Roche, David ‘Tiger’ (or ‘Tyger’) (c.1739–1779), adventurer and duellist, was born in Dublin, youngest son by a second marriage of James Roche, barrister. The family was well connected but ‘Tiger’ was not, as sometimes stated in nineteenth-century Dublin, a brother of the celebrated politician Sir Boyle Roche (qv). His father died when he was young; his mother remarried and settled with the family in Rochester, Kent. At 16, Roche recommended himself to the Irish lord lieutenant, Lord Chesterfield (qv), who offered him an army commission. Roche failed to take this up, either from dissipation or because his guardians refused it on his behalf. He spent the next few years as part of a notorious set of ‘bucks’ till he was involved in the murder of a watchman and had to flee the country. Making his way to America, he joined the Anglo–French wars, first on the French side against the Iroquois and then on the English. Initially well regarded, he was made officer and won the favour of his commander, Col. Massy; but his advancement was prevented when he was accused of stealing a valuable fowling-piece from a fellow officer, court-martialled, and dismissed from the service. Roche, who protested his innocence throughout, was so incensed that he challenged his accuser to a duel and, on being refused, suddenly sprung at him, ‘fastened on his throat with his teeth, and before he could be disengaged, nearly strangled him, dragging away a mouthful of flesh which he afterwards declared was the “sweetest morsel he had ever tasted”’ (Walsh, 122). This attack earned him his nickname of ‘Tiger’.
Roche continued as a common foot soldier and was present at the battle of Ticonderoga, but, finding it impossible to regain his former rank, returned to England. He applied for a commission but found his ignominy had preceded him. In a revival of medieval trial by combat, he declared he would fight any who doubted his innocence. On this count, he fought duels with a Capt. Campbell and twice with his old commander, Col. Massy. His name was finally cleared, not through his duelling prowess but through a deathbed confession from Bourke, a corporal in the regiment, who admitted the theft. Roche returned to Dublin entirely vindicated. His rescue of a family from a gang of ruffians on Ormond Quay advanced his reputation even further; he formed a group of vigilantes and for a time amused himself patrolling the streets. Returning to London, he paid his addresses to a Miss Pitt, allegedly a niece of Lord Chatham; they eloped, Roche embezzled most of her £4,000 fortune, but no marriage took place. He was later arrested as a bankrupt and thrown in jail, where his bonhomie deserted him entirely. A legacy from a relative secured his release; his release liberated his spirits, and his spirits won him friends and admirers. A number of these proposed him as parliamentary candidate for Middlesex in 1769 against the tory Col. Luttrell, and were disappointed when he withdrew before the poll. He married another heiress, Elizabeth Jefferson (d. 1793), daughter of Christopher Jefferson of Cambridgeshire, fought more duels, and one night successfully saw off two attackers at once. Jonah Barrington (qv) said of him: ‘he regarded swords no more than knitting needles and pinked every man he faced in combat’ (Sketches, i, 214n).
Having run through his wife's fortune, he enlisted as a captain in the East India service, and boarded the Vansittart with his wife in May 1773. On board he grossly offended a group of passengers and was challenged to a duel by a Capt. John Ferguson. The Vansittart arrived at Cape Town on 3 September, the passengers disembarked, and on the evening of 5 September Ferguson was found dead with nine sword wounds to his side. Suspicion fixed on Roche, who fled during the night. He was caught, tried, and acquitted in the Cape, quickly and secretively and without the knowledge of Ferguson's family. Departing with his wife on 30 September, he made his way through three different boats and one shipwreck to Bombay on 3 April 1774, where he was arrested for murder. He called in all his connections, including his sister's husband, Stephen Lemaitre, judge to the East Indies, and argued his case with consummate skill, but was remanded in custody and shipped back to London on 28 June 1775. His trial was heard at the Old Bailey on 9 December 1775. The jury, after being directed to acquit or condemn for murder but not to bring a verdict of manslaughter, took forty-five minutes to return a verdict of not guilty, to loud cheers from the gallery. The East India Company dismissed Roche from its service and paid the Rev. Adam Ferguson a hundred guineas (£105) to defray charges attending the trial. Roche's biographer, the jurist J. E. Walsh (qv), nervously defends his subject; a 1983 article in Africana: Notes and News condemns him out of hand.
Roche lived a further four years and did not reform his ways. In early winter 1776 he was involved in a duel with the notorious Tipperary duellist, Alexander English of Springfield. Both missed. He died in Westminster on 11 September 1779, aged 40, after a lingering illness, while busy trying to claim the title ‘Viscount Fermoy’. He was survived by his wife and two sisters.