Thursday 16 February 2012

Robert Redmond Belshaw


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may fairly be claimed as of kinship with the Manor of Killultagh. He claimed it strenuously himself. His forbears lived for generations in the parish of Magheragall, and at least one old Lisburn family was closely related to him. He died in Dublin, the city of his nativity, on January 6th, 1913, at an advanced age. He was married, but died without issue, his wife having predeceased him many years.

Mr. Belshaw was a noted book collector, a prolific writer of articles on all imaginable subjects in the local and provincial press; an eccentric and lonely man living much in the past. Till a short time before his death he came to Lisburn frequently almost every year, visiting old scenes and talking with the older inhabitants. His contributions to the “Lisburn Standard" over a long series of years -- particularly 1880–1890 -- on local subjects were interesting and valuable. He appears to have carefully preserved in scrap-books all his articles and letters contributed to the press; there must be at least have been six or eight volumes. Unfortunately, only a few volumes are now extant.

In the “Lisburn Standard" of January 18th, 1913, it is recorded that he died in Dublin on January 6th, well over 80 years of age, and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. Early in his life he emigrated to the United States, where he engaged in the jewellery business and made a respectable fortune in a few years. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined the Confederate army under "Stonewall" Jackson, saw much fighting, and was present at the Battle of Bull Run on July 21st, 1861. He returned to Ireland many years ago, and during the latter part of his life resided in Dublin.

From another source of information it would appear that his sympathies were entirely with the Northern States, that he was conscripted and forced to serve in the Confederate ranks, received some rough treatment while there, suffered considerable financial loss, and later appealed through the home Government, as a British subject, for redress, without success.

On his decease Linen Hall Library, Belfast, benefited materially. A note in the preface to the catalogue, Irish section, 1917, states:--
And perhaps the most important gift received was that from the late R. R. Belshaw, Dublin, who in the year 1914 bequeathed to the library his entire collection of books and pamphlets, some 5,185 in number, of which about 600 were books and pamphlets relating to Ireland, many of the latter being of extreme value, especially to students of the Commonwealth and Restoration period.

The Redman Family.

In the year 1883 there appeared in the "Lisburn Standard" several articles by Mr. Belshaw on his ancestry, dealing primarily with the Redman connection, and tracing that family through the English branch back beyond the Norman Conquest in 1066. A less extended survey will, however, here suffice.

The Rev. Samuel Redman about 1720 was vicar of Kilmore. He married Rose, eldest daughter of Rev. John Williamson, of Ballynahinch, and had issue -- –an only daughter, also named Rose, who married Thomas Blakely of Clough, and four sons; one of them, Robert, married his cousin Margaret, a sister of Admiral Watson. Robert Redman afterwards built Springfield, near Brookhill, and lived there until his death in 1788. His widow then removed to Brookhill, and took charge of orphan nephew, popularly known as The Young Commodore. Captain Redman of Springfield was the last of his name on the Lisburn district, with the exception of his nephew Francis of Hillsborough.

Margaret Blakely, daughter of Thomas Blakely and his wife Rose Redman, became the wife of John Belshaw, of Kilcorig, Magheragall, which place was built for him on his marriage by his father, Richard Belshaw, also of Kilcorig, who died in 1838. John Belshaw had two sons, Redman, father of Robert Redman Belshaw, and Richard, whose daughter afterwards married Bennett Megarry. Redman became a merchant and the city of Dublin. Richard lived in Kilcorig House, and was familiarly known by the courtesy title of Captain Belshaw. Robert Redman Belshaw was a first cousin of Ralph, Robert, and Redman Jefferson, of Lisburn, and was brought up by their mother, his father having died when he was quite young.

There were Belshaws the Glenavy district in 1680. One of them, Richard, a lad of  fifteen, and his mother were present at the siege of Derry. About 1720 they appear in Ballinderry, Magheragall, and Derriaghy. Richard, who was at the siege of Derry, lived later at Brackenhill, Ballinderry. His son, also Richard, lived to the patriarchal age of ninety-five, and died sitting in his old oak chair at the close of the eighteenth century. He was a member of Ballinderry Presbyterian Church. He made his will in 1798, and left all his property in trust to his friend, Mr. Watson of Brookhill, to be distributed amongst his children and grandchildren. Richard of Kilcorig, who died in 1838, was this patriarch's grandson.

