John de Blaquiere’s bridge
Sir, – Some recent letters to The Irish Times discussed John de Blaquiere and his association with Dublin (October 18th; An Irishman’s Diary, October 15th). Readers may wish to know that he was chief secretary for Ireland between 1772 and 1777. During his time here, he was involved with the Wide Streets Commission which oversaw the transformation of the city from a medieval one to the streetscape which is familiar to us today.
However, what is probably less well known about him is that he is the ancestor of the famous English composer Gustav Holst, he of the Planets fame.
While in Dublin, de Blaquiere formed a liaison with the English actress Caroline Ambrose who performed regularly at the Smock Alley Theatre. A daughter, Henrietta, and a son were the result of this affair. Although de Blaquiere supported the children, he did not acknowledge them.
Caroline eventually returned to London and, at a later stage, her daughter settled in Gloucestershire. She, in turn, became Gustav Holst’s great-grandmother.
While still in Dublin, Henrietta and her brother had their portraits painted by the English artist Francis Wheatley who had fled London to escape his creditors! These portraits now hang in the Holst Museum, the composer’s former home, in Cheltenham. – Yours, etc,