Wednesday 20 July 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 5



I have hitherto dealt with the religious life, and changes of the last fifty years so far as they were represented, by the character and the occupants of the leading pulpits. I propose this week to touch on changes, personal and statistical, in. the public and commercial life of the city. But before I part for the present from the religious aspect I may quote the religion's statistics as they appear in the census returns preceding each period. According to the census of 1861, the denominational statistics were as follows:-- Presbyterians, 42,229; Protestant Episcopalians (or Established Church, as they were described at that period), 29,839; Roman Catholics, 41,237; and Methodists, 4,929. In the last census the returns were:-- Presbyterians were 139,575, 33.7 of the entire population; the Protestant Episcopalians, 118,173, 30.5 of the population; the Roman Catholics, 93,243 24.1 of the population; and Methodists, 23,782, 6.2 of the population.

In 1866 the Parliamentary representatives of Belfast were Sir H. M'C. Cairns, afterwards Lord Cairns, and Mr. S. Gibson Getty, both, of course, Conservatives. The municipal Corporation was on the same political basis, and was a very exclusive body at the time. It was not only Conservative, but largely Presbyterian too, though its Mayor for 1866 was Mr. Mullan, a Methodist. And the Methodists had a good deal of say in its affairs, for Mr. Robert Lindsay, who was for many years a leader of the Corporation, was a Methodist. There was one Roman Catholic in the body at that time, Mr. John Hamill, a most genial and kindly gentleman of property, who, however, was looked upon with askance by many of his own co-religionists, because he was connected with the Corporation or supposed to have some sympathies with its members and policy.

On looking over and thinking over the Corporation of my earlier years in Belfast, I could not help being struck by the fact that a larger proportion of them represented big industrial enterprises in the city to a greater extent than the present members of the Corporation do. It may be that in those days the pressure of business was not so great as at present, and that these gentlemen could afford more time for municipal affairs than their compeers of the present day. It may be that in these democratic days electors now do not look with the same favour on the industrial or commercial capitalists as they did in those old days. Or it may be that tastes as well as customs and manners have changed, and that these men do not care to join in the hurly-burly of municipal life. But the fact remains. The names of Ewart, Matier, Carlisle, Lindsay, Coey, Taylor, Lytle, M'Causland, Duffin, Homer, Herdman, Lanyon, Oulton, Kinahan, Gaffikin, and Brown all suggest associations with large and important industrial and commercial undertakings. Two prominent members of the time, Mr. John Suffern and Mr. Sam Black, were solicitors, and the latter crowned his Corporate career by becoming Town Clerk and Solicitor, and as Sir Samuel Black.

Among those whom I knew personally, and who have representatives still among us, were Mr. Wm. Bell, Mr. John Lytle, Mr. Sam. M'Causland, Mr. Chas. Duffin, Wm. Mullan, Mr. Robert Lindsay, Mr. George Horner, Mr. Sam Browne, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Jas. Haslett, Mr. Alex. Crawford, Mr. R. Boag, Mr. Henry Matier, and Mr. Thos. Gaffikin. Mr. Jas. Guthrie fifty years ago was Town Clerk; Mr. Samuel Bruce, Town Solicitor; Dr. R. F. Dill, Borough Coroner; Mr. J. J. Montgomery, Town Surveyor; and Mr. Geo. Reilly, Superintendent of the Fire Brigade. Since those days the Corporation has now a palatial home, which it had not fifty years ago; and it controls an area nearly double the size, but it consists of sixty instead of forty members. There are more professional men in the Council now than in the olden time, and relatively fewer men connected with large undertakings, and they are a more mixed body, for they include eight Roman Catholics, whereas the old Corporation only contained one, and there is no likelihood that any of them will be suspected, as Mr. Hamill was, of coquetting with the other sections of the body when the interests of faith or class are concerned. Still, it would ill become me to say a disrespectful word of the present Corporation, for the majority work hard, and if they wrangle now and then I must conclude that it is all intended for the good of the city. And least of all could I, if I would, say a disrespectful word of its Lord Mayor, Sir Crawford M'Cullagh, who has won golden opinions from all sorts of men both in and out of the Council for the ability, energy, and impartiality with which he has presided over the civic affairs, and especially for the noble and patriotic part he has played since the war added to his anxieties and responsibilities. With Mr. Meyer as Town Clerk, Mr. John M'Cormick as City Solicitor, Mr. Moneypenny as City Chamberlain, and Mr. Geale as City Accountant, the work of the Council goes on with great smoothness, and with as little grumbling, or cause of grumbling, as could be expected in the work of a public body.

