Born on April 29th 1653, John Whalley moved from England to Dublin in 1682. He was an unusual fellow, to put it mildly, and surely deserving of theatrical characterisation. Originally a shoemaker by trade, Whalley turned his hand to astrology and seems to have explored the full field from sublime to the ridiculous. On the one hand, he made the first translation into English of Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos ('four books'), an astrological text of central significance to the evolution of western astrology. On the other, he was a dubious purveyor of pills, ointments and remedies while at the same time having a taste for necromancy. From his house in Nicholas St., Dublin he published an almanack on a periodical basis.
Whalley had the knack of behaving in ways that were guaranteed to ensure his unpopularity among the native population. He was fiercely anti-Irish and anti-Catholic, apparently going so far as to peititon the House of Lords for the castration of priests in 1719. His willingness to play the role of informer did not endear him to many either, and especially not the poet Ferdoragli O'Daly, whose brother was hanged after being shopped by Whalley. The poet penned a satire which has been described as one of the bitterest in the Irish language.
Most of the information I have on John Whalley, is taken from Chapter V of J.T.Gilbert's History of the City of Dublin vol.1, published in 1854. Material extracted from this chapter can be accessed from the left hand panel (the first three links).
In the chapter, Gilbert refers to an epitaph which was circulating round Dublin after Whalley's death, assuming him to be the subject of the verse. It reads as follows:
"Here five foot deep, lies on his back
A cobbler, starmonger, and quack,
Who to the stars in pure good will
Does to his best look upward still.
Weep all ye customers that use
His pills, his almanacks, or shoes.
And you that did your fortunes seek,
Step to his grave but once a week,
This earth which bears his body's print,
You'll find has so much virtue in't,
That I durst pawn my ears 'twill tell
What e'er concerns you, full as well
In physick, stolen goods, or love,
As he himself could when above."
This attribution is clearly incorrect, as the verse is identical to the epitaph written by Jonathan Swift on the supposed death of English astrologer John Partridge. It features as part of an anti-astrology satire which Swift composed under the pseudonym of Isaac Bickerstaff while he was in London during 1708 and 1709. The confusion stems I imagine from the fact that Partridge was also a cobbler and 'quack doctor'. Swift was Dean of St.Patrick's cathedral in Dublin. His work would have been freely available in the city and the epitaph may have been co-opted by locals on the death of Whalley in 1724. Certainly it might easily have been written about him.
The rest of the Whalley material was transcribed by myself from an almanack he produced in 1700, and which is housed in the Early Manuscripts section at the main Library at Trinity College, Dublin. It includes an advertisment for Whalley's translation of Ptolemy's tetrabiblos, and a polemic directed against one "Cumpsty", another Dublin astrologer with whom Whalley was engaged in a feud.