Thursday 13 March 2014

The French Settlers In Ireland - No. 8.

The Huguenot Colony of Portarlington

(Continued from vol. 3, page 231)

by Sir Erasmus D. Borrowes, Bart.

"THE thousands that, unsung by praise,
 Have made an offering of their days,
 For truth - for heaven - for freedom's sake
 Resigned the bitter cup to take;
 And silently, in fearless faith,
 Bowing their noble souls to death."

IN resuming our sketch of the Huguenots of Portarlington, the memory of their sorrows, sufferings, and self-denial, brings with it a feeling of painful regret -- brightened, however, by admiration of their unshaken constancy, and gallant bearing in each hour of trial, and of the many virtues which shed a halo on their domestic hearths and public citizenship, when the strife was over. Their sylvan retreat on the placid waters of the Barrow, with its new and busy occupations, had softened their troubles; and the right hand of fellowship had been extended to welcome their advent, and to aid their dexterous and tasteful efforts in planting their new colony. Having previously alluded to this subject, we proceed to notice the erection of their churches, &c. Their great shield and benefactor, the Earl of Galway, with the countenance and encouragement of William the 3rd, accomplished for them this desirable object, about 1696. In the year 1701, the number of French families residing in Portarlington was sixty-four, although the three French regiments in Ireland had not then been disbanded; while those of English extraction only numbered five the aggregate number of families in the town and neighbourhood, French and English, amounting to 150: the church for the former was therefore constructed on a much larger scale than that for the latter; both, however, were endowed for ever with rent-charges of similar amounts (£40 to each), as a stipend for the clergymen. Lord Galway also built two school-houses, for the French and English population, which had an endowment for ever of £32 a-year for the teachers. The boys at these schools seem to have worn a uniform costume. We find the following entry in an account-book of the principal refugee of the town, an old officer of "The Boyne" -- "Apll 20th 1727. For making six sutes of cloths for ye blewbois at 18 pce pr sute 00.09. 00." In the first year of Queen Anne's reign, an Act of Parliament was passed confirming the leases made by Lord Galway, which had been shaken by the Act of Resumption, and vesting the churches, school-houses, and endowments in the Bishop of Kildare, in trust, for the purposes specified by the noble founder.

In 1701, the Bishop of Kildare issued a very conciliatory address to the French inhabitants of the town, setting forth his intention to consecrate the two churches; he transmits a copy of the consecration service, and invites them to conform to the discipline of Episcopacy; he complains of Daillon, then French minister, holding tenaciously to his consistorial authority -- being unwilling "to part with it on any terms." Shortly after, however, the French congregation acceded to the wishes of the Bishop, and subsequently continued to adopt the forms of the Established Church.

Daillon, to whom we alluded in a former number, was a distinguished divine, and had been minister in Portarlington from 1698 to 1702. On entering the church-yard of Carlow, a black marble slab, with the following inscription, strikes the eye of the visitor:--
"HIC situs est Benjaminus Daillon, Gallus Britana generosa familia ortus. Ecclesia reformata presbyter eruditus, diu ob religionem incarceratus et demum relegatus qui post LXXIX annos, studio, pietate, et labore evangelica magna ex parte dimensos, quatriduo post obitum Palinae uxoris hie inhumatae animam puram exhalavit.
        "Accipe doctc cinus musarum pignus amoris
          Accipe si famam morte perire vetent.
          Si Cristi castris pugnans captivus et exul
          Urbem hane funeribus condecorare velit.
          Cur tegerentur humo simul onmia et inclyta virtus.
          Et genus ac artes et pietate honos?
          Immemor urbs fuerit tamen haud marcescit Olympo.
          Clamabitque lapis vivet hic arte mea.
          Obiit ille vir Jan. III. An. Dom. MDCCIX."

The endowment of Lord Galway being considered an insufficient maintenance for a clergyman, the French inhabitants petitioned the Duke of Dorset, in 1733 (then Lord Lieutenant), to increase the salary. They state that the last incumbent, the Rev. Monr Anthony Ligonier de Bonneval, had a pension as a military chaplain, of 3.4 a-day, which ceased on his death; consequently they are obliged to contribute to the support of the present clergyman, M. Theodore Desvories, which they cannot afford, "having nothing to maintain themselves and numerous families but the small pensions and half pay graciously allowed them by his Majesty;" that it is the only conforming French church in the kingdom that has not an allowance from Government; and that the colony is the most considerable for number, except Dublin, &c. The names appended to the petition are as follow, being those of the principal colonists:-- Josias de Champagné, G. Guion, Du Petit Bose, Jacque de Frankfort, John Claverie, Jean Labrosse, John De Boyer, Jacque de Beauchant, Louis Buliod, Jacque de Meschinet, Piers Tirel, Abel Cassel, John Micheau, Joseph Guion, Arthur Champagné, Anthony Dorval, Charles du Petit Bose, Gerard Bainsereau, David Darripe, John Clausede, Michel Foubert, Joshua Pilot, Josias Franquefort, Isaac Cassel, Charles Quinsac, Antoine Mespret, Terson, Jacob Foubert, Jean Belliard, Charles Camlin, Samuel Beauchant, Andrew Labat.

