From Saunders’s News-Letter, 19 January 1837:
“The Dowager Lady Ventry died at her lodgings last evening. The demise of this unfortunate lady will, we hope, enable a respectable citizen and a barrister of great standing and practice, to resume his station in society, and entitle him again to take his place in his profession – Mr Fitzgibbon Henchy. This gentleman’s marriage with Lady Ventry, which made him liable for engagements of hers to an enormous amount, and of which he had not the slightest previous conception – eventually rendered it necessary that he should leave his home and country. We trust now that he will be enabled to return to both.“
The Morning Herald (London), 10 February 1837, put it more pithily:
“Lady Ventry dies in Dublin, and restores Mr Fitzgibbon Henchy to life.”
Peter Fitzgibbon Henchy QC was born in 1773 into a well-known family from Feenagh, County Clare. Appointed Commissioner of Bankruptcy due to his support for the Act of Union, he enjoyed for many years all the trappings of the successful 19th century Irish barrister, including a ‘splendid and hospitable mansion’ in Merrion Square.
Peter’s political leanings were shared by William Mullins, 2nd Baron Ventry, whose own support of the Union had earned his family a peerage. Ventry married three times; his third wife, Clara Jones, daughter of Benjamin Jones of the City of London, surviving him. When Peter’s wife Eleanor died in 1831, at the young age of 52, Peter remarried Clara within the year.
Posthumously described by the Times of 7 November 1847 as ‘a voluptuous Irish widdy of rank and vulgarity,’ the Dowager Lady Ventry no doubt had charms additional to her title. But she was also hopelessly bad at managing money, and her creditors were circling – with her new husband now the target. Attempts by Peter to defend the sea of writs which followed immediately upon their nuptials failed ignominiously when Chief Justice Bushe, in Perrier v Henchy and Wife (1832) held him liable, as Clara’s new husband, for her debts.
For a Commissioner of Bankruptcy to be himself a bankrupt was unacceptable, with the Fitzgibbon-Henchys’ departure from Dublin now an inevitability. Destitution was only averted by the marriage of Peter’s daughter by his first marriage Georgiana Frederica to the magnificently named Reymond de Montmorency, 2nd Viscount Frankfort of Galmoye in the County of Kilkenny.
Sadly, Georgiana Frederica’s marriage proved as ill-fated as that of her father’s. In 1842, Reymond had his former mistress, Alice Lowe, indicted for stealing two minatures, two snuff-boxes, a toothpick, a gold box, a watchhook, an opal box, two knives, a smelling bottle and an etui case. Alice alleged that the charge was trumped up to prevent her from leaving; the jury agreed and acquitted. A ballad, ‘Lord F and Alice Lowe,’ highly unflattering to the former, ensued.
The Frankfort marriage dissolved not long after.
Ten years later, Lord Frankfort was himself convicted, in an interesting case of handwriting identification, of sending indecent correspondence to ladies of the nobility, offering to arrange assignations for them with men of their choice and to facilitate this by drugging their husbands to sleep.
The unfortunate Peter Fitzgibbon Henchy, in his sixties at the time of his second wife’s death, never returned to the Irish Bar, ending his days in exile in Calais in 1849. He was therefore spared the further scandal which occurred in 1867, when his offspring Lady Frankfort was convicted of having, in a fit of pique, seized her maid-of-all-work by the hair and dragged her violently across the drawing-room of their Hastings abode.
As a consequence, Peter, in addition to his other tribulations, enjoys the legacy of being the only Irish barrister ever to have had a daughter depicted in the Illustrated Police News.
As for Peter, his story stands as a warning to all prospective grooms of the dangers, prior to the Married Women’s Status Act 1957, of marrying in haste and repenting at leisure!