Highlights in the Real Life of Arthur Hill
Concerning his family story, Arthur was born on 3 March 1753, the son of Wills Hill, the Earl of Hillsborough (1751-1793). Wills Hill was owner of a large property in County Down, Ireland, and elsewhere in Ireland and England, and carried on the earlier family tradition as a major landowner. In addition he was active in politics and government service at a high level in England. Wills Hill was a Member of Parliament (1741-1756) and in positions of state. He is best remembered as Secretary of State for the Colonies and First Lord of the Board of Trade (1768-1772), and his life-long opposition to any concessions to the American colonies. Indeed it is reported that King George III stated that it was Wills Hill who caused him to lose his American colonies. Near the end of his life he designed a new home in Hillsborough, a residence that would become known as Hillsborough Castle, completed some four years after his death. Along with various other titles, in 1789 Wills Hill was created Marquess of Downshire in the peerage of Ireland (1789), a title that passed on to his son, Arthur, upon Wills Hill’s death in 1793.
Son Arthur grew up with his father deeply embroiled in the management of a large estate and in the affairs of state. He passed on to his son a sizeable annual income and considerable debt, a debt that his personal estate was quite unable to meet. And it was son Arthur that would complete Hillsborough Castle in 1797, the seat of the Downshire family for a number of subsequent generations, until 1924 when it was purchased by the Government for us as the official residence of the Governor of Northern Ireland, The Castle, now known as Government House continues to be in the news, as the temporary home of visiting Royalty and the place for meeting men and women of distinction in the arts, literature and politics.
As Arthur Hill makes his appearance in the drama, “Garrow’s Law”, the time is the 1780s. William Garrow started his career as a barrister in the Old Bailey in late 1783 and early 1784. Arthur Hill’s actual intriguing relationship with Sarah Dore take place at least five years before that time. Their child, William Arthur, was born in 1779. By this time Arthur Hill had finished his education at Magdalene College, Oxford, (1773) and was serving as a Member of Parliament of Great Britain for Lostwithiel (1774-1780) and would soon start serving as MP for Malmesbury (1780-1784). Arthur was also serving as a member of the Parliament of Ireland for County Down (1776-1793). During this time he was known as Viscount Fairford (1772) and was clearly representing his families’ affairs in government. His relationship with Sarah Dore, resulting in the birth of their son, William Arthur Dorehill, took place while he was engaged in these activities.
Later, on June 29, 1786, seven years after the birth of his son with Sarah, Arthur Hill completed another critical family arrangement. He married Mary Sandys (who would become Baroness Sandys of Ombersley) bringing into the family a great deal of wealth, and he commenced bringing into his family a line of male heirs.
His marriage to Mary Sandys was by Special License obtained from the Archbishop of Canterbury, only available to the well connected and then at the archbishop’s discretion. It enabled the couple to marry at any place and at any time, without the necessity of publishing banns or by regular license with it’s many restrictions. Generations of the Dorehill family have speculated about the significance of the Special License. Had Arthur and Sarah been in a disapproved form of marriage, such a special license may have been necessary. It could also account for the delay in Sarah Dore marrying William Garrow, until the earlier relationship was resolved. In the “Garrow’s Law” storyline Arthur Hill used the legal strategy called “separation from bed and board”, forcing Sarah out of his house without any financial support. This was not an actual divorce and would deny both Sarah and Arthur the right to remarry until resolved. This may be touching on something real, and it does provide grounds for speculation. It should be remembered that in that day when the wealthy formally married, it was very much a business contract, drawn up by lawyers.
With his marriage to Mary Sandys, Arthur Hill’s career and life moved swiftly on. A.P.W. Malcomson, the author of the most detailed and authoritative short biography on Arthur Hill, titled his piece, “The Gentle Leviathon: Arthur Hill, Second Marquess of Downshire, 1753-1801”. (Note: the word “leviathan” refers to a large sea monster such as a whale.) The article appears as Chapter VII in Plantation to Partition, Essays in Ulster History in Honour of J.L.McCraken, edited by Peter Roebuck, 1981. Family intrigues are not included in this short biography, but this account gives detailed information on his peerage, and his political, financial and military activities. His opening statement on Arthur Hill introduces ideas which he then supports with the detailed information.
“The second Marquess of Downshire, through his electoral influence in his power-base of Co Down and elsewhere, was the most powerful political magnate in late-eighteenth-century Ireland. He was the wealthiest landowner in Co Down, probably the wealthiest in Ulster and… almost certainly the wealthiest in Ireland. Moreover, he was a great landowner in England, and had a surer foothold in English high society and British politics, than any contemporary who can reasonable be called an Irishman. Yet, in spite of the natural bias and exceptional — perhaps unique — advantages of his situation, he threw his influence against the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland… and he died soon after the Union, in 1801, cashiered of everything which it was within the power of the government to remove from him, and enormously in debt…”