Saturday, 31 December 2011

Ring Out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light;
    The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
    For those that here we see no more,
    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
    And ancient forms of party strife;
    Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
    The faithless coldness of the times;
    Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
    The civic slander and the spite;
    Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
    Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
    Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
    The larger heart the kindlier hand;
    Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson. 1850

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Harry Munro


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From "Ulster in '98," by Robert M. Young, B.A., M.R.I.A., 1893.

Harry Munro was born at Lisburn in May, 1758. His father was a man of superior literary taste. The family consisted of a son and daughter, and both received very good educations. Harry, when in his fifteenth year, was taught linen-weaving -- an art in high estimation, and in social life regarded as much above that of any other handicraft. As a member of the Episcopal Church, Harry was a regular attender of the Sunday services at the Cathedral, and was highly respected by the rector and his curate. He became a buyer of linen webs for the then leading bleachers, Hancock, of Lisburn, and M'Cance, of Suffolk. Finlay M'Cance commanded an outpost at the battle of Ballynahinch, and only retired when all was lost, at the urgent appeal of Munro.

Harry Munro during the two years that followed the spring of 1796 had continued his adherence to the Society of United Irishmen. Spies and informers abounded in Belfast and Lisburn, keeping regular correspondence with Lord Castlereagh and the other authorities in Dublin. Vast quantities of arms, as well as ammunition, had been collected by the Society throughout Ulster, and during the month of May, 1798, preparations were made to take the field. The member who had been appointed to lead the United men declined at nearly the last moment to act as commander, and on the night of Saturday, the 9th of June, a Belfast lawyer, the legal adviser of the Society, but who was said to be the paid protege of Lord Castlereagh, called on Harry Munro at the latters residence in Market Square, Lisburn. Munro had some years before married the handsome daughter of Robert Johnston, an extensive linen bleacher, who lived at Seymour Hill, Dunmurry. The attorney reported the refusal of the man who was appointed as commander to take charge of the National army, and said the only hope was that Harry Munro should accept the command. The enthusiast at once agreed. His wife set off to her father's place, and early on Monday, the 11th, Munro, dressed in in uniform, presented himself as chief to the army assembled at Edenavady, in the grounds of Lord Moira. The chiefs of the rebel at Ballynahinch were dressed in green jackets, turned up with white or yellow, white vest, buckskin breeches, half boots, hats with white cock neck feathers, and green cockades.

When Munro's division, beating down all opposition of the regular troops, stormed the town of Ballynahinch under a dreadful fire of musketry and grape, the British general ordered the retreat to be sounded. As the trumpet-call was heard by the pikemen, it was mistaken for the signal to charge, and, thinking the enemy was heavily reinforced, they wavered, and sullenly retreated in a southerly direction, the Royal soldiers falling back to the north. As the Light Dragoons charged on the stubborn peasants, mangled as they were by a raking fire from the artillery of grape and round shot, they held their ground manfully moving slowly back with heavy loss. Colonel Forde, who observed many of his own tenants dropping in the insurgent ranks, said to an officer riding at his side, " G--o d--n these stiff-necked Presbyterians, they won't run."

Battle of Ballynahinch.

The actual fight took place on Wednesday, the 13th, at Ballynahinch, and, as is well known, the insurgents were completely routed and fled in all directions. Munro gallantly tried to rally the remnant, but in vain, and at length he himself, worn out and fairly prostrated by fatigue and disappointment, retired from the scene of strife. Early on Thursday morning he reached a farmhouse and sought shelter there. The owner paid the unfortunate rebel all the attention he could. He had refreshment prepared for him, after partaking of which he had a bed made in an outhouse, and secreted him there until Saturday morning, when, dreading vengeance for concealing an outlaw, he told him before daylight he must seek some other place of refuge. Munro set off and travelled to near Dromore, where he gave a man named Holmes some money he retained, and begged to be concealed for a few days until the Government offer of pardon to rebels who gave up arms should be issued.

Holmes took the money, promised to shelter the fugitive, but, instead of doing so, went to Hillsborough and told the yeomanry of having Munro concealed in an outhouse. A guard immediately accompanied him and the unfortunate man was handcuffed, brought to Hillsborough, and thence to Lisburn, where he was placed in the temporary prison. It was then late in the afternoon, and he was kept watched by soldiers till Monday forenoon, when he was brought before the court-martial that sat in Castle Street to be hanged and beheaded. As Munro was very popular in his native town, some difficulty occurred in finding a carpenter willing to erect a gallows, but at length one offered to do the work, and from out a window situated nearly opposite the condemned man's dwelling the dread structure was erected. At four o'clock Munro was brought out under a strong military guard. He begged to be allowed to go into the house of the rector, Dr. Cupples, to receive the sacrament. The request was granted, and, after partaking of the sacred rite, the procession again commenced, and on reaching the place of execution a wretched prisoner from the guard-house, with a black crape over his face, stood ready to perform the part of hangman. Munro stood at the foot of the gallows and sought leave from the officer of the guard to speak to a friend who lived near. Permission was granted, the friend was sent for, and the soldiers gracefully stood back during the short conference. Standing up firm and undismayed, he said, "I have deserved better of my country," and after a short prayer stepped on to the ladder, and, as his hands were tied, he missed, his footing, one of the rungs gave way, and he fell. Rising up lightly, he said to the crowd, "I am not cowed, gentlemen." On the ladder being adjusted he went up with the rope round his neck, the executioner turned the ladder, and, in a few minutes all was over. Then came the horrid finale of beheading, which was done, the hangman holding up the severed head and crying out, "There is the head of a traitor." Three other men were hanged in Lisburn. H. J. M'Cracken sent a man called Crabbe to the South to tell the rising was commenced, and entrusted him with a written communication. He was taken to Lisburn, and ate his despatch. His hat was knocked off, and a green cockade found in it; he was hanged half an hour after. He refused at tell his name, message, whence or whither he was going. Dick Vincent was the name of another man executed. Tom Armstrong, who was found near the town with a United cockade concealed in the lining of his hat, and the words "Remember Orr," was tried, condemned, and executed two days before Munro met his fate. Very tragic, full of the chivalry of greatness, was an episode in the last hours of Armstrong. He knew many secrets of the United men, and was offered pardon if he informed on other leaders, and his wife was brought to the guard-house in the hope that her entreaties would induce him to turn traitor. The poor woman cried bitterly, went on her knees, and begged of her husband to save his life for the sake of her and their two children. Armstrong seemed agonised for some moments, but at length, drawing himself an to his full height, he cried out: "No, Mary, I will not save my life on such terms. Were I to do so. great numbers of wives would be left widows, and many children deprived of their chief protectors. I will leave only one widow and two children, and the God of the widow and the fatherless will take charge of them."

