INVENTOR AND PIONEER
by HAROLD GIBSON
On the 4th November, 1884 Mary Ferguson presented her
husband James with a son, Henry George. The family home,
Lake House at Growell near Dromore is where the young boy
grew up with his 3 sisters and 7 brothers. His father was a
farmer and unlike many farmers of his day he owned the 100
acres that he earned his living from and provided work and
food for the family.
James and Mary Ferguson were devout religious people
being members of Growell Gospel Hall. Family life was
characterised by allegiance
to the Bible and so young Harry (as he was called) grew up
under this influence. It was an influence that was to have
the opposite effect to that which his parents would have
desired. Harry left school at the age of 14 and started work
on the farm. The hard work of farming and the light stature
of Harry together with the pressures being brought to bear
on him by his parents made him think of leaving home. He
seriously considered emigrating to Canada and had the
necessary papers in his possession ready to head for foreign
shores when his older brother Joe made him an offer of a job
Joe had got an apprenticeship as a maintenance mechanic
with the firm of Combe Barbour, Linen Spinners, in 1895. He
then set up in business on his own in the Autumn of 1901 on
the Shankill Road as a car and cycle repair shop. Harry
joined his brother as an apprentice and together with their
love of things mechanical they established what was
described by many as the best business of it's kind in
Belfast and they developed into a financially sound
business. Just a few years earlier the bank had refused to
lend them any money because "the automotive industry had no
people came to Joe's garage to have their cars tuned and
serviced and it was here that Harry met some people who
would have an input to his life at a later date. One such
person was T. McGregor Greer, a wealthy landowner from
Tullylagen, Co. Tyrone. Greer had a passion for cars and
Harry became a frequent visitor to the estate to repair his
Harry had a love for racing and he became known as the
"mad mechanic" because of the many stunts he attempted.
Racing was not enough to keep him on the ground and he
became interested in aviation. He attempted many times to
get airborne and spent some time at Newcastle trying to get
in the air with the hopes of landing on the beach. Huge
crowds gathered on many occasions but they all ended in
failure and for many people he became something of a
maverick. Plaque on Harry Ferguson's birch place (G.M.)
However, Harry did not give up and he successfully
Harry Ferguson with Henry Ford and the tractor in America
in 1939. (courtesy of Ulster Folk and Transport Museum). got
airborne from Dundrum Bay. This was in 1909 and the first
flight over Ireland to be recorded.
Back at the business however signs of strain between the
brothers were starting to emerge. It was not over any
particular piece of
mechanical engineering but rather over a special young lady
whom Harry had started to keep company with and it being the
same lady upon whom Joe also had designs that caused the
friction. She was Maureen Watson, the daughter of a Dromore
grocer and it was Harry who won the day. Despite strong
objections from Maureen's parents who were members of the
Brethren as well and knew the Ferguson family they felt that
the "mad mechanic" was not the man for their daughter. Harry
had by this time declared himself to be agnostic and this
was a further reason as to why Harry should not marry
Maureen. The wedding nevertheless did take place at Newry
Harry then set up in business backed by his good friend
McGregor Greer and he opened the May Street Motor Co in
Joe would not allow him to open up under the name of
Ferguson. Within a year the name of the firm was known as
Harry Ferguson Motors. He became the distributor for Austin
Cars in Northern Ireland and the business later moved to
Donegall Square East in Belfast, at the side of the City
Being from an agricultural background and with his
mechanical ability Harry had taken an interest in the many
attempts to bring mechanisation to farming. He studied the
many pieces of machinery that were emerging from various
manufacturers and whilst regarding them as innovative he
felt that they lacked a system that would make the tractor
more effective and labour saving to the farming community.
He had an idea to introduce a hydraulic system that would
enable implements to be attached to the tractor from a
single hitch point. Harry brought together a design team to
put his ideas onto paper and eventually into production. At
the same time Henry Ford was making tractors in America.
Harry felt that they could conquer the industry together and
after contacting Ford he eventually visited America to show
Ford his ideas and plans. Ford and Ferguson went into
partnership in 1938 by the way of a "gentleman's fitted
agreement" and soon production of the Fordson tractor with
the Ferguson hydraulic system was rolling off the line and
being sold on both sides of the Atlantic. Ferguson realised
that if the tractor was to be successful then its virtues
had to be shown to the farming community at large. He had a
flair for marketing and so he organised various
demonstrations around the Ulster countryside so that farmers
could come and see for themselves the wonders of this
mechanised horse! Many carne to laugh and to pour scorn on
Harry but he was not put off as he continued to give shows
all over the country Harry Ferguson knew that what he had
developed would prove to be a winner all over the
Trouble lay ahead for Ferguson and Ford and soon their
partnership was to come to an end not in an agreeable way
but by the means of the Law Courts. A dispute arose between
the two men that resulted in the longest law suit in history
to take place. The hearing lasted from 1948 until 1956 and
Harry Ferguson won the case and was awarded several million
pounds in damages.
Ferguson of course was a wealthy man before this case but
now he was considerably wealthier though his outlet for the
tractor was gone. After some time he became involved with
the Massey Engineering Company and this eventually led to
the formation of the Massey Ferguson Company, a name that is
well remembered to this day for its production of red
Time for Harry Ferguson was passing on and he and his
wife bought a large estate near Coventry called Abbotswood.
