Engineer, surveyor and antiquarian. Differing accounts have been given of Vallancey's origins and early life, but the unpublished researches of Dr Janice Wilson have now established the facts. According to Wilson, Charles Vallancey was born in Westminster on 6 April 1731 and was baptised as Charles Vallance or Vallancé at St. James's, Westminster on 29 April 1731. His parents were Francis Vallancé and Mary Preston, who married in Greenwich Hospital chapel on 21 June 1724. Mary was the daughter of Thomas Preston, gentleman, of the parish of Saint Martin in the Fields. Francis and Mary Vallancé both died while Charles was very young. In his will Francis appointed his friend and brother-in-law, John Preston, guardian of their two surviving children, Charles and Frances. As a captain in the Tenth Regiment, John Preston was apparently responsible for Charles Vallancey's commission as an ensign in the same regiment circa 1746. At this time the regiment was on garrison duty in Gibraltar. Vallancey served for seven years under the chief engineer, James Gabriel Montresor, while John Preston was appointed the post of town major. In 1750 Vallancey made a map of the Rock of Gibraltar which is now the British Library.
In or by 1754 Vallancey joined the Irish Corps of Engineers and was paid £60.13s.10d for the repair of the parade at Limerick garrison in November of that year. He was a captain in Col. Pole's regiment, stationed at Ross Castle near Killarney, in 1756, when the Surveyor General, THOMAS EYRE , instructed him to make a survey of Charles Fort near Kinsale, Co. Cork. Eyre gave an account of what he knew of Vallancey in a letter to General Henry Seymour Conway: he had been 'in Columbine's Regiment[i.e. the Tenth Regiment] & serv'd as an overseer at the same place [Gibraltar], & under the same officer [Montresor], is a good Mathematician & Draftsman, diligent, & acquitted himself very well of some work that I had intrusted to his care at Limerick'. In December 1756 Vallancey was instructed by Eyre to report on the Shannon and Suir crossings at O'Brien's Bridge, Killaloe and Banagher with a view to making them more secure. From 1757 until 1760 he was in charge of repairs and improvements at Charles Fort. During this period he published two books, both translations from the French: An Essay on Fortification (1757), and The Field Engineer (1758). H was posted to Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim in 1760. The following year he succeeded Major Corneille as Major of Engineers, and at about the same time moved to Dublin.
Vallancey remained in the Corps of Engineers until its dissolution after the Act of Union. He rose steadily through the army ranks to the position of colonel in 1782, major-general in 1793, lieutenant-general in 1798 and general in 1803; in 1793 he was also appointed Chief Engineer of Ireland. From 1776 until 1805 he was largely engaged in an ambitious military survey of Ireland, assisted by ALEXANDER TAYLOR ; he succeeded in completing a general map of the whole island, but only the southern half of the country was mapped in detail. In 1787 he spent five months in Paris, copying Sir William Petty's 'Down Survey of Ireland', which he had discovered in the catalogue of the Bibliothèque du Roi the previous year. He remained based in Dublin until 1790, when he was placed in charge of the forts in Cork Harbour for six years, returning to Dublin after the failed French invasion at Bantry Bay, Co. Cork, in December 1796.
Vallancey also acted as a consultant for other bodies. For Dublin Corporation he designed the Queen's Bridge over the Liffey, built between 1764 and 1768. While the bridge was under construction, he published his third book, A Practical Treatise on Stone Cutting (1766), translated from the French of J.B. de la Rue. For the Commissioners of Inland Navigation he prepared a report on the Grand Canal in 1771, when he selected the site for the Leinster Aqueduct. In the same year he also reported on the Boyne Navigation. After his return from Cork he was involved in the fortification of the Pigeon House for the Dublin Ballast Board.
During the latter part of his career Vallancey was more widely known as an antiquary than as an engineer. After coming to Ireland he had developed an enthusiastic interest in the history and antiquities of the country and particularly in the Irish language. He published several works on Irish antiquarian subjects, including the six-volume Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis (1770-1804). Although many of his more fanciful theories about the Irish language were later ridiculed, he was responsible for stimulating a wider interest in the subject. He was active in the Dublin Society, to which he was elected in 1763 and of which he eventually became vice-president, and promoted the formation of the Society's short-lived Committee of Antiquities. He was also a member of the Hibernian Society of Antiquarians and the Royal Irish Academy. It was as an antiquarian that he was awarded an honorary LL.D. by the University of Dublin in 1781 and elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London in 1784 and a fellow of the Royal Society in 1786. His election to the Royal Society was also in recognition of his 'love of natural knowledge'. This is reflected in his promotion of improvements to the Dublin Society's Botanic Gardens and the establishment of a veterinary school and a Farming Society; he also arranged the Society's natural history museum.