The heads of the four men that suffered were stuck on spikes, and were placed on each corner of the Lisburn Market-house. They remained there until August, when the sight became so revolting that they were taken down and buried.

Harry Munro had attained to such military skill in the use of arms during the weekly parades of the Volunteers that, on the death of the veteran who had been drill sergeant for many years, he was appointed to that office, and in 1790 was raised to the rank of adjutant. Considerable bodies of military men encamped on Blaris Moore, and a great number of toot and horse soldiers were quartered in Lisburn for some time before the breaking out of the Rebellion in June, '98. On the morning of Wednesday preceding the battle of Ballynahinch, Harry was told by one of his lieutenants that in the evenings many of the soldiers stationed in the Lisburn barracks were in the habit of getting drunk, and that if Munro marched a sufficient number of his men that afternoon into Lisburn he could force a surrender of the Royal army, seize their arms and the ammunition, and set fire to the town. The rebel general listened to the proposal, but his chivalrous sense of dignity overcame the old adage that "All's fair in love and war," and he replied: "We will not act the part of midnight assassins, but in the open day meet and, I trust, gain one victory for Ireland." A spy who, decked out as a milk-woman, and bearing cans of milk, which was sold to the rebels who were posted in Mr. Ker's demesne close to Ballynahinch, had heard of the proposal to storm Lisburn, but not of Munro's refusal to accede to it, made way into the latter-named town and reported to the colonel in command. -- This was about seven o'clock in the evening. Of course, there was great commotion in military as well as civic circles. An order was issued that all lights and fires in the households of the inhabitants should be put out at nine o'clock, and, except the regular soldiers and local yeomanry, no one was to go out of doors after that hour. The Lisburn guard-house, situate at the Castle Street entrance to the cathedral, had in its dark recesses eight men, natives of the town, who had been suspected of sympathy in favour of the United Irishmen, but were not actually members. Sergeant White, of the Lisburn Yeomanry, and half a dozen of his men were in charge of the prisoners, all of whom were townsmen of his own. About nine o'clock, when all was still and silent in the streets, the clatter of a horse's hoofs on the pavement was heard by the prisoners. The rider stopped at the door of the guard-house, called out Sergeant White, and had a short conversation with him, after which he clanked down the street towards the horse barracks. The prisoners, suspecting some dread news, knocked at the door of their cell and begged of the sergeant to tell them what was the report. "It is a melancholy one," replied White; "the orderly was a dragoon. He said Harry Munro, with a large contingent of the rebel army, was expected to assail the troops in town. A sentinel had been placed at Bridge End, on the County Down side. A gun would be fired in Market Square to warn the loyal army of the assailants' approach; in which case," continued the sergeant, "our order is to put all prisoners to death."

As already stated, the report of Munro's assault on the town was erroneous; but the few hours of terrible suspense passed by the prisoners was a time of intense suffering quite indescribable.

The Axe that cut off Munro's Head.

The story is that a rebel was pardoned on condition that he would execute Munro. The morning was wet, and the handle of the axe was so slippery that the man said he could not hold it properly, so one of the dragoons who was in attendance pulled a piece of chamois out of his wallet and threw it to him. He wrapped it round the handle and used it, but the handle was broken by the force of the blow. The axe, handle and all, were put in the grave with the headless corpse, and on the grave being opened recently the chamois was found sticking to the axe handle. Munro was a very active man, a great jumper and runner. He was often known to jump the locks of the Lagan Canal. Mr. Breakey, Ballibay, used to tell that one morning Munro, with other linen buyers, was leaving his house to take their horses for their usual journey to the next town. He came out to the hall-door, and, telling tho groom to arrange them side by side, he sprang clear over the whole lot, landing safely on the other side.

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 28 December 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.)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

William Henry West Betty, 1791-1874 (part 2)


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(The Young Roscius).

From "Ireland and Her Staple Manufactures," 1870, 
by Hugh M'Call.


London, 1804.

