St George, Richard St George Mansergh (c.1752–98), landlord, artist and soldier, was born Richard St George Mansergh, the only son of James Mansergh, landowner and soldier of Macrony Castle, Co. Cork, and his second wife Mary, a natural daughter of Lieutenant-General Richard St George (d.1755), commander of the royal forces in Ireland. In the early to mid 1770s, he inherited from his father some 5,182 acres in Cos. Cork, Tipperary and Kilkenny, the bulk of this relating to the Macrony Castle estate. On also becoming co-owner with his mother of the 7,000-acre Headford estate in Co. Galway in 1774, he adopted his mother's more prestigious family name to become Richard St George Mansergh St George. He enjoyed an income of around £4,000 a year from his Irish estates.
Expensively (and he would claim, defectively), educated, he entered Westminster School, London, in November 1766, becoming a King's scholar there in 1767. He was admitted to Middle Temple in 1769 before entering Trinity College, Cambridge, as a fellow commoner in 1771, receiving his BA in 1775. At university he pursued a lavish, somewhat dissolute lifestyle while standing out as cerebral and for his interest in science. He drew pen and ink sketches, at least ten of which were published as caricatures in London during 1772–3. His known published caricatures generally mocked rich philistines for their lack of culture and refinement. Possessing considerable artistic, literary and social gifts, he was a model of decorum, but had alarming mood swings, reacting with fury and often violence to the slightest breach of etiquette. Religious scruples led him to disavow duelling late in life. A contemporary observed, 'His whole deportment and style of acting seemed formed upon the ideals of the chivalresque ages' (Walker's Hibernian Magazine, Jan.–May 1798, 248–50).
His support for continued British rule over the rebellious American colonies led him to purchase an ensign's commission in the fourth regiment of foot on 15 April 1776. Before leaving for America he was painted by Thomas Gainsborough in a full-length portrait, now in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, looking thoughtful in redcoat uniform with a ship awaiting sail in the background. Reaching America around August, he joined his regiment camped on Long Island, but seems to have participated in the British offensive that ejected the Americans from New York City as a volunteer in the 52nd regiment's light infantry company. In December 1776 he joined the British army's elite battalion, the 2nd battalion of light infantry, upon purchasing a lieutenancy in the 52nd regiment's light infantry company. Fighting in nine major battles in the New York and Philadelphia regions during 1776–7, he was recklessly brave, even once complaining about not getting wounded.
As the 2nd battalion led the British drive towards Philadelphia, he was shot in the heel at the battle of Brandywine Creek on 11 September 1777. Ten days later he was involved in a surprise night-time attack on an American encampment at Paoli. In a subsequent letter he expressed sympathy for the many Americans who were bayonetted. When American forces ambushed his battalion on 4 October at Germantown, about seven miles from Philadelphia, he was hit in the head by the first volley of enemy musket and carried away unconscious with a fractured skull. To relieve the pressure caused by fluid build-up around his brain, surgeons removed a piece of his skull by using a circular saw. After silently enduring, and astonishingly surviving, this procedure, he was shipped home in February 1778. Three sketches of scenes from his American campaigns are in the Harlan Crow Library, Dallas, Texas. A cartoon of his mocking the American rebels and their French allies was published in London in 1778.
Despite treatments by Europe's best doctors, he was permanently debilitated by his wound, suffering constant pain. Until a couple of years before his death, he wore a black silk cap around his head (with a matching black robe) to conceal the metal plate attached to his skull, prompting rumours in Ireland that he had been scalped by Native Americans. He spent much of the 1780s travelling around southern Europe, the warmer climate there being better for his health. While in Naples in 1782 he commissioned Xavier della Gatta to complete two paintings, based on his memories of the battles at Paoli and Germantown. They are now in the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia. When in England he lived mainly on his estate at Clifton, near Bristol.
Although an enforced sedentary lifestyle exacerbated his romantic fantasies and tendency towards melancholia, he was admired for his intelligence, charm and wit. His manic or delusive episodes were met in general with sympathy and forbearance. Significantly, however, the famed 'ladies of Llangollen', Eleanor Butler (qv) and Sarah Ponsonby (qv), were at first enchanted, but then tired of him. Mixing in literary and artistic circles, he befriended the poet Anne Seward, the poet and translator Sir Brooke Boothby and the artist Henry Fuseli. He kept sketching, his compositions alternating between the comic and the morbid. Cultured women were drawn to him, though he was not conventionally attractive, being slight and of average height with wan, refined features. His dignified bearing and overdeveloped sense of honour led some to extoll him for embodying the aristocratic ideal. He was generally referred to as a colonel, despite never attaining this rank.
