John and Caesar Colclough, Two brothers

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Echoing the rebellion in Europe back in Ireland the 1798 rebellion was raging. Thankfully the Abbey building survived largely unscathed but 25 inhabitants from the village of Tintern were burned to death in a barn at Scuallabogue by retreating rebel forces from the battle of New Ross. Caesar’s Uncle, Cornelius Grogan and his cousin John Henry Colclough of Ballytige were hanged from Wexford Bridge as United Irishmen after the failure of the rebellion. Caesar’s brother, John fled to Wales in his ship at the outbreak of the rising, with 30 muskets which could well have swayed the outcome of the rising had he sided with the rebels.

John Colclough managed the Tintern estate which comprised of over 9,000 acres in Caesar’s absence. While conducting research into the Walled Garden’s history letters written between John and Caesar during 1791-1806 were examined and while they showed the improvements the brothers planned and made to the demesne, there is no specific mention of the building of a walled garden. However, these letters which incidentally showed a warm relationship between the brothers, did make reference to details such as the “existence of a small garden near the abbey” and the “appointment of a head gardener” in June 1801 and the purchase of “young fruit trees to be put against walls” in September 1801 which could imply the existence of a walled garden. John also writes in February 1802 to Caesar in response to a suggestion,
“You speak of buildings walls like my grandfather (John Grogan, Johnstown Castle), but you forget that there is not a quarry in the whole county, and that the castle (Tintern Abbey) itself is composed of field stones. Therefore, instead of walls which I also would have wished to have built, I have been obliged to run good ditches.”

John put Caesar’s name on the ballot for election to the House of Commons in 1806 and he was duly elected MP in absentia for the first time, but the government fell and a new election was called and John went forward in his own right for the subsequent election in 1807.

John’s rival in the election was his fiancées brother William Congreve Alcock of Wilton Castle.

Some of Alcock’s tenants were going to vote for John. Alcock confronted John and demanded he refuse the votes. John responded, “I will give up no man”. Alcock took off his glove and slapped John across the face, challenging him to fight a duel.  John was dead within the hour shot by a pistol ball which passed through his heart. Alcock also won the election but was tried for John’s murder although later acquitted. Significantly John was the last man to die in a duel in Wexford. After John’s death, Thomas MacCord Esq. managed the estate, under instruction from Caesar and continued the improvements which John had planned, until Caesar’s return from France some 7 years later in 1814. Caesar writes; “I repeat again my dear Tom, I have the greatest wish to execute the projects of my brother and consider you in many things as the only person that can replace him in the friendship of yours attached”

When Caesar returned from France he found that the estate was indebted to the tune of £30,000, His agent’s (MacCord) accounts were fragmented but he stated that John’s election bribes (£12,000) and election expenses (£18,000) from 1806-07 accounted for the deficit. The failure of the Colclough bank, New Ross in 1808, with debts in excess of £200,000, may also have played a part in the poor state of financial affairs of the Tintern estate at that point. Interestingly in the same way in which the building of the Abbey and Hook Lighthouse by Marshall have shaped the Peninsula’s story, this event is also interwoven into the fabric of the history of the area as the bank in question was located in Creywell Brewery which was taken over by the Cherry Brothers where John F Kennedy’s great grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, learned his trade as a cooper before leaving New Ross on the Dunbrody Heritage ship for the New World.

Another interesting anecdote from the history of the estate is that while the tenants of Tintern undoubtedly endured hardship during the Great Famine of 1847 it seems they were less affected than those in inland areas in part due to the larger farms of the tenants and it’s proximately to the sea. There have even been stories of tenants eating Oysters from Bannow Bay during the Famine which may be true as they had been introduced from Milford-Haven by Thomas Colclough in 1614 where it is said that they “grew bigger and better tasted”.
Caesar’s continued suspicion of fraud by his agent which he estimated at £36,000 soured their relations. Caesar turned the estate around in a few years and was again elected MP in 1818 for the second time. He completed the removal of the village of Tintern, which was relocated to Saltmills village (which was established by MacCord in 1812), where he built a new church and bridge downriver. He did not however, go for re-election in 1820, horrified at the expense of another election. Caesar married Jane Straford Kirwan in 1818 and spent the next 22 years travelling around Europe with his wife.

The following extracts taken from Caesar Colclough’s letter to his newly appointed agent John Kennedy on the 15th of June 1840 give a poignant account of Caesar’s dismay at the ‘dilapidation of my woods’ by his previous agent Jacob W Goff (J Goff).

Caesar vehemently rejected the tawdry gesture of compensation offered by J Goff, lamenting:

‘…as if money, money and money was wanting for my gratification. But nothing can compensate for destroying my mother’s Serpentine Walk’, Caesar’s mother being Catherine Grogan of Johnstown Castle Estate. ‘I was but 6 years old when the 12 trees now alluded to, were by her planted, my brother 10 months younger (now 69 years ago). My brother to the day of his death added to and cherished them, Burrows and McCord embezzled 36 thousand pounds of my revenues (from the 9th of June 1803 to the 26th of July 1841) and sent me £500 British- they still respected my trees. It remained to J Goff Esquire J. P. District Governor to make my 75th year the saddest of all my adventurous career, but as you say-what is done cannot be undone. In haste yours etc., Caesar Colclough ‘.

Caesar made his last recorded visit to Tintern in 1836. He died in Boteler house, Cheltenham on the 23rd August 1842 aged 78 and his body was interred in the family graveyard at Tintern, which is open to visitors.