John Donnellan Balfe – Royal Bodyguard and Informer

John Donnellan Balfe was born in county Meath, possibly in Drumconrath,  on 8 January 1816, to James Balfe and Sara Sutherland. Educated at Clongowes Wood College Balfe joined the British Army. As an officer in the Life-Guard Balfe served as body guard to Queen Victoria at her coronation in 1837. Having left the army Balfe became involved in  Irish politics. Initially a supporter of Daniel O’Connell Balfe later became involved in the Young Irelander’s movement.  John Blafe spoke at the monster Repeal meeting on the Hill of tara in 1843. He spoke of English misgovernment fo the country. Balfe was nominated as a member by Charles Gavan Duffy and seconded by William smith O’Brien. Balfe was given the role of liasing with the British Chartists, the forerunners of the trade unions. In 1850 Balfe married Mary, daughter of Terence Reilly of Ballybeg, Co. Meath. A number of the Young Irelanders planned a rebellion but were transported to Tasmania for their trouble.  When they arrived they discovered that Balfe was there ahead of them and had been appointed deputy comptroller of the Convict Department. It was uncovered that Balfe had been an informer on the activities of the rebels to the British officials in Dublin Castle. The Nation newspaper in Ireland printed an expose of Balfe’s activities. John Mitchel later described Balfe as ‘a monster’ for his betrayal.

Balfe became the voice of the Governor Denison in Australia. In 1853 Balfe resigned his post and settled on his lands at Port Esperance. Elected to the House of Assembly he became a vocal contributor to debates and served from 1857 to 1881. A political journalist, Balfe became editor of ‘The Mercury’ newspaper in 1868 for a very short period being dismissed for taking a drink. Balfe had also agreed to vote according to the wishes of the newspaper proprietor.  In the 1870s Balfe was editor of the Tasmanian Tribune. In 1875 he published ‘Life in Old Ireland in Olden Times’.   

Balfe died at Hobart, Tasmania, in 1880. His son and grandson later became contributors to the Mercury newspaper.