William Henry Gregory

The Right Honourable
Sir William Henry Gregory

"An art critic"
Gregory as caricatured by James Tissot in Vanity Fair, December 1871
14th Governor of British Ceylon
In office
4 March 1872  4 September 1877
Monarch Queen Victoria
Preceded by Henry Turner Irving
acting governor
Succeeded by James Robert Longden
Personal details
Born (1816-07-01)1 July 1816
Dublin Castle
Died 6 March 1892(1892-03-06) (aged 75)
London, England
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Temple Bowdoin (m.1872 until her death)
Augusta, Lady Gregory (m.1880)
Children William Robert Gregory (1881-1918)
Alma mater Harrow School
Christ Church, Oxford
Occupation Writer, Politician

Sir William Henry Gregory PC (Ire) KCMG (13 July 1816[1] – 6 March 1892) was an Anglo-Irish writer and politician, who is now less remembered than his wife Augusta, Lady Gregory, the playwright, co-founder and Director of Dublin's Abbey Theatre, literary hostess and folklorist.

Earlier life and education

The only child of Robert Gregory and Elizabeth O'Hara Gregory, William Gregory was born at the Under-Secretary's residence, Ashtown Lodge, in Phoenix Park, Dublin. From 1830 to 1835 he attended Harrow, where he was an award-winning student. He entered Christ Church, Oxford in 1836, but left three years later without receiving a degree.

Political career

In 1842 Gregory was elected to the British House of Commons in a by-election as a Conservative member for Dublin. Among his close associates were Sir Robert Peel, Lord Lincoln and Lord George Bentinck, but he was also friendly with Daniel O'Connell and sympathetic to Catholic interests. He was responsible for the "Gregory Clause" of the relief laws passed in response to the Irish Famine.

After Gregory failed to retain his seat in the general election of 1847 he took up residence on the family estate at Coole Park in County Galway. He was appointed High Sheriff of County Galway in 1849.[2] He had inherited a large fortune, mainly derived from the earnings of his grandfather in the East India Company, but he lost a large part of it at the racetrack.[3]

Gregory travelled to Egypt in 1855 and wrote a two-volume work on his travels, Egypt in 1855 and 1856, and Tunis in 1857 and 1858, published privately in London in 1859.

In 1857 he was returned to Parliament for County Galway on a liberal-conservative platform.

In 1859 he travelled through North America, befriending several southern Congressmen, including James Murray Mason of Virginia and William Porcher Miles of South Carolina. Throughout the American Civil War Gregory was an avid supporter of the Confederacy. He also argued that Britain should pursue a strong anti-Turkish policy, and supported the cession of the Ionian Islands and Crete to Greece. In domestic affairs Gregory was active in defending the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland and working for land reform. His interest in the arts led to a long association with the British Museum. In 1867 he was appointed a Trustee of the National Gallery.

On 10 July 1871 Gregory was made a member of the Privy Council of Ireland and in the following year he was appointed Governor of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). In 1875 he played host to the Prince of Wales and was presented with the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

Gregory retired from office in 1877 and returned to England via Australia. He spent most of the following years travelling. From October 1881 to April 1882 he toured Egypt and reported on the revolution there.He also visited Ceylon in 1884 and 1885.

Gregory was a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)[4] and a member of the Kildare Street Club in Dublin.[5]

Personal life

Gregory was addicted to horse racing, which led to financial difficulties throughout his life. He remained fond of classical languages and literature, and always took an interest in artistic affairs.

Gregory married twice. On 11 January 1872 he married Elizabeth Temple Bowdoin, widow of James Temple Bowdoin and daughter of Sir William Clay. She died on 28 June 1873. On 4 March 1880 Gregory married Augusta Persse, later to become famous as Augusta, Lady Gregory. Their only child, William Robert Gregory, was born on 20 May 1881.


Gregory died of respiratory failure in London on 6 March 1892. His autobiography was edited and published by Lady Gregory in 1894. He bequeathed the important painting Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Diego Velázquez, along with three other works including a Jan Steen, to the National Gallery, London of which he had been a Trustee from 1867 onwards.[4][6]

Lake Gregory in Nuwara Eliya and Gregory's Road in Colombo are named for him.

He lends his name to the inspector in Arthur Conan Doyle's Silver Blaze, 1892. The Sherlock Holmes story is centered on the disappearance of a race horse on the eve of a major race.

He is sometimes considered to have been the model for Anthony Trollope's character Phineas Finn in the Palliser Novels.[7] Trollope went to school with Gregory.


  1. Brian Jenkins, Sir William Gregory of Coole. The Biography of an Anglo-Irishman, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1986, p. 22.
  2. Walford, Edward (1919). The County Families of the United Kingdom. London: Robert Spottiswoode, Ballantyne & Co. Ltd.
  3. Sir William Gregory, Joseph M. Hone, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 44, No. 175 (Autumn, 1955), pp. 337–341, Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, JSTOR
  4. 1 2 Cooke, Colman M. (1980) [1979], "Lady Gregory's Journals, Volume One, Books One to Twenty Nine, 10 October 1916–24 February 1925 by Daniel J. Murphy (book review)", Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, 37: 97–101
  5. Thomas Hay Sweet Escott, Club Makers and Club Members (1913), pp. 329–333
  6. National Gallery
  7. http://www.ricorso.net/rx/az-data/authors/g/Gregory_WH/life.htm


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Beattie West
Edward Grogan
Member of Parliament for Dublin City
1842 – 1847
With: Edward Grogan
Succeeded by
John Reynolds
Edward Grogan
Preceded by
Thomas Arthur Bellew
Thomas Burke
Member of Parliament for County Galway
With: Thomas Burke 1857–1865
Lord Dunkellin 1865–1867
Viscount Burke 1867–1871
Mitchell Henry 1871–1872
Succeeded by
John Philip Nolan
Mitchell Henry
Government offices
Preceded by
Henry Turner Irving
acting governor
Governor of Ceylon
Succeeded by
James Robert Longden

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