Turtle Bunbury

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Extracts from the following appear in the book ‘CORKAGH - The Life & Times of a South Dublin Demesne 1650-1960’ by Turtle Bunbury, published by South Dublin County Council in May 2018. The County Library in Tallaght have the books as part of their Local Studies collection; readers can either visit the Library or contact them via 01 4597834.

During the 1740s one of the more colourful families to take an interest in Corkagh House, Clondalkin, Co. Dublin, was the Desbrisays. They claimed descent from Torquatus Byrsarius, a ninth–century warrior whom Charles the Bald entrusted with defending the lands between the Loire and Vilaine rivers against Viking and Breton assaults. They had been staunch Huguenots during the French Wars of Religion in the late 16th century but the family head had returned to the Catholic faith in the 1630s and, during the 1680s, Jacques René de Brisay (1637-1710), Marquis de Dennonville, served as Louis XIV’s viceroy of New France (ie: French Canada).[i]

The Desbrisays of Corkagh were scions of a cadet branch of Denonville’s family who remained Huguenot. The first to settle in Ireland was Captain Théophile de la Cour Desbrisay (1662-1767) who left France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and served as a captain in Marton's Regiment (later Lord Lifford’s). One of his brother officers was James La Rimbliere whose daughter Marie would marry Colonel Philip Chenevix of the Corkagh gunpowder mills.

Théophile Desbrisay was married in London in 1692 to Madelaine de St. Léger de Boisrond. They initially lived in Lisburn, County Antrim, but later moved to central Dublin where Théophile erected a marble tablet on the side of his house with a profile of William III and the inscription: "May we never want a Williamite to kick the [----] of a Jacobite.”[ii] . Théophile was to live an astonishingly long life, dying on 15th July 1767 aged 105. He was buried in the Huguenot Cemetery on Merrion Row, Dublin. The Dublin-born dramatist John O’Keefe (1747-1833) recalled meeting him in his youth:

‘A strange figure was Captain Debrisay [sic] when, upwards of 70 years of age, still wearing the dress of the reign of Charles II, a large cocked-hat, all on one side his face, nearly covering his left eye; a great powdered wig, hanging at the side in curls, and in the centre at the back a large black cockade with a small drop curl from it; his embroidered waistcoat down to his knees; the top of his coat not within three inches of his neck, the hip buttons about a foot from it; buttons all the way down the coat but only one at the waist buttoned; the hilt of the sword through the opening of the skirt; a long cravat, fringed, the end pulled through the third button-hole; small buckles; the coat sleeves very short, and the shirt sleeves pulled down, but hid by the top of the gloves, and the ruffles hanging out at the opening of the cuff; the waistcoat entirely open except the lower button, displaying the finely plaited frill. Such, in his bodily presentment, was the old courtier who we learn 'walked the streets of Dublin unremarked.'"[iii]

Captain ‘Théophilus’ Desbrisay (1694-1772), son of Théophile and Madelaine, was born in 1694 and christened Samuel Théophile Desbrisay. In 1718, the twenty-four-year-old was married in Dublin to Magdalene de Vergèze d'Aubussargues. She is thought to have been the daughter or granddaughter of Captain Jacques de Vergéze d’Aubussargues, a former commander of both the Horse Grenadiers and the Grand Musketeers in Brandenburg who served with Lord Galway’s Regiment in Ireland and died in Portarlington in 1720.

From at least 1735 Théophilus had an office at Cork Hill, near Dublin Castle, from which he served as an Army Agent to the various Huguenot regiments, assisting their colonels in the management of accounts, as well as acting as a sort of banker to the regimental officers. In 1743, he was recorded in a deed of lease and release as the new owner of six acres at Corkagh, including Kilmatead, which he purchased from David Chaigneau. These acres appear to have been leased to Philip Chenevix, a son-in-law of one of his father’s brother-officers and a senior figure in the Irish military establishment.

