Pigott, Richard (1828–89), journalist, newspaper owner, and forger, was the son of George Pigott of Ratoath, Co. Meath, and his wife, a woman from Roscommon. George Pigott was initially employed by Peter Purcell of Dublin, who held the contract for the transmission of the mails from Dublin to the provinces. After Purcell's death George was employed at the Dublin office of The Tablet, the publication run by Frederick Lucas (qv), English quaker convert to catholicism and Irish nationalism, and later MP for Meath (1852–5). This connection exposed Richard, the youngest and only surviving son, to the world of Dublin newspapers and periodicals; two daughters of the marriage also survived. George Pigott was subsequently employed on the Monitor, Lower Abbey St., and remained at that address when the plant became the location of the Nation newspaper in 1842.
Apprenticeship in journalism Taken out of school at a young age to work in the early 1840s as an office-boy in the offices of the Nation, Richard Pigott was ‘good at figures’. Though there is little evidence of formal schooling beyond his early teens, he subsequently writes and presents himself as an educated man, which he does indeed appear to be. Leaving Dublin, he got a job in Belfast as a bookkeeper on the Ulsterman (founded in 1852) in the employ of Denis Holland (qv), where he rapidly gained confidence and position. James O'Connor (qv) wrote that he had great powers of organisation, excellent business faculties, calculating shrewdness, and a prescience that should have enabled him to reach great heights. He was soon effectively running the Ulsterman and presided with Holland over its renaming as the Irishman and its changed location to Dublin in 1859. In Personal recollections of an Irish national journalist (1882), however, Pigott claims that an earlier version of the Irishman had been founded in 1849 at 4 D'Olier St., and that it was there his career had begun. This original Irishman was founded by Trinity men of the advanced party who were increasingly critical of Charles Gavan Duffy (qv) and his now restrained Nation, but it collapsed on 25 May 1850. Pigott's own account is that he then went to work with Frederick Lucas. In November 1855 a new national journal, the Tribune, was published by Pigott with Thomas Clarke Luby (qv) as associate editor. Out of this, according to Pigott, came the Irishman in July 1858. This suggests that Pigott's time in Belfast may have been limited to a period of two or so years, and that the founding of the Irishman may have been more complex than O'Connor allows. It is during the early years of the Irishman that A. M. Sullivan (qv) is alleged to have ‘got up a hue and cry’ about the emerging Fenians, and in December 1858 the Irishman made much of this, implying that Sullivan in the Nation was instrumental in the decision of the authorities to set up a special commission for the trial of prisoners in Cork and Kerry, which led to the prosecutions of O'Donovan Rossa (qv) and others through the information of the approver Daniel O'Sullivan of Goula. This laid the ground for a lifelong enmity between Pigott and the ‘Bantry gang’.
Pigott pursued a rhetoric of categorising Sullivan and his circle as ‘Grattan nationalists’ or ‘West Britons’ in alleged contrast to those earlier referred to as ‘Mitchelites’, ‘revolutionists’, or simply ‘nationalists’, later designated ‘Fenians’. His valuable account of this period in Personal recollections suggests a strong continuity between the politics of residual Young Ireland of the late 1840s and the emergent Fenian movement, though he does document the politics of accommodation of the late 1850s as well. According to Pigott's account in Recollections, both at the time and later the Irishman mocked the moderate nationalism of Sullivan, typified by the presentation of a sword to Marshal MacMahon of France in 1860 by George Sigerson (qv), Sullivan, and others from the circle around the new Nation. In 1862 Sullivan took a libel action against the Irishman for the publication of a letter from O'Donovan Rossa in which Sullivan was denounced as an informer. Sullivan received 6d. in damages, not the £1,000 he had sought, and Pigott enjoyed taunting that circle loosely with suggestions of ‘felon setters’ in their midst.
The Irishman In 1865, through a series of serendipitous occurrences, the Irishman newspaper effectively passed from the hands of the maverick politician P. J. Smyth (qv), who had purchased it from Holland some years earlier, into those of Pigott, who henceforth describes himself as a proprietor or publisher. In Holland's hands the newspaper had become the organ of the extreme and active national party and published ‘advanced’ articles. Taken over from Holland by Smyth, the Irishman rapidly began to lose its identity as a forum for advanced national views. The Fenians, sick of its trimming, had set up their own newspaper, the Irish People, in November 1863. This appeared to deal a fatal blow to Smyth's and Pigott's Irishman. Smyth walked out on the operation in 1865 leaving Pigott in possession of ‘plant, type, machinery, debts and all’. 33 Lower Abbey St. became Pigott's operational base for the next fifteen years till the plant became the new journalistic headquarters of Parnell's party through their new organ, United Ireland.
