Sandys, William (c.1760?–1812), militia and army officer, was a son of William Sandys of Crevaghmore, high sheriff of Co. Longford. Almost nothing is known of his early life but he had at least one sister and appears to have unsuccessfully sought election to the Irish parliament in 1792. After the militia act of 1793 he was listed the following year as William Sandys junior, a captain of the Longford Regiment. He married the daughter of Hamilton Gorges of Kilbrue, Co. Kildare, a match that brought him considerable financial comforts. He reputedly squandered her fortune in such violent alcoholic excess that his wife (whose sister had first married and then left the under-secretary Edward Cooke (qv)), abandoned Sandys in search of a better life.
In 1797 he was appointed brigade-major (or ‘major of brigade’) to the Dublin garrison, based at the Royal Barracks (Collins Barracks after 1922; later part of the National Museum of Ireland), where till 1799 his jurisdiction extended over the Provost (or Prevot) prison behind the barracks at Arbour Hill. Sandys was also an Orangeman. He belonged to the first Dublin lodge (no. 176, formed in June 1796), which met at Hannington's Hotel, Grafton St. Its members included Maj. Henry Charles Sirr (qv) and Maj. William Bellingham Swan (qv), town majors of Dublin, who in the following year came under Sandys's nominal authority, independent of the civil police establishment. Sandys was less visible than the town majors in ‘discovering’ United and Defender sedition in the dim streets, taverns, and lodgings of Dublin, creating instead his own notoriety as denizen of the dreaded ‘Provost’. Using their own instincts and a network of informers against the United Irishmen, both in 1797–8 and again in 1803 against the rump that followed Robert Emmet (qv), the town majors seized numerous suspects, some of them designated state prisoners whose treatment demanded certain privileges, which were seldom offered. If spared the privations of Sandys's overcrowded cells, prisoners might be sent instead to the similarly notorious Dr Edward Trevor (qv) who presided as de facto governor of the new county gaol in Kilmainham.
Sandys, like Trevor, has been portrayed by most nationalist commentators as a monster in human form, acting with impunity towards prisoners, adding psychological misery to physical cruelty through extortion of money and property for safe conduct or release. Given the confused weave of propaganda, distance in time, and genuinely barbaric acts committed on all sides in the revolutionary environment of late eighteenth-century Ireland, these views remain suspect. Perhaps Sandys's only recorded act of decency from a nationalist source concerns his kindness in November 1798 to the captured Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv), noted by Tone himself in his final prison letter to his father. It was Sandys too who, when prevailed on by higher authority, surrendered Tone's body, uniform, and sword to his friends.
The otherwise limited literature on Sandys delivers a harsher opinion: Walter Cox's (qv) Irish Magazine of July 1812 gloats unsurprisingly in a scathing obituary at news of his unhappy end, while R. R. Madden's (qv) United Irishmen series of fifty years remove is more restrained when repeatedly describing his ‘crimes against humanity’, and almost expresses pity for his reputedly tormented memories of past actions. It is Sandys's misfortune that the most detailed accounts of his decline and fall are those cordially penned by his detractors. While the Dublin Directory simply traces his career as brigade-major of the Dublin garrison to a conclusion in 1805, his last years of life appear to have been filled with remorse, rejection, and squalor, having lost even his friends through embarrassing excesses in the treatment of prisoners. Sandys is described, however unsympathetically, by Cox and Madden, as sinking into alcoholic misery and terminal disease with two hungry children in a hovel in Lucan. His sister, whom he could not support in his own predicament, was said to have resorted to begging. William Sandys died 13 April 1812.