But now comes the great epoch in the professional life of Betty. The lessee of Covent Garden had been for some time in negotiation with the elder gentleman for the purpose of securing the services of the son, and at length the matter was arranged on the terms of fifty pounds a night. Great preparations had been made for his debut on the London boards, and on the evening of the 1st of December, 1804 -- ten days after the termination of his first engagement in Manchester -- he appeared at Covent Garden Theatre, in Dr. Brown's adaptation of Voltaire's tragedy, Merope. Nothing could have exceeded the excitement produced on this occasion. It seemed as if the world of London had been taken by storm, and for the time being the "Young Roscius" was lion of the West End, and the magnate East of Temple Bar. The "Morning Chronicle" thus alludes to the first night's performance:--
"So early as ten o'clock on Saturday morning, many gentlemen began to parade the Piazzas and Bow Street, in order that they might be near the doors when the crowd should begin to assemble. Before one and two o'clock numbers had taken their stations near all the doors leading to the pit, boxes, and galleries; and long before the doors were opened they stretched out in long, thick, close-wedged, impenetrable columns to the extremity of the Piazzas, in Covent Garden, and quite across Bow Street. Peace officers were provided inside the theatre, and a strong detachment of guards procured outside. The heat in every part of the house became excessive very soon after it was filled. In the pit many gentlemen fainted, and were dragged seemingly lifeless, up into the boxes. The ladies in one or two boxes were employed almost the whole night in fanning the gentlemen who were beneath them in the pit. Frequently we heard screams from those who were overcome by the heat, but could neither get out nor obtain the slightest relief. Upwards of twenty gentlemen who had fainted were dragged up into the boxes; we observed several more raising their hands, as if in in the act of supplication for mercy and pity. It was with satisfaction that we observed but few females exposed to this distressing state in the pit; they were but thirteen, and they fortunately were placed in situations so near the proscenium as to derive the full benefit of the air from the stage. Behind the scenes were many of the first personages, both for rank and learning in the country. Besides the Lord Chief Baron, Lord Melville, and Mr. Const, the counsel, there were all the theatrical judges of merit. Numerous groups of ladies of the first fashion were also content to stand during the whole of the performance in any hole or corner where they could get a glimpse. The Prince Regent occupied Lady Miller's box on the night of the first appearance at Drury Lane, and joined several times in the applause pealed forth by the general audience. Mr. Charles Kemble assisted on the occasion. Master Betty's reception of the character was classically correct. His performance was not the successful repetition of a mere lesson, but that of an experienced tragedian, rich in understanding and discrimination. He did not appear in the least degree fatigued by the exertions, but rather increased in energy during the progress of the piece. In the third act his restrained tenderness -- his apparent transports at the praises bestowed on him by his mother -- the difficulty with which he refrains from declaring himself -- the discovery of her son being alive, and the determination of the son to revenge her wrongs, were admirably conceived, and so effectually rendered as to bring down bursts of applause from all parts of the house."
The receipts of the theatre during the twenty nights of Betty's first London season amounted to twenty-seven thousand guineas, being the largest aggregate ever before realised in any similar period at either of the great houses. Of that sum the fortunate performer received one-tenth share, which represented fifty guineas a night for three nights, and one hundred guineas a night for twenty-five nights. Besides this he had four free benefits that brought the aggregate up to three thousand eight hundred guineas, and, in addition, he received presents of plate, which made a grand total of four thousand guineas for about a month's performances.

This unparalleled success is said to have almost turned the heads of the fortunate youth's parents, and to himself the rapid change of position, the magical turn of affairs that brought him from the comparative quiet of a linen warehouse to the exciting scenes connected with theatrical life, must have appeared as the realisation of some fairy tale. The young gentleman was then little more than thirteen years of age; he had been about eighteen months on the boards, and during that time he had netted as many thousand pounds as he was years old.

Park Lane and Piccadilly turned out their hosts of patrons in all the blase of jewelled coronets and diamond necklaces.

Rubicund dowagers and red-faced aldermen from the regions east of Temple Bar migrated from the city to gaze on the "wonderful boy." George the Third summoned the youthful prodigy to attend at St. James' Palace, where select readings were given from different authors before his Majesty and the rest of the Royal household. When "Hamlet" was to be performed at Covent Garden, Mr. Pitt actually adjourned the House of Commons that he might see Master Betty in the role. Sheridan brought the lad into his box at the conclusion of the piece, and presented him as the Young Roscius to Fox, Burke, and Curran, who had left the Senate House to witness the performance.


In the midst of all this popularity, and when wealth was pouring in on the favoured tragedian as if he had been in possession of the philosopher's stone, the whole course of events did not run in his favour without a ruffle. A few of the critics stood away from the admiring throng, and strongly dissented from the "childish enthusiasm" for the boy-player. Partisan spirit was aroused in several quarters, and the jealousy of the green-room -- perhaps the bitterest of all such feeling -- added strength to the minority. At the very time when young Betty drew immense crowds to Drury Lane, and when he was receiving one hundred guineas a night, Mrs. Siddons and her brother, John P. Kemole, were playing to thin houses at Covent Garden on the respective salaries of £30 and £25 a night. Envy, hatred, and malice followed this turn of affairs, and the advocates of the "legitimate drama" fought furiously against the mania for "infantile prodigies." Richard Cumberland, the dramatist, devotes some pages of his autobiographic memoirs to a very ungenerous critique on Master Betty, and becomes savagely facetious in his remarks on what he designates "beardless youths usurping the popularity of votaries of the stage." "How delicious," says the green-eyed Richard, "is it to be praised and panegyrised by leading critics. To be caressed by dukes, and, still better, by the daughters of dukes; to be flattered, by wits, feasted by aldermen, stuck up in the windows of print-shops, and, last of all, set astride upon the cut-water of a privateer, like the tutelary genius of the British flag."

Master Betty was very tall for his years, and when he stood before a London, audience he had considerably improved in the power of self-possession. He was exceedingly handsome in personal appearance, and highly graceful in action. His voice was round and full, and of such remarkable compass that, without apparent effort, he could make himself distinctly heard in all parts of the largest theatre. But his was a popularity as evanescent as it had been wonderful. Once on the inclined plane, the descent was rapid and irrecoverable.