Pigott had luck in his timing. In a welter of rumour and expectation Dublin Castle suppressed the Irish People, and Pigott's Irishman stood alone as the journalistic voice of advanced national opinion in Ireland. From 1865 to 1869 the Irishman was ‘crammed with Fenian news’ and its circulation went from a few thousands to 50,000 in a week as it reported on the arrests of the staff of the Irish People and of hundreds of others all over the country in anticipation of a Fenian rising. The paper published vigorous and passionate leading articles and editorials in defence of the ‘prisoners of the new movement’. As O'Connor states, the high point of Pigott's popularity was when he was prosecuted and imprisoned for the publication of a remarkably able article entitled ‘The holocaust’ – a hymn of praise to those later known as the ‘Manchester martyrs’. The Irishman was no longer a single publication – alongside it and from the same premises Pigott published the Shamrock and the Flag of Ireland. Not since the days of the repeal reading rooms had there been such a demand for patriotic coverage, and Pigott supplied it to a high degree. His own political beliefs can be deduced from the pages of his Recollections. He was at the very least steeped in the idiom, the personages, and the public presentation of Fenianism and advanced nationalism in these years. A quasi-martyr for his half-year in prison, he was released to a stunning public banquet in his honour. It appears that even at this time he had back-channels to Dublin Castle and a social circle around the Kingstown Yacht Club that would have found nationalism anathema.
Pigott at the zenith of his career The series of Dublin addresses that we have for Pigott during his lifetime suggest that he lived close to the coast of Dublin Bay in an area that included Sandycove, Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), and Monkstown. He was of average height, neat of features with a tendency to plumpness and a receding hairline. He is described as a man of considerable, if apparently controlled, appetites. He swam almost daily in Dublin Bay and amazed observers by the length of time he could spend in the water and the distances out to which he swam. He kept a virtually open house from the early 1860s and was hospitable and convivial. He was disciplined and regular in his daily habits but loved fine foods, champagne, and good wines, which he consumed in copious quantities in the evenings with no apparent ill-effects. There are anecdotes of his generosity and ostentatious spending. He lived at considerable pace and style, a manageable proposition at particular periods when his publishing career often brought him an income of over £2,000 a year. This became less maintainable a proposition in the late 1870s, when his income was less than a tenth of that sum. He was said to have the constitution of an ox.
Known to posterity almost exclusively through his notorious role as forger of letters purporting to be from Charles Stewart Parnell (qv) that represented Parnell as a supporter of murder and assassination, Pigott appears on closer examination to have been a very considerable figure in nationalist politics from the early to mid 1860s. O'Connor, however, suggests that even in the years of his public political significance he had other strings to his bow. ‘Piles of old invoices from London houses are extant, showing that thirty years ago (i.e. about 1859 and after that date) he did a considerable trade in photographs, stereoscopic lenses, etc., turning over many hundreds a year.’ It is from this source and perhaps general talk of the times, now vanished, that his reputation as a pornographer is derived. Parnell's biographer R. Barry O'Brien (qv) says: ‘Almost everyone versed in Irish politics knew “Dick” Pigott, or knew of him’.
Socially Pigott did not associate with politicians, journalists, or ‘serious men’. At the Kingstown Model Yacht Club his associates were usually both protestant in religion and unionist in politics, certainly by the early 1880s. He himself seems to have remained a reasonably devout catholic, if the scapulars and holy medals found later on his body are reliable indicators. His public disagreements with A. M. Sullivan were to cost him dear. Sullivan, a key figure in what retrospectively became the ‘Bantry gang’, was a formidable opponent and their disagreements ended up in the courts with Sullivan prosecuting Pigott for libel. Their rows were shaded by that topic that never again went away for Pigott – national party funds and their appropriation. Sullivan seems to have accused Pigott of misappropriation of amnesty funds – a suspicion that stuck, probably justly. Funds were subscribed in small and large sums for the support of Fenian prisoners’ families, and much of the money passed through the offices of Pigott's papers. Pigott levelled counter-accusations to deflect attention from his own somewhat cavalier attitude to the handling of finances, but he had been hit on an Achilles heel of all late-nineteenth-century Irish political campaigns – the recording of funds and their accounting. Certainly his own public reputation was tainted in this regard early in his career. The assumption in informed circles appears to have been that he had become accustomed to extravagance and could not shake it off.
