Wyse, Sir Thomas (1791–1862), traveller, politician, educational reformer, and diplomat, was born 24 December 1791 in Waterford, the first child in the family of three sons and three daughters of Thomas Wyse (d. 1835) and his wife Frances Maria, only daughter and heiress of George Bagge of Dromore, Co. Waterford. The elder Thomas (known as ‘the gentle’) directly inherited the bulk of the property of his grandfather Thomas Wyse (qv) (d. 1770), a founder of the Catholic Committee; he preferred to live not at the ancestral home, the manor of St John's, Waterford, but in England (near Bath) or in what became Belgium (near Ghent and Bruges). The younger Thomas was educated by a hedge-school master in Ireland and then, from the age of nine, at Stonyhurst, the Jesuit college in England. Among his school-fellows were his younger brother George and Richard Sheil (qv), a distant relation. At Stonyhurst he was diligent and precocious. After admission to TCD (17 October 1808), he was no less diligent, excelled at his studies, and shone at the College Historical Society, winning gold medals in oratory, composition and history. His opinions on public affairs were generally liberal. On leaving college (1812), with an income of £500 p.a. from his father, he went in for the bar, though he never practised.
Travels and marriage, 1815–25 When Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo eased travel on the Continent (1815), Wyse set off for Paris with two college friends, Stephen Woulfe (qv) and Nicholas Ball (qv), both like himself catholics. By the end of the year they were in Rome, which (despite his disgust for the Roman authorities) became Wyse's home for the next ten years, as the distinguished, cosmopolitan company he found in Italy could not be matched in Ireland. Early in 1819 he joined two young English gentlemen en route for Greece. They visited various places of literary interest and then sailed from Athens to Constantinople. Inspired by an account of Egypt heard from another Irishman, the 2nd earl of Belmore (qv), he next travelled to Cairo and up the Nile into the Sudan. After returning to Cairo, he and his companions made their way to Palestine, spent a month in Jerusalem, and moved on to Lebanon to receive hospitality from the Druses, in whom Wyse developed an abiding interest. From Damascus, still in their preferred Arab dress, they took ship to Smyrna, eventually returning to Naples (December 1819).
In Rome he had already become an intimate of Lucien Bonaparte, prince of Canino and a rebellious younger brother of the deposed French emperor. In June 1820 he stayed with him and his family at his country villa at Viterbo; on 4 March 1821 he married his third daughter, Letitia, who, born in 1805, was Wyse's junior by 14 years. Sheil had often urged him to marry one of the Bonaparte daughters to enhance his prospects of becoming the leader of the Irish catholics. Not until the summer of 1825 did Wyse return to Ireland with his bride, who had borne him a son, Napoleon Alfred (b. 6 January 1822). They stayed with George Wyse; the manor house having been demolished c.1810. A second son, William Charles, was born on 20 January 1826.
Literary, educational, and political pursuits, 1825–49 Wyse continued the literary pursuits that had occupied him in Italy. While travelling in the Levant he had begun a study of the Druses, and, with his companion Charles Barry (who was to be architect of the Palace of Westminster), had got ready for publication a book on the antiquities of Jerusalem, neither of which however was published. In Ireland he took an interest in catholic politics, becoming chairman of a committee set up to sponsor, in opposition to the interest of the Beresfords in Co. Waterford, the parliamentary candidature of Henry Villiers Stuart (1803–74), a friend of the catholics. Stuart's return at the general election (1 July 1826) revealed the strength of the catholic forty-shilling freeholders when effectively organised. Though Thomas Wyse and his wife Leitita shared intellectual interests, they were temperamentally incompatible and so their marriage broke down. On 30 January 1828, she left Waterford for London. The pair never met again. One result was that Wyse went to live with his brother George and sister-in-law Winifrede, entrusting George with the management of the Wyse estates and Winifrede with the upbringing of his two sons. While he was in Ireland, to supplement his income, he published in the New Monthly Magazine (xi–xxvi, 1826–30), a series of unsigned articles, ‘Walks in Rome’, drawing from his residence in Italy. In the winter of 1826–7 he began work on his Historical sketch of the late Catholic Association (2 vols, 1829), a study of catholic politics since the formation of the first catholic committee by his great-grandfather. Completed just after the passing of the catholic emancipation act (April 1829), it showed Wyse to be a thorough researcher and an honest and shrewd writer. He produced another book, The political catechism explanatory of the constitutional rights and civil disabilties of the catholics of Ireland (1829). His criticisms (in Historical sketch) of Daniel O'Connell (qv), whom he regarded as lacking in integrity, presage the differences between the two men.