Then there was the Harbour Board, that then, as now, prided itself on its occupying a higher election than the Council, in part possibly because its franchise is higher and its duties of a more purely business character. In 1886 Sir James Hamilton, a man of most refined culture, was chairman, and the Board consisted of fourteen members, the cream of the commercial life of the city. Their names will be a guarantee of their position. They were -- Robert Patterson, James Girdwood, Robert Corry, John Lytle, Jas. Macaulay, Sir E. Coey, James Carlisle, Charles Duffin, Wm. Mullan, Wm. Valentine, Robert Boyd, S. M'Causland, and Lord Pirrie. Mr. Wm. Thompson was the then secretary, and the names of O'Connell Shaw, H. J. Hill, and David Moore figure in the list of clerks, and are all at present alive and well, enjoying well-earned pensions. Mr. W. Redfern Kelly, C.E. and J.P., was in the service of the Commissioners at that time on its engineering side, and he, too, has had a long and honourable day in the service of the Commissioners, and is in the enjoyment of a well-earned pension.

The Water Board was not so aristocratic or select, but it contained the names of two men who made history – Joseph G. Biggar and John Rea.

While I am looking up old names of a century ago, I notice, and must refer to the professors of the colleges of those days of great men. Of the old Queen's College Rev. Dr. P. Shouldan Henry was President, the staff included men of special eminence – MacDoual, Andrews, Nesbitt, Purser, Everett, Wyville Thompson, and James Thompson. In the Assembly's College the Rev. Dr. Cooke was President of Faculty, and the professors were Killen (afterwards President), Porter (afterwards President of Queen's College), Murphy, Wallace, Glasgow – few, but select. Of the Methodist College, which had just been started, Mr. Wm. Arthur was Principal, Dr. Robinson Scott was Vice-Principal, and Dr. Crooks headmaster.

Of newspapers in 1866, we had the "News-Letter" and "Whig," daily, with weekly editions; the "Banner of Ulster," "Morning News," and "Ulster Observer,", tri-weekly; with the "Weekly Press," the "Ulster General Advertiser,' and the "Mercantile Journal." We have now more pacers, and larger papers and more news; but in many ways the papers of that time did the work, and did it well. We have no "Mercantile Journal" and "Ulster Advertiser" now but we have a "Linen Trade Circular" that serves a good trade purpose. In addition, we have the "Irish News" and a weekly issue, the "Evening Telegraph" and a weekly issue, "The Witness," the "Christian Advocate," the "Ulster Guardian," and the "Irish Churchman," and two trade papers in the grocery interest, the "Irish Grocer" and the "Irish Grocery World." No doubt the papers have much greater circulation now than they had then, and are larger sheets; but there was a compactness and terseness about the news and comments in the olden days that were quite satisfying. It is true that to-day we have columns each day of what takes place in London or New York, from Parliament to the Divorce Court, from New York to San Francisco; or even from the Antipodes, instead of a few lines. But I sometimes think we would do just as well with the few lines. Yet with all we get we are like Oliver Twist, asking for more. I must in justice to our daily papers, both morning and evening, say that I do not think there is a city in the kingdom, having regard to its location and population, that is better served in the matter of newspapers than Belfast is. I have often been surprised on returning from visits to London, and looking back over files of the local papers, to find how complete and up to the last hour was the information provided to Belfast readers. They were kept as much abreast of the news and the times as the people in London.

As an indication of the growth of Belfast, I may mention that in 1866, according to the returns, Belfast contained 25,493 houses, with a population of 143,299; while, according to the latest return now, the number of houses is 83,700 (a large number of houses were pulled down in West Belfast last year), and the population returned at 339,000 odd. But I may say that the returns of the year made it as high as 403,000 odd, and the present difference is accounted for by the number of our brave young citizens estimated to be at the front. In 1866 the return of vessels arriving at the port was 7,422, with a tonnage of 1,372,326, with a surplus revenue of £15,498. The coal imports of that date were 600,732 tons; the imports of deal 6,155 (hundreds), and of timber 23,760 loads. According to the last report, the total vessels cleared was 9,037 – it must be remembered, however, that steam has taken the place of sailing ships, and represents larger cargoes – and the registered tonnage 3,288,605. The coal imports represented 1,320,778 tons, and the exports 14,756 tons; deals, 58,035 loads, and timber, 14,345 loads, with wrought timber 1,101 loads – with 3,200 loads of timber and 4£6 loads of wrought timber exported. The surplus revenue of the port was £32,088 2s 4d.

In the matter of linen in 1866 the number of mills and factories in town was forty-four, and the total now is fifty-two. In the former year the number of spindles was 462,484, and in this year it is 588,582. The number of looms in 1866 was about 6,000, and this year it is 17,164. In 1866 the price of flax averaged 11s 6d per stone, and now it is 22s. It should be remembered, however, that there was an inflation of price on account of the boom in trade after the American war, and that there is now an inflation on account of the present war.

And last we come to our local banks, that have ben such important factors in the prosperity of the community and in the prosperity of their shareholders. We find that the note issue of the local banks in 1866 was £1,633,000, while in the present year it is, according to the last returns, £5,181,283.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 21st July 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.

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