His generosity exhausted much of his fortune, obliging him from 1787 to base himself in Ireland for the first time since childhood, perhaps ever. He divided his time in Ireland mostly between Dublin and his Headford estate. At Headford, he found that during his absence his agents – further to defrauding him – had leased his lands to as many as five layers of middlemen all piling their successive extortions upon the tillers of the soil. He eased the immiseration on his estate by forgiving rents and waiving market tolls but despaired of achieving meaningful improvements. As a magistrate in Co. Galway he was involved from the late 1780s in combatting the Right Boys, a secret society that violently upheld tenants' rights. Interpreting chronic, low-level unrest as incipient rebellion, he advocated repression but achieved little because he was not supported by the other landowners and magistrates.
In 1788 he married Anne Stepney, of Durrow Abbey, King's County. They had two sons before Anne died around August 1792, plunging him into a prolonged state of mourning, notable for his theatrical displays of public grief. In a deranged, probably unsent letter addressed to Fuseli, he asked the artist to paint a macabre portrait of him reflecting his anguished state, which would be shown to his children when they were sixteen. Instead Hugh Douglas Hamilton (qv) executed a much-admired, full-length portrait along different lines in 1796. Bought by the NGI in 1992, it casts St George as an archetypal romantic hero, melodramatically grieving by his wife's tomb in military uniform. He appears more handsome than the haggard reality captured in the two almost identical head and shoulders portraits (private collections) also done by Hamilton during the 1790s.
Increasingly depressed, he was afflicted by hallucinations and convulsions, which he alleviated with wine, snuff and laudanum. His attendant paranoia emerged in a series of rambling letters written to the Dublin Castle authorities from March 1794 wherein he claimed that he was beset by rebels and assassins in Headford. He named various local figures as traitors, most particularly the Connemara landowner, Richard Martin (qv) who had criminal associations, but was not plotting sedition. The authorities ignored his denunciations. In early 1794 he had Martin briefly imprisoned in Galway before being forced to release him after a riot broke out and his request for military reinforcements was refused.
Growing increasingly obsessed with the threat posed by the revolutionary principles emanating from France, he enlisted in the 18th regiment of light dragoons as an ensign in 1794, becoming a lieutenant in the regiment two years later. In late 1797 he went to Macrony Castle, Co. Cork, aiming to quieten his tenants who were growing restive. He was appointed a magistrate of Cork (December 1797) and Tipperary (January 1798) because much of his Macrony estate lay in Araglin, a wooded valley straddling both counties. The only active magistrate in this highly unsettled area, he harangued his tenants for assisting the Defenders, the local agrarian secret society. (The Defenders were then known to be aligning themselves with the most radical elements within the United Irishman movement for rebellious purposes). Backed by army and militia forces, he burned a public house for hosting a United Irishman meeting and threatened to burn every house in Araglin.
On the morning of 9 February 1798 he told his tenants that he was so unafraid of the Defenders that he intended spending the night unguarded in the house of his agent Jasper Uniacke. Accordingly he dismissed his armed retainer that evening and made for Carey's Lodge, Coolomohan, Co. Cork. He knew that Uniacke had been intimidated into joining with the Defenders and was hoping to get intelligence from him. According to Araglin folklore, the Defenders were warned by one of Uniacke's servants that Uniacke was informing on them to St George. Thus, following St George's arrival in Carey's Lodge, about thirty armed men broke in and killed him and Uniacke. St George was probably dispatched in the upstairs bedroom, though his mangled corpse was left downstairs.
He was buried in the St George family vault in the church of St Mary's, Athlone, as lurid accounts of his death exacerbated political tensions and panicked landlords and magistrates. Three locals, two of whom were identified by Uniacke's widow, were tried and executed for the murders in April. The United Irishman leader in Cork city, Joseph Burniston, was executed in June, partly for ordering the deaths of St George and Uniacke. St George was largely forgotten until 2019 when he became the focal point of a special exhibition at the Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, which brought together all the artwork and testimony of battle associated with him.