It is a strange feature in his history that, from the time he arrived at the age of sixteen, his power over the play-going public began to wane, and when he took leave of the stage as the "Earl of Warwick," in the Southampton Theatre in 1824, the house was not half filled. The "marvellous boy" had by that time degenerated into a very commonplace man. It seemed as if the wand had been broken by which, in his juvenile days, he had charmed the most fastidious critics, the highest men of the theatrical world, and nearly every patron of the profession, and that the enchanter was no longer able to cast his spell over the play-going multitude. Having seceded from the stage, he commenced to study for the Church, and very soon afterwards became an ordained minister; but, not finding himself at home either in the reading-desk or the pulpit, he had the good sense to leave the field of theology and to retire into private life. His failure, in that case, forms a strange passage in the history of genius.

Betty, the favoured actor, who, when in the height of his popularity, wielded almost superhuman power over the theatrical world, was unable, when he became a Church clergyman, to preach in such a style as would Keep up the attention of a country congregation for half an hour. Mr. Betty, has, since then, lived in complete retirement, at least so far as regards theatrical life; but he never forgot either the stage or its people, and his hand was always open when actors in distress solicited his assistance.

Chambers's Biographical Dictionary.

He quitted the stage in 1808, but after studying for two years at Cambridge, returned to it in 1812. He retired finally in 1824, and lived for fifty years on the ample fortune he had so early amassed. He died in London, August 24, 1874.

(Next Week: Harry Munro.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 21 December 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.)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

William Henry West Betty, 1791-1874


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(The Young Roscius).

From "Ireland and Her Staple Manufactures," 1870, 
by Hugh M'Call.

W. H. W. Betty was son of a linen bleacher, and passed the early part of his boyhood amid the bustle of business at his father's house in Chapel Hill, Lisburn. His grandfather, Doctor Betty, was a celebrated physician in that town, and who, besides attending to the duties of a large and lucrative practice, was owner of an extensive bleachfield situate a few miles out in the County of Down. The old gentleman in his day had been an active member of the Presbyterian Church, and when the house of worship, still owned by the first congregation, was being erected he was himself a liberal contributor to the funds and a most successful collector from others.

The house in which the family resided is situated in Chapel Hill, and nearly opposite the property then owned by Mr. Luke Teeling. After the doctor's death his only son, William Henry, succeeded him in the bleaching concern, and in 1790 married Miss West, a lady belonging to Shrewsbury, where, in September of the following year, the subject of this brief notice first saw the light. At the end of autumn Mrs. Betty and her son returned to Lisburn, and continued there for many years. Mr. Betty in the meantime pursuing his business in the purchase and finish of linens. The embryo Roscius received the rudiments of his education in the school of Mr. Goyer, and he also attended the classical institution conducted by the Rev. Mr. Dubourdieu. It appears that during his scholastic studies he never exhibited any special evidence of that precocious talent which afterwards took the world by storm.

From the time of the Insurrection the handsome town of Lisburn had been the station for a troop of horse and a numerous company of foot soldiers. A splendid band accompanied them, and what with the daily parades, inspection of troops and periodical bugle calls, the inhabitants were bidding fair to imbibe much more of the military spirit than is usually found to exist in provincial towns. Besides these sources of excitement, a respectable company of theatricals, under the management of Mr. Robert Owenson, father of the future Lady Morgan and Lady Clarke, added largely to the intellectual amusement of the citizens. Mr. Owenson's theatre was situate in the rere of Mr. Stewart's house opposite the road since made to Hillsborough, and the lessee himself and his two daughters resided next door.

Miss O'Neill, afterwards Lady Beecher -- then a young and rapidly rising performer, took the leading parts in the cast of characters, and rejoiced in the moderate salary of thirty shillings a week. This lady, as well as the Owenson family, were frequent visitors to Mr. Betty, when the hostess, who was famed for her "love of the lamp," occasionally entertained her friends with readings and recitations from celebrated dramatic authors.

Brought up in a home-school where the military and dramatic element formed the largest share of fireside education, young Betty became strongly impressed with a desire for the stage. This feeling was still further strengthened by his having witnessed the performance of Mrs. Siddons in the character of Lady Macbeth, at the Belfast theatre, and he felt so struck with the peculiar beauty of her elocution that he came home determined to try his fortune as a player.

At that time he was under eleven years of age, yet he seemed to have had conceptions of his future career, settled and ambitious as if he had seen thirty summers. The linen bleacher entertained very different views respecting the after pursuits of his son, and when he first learned of his leanings towards the theatrical profession he expressed himself strongly against that course of life. Mrs. Betty, however, had opposite ideas on the subject -- the "green room" to her was the land of promise, and, as is usual in most cases of domestic policy, the "weaker vessel" stood out for the rights of the sex, and ultimately had it all her own way. But not only did she exult over her boy's predilection for the stage, she also undertook the charge of his dramatic education, and for a considerable period she spent some hours each day in that labour of love.

Theatre Royal, Belfast, 1803.

Under this course of study, added to his own natural taste for the art, Betty speedily became a local celebrity, but his fame did not long remain bounded by the environs of Lisburn. Mr. Atkins, who was lessee of the Belfast theatre from its opening in 1791, had heard some reports about the precocious genius of the young tragedian, and after obtaining further information on the subject from his brother manager Mr. Owenson, he was so much interested by the report that he went up to Lisburn and concluded an engagement with the elder Mr. Betty for five nights performances. In course of the following week the blank walls and fronts of untenanted houses in Belfast were nearly covered with large posters, announcing, in flaming capitals, that a wonderful performer, only eleven years of age, would appear on the local boards in the character of Osman, in Voltaire's celebrated tragedy of Zara.

