Turtle Bunbury

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Above: David La Touche II. (Art Institute, Chicago).

La Touche of Harristown, Co. Kildare


Ireland’s most prominent Huguenot family descend from David La Touche, a refugee from the Loire Valley who served at the Battle of the Boyne and went on to found the bank of La Touche & Sons. His descendants were to be instrumental in the evolution of Ireland’s banking institutions over the 18th century and to spearhead educational reform in the 19th. The Harristown branch included John “The Master” La Touche, a fanatical evangelist, and his daughter, Rose, whose tragic romance with artist John Ruskin resulted in her untimely death at the age of 25.

In April 1598, nearly forty years of violent civil war between the Catholics and Protestants (or Huguenot) of France came to an end when Henry IV orchestrated a truce, known as the Edict of Nantes, which effectively guaranteed religious freedom for the country’s Huguenot minority, enabling them to worship privately in great nobles’ houses and publicly in certain designated towns. These rights were gradually whittled away during the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV. In 1685, the Edict of Nantes was revoked, making it illegal to be a Protestant in France.

Amongst the 200,000 thousand French Huguenot families affected by the new law was that of David Digues, Lord of Brosse Salerne, owner of the La Touche estate between Blois and Orleans in the Loire Valley. The family had close affiliations with the Bourbon Dukes of Orleans; Lord Digues was one of Duke Gaston’s Gentlemen Archers. Lord Digues, his wife Madeleine des Planches and the majority of his children swiftly conformed to safeguard the family estates. However, Lord Digues secretly dispatched his youngest son - 15-year-old David - to stay with his brother, Louis, in Rotterdam in the then United Provinces of Holland.

David Digues des Rompieres De La Touche was born in 1671 and educated in a strictly Protestant manner. While in Holland, he secured a commission with Colonel La Caillemotte’s division in the army of William of Orange. He came to Ireland in 1690 and served at the battle of the Boyne, during which La Caillemotte, a younger brother of the old Marquis de Ruvigny, was killed. He later became Captain in Princess Ann of Denmark’s Regiment (later the Liverpool Regiment). Pensioned off on the eve of the War of the Spanish Succession, he settled in Galway where his landlady is said to have suggested he take up weaving to pay the rent.

Ever since Cromwell’s clearance of Catholics landowners half a century earlier, Ireland must have been a source of considerable attraction to Protestant refugees from Europe. A landed class, of mainly Scottish and English origin, was already in control. After the Boyne, the native Roman Catholic and Gaelic speaking peasantry were to prove remarkably easy to control. The Irish Parliament soon implemented the Penal Laws which would go on to keep the Catholic majority subjugated for the next 150 years. Among these laws were those forbidding Catholics from owning land, sending their children abroad for education, from owning arms or horses valued at more than £5 and from becoming solicitors or sitting in Parliament. Such a Protestant dominated society would undoubtedly have appealed to any young Frenchman hounded from his own homeland by Catholics during his teenage years.

David subsequently moved to Dublin where he opened up a shop on High Street manufacturing and selling rich silk poplins and cambrics. In 1699 he married Marthe-Judith Biard, daughter of a Dutch refugee living in Dublin. She gave him two sons – David II and Jacques, and two daughters who died young. Granted citizenship in 1703, David’s business became a gathering point for other Huguenot fugitives living in Dublin. Regarded as an honest man, David found himself acting as their banker, minding valuables, changing currency and lending money at a reasonable interest. In 1710, he united with three other master-weavers from the Liberties - Nathaniel Kane, Richard Norton and Thomas Hone – to set up a private bank on Castle Street. By 1726 only Kane, Lord Mayor of Dublin (1734) remained. Kane died in 1735 and was his succeeded by his son, also Nathaniel. The private bank was now known as La Touche, Kane and La Touche, the latter being David La Touche II, eldest son of the elderly Boyne veteran and his Dutch wife. The banks primary business was discounting and transmitting bills of exchange, issuing bank notes, moving long distance monies on behalf of landlords and traders and offering short term wholesale credit facilities.[1] By the 1740s, its clientele included most of the Irish nobility, gentry and statesmen, such as the Earls of Antrim, Cork, Leitrim, Meath and Wicklow.