It is unclear whether Théophilus lived at Corkagh or Kilmatead, or whether he had any direct interest in the powder mills. In 1746 he gave his residential address as Frapper Lane, Oxmantown, Dublin, the same address where the abducted heir James Annesley had lived in the 1720s. Curiously, on 2nd July 1743, he also leased 140 acres in the Barony of Kilkea and Moone, County Kildare, from the Bunbury family with Thomas Bunbury, my own ancestor, and Charles Meares named as witnesses.[iv]

In 1754, Théophilus was Agent to the 2nd (Queen's Royal) Regiment of Foot on the Irish Establishment, which was garrisoned at Cork Hill.[v] Three years later he was Agent to the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment, also at Cork Hill, retaining the position until 1763 when succeeded by William Chaigneau, a cousin of David Chaigneau of Corkagh. Théophilus was also a member of the Dublin Society for Improving Husbandry, Manufactures and other useful arts, which later evolved into the Royal Dublin Society.

Théophilus and Magdalene Desbrisay had a large family but their sons were fated to be decimated during 1759, the celebrated annus mirabilis, or ‘wonderful year’, of the British Empire. Two or possibly three sons were apparently lost during the six-month campaign to capture the French West Indian island of Guadeloupe. The reduction of Guadeloupe was precisely the sort of event the gunpowder factory at Corkagh had been working towards for the previous forty years. On 22nd January 1759 the Royal Navy began its bombardment of the town of Basse-Terre by firing bomb ketches, containing at least one mortar each, from a distance of two to three miles. These spherical shells were packed with powder, while the shell wall was designed to be extra thick to ensure the bomb did not fall to the ground with its fuse on the downward side. British gunners were instructed to cut the wax and gunpowder fuses in such a way that the bomb exploded on impact but bomb-making was still ‘an inexact science’ at this time and many exploded in mid-air. There were also ‘carcasses’, extremely volatile incendiaries used by the Navy as flares and made from a combination of wax, sulphur, nitre and gunpowder.

When Basse-Terre was captured, the Desbrisay’s eldest son Peter, a lieutenant colonel with the Royal Artillery, was instructed to hold the fort with a detachment from the 63rd Foot. Unfortunately, he was blown up and killed by an accidental explosion on 23rd March. Unconfirmed family records suggest that his brother Captain Théophilus Desbrisay also died in Guadeloupe and that another brother Lieutenant Colonel James Desbrisay also died in 1759.

Théophilus and Magdalene’s surviving sons included Thomas Desbrisay, who served for fifteen years as Lieutenant Governor of Prince Edward Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and General Jasper de Brisay [sic], who fought at Culloden in 1745 and married an aunt of Sir John Parnell.[vi] One of their daughters Magdalen (c. 1720-1786) married another Huguenot, Simon Boileau of Dublin, in 1741.[vii]

Perhaps connected to the death of his elderly father in 1767, the Irish parliament was obliged to pass a bill ‘for the relief of the creditors of Theophilus Desbrisay of the city of Dublin’ in the spring of 1768.[viii] Théophilus died in Glasnevin on 5th July 1772 aged 79, and was interred in the Boileau tomb in the Huguenot Cemetery on Dublin’s Merrion Row.[ix] The cemetery was for those who did not conform to the Church of Ireland. Magdalene died on 11th December 1788 and was buried alongside her late husband.



The following letter was written by Theophilus Desbrisay in May 1769 and addressed to his son Capt. Thomas De La Cour DesBrisay who had lately been appointed Lieutenant Governor of St. John's (now Prince Edward) Island. With thanks to Iva Trevors for the transcript.

Dublin, Ireland

May, 1769

My dear Son,

As by all appearance and my great age I cannot hope to see you more after you leave this Kingdom, and my circumstances not affording me the means of shewing you my affection by real effects I shall at least discharge a duty by laying before you such advices for the conduct of your life which if attended to may be conducive to your welfare and happiness. Let me observe to you--

Firstly, --- That your principle duty is to offer daily your worship to the Supreme being, not only in private, but let your family join you in acts of devotion morning and evening. In the post wherein it hath pleased God to place you, you are not to consider yourself alone, but to be an example to others. This you will do by never neglecting, with your family, to attend the Public Worship. --

Secondly,--- As Lieutenant Governor of St. John's Island there are many obligations laid on you, and the mention of some of them may, I hope, be of use. --

Thirdly,--- In regards to the Inhabitants of the Island whom His Majesty hath laid under your inspection, be to them affable and courteous, but especially to the officers immediately attending on public business. Be civil but not familiar, have no favourite and beware to let anyone get an ascendancy over you. Reward virtue, punish vice, without shewing any partiality in either case. Be just and fear not, dare to be wise.

