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Hutchinson, John Hely-, second earl of Donoughmore (1757–1832), army officer and politician, was born on 15 May 1757, the second son of , and his wife, Christiana (bap. 1732, d. 1788), the daughter of Abraham Nikson of Munny, co. Wicklow. His elder brother was , who died unmarried. His younger brother was . John Hely-Hutchinson was educated at Eton College (1767–73) and Magdalen College, Oxford (1773). He entered the army in May 1774 as cornet, and was promoted lieutenant in 1775, captain in 1776, major in 1781, and lieutenant-colonel in 1783.

The family interest had a crucial role in his career. Hely-Hutchinson became a politician due to the wealth and prominence acquired by his father through the latter's legal practice and his marriage to the heiress of the Hutchinson property at Knocklofty, near Clonmel, co. Tipperary: in 1774 he was provost of Trinity College, Dublin, and in October 1783 his wife was created Baroness Donoughmore in the Irish peerage. He was instrumental in having his son returned to the Irish parliament for Lanesborough (1776–83) and later for Cork City (1790–1800), which, he hoped, would become the family's political flagship. As MP, Hely-Hutchinson pursued a line broadly similar to that of his father, supporting the Catholic petition in February 1792, acceding to the enfranchisement of forty-shilling Catholic freeholders in 1793, though preferring a higher valuation, and eventually supporting the Union on the grounds that it would extirpate intolerance and lead to Catholic relief. He sat briefly for Cork City after the Union, but resigned on 16 December 1801.

After eleven years on half pay, during which he travelled on the continent and studied at the Strasbourg military academy, in 1792 Hely-Hutchinson visited the French revolutionary armies. He went to the allied armies under the duke of Brunswick, and in 1793 he became a volunteer in the duke of York's army before Valenciennes and served for some time as an extra aide-de-camp to Sir Ralph Abercromby. In 1794 he was appointed colonel of the 94th (raised by his elder brother Richard), which he commanded until it was drafted. Following his promotion to major-general (3 May 1796) he was appointed to the Irish staff. In August 1798, in the Irish uprising, he commanded at Castlebar when 1000 French under General Joseph Humbert landed in Killala Bay. Hely-Hutchinson had 1500 men, mostly English and Scottish fencibles and Irish militia. On 30 August, when the French veterans attacked, most of Hely-Hutchinson's inexperienced troops fled—an action nicknamed the Castlebar races. Hely-Hutchinson offered to resign but retracted when Cornwallis, the viceroy and commander-in-chief, seemed to approve his conduct. Privately, however, Cornwallis spoke of him ‘as a sensible man, but no general’ (Correspondence of … Cornwallis, 3.360).

Hely-Hutchinson served in the ill-fated attack on the Batavian Republic (August–October 1799) and was wounded in the thigh in October. In 1801 he commanded the first division of Abercromby's army, which landed in Egypt on 10 March. The French were defeated at the battle of Alexandria, Abercromby was killed, and Hely-Hutchinson succeeded him by seniority. In May he was made a KB. Henry Addington's new government and the commander-in-chief, the duke of York, favoured his retaining command until General Fox's arrival, but in the British camp near Alexandria senior officers apparently tried to deprive him of the command—which seems to have been foiled by General Sir John Moore's refusal to support it. The reasons for Hely-Hutchinson's unpopularity are obscure but may have been an unkempt appearance and unattractive personality. Accounts differ, however, with one author describing him as gentlemanlike, with agreeable manners.

Hely-Hutchinson successfully blockaded Menou's army in Alexandria, forced the French in Cairo to surrender, and then besieged Alexandria until the French there surrendered on 2 September 1801. Late in October he returned to England, and in December 1801 he was created Baron Hutchinson of Alexandria and of Knocklofty, co. Tipperary, with a pension of £2000 a year. He also received the new Turkish order of the Crescent in brilliants (March 1802).