The Lord Lieutenant and other high authorities recommended the prayer of the petition to the King, and his Majesty granted £50 per annum, which, with the £40 from Lord Galway, constitutes, to the present day, the salary of the clergyman. Gillet, the first French clergyman at Portarlington, had preferment in France before the Revocation.a Cathard and Des Voeux were both eminent divines, "masters of eloquence in the pulpit, and whose elegant and learned works in estimation in all Europe -- continue to preserve our fame with the public, as their pupils." The former had previously been minister of the French church in Peter-street, Dublin, on which occasion his congregation subscribed for the erection of a house for his accommodation.b The Rev. Anthony Vinchon Des Voeux, of Portarlington, emigrated from France about the middle of last century. He was the second son of Mons. De Bacquencourt, president of the Parliament of Rouen. Having incurred the displeasure of his family by abandoning their religious faith -- that of the Church of Rome -- he visited Ireland, and was appointed chaplain to the regiment of Lord George Sackville. He was the author of several polemical works; his translation and commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes was considered of so much importance as to induce the University of Dublin to confer on him the honorary degree of Master of Arts. He succeeded the Rev. Jean Pierre Droz in the publication of the first literary journal that ever appeared in Ireland, entitled, "the Compendious Library, or Literary Journal Revived," 1751; which, however, was shortly after discontinued. M. Droz kept a book-shop in College Green, and exercised his clerical functions on Sundays.

In 1715, the French Refugees of Portarlington had the gratification of receiving ample testimony of the kind regard and admiration which their noble career had elicited in the Royal Household the Princess of Wales having munificently presented them with rich and massive plate for the Communion service, and a finely-toned church hell, which preserve to the present day the memory of that royal lady's generous piety. On the first of these valuable gifts, so well bestowed, are inscribed as follows, and with the arms and motto of the prince:--
"Donné par Son Altesse Royale, Madamec Wilhelmina Carolina, Princesse De Galle, en faveur de l'Eglise Françoise Conformiste de Portarlington, le 1 Mar. 1714/5." The following is inscribed on the bell, in raised letters:--
"In usum Ecclesiae Gallicae Portarlingtonensis campanam hanc dono dedit Serenissima et Piissima Principessa Wilhelmina Carolina Serenissimi Georgii Whaliae Principis uxor dilectissima, Serenissimi ac Potentissimi Georgii, Magnae Britann. Fran. Hib. Regis, nurus meritissima, promovente Illustrissimo Comite Henrico de Galloway qui - - dum pro Rege res in Hib. administrarat -- hoc templum sumptibus suis aedificari curavit. 1715."

The services and sermons continued to be read in the French language until the year 1817, by the Rev. M. Rebillet, the last foreign minister (assistant), a native of Switzerland; when all reminiscences of "La belle France" having become fainter, the French ministers extinct, the population extinct, the charms of French society forgotten, the French language at the schools -- once "familiar in our mouths as household words" -- comparatively untaught, and the church itself partaking of the general decay -- which in the natural course of events, and the peculiar circumstances of this interesting settlement, had befallen every thing of Gallic origin -- it was considered indispensable to the spiritual wants of the inhabitants that the "unknown tongue" should cease in the church: therefore, from that date, the services have been performed in the English language -- a very handsome new church, on an enlarged scale, in the Gothic style having been erected by subscription about 15 years ago.

Resuming our glance at the Registers, we again meet the distinguished name of PELISSIER. While the acclamations which greeted the progress of the gallant Marshal still rent the air, while
"THE guards their morrice-pikes advanced,
       The trumpets flourished brave,
 The cannon from the ramparts glanced,
       And thundering welcome gave,"

the hearts of his gallant kindred of old, the Huguenot Pelissiers, must have been warmed, too, in their adopted refuge, where the prestige of their trials justly elicited in their favour the full measure of Irish cordiality, -- where the right hand of fellowship was extended to them, and every welcome and every aid was tendered, which the sufferings and the romance of real life required.

In a former number we have given the marriage of Abel Pelissier: here follows the birth of his first-born --
"Baptesme du Jeudi 17 Juin 1700. Le Samedi 8 du mesme mois entre cinq et six heures du soir est né un fils à Monsieur Abel Pelissier cy-devant Mareschal des logis et Aide Major du Regt. de Galuuai (Galway), et à damoiselle Marie De Choisy sa feinme, lequel a esté ce jourdhui présenté au Baptesme par Monsr. Cesar de Choisy grand pere et la dite Marie De Choisy mere, et nom lui a esté imposé Abel."