David La Touche was also one of the great urban property speculators to emerge in Georgia Dublin, developing much of the area around St. Stephen’s Green, Aungier Street and the Liberties for medium and high-grade residential housing. Land would be leased, laid out in blocks and re-let, often in a state of only partial development, to craftsmen and builders.

David was a deeply religious individual who, in the age of Swift, distinguished himself by his generosity to the poor. In October 1745 he was taken ill during a church service at the Viceroy’s Chapel Dublin Castle and died within the hour. His eldest son, David II, succeeded to his share in the bank; the younger son Jacques Digges (or Digues) La Touche inherited the silk weaving business. David II was born in 1702 and educated in Holland. In 1725, he married Marianne Canasaille, daughter of another Huguenot refugee living in Dublin. Five of their children survived – three sons, David III, John and Peter, and two daughters. After his fathers’ death, David II expanded the La Touche property empire into the Irish countryside, purchasing lands in Counties Wicklow, Kildare, Dublin, Tipperary, Carlow and Leitrim. By the time of his death in 1785, rental from these estates amounted to £25,000 per annum. Income from the bank was also somewhere between £25- £30,000 at this time. David II was one of the wealthiest men in Ireland at this time.

In 1753 David II purchased the 300 acre Bellevue (formerly Ballydonagh) estate in Delgany, Co. Wicklow. The following year he commenced construction of a new mansion and landscaped gardens at a cost of £30,000. Bellevue House gave excellent views across the Glen of the Downs towards the Irish Sea. An Octagon and large glasshouse were added later. On his death in 1785, Bellevue passed to his second son, Peter. Four years later, Peter built Delgany’s Protestant Church, the tower of which remains a prominent feature to this day. During the 1790s Peter acquired the lands of Upper and Lower Rathdown on which much of modern Greystones is situated. He also built a hunting lodge at Luggala deep in the Wicklow Mountains, a home famous for its hospitality and now owned by the Hon. Garrech Browne, President of the La Touche Legacy Association. After Peter’s death in 1828, Bellevue passed to his nephew, Peter, from whom it ultimately passed to Frances La Touche and her husband, Dr. Archer. The house was abandoned in 1913 and subsequently demolished in the 1950s. The lands were taken over by the Forestry Division of the Department of Lands. [2]

Peter La Touche and his brother John were governors of the Female Orphanage (Kirwan House) on Dublin’s North Circular Road, which opened in 1791 to receive destitute girls. The La Touche bank acted as Treasurers. An orphan from Kirwan House was considered a fine addition to any household staff. Peter’s wife, Elizabeth, was its formidable headmistress, ensuring the girls were carefully “instructed in the Christian Religion and habituated to cleanliness and industry in proportion to their age and strength”. They were also to learn “every part of household work to qualify them as useful servants”. [3] The La Touche connection to Kirwan House continued unbroken until the death of Miss Mary La Touche, a governor, in 1942.

Of David II’s three surviving sons, David III, the eldest, was sometime MP for Longford and Dundalk and a Privy Councillor, Peter was MP for Leitrim, and John, MP for Newcastle, Co. Dublin. In the Irish House of Parliament, the La Touche brothers built up a powerful lobby to protect financial interests. In 1783 David III was amongst the most prominent players in the establishment of the Bank of Ireland, helping draft its first charter. The La Touche family held an impressive £48,000 out of the bank’s initial £600,000 subscription stock. The bank opened its doors to the public on 25th June 1783 at Mary’s Abbey near Dublin’s Four Courts. David III was its first Governor. On the death of his father in 1785 he succeeded to La Touche & Sons.[4] He resisted the urge to use this new power to advance his private concerns, save for the occasional appointment of a relation to a useful post, stepping down as Governor in 1791.