On the renewal of the war in May 1803 Hely-Hutchinson held the rank of major-general in the southern district (Kent and Surrey) until promoted lieutenant-general in September 1803. He served as colonel of various regiments (the 74th highlanders in 1803, the 57th foot in 1805, and, to his great pleasure, the 18th Royal Irish foot in 1811) and was three times considered as commander-in-chief in Ireland (in 1804, in 1806, and at the prince regent's request in 1812). In April 1806 he became governor of Stirling Castle. In 1811 he made known his opposition to corporal punishment in the army, and in 1813 he was promoted general. He became GCB on 2 January 1815.

From about 1803 Hely-Hutchinson was a well-known confidant of the prince of Wales, to whom he became ‘entirely & irrevocably attach'd’ (Correspondence of George, Prince of Wales, 4.454), and he was ‘a great feature’ (ibid.) at Brighton Pavilion. This relationship was politically significant. In 1803, on Fox's advice, he was one of three men consulted by the prince on the possibility of establishing a new system of government in Ireland, including Catholic relief; and in spring 1804, when the king's illness raised the possibility of a regency, he was sent to Pitt to underline the prince's ‘political importance’. Pitt rejected him.

Following the French victories over the Prussians, Lord Grenville's new whig government sent Hely-Hutchinson on a special mission to the Prussian military headquarters in October 1806 as part of a diplomatic initiative designed to prevent a Franco-Prussian settlement. He was instructed to negotiate a subsidy treaty for the immediate assistance of the army and to report on its condition. Hely-Hutchinson was chosen principally for his military knowledge but also because of his friendship with the prince, who had become concerned about the future of Hanover as a result of the representations of the Hanoverian envoy in London. In private, however, Hely-Hutchinson cared little for Hanover; had no time for his immediate master, Lord Morpeth, the envoy to Prussia, whom he called ‘a wretched thing’; and, in view of Napoleon's military dominance, regarded the enterprise as ‘a wild goose chase’ (John Hely-Hutchinson to Francis Hely-Hutchinson, 31 Oct 1806, Donoughmore papers). He had his first meeting with the Prussian commander-in-chief on 23 December and, despite his own misgivings, signed a treaty on 28 January 1807 by which Britain would again subsidize Prussia and would sacrifice captured French colonies for a general peace settlement. In parliament Grenville congratulated Hely-Hutchinson on the treaty. Howick, the foreign secretary, noted to his satisfaction that his special envoy had not been lured into anything other than a single very modest subsidy. Following the Grenville government's resignation, Hely-Hutchinson remained at his post with the support of the king, the prince of Wales, and the duke of York until the new administration appointed a permanent minister.

Hely-Hutchinson travelled to Memel in April 1807 for discussions with Frederick William III of Prussia and Tsar Alexander I and was instrumental in summoning British ships off Danzig to relieve the Prussian garrison. In June he reported from Memel about the meeting between Napoleon, Frederick William, and Alexander which led to the treaty of Tilsit (July 1807). He went to St Petersburg in July and had discussions with the tsar, and he was still there late in August when news arrived of the pre-emptive attack by the British on Copenhagen to prevent the French gaining the Danish fleet—an event which helped turn Russia against Britain. In November, Hely-Hutchinson returned to Britain. In February 1808 Canning claimed in defence of the attack at Copenhagen that one of Hely-Hutchinson's dispatches indicated Russia had already turned against Britain before the attack took place. Hely-Hutchinson denied this, arguing that Copenhagen had been both decisive and disastrous.

Thereafter Hely-Hutchinson faded from active politics. His relationship with the prince fluctuated, but in 1820 the new king sent him as his envoy to Queen Caroline. He met her at St Omer on 4 June, but she refused to listen to his offer and went to England.

