Harvey, Beauchamp Bagenal (1754?–1798), barrister, United Irishman, and insurgent leader, was born at Bargy Castle, Co. Wexford, elder son among two sons and three daughters of Francis Harvey (d. 1792), barrister, and his wife Martha (d. 1794), daughter of the Rev. James Harvey of Killiane. They had married in 1747 and were first cousins. Francis Harvey, a leading barrister and shrewd landlord, acquired up to 2,000 acres of land in the barony of Bargy and the counties of Carlow and Waterford. A liberal protestant, he enjoyed good relations with his catholic tenants. His son was named after his cousin and close friend, the eccentric Beauchamp Bagenal (qv), who was also the boy's godfather.
Tutored by a Mr Ball, Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey entered TCD in 1771, aged 17, and graduated BA (1775). He then entered the King's Inns (1775), attended the Middle Temple, and was called to the bar in 1782. At his father's death (1792), he inherited considerable estates and an annual income of some £3,000. Outspoken on the need for parliamentary reform since his Trinity days, he was admitted to the Society of United Irishmen in Dublin on 22 June 1792. On 1 March 1793 Simon Butler (qv) and Oliver Bond (qv), chairman and secretary of the society, were convicted for libelling the high court of parliament. Harvey and Thomas Russell (qv) replaced them and issued a statement criticising the convictions and appealing to the people of Ireland to convene and pronounce the national will. The address was cleverly worded by T. W. Tone (qv) and Harvey and Russell were not prosecuted. Harvey's brother James (b. c.1758) was admitted to the society on 3 June 1793. In Dublin Harvey cohabitated with a Wexford woman of humble origins, Elizabeth Smith. With her he had his only children, James (d. 1810), and William, but his father's settlement did not provide for them. Though he had lived happily with Elizabeth, he secretly married (1797) a Judith Dockrell (1773?–1806?), possibly of Arklow, who only came to Bargy after his death.
Engaged with Wexford's catholic committee, Harvey argued strongly for catholic emancipation. Seconded by Thomas Addis Emmet (qv), on 8 May 1794 he fought a duel with and wounded the loyalist Ambrose Hardinge Giffard (qv) over a political disagreement. In 1795 the informer Leonard MacNally (qv) reported that Harvey was ‘rather diminutive’, but had ‘the heart of a Hercules’, if not the strength (NA (Kew) 30/8/327, ff 321–2). During the Fitzwilliam (qv) crisis of 1795, Harvey, Cornelius Grogan (qv) and Edward Hay (qv) were sent by the Wexford freeholders to London to deliver the petition to reinstate the viceroy. For this he was deeply resented by Wexford loyalists, while emerging as an influential figure in the politicisation of both Wexford's catholics and its liberal gentry.
Harvey was openly liberal, but did not associate with those planning armed rebellion, and may not have been aware of these plans until late spring, 1798. Most sources concur that he was precipitated into events. With John Henry Colclough (qv) and Edward Fitzgerald (qv) of New Park, he conferred prestige to the United Irishmen locally, unbeknown to the Wexford magistrates. After the roundup of the Leinster directory on 12 March 1798, Dublin Castle had information linking Harvey to an arrested United Irish courier, but did not act on it. Even among peers he appeared relaxed on the eve of the rebellion, according to Jonah Barrington (qv). Though hardly objective, Barrington poignantly recalled his last encounter with his former circuit companion, in April 1798, convinced he had been among ‘absolute though unavowed conspirators’ (Barrington, 107–8).
Following the outbreak of violence on 23 May, Harvey complied with the order to surrender arms and on 26 May delivered to Wexford town those he had collected on his estate. However, the authorities had extracted from Anthony Perry (qv) information that Harvey was a key player in the conspiracy. He was arrested and jailed that night, and remained there as the rebels took Enniscorthy and threatened Wexford town. Asked by loyalist magistrates to negotiate with the rebel leaders at Vinegar Hill, he wrote a brief note urging them: ‘If you pretend to Christian charity, do not commit massacre, or burn the property of the inhabitants, and spare your prisoners’ lives’ (NLI, MS 8287). When Wexford was taken on 30 May, he was released and made chief of the county's forces – an office he must have reluctantly accepted – and commander of the southern division.