Wyse stood for parliament in Co. Tipperary and was elected (21 August 1830), one of five catholics returned in the first general election after the passing of the catholic emancipation act. His maiden speech in the British house of commons was not on further measures to benefit catholics specifically (the priority for O'Connell and his followers) but on Russia's treatment of her Polish subjects (28 June 1832). Wyse's chief concern was to be educational reform. He prepared a draft Irish education bill which he submitted to the whig administration (9 December). It provided for a national board and a school in each parish, catholics, protestants and presbyterians to be educated together but religious instruction given on another day by the respective pastors; provincial colleges were to offer university education. Wyse's proposals prefigure both the ‘national system’ of Irish education introduced by the chief secretary, Edward Stanley (qv), in a supply vote (9 September 1831) and Sir Robert Peel's (qv) queen's colleges act (1845). Akenson however dismisses it as ‘merely a rehash of generally accepted educational ideas’ already found in ‘the report of the 1828 select committee on education in Ireland’ (Akenson, 110).
At the next general election (December 1832), Wyse stood at Waterford city only to be defeated, remaining out of parliament until the election of 1834 when the city's electors returned him (17 January). His continuing interest in education was recognised by the prime minister, Viscount Melbourne, in appointing him chairman of a select committee on the foundation schools in Ireland (June 1835; report 1838). Wyse in his Education reform (1836) argued that educating the lower classes would prevent revolution. As founder and chairman of a study group, the Central Society of Education (formed 1836), he visited Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and other English industrial towns to promote the ‘Irish solution’ (1837). His motion in the commons for an English board of education, supported by radical and Irish members, was defeated (14 June). In the summer of 1839 Wyse was appointed to junior office in Melbourne's government as a lord of the treasury with Sheil as vice-president of the Board of Trade, the first two catholics in modern times to be members of a British government. The government fell in August 1841. From 1838 Wyse's increasing concern was for Irish university education, in particular for a new catholic college beside Trinity College within the University of Dublin. On 19 June 1844 he brought to the house's attention the state of the catholic seminary at Maynooth. In 1845 Peel introduced his Maynooth College bill and Sir James Graham his Irish colleges bill.
An energetic MP, Wyse was chairman of a select committee on English legal education, and a member of both the select committee on the promotion of fine arts and of the royal commission that succeeded it. He was not indifferent to Irish affairs. After O'Connell and other repealers were convicted of conspiracy in 1844, Wyse spoke at great length as seconder of Lord John Russell's motion seeking a committee of the whole house to consider the state of Ireland (13 February). For his support he was publicly thanked by the Loyal National Repeal Association (20 July). When the whigs returned to office under Lord John Russell, Wyse was appointed joint-secretary of the India board of control (6 July 1846). At the general election of 1847 a large majority of the Waterford voters rejected him. He remained a secretary at the board of control until 25 January 1849.