Hely-Hutchinson spent the remainder of his life mostly in Ireland, disillusioned and discontented. He succeeded his brother as second earl of Donoughmore and second Viscount Hutchinson on 25 August 1825. Although his requirements were modest, he inherited money problems, largely because of his brother's commitments and his Cork City electoral interest. He became convinced that British rule in Ireland was doomed, that most Irish protestants were Orangemen, and that Catholic emancipation was essential to any medium-term stability. He supported the 1829 Relief Bill and, although alarmed by the extent of the reform bills, stated that he preferred the whigs to the tories, who would only provoke revolution, the end result of which would be despotism. He died, unmarried, at Knocklofty, co. Tipperary, on 29 June 1832, when the barony of Hutchinson became extinct. The pension attached to it, and a pension of £900, for an abolished sinecure in the Irish custom house, also ceased. He was succeeded as earl and viscount by his nephew John Hely-Hutchinson (1787–1851).

P. J. Jupp

Sources  

Public characters of 1801–1802 (1802) · DNB · GEC, Peerage · Correspondence of Charles, first Marquis Cornwallis, ed. C. Ross, 3 vols. (1859) · Memoirs and correspondence of Viscount Castlereagh, second marquess of Londonderry, ed. C. Vane, marquess of Londonderry, 12 vols. (1848–53) · H. Bunbury, Narrative of some passages in the great war with France, from 1799–1810 (1854) · The manuscripts of J. B. Fortescue, 10 vols., HMC, 30 (1892–1927), vols. 4, 7–10 · GM, 1st ser., 102/2 (1832), 265–6 · Report on the manuscripts of Earl Bathurst, preserved at Cirencester Park, HMC, 76 (1923) · The correspondence of Edmund Burke, 7, ed. P. J. Marshall and J. A. Woods (1968) · The later correspondence of George III, ed. A. Aspinall, 5 vols. (1962–70) · The correspondence of George, prince of Wales, 1770–1812, ed. A. Aspinall, 8 vols. (1963–71) · The letters of King George IV, 1812–1830, ed. A. Aspinall, 3 vols. (1938) · P. Mackesy, British victory in Egypt, 1801 (1995) · The diary and correspondence of Charles Abbot, Lord Colchester, ed. Charles, Lord Colchester, 3 vols. (1861) · The Farington diary, ed. J. Greig, 8 vols. (1922–8) · T. Pakenham, The year of liberty: the history of the great Irish rebellion of 1798 (1969) · The Creevey papers, ed. H. Maxwell, 3rd edn (1905); rev. edn, ed. J. Gore (1963) · Lord Granville Leveson Gower: private correspondence, 1781–1821, ed. Castalia, Countess Granville [C. R. Leveson-Gower], 2nd edn, 2 vols. (1916) · H. R. V. Fox, third Lord Holland, Further memoirs of the whig party, 1807–1821, ed. Lord Stavordale (1905) · K. Bourne and W. B. Taylor, eds., The Horner papers (1994) · S. Romilly, Memoirs of the life of Sir Samuel Romilly, 3 vols. (1840) · TCD, Donoughmore papers

Archives  

TCD, corresp. and papers |  BL, corresp. with Sir James Willoughby Gordon, Add. MS 49496 · BL, letters to Sir Robert Wilson, Add. MSS 30125–30126 · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Bruce family · NA Scot., letters to Sir Alexander Hope · NA Scot., corresp. with lords Melville · NL Ire., letters to Dennis Scully · priv. coll., corresp. with Maurice FitzGerald · PRONI, corresp. with Lord Anglesey · TNA: PRO, FO papers, Prussia and Russia · U. Durham, corresp. with second Earl Grey


Likenesses  

Goss, mezzotint, pubd 1802, BM · T. Phillips, oils, c.1809, Royal Collection · J. Heath, stipple (after Knight), BM, NPG; repro. in J. Barrington, Historic memoirs of Ireland, new edn, 2 vols. (1835) · H. Mackenzie, stipple (after T. Phillips), BM, NPG; repro. in Contemporary portraits (1809) · W. Nicholls, stipple, BM, NPG; repro. in Military panorama (1814)