Declining income and reputation Politics became cooler in the early and mid 1870s, though Pigott managed another spell in prison, in fairly reasonable conditions, in the national cause, thus retaining his credibility in advanced circles. But the circulation of his papers dropped very considerably in quieter times and his income plummeted. Twice in these years he reached private arrangements with his creditors to deal with his debts through half-negotiated sales, but the problems increased and he seems to have resorted to a highly complex system of cheque manoeuvrings that barely enabled him to stay one step ahead of his creditors. His sons were, however, sent to Clongowes, his sisters were kept in some style, and the champagne continued to flow at his maritime addresses. He seems to have been an affectionate and indulgent father, a loving brother, and an amiable friend. According to his nationalist enemies, in later years he was guilty of misappropriation of trust funds, and according to O'Connor ‘recent discoveries . . . show that he had been trading upon forged bills of exchange and promissory notes’. This may be a somewhat harsh reading of his manoeuvres, which seem to have had a Micawber-like assumption of better things to come at their core.
In a bid to boost circulation his papers took a more divided editorial line as the 1870s progressed, and he published both ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ pieces on the emerging home government movement, particularly after the convention of 1873. He entered into negotiations with Isaac Butt (qv), with whom he was reasonably acquainted, and later on with the Land League treasurer Patrick Egan (qv), with a view to the new movement buying out his press interests. There is a suggestion that certain sums had been advanced to Pigott, but that the sale had nonetheless collapsed. Certainly retrospectively there were whispers of impropriety on Dick Pigott's part. From the late 1870s he was involved in public disputation with the leaders of the new movement. The sale was never completed, nor apparently was the money ever returned. Michael Davitt (qv), replying on 28 January 1879 to an attack by Pigott on John Devoy (qv), stated that ‘nationalists have selected not to look any longer upon the “Irishman’’ that is Mr Pigott – as their mentor in Irish politics, or continue to consider him sans peur et sans reproche in times of trial or trust’. Nonetheless Pigott continued to be mentioned prominently in newspaper reports of significant nationalist gatherings, such as the Thomas Moore Centenary Committee, but his marginalisation was underlined by the death of Isaac Butt in May 1879. His closeness to Butt was emphasised by his presence in the small private party of the Butt and the Swanzy families and close friends who set off from Amiens Street station to bring Butt's body for burial at Stranorlar in Co. Donegal. Some days later Pigott appeared yet again at the group who met at the Mansion House to raise a fund for Butt's family.
In late 1879 a public row broke out in the columns of the Freeman's Journal about alleged misappropriation from the Donegal Fair Trial Fund, which had been set up to assist in the defence of those accused of the murder of Lord Leitrim (qv). It was practice at this time for monies in the national interest to be contributed to a series of designated individuals, of whom Pigott was usually one. In a publicly printed letter T. D. Sullivan (qv), brother of Pigott's old adversary, blatantly demanded that the funds listed as having been received by the Irishman should be handed over. Finally (1881) a deal was made in which Parnell, Patrick Egan, and others of the Parnellite party secured ownership of all of Pigott's titles for a sum of £3,000, most of which went to meet his debts. The Freeman was owned by Edmund Dwyer Gray (qv); the Nation and the Weekly News belonged to the Sullivans. The Parnellites now had their own newspaper, United Ireland, though they initially continued the Irishman, while closing down the Shamrock and incorporating the Flag of Ireland.
It is from around these years that Pigott seems to have edged from dubious practices and messy financial imbroglios to extortion, forgery, and chicanery in earnest. Dick Pigott, deprived of his former position, a persona non grata to the new Parnellite establishment who cast him aside, was reduced to sending begging letters to the proprietor of a bicycle shop near Kingsbridge, where he was attempting to have the bicycle of one of his sons reconstituted as a Christmas present. He offered his services, for money, to everyone and anyone. This was made clear by Patrick Egan's decision, in exasperation at Pigott's bad-mouthing of the League, to make public a sequence of private communications between himself and Pigott that effectively held Pigott, formerly a figure of considerable substance, up to public ridicule and opprobrium. Pigott also offered to assist the Parnellites by deflecting accusations made against them.
The Times , the Special Commission, and the death of Pigott The publication of Pigott's memoir Recollections of an Irish national journalist, dated 17 April 1882, was a declaration of war on the new movement through the medium of a history of national movements, particularly Fenianism over the preceding decades. It can be seen as a coded advertisement for the range of his nationalist knowledge and a laying-down of an analysis of the new movement as a force for ‘the demoralisation of what is called public opinion in Ireland’. Interestingly the case that he made against the Land League, American money, the appropriation of funds for the relief of evicted tenants to the financing of the parliamentary movement, the social background of Parnellite MPs, and their role in initiating a doomed social revolution through incitements to violence, was to provide the text of the case of The Times and the government in the special commission into ‘Parnellism and crime’. It appears that his role in the original Times publications and the construction of the Times case before the special commission went beyond simply forging and adapting old letters from Parnell, to constructing formally what was to become the case against home rule for Tories and Irish unionists alike.
