Henry Duquerry

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Henry Duquerry (c.1750-1804) was a leading Irish barrister and politician of the late eighteenth century. He was a member of the Irish House of Commons and held the office of Serjeant-at-law (Ireland). He was renowned as both an advocate and an orator, but was considered a mediocre politician. His career was cut short in his forties by a debilitating mental illness (which was referred to at the time as "sunstroke") which is said to have severely impaired, and eventually destroyed, his intellect.

Career

He was educated at the University of Dublin, becoming Scholar of the University in 1769, and then proceeding to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. In 1774 he was living at Kildare Street, Dublin, with his wife and two young children. He was described then as holding the office of Surveyor of The Custom House, Dublin, which was probably a sinecure. The Hibernian Magazine of that year has a detailed description of an alarming incident where Duquerry was robbed at gunpoint by a footpad who threatened his infant son's life. The thief was later arrested.

In the same year Duquerry was called to the Bar, having already entered Middle Temple in 1769. In 1779 he became King's Counsel and a Bencher of the King's Inn. He was renowned for his forensic skill as a barrister, and for his eloquence, which was enhanced by his beautiful speaking voice. He became Third Serjeant-at-law in 1789 and Second Serjeant in 1791.

He entered politics, sitting in the House of Commons as MP for Armagh Borough 1789-90 and Rathcormack 1790-97. He has been described as a failure as a politician, as opposed to an orator. Although his speech in 1795 on the possibility of peace with France caused something of a stir, and was later published as a pamphlet, one listener called it "the stupidest thing I ever heard". If he was no great politician, he was nonetheless valued as a social companion for his charm and wit, and he was a friend of most of the leading politicians of the day, including Henry Grattan and John Philpot Curran, the latter being his fellow MP for Rathcormack.

Mental illness and decline

Duquerry's flourishing career was largely destroyed by the onset of a serious mental illness in 1793. He had visited the Holy Land, and may have intended to publish an account of his travels there: but on the return journey he suffered what his contemporaries called "sunstroke". Whatever the precise medical nature of his illness, it is said to have deprived him of his intellect; Oliver Burke, some generations later, wrote that in his last years he "groped in idiocy".

The illness was obviously grave, as he was forced to resign his office as Serjeant-at-law: but Hart suggests that he must have recovered his reason, at least for a time, since he continued both to practice at the Bar and to attend the House of Commons. He was spoken of as a possible defence counsel for the United Irishman William Drennan, who was charged with seditious libel in 1794. His speech on a possible peace treaty with France the following year attracted a good deal of attention and was later published. Although he was no longer an MP he is said to have eloquently opposed the Act of Union 1800. He was still well enough to attend the Carlow assizes in 1800.

Death

One account of Duquerry's affliction described him, like Jonathan Swift, as "dying from the head down": this suggests a slow descent into an increasingly grave mental illness. Sometime after 1800 he retired to Bath, possibly in hope of a cure, and died there in June 1804. He had at least one son and one daughter.

References

  • Burke, Oliver Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit Dublin Hodges Figgis 1885
  • Hart, A. R. A History of the King's Serjeant at law in Ireland Dublin Four Courts Press 2000
  • Hibernian Magazine 1774
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