Wednesday 14 September 2011

The House of Downshire, 1600 to 1868. (part 4)



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A Sketch of its History from 
1600 to 1868,


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EXTRACTS (Continued).

French Invasion.

England, as is her wont to this day, forgot how much she owed to the loyalty of the North; nor did she ever admit that it was by the warlike spirit and unpurchased patriotism of the landlords and tenants of Ulster that foreign foes were kept at bay during the very exciting times of the last century. Louis the Fifteenth frequently expressed a desire to invade England, and sent over spies to travel round her coast lines for the purpose of discovering by what back-door an entrance could be made into her territories. The Northern parts of Ireland were considered the most likely mode of ingress, and a fleet of three ships, commanded by Admiral Thurot, and conveying six hundred well-trained soldiers, was sent over to open the campaign. The frigates entered the Bay of Carrickfergus on the 21st of February, 1760, and immediately afterwards a detachment of the troops landed at the little jetty near the town, and from thence marched to the Fort, then very ineffectively guarded, and took possession of it. Immense excitement prevailed, and then, it was that the local forces of militia and volunteers turned out in immense numbers, the County of Down troops mustering to the extent of 2,578, the Antrim men numbered 2,249, and Armagh showed a military force of 552. The troops of each county assembled in Belfast, and, on being reconnoitred by the invaders as they marched towards Carrickfergus, the French commander took the alarm, and having unmoored his ships he hoisted sail and sheered off from the coast. Lord Hillsborough's troops mustered 465 strong on that occasion. The second Monarch of the Guelphic Hanoverians had raised his lordship to the dignity of an earl some years before; he was also a member of the Privy Council and Comptroller of the Householder. In addition to these duties he had been appointed a member of the Irish Linen Board, the headquarters of which were in Dublin, and the object was to watch over and promote the progress of the linen manufacture. Next year the noble Earl took his seat in the Irish House of Lords, and, together with the Right Honourable William Brownlow, M.P. for Armagh -- a most active member of the Linen Board -- entered into the details of the trust in the spirit of determined energy.

Linen Industry.

Both these landlords were well known as being the most liberal patrons of flax culture, flax spinning, and linen weaving, as those industries existed among the tenantry located on their respective estates. They gave liberal premiums for the largest and finest growths of flax produced by their tenants; and the Countess of Hillsborough and Mrs. Brownlow aroused such a spirit of competition in the households of farmers that the daughters of many of them became the greatest of artists in spinning high-class yarns. Once a year three different classes of prizes were given, on the market day preceding Christmas, for the best "bunches" of linen yarn, and the prizes consisted not of of money but of dress patterns, as well for maids as for matrons. Very serious losses were then sustained by linen bleachers and merchants through the defective style of yarns used in wefting the inner parts of many webs, save the lap-yard -- that was, the outside fold of each piece of linen -- which, having been carefully woven, very frequently deceived the buyer into the idea that all the other portions of the work were equally good. The effect of such dishonest practices was that several parcels of linen sent per order to London customers were returned on the bleachers' hands.

John Williamson, one of the most intelligent bleachers in the trade, had frequent interviews with Lord Hillsborough on the subject, and as a practical manufacturer the noble Earl requested him to draw up the form of a Bill to regulate the trade. A measure had already been laid before the Board of Trustees, but it so abounded with pains and penalties that it could not be entertained. Mr. Williamson's proposal simply set forth that, in order to uphold the respectability of the linen trade, inspectors should be appointed to attend the public markets, the then chief places of sale, and that no man, under a penalty, should expose webs in any market until they had been examined, fold by fold, by one or other of those officers, and if the cloth was found fairly woven and correct as to length and breadth the officer was to seal it on the outside fold. In March, 1762, John Williamson, of Lambeg, and Henry Betty, of Lisburn, having been appointed as representatives of the trade of Belfast, Lisburn, and Lurgan, set off for Dublin to urge on the Linen Board a reconstruction of the bye-law. The two gentlemen travelled by post-chaise, and on the third evening after leaving Lisburn got safe to the Irish metropolis. Some weeks elapsed before the delegates were able to report progress. At length the following letter, which gives some idea of the interest Lord Hillsborough took in the trade, was written by Mr. Williamson, and addressed to Mr. Burden, an eminent linen bleacher then resident in Lisburn:--

"Dublin, April 20, 1762.
"Dear Frank, -- We have carried everything we wished for. Very full Boards of Trustees have sat every day, and tomorrow there is to be a final settlement. It is however, my opinion that we would never have got a hearing, but would have been contemned and abused, had it not been for Lord Hillsborough, who has in all and since we came here has worked for us night and day, the effect of which has been that we are now treated with the highest respect by people who were ready to insult when we came here. He is one of the kindest of noblemen, and if the members of the linen trade have the least spark of gratitude they will never for get what he has done for us all.
         "Yours affectionately,
                    "JOHN WILLIAMSON.
    "To Mr. Frank Burden, Lisburn."

Honours had fallen in amplitude on Wills, second Viscount Hillsborough. After the death of his father he took his seat in the English House of Lords, and in 1754 the Duke of Newcastle, then Prime Minister, appointed him Comptroller of the Household of George the Second, and in course of the following year his Lordship became Treasurer of the chamber.