Vallancey died in Dublin on 8 August 1812 and was buried in the graveyard of St Peter's church. According to the inscription on his tomb, he was 'in the 88th year of his age'. Handsome, energetic and sociable, he married four times. His first wife, Mary Virgin, died at Mallow on 12 July 1760, having borne him ten children. In 1765 he married Julie Ann Blosset (1714-1783). The name of his third wife, who bore him a daughter and died in 1799 is not recorded. In 1802, when he was in his late seventies, he married his fourth wife, Edith Plowman (d.1809), by whom he had another son and a daughter who died at fourteen months.
Addresses: Blackrock, Co. Dublin, 1763-<=1769; Cumberland Street, Dublin, <=1769->=1774; Prospect, Milltown, Co. Dublin, <=1780-1790; Spike Island, Cork, and Cork city, 1790-1796; 4 Leeson Street, Dublin, 1799; Camden Streeet, 1804; 34 Lower Mount Street at time of death.
See WORKS and BIBLIOGRAPHY (excluding material on or by Vallancey as an antiquarian).
Numerous accounts of Vallancey's life have been published in the DNB and elsewhere, the earliest being in Anthologia Hibernica IV (1794), 257-8, and the most recent by William O'Reilly, 'Charles Vallancey and the Military Itinerary of Ireland', Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 106C (2006), 125–217. All information in this entry not otherwise attributed is from Monica Nevin, 'General Charles Vallancey 1725-1812', JRSAI 23 (1993), 19-58, apart from the account of Vallancey's origins and early upbringing which is based on the unpublished researches of his descendant Dr Janice M. Wilson of Brisbane, Australia. There are portraits of Vallancey by George Chinnery in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin (repr. in O'Reilly, op. cit., above, 138) and by Solomon Williams in the Royal Dublin Society. The portraits by Andrew Twigg (1806), William Cuming and Hugh Douglas Hamilton cannot now be traced, but the engraving which forms the frontispiece of Collectanea Hibernicis, reproduced in Nevin, op. cit., Fig. 6, may be taken from one of them.
Wilson cites the following sources: birth and christening records in Westminster Archives; Lambeth Palace Library, Faculty Office Calendars of marriage licence allegations,1701-1850; will of Thomas Preston in National Archives (Kew)11/64; will of Francis Vallancé in National Archives (Kew) 11/713; will of John Preston in National Archives (Kew), 11/845.
In 1770 Vallancey wrote that he had served in the army for 24 years (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc. 2008/44, citing PRONI D572/2/109).
MS. letter and account books of Thomas Eyre in IAA (Acc. 86/149), I, 52.
According to the DNB, Montresor was chief engineer at Gibraltar from 1747 to 1754.
British Library Add. MS. 21576.
MS. letter and account books of Thomas Eyre in IAA (Acc. 86/149), II, 17.
MS. letter and account books of Thomas Eyre in IAA (Acc. 86/149), I, 13; II, 106.
MS. letter and account books of Thomas Eyre in IAA (Acc. 86/149), I, 21.
MS. letter and account books of Thomas Eyre in IAA (Acc. 86/149), I, 48; II, 110.
MS. letter and account books of Thomas Eyre in IAA (Acc. 86/149), I, 52; II, 125.
Eileen Harris, British Architectural Books and Writers 1556-1785 (1990), 456.
IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc.2008/44 citing paper by Pakenham in JRSAI 15 (i.e. W.P. Pakenham-Walsh, Roll of the Corps of Royal Engineers of Ireland, 1251-1801', JRSAI 40 (1910) 324-328?)
For further information about Vallancey's mapmaking activities, see J.H. Andrews, A Paper Landscape: the Ordnance Survey in Nineteenth Century Ireland (Oxford University Press, 1975), 3-4, and Plantation Acres (Ulster Historical Foundation, 1985), 87,101,105,338,356.
See note 9, above.
Ruth Delany, The Grand Canal of Ireland (1973), 18,29.
Ruth Delany, A Celebration of 250 years of Ireland's inland waterways (1988), 42.
Journal of Richard Colt Hoare, p.9 (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc. 2008/44).