Like his grandfather, father and brothers, David III was keen on providing money for the distressed and poor. He was Treasurer for the Marine School in Ringsend, Dublin, which opened in the autumn of 1766 to “lodge, died, clothe and instruct” up to twenty boys aged seven to ten years whose fathers had died at sea. These boys were subsequently apprenticed “at thirteen or fourteen or sooner, according to their constitution and fitness, to Masters of Ships”. David III was also a prominent patron of King’s Hospital, one of Dublin’s oldest schools.

David III’s wife Elizabeth was a daughter of George Marlay, Bishop of Dromore. In 1764, he purchased the Taylor’s 300 acre walled estate at Harold’s Grange. He commissioned the architect Whitmore Davis to remodel the estate’s 17th century mansion, adding a Ballroom (with full length windows facing the Wicklow Mountains) and an unusual oval Music Room. He named the new house Marlay, the family of his wife. The house had its own private theatre in which both Henry Flood and Henry Grattan played in “Macbeth”.

David III’s eldest daughter Elizabeth married the 3rd Earl of Lanesborough but died at the age of 24.

David III's sons and daughters married into some of the most prominent families in Ireland – Conway Colthurst, Vesey, Jeffreys, FitzGerald and Cornwallis. Their eldest son Robert was a colonel in the Carlow militia but never married. The second son David IV, also a Colonel in the Carlow Militia, married Lady Cecilia Leeson, daughter of Joseph, 1st Earl of Milltown and sister-in-law of Hugh Henry of Straffan House (qv). David IV and Lady Cecilia moved to Upton House in Carlow.

David IV had also been given Marlay in Rathfarnham, but he sold it to his younger brother, John David La Touche (1772-1838), who was married to Anne Caroline Tottenham in 1799. John David and Anne lived in Marlay and had 5 children, only one of whom married, namely Charles John Digues La Touche. Charles caused much consternation to the family when, in 1844, he converted to Catholicism and moved to Tours in France. His son was the ornithologist, John David Digues La Touche (1861-1935), who worked in China in the Imperial Chinese Customs Service and, on his retirement in 1925, returned to Ireland and bought a residence at Kiltimon, Co. Wicklow. John named two species of birds - the Oriental White-eye (or Zosterops palpebrosus joannae) for his daughter Joanne (Jeanne) and the Lesser Shortwing (Brachypteryx leucophris carolinae) for his wife or for an aunt (as per "Mrs. La Touche's Shortwing" in his Handbook (vol. 1, p. 133). [5] (With thanks to Vicky La Touche-Price, Martin Schneider, Phyllis La Touche and Elizabeth Kelly).


In the 1740s David II purchased the Harristown estate near Brannockstown. The historic Harristown Demesne had previously belonged to the powerful Catholic family of Eustace. A house was built in 1662 by Sir Maurice Eustace, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who obtained a Royal Charter from Charles II constituting his estates as a manor. Sadly it is not known where the original Harristown House stood. After Sir Maurice’s death in 1704, the estate was inherited by his three daughters and divided into three parts – Harristown, Mullacash and Carnalway. In 1781, David II passed the Harristown estates to his youngest son, John, who enclosed the demesne in a high wall and built a new road and bridge over the Liffey. The architect Whitmore Davis was subsequently commissioned to build the present house.

In 1767 John stood as MP for Dublin but was defeated by the Marquis of Kildare (later the Duke of Leinster). Kildare’s supporters gathered for a celebratory banquet in The Weaver’s Arms on Francis Street immediately afterwards, the principal toast being “May the City of Dublin never be represented by a banker!” John’s merchant friends drank with equal fervour in The Phoenix on Weburgh Street, presenting the defeated candidate with a gold snuff-box by way consolation. John later secured the borough of Newcastle and was one of the five La Touches to sit in the last Irish Parliament. David III was the only one to vote in favour of the Act of Union, despite his well-justified fear that Dublin in general and his bank in particular would suffer if MPs moved to London. Lecky later declared that the La Touche family could claim “what is in truth the highest honour of which an Irish family can boast – that during many successive Governments, and in a period of the more lavish corruption, it possessed great parliamentary influence and yet passed through political life untitled and unstained”. By the 1790s, they had acquired sufficient status to move within and marry into the same upper levels of society who had previously been their clients. Their bank was still the country’s leading private bank and they had estates across Ireland. In the 1780s, the La Touche brothers were founding members of the Kildare Street Club in Dublin. John’s brother, David III, was also a Wide Street Commissioner and Treasurer of the Grand Canal Company.


