshire, England, had been in the service of Richard Annesley (qv), 6th earl of Anglesey, but he came to Ireland as a witness for the claimant, James Annesley, in the celebrated Annesley case. He died in London (November 1746); some years later his widow (who had returned to her father's house) also died. Ambrose Hardinge, barrister, of Dublin, a friend of the boy's father, took the child into his home and sent him to a school run by a Mr Gamcliff. He was apprenticed to Augustine Thwaites, a Dublin apothecary, and became free of the apothecaries’ guild in 1768. He also qualified as an apothecary at Surgeons' Hall, London, but failed to find work in London.
On his return to Ireland (1769) Giffard married Sarah Morton, a younger daughter of William Morton of Ballinaclash, Co. Wexford. They settled first in Wexford town, but relocated to Dublin (1771), where Giffard leased a shop in Fishamble St. Soon afterwards he was elected to represent his guild on the lower house (city commons) of Dublin corporation. His first publication, Reason (an answer to Paine's Common sense), defending the British constitution as the Americans' best guarantee of liberty and prosperity, appeared anonymously in 1776. According to Giffard, it was at his house in 1778 that the decision was taken to form the first regiment of Dublin Volunteers; at this period, his sympathies lay with the political opposition. However, about 1780 he formed a lasting friendship with Edward Cooke (qv), later under-secretary at Dublin Castle; this led to Giffard (who had a prodigious memory) being employed to report Irish parliamentary debates: between 1782 and 1801 seventeen volumes of the Parliamentary register were published. He also prepared a pamphlet edition of a plan by the chief secretary, Thomas Orde (qv), for educational reform: Mr Orde's plan of an improved system of education in Ireland (Dublin, 1787).
By 1784 Giffard had been appointed to a post in the customs, and abandoned work as an apothecary. He acquired land near Dundrum, Co. Dublin, where he built what would become his family residence, Dromartin Castle. During the regency crisis Giffard was asked by government to take over the popular Faulkner's Dublin Journal. He was assisted by his wife's nephew, Daniel Ryan (qv), who became editor, and by his eldest son, Ambrose Hardinge (below), who also helped to record speeches in the commons.
The conversion of the British government in 1791–2 to a policy of political rights for catholics aroused tensions among protestants. By 1792 Giffard was acting as a go-between for Cooke at the Castle and the spy Thomas Collins (qv). Although he did not coin the term ‘protestant ascendancy’, as recorded by Jonah Barrington (qv), Giffard was an unwavering supporter of the protestant constitution. After the outbreak of the French war (1793), he was elected sheriff of Dublin for 1793–4. His seizure of documents at a meeting of the United Irishmen in Dublin (May 1794) effectively ended the public phase of that body in the capital. Under attack from the opposition press, he was stigmatised as ‘the dog in office’.
In 1793 Giffard became a lieutenant (later captain) in the City of Dublin militia. In 1795 he was quartered at Portadown, and although not present at the notorious battle of the Diamond (21 September) which led to the formation of the Orange order, he had been present at earlier clashes between Defenders and Peep O'Day Boys. He was apparently admitted into the order in October 1795. He was a member of the first Dublin lodge in June 1797, of which his nephew Daniel Ryan was secretary (Ryan was to be mortally wounded on 19 May 1798 during the arrest of Lord Edward FitzGerald (qv)). His son Ambrose Hardinge also joined the order, and, together with another member, Samuel Montgomery, was requested to draw up the first rules for use of all Orange societies, superseding the various county codes, when the grand lodge moved to Dublin in 1798.
On 24 May 1798, the day after the outbreak of the 1798 rebellion, Giffard's younger son, William, a lieutenant travelling to join his regiment in England, was killed by rebels who stopped the Limerick mail coach in Kildare town. Several of Giffard's Wexford relatives also lost their lives during the rebellion. With his regiment, Giffard helped to fortify Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow. He faced two courts martial (1799, 1800), and on both occasions was found guilty of disrespectful conduct to his commanding officer, but received slight punishments.
When government raised the idea of a legislative union, Giffard became a strong supporter, both in the city commons (where he was in a minority of one) and in the Dublin Journal, despite some damage to its circulation owing to the unpopularity of the measure in the capital. He expected that union would bring prosperity to Ireland, but his main reason for supporting it was that it would safeguard ‘the protestant religion’, whose constitutional safeguards had been removed by the extension of political rights to catholics.
On the return of Pitt to office in 1804, catholics decided to petition for full ‘emancipation’. Ministers were sympathetic but powerless in view of George III's hostility. Despite official warnings not to foment counter-agitation by protestants, Giffard successfully moved for a counter-petition from Dublin corporation, and was promptly dismissed from his post in the customs. There was much sympathy for him in loyalist circles, and he carried his campaign for reinstatement to England. During 1805 he visited London, where he met the duke of Cumberland, George III's younger brother, and appealed directly to the king, an appeal endorsed by Archbishop Charles Agar (qv) of Dublin. Pitt probably intended to reinstate Giffard, but died before he could do so. The ‘Talents’ ministry that followed was not sympathetic, and it was only in 1808 that Giffard was appointed accountant general of the Irish customs.