On the 30th of August, 1701, the family of Abel Pelissier was increased by the birth of a son, named Alexander, who became a merchant, and resided in Dame-street, Dublin. We had in our possession his account, dated about 1753, sealed with the ancient device, "the merchant's mark," viz., an antique figure of four, with an inverted staple, thus: the latter implying that he was merchant of the staple. This, probably, is one of the devices referred to by Piers Plowman, who, writing in the reign of Edward III., speaks of "merchaunts' markes ymedeled" in glass. The family still increased, and we find recorded the names of Jean, Jacques, Angelique, and Marie. In 1703 -- the year in which the Hollow Sword Blade Company of London purchased Portarlington and the surrounding estates -- we find their commissioners presenting, at baptism, the infant daughter of one of their French tenants: they are described as having been sent there by "le Gouverneur de l'honorable Corporation de Hollow Sword Blades de Londres." We may add to our former notice of this Company, that the Government having been indebted to them to a very large amount for swords furnished to the army; in order to liquidate this debt, these sword-manufacturers were induced to become most extensive purchasers of the lands vested in the Government by the Act of Resumption, their title having been secured to the Company. These lands they subsequently divided, and sold at a high profit.

The Register gives an instance of the strict discipline of the Consistory. The delicate health of an infant obliged its parents to request the clergyman to baptise the child at home. This, however, could not be done without the sanction of the elders -- the question was laid before them; and "la compagnic ayant deliberé " it was adjudged that from the urgency of the case, the demand should be conceded, without detracting from the character of their church, "ny prejudicie a nostre discipline." In 1699, the Earl of Galway, from tender regard to his favoured colonists, becomes sponsor to the child of "Jean Grosvener, cornette de Dragons dans le Regiment d'Essex, et d'Anne De Daillon son espouse." The infant was presented at baptism by Jean Nicolas, Lieutenant in Lord Galway's regiment of cavalry, "envoyé exprès de son excellence my lord Conte de Galuuai, Lt general des forces de Sa Maiesté dans ce Royaume." In 1704, "Thomas Carter, ecuyer, et miledy Izabelle, contesse de Roscommon, femme du dit Sr Carter" assume the office of sponsors, for the son of "Marc Vulson, ecuycr, Sr de St Maurice." About the same date, a gallant refugee wins the hand of one of Erin's fair daughters. And early in the 18th century, a French officer from Saintonge, allies himself with the daughter of an Irish Earl, and an Irish Viscount weds the sister of a gallant Captain thus approving the aristocracy of the Huguenots of Portarlington, and countersigning "les lettres de noblesse," certified "pardevant nous Henry d'Aguessau, Chevalier, Consr, du Roy," &c., &c., in a valued document of a past century, now before us, an interesting relic of the Penates of the old Chateau, snatched in a hurried moment from the ruthless grasp of the dragonade, to to be opened, perhaps, for the first time, in the adopted land of its exiled owner.

The social system of Portarlington, when French life was in its climax, was justly considered a subject of interest. Many of its inhabitants were men of ancient family; "Seigneurs" of broad manors, who preferred liberty of conscience to "houses and lands," and the rank attached to their seigneuries; gallant soldiers; men of liberal and Scriptural education; in short the genuine noblesse of France, who understood the beautiful sentiment of the American poet:--
"Howe'er it be, it seems to me,
 'Tis only noble to be good;
 Kind hearts are more than coronets,
 And simple faith than Norman blood."

Many of the names savour strongly of that renowned genealogical spring. We have the Hamons in Baccaville and Rouen in Normandy, reminding us of the great Hamon Dentatus, Earl of Corbeil, in that historic province. The two brothers, Colonels Isaac and Hector Hamon, were the descendants of Hector Hamon, who fled to England from the persecutions of the Duke of Alva, and is described in the Cotton MS. as French minister of Rye, "minister verbi Dei," in 1569, and minister of Canterbury, in 1574. The De Meschincs recall the family of Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester; and the descendants of the great ducal house, De la Rochefoucauld, "could trace their lineage unbroken from the time of the Carlovingian Kings."

To be continued...

[a] He had been minister of the Chapel De la Tremblade, in Crispin-street, London, and was married in that Church to Jeane Mestre, in 1701.

[b] Balagnier another minister at Portarlington, had previously, in 1689, the French church of Soho, London.

[c] The Princess was daughter of William Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg Anspach, and was married in 1705. Abbadie describes the Margrave, not only as a great conqueror, "mais un pieux Electeur á qui Dieu a fait la grace de connoitre la religion et de l'aimer." Hence the pious care his Royal daughter had for the Refugees.

The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 6, 1858.

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