Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fitzgerald, George Robert

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FITZGERALD, GEORGE ROBERT (1748?–1786), known as 'Fighting Fitzgerald,' was a descendant of the Desmond branch of the great Geraldine family, anciently settled in Waterford, but removed in the time of Cromwell to county Mayo. He was the eldest son of George Fitzgerald, who was for some time an officer in the Austrian service, by Lady Mary Hervey, formerly maid of honour to the Princess Amelia, and sister to the Earl of Bristol, bishop of Deny. He was educated at Eton, which he left to join the army, his first quarters being at Galway. He soon became noted for his gallantry, his recklessness, and his duels. Having at Dublin made the acquaintance of the sister of the Right Hon. Thomas Conolly of Castletown, cousin of the Duke of Leinster, he married her against the wishes of her parents, receiving with her a fortune of 10,000l. Soon afterwards he went to the continent, where his wife died, leaving an only daughter. In 1773 he gained celebrity in connection with a fracas at Vauxhall relating to an actress, Mrs. Hartley. A clergyman, the Rev. Henry Bate [see Dudley, Sir Henry Bate], who protected the actress against the familiarities of Fitzgerald and his friends, had, however, much the best of the quarrel (see The Vauxhall Dispute, or the Macaronies Defeated; being a compilation of all the Letters, Squibs, &c., on both sides of the Dispute, 1773). Fitzgerald married a second time the only daughter and heiress of Mr. Vaughan of Carrowmore, Mayo. He now began to take an active interest in politics. He was a strong supporter of the legislative independence of Ireland, and assisted in the formation of the volunteer companies. On his estate in county Mayo he boasted with truth that he had introduced numerous improvements, much attention being devoted by him to the growth of wheat. His serious occupations were relieved by wild adventures, including a habit introduced by him of hunting at night. For a sum of 8,000l. per annum paid down his father granted him a rent-charge of 1,000l. per annum, and agreed to settle his whole estates on him and his issue male. As, however, it now seemed unlikely that young Fitzgerald would ever have any issue male, he became jealous of his younger brother, whose issue would ultimately inherit the property. The father having fallen in arrears in the payment of the rent-charge to the amount of 12,000l., young Fitzgerald, by an order of the court of exchequer, got possession of the property, his father being allowed a comparatively small annuity. This annuity the son neglected to pay, and carried off his younger brother to his house at Turlough. Thereupon his brother brought an action against him for forcible abduction, and being found guilty he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment and a fine of 1,000l. The sentence proved for a time a dead-letter. He retreated to Sligo with his father, and, being closely followed, embarked with him in a boat for a small island in Sligo Bay. Here his father proposed to him that if he would pay him 3,000l. to clear his debts, and give him a small yearly stipend, he would convey to him the reversion in the estate and exonerate him of all blame in the forcible abduction. To this he agreed, and, proceeding by unfrequented roads, the two together reached Dublin. No sooner had they reached it than the father set him at defiance. A reward of 3,000l. having previously been offered for his capture, it was not long before he was arrested. He endeavoured to move for a new trial, but without effect, and he was sent to prison, where he remained till a serious illness induced the authorities to liberate him. Soon afterwards one Patrick Randal McDonnell, who had been in league against him, was shot at and wounded in the leg. One Murphy, a retainer of Fitzgerald, was arrested on suspicion, but would reveal nothing. Fitzgerald now procured a warrant for the arrest of M'Donnell and others for false imprisonment of Murphy, but it could not be immediately executed on account of McDonnell's illness from the wound in his leg. Knowing, however, that McDonnell would on a certain day proceed from Castlebar to Chancery Hall, they beset him on his return and took him prisoner. In the scuffle one of the escort was shot. The volunteers coming up, the tables were, however, turned against Fitzgerald, who was captured and lodged in gaol. While there he was in some inexplicable way attacked by a mob of men, who left him in a very weak condition on the supposition that he was dead ; but he survived to stand his trial for murder, and being found guilty was executed at Castlebar in the evening of Monday, 12 June 1786. He was interred at midnight in the family tomb in a chapel which, now in ruins, adjoins a round tower.

[Memoirs of G. E. Fitzgerald, 1786 ; Life, in Dublin University Magazine, xvi. 1-21, 179-197, 304-24, reprinted in 1852 ; Appeal to the Jockey Club, &c., 1 775 ; Case of G. E. Fitzgerald, 1786 ; Gent. Mag. vol. lvi. pt. i. 346-7, 434, 518-20 ; Sir Jonah Barrington's Memoirs.]

T. F. H.