One of the pleasures derived from family history research is finding real connections with our ancestors and having something in common such ones looks, similar experiences or personal traits. For me, I have the pleasure maybe even the honour of sharing a birthday with my great great-grandfather, Henry Harrison Briscoe, who was born on 2 June 1798.
Henry was one of the five children to Edward and Elizabeth (Osborne) Briscoe of Cloncunny in Kilkenny, Ireland. The townland of Cloncunny consisted of some 406 acres held from the Earl of Bessborough and where Henry was the middleman landlord holding the largest property and sub-leasing portions out to his tenant farmers. Although the second eldest son, Henry took over the responsibility for the Cloncunny estate from his father because of the early death of his brother Edward (junior) in 1815. Henry ran Cloncunny improving it by draining and reclaiming the bog on the estate so there was no waste land.
On 29 May 1830, the Waterford Mail recorded: ‘Married. Henry Harrison Briscoe eldest son of Edward Briscoe of Cloncunny to Eliza Thomasina, only daughter of the late Col. Thomas Walsh, 56th Regiment’ on 24 May 1830.
Henry and Eliza had a family of six children:
Thomas Anthony Briscoe (1831 – 1831)
Edward William Briscoe (1833 – 1878)
Caroline Elizabeth Henrietta Briscoe (b 1834-1890)
Alfred Philip Briscoe (1835 – 1890)
Henry Harrison Briscoe (1837 – 1912)
Thomasina Marian Briscoe (1845 – 1881)
Like many landlords, Henry served as a local Magistrate and Justice of the Peace and on the county Grand Jury. He was also the first Chairman of the Carrick-on-Suir Board of Guardians of the Poor Law Union when established in 1939 (following the passing of the Irish Poor Law Act of 1838).
Although he was a supporter of the (Protestant) status quo, as a Poor Law Inspector particularly in County Clare the minutes of the Union indicated that he served the community not only efficiently but also caringly and fairly during the Great Famine and until 1852.
Later in 1857 he was appointed as Poor Law Superintendent in Scotland for Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and Caithness. In this capacity he was reported to have visited over 10,000 registered poor (paupers) of heads of families, at their own houses throughout the north identifying many who were “improperly relieved.” He remained in Scotland until his death on 14 November 1864 at the age of 66 years.
The following obituary was published in the Inverness Advertiser on 18 November 1864.
‘DEATH OF MR HENRY HARRISON BRISCOE
Most of our readers in the north will learn with deepest regret that Mr Briscoe, General Superintendent of the Poor for the north of Scotland, is no more. About six months ago he was seized by an attack of paralysis, which completely prostrated him, and although comparative recovery was affected by medical science, he never was himself again, speech, memory and motion being all latterly affected, until the end came on suddenly on Monday afternoon last. Mr Briscoe was the very model of a Government official – indefatigable in his work, firm as flint in matters of duty and principle, and kind and courteous to all, the poor pauper equally with the lord of broad acres. Mr Briscoe was, we believe, upwards of sixty years of age, and his wiry frame and weather-bronzed countenance, when last we saw him, gave promise of a very long life; but his incessant and anxious labours, we have no doubt, broke down his naturally vigorous constitution before its time, and brought on the attack under which he ultimately succumbed.’
In the village of Fiddown, which is not far from Cloncunny in Kilkenny, a disused church has been turned into a chapel or mausoleum to the old Ponsonby (Bessborough) and Briscoe families. Among all the commemorative stones is one to our Henry Harrison Briscoe.
The times in which Henry Harrison Briscoe lived were very different to our own, but I like to think that as a public servant he tried his best to do his duty as he saw it.