Emmet, Thomas Addis (DNB00)

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EMMET, THOMAS ADDIS (1764–1827), United Irishman, second son of Dr. Robert Emmet, physician to the viceroy in Ireland, was born at Cork on 24 April 1764. From his school days he gave evidence of brilliant abilities, and gained a scholarship at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1781. He took the degree of B.A. there in 1783, and then, as he had selected the medical profession, he proceeded to Edinburgh University, where the medical school was at that time most famous. While sedulously working at his own studies, he yet paid much attention to other subjects, became a friend of Mackintosh, a favourite pupil of Dugald Stewart, and president of no less than five debating and other societies among his fellow-students. After taking his M.D. degree at Edinburgh he visited many of the chief medical schools of England, France, Germany, and Italy, and was on his way home from the continent when he heard of the sudden death of his elder brother, Temple Emmet, a young Irish barrister of great promise. Thomas Emmet then determined to abandon medicine and follow in his brother's steps, and, after taking the degree of LL.B. at Trinity College, Dublin, he went to London to read law under the direction of Mackintosh. He was called to the Irish bar in Michaelmas term 1790, and married Jane, daughter of the Rev. John Patten of Clonmel, in the following year. He then commenced his active political life. Dr. Emmet had brought up all his three sons with the most advanced nationalist ideas, and Thomas was the first to put them into execution. His first brief was in the case of Napper Tandy v. Lord Westmorland, on the question of the lord-lieutenant's patent. In September 1793 he made himself conspicuous by his defence of O'Driscoll, who was put on his trial for sedition at Cork. He was soon recognised from his eloquence and learning as the leading Irish nationalist barrister, and by 1795, when he took the bold step of taking the oath of the United Irishmen in open court, he was making an income of 750l. a year at the bar. He was in that year elected secretary of the Society of United Irishmen, and in 1797 he succeeded Roger O'Connor as one of the directors. In the directory he showed more prudence than many of his colleagues, and with M'Cormick and M'Nevin he desired to wait for armed aid from France, and was opposed to the immediate rebellion advocated by Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Lord Castlereagh knew from his spies what was going on, and on 12 March 1798 all the directors were arrested at the house of Oliver Bond. Castlereagh had no desire to deal harshly with the Irish leaders, and when the insurrection was suppressed he agreed to allow the chief prisoners to go to America, and to stop all executions for treason if the prisoners made a full confession. Emmet agreed to this proposal, but Rufus King, the American minister, objected to the despatch of the rebels to the United States, and Emmet, Roger O'Connor, Nielson, and seventeen other leaders were therefore transferred to Fort St. George in Scotland on 26 March 1799. Mrs. Emmet joined her husband in 1800, and they remained there, though not in close confinement, until 1802, when with the other prisoners they were sent to Holland. Emmet was at Paris when he heard the news of his brother Robert's rising and death, and he had an interview with Napoleon on the subject in September 1803. He assisted MacSheehy in his scheme for raising a battalion of Irish in the pay of France, but he did not himself join it, and left France in 1804 for the United States. He joined the New York bar, where he soon took a leading position and made a large income. He continued prosperous until the day of his death, which took place very suddenly while pleading in court at New York on 14 Nov. 1827, and he was buried in the churchyard of St. Mark's, Broadway, in that city.

[Haynes's Memoirs of Thomas Addis Emmett, 1829; Madden's United Irishmen, 3rd ser. vol. iii.; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography.]

H. M. S.