Wednesday 18 January 2017

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 29



By some lapse of eye and memory, I overlooked in my list of Lord Mayors, which concluded the week before last, the names of three who, for many reasons, I should not have forgotten — Sir James Henderson, in 1898; Lord Shaftesbury, in 1907; and Sir Robert Anderson, in 1908-9. Sir James Henderson (he received the knighthood during his year of office) was a most energetic and popular Mayor. He had always been an active member of the Council, and he did not spare himself during his term of office. He was most hospitable, and in his hospitalities he was greatly assisted by his wife. Lady Henderson, who, happily, survives him. In common with many colleagues I have occasion to remember Sir James Henderson’s kindness, and many opportunities of observing his energetic labours in the Council and out of it to sustain, as he did worthily, the position of the high office.

Lord Shaftesbury’s occupancy of the Lord Mayoralty brought into connection with the municipal life of the city a nobleman who had great interest in it, and one of a rank not previously associated with the office. At the same time his lordship was cordially welcomed, and, as far as his engagements would admit, he devoted himself most assiduously to the duties of the office, and brought to them not only the dignity of his position, but the graciousness of a courteous personality.

Of Sir Robert Anderson, who held office for two years, no man, and least of all myself, could speak too highly. As a successful businessman, he had gained a high reputation even before he entered the City Council, and his prosperity and popularity have grown with his growth ever since. He entered the Council with the intention to work, and he has worked all along with a continuity, energy, and singleness of purpose which have won him general respect. The tramways were for years not alone his hobby, but his serious thought, and as chairman of the committee he was always to the front where work was to be done. During his Lord Mayoralty he continued chairman of the committee, and it was a committee that involved great time, labour, and thought; and while there may have been differences of opinion as to policy.

During his Lord Mayoralty he continued chairman of the committee, and it was a committee that involved great time, labour, and thought; and while there may have been differences of opinion as to policy, there was none as to Sir Robert’s anxiety to serve the public and the trust. No man could have been more regular or attentive to the duties as Lord Mayor than he; and I will add no man could have done more as an ex-Lord Mayor, for he has ever been at the side of his successors, and always ready to take the chair in the absence of the occupant.

His term of office was memorable for his hospitality, which consisted more of receptions than dinners, and gave the ladies of the city special opportunities for sharing in the official hospitalities of the Lord Mayoralty. Sir Robert was, and is, a staunch teetotaler, and in consonance with his principles refused to have wines at his table. Consistency in this, as in all his action in life, in Church and in State, in business and in private life, is a characteristic of Sir Robert. He is an ardent and earnest member of the Presbyterian Church, and deeply interested in all its work and in its welfare. But Sir Robert has not confined all his energies to Belfast, but displayed them in other quarters. He is a native of County Monaghan, and he has done great work in assisting and developing industry in the county of his nativity. Sir Robert received the honour of knighthood when he officiated as Sheriff, and received a baronetcy on the occasion of the visit of the King and Queen to Ireland some years ago. And he worthily bears his honours and his years.

But any reference to Sir Robert Anderson’s activities as Lord Mayor would be incomplete without a reference to Lady Anderson, a daughter of the manse, whose graceful kindness, courtesy, and thoughtfulness in connection with the departments of her husband’s duties that fell to her share were unceasing, and left behind them the most pleasant and gracious memories.

To return to my muttons, so far as the local election was concerned, it left Presbyterians with one representative and the Episcopalians with another, which was in consonance with a written or unwritten law. But if the Liberalism, the sound, true, and constitutional Liberalism of the time, failed to secure a seat in Parliament, it was more successful in other parts of Ulster, where the Belfast Conservative votes did not play such a part as they did in Down and Antrim. In the County Londonderry, Mr. Law and Sir Thos. M'Clure; in Monaghan, Messrs. Givan and Findlater were returned; in Tyrone, Mr. E. Litton (afterwards Judge) was returned; in Donegal, the Rev. Dr. Kinnear and Sir Thomas Lea were returned; in Armagh, Mr. J. N. Richardson was returned. In Dungannon, Mr. T. A. Dickson won by two votes; but was afterwards unseated on petition. But in the City of Londonderry, Mr. Lewis won, and Mr. Adam Hogg was defeated. In Coleraine, Mr. Daniel Taylor was defeated, and in Downpatrick, Mr. Frazer was defeated.

It would not be historically or politically accurate to suggest that the Liberals who succeeded at this election won exclusively on party lines as these were understood in England. The question of tenant-right then bulked large in Ulster politics,, and many farmers who on other phases might not have voted Liberal, threw in their lot with the Liberals. But it was not Liberalism alone that won the elections for the Liberals in Ulster. It was Presbyterianism, which bulked large and more successfully at this election than it had done before, and the majority at any rate of the majority at any rate of the leaders of Presbyterianism, clerical and lay, were Liberals. There were about a dozen candidates for Ulster seats, and while some of them went down a majority remained. Mr. Corry and Mr. C. E. Lewis were Presbyterians as well as Conservatives, and that, no doubt, was a strong factor in their poll.