The Theatre Royal on that occasion was crowded to excess. All the open space at the end of Arthur Street and Castle Lane with blocked up with anxious play goers, and so great was the struggle to secure places in the different parts of the house that before six o'clock in the evening every seat in the gallery was crammed, the upper and lower boxes had not a vacant spot, and two noblemen, then members of Parliament, were glad to get a small-area of standing-room in the pit. Master Betty had not then attained his twelfth year, but, as he was well grown, he appeared at last two years above that age. The theatrical critics of the Northern Athens were perfectly astounded at the correctness of enunciation, judicious delivery, and thorough conception of character displayed by the young gentleman. His performance was a triumphant success, the occupants of the boxes lustily applauded, those of the pit were enthusiastically delighted, and the gods sent forth peal after peal of vociferous acclamation. At the conclusion of the piece Mr. Atkins was called before the curtain, and having returned thanks to the audience for their hearty response to his notice that he had an "extraordinary novelty" to produce for their gratification, he announced that Master Betty would appear next evening (Saturday) in the same character, and that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the succeeding week he would have the honour of coming out respectively in the characters of Romeo, Rolla, and Norval. On each of these occasions the popularity of the young actor had so much increased that vast numbers of persons were disappointed in their attempts to obtain seats, and only left the doors of the theatre after all chances of getting standing places had been given up.

The marvellous success of his son and the tempting proposals which poured in on him for engagements in the theatre changed the entire current of Mr. Betty's ideas as to the lad's future pursuits. He therefore sold off all his stock of linens, as well as the farm and bleachfield, that he might be at perfect liberty to accompany his son as the keeper of his purse and the guardian of his person in a proposed tour through the kingdom.

Dublin, 1803.

In course of the autumn which succeeded Betty's debut as a public performer, many overtures were made him for engagements. Among others, the lessee of the Dublin Theatre Royal offered two hundred pounds for twenty nights' performance. This was considered liberal in the extreme; but the dread of appearing before an audience famed as the most fastidious, as well as the most accomplished, critics in Europe, and in a city where, as has been rightly said, "the wit of the gods in the gallery is usually keener than that of the author on the stage," kept negotiations in abeyance for some weeks.

At length, in November, 1803, the young Roscius went to Dublin, where he appeared in the character of Hamlet, and was received with a perfect ovation. Previous to his engagement there the local patrons of the drama had fallen into one of those periodical fits of dulness to which public communities as well as private individuals are occasionally subject. But almost immediately after the appearance of the young star the wild excitement cut of doors and the crowds that assembled in the theatre every night told that the theatrical taste which exists in such greatness on the border of the Liffey had been aroused in all its strength. This engagement proved most successful, and he left the city with a new wreath of laurels on his brow. In the early part of 1804 he visited the West of Scotland, and while performing in Edinburgh he was invited to dine with Lord Meadowbank and Mr. Home. The author of Douglass paid him the high compliment of stating that his admirable personation of young Norval proved him to be the genuine offspring of the Douglass. It should here be stated that while performing in Dublin Mr. Macready, father of the great tragedian and joint lessee of the Birmingham theatre, was present, and felt no less astonished than any of the outsiders at the remarkable genius of young Betty, and some time afterwards an arrangement was made for the introduction of the young gentleman to a Birmingham audience. He appeared there in August, 1804, and marvellous was the excitement which that event caused in the great depot of mosaic jewellery and brass buttons.

In a notice of the Birmingham performance the writer, said:-- "The theatrical annals of the town furnish nothing equal to the commotion which Betty's appearance excited. The hotels and inns were completely occupied during his stay by persons who came from every part of the adjacent country to witness the novelty. Nine characters were sustained by him in Birmingham."

Birmingham, 1804.

An amusing incident connected with this engagement is related by one of the biographers of the young Roscius. Mr. Jackson, who shared the management of the Birmingham theatre with Mr. Macready, had been requested to secure the services of this "prodigy" for twelve nights, at a salary of ten pounds a night; but as the appearance of the lad off the stage was not calculated to impress beholders with the idea of great excellence in the histrionic art, he had no sooner been introduced to him than he begged to be released from what he considered "a ruinous engagement." Betty's relatives expressed their willingness to cancel the affair, provided they were paid their travelling expenses from Edinburgh. During the discussion Mr. Macready proposed that the arrangement might be made in another form, "Suppose," said he, "that for general expenses sixty pounds be taken from the gross receipts of each night's performance, and the balance divided between the 'star' and the lessees." This proposal was agreed to but so immensely did the receipts exceed Macready's calculation that his colleague the over-cautious manager, found he had to pay the "star" fifty pounds a night instead of ten. From Birmingham Master Betty proceeded to Sheffield, where he was no less attractive. Doncaster races were going on at the time, and carriages labelled "Theatrical coach to carry six insides to see the Young Roscius" were stationed near the course to convey passengers from the sports of the turf to more intellectual amusements of the stage.

His next appearance was in Liverpool and there the struggle to get places in the theatre exceeded all previous excitement. On the morning that preceded his first performance, when the box-office was opened, some gentlemen had their cloth torn to tatters, others had their hats and shoes carried away in the crowd, and a third party sometimes severely bruised and almost suffocated in the attempt to obtain tickets for themselves and their friends. During the first twelve nights of his performance in that maritime capital the total receipts of the house amounted to about twenty-seven hundred pounds. Of this sum he received on an average ninety pounds a night; and, including the profits of his benefit, he realised by that engagement about fifteen hundred guines. Before he left Liverpool he was presented with two very valuable silver cups, and at the conclusion of the engagement the managers of the theatre offered to give him one hundred pounds a night for a further series of performances, but, having made other arrangements, he could not accept those very liberal terms. On Monday, the 12th of November, 1804, young Betty appeared in the Manchester theatre.