John of Harristown died in 1805 and was succeeded by his 30-year-old son second son John who died unmarried and without issue in 1822.

The Harristown estates then passed to his elder brother Robert La Touche (1773–1844). [6] During the 1798 Rebellion, Robert commanded a troop of yeomanry under General Dundas. Robert was married to Lady Emily de la Poer Trench, one of the 1st Earl of Clancarty’s nine daughters. Her brother, the 2nd Earl, was instrumental in reshaping Europe at the Congress of Vienna in the wake of Napoleon’s fall at Waterloo. Her sister, Lady Elizabeth, married John McClintock, father of the 1st Baron Rathdonnell and of William McClintock Bunbury of Lisnavagh, Co. Carlow. John and Lady Emily had four children- the twins John and William, Robert and Gertrude.[7]


Upon Robert’s death in 1844, his son John La Touche (1814 – 1904) succeeded to Harristown. Appointed Master of the Kildare Hounds four years earlier, John was ever after known as “The Master”. However, tragedy struck in 1845 when he was practically crippled in a horse fall and his younger brother Robert was killed in a stand at the Curragh. The Master survived and remained owner of Harristown for sixty years. In 1842 he married Maria Price, daughter of the Dowager Countess of Desart by her second marriage to Rose Lambert Price of Cornwall. The previous year, Maria’s half-brother, the 3rd Earl of Desart, married Lady Elizabeth Campbell in what was regarded as London’s society wedding of the year.

Maria was considered a most cultivated lady, with particular interests in botany, drawing, language and poetry. She was a prolific letter writer and wrote a number of essays on religious and social themes as well as two novels, “The Clintons” (1853) and “Lady Willoughby” (1855). She was also a famous for her horror of bloodsports, regularly complaining about the neighbouring gentry’s passion for such country pursuits. Ironically it was from Maria’s maternal grandfather, Maurice O’Connor, that Harristown secured the acclaimed Gortnamon bloodline, a breed of red setters considered amongst the highest quality gun dogs in the British Isles. The bloodline stayed at Harristown until the 1860s when sold at auction to Sir Arthur Chichester of Devonshire.

During The Master’s lifetime, the La Touche family’s banking connections were gradually broken. Since David II’s retirement from the Bank of Ireland, the family had no direct involvement with the main bank save for the normal dealings one bank might have with another. Being major shareholders, they still enjoyed preferential treatment but, on occasion, relations between the rival banks soured. However, by 1825, there were too many joint-stock banks competing for business in Dublin and La Touche & Sons went into decline. By the 1860s, the family were seriously indebted to the bank and in 1867 negotiations opened for its eventual sale to the Munster Bank in 1870. In 1885 the Munster Bank failed because its directors, including John’s cousin, William Digges La Touche, were too heavily indebted to the bank.

Like many gentry families, the La Touches of Harristown went into a financial spin after he Famine. The Master had taken drastic measures during the crisis, culling the deer herd to provide food for his tenants and “allowing no white bread or pastry to be made, and only the simplest dishes to appear at his table”. He was one of the few members of the Irish upper class to support Gladstone’s proposed land reforms. In 1857, The Master heard a speech by the evangelist Baptist preacher Dr. Spurgeon in London and was swiftly received into the Baptist Church. He subsequently set about trying to convert others to the Baptist way of thinking.

