Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden KC (19 January 1739 – 28 July 1803), was an Irish peer, politician and judge.
Wolfe was born at Forenaughts House, near Naas, being the fifth son of John Wolfe and his wife Mary Philpot. Wolfe was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and was called to the Irish Bar in 1766. In 1769, he married Anne Buxton (1745-1804), and took silk in 1778.
In 1783, Wolfe was returned as Member of Parliament for Coleraine, which he represented until 1790. In 1787, he was appointed Solicitor-General for Ireland, and was returned to Parliament for Jamestown in 1790.
Appointed Attorney-General for Ireland in 1789, he was known for his strict adherence to the forms of law, and his opposition to the arbitrary measures taken by the authorities, de-spite his own portion in the Protestant Ascendancy. He unsuccessfully prosecuted William Drennan in 1792. In 1795, Lord Fitzwilliam, the new Lord Lieutenant, intended to remove him from his place as Attorney-General to make way for George Ponsonby. In compensation, Wolfe’s wife was created Baroness Kilwarden on 30 September 1795; however, the recall of Fitzwilliam led Wolfe to retain his office.
In January 1798, he was simultaneously returned to Parliament for Dublin City and Ardfert. However, he left the House of Commons when he was appointed Chief Justice of the Kings Bench for Ireland and created Baron Kilwarden on 3 July 1798.
After the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Kilwarden notably twice issued writs of habeas corpus on behalf of Wolfe Tone, then held in military custody, but these were ignored by the army and forestalled by Tone’s suicide in prison. In 1795 he had also warned Tone and some of his associates to leave Ireland to avoid prosecution. Tone’s godfather, Theobald Wolfe of Blackhall (the father of Charles Wolfe (poet)) was Kilwarden’s first cousin, and Tone may have been Theobald’s natural son. These attempts to help a political opponent were unique at the time.
After the passage of the Act of Union (1800), which he supported, Kilwarden was created Viscount Kilwarden on 29 December 1800. In 1802, he was appointed Chancellor of the University of Dublin. Despite his actions on behalf of Wolfe Tone, Kilwarden was hated by the United Irishmen for his prosecution of William Orr in 1797, and he had entertained con-siderable fear for his safety after their failed rebellion. On the night of 23 July 1803, the approach of the Kildare rebels induced him to leave his residence, Newlands House, in the suburbs of Dublin, with his daughter and his nephew, Rev. Henry Wolfe. Thinking himself safest among crowds, he ordered his driver to proceed by way of Thomas Street; however, the street was occupied by Robert Emmet’s rebels, and he was rapidly dragged from his carriage and stabbed repeatedly with pikes. His nephew was murdered in a similar fashion, while his daughter was allowed to escape to Dublin Castle. When the rebels were suppressed, Kilwarden was found to be still living, and was carried to a watch-house, where he died shortly thereafter. His last words, spoken in reply to a soldier who called for the death of his murderers, were “Murder must be punished; but let no man suffer for my death, but on a fair trial, and by the laws of his country.”
He was succeeded by his son John Wolfe, 2nd Viscount Kilwarden.
Photo: Arthur Wolfe, 1st Viscount Kilwarden and his wife Anne (Thomas Hickey,1769)