Whalley, John (1653–1724), quack, astrologer, and compiler of almanacs, was born 20 April 1653, son of a Cromwellian adventurer; no further details of his parents are known. Working as a cobbler in England before arriving in Dublin (March 1682), he compiled his first almanac the following year. His notorious publication was initially titled Vox urani, then Syderus nuncios from 1686, and finally Mercurius Hibernicus, or, An Almanac through the 1690s, gradually becoming known simply as Dr Whalley's Almanac. A fanatical anti-catholic, Whalley was pilloried for sedition in 1688 during the brief Jacobite revival, for publicising accounts of the activities of William of Orange (qv); this prompted his removal to England, where he briefly ran a coffee house, returning the following year. Regularly complaining of the incompetence of his printers, he set up his own press in 1699.
With a range of elixirs and potions which he offered for sale, his prophetical publications served him well in creating demand for his wares. Keenly promoting astrology and favouring a return to traditional Aristotelian naturalism, Whalley opposed horary and other forms of divinatory astrology, as well as attempts of general reform along Baconian lines. These principles did not necessarily affect his profits, as he was happy to perform divinatory services when so requested – the hypocrisy of which was pointed out by John Coates, a competitor.
Whalley was admitted a freeman by Dublin corporation, who styled him a ‘chuirurgeon’, in January 1709. Between July 1714 and August 1723 he published Whalley's News-Letter twice, and sometimes thrice, weekly. Pollard notes that Whalley's controversial, polemical output had a greater impact than his significance to the contemporary book trade would imply; he is regarded by some as one of the progenitors of ‘yellow’ journalism in Ireland, alongside Samuel Carter. A rabid anti-catholic and virulent whig, Whalley engaged in a protracted war of invective with John Harding (qv), the printer of Jonathan Swift (qv), continually squabbling with other members of the book trade who were not as anti-catholic, anti-Irish, and pro-Hanoverian as himself. One such combatant was John Coates, a Cork almanac publisher, who prophesied that Whalley's death would occur in February 1723, the inaccuracy of which Whalley publicly celebrated. On the failure of an anti-popery bill to pass the house of lords (August 1719), Whalley petitioned the upper house to banish or castrate priests, destroy all popish books, and bar catholics from the printing and bookselling trades.
His output ranged from various prophetical works, such as A chronological account of the age of the world (1700) to scurrilous pamphlets which address a range of contemporary controversies. His publications regularly carried satires of leading citizens, ingratiating his work with the city's populace. In 1711 John Mercer, a coal merchant in the Liberties, took a libel suit against Whalley for a libellous address to parliament which cast Mercer as an avaricious and unscrupulous merchant. Finding in Whalley's favour, the commons ordered proceedings to be taken against Mercer.
Initially living on the west side of St Stephen's Green (1691–8), he moved to St Nicholas St. (1698–1701) and then spent a year in St Patrick St. Styling himself ‘Dr John Whalley, student in astrology and physick’, he advertised and sold his famous ‘golden pills and elixir cardiac’ from his premises at the Blue Ball in Arundel Court, near St. Nicholas St., where he lived for the remainder of his life.
Whalley married (6 December 1712) Mary Galloway. He referred to Mary as his last wife; the daughter of a John and Susanna Whalley is recorded as being baptised on 20 July 1686 in St Audoen's church, Dublin. On his death (17 January 1724) Whalley was succeeded by Mary, to whom he bequeathed the rights to his almanac and patent medicines.