Meanwhile, his wife Maria had co-founded a society called “The Aeltherme” to promote intellectual ideas. It had died quickly “of ridicule” but, in the course of her ambitions, Maria became acquainted with the great Victorian artist-thinker John Ruskin, who called her, rather unflatteringly, Lacerta, meaning “The Lizard”. In 1858, Ruskin came to stay at Harristown where he met the La Touche’s 10-year-old daughter, Rose. Three years later, Ruskin and Rose embarked on a correspondence that soon blossomed into love. Rose’s parents were naturally concerned by the thirty year age gap between the two but The Master was particularly hostile to Ruskin’s professed atheism. Moreover, Ruskin was a divorcee. In 1861 he painted an oval “Portrait of Rose La Touche” which now hangs in the Ruskin Library at the University of Lancaster. In 1865, The Master rejected Ruskin’s proposal of marriage. Foiled in romance, Rose became ill and died of nervous anorexia in London on May 25th 1875 at the age of 26. She was buried at St. Patrick’s Church in Carnalway three days later. Ruskin, who visited her solicitously in her London hospital, last saw her on Valentine’s Day 1875.

The La Touche family always had an interest in the welfare of the poor. Although they tended to send their own sons to Eton and Harrow, they continued to take a keen interest in developing Ireland’s education system in the 19th century, launching the Sunday School movement, founding the National School system and, later in the century, pushing for secondary education for girls and their admittance to University. Not surprisingly many Catholic parents found Protestant institutions unacceptable. Moreover, their priests forbade them from sending children to such schools. Thus most children were either educated in hedge schools, a legacy of penal times, or simply received no education at all. In response to growing lawlessness in the early 19th century, the La Touches combined with Arthur Guinness and Samuel Bewley to found the Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in Ireland, aimed at setting up schools for elementary education to all Christians without distinction. The Society was much influenced by Pestalozzi’s educational ideas, ie: learning to read by syllables, writing and drawing lines and curves to train the eye, and headline copies.

The Master was no exception to the family penchant for promoting education, albeit in his own individual way. During the 1860s he set up bible studying classes at Harristown, which became the nucleus of a Baptist Church group that used to meet in Rose Cottage, named for his ill-fated daughter. He also became very active in Christian Relief work in London, raising money to rescue “fallen women” and co-founding the London City Mission. In 1880, he opened a day-school at Brannockstown for his tenants. In 1882 he built a Baptist Chapel at Brannockstown and, two years later, secured a State grant to build a new national school next door. To reduce costs he agreed to the demolition of nearby Portlester Castle in order to recycle the stonework for the new building. Even then there were objections to such tactics. “In this way”, admonished one contemporary, “many a historic relic has been destroyed by those who should have thought less of their pockets and more of their country’s history”.

But The Master was genuinely interested in children’s education and frequently visited the school. It prospered and quickly acquired an excellent reputation. Like any good Baptist neighbourhood, they particularly excelled at singing. At one point the school, combined with that of the Carnalway Church School in Harristown demesne, could field a choir of 146 children. Brannockstown School, attended mostly by children of those Harristown tenants who had converted to the Baptist faith, prospered for twenty years.

In 1891 Harristown House was gutted by fire. Much furniture on the lower floor was saved but innumerable fine works of art were destroyed. The house was subsequently rebuilt by the prolific James Franklin Fuller. The Master died in 1904, in which year his Kildare estates were providing an annual income of £3500 and were valued for sales purposes at £156,000. His widow Maria died at Slievenamon in Dublin aged 81 on 21st November 1906.

His eldest son and heir, (Robert) Percy O’Connor La Touche, a close friend of Edward VII and a fanatical huntsman, had no interest in Baptist thinking. He refused to appoint a new master and oversaw the transfer of the school’s pupils to the private church school at Carnalway. Brannockstown School was closed down shortly afterwards. It reopened under Roman Catholic management in 1968 (1928?). Percy married Lady Annette Scott, a daughter of the 3rd Earl of Clomell by his marriage to Anne de Burgh, daughter of General Ulysses de Burgh of Bert, Athy. Her eldest sister, Lady Maria Scott, married Captain George Fitzclarence, RN, Knight of the Medjidie, whose grandfather was the eldest illegitimate son of William IV. Captain Fitzclarence’s son Brigadier General Charles Fitzclarence was born at Bishopscourt, near Kill, Co. Kildare in 1865. He accompanied Kitchener on the Khartoum campaign and won a Victoria Cross during the Boer War where “his personal coolness and courage inspired the greatest confidence in his men” at the battle of Mafeking. As Brigadier General he commanded the Irish Guards in France during World War One. He was shot and killed on 11th November 1914 while moving along a country road, in darkness, at the head of his men.