As a result of the contests, the following Presbyterians were returned — Messrs. Corry, Lewis, Givan, Findlater, Dickson, Sir Thos. M‘Clure, and Rev. Dr. Kinnear. Messrs. Chas. Wilson and Samuel Black were the Liberal candidates for Antrim, and both Presbyterians, but they were defeated by Messrs. Chaine and Macnaughton. In Down Lord Arthur Hill and Lord Castlereagh defeated Mr. Jas. Sharman Crawford, but so close was the contest that he was only twenty behind Lord Castlereagh. And thereby hangs a tale, which I will refer to later. I recall these incidents as historical facts, and not to revive controversies that are dead and buried. But these controversies and differences, denominational and political, were factors of the day that could not be ignored. And the fact was the very small number of Presbyterian ministers who appeared on the platform in support of the Conservative candidates. So far as this district is concerned, I can only recall the names of three — the Rev. Dr. Gray, the Rev. Hugh Hanna, and the Rev. W. G. M'Cullough. The Rev. John Macnaughtan, Rev. Archibald Robinson, Broughshane; the Rev. Robert Workman, the Rev. Jonathan Simpson, and many others appeared on the platform of the Liberal Presbyterians, And among the Presbyterian laymen the late Hon. Thos. Sinclair and Mr. W. D. Henderson took a prominent part. On glancing over the names in an old file among the ministers that I noticed taking part, the only one now living is the Rev. Robert Workman.

It was during this election that Mr. E. S. Finnigan, the Conservative election agent, brought off his great coup, or, rather, great-trick, in the matter of the secrecy of the ballot. It was a daring election venture, which ended in an election petition against Lord Castlereagh (afterwards Lord Londonderry), in whose interests it was issued. Mr. Finnigan’s shrewd and far-seeing idea was that if he could create an impression that the ballot was not secret the farmers, at any rate in the districts over which the Londonderry estate extended, would be afraid to vote against the young scion of the noble house. It was well arranged and well engineered. The late Mr. Jas. Jenkins, rent agent, was a friend and neighbour of Mr. Finnigan, but a strong Liberal. Mr. Finnigan asked him to attend in his room in Lombard Street at a certain time to show him that the secrecy of the ballot could be revealed, and suggested that he should invite me to see the exposition. In my simplicity I went, only to find Mr. Lilburn, the Editor of the “News-Letter,” among others there, which suggested to me at once that, whether the ballot was secret or not, this investigation was not to be secret. Mr. Finnigan went through his manipulation, which only brought out what we all knew, that, as the ballot paper contained the number of the voter on the registry, an individual vote could be discovered on a scrutiny; but it did not make clear that it could be discovered otherwise. On the contrary, it made clear to my mind the very opposite. After Mr. Finnigan had manipulated his papers with the skill of a conjurer, he asked each individual present if he had made good his claim that the secret of the ballot could be disclosed. He asked me, among others, and I said that he had on the same principle that if he could enter Robb’s or Anderson & M'Auley’s, get over the counter, seize a parcel of cloth, get past all the assistants in the shop and all the police they could call to their aid, he could succeed in stealing the cloth. The vote of no individual could be discovered at the counting, as was suggested, unless everyone in the booth, from the Sheriff’s representatives, the agents of both parties, and all the clerks at the counting, were in a conspiracy, and I questioned if even then it could be discovered. That was not expressing satisfaction with his success.

Fancy, then, my surprise on reading in the “News-Letter” the next morning that everyone present had admitted that Mr. Finnigan had made out his case, and this was done in a half column description. Copies of the paper containing that article were sent to all the electors, and, for my part, I have no doubt that it influenced the electors. But on a petition Baron Fitzgerald thought not, and so refused to unseat Lord Londonderry.

I was present in Downpatrick at the trial of the petition; and a wonderful trial it was. According to Mr. Finnigan’s friends, it was all the result of a mere accident that the matter got into the “News-Letter;” the fact that the Rev. S. D. Burnside happened to be in the rooms at the time (though he was seldom, out of them) and the incidental communication of the fact to him that the article appeared. We have had no revelation of the secrecy of the ballot since, and as Mr. Finnigan represented the matter, in my opinion it would be impossible to have any. But the incident and the article beyond a doubt did its work, and raised Mr. Finnigan’s prowess as an electioneering agent to the highest pitch, at which it remained till his death.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 19th January 1917.

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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