Diplomat, 1849–60 The final chapter of Wyse's career was as British minister plenipotentiary at Athens. He was an ideal choice, a linguist who had perfect French and Italian, good German, a reading knowledge of four other languages, a smattering of Irish (which he used in 1826 at the Waterford election), self-taught Anglo-Saxon (for which he compiled a grammar) and even some Arabic (in his youth); a Hellenophile who visited Greece before independence, read the New Testament and St John Chrysostom in the original Greek; he had the admiration of the prince consort and the confidence of the foreign secretary, Viscount Palmerston. Before leaving London he was sworn a member of the British privy council (13 February 1849). Independent Greece (where he arrived in June) proved disillusioning, for there was rivalry between the protecting powers, Great Britain, France and Russia, while the king, a German, was autocratic and some of his ministers corrupt; moreover there were unresolved differences between the British and Greek governments, one over the famous Don Pacifico incident – an Athens mob had in 1847 plundered the house of the Portuguese consul, Pacifico, a Maltese jew and so a British subject. Wyse's attempts to obtain satisfaction having failed, the British naval commander in the eastern Mediterranean, at Palmerston's order (December 1849), blockaded Greek ports until – Wyse playing a zealous negotiating role – agreement was reached (April 1850). The Crimean war, during which Greek sympathies were with Russia (the foe of Great Britain and Turkey) was another difficulty for Wyse, greater after insurrection broke out on the Turco-Greek border (January 1854), dampened only by an Anglo-French occupation (May 1854–February 1857). Wyse returned home on leave (summer 1857), travelling adventurously via Constantinople and Prague; he received a knighthood (KCOB) from the queen. After his return to Athens his chief concern was the joint financial control commission set up by Britain, France and Russia, at Wyse's suggestion, to reform the Greek finances. In this connection he made several journeys into the interior of Greece (1858–9), which he recounted in An excursion in the Peloponnese in the year 1852 (2 vols, 1865), published after his death by his brother George's daughter, Winifrede (d. 1908), who acted as his hostess in Athens. Always a reformer, he issued reports to the Greek ministries. The legal system and the prisons he found seriously wanting.
Last years He took more leave in the summer of 1860, was well received in England, visited Ireland and was elected MRIA (14 January 1861). On his return to Athens, his health began to fail. Wyse's wife and two sons caused him much distress and expense, probably because, rigid in his views and ways, he placed little confidence in them, avoided them, kept them short of money, and engaged in legal action against them. Letitia (aged 23 when she left him and who died in 1871) became the lover of a British army officer, Studholm John Hodgson (1805–90), by whom she had two daughters and another son, Lucien, all taking the surname Bonaparte Wyse despite the objections of Sir Thomas. His elder son, Napoleon, whom he called by his second name Alfred and dismissed as unstable, was the author of two books and held Italian titles; he died unmarried (5 August 1895). The younger son, William Charles, was a Repealer in 1849. When high sheriff of Co. Waterford (1855) he called himself Bonaparte-Wyse, much to his father's annoyance; he achieved considerable distinction as a scholar and promoter of Provençal and died at Cannes (3 December 1892); he was father of Andrew Reginald Nicholas Duncan Bonaparte Wyse (qv). Just before his death, which occurred at Athens on 15 April 1862, Sir Thomas Wyse attempted to disinherit both sons in favour of his brother George and niece Winifrede. A deeply moral and religious man, Sir Thomas was buried in the catholic cemetery at Athens, the last rites being performed by a French Jesuit priest.
Assessment His publications, listed by Auchmuty (Wyse, 305–06), include, as well as those mentioned above, parliamentary and other speeches, The continental traveller's oracle (2 vols, 1828), On the present state of Prussian education (1839) and, posthumously, edited by his niece Winifrede, Impressions of Greece (1871). Sir Thomas Wyse, content at the union of Great Britain and Ireland and an admirer of the British constitution, felt more in sympathy with English upper-class liberals than with Irish repealers. He was a fine example of a high-minded eminent Victorian. In the nineteenth century no other Irish catholic rose so high and was so widely received in British ministerial circles. From Windsor Castle, after being received by the queen and the prince consort (1860), he was able to write to his niece: both ‘spoke to me with their usual kindness’ (Auchmuty, 282). He had become, however, more English than the English themselves and barely figures in Irish history. His extensive MSS are held by the Bonaparte-Wyse family.