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Guinness, Arthurfree

  • R. G. Wilson

Guinness, Arthur (1768–1855), brewer and banker, was born on 12 March 1768 in Dublin, the second son of the surviving six sons and four daughters of the twenty-one children born to Arthur Guinness (1725–1803), brewer, and his wife, Olivia (d. 1814), the well-connected daughter and coheir of William Whitmore of Dublin. Arthur Guinness senior was the son of Richard Guinness, agent and receiver of Dr Arthur Price (d. 1752), archbishop of Cashel, and his wife, Elizabeth Read (1698–1742). He received a legacy of £100 from Dr Price's estate, and this helped him start up in brewing; by 1755 he was running a small brewery in Leixlip, near Dublin. Four years later he obtained a lease on a long established brewery in James's Gate (or St James's Gate), Dublin, which, with his name, was to become famous worldwide. Although the brewery was not large and had been out of production for several years, Guinness quickly turned around its affairs. Within four years he had been elected warden of the Dublin Corporation of Brewers (he was master in 1768); in 1764 he bought a country house at Beaumont, on the northern shore of Dublin Bay.

Brewers in Dublin faced many difficult years between 1772 and 1795, but when the beer duty was removed in 1795 and the Irish pound devalued two years later, the large inputs of English beer began to contract sharply. By the late 1790s Guinness's had an output of some 12,000 barrels a year which generated generous profits of some £6000 a year. In addition, Arthur Guinness senior had invested in a flourishing flour-milling business at Kilmainham. Like generations of later Guinnesses, his interests were not narrowly focused on the brewery. As an evangelical Christian he was involved in charitable effort: he was governor of Meath Hospital; he began the firm's long association with St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin (his eldest son, Hosea, was its chancellor); and he opened the first Sunday school in Ireland in 1786. His last years were spent at Beaumont, and the firm and his family's wealth (he left some £25,000) were well established on his death on 23 January 1803.

Of his six sons, three were active in the brewery: Arthur, Benjamin (1777–1826), and William Lunell (1779–1842). Arthur was the key figure, 'shrewd, forthright and immensely able' (Lynch and Vaizey, 104). He was as prominent in Irish banking circles as he was in brewing. Director of the Bank of Ireland in 1808, he served as governor from 1820, giving evidence as an exponent of the currency school to the House of Lords committee into the state and value of promissory notes in Scotland and Ireland (1826). The firm suffered a rough decade after 1815, partly as a result of Arthur's preoccupation with banking matters, but more as a consequence of the post-1815 recession. Certainly, Guinness's sales contracted by almost 60 per cent between 1815 and the low point of 1823 when only 27,185 barrels were sold. Thereafter, as a result above all of exploiting sales of extra-stout in the English market by a network of pushing, independent agents in major ports and cities (especially London, Liverpool, and Bristol), sales took off. By the early 1840s when Arthur had handed over the day-to-day management at James's Gate to his third son, Benjamin Lee Guinness, they were averaging around 73,000 barrels. By the time of Arthur's death in 1855, sales had exceeded well over 100,000 barrels for the previous five years. With over half their sales in England and Scotland, Guinness was largely unaffected by the great famine. Arthur Guinness junior was undoubtedly the firm's chief architect, turning it by 1840 into the biggest business enterprise in Ireland. Much more able than his brothers, he basically brewed two types of stout of superb quality and vigorously marketed them in the Dublin region and in England.

Guinness was twice married. His first wife, whom he married on 7 May 1793, was Anne, eldest daughter and coheir of Benjamin Lee of Merrion, co. Dublin; they had three sons and six daughters. She died on 21 February 1817 and four years later he married Maria Barker, who predeceased him in 1837. Guinness's eldest son, William Smythe Lee Grattan Guinness (1795–1864), like many of his family, became a clerk in holy orders. His second son, Arthur Lee (1797–1863), was a bachelor with artistic leanings who withdrew from the brewery partnership in 1838 in some financial disarray. His pro-Catholic politics and associates proved to be too extreme for his younger brother, Benjamin Lee Guinness, and his father, a deeply pious evangelical member of the Church of Ireland, for whom religion was a central feature of life.

As paterfamilias of the Guinness clan, with over forty nieces and nephews, Arthur Guinness held a large and somewhat feckless family together, providing affection and counsel, financial and spiritual advice in equal quantities. Politically a liberal, advocating Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform, he stopped well short of supporting Daniel O'Connell's moves in the late 1830s to repeal the union. He was a man of wide interests, prominent in the charitable and business life of Dublin (but uninterested in its social whirl). A member of the Farming Society of Ireland, he bought large estates in Wicklow and Wexford. He never sought election to parliament and discouraged his son, Benjamin Lee, from doing so. He died in Dublin on 9 June 1855.


  • P. Lynch and J. Vaizey, Guinness's brewery in the Irish economy, 1759–1876 (1960)
  • M. Guinness, The Guinness legend (1989)


  • J. C. Miles, portrait, repro. in Lynch and Vaizey, Guinness's brewery, frontispiece
  • G. Sanders, mezzotint (after F. W. Burton), NG Ire.
  • portrait, repro. in Lynch and Vaizey, Guinness's brewery, facing p. 70

Wealth at Death

£150,000: Lynch and Vaizey, Guinness's brewery, 147

approximately £25,000; Arthur Guinness: Lynch and Vaizey, Guinness's brewery, 147

J. Burke, , 4 vols. (1833–8); new edn as , 3 vols. [1843–9] [many later edns]
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)