Fourthly,--- Be very sparing in giving entertainments-From a long experience I have found that they answer no and, insomuch that those persons who have eat your meat and drunk your wine will look upon it as a small obligation and perhaps blame you in 'their minds.

Fifthly,--- Be constantly on your guard against being tempted to make any advantage, though perhaps they may appear innocent -- money-making is a dangerous snare, and averice hath often perverted the best minds, who, when out of reach of temptation thought themselves secure from that vice.

Sixthly,--- As you may be allowed to dispose of employments, do not stretch your authority too much to your advantage, for ever give the preference to merit though at your loss. By this method you will gain friends, His Majesty's service will be better promoted and you will have the inward satisfaction of having acted by the rules of generosity, disinterestedness, and with sentiments abhorring a filthy lucre.

Seventhly --- You will, I suppose, have places of worship of different denominations. In general people are very tenacious of their religious principles, when these differences are laid open History will inform us to what lengths opinions and prejudices will carry men. The Consequences are always fatal. If any such arise in your Island these as Governor you may compose by an impartial behaviour, accompanied with gentleness and moderation. If you can compass this great end your Island will be peaceable and every particular member will apply himself to his private affairs and consult the good of the whole ------ Do not suffer party of any kind to take root, prevent them at their first appearance but always with good manners.

Eighthly,--- Apply yourself to agriculture and horticulture. This will employ some hours in each day, take you from idleness, and will occation such reflections as will raise your thoughts and fill your mind with sublime ideas by admiring the works of Providence and must give you an amicable taste to virtue which will every day increase.

I have now laid before you some few leads for your conduct to which you may add your own reflections and enlarge upon them. As to the passions ingrafted in us by our nature or to speak better by Providence and what relates to the education of your children, you are come to the time of life that I should be sorry you should want advice. I most ardently pray God that He may bless you and yours-that He may sow in your minds seeds of morality and virtue, that you may pass the days of your pilgrimage with all those who belong to you in health, happiness and comfort and the consciousness of doing well -------- Amen ---




[i] Jacques René de Brisay (1637-1710), Marquis de Dennonville, was a devout Catholic who served as Louis XIV’s viceroy of New France (ie: French Canada) from 1685 to 1689. His governorship is remembered for the brutality with which the French suppressed rebellions the Iroquois Confederacy, not least when he organized the capture of fifty Iroquois chiefs in the midst of a parlay whom he subsequently had shipped in chains to Marseilles, France, to be used as galley slaves. The Iroquois responded with an equally violent campaign of slaughter against New France’s fledgling settler community. His successor as governor wisely returned thirteen of the surviving Iroquois chiefs and returned them to their homeland.

[ii] Quoted in "Researching Huguenot Settlers in Ireland” by Vivien Costello, The BYU Family Historian, Vol. 6 (Fall 2007) p. 83-163. Don Lowe, a descendant of the Desbrisay family has compiled a history of the family on the website www.islandregister.com/desbrisay

[iii] Recollections of John O'Keefe, 1826.

[iv] BUNBURY to DESBRISAY, 22 July 1743: Lease btw Thomas BUNBURY of City of Dublin Esq eldest son and heir of Thomas BUNBURY late of same City dec’d Rose BUNBURY otherwise JACKSON mother of said Thomas & widow & relict of Thomas BUNBURY dec’s Henry BUNBURY of Johnstown in Co. Carlow Esq. & Edward FOLEY of City of Dublin Gent. Of 1 pt & Theophilus DEBRISAY of said City of other part... lease & release in consid of 608 pounds...to DEBRISAY town and lands of Moygany otherwise Morgany otherwise Moygna cont. By est 140 acres in Barony of Kilkea and Moone in Co. Kildare... in presence of William BUNBURY of Lisnevagh in Co Carlow Esq. & Charles MEARES of Dublin Gent … (Jackson Memorials and Deeds Mentioning Dublin, Book 110, pg. 363, * 77934.

[v] List of General and Field Officers as They Rank in the Army, 1754.

[vi] Mosley, Charles, editor. ‘Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage’, 107th edition, Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A., 3 volumes: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003, volume 1, page 414.

[vii] Simeon Boileau was a son of Charles de Boileau, Seigneur de Castelnau and Mary Magdalen Collot d'Escury

[viii] Bill Number 2534 (1767).

[ix] His death is recorded in the Londonderry Journal, Wed. July 15, 1772.