Sir John Lees (c1737 - 1811)

Born: c1737. prob. in Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, UK
Died: September 1811
Married: October 20, 1766
Sir John Lees (c1737 - 1811) served in the Army in Germany under the Marquess of Granby and was Private Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He was created 1st Baronet Lees, of Blackrock, Dublin on June 30, 18041.

Originally from Camnock, Ayrshire in Scotland, he served with distiction in Germany under Lord Granby. In 1766 he married Mary Cathcart, daughter of Robert Cathcart of Glandusk, Ayrshire. and went to Ireland as private secretary to the lord lieutenant, Lord Townshend, in 1767. Appointed secretary to the Irish post office, he organised a very well run mail coach system. In 1788 he was elected a member of the Dublin Society. His proposers were Sir William Newcomen and Lodge Morres. Politically he was a protestant conservative, accused by William Cope of having influenced him to oppose catholic relief measures in 1792-3. Later he was an ally of Speaker Foster's in advocating severe repressive measures in the period leading up to the 1798 rebellion. In 1804 he was created 1st Baronet Lees, of Blackrock. He died in September 1811. His eldest son, Rev. Sir Harcourt Lees (1776 - 1852), was a protestant evangelical notorious for his extreme anti-catholic views2. His second eldest John Cathcart Lees (1777 - 1858), converted to Roman Catholicism3.

Sir John Lees
Sir John Lees Boris Wilnitsky gallery
Sir John Lees
Sir John Lees by the artist Gilbert Stuart
Mary Cathcart
Mary Cathcart Wife of Sir John Lees

Sir John Lees (c1737 - 1811) was born about 1737, probably at Cannock in Ayrshire and was the son of Adam Lees and Agnes Goldie, daughter of Mr. Goldie of Glasgow. John had two brothers and one sister Agnes. John Lees distinguished himself with the British Army in Germany under the command of Marquis of Granby (Seven Years' War). It is believed that he occupied a civil post and was not in the army as a soldier. His talents, courage and intrepidity soon brought him to the notice of the Commander-in-Chief and it was through this that he made the acquaintance of the Marquis of Townshend4.

The Marquis of Townshend came to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant on 14 October 1767, and it appears that John Lees came to Dublin at about this time as private secretary and confidential friend to the Viceroy. His position was apparently a very lowly one and it was even alleged that during his early years in Ireland he sat down to dinner with the domestics in Lord Townshend's retinue. There is no doubt, however, that he served his master loyally4.

In due time, John Lees became Secretary to Lord Harcourt when that nobleman was appointed Viceroy, a post involving responsibility and trust which he occupied until Lord Harcourt's death in 1777 (which occurred as result of trying to rescue his dog from a well). Lees' sincere regard for the Lord Lieutenant caused him to approach the members of the Dublin Corporation and persuade them to petition for a portrait of Lord Harcourt to hang in their rooms. The late Lord Lieutenant, however, was not lamented, and a letter under the nom-de-plume of "Trim" appeared in Freeman's Journal of 25/26th October, 1777. This letter complained about the administration of Lord Harcourt and attacked Mr. Lees for his effrontry in cajoling the Corporation into requesting the picture, and regretted that the members should have already agreed to the suggestion. It was in this letter that the allegation was made that John Lees at one time dined with the domestics, and it also accused him of being unable to find any good in the native Irish, so much so that he would not employ any of them, preferring his own countrymen. The portrait of Lord Harcourt now hangs in the Mansion House and was painted by Thomas Hudson4.

John Lees was appointed Secretary of the Post Office in Ireland in 1774, but at first it was little more than a sinecure. During the following ten years he continued to devote himself to Government affairs and on 27th October 1780, we find him embarking for England on a Mission to Lord North, the Secretary of State. At Holyhead he was overtaken by an express from Dublin which conveyed to him the news that he was offered employment as Usher of the Black Rod in the Irish House of Commons. In 1804 John Lees was created 1st Baronet of Blackrock4.

Sir John Lees died in 1811. He and his wife had seven children; the eldest of them Rev. Sir Harcourt Lees (1776 - 1852) became a well-known political pamphleteer. Sir Edward Smith Lees (1783 - 1846) succeeded Sir John as Secretary of the Irish Post-Office4.


1. Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage Charles Mosley, editor. 107th edition, 3 volumes. Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A.: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, 2003
2. Royal Dublin Society record of past members
3. Converts to Rome by Gordon-Gorman, W. (1910). Published by Sands and Co., London p. 169. John Cathcart Lees, brother of the late Rev. Sir Harcourt Lees, Baronet, of Dublin
4. John and Edward Lees: Secretaries of the Irish Post Office, 1774-1831 by Beatrice Bayley Butler. Dublin Historical Record (1953). Vol. 13, No. 3/4, pp. 138-150.