The King died in March, 1760. Many changes took place in various departments of the Government. Overtures were made to the Earl of Hillsborough to join the Cabinet of the young Monarch, but he refused all offers of place, and, returning home to his Castle, we find him, ere the end of that session of the Irish Parliament, taking part in the discussions at College Green. He was then a member of the Privy Council. In the third session of the English Parliament under the new reign, the Right Honourable George Grenville appointed the noble Earl First Lord of Trade, and three years afterwards he was made Postmaster-General. These offices demanded his Lordship's residence in London for at least nine months out of twelve. About the close of the Parliamentary session of 1767 he received the higher appointment of Secretary of State for the American Colonies.

Parliamentary Contest, 1783.

The year 1783 was one of the most exciting periods of Ulster's political history. Loud demands were made by politicians of different creeds for a more equal representation of the people and a moderate participation in the rights and privileges enjoyed by the manufacturers, merchants, and shipowners of Great Britain. A general election was about to come off in course of the summer, and as the new Parliament had been notified to meet on the 16th of October, great excitement prevailed on all sides.

Viscount Kilwarlin, son and heir of the Right Honourable the Earl of Hillsborough; the Hon. Robert Stewart (afterwards Lord Castlereagh), and the Hon. Edward Ward, of Castleward, Bangor, were the candidates for Down.

The polling commenced in Down Courthouse on Wednesday, the 13th of August. On the third evening afterwards the numbers were:-- Stewart, 690; Kilwarlin, 643; Ward, 623; and great was the exultation of Mr. Stewart's friends at the end of the second week, when the poll stood thus:-- Stewart, 1,171; Kilwarlin, 1,109; Ward, 994. Still the Independent party, though cast down, were not discomfited; they stood shoulder to shoulder. Mr. Gawin Hamilton and Mr. Moses Neilson, very influential men connected with the Presbyterian body, girt up their loins and called on the electors to muster in greater strength and stand by Ward and Kilwarlin. Desperate was the struggle in the last week, and so well did the Independents pull up their men that on Friday, the 5th of September, after a struggle of twenty-three days, the numbers showed the annexed figures:--

      Lord Kilwarlin ......... 2,831
      Mr. Ward ............... 2,071
      Mr. Stewart ............ 1,987

The result of this remarkable struggle was felt in every quarter of Down. Worthy farmers who, for years before, had attended fairs and markets and returned home sober enough to preside at a modern temperance society, spent that evening and the next day in unmitigated revels, every single voter seeming to think that he had honoured himself in supporting the Independent candidates.

In 1789 His Majesty George III. raised the Earl to the dignity of Marquis. Great rejoicing took place among the tenants in Down when that announcement was heard there. Bonfires blazed on the hill-tops and amid valleys, and in honour of the event the droughty denizens of Hillsborough drank a quantity of stiff punch which, had it been collected into one centre, would have floated a lighter load of teetotallers.

Arthur Hill, Viscount Kilwarlin, second Marquis, married in 1786 Mary, only child and heiress of the Hon. Martyn Sandys -- a lady whose name still brings with it many of the brightest recollections of devotion towards the memory of her husband, as well as many evidences of the dignity of noble-minded widowhood. He died in 1801.

Irish Volunteers, 1778.

In his earlier years, and when the second Marquis held the title of Lord Kilwarlin, he was very active in organising the enrolment, and in watching over the military discipline, of the Irish Volunteers. Civilians of Down and Antrim had frequently before, and when foreign foes threatened to invade the Northern coasts, banded themselves together for the purpose of defence, but the special system which was first inaugurated in Belfast during the last three days of March, 1778, may be noted as the origin of that celebrated embodiment which, in four years afterwards, became such a formidable host of well-armed troops as to create considerable alarm in the British Cabinet. Lord Kilwarlin was then in his twenty-fifth year, and, like most nobles and commoners, rejoiced in the patriotic spirit that formed the leading principles held by the troops. It has long since become an historic truth that the original object of those citizen soldiers in joining together, and in getting some education in military tactics, was solely for the purpose of (in case of need) defending their country from the attacks of foreign foemen. The annual review of all the different companies of Volunteers came off in a large field called the Parade Ground, situate on the Falls Road, near Belfast, and very proud was Lord Kilwarlin of the prominent place which the troops of his native county were able to take on all such occasions. But in course of years, and when Ireland's National Guards had become a great power in the country, and when through their influence several mercantile and other advantages had been conceded by England, certain officers and men connected with the troops commenced to disseminate through rank and file some seditious lessons founded on the Republican principles then rampant in France. This course had been continued until the commencement of 1792, when numbers of the peaceably-disposed members of the national army ceased all connection with it.

Wills Hill, first Marquis, died in October, 1798, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. On that occasion many peculiar feelings tended to create more than common sorrow among the tenantry resident on the Downshire estates, as well as on the part of the neighbouring farmers For mors than half a century the deceased nobleman had been the friend as well as the landlord of many thousands of agriculturists.

(House of Downshire to be continued.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 14 September 1917 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917 and into 1918. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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