William Hickey , lawyer in India and memoirist, was born in St Alban's Street, Pall Mall, Westminster, 30 June 1749. The eighth child of Joseph Hickey (c.1712–1794), an Irishman, a successful London attorney, and his wife, Sarah Boulton (1720–1768), whose family were landed property owners in Yorkshire
He began his education at Westminster School, but was removed "in high disgrace" in December 1763 after neglecting his studies, frequenting public houses and leading, in his own words, a life of "idleness and dissipation". Instead he was sent to a private school at Streatham where he was able to study Arithmetic, Writing, French, Drawing and Dancing in addition to the Classical Studies which had failed to engage him at Westminster. In January 1766 he left school and began his legal training, but he continued to lead an extremely debauched existence.
For some thirty years Hickey practised as an attorney at the supreme court established in 1774 in the capital of the new British empire in India to administer English law to the inhabitants of Calcutta and to British subjects in Bengal generally.
In addition Hickey served for some years as deputy to the sheriff of Calcutta and became clerk to Sir Henry Russell, ultimately chief justice of the supreme court. Although in his style of living he remained for many years something of a rake, his career in Calcutta appears to have been a success. He built up a large practice, relying especially on ‘native’ clients, and earned enough money to enable him to live in a very opulent way, even if he did not save any considerable fortune. He prided himself on being a very well-esteemed member of the British community. He was known as the Gentleman Attorney and the company he kept 'always was the best' (Memoirs, ed. Quennell, 234). Fearing for his health, he reluctantly left India in 1808. Little is known of his retirement in Britain. He settled at first in Beaconsfield, moving to London in 1817.
(Extracts PJ Marshall)
Images William Munnew (or Munnoo); William Hickey by William Thomas ©National Portrait Gallery- Creative Commons License and death record register 31 May 1830