Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wolfe, Arthur
WOLFE, ARTHUR, first Viscount Kilwarden (1739–1803), lord chief justice of Ireland, born on 19 Jan. 1738–9, was the son of John Wolfe of Forenaughts, co. Kildare, and of Mary, only daughter of William Philpot. He entered at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1755, and, having obtained a scholarship, graduated B.A. in 1760. He entered as a student at the Middle Temple, and was called to the Irish bar in 1706. He quickly acquired a considerable practice, and was appointed a king’s counsel in 1778. Six years later Wolfe entered the Irish House of Commons as member for Coleraine. He subsequently (1790) exchanged this seat for Jamestown, and in 1796 was returned for the city of Dublin and for Ardfert, but elected to sit for the city. In 1787, on the promotion of Hugh Carleton [q. v.] to the bench, Wolfe was appointed solicitor-general, and in 1789, on the elevation of John FitzGibbon [q. v.] to the Irish woolsack, he became attorney-general and was sworn a member of the privy council in Ireland. Wolfe retained the position of chief law officer of the crown for nine years, discharging its important duties in very difficult times with much ability. In recognition of his distinguished services in this office Wolfe’s wife was raised to the peerage of Ireland as Baroness Kilwarden in 1795. In July 1796, on the death of John Scott, lord Clonmell [q. v.], he was appointed chief justice of the king’s bench and was created a peer by the title of Baron Kilwarden of Newlands. In 1800, on the passing of the Act of Union, of which he was a convinced advocate, he was further advanced to the dignity of viscount, and created a peer of the United Kingdom. On 23 July 1803, while driving with his daughter and a nephew from his country residence to Dublin Castle on the night of the Emmet insurrection, Wolfe’s carriage was stopped in Thomas Street by the rebels, and the chief justice and his nephew were barbarously murdered. It was said that Wolfe was mistaken by his murderers for Carleton, the chief justice of the common pleas, a judge of much sterner character. Wolfe’s tenure of his high judicial office was brief and unmarked by any exceptional qualities, but his humanity and moderation were conspicuous. His conduct in relation to the trial and conviction of Wolfe Tone by court-martial is well known, and he displayed consistently the dignity and respect for law which breathe in his dying words, on hearing a desire expressed for instant retribution on his assailants: ‘ Murder must be punished; but let no man suffer for my death but by the laws of my country.’
Wolfe married Ann, daughter of William Ruxton of Ardee, co. Louth. A portrait of Wolfe is in the dining-hall of Trinity College, Dublin. He was elected a vice-chancellor of Dublin University in 1803.
[Webb’s Compendium; Wills’s Illustrious Irishmen; Madden’s United Irishmen; Maxwell’s Irish Rebellion; Barrington’s Personal Sketches; Wolfe Tone’s Autobiography, i. 120; Todd’s Graduates of Dublin University; Burke’s Extinct Peerages; Smyth’s Law Officers of Ireland; Official Returns of Members of Parliament, ii. 680, 684. 688.]