R. R. Belshaw published in New York in 1855 his "Irish Protestant Letters," to which is added a collection of original and selected poetry. Many of the poems are of local interest. A writer under the pen name of "Boardmills" contributes several items. The Rev. Henry Leebody, Presbyterian minister, Ballinderry, is responsible for lines on the death of Richard Belshaw, elder in Ballinderry Church, who died in 1838. The Battle of Lisnagarvey, Ulster to the Rescue, and The Graves of the French-Protestants in Lisburn Churchyard, are by Leamh Dhearg, the name under which the Rev. William M'Call, brother of Hugh M'Call, Lisburn, often wrote. R. R. B., evidently the author of the book, contributes quite a number of pieces.

The Freeman-Gayer Letters.

Amongst the documents handed over to the Linen Hall Library are a series of carefully-typed copies of all letters -- Rev. John Wesley and Mrs. Henrietta Gayer, Derriaghy, 1760–1764; Miss Elizabeth Freeman, Lisburn; Miss Charity Freeman, Lambeg; and other members of the Freeman family, 1780–1810; and numerous other letters and journals up to about the year 1840, none of them however, of any practical value, and all of an ultra-religious nature. Mr. Belshaw's mother was a Miss Freeman, of Dublin, his wife being Miss Jacob, also related to the Freeman family.

A Dr. Gayer, Q.C., appears to have written a volume of Family Memoirs; and R. R. Belshaw published in 1910 a brochure as an addendum, The Gayer-Freeman Correspondence. There are two letters by the Rev. John Wesley, and seven from Miss Henrietta Gayer, Derriaghy. The Freemans and Gayers were probably related, and frequent reference is made to the Wolfendens of Lambeg. Mrs. and Miss Gayer (afterwards Mrs. Wolfenden) were the wife and only daughter of Edward Gayer, Esq., One of two brothers who were clerks in the Irish House of Lords. One of these brothers is represented by Dr. Gayer, and the other by Dr. Triall, Provost of Trinity College, Dublin. Mr. Gayer's residence at Derriaghy was well known to Wesley, and he has described it as one of the pleasantest spots in the kingdom. While on a visit there in 1775 he had a very serious illness, from which he was not expected to recover.

Mr. Belshaw collected and published in fac-simile six letters from the Rev. John Wesley to Mr. and Mrs. Freeman, 1763–1787. One of the letters addressed to Mrs. Jane Freeman, near the Linen Hall, in Lisburn, Ireland. Bound up with the letters is an elegy on the death of Mr. James Freeman, who departed this life 17th November 1771.

In 1902 he published and appreciation of John Lee and Charles Wesley's hymns. This contains a photograph of Mr. Belshaw in Court dress. From it also may be gathered something of his maternal ancestry. John Lee, Inspector of the Coast at Lauren, related to an old Limerick family of that name, married a daughter of the Rev. George Wilkins, rector of Lisburn. Their daughter, Jane Esther Lee, who died in 1792, and ardent follower and correspondent John Wesley, married in 1763 James Freeman, of Dublin. He died in 1771. They had an only son, James Freeman, born 1766, died 1832, who was the maternal grandfather of Robert Redman Belshaw.

Magheragall Parish Church.

There is also amongst the Linen Hall Library papers an interesting collection of photographs taken for Mr. Belshaw from the Magheragall Parish Church vestry-book, ranging from 1773 to 1783. The record on August 18th, 1773 is practical--
Resolved, that we will support the poor of our own parish only, and that badges shall immediately be provided for those who choose to be so authorized to beg.
Resolved that we will, for the future, not only withhold our alms from any straggling beggars that may be seen in said parish, but that we will apprehend and prosecute as the law directs all strollers that shall appear in the parish.

On 31st March, 1777, it is reported that the late church wardens, Arthur Greer and John Gill, settled their accounts and the most genteel manner to the entire satisfaction of the whole parish.

The care of roads occupied much attention. At this period the vestry had general charge and management of the parish, and the members were elected irrespective of creed.