Pigott came to the attention of the newly founded Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union and its secretary Edward Caulfield Houston in mid 1885. According to Tim Healy (qv), Pigott was close to Sir Rowland Blennerhassett (qv), former Liberal MP for Kerry, and others in the active Irish unionist circle of resistance to home rule at this time. Pigott claimed that he had evidence linking John Devoy with the Invincibles, and that he had further information that could substantiate a story of wider connections between the Parnellite party and crime. Initially he wrote the piece ‘Parnellism unmasked’, which was published by the ILPU as part of an ongoing series that sought to discredit the home rule case. Houston, a stringer for The Times in Dublin, also doing ‘special work’, retained Pigott at the not inconsiderable rate of a guinea a day plus expenses, and the promise of considerably more, for documents substantiating his stories. Pigott travelled to Lausanne, Paris, and the US on his quest for material damning of the parliamentary party. The letters that he ultimately provided appear to have been paid for by George Buckle and J. C. MacDonald of The Times through the medium of Dr Thomas Maguire (qv), and not the ILPU.
Pigott's alleged sources were a motley collection of demi-mondaine Paris Fenians, chief among whom he claimed was Eugene Davis (qv). He had a series of letters from Parnell and Patrick Egan in his possession, dating back to the newspapers sales some five years earlier, which proved viable for restructuring. In May 1886 Pigott returned from New York with a sealed letter, which he claimed to have received from the Fenian J. J. Breslin (qv), instructing certain people in Paris to hand over eleven letters that apparently implicated Parnell and Egan in directly inciting and ordering murders. Houston and Maguire went to Paris in July 1886 and were given the letters, which they passed on to MacDonald of The Times. It was intimated that other, even more damning, letters would be forthcoming in due course. It appears to have been as late as 1888 that a key letter, in which Parnell condoned the murder of the under-secretary Thomas Henry Burke (qv), was provided. It had allegedly been found by Pigott in his own papers. Other letters also materialised in February or March 1888 and July 1888, through the same sources.
Pigott supplied precisely those materials incriminating the Irish party and Parnell himself that confirmed the worst propaganda statements of active Irish unionists and their London allies in these years. The publication of the series of articles known as ‘Parnellism and crime’ in early March 1887 coincided with the first significant intervention of Arthur Balfour (qv) as Irish chief secretary – the passage of his crimes bill that sought to subject the Irish agitation of the previous eight years to retrospective reinterpretation, and underline the now fixed tory position against home rule. Subsequently revealed to have been partially written by the Dublin civil servant and secret-service employee Robert Anderson (qv), and liberally interspersed with Pigott's forgeries, these articles effectively presented the Irish nationalist project as sustained criminal conspiracy from the late 1870s. This was of course what Pigott had been proclaiming publicly for some years, and what most of unionist Dublin affirmed to be the case.
Tim Healy and others, in association with Henry Labouchere, owner of Truth, seem to have suspected Pigott's role in the affair from the moment of publication. Michael Davitt directed the forensic trail that revealed Pigott so pitilessly before the special commission. Archbishop Walsh (qv), to whom he had repeatedly turned in the past, revealed the nature of his representations and strange lies. Details of his offers of the early 1880s to W. E. Forster (qv) to assist Dublin Castle filtered out. His earlier battles with Patrick Egan were rerun. But arguably the commission popularised his interpretation of Irish national politics since the late 1870s, and lodged it firmly within the public consciousness.
Henry Harrison (qv) remained convinced that Capt. W. H. O'Shea (qv) had been involved in the politics of the special commission that built on The Times's earlier publications. It is perhaps worthy of comment that Pigott met his death (1 March 1889), apparently by suicide, in Madrid, a city in which O'Shea had a network of connections, and Pigott himself had apparently none.
He married (1874) Theresa McDermott (d. August 1886) of Blackrock, Co. Dublin; they had four children. He is reported to have left £1,000; Archbishop Walsh appears to have financially assisted Pigott's sons, who are said to have changed their name. Those of Pigott's papers that were extant at the time of his death seem to have been in the possession of Michael Davitt. Four likenesses of Pigott are in the National Portrait Gallery, London: a pencil sketch (NPG 2234) by Sydney Prior Hall, of Pigott under examination by Sir Charles Russell (qv), published in the Graphic, 2 March 1889; two anonymous sketches from the Illustrated London News of the same date; and the cartoon by ‘Spy’ (Leslie Ward) from Vanity Fair, 9 March 1889.