The insurgents’ priority was to seize the walled town of New Ross. Though Harvey had twenty times as many men as the garrison, most were armed only with pikes, and like him lacked any real experience of battle. His three-day delay at Carrickbyrne Hill camp was criticised, but it was spent trying out artillery captured at the Three Rocks. On 4 June the rebel army advanced to Corbet Hill which strategically overlooked the town. From Harvey's headquarters at Talbot Hall, a council of war despatched Matthew Furlong as a messenger to offer the enemy a chance to surrender and prevent the ruin of the town. Harvey's message suggested he felt incapable of preventing rapine and plunder, should the rebel forces meet with resistance. A contingent of Dublin militia had reinforced New Ross, now prepared for a siege by well-armed troops led by an experienced officer. Furlong was shot down without warning, outraging the rebel rank and file. Harvey and his officers had no choice but to mount a full-scale assault. This was launched by the unit of Bantry men under John Kelly (qv), who breached the Three Bullet Gate and entered the town. For several hours in the sweltering heat the rebels fought hand to hand with troops in the narrow and winding streets. After several charges and counter-charges, the rebels suffered staggering losses and Harvey ordered the retreat back through the Three Bullet Gate. The defeat was the first significant reverse for the Wexford rebels, many of whom blamed it on Harvey's loss of nerve.
Shaken by the atrocity at Scullabogue, where a barn full of loyalist prisoners was burned to the ground by insurgents retreating from New Ross, Harvey raised a subscription among his officers to bury the victims. He issued a strongly worded proclamation, offering a reward for the capture of those responsible for the massacre, and warning that anyone found guilty of deserting, looting, or murdering prisoners would be summarily shot. Though it helped to prevent a massacre at Gorey on 8 June, it betrayed his helplessness, and was ‘his last act in a role he had never filled with any conviction’ (Dunne, 261).
New Ross was Harvey's first and last battle. Replaced as rebel commander on 7 June, he assumed the presidency of the reshaped council governing Wexford, previously headed by Matthew Keugh (qv) and often loosely referred to as the Wexford ‘Republic.’ Charles Jackson (1738–1813), who had been protected by Harvey while in prison, recalled how he endeavoured to control the unruly mob. He described Harvey as being ‘of almost the lowest stature, thin and his visage long, with very plain features . . . His private character was much respected’ (Jackson, 40). By 13 June, though Harvey and other moderates including Keugh and Edward Roche (qv) had managed to restrain extremists from violence, they acknowledged their relatively helpless situation. Loyalist prisoners held in Wexford included a militia commander, so with this bargaining chip they opened negotiations, but the mission sent to parley with Gen. Lake (qv) was sabotaged by a hard-liner.
By 21 June Lake had recaptured Wexford, causing Harvey and Colclough to flee and seek refuge in a cave on the Saltee islands. Probably hoping to escape to France, they had not travelled lightly – Harvey even having brought a chest of his silver. On 24 June a search party, led by Dr Richard Waddy, a local yeoman, landed and eventually discovered the cave. Harvey was brought to Wexford, and jailed along with other arrested leaders. At his court martial, he defended himself forcefully for several hours, admitting membership of the United movement but claiming he had been forced into his role. His defence was to no avail and he was hanged with Cornelius Grogan on 28 June 1798 from an ornamental arch spanning Wexford bridge, the building of which he had generously supported. To set an example, their heads were fixed on pikes on top of the very courthouse where Harvey had distinguished himself, on either side of Keugh's. A memorial plaque hangs in Mayglass church to commemorate him.
His estate was confiscated by the crown and, for a time, Bargy Castle was used to billet soldiers, until his brother James succeeded in reversing the act of attainder (6 October 1798). With his cousin Ambrose Boxwell, he made arrangements for all those Harvey had provided for, beyond his wife Judith who died 21 April 1806/7 and was buried at Ferns. His two sons, comfortably provided for, went by their father's name and were sent to school in Glasgow. Family correspondence reveals a warm relationship with their uncle James, who never married, and died in 1832. Harvey's son James died in 1810, and William lived in Wicklow and France; he may have fought with Simón Bolívar in South America.
Miles Byrne (qv) later wrote that Harvey had been chosen as leader to refute claims that catholics had driven the Wexford rebellion. His status as a prominent liberal and a benevolent landlord to whom tenants regularly came for advice probably also contributed to his appointment. Harvey's predicament was echoed in the narrative of Mrs Brownrigg, a staunch loyalist for whom he provided a letter of protection. She recalled how he ‘seemed greatly struck by the misery he must have felt he had caused . . . at the same time saying he had no real command’ (Wheeler & Broadley, 173). In accepting this nominal role, possibly to prevent atrocities, Harvey must have believed he was behaving honourably.
A miniature portrait of Harvey, together with family records (wills and correspondence), are in the personal possession of Helen Skrine; other papers are in the NLI (MS 8287; Harvey papers, Ainsworth report) and Wexford county library.