Percy and Lady Annette La Touche had no children. After Percy’s death in 1921, his sister Emily’s son succeeded but sold the estate soon afterwards. In 1928, the La Touche’s 1024-acre estate, spread over the townlands of Rochestown, Harristown, Dunstown, Carnalway and Brannockstown, was acquired by the Land Commission and parcelled out to the former tenants. The house passed through two other owners before its purchase in by Major Michael Whitley Beaumont. Major Beaumont was born on 8th February 1903 and educated at Eton, Oundle and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He joined the Coldstream Guards as 2nd Lieutenant in 1923, rising through the ranks until his retirement as Major in 1943. During the1930s he served as private secretary to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. Major Beaumont put 18th century wallpaper in two rooms and installed Sir William Chambers’ oriental folly, “The House of Confucius” in the garden. In February 1924 he married the Hon. Faithe Pease, younger daughter of the 1st Baron Gainford, sometime Chairman of the BBC. She died in February 1935, leaving him a son the Rev. Tim Beaumont, an Anglican clergyman and co-founder of the Green Liberal Democrats. Created a liberal life peer in 1967, the Rev. Lord Beaumont of Whitely is the only person ever to sit in the House of Lords as a member of the Green Party. In 1955 Lord Beaumont married Mary Rose Wauchope, daughter of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Edward Wauchope. Their son Hubert is the present owner of Harristown House.


[1] David Dickson, ed., The Gorgeous Mask: Dublin 1700 – 1750 (Trinity History Workshop, Dublin, 1987).

[2] Part of the Bellevue estate is now the 18 hole “Bellevue Golf Club” owned by James Fortune and the O’Moore family.

[3] Elizabeth La Touche also ran a girl’s school in Delgany. One of her pupils was a daughter of the 1798 rebel leader, Joseph Holt, When Holt was captured, the La Touche’s intervened on his behalf, ensuring his death penalty was commuted to 12 years servitude in Australia. They then paid for his wife and son to join him while the daughter remained in Mrs La Touche’s care. Holt returned to Ireland and reunited with his daughter in 1812.

[4] The firm had been known as La Touche & Sons since the death of Nathaniel Kane the younger in 1756. It was one of only three Irish banks to survive the financial crisis of the late 1750s intact.

[5] In 1864 Marlay was sold to Robert Tedcastle, the eminent coal merchant. During his ownership, a wedge of land was sold upon which the neighbouring residence of Marlay Grange was built. This later became “The Grange Golf Club”. Marlay itself was sold by the Tedcastles to Philip Love in 1925. It has been owned by Dublin City Council since 1972.

"IN MEMORIAM, MAY 14, 1886. In loving memory of JEANNE LA TOUCHE EARLE, wife of William Earle, M.D., Dublin."

[6] Robert also purchased the Sarsfield estates in Lucan and commissioned Francis Johnston to build a new mansion of St. Catharine’s Lodge on the banks of the Liffey. The three-storey mansion was destroyed by fire less than ten years later and never rebuilt.

[7] Gertrude married her cousin, Major Stanley McClintock, half-brother of the 1st Baron Rathdonnell. She was mother to Frederick Robert (who married a daughter Sir Anthony Cleasby, Baron of the Exchequer), Lt. Co. Charles McClintock, the Rev. Francis McClintock, Rector of Drumcar and Dean of Armagh, and the twins Emily and Gertrude who died unmarried in 1930 and 1942 respectively.