In 1811, aged 65, Giffard retired from the customs, eventually obtaining a government pension. He remained active in the corporation, the aldermen of Skinner's Alley, and continued to conduct the Dublin Journal till 1816. He had been appointed deputy grand master of the Orange order in 1805, and remained one of the main points of contact with the Orange order in England, advising on the formation of a British grand lodge in 1808. He took a leading part against the catholic emancipation campaign after the appointment of a regency in 1811, and drew on his acquaintance with the duke of Cumberland to persuade the duke to become involved with the order. From 1814 till his death he was acting Irish grand master.
Meanwhile there were domestic difficulties. Most damaging to domestic harmony was a liaison that Giffard had commenced some years earlier with an actress, Catherine Keane: since 1802 she had borne him eight children. In July 1818 Giffard and his wife were legally separated. A dispute about testamentary arrangements soured relations with his legitimate children, and in his will he left all his property not otherwise in trust to Catherine Keane and her children. He died, considerably in debt, of a urethral obstruction at Roebuck House, near Dundrum, Co. Dublin, on 5 May 1819, and is buried at Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow.
Giffard had several legitimate children, five of whom survived to adulthood: Ambrose Hardinge (see below), Harriet, William, Mary, and Stanley Lees. Lees's third son, Hardinge Stanley (1823–1921), 1st earl of Halsbury, became lord chancellor of England (see ODNB). Collections of John Giffard's papers are held by T. L. G. Landon, Great Bromley, Colchester, Essex; and Lady Clare Lindsay (neé Giffard), Beer Hackett, Sherborne, Dorset. A portrait in oils is owned by his Lindsay descendants. Giffard was a man of considerable abilities, a loyal friend and affectionate parent. His political principles and outspoken demeanour naturally bred enemies, but he was not the bigot or coward suggested by Henry Grattan (qv), nor the ‘Dickensian villain’ suggested more recently by Brian Inglis (qv).
His eldest son and eldest child, Sir Ambrose Hardinge Giffard (1771–1827), was born in Wexford and named after his father's benefactor. In the straitened circumstances of the family's move to Dublin, the boy attended successively schools conducted by Sam White (in Grafton St.), a Rev. Adamson, and William Dwyer. He entered TCD in 1785 (where for some months his private tutor was T. W. Tone (qv)), and gained a BA in 1790. He was called to the bar of the Inner Temple in London, and to the Irish bar in 1793, where he began practising in 1795. During his father's shrievalty a disagreement over criticism of the administration led to a duel (May 1794) with the United Irishman Bagenal Harvey (qv), in which Hardinge Giffard was injured.
He joined the Lawyers' Corps of yeomanry, and was on guard duty at Leinster House on 19 May 1798 when his cousin Daniel Ryan was mortally wounded; five days later his brother William was killed. After the killing of some eighty protestants at Scullabogue, Co. Wexford (5 June), he gathered evidence of the atrocity and distributed it throughout Ireland. In 1803 he became captain of a new yeomanry corps, the Dundrum Infantry 3rd Coy, and in 1805 was acting deputy grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge while his father was in England.
In 1809, through the good offices of Lord Castlereagh (qv), Giffard was appointed advocate fiscal of Ceylon. In his absence, his close friend John Wilson Croker (qv) looked after his interests. In 1819 Croker's advocacy secured him the chief justiceship of Ceylon. Giffard was anxious to retire to his paternal ancestors' county of Devonshire, and Croker arranged the purchase of a small estate; but he died (30 April 1827) on the voyage home, and was buried at sea. Before his death, a knighthood was conferred on him.
He married (1808) Harriet, daughter of Lovell Pennell of Lyme Regis, Dorset (his friend Croker had married a cousin, Rosamund Pennell, in 1806). They had five sons and five daughters. Some time before 1810 he fathered an illegitimate son, of whom little is known.
At an early age Giffard showed a talent for poetry; some verses were published in the Volunteer Evening Post in 1783 or 1784. He went on to produce odes for various official occasions, and (anonymously) some of the best known loyalist verse of the 1790s, including ‘MacDermot's ghost’, a satire on those United Irishmen who were dispersed by Sheriff John Giffard in May 1794, and ‘Orange: a political rhapsody’ (sometimes attributed to his father), published in three cantos (1797–8). ‘Orange’ was dedicated to J. C. Beresford (qv), MP for Dublin, and ran to seven editions in 1798. Many of Giffard's verses were collected and published by his son, under the title Poems, political and miscellaneous: written by members of his family. . . by Edward Giffard (London, 1843). By contrast few prose publications have been attributed to him: they include A short reply to Dr Drennan's letter. By an Irish loyalist (1795) and Union or not? By an Orangeman (1799), a pro-union pamphlet. A portrait in oils is owned by his Landon descendants.