(To be Continued.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 14 December 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.)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A. T. Stewart, Millionaire, 1801-1876.



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Extracts from a Sketch of His Life by Hugh M'Call.

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century John Turney, a very intelligent farmer, resided on the Hertford estate, at a part of Lissue near the Maze. It was usual at that time for men who had capital to spare to do a little in the manufacture of linen as well as to attend to the business of the field. As one of the descendants of the Huguenot exiles that settled in the town and about the neighbourhood of Lisburn one hundred years before, Mr. Turney inherited much of the spirit of industry and peaceful disposition of his forefathers, and, like them, had great taste for the beautiful, whether in nature or art; his garden was quite a model in floriculture, and, what was not usual in country houses, he had in his parlour two or three oil paintings of a style which was rare as the works were valuable.

One of his neighbours, Thomas Lamb, of Pear Tree Hill, greatly admired the pictures, but laughed heartily at the estimate their owner placed on them. Mr. Lamb, a sturdy Quaker, and Elias Hughes, another member of the same sect, who resided in that locality, were also engaged in the making of coarse linens.

John Turney's family consisted of his wife and a daughter named Margaret, and very happy was his household; but during the troublous times of Ninety-Eight the former, who was a delicate and rather nervous woman, had been much shocked by some local occurrence, and became very ill.

After lingering some weeks, she passed away into the Unseen Land.

There lived at that time near the Red Hill, and not far from Mr. Turney's place, Thomas Stewart, and his wife Martha, a very industrious and very quiet people. Their family consisted of five sons and three daughters.

The head of the house had been brought up on a farm situate near the Rock Chapel, but several years before he had taken some land at Red Hill, in Lissue.

The second son, Alexander, a steady-going and very energetic young man, commenced life as an agriculturist on a twenty-acre farm on the Hertford estate.

In the list of Margaret Turney's admirers young Alexander Stewart had a high place, but her father could not think of his daughter giving her hand to a small farmer who had only commenced to make his way in the world.

More than twelve months had gone by since the second marriage of her father had made the previous happy home a scene of unpleasant and divided feeling.

At length she left her father's house and got privately married to Mr. Stewart, immediately after which the young husband took her home to the farm cottage at Red Hill, a picturesque part of the Hertford estate, situate about two miles from Lisburn.

Birth and Early Life.

The young couple lived very happily together. Stewart was a good-natured, industrious fellow, and worked hard at the farm. Among the saddest years of Ireland's eventful history was that of 1801, the time of dearth, disease, and privation; the previous harvest was a failure, and every article of food had gone up to famine price. Extra exertion was necessary to keep farmers afloat, and in his anxiety to get finished some outdoor work the farmer over-heated himself, and eventually fell into consumption, which carried him off in some few months. Not many weeks had elapsed after the death of Alexander Stewart when the young wife, still in her teens, was confined of a son; and in that cottage which still stands (in 1881) on the farm of Mr. James N. Richardson, of Lissue, the future merchant prince of Broadway first saw the light, and in due time received the baptismal name of Alexander Turney, in honour of his father and grandfather.

As soon as she was able to leave the cottage her father had her and the infant removed to his own place. A purchaser soon turned up for the little farm, the stock and furniture were disposed of to good advantage, and the proceeds set apart for the young widow and her son.

Some time afterwards David Bell, a farmer, began to pay court to the widow, and in April, 1803, got married to her. The father of the bride, for a second time, was still more annoyed at that affair than he had been on the previous occasion. Bell sold his farm and stock and prepared to embark for America. He himself, as well as his wife, was anxious to take the child, then eighteen months old, along with them, but Mr. Turney would not permit that arrangement, and took it home.

Having received a good education himself, Mr. Turney determined that his grandson should enjoy the full advantages of modern acquirements, and at the proper time become a minister of the Church of England. There was then in the Causeway End a teacher of children famed for instructing them in the rudiments of spelling, reading, and writing; and all that course was to be taught juveniles without the use of the rod. That model school-master's name was William Christie, and if he lived in these days, when, in some schools, flogging is still a sort of pastime with the principals, he would deserve canonisation. MAny of the people of Causeway End -- John Hodgen, George Briggs, John Anderson, and others -- recollected the thoughtful-looking lad passing along the road that led from his grandfather's house to the village seminary, conning over his Manson's Spelling-Book as he went on his way. In due time the lad was sent to the Lisburn English and Mercantile Academy, then conducted by Mr. Benjamin Neely, one of the ablest of teachers, as well as one of the most efficient flagellators that ever flourished a ratan. Many of that gentleman's pupils rose in after days to places of high distinction in the world. Thomas Spence, the famous writing-master, was one of his early scholars; James W. Hogg, afterwards known as chairman of the East India Board, and member for Honiton, a great favourite of Sir Robert Peel, who conferred on him the honour of a baronetcy, Brigadier-General Nicholson, one of the leading heroes of the Punjaub; Serjeant Armstrong, celebrated as a chief of the Irish Bar; and several other men mark, were also taught at the Lisburn Academy.

This most popular classical seminary in the rural districts of that part of Antrim County was then presided over by the Rev. Skeffington Thompson, LL.D., of Magheragal, and on the first day of February, 1815, Alexander T. Stewart was entered there as a student. Early in the following month John Turney took ill, and it was evident his day of life was coming to a close. Thomas Lamb, his valued neighbour, visited him very frequently, and, with the never-failing attention to worldly affairs that forms the leading characteristic of Quakerism, advised his friend to settle his affairs, and in doing so not to forget his daughter, Margaret Bell, and her children.

He died on the 16th of April, 1815.

