Francis Higgins


Life
1746-1802 [‘The Sham Squire’]; b. prob. Dublin, of poor parents originating in Co. Down; engaged as attorney’s clerk; converted to Protestantism; gained his sobriquet by fraudulently proposing to the dg. of William Archer, Catholic merchant, on the pretense of being a landowner with a post in the Custom House; received £600 by agreement and a half share of Archer’s fortune at his death; won the suit brought by Archer after the flight of his dg. following physical attacks upon her by Higgins; he was named a ‘sham squire’ in court; ran gaming houses; became an attorney in 1780;
 
held office as a Justice, a Coroner, and a member of the Dublin Corporation (formerly Commons); attacked by John Magee in connection with the procurement of Mary Neil for Lord Carhampton and the release of Mrs. Llewellen after trial and sentence of death in that connection, May 1788; acquired Freeman’s Journal, 1784-1802 [var. 1789], using it to denounce the United Irishmen; received £1,000 from the government for revealing whereabouts of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and almost certainly the F.H. listed in Govt. moneys accounts, his handler being Under-Secretary Edward Cooke;
 
d. at 82, St. Stephen’s Green; left the Freeman’s Journal to Frances Tracy, by whom he seems to have had a child; he is the subject of W. J. Fitzpatrick’s best-seller, The Sham Squire (1866); his correspondence with Dublin Castle was edited by Thomas Bartlett in 2003. DIB DUB OCIL

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Works
Thomas Bartlett, ed., Revolutionary Dublin: T he Letters of Francis Higgins to Dublin Castle, 1795-1801 (Dublin: Four Courts Press 2003), 480pp. [158 letters].

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Criticism
W. J. Fitzpatrick, The Sham Squire (1866 & reps); Felix M. Larkin, ‘“A Great Daily Organ”: the Freeman’s Journal, 1763-1924’, in History Ireland (May-June 2006), pp.44-49, p.44.

The Sham Squire (1866) is available at Chapters of Dublin online; accessed 09.11.2011 - see copy attached.]

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Commentary
R. R. Madden (United Irishmen, App. I, 4th series, 2nd edn.), ‘Notice of Francis Higgins’ secret money dealings’, Walter Cox was publically denounced by Brenan in his Milesian Magazine as the betrayer of Lord Edward but the real recipient of money who sold his setting was Francis Higgins [also suspected was Samuel Neilson].

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Cheryl Herr, Introd., For The Land they Loved (Syracuse, 1991): Turner was spied upon by Francis Higgins, whom Fitzpatrick (in The Secret Service under Pitt) found to be an unusually able informer. It was Higgins, the owner of the Freeman’s Journal, to whom the Castle paid £1,000 (plus an annual sum of £300) for betraying Lord Edward’s hiding place in May 1798. Satirically nick-named the Shamado by the journalist John Magee, Higgins acted as the conduit into Dublin Castle for information received from the lawyer Magan. [Higgins] passed it to the Under-secretary Edward Cooke, and thence to Major Sirr.

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Gillian O’Brien, ‘Camden and the move towards the Union 1795-1798’ (2001), writes: ‘Francis Higgins, the unscrupulous editor of the Freeman’s Journal and an active and enhusiastic Castle informant, vividly illustrates the disillusionment and despndency flet by Irish loyalists: “You [...] have never heard anything equal to the outcry made against the English government for want of the protection of the fleet; [...] the enemy on the shores; no assistance given, though [...] the country might be overrun by the French. The citizens who are strongly attached to the government speak of the neglect in this wat “that Ireland is to look to itself, the hour of danger has come and neither assistance nor relief from an English fleet will have arrived”.’ (F[rancis] H[iggins] to [Edward Cooke], 8 Jan. 1797, NA 620/18/14; O’Brien, op. cit., in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.117.)

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References
Dictionary of Ulster Biography (ed. Newmann) holds that he was born in Downpatrick, Co. Down.

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Notes
Sir Johan Barrington records that he was imprisoned for the deception of Miss Archer.

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