Trotter, John Bernard (1774–1818), publicist, secretary to Charles James Fox, and pedestrian traveller, was the second of the three sons of Edward Trotter (1729?–77), prebendary of St Andrew's, Downpatrick, and rector of Inch, Co. Down, as well as agent to the Southwell estate, and his wife Mary, daughter of James Dickson (d. 1787), dean of Down (1768–87). John Bernard Trotter was born on 26 December 1774 at Downpatrick, was educated at the local grammar school and entered TCD in 1790. After graduating (1795) he was ordained deacon in the established protestant church but soon changed career by entering the Middle Temple (1797). In London he became acquainted with the leading opposition whig, Charles James Fox, with whom his maternal uncle had been associated. The controversy over the union of the British and Irish parliaments occasioned Trotter's first pamphlet, An investigation of the legality and validity of a union (1799).
During the peace of Amiens (1802), Trotter joined Fox as his assistant on a tour of the Low Countries and northern France, where, in Paris, they met Napoleon Bonaparte. Trotter left Fox in Paris to return to Ireland and be called to the Irish bar. Finding attendance at the courts did not suit him, he took a house at Glasnevin, a northern suburb of Dublin. This was the first of his many ‘retirements’. According to a biographical memoir, his experiences among the local people were the basis of a novel subsequently published, presumably Stories for calumniators interspersed with remarks on the disadvantages, misfortunes and habits of the Irish (2 vols, 1809). Trotter's next excursion (1805) was to his native Co. Down as a supporter of John Meade, who defeated Viscount Castlereagh (qv) in a by-election occasioned by the latter's appointment as secretary of state for war. He then became editor of a newspaper, the Evening Herald (Dublin). The height of Trotter's career came in 1806 when he was private secretary to Fox, who was secretary for foreign affairs from 7 February until his death on 13 September (at which Trotter was present). In his politics he tended to adulation (as of Fox and later the duke of Wellington (qv)) or to vilification (as of Napoleon).
Returning to Ireland, he took a house near Dublin and attempted to start a periodical, the Historical Register. Next he moved to Lark Hill, Co. Down (near Ballynahinch), where he adopted a poor boy named McManus to be his secretary, as he had been to Fox. A political controversy – whether the government should remunerate the catholic clergy and in return have a veto on the nomination of catholic bishops – brought several pamphlets from Trotter's pen beginning with A letter to Lord Viscount Southwell (1808). A passionate advocate of catholic emancipation, he argued for the continued independence of the catholic church. There followed later A letter to Lord Grenville . . . on the veto (1810) and A few thoughts on the new era and veto in Ireland (1812). Another of Trotter's enthusiasms was the traditional music of Ireland. He was the leading light in the Harp Society of Dublin (formed, 13 July 1809), the house where he was living at Richmond (a northern suburb of Dublin) being its centre. After a year or two he moved to Co. Wicklow, to a villa called Montalta. There he wrote an account of his visit to the Continent with Fox and of the whig politician's last days, published as Memoirs of the latter years of the Rt Hon. C. J. Fox (1811). The book was a success and brought an offer from George Canning of a small post in the revenue at £150 p.a., which Trotter contemptuously rejected.
Moving to Dalkey, on the coast of south Co. Dublin, he wrote another novel, ‘Margaret of Waldemar’, but could not get it published. Homeless, he stayed with friends and relied on friends for money – the prince regent was one of his benefactors. Frustrated, he set off on a pedestrian tour of Wicklow and Wexford (June–October 1812). At the cabin he occupied at Hook Head he assaulted two intruders not knowing them, so he stated, to be bailiffs with warrants to arrest him for debt; he was arrested for assault by two magistrates supported by soldiers, bailed but held in Wexford marshalsea for debt, then removed by a writ of habeas corpus to a Dublin prison, where he persuaded a clergyman to marry him to a young woman who seems to have been the companion of himself and his secretary at Hook Head. A successful prosecution for the assault brought him a sentence of two weeks in prison. Just before his arrest he wrote a political pamphlet, Five letters to Sir William C. Smith on Catholic relief, the affairs of Ireland and the conduct of the new parliament (1813). On his release he went to England, from which he soon returned (1813) to take a house at Balbriggan, Co. Dublin, and write a short poem, Leipsick, or Germany restored (1813). Encouraged by this literary success, he moved to Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, where he began an epic poem, ‘The Rhine, or warrior kings’, revised it to 24 volumes but could not get it published. He went south again, to Tramore, Co. Waterford, and witnessed the wreck of a ship carrying soldiers back from Waterloo and helped survivors. Such was Trotter's poverty, his secretary entered reluctantly into the East India Company's service, from which Trotter liberated him thanks to the beneficence of the prince regent. Trotter then toured Wales, returning to Ireland via Cove, stayed in Cork (February–July 1817), then set off on a final pedestrian tour. His account of his travels in Munster and Connacht reveals him as a man of deep sympathy with the common people of rural Ireland, appreciative of their customs as well as their music. Observing their distress in the aftermath of the Napoleonic war he wrote letters to friends seeking relief for them. Trotter's own poverty proved fatal. On returning to Cork he lived in poor conditions in Hammond's Marsh, which brought on dysentery from which he died 29 September 1818.
After his death three of his walking tours and a biographical memoir were published as Walks through Ireland in the years 1812, 1814 and 1817 (1819), probably by his friend William Liddiard, who shared some of his enthusiasms and whose wife was Anna Liddiard (qv). The book proved a success and is still readable. As well as being a useful source of information it shows Trotter's literary ability – he had a knowledge of Latin, Greek, Italian and at least a smattering of Irish. Despite his connexions, popularity and talent, Trotter achieved little, for he was overgenerous and unsteady. His elder brother was Edward Southwell Trotter, who assumed the surname Ruthven (qv); his younger brother, William Ruthven Trotter (d. 1807), a major in the 83rd foot, was killed at Buenos Aires.