John Sadleir (1814-56)

Extracts from criticism


Life
b. Shrone Hill, Co. Tipperary; ed Clongowes; br. of James Sadleir, MP, and son of Dublin solicitor whose practice he at first managed; agent for Irish railways; estab. Tipperary Joint-Stock Bank, 1827, using local farmers' savings as capital; shared stock with 100 partners, each with unlimited liability; elected MP for Carlow, 1847, though remaining unionist until 1848; became a member of George Henry Moore’s [q.v.] ‘Irish Brigade’, otherwise known as ‘the Pope’s Brass Band’ because of Sadeir and William Keogh’s [q.v.] obstructionist vociferations in the House of Commons; est. the Telegraph in Dublin, 1851, as organ of the Catholic Defense Association, chaired by Archbishop Cullen [q.v.];
 
supported Charles Gavan Duffy’s [q.v.] Tenant League, but accepted a post as Junior Lord of the Treasury under Gladstone when the new Govt. was formed in 1852 following the collapse of Lord Derby’s shortlived administration (ad interim on fall of Lord Russell’s) having lost the election on the basis of the Irish party’s block vote; elected MP for Sligo, 1853; forged title deeds as collateral for loans on London banks; overdrew £200,000 on his own account to purchase votes and maintain the Telegraph; failure of his brother’s Tipperary Joint-Stock Bank (est. 1827), with assets only one-tenth of deposits - the banking losses falling heavily on Tipperary small-holders;
 
committed suicide with prussic acid on Hampstead Heath, 17 Feb. 1856; described in the Nation as ‘a sallow-faced man with multifarious intrigue, cold, callous, cunning’; rumoured to have escaped to America and faked his own death. ODNB DIB DIH FDA OCIL

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Criticism
John Francis O’Donnell, Sadleir, the Banker; or, The Laceys [Family] of Rathmore (Dublin: The Nation Office 1873) [prev. serialised in Nation, 1872-73]; James O’Shea, Prince of Swindlers: John Sadlier 1813-1856 (Dublin: Geography Publications 1999), 519pp.

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Commentary
Denis Fahey [guest writer], in “An Irishman’s Diary”, in The Irish Times (29 Nov. 2013) - on Sadleir: in the autumn of 1838, when John Sadleir, a 24-year-old partner in a prosperous family legal practice in Dublin saw an opportunity to “tap the humble hoards of the farming classes in his native Tipperary” as the contemporary writer A. M. Sullivan put it. / He successflly encouraged relatives and friends to revive a private bank run by his grandfather James Scully as a joint stock bank with up to 100 partners and it opened in Tipperary town before the year’s end. A branch in Nenagh followed early in 1839 and eventually there were nine. it issued Bank of Ireland notes and acted as an agent for the Dublin institution, but was entirely independent. it also paid good interest and high dividends and was regarded with as much confidence as the Bank of England. To quote Sullivan again, it became the depository for marriage potions [recte portions?] from the shanon to the Suir. Nobody seemed to notice that it didn’t lend much to the local farmers and shopkeepers. / Meanwhile, John’s career prospered [...]. Moved to London, 1846; parliamentary agent to railway companies; elected Liberal MP for Carlow, 1847; became involved in scheme to buy bankrupt estates following Encumbered Estates Act, 1848; reacted against parliamentary ban on the use of territorial titles by other than Anglicans, incl. churchmen; joined Irish Brass Band, or “the Pope’s Brass Band”, pledged to oppose the measure; also pledged not to take govt. jobs. John and colleague William Keogh broke the ban in 1853, resigned, and was defeated in re-election; procured the false imprisonment of a man called Dowling; forced to retire from ministry job, 1854. “Until then, he had a reputation for the Midas touch in his numerous speculations involving railways, tallow, sugar and land, but vague rumours began to spread about his affairs and about the bank which was now run by his brother James” [Fahey]. London bank Glyn & Co. refused draft drawn on the Tipperary bank; by then that Sadleir had withdrawn £200,000 without security and was “hopelessly insolvent” [Fahey]; wrote letters of regret on night of Feb. 16th 1856, and took prussic acid on Hampstead Heath in the morning; Bank of Ireland biggest loser when his bank closed its doors immediately after; others who suffered loss incl. a parish priest who lost £2,000 collected to build a church, a Poor Law Union, and 800 individuals with savings of less than £50; a farmer beat his wife to death for leaving £350 on deposit with the bank, which was wound up with estimated losses of £400,000 and assets of £35,000 in April 1856; many of the stock partners, having unlimited liability, were ruined; his br. James expelled from House of Commons, and murdered in Zurich in 1881; Sadleir found to have raised £1,250,000 by forging deeds, share certs., conveyances and bills, while “using the bank as his private treasury” [Fahey]; called a national calamity by the Times; untangling of his affairs continued until 1880; suspected of having “forged” [Fahey] his own death; enjoyed after-life as model for Merdle in Dickens’s Little Dorrit [sic]. (p.17.)

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References
Dictionary of National Biography Irish politician and swindler, original of Dicken’s Mr Merdle in Little Dorrit, also appears in Charles Lever’s Davenport Dunn and John Needham’s Double. (See Irish Book Lover [q. vol.], ‘life of crime’).

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D. J. Doherty & J. E. Hickey, A Chronology of Irish History Since 1500 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989) [a widely variant account form DIB, et al.]: leading mbr. of Irish Brigade, and Catholic Defence Association; fnd. Irish Land Company; then fnd. Tipperary Joint-Stock Bank to buy Kingston estate, Co. Cork, on which Land Co. held a mortgage; Chairman of the London and County Joint-Stock Co.; combined with Tenant League to become Independent Irish Party, pledging not to take office; accepted office in Lord Aberdeen’s ministry, 17 Nov. 1852; Lord of the Treasury, 1853; MP for Sligo, 1853; invested in American railways, and embezzled heavily from the Tipperary Bank to the sum of 1,250,000; lost court action against creditor, Jan. 1854; committed suicide, fearing discovery.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, p.254 [ftn. to O’Leary’s Recollections, where he appears as Sadlier (sic)]; 258 [with William Keogh], 277n. [with Keogh].

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Notes

Charles Dickens: Dickens called John Keogh that ‘precious rascality’ and made him the model of Merdle (Forster, Life of Dickens). Further: The Ponzi scheme-style dealings of Edmund Sparkler's stepfather, Mr. Merdle, in Dickens's Little Dorrit (1857) end with Merdle’s suicide and the collapse of his bank business - and with it the savings of both the Dorrits and Arthur Clennam who is now himself imprisoned in the Marshalsea where he becomes ill and is nursed back to health by Amy. (See Wikipedia article on Little Dorrit - online.)

Hamlet & Co.: Sadleir was called, with William Keogh [q.v.], the ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ of Irish history. (See Malcolm Brown, ‘Besides the Sickbed: Carlyle, Duffy, Dr. Cullen’, in Politics of Irish Literature: From Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. London: George Allen & Unwin 1972, p.129.)

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