An Irish barrister and London newspaperman, T L Behan spent six years in Southampton as editor of the Hampshire Independent.

Thomas Lawrence Behan was born in Tullamore in the centre of Ireland, a town that is now the administrative centre of County Offaly. His father, Laurence Behan, was a 'tasker' - or gangmaster - on the Grand Canal, completed in 1798, which connected Tullamore to Dublin. Several houses in Tullamore, many built for the accommodation of canal people coming in from the country, were constructed by Behan in 1805/6 ( Bankrupt in 1810, Laurence Behan can be found in the 1830s and 1840s as a boat owner and corn factor operating from the Grand Canal Harbour in Dublin. He was a Roman Catholic and an Irish nationalist, signing a requisition for the repeal of the union in 1842. Thomas Lawrence was his only son. After studying law at Trinity College, Dublin, Thomas was admitted to Gray's Inn, aged 23 years, c.1826. He was called to the Bar on 16 April 1832, taking the oaths appointed for Roman Catholics. The marriage between the new barrister and 'Fanny Mcloughlin' is recorded in the registers of St Werburgh's Catholic Church in Chester for 4 January 1833. Such a marriage had no civil basis under the Hardwicke Act of 1754, and may account for the subsequent marriage by licence in the Church of Ireland (in St Mary's, Dublin) on 24 October 1835. Thomas's wife is here accorded her full Christian names: Frances Catherine. It is unclear whether this signified a conversion to the established church, although later in life Thomas was an Anglican. The marriage was to end in divorce, following the petition of Frances in 1860. The case, Behan v Behan, was heard in March 1862 in Westminster. Thomas practised as a barrister in Dublin before moving to London in the early 1840s. His obituary in the Belfast News-Letter (8 October 1869) speaks of “a pension from some abolished office in Ireland”. In England Behan began a new phase in his career, as a writer for the leading Liberal metropolitan newspapers.

Behan was appointed editor of the Hampshire Independent by its proprietor Thomas Leader Harman in October 1842. Criticised for dividing his time between Southampton and the London press, particularly his role as the political leader writer for the Sunday Observer, Behan left the Independent in March 1848. He was succeeded by a very different kind of editor, Timothy Falvey. It was clearly an unhappy departure. He left owing debts of £6.10s.6d. to a local bookseller (Forbes and Fletcher/Forbes and Knibb) and to George Gubbins, professor of music, for £11.5s. due on the hire of a pianoforte. The monies were reclaimed in June 1848 at Southampton County Court. Evidence given in the latter case gives a glimpse of Behan's character: “The plaintiff [Gubbins] in proving the case, said that having ineffectually called [on Behan] several times himself, he sent his porter, but the defendant said he would not speak to a man in a smock frock, and he must send somebody more respectable” (Hampshire Advertiser, 24 June 1848).

Now permanently resident in London - at addresses successively in Suffolk Place, Pall Mall and St James's Street - Behan reinforced his position at the heart of the Liberal party establishment. He was a conspicuous member of the small coterie of the Reform Club that determined who was eligible for membership. His political writings, particularly in the Observer, prompted his appointment, on 10 October 1854, as editor, publisher and printer of the London Gazette, a virtual sinecure with a starting salary of £600 per annum rising to £800 by steps of £25 and a staff of five to do the work. The appointment was in the gift of the Home Secretary,Viscount Palmerston, and is testimony to the position Behan had achieved in the corridors of power. Behan also mixed with the leading London literati. He was a member of the Garrick Club and an annual contributor to the Royal Literary Fund, serving as one of the stewards in 1858. We have a picture of him from the London correspondent of the Preston Guardian in October 1854, describing the press of journalists at the London Gazette office in St Martin's Lane to receive news of the offices killed and wounded at the battle of Alma: “The Observer was to be observed in the commanding figure of Mr T L Behan, with his easy nonchalant air, twinkling eye, and good-humoured physiognomy”.

Towards the end of his life Behan took up yacht racing. He can be found every season, from 1861 at least, at Ryde on the Isle of Wight with his 64-ton schooner Rattlesnake. He was an active member of the prestigious Royal Victoria Yacht Club, regaling members at social gatherings with humorous speeches. It was whilst he was on his way to the Island in August 1869 that he was taken ill in Southampton. He died at Goodridge's Hotel on 28 August 1869, aged 66 years. His body was taken to Brompton, to where he had moved a few years earlier, to be interred in Brompton cemetery. He left effects of “under £4,000” and a will that hints at a complicated personal life. He bequeathed all his property to two share brokers - one being William Brooks of Southampton who had been publisher of the Hampshire Independent during the first part Behan's editorship - instructing that they divide the effects between the four children of Sarah Amelia Edwards (of 5 Salisbury Street, Strand) and that they moreover “shall have absolute control over the education and management of the said children free from the control or interference of the said Sarah Amelia Edwards or any one else” (Hampshire Archives 4M92/F12/2). So far, this is an enigma. There is one final conundrum. After his death, the Comptroller of the Stationery Office, William Rathbone Greg, discovered in the St James's Square branch of the London and Westminster Bank £129.18s of public money in an account opened jointly by Behan and a clerk from the Gazette office. It represented the unclaimed overpayments for insertions in the paper (P M Handover, A history of the London Gazette 1665-1965, published in 1965). This scandal - small in itself - helped to expedite the reform of the government newspaper, which was later absorbed into the Stationery Office.


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