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Introducing, Thomas ‘Bullocks’ Wyse.

The Wyse family had been in Waterford since the Middle Ages. Over the centuries the family had prospered. During the reign of King Henry VIII, William Wyse was granted large tracts of monastic land following the dissolution of the monasteries in England and Ireland by the king. Despite the fact that William Wyse accepted Church land his descendants remained staunch Catholics.

The defeat of the Catholic King James II meant that political power in Ireland finally passed out of the hands of the Catholics. The last Catholic mayor of Waterford to serve his full term was Thomas Wyse in 1689. In fact a Catholic would not sit on Waterford City Council again until 1829 when a direct descendent, another Thomas Wyse, was elected. However, even though the early years of the 18th century saw many Catholic families losing their estates, the Wyses managed to retain their land. The family seat was the Manor of St. John which was situated on College Street, on the site of the former Good Shepherd Convent, now part of the campus of Waterford Institute of Technology.

When Francis Wyse died in 1711 his ten-year-old son Thomas inherited the family estate. His nickname, Thomas ‘Bullocks’ Wyse, derives from his using bullocks instead of horses to draw his carriage. This was in protest at the penal law that obliged a Catholic to accept an offer of £5 from a Protestant for his horse. It is also believed that he was responsible for breaking through the city wall on present-day Manor Street in order to make a wide-enough breach for his carriage near the approach to his manor house.

Because of the anti-Catholic penal laws in force at the time Thomas Wyse was excluded from participation in the political life of the city. He therefore devoted his energies and talents to developing a wide range of industries in the Waterford region.

In 1750, he reopened the copper mines at Tankardstown near Bunmahon. He also established a factory in Waterford to manufacture copper hand-painted snuff boxes and trays, using copper mined at Bunmahon. One of the artists employed here was George Mullins who was also responsible for two paintings on copper. They feature two of Thomas’s sons, Francis and John as well as John’s wife Mary Anne Blakeney. Mary Anne was a great beauty and was known as ‘Murdering Moll’; it was said that her flashing eyes had a devastating effect on the young men of Waterford! Both of these paintings now hang in the Bishop’s Palace. It is interesting that George Mullins was the teacher of Thomas Roberts – son of the Waterford architect John Roberts. Thomas Roberts went on to become the greatest landscape painter of 18th century Ireland. A temporary exhibition on the Roberts family of Waterford will run throughout the summer until early November in the Bishop’s Palace. This exhibition will feature a number of original landscapes by Thomas Roberts, on loan from the National Gallery of Ireland and from private collectors.

There is also evidence that Tomas Wyse developed a significant lead and silver mining operation at Dane’s Island to the west of Bunmahon on the County Waterford coast.

Thomas Wyse was involved in a wide range of other enterprises. He experimented in porcelain manufacture and in 1755 it was reported that ‘white transparent china’ was being made by Thomas Wyse in Waterford. In the 1750’s he transferred his chief manufactory to Pouldrew near Kilmeadan. Here a wide range of goods were manufactured including tinware, saws and scythes.

In 1756 Thomas Wyse was instrumental in setting up the Catholic Committee, the first body to represent Catholic interests and campaign for an easing of the penal laws. However, he did not live to see the 1793 Repeal Act that restored many of the rights of Catholics, although they were still excluded from sitting in parliament.

Thomas Wyse had three portraits of himself painted – and all three now hang in the Bishop’s Palace. Two of these are by John Lewis, a portrait and scene painter.

Thomas’s main problem throughout his life was his own family and in particular his three sons, John, Francis and Richard. John actually served for period in the Irish Brigade of the French army and this caused major problems for the family as Britain was at war with France during the period that John served in the French Army.

Thomas Wyse went to a great deal of expense to organise a pardon for John and this was granted in 1758 because ‘of his youth’ and on the recommendation of the Duke of Bedford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

It was perhaps while in France that John developed a taste for extravagance because following his father’s death he squandered his inheritance. He built himself a fine mansion on the edge of the city – Newtown House, engaging the architect John Roberts to design and build it. He spent enormous sums on decorating the house and the two oils on copper painted by George Mullins are of the interior of this house – one of the very few interior views of Irish mansions from the 18th century. By the 1790’s John had amassed debts of over £30,000 and was forced to sell Newtown House. It was bought by the Quaker community of Waterford and became Newtown School. Because the Quakers disapproved of lavish decoration they stripped out the fine furnishings and fittings in the house so all the expense that John Wyse went to in creating a magnificent town house came to nothing. All that now survives from John’s time is a plain wooden oak chest, made in Waterford in 1693. This chest is now on display in the Medieval Museum, on loan from Newtown School.

Thomas’s other sons Richard and Francis were also a disappointment to him. In fact the debts built up by his three sons would go on to haunt the family into the 19th century, especially his grandson the famous Sir Thomas Wyse who was instrumental in the establishment of the National School System in Ireland and who married Letitia Bonaparte, the niece of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France.