All those present at each meeting appear to have signed the minutes. Some of the old names appearing may be of interest:-- James Lewis, Geo. Hunter, John M'Cormack, Robt. M'Crackin, Thos. Gill, Arthur Hull, Hen. Reynell, vicar; Isaac M'Quillan, Thomas Taylor, Robert Redman, John Harper, H. Garrett, John Greer, Joseph Greer, John Dickey, James Williamson, Arthur Greer, Richd. Greer, Wm. Hull, Frans. Anderson, Wm. Gill, Wm. Whitla, Richd. M'Quillan, John Gill, Rodger Balance, Jno. Belshaw, Arthur Thomson, Wm. Garrett, Robt. Gore, James Belshaw, Thos. M'Collum, Thos. Taylor, John Green, James Dawson, Robt. Thompson, John Johnson, John Stevenson, John Watson, Joseph Moore, John Buntin, Wm. Wiltton, Pat O'Neill, Robt. Wallace, Frans. Patten, vicar, 1782; James Read.

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By Robert Redman Belshaw, Dublin.

This interesting local MS., which has recently been brought to light by Miss Nelson, of Larne, was a commonplace book of the Rev. Thomas Haslem, first curate of Lisburn Cathedral. It is a small octavo of about 150 pages, and is over two hundred years old. One of the last-dated entries refers to the arrival of King William "at ye Whitehouse betwixt Belfast and Carrickfergus on Saturday, ye 14th day of June, 1690." Mr. Haslam had then attend the ripe old age of seventy-six. His wife died the following year, and he in 1695, as recorded in the Cathedral register.

Mr. Haslam was evidently one of the old Conway settlement about Lisburn, and very likely also an Englishman. He was a good classical scholar, and as such, perhaps by local influence, he was placed on the Commonwealth pay roll schoolmaster at Lisnagarvey, with a salary of £30 a year. His principles, religious and political, appear to have been those of Jeremy Taylor, the chaplain at Portmore. At the Restoration his friend there became bishop of the diocese, and he was appointed reader, or curate, to Mr Mace, the first rector of the new Cathedral at Lisburn. His school, which was made a free one, was taken over by the church. He married soon after this, and had several children, most of whom seem to have died in infancy, as appears by the list kindly supplied by Canon Pounden.

The MS. consists largely of extracts from the Bible and the Fathers, also classical quotations in the interest of religion and morality, interspersed with pious reflections and sententious observations. He was partial to aphorisms. After the manner of Ecclesiastes, the preacher was wise and sought out acceptable words. He remembered the days of old, and tells the rising generation that "The way to live long is to be old betimes, and the way to live alway is to dye dayly." "Let no interest engage thee against thy two bosom friends, conscience and honesty." "What was before and what will be when we are noe more, who knows?" "Change must be; everyone hath a time allotted."

In Mr. Haslam's reference to King William's arrival he makes a correction to calling Ireland Britland, perhaps a play on the word of the word Ire as representing chronic dissension. He may have thought the prefix Brit a better synonym for future harmony and prosperity. His entry in the Cathedral book under the date 1690 is much shorter, though not less emphatic than in the MS. It is as follows:-- "God Almighty fought for King William and gave him a memorable victory over ye Irish at the Boyne near Tredath, ye 1st day of July, and in four days after Tredath Dublin yielded without blood."

Allocated the preservation of this Haslam MS, may not be uninteresting. About 1735 an ancestor of the present writer, a Mr. John Lee, of Limerick, whose mother, Helena, was one of the Dowdall heiresses in that county, held an important civil appointment at Larne. While there he married the daughter of the Rev. George Wilkins, the late rector of Lisburn, who was a son of the preceding rector, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Wilkins, Dean of Clogher, and at the Restoration one of the foundation Fellows of T.C.D. Mr. Haslam was Dr. Wilkins' curate from 1672 until his death in 1695. Some of his papers, and amongst them this MS., then came into the rector's family, amongst whose descendants they have remained ever since. A daughter of Mrs. Lee married a Mr. Thomas Clarke, of Ballinderry House, Ballinderry. Among the surviving descendants of this family are Miss Hall and Miss Nelson, of Gardenmore House, Larne. By the will of Thomas Clarke his desk and bookcase, in which this MS. and another family papers had lain undisturbed for years, were reserved from the usual sale. In this way it came into possession of his son-in-law, Dr. John Ravenscroft, of Ballinderry. Through him it passed to his descendants, and amongst them his granddaughter, to whom its preservation is due, Miss E. Ravenscroft Nelson. There is still a Haslam's Lane in Lisburn, joining Bow Street to the markets.

(Next week: Brookhill.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 15 February 1918 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917 and 1918. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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