From the files of the DIB…‘Son of a Water Drinker’ and ‘Anti-Everythingarian’

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 3 (May/Jun 2007), News, Volume 15

HAUGHTON, James (1795–1873), social reformer and philanthropist, was born on 5 May 1795 in Carlow town, the eldest son of Samuel Pearson Haughton, corn merchant, and his wife Mary (née Pim) of Ruskin, Queen’s County. Although both parents left the Society of Friends shortly after his birth, James was educated at the Quaker school in Ballitore, Co. Kildare, and remained a Quaker until 1834, when he joined the Unitarian congregation on Strand Street, Dublin. He established himself in Dublin as a grain merchant, forming a lengthy and successful partnership with his brother William (1799–1877).
Haughton strongly believed that the welfare of humanity could be progressively improved by the application of enlightened policies and came to public prominence as a social reformer, particularly as an advocate of temperance and the abolition of slavery. Convinced that intemperance was the primary cause of Dublin’s crime, poverty and disease, he became an active member of the Dublin Temperance Society soon after its foundation in 1829. In 1838 he became a teetotaller and wrote regularly to the press to promote temperance, signing his letters ‘Son of a Water Drinker’. He also ceased trading in malt and barley because they were used to make drink. He represented Ireland at the 1846 and 1862 International Temperance Conventions in London and happily collaborated with the temperance efforts of the Irish Catholic clergy, notably those of Fr Theobald Mathew. In 1855 Haughton was among those who raised the funds necessary to buy out the rights of the family that owned Donnybrook Fair, despite strong resistance from traders and the public. Aware that working people needed social alternatives to public houses, he encouraged the creation of the People’s Gardens in the Phoenix Park and successfully campaigned for the opening on Sundays of the Zoological Gardens at a penny charge and for free admission to the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin.
A prominent figure in the Hiberno Anti-Slavery Society, he represented Ireland in 1838 and 1840 at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London, where his zeal was much admired by leading abolitionists of the day such as William Lloyd Garrison. He published a strong condemnation of slavery in Four letters to the Irish people on the use of articles produced by the labour of slaves, particularly tobacco (1841). A convinced pacifist, Haughton strongly condemned the United States for going to war with Mexico in May 1846, claiming that it was intent on spreading slavery into Mexico. He admired Daniel O’Connell, particularly for his fervent opposition to bloodshed and slavery, and joined the Repeal Association in 1840. After the secession of the Young Irelanders from the association in July 1846, he worked hard to reconcile the two groups. He joined the Young Ireland Irish Confederation in January 1847 and engaged in an acrimonious debate on slavery with the anti-abolitionist Young Ireland priest Fr John Kenyon. In April he resigned from the Confederation after it failed to condemn slavery in an address of thanks to the US vice-president, George Mifflin Dallas, a slave-owner. Haughton subsequently dismissed all repeal agitation as pointless, advocating instead cooperation between British and Irish reformers. He admitted to a friend that ‘I hate party-work, my efforts are for moral reform; political reforms would follow as a matter of course’.
While temperance and anti-slavery were his great causes, Haughton also advocated many other reforms. An activist in the Hibernian Peace Society and the British India Society, and one-time president of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom (he was christened ‘Vegetable Haughton’ by detractors), he wrote regularly to British and Irish newspapers on such issues as the exploitation of India, the extension of the electoral franchise, education, sanitary reform, taxation, land reform, animal rights, the opium trade, flogging in the army, repression of crime and capital punishment. Alongside like-minded enthusiasts such as Richard Allen and Richard D. Webb (who collectively became known as ‘the Anti-Everythingarians’), he spoke regularly on these issues at public meetings. Although some contemporaries considered Haughton naive and overly zealous in his beliefs, he was generally respected for his humanity and sincerity. He died on 20 February 1873 in his home at 35 Eccles Street, Dublin, and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery.

Frances Clarke was formerly an editorial assistant with the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography.


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