After the old man's death Mr. Lamb brought Alexander T. Stewart to reside in his house, where he became thoroughly at home, the two sons, John and Joshua, looking on the orphan boy as, if possible, something more than a brother.

Stewart had now quite given up any idea of going on for the clerical profession, and in order to fit him for business Mr. Lamb advised that, instead of emigrating to New Tork, as he proposed to do, he should go to Belfast and learn something of shopkeeping. The good old Quaker arranged with a grocer in that town that the well-educated lad should become his apprentice, and in course of a few weeks he commenced his duties there. But neither the place nor the business suited the taste of A. T. Stewart. During the short time he was at the grocery business he spent the time from each Saturday evening till Monday at the house of Mr. Matthew Morrow, whose daughters conducted a ladies' school in Chichester Street, and where he met with the utmost kindness. But before the end of April he told the grocer that he did not like the business; and, having begged his guardian's permission to carry out the project of going to America, Mr. Lamb did not stand in the way, and thus all was amicably arranged.

America, 1818.

His guardian handed him fifty pounds out of the fortune then awaiting his coming of age. With that capital, in May, 1818, he left Belfast, in a ship bound for New York, and six weeks afterwards he found himself in the city on the Hudson.

After considerable difficulty he found his mother's residence. His half-brother, James Bell, had, some weeks before, ran off from home, and gone to sea, and the family then consisted of his half-sister Mary, his mother, and stepfather. Determined not to remain a burden on the family, he sought employment as an assistant teacher, and was engaged at four hundred dollars a-year -- a sum barely equal to pay his board and maintain him in respectable clothing. Having found himself fully equal to the duties of the school, several additions were made to his salary during the next two years, and in 1820 he found himself master of an annual income of six hundred dollars.

A course of communication was maintained between him and his guardian all that time, and in December, 1822, he received a long letter from the honest Quaker, stating that the property left him having been realised, the proceeds were lodged in a Belfast bank. Mr. Lamb also advised his ward that the money arising from the sale of the meadow and two fields, together with small cottage and garden (£140), was lent at 5 per cent. interest to a linen draper, and the seven pounds arising from that investment were paid quarterly to Mrs. Turney, his step-grandmother.

Early in the following your A. T. Stewart left New York for Liverpool, and when he reached that port in May, lost no time in taking his passage in the next steamer for Belfast, where he arrived in due course, and from thence made his way to Lisburn. The first person he called on was Fanny Fox, a Quaker lady, then engaged, in the haberdashery and millinery business. Miss Fox pressed him to remain all night, and next morning, on speaking to that lady respecting his business in Ireland, he requested her to introduce him to a lawyer, which she did by taking him to the office of Mr. Dillon. Having had some legal advice from that solicitor, the young man set off on foot -- a distance of about four miles -- for Pear Tree Hill, the residence of Mr. Thomas Lamb, his grandfather's executor, where he was received with the utmost attention, and in the course of the day all the accounts of Mr. Turney's estate, from April, 1815, were laid before him, with the several amounts received and the sums paid, and the vouchers in each case. Various estimates have been made respecting the sums paid over to A. T. Stewart; nothing definite, however, is known on the subject, but it must have amounted to several hundred, or perhaps one thousand, pounds.

It has been stated that Mr. Stewart had received from his guardian the full amount of money arising from the proceeds of property left him by his grandfather; but on getting the cash into his hands he found some difficulty in arriving at any definite conclusion as to how it should be invested. The bustle and prosperity he had seen in the everyday commerce of New York had stirred in his mind a desire for business; he therefore consulted a Belfast friend on the subject, and in doing so frankly acknowledged his ignorance of mercantile affairs. That friend told him that with his educational attainments and aptitude for learning he would soon master the details of trade. "It was most erroneous," he added, "to suppose that because a young man was a classical scholar he would not succeed when engaged at the matter-of-fact details of life as they existed behind the counter."

Acting on that shrewd counsel, the student made his first purchase from a manufacturer in Rosemary Street in that town, comprising a large lot of fancy goads, high-class muslins, insertions, tambours, and some flouncings. These articles were all of a quality which the embryo merchant was assured had rarely before been seen in any American city. He had also bought from the eminent firm of James N. Richardson & Co., of Lisburn, a parcel of the finest linens and some specialities in French cambric. Having thus invested the greater part of his capital in first-class goods, he once again sailed for New York, and arrived safe in July, 1823. There was then to be let the store afterwards known as "283, Broadway," situate between Murray and Warren Streets. The locality was central, and although the store was a mere wooden structure, twenty feet square, and the rent 37S dollars a-year, he entered as tenant, made some improvements, and in that tiny spot, with his Belfast and Lisburn purchases, and a job lot of laces, silk gloves, and general hosiery, the man who in after years became the financial counsellor of Presidents and the wonder of Wall Street commenced his marvellous career.

Marriage in 1825.

In 1825 Mr. Stewart married Miss Cornelia Clinch, daughter of a very wealthy ship chandler of New York. The young lady had received a very good education, but in the course of that sowing of intellectual seed the duty of industry had not been forgotten, and immediately after having taken upon herself the responsibilities of a wife she set about aiding in the transactions of the store, as it was on her own exertions much of the future success depended. It has been said that, on the delivery of the goods which her husband was in the habit of purchasing at the auction sales, she would refinish parcels of gloves and also the lots of ing in the transactions of the store, as if it just from the hands of the manufacturer. [sic]

The concern 283 [sic] had ceased to accommodate the customers and and contain the stock, and during the three years previous to the autumn of 1832 A. T. Stewart had made two removals, in each case to larger places of business. No 257, Broadway, was an extensive store, situate between Murray and Warren Streets, and this had been fitted up with great care and taste, the young merchant's classical education having given him a love of the decorative that was seen even in his selection of fancy fabrics. Nine years' successful commerce had made him a person of civic celebrity and a wonder to the plodding speculators of Wall Street.

In the spring of 1847 the premises of A. T. Stewart & Co. were found totally inadequate to meet the growing extension of their business. Washington Hall, a famous commercial hotel and its mercantile club, were then in the market, and at a cost of sixty thousand dollars the site was purchased by Mr. Stewart. The area of that building ground comprised two acres, and after clearing away the buildings that stood over it the erection of the world-renowned Marble Palace was commenced.

Famine, 1847.

Ireland in 1847 was undergoing one of those periodical seasons of sadness which seem coincident with her history. Two millions of her people were in the very whirlpool of destitution, dearth, and disease, and towards the relief fund which had been got up the Broadway merchant sent to the Irish Committee, then sitting in Dublin, a contribution of ten thousand dollars, and a cargo of food to the Lisburn Committee value for £5,000.

A. T. Stewart had then been in the dry goods trade for more than one quarter of a century, and his power of arranging the daily duties of an entire army of rank and file assistants showed how well the algebraic and mathematical lessons he had been taught by Mr. Benjamin Neely must have been acted upon in course of his commercial life.

The marble palace had become more than ever the resort of the fashionable and the gay of high life, when A. T. Stewart saw that it was time for him to make another move in the upward direction. He accordingly, in 1860, purchased the fee-simple of more than two acres of ground situate between Ninth and Tenth Streets and Fourth Avenue. There he commenced the erection which, when finished, stood, from the level of the street to the top cornice, eighty-eight feet in height, and was the largest store ever erected in any part of the world. It consisted of eight floors, six above and two below the ground, thus making an area of eighteen acres in all.

About the time of the commencement of the war between the Southern and Northern States of America Mr. Stewart purchased immense quantities of military stores, and when demand for such goods rose with the requirements, sales were made at very large profits, and yet, as it was afterwards proved, the purchases made by Government at A. T. Stewart's were on much better terms than any that had been bought from other holders.

Some of A. T. Stewart's biographers have written of him as if he had been a man whose only enjoyment was the accumulation of riches. Nothing could be further from broad fact than such statements. It is true that to casual observers he may have seemed cold and frigid, and that in the management of his great business he exacted scrupulous attention to details on the part of his army of assistants, but in connection with that stern love of discipline and a determination to have the line of conduct he marked out strictly adhered to, he had a heart brimful of benevolence, and a disposition which ever prompted him to distribute with no sparing hand a portion of his wealth in doing good to his less fortunate brethren.

The munificent contribution which Mr. Stewart sent to the Lisburn Relief Committee has been mentioned. He also chartered the ship Mary Edson to take over on her return voyage a number of the cotton weavers to New York. When those emigrants reached that city the Broadway merchant had temporary homes prepared for them, and until they got into employment all were supported at his expense.

Death, 1876.

He delighted to gather around him the most distinguished man of the city, and on the third Sunday in March, 1876, had his usual dinner party. On the occasion alluded to the party was intended to consist of sixteen gentlemen, including the host himself, but three of the invited guests were unable to attend, and, to Mr. Stewart's momentary annoyance, thirteen sat down to table. A very pleasant evenins was spent, however, for he was quite a different man in his own house from the plodding merchant of Broadway. Next day he felt very ill, and did not go to business. An internal disease which had first appeared three years before set in with increased severity. The family physician, Dr. Marcey, was in close attendance, and he rallied a little under that gentleman's care, but on Thursday, the 6th of April, he had caught fresh cold and became considerably worse. On the morning of the 10th he was quite unconscious, and before the close of that day the millionaire storekeeper, whose name had been a household word to every place of note in the world of commerce, had passed away to the Land of Spirits.

President Grant offered to appoint Mr. Stewart to the very important office of Secretary of the United States Treasury, but various obstacles intervened, and the matter fell through.

He died childless.

One of A. T. Stewart's peculiarities was that of being religiously reticent on the subject of his boyhood. He occasionally referred to John Turney, his maternal grandfather; but of Thomas Stewart and Martha, his paternal grandfather and grandmother, or of his four uncles and three aunts, he was never heard to speak. A friend once wrote him in favour of one of his relatives, then in poor circumstances, but he never replied to that letter. More than thirty years ago Tom Stewart, then the only surviving son of his grandfather, had got past the age of labour, and was badly off in Lisburn. On having been appealed to on the subject by Mr. Jon Owden, of the arm of J. N. Richardson & Co., A. T. Stewart sent the applicant means to pay his uncle ten shillings a week which sum was continued till the old man's death.

That disposition to ignore the existence of his relations in that country was evinced in his last will; and most remarkable is the fact that the world-renowned merchant, who is said to have died worth fifty millions of dollars, and whose benevolence towards the outside world was munificent, did not leave a solitary cent to those blood relations who, seeing that he died without issue, had direct claims on his testamentary action.

This neglect of his relations was one weak point in the character of one of the most wonderful of the world's commercialists. And yet he loved with national fervour the land of his birth, and in her times of need administered with liberal hand to Ireland's necessities. He has gone to his final resting-place, and, taking him for all in all, more than one generation will have passed before the world sees another A. T. Stewart.

Chamber's Biographical Dictionary, 1897.

Alexander Turney Stewart, 1803-1876, millionaire, born at Lisburn, near Belfast; emigrated to New York in 1823, where two years later he opened his first dry-goods store. His charities were numerous, yet at his death he left some £8,000,000. His body was stolen in 1878, and restored to his widow three years after on payment of £4,000 through a lawyer.

(Next Week: Betty, the Young Roscius.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 7 December 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.)