It was near to his design centre though the house had a
large study which Ferguson used as a base to work from.
Often as he would be driven through the countryside he would
watch out for one of his tractors at work in the fields. He
would ask his chauffeur to pull up and he would often get
out and speak to the farmer or help him if he was
experiencing any mechanical difficulties with the machine.
In most cases the farmer would have had no idea who this man
was that had helped him.
When he was back in Ulster he usually called with the
late Joe Martin who lived in Mount Street, Dromore and who
had been one of his close mechanical companions during those
early days of aviation and in the garage in Belfast.
Ferguson's influence was far and wide and while he had
friends from lowly places he had friends in high places. A
frequent visitor to Abbotswood was Christopher Soames son in
law of Winston Churchill. Ferguson had the privilege of
demonstrating the tractor to Winston and he sought to get
Churchill to adopt a price reduction policy after the war to
get the country going again. Churchill did not buy the idea
and of course he lost the next election. Had he taken
Ferguson's idea on board things may have proved different
and a Dromore man may have been credited with keeping
Churchill in power.
He was not an easy man to work for or to work with. Some
of the staff at Abbottswood will recall how he ran the place
with military precision. Meals would always be on time and
great attention to detail would be given. He liked to see an
even overhang of the sheets on the bed and his shoe laces
must always have an equal length of lace for tying! This was
just a development of the attention that he paid to all
areas of his life. He loved to see things neat and tidy. On
one occasion he had a meeting with his dealers and Ferguson
appeared on the rostrum looking somewhat scruffy and with
oily marks on his face. The audience started to talk amongst
themselves when Ferguson spoke loudly and said that if their
business premises looked scruffy and dirty people would not
pay any attention to them. He had proved his point and after
cleaning up he returned and gave his dealers an address on
He was always pleased to hear of new advances that his
tractor was making in different parts of the world and he
received many letters including some from Africa. In parts
of the world today the tractor is called the Fergie more
often than it is called tractor.
Harry Ferguson and his wife continued to live at their
country home. It was the first time that they could call
this place their home. So much time had been spent living in
America and in other places in England. He would often be
seen out on the fields working with the tractor. He spent a
lot of his time in correspondence to the Government, to the
press and to many others.
Every morning at precisely 8.30 he came down and joined
his wife at breakfast. One morning in October 1960, the
25th, he did not appear at the usual time and after the
alarm was raised a member of staff found his body in the
bath. Harry Ferguson was dead. Yet the memory of this great
man lives on. So many years earlier he knew that if man was
to survive he needed food and that meant cultivation of the
earth. His life was dedicated to pioneering a system that
would make this easier for the farmer and give to the world
an instrument that would help nations cultivate their land
and feed their people.
Harry Ferguson is a man that should be remembered for
time immemorial because his inventions and pioneering spirit
contribute so much to life today. The tractor, the aircraft
and the four wheel drive system that he developed are all
modes of transport that are taken for granted in this modern
mechanised age. Plaques on the building at Donegall Square
East, the Promenade at Newcastle and on the house at Growell
all pay tribute to Harry Ferguson, Inventor and Pioneer.
Dromore Co. Down
Stepping Stones near Dromore
|THE CITY OF
the hills of County Down,
On Ireland's northern shore.
There is a place of fair renown
It's the City of Dromore.
T'was there I found an early love
That touched an inmost core,
And caused my rambling steps to rove
Towards the City of Dromore.
`Neath the Viaduct a tryst we made
Beside a bluebell grove.
And on the river's bank we strayed
To tell our tale of love.
By the Avenue past Bishopscourt,
Which once a Palace bore,
We spied the gambolling lambs at sport
Near the City of Dromore.
We saw the wallflower wildly grow
On the crumbling Castle walls.
And watched the lazy Lagan flow
Where the Cathedral's shadow falls
On the old Cross our thoughts did dwell
Rare relic of days of yore.
And we listened to the vesper bell
In the City of Dromore.
We scaled the spiral Norman Mound
By the feet of ages worn
And viewed the landscape all around
To the distant peaks of Mourne.
As on the summit fringe we stood.
We pictured sights before
Of roofs of straw and swellings rude.
In the City of Dromore.
Those far off scenes I oft recall,
Their memory naught can sever.
Mid shade and shine whate'er befall
They haunt my visions ever.
Though circumstance caused us to part
And seas between us roar;
Still I left a portion of my heart
In the City of Dromore.
A Dromore-man (who wishes to remain
anonymous) was inspired to compose this poem,
having read in our last Journal of the lack of
any song about Dromore. Admittedly this could be
sung 'if there was an air to it.' Can anyone
suggest a pleasing traditional tune that would
MY LAGAN LOVE
BY SAM JOHNSTON
Hamilton M'Bride's Stitching Factory was built in Dromore on
the banks of the Lagan around 1900, it necessitated the
construction of a millrace to provide the power to propel
the machinery. A suitable head of water was required to give
a constant flow in the millrace and this was established by
placing a weir across the Lagan 1/2 mile upstream from the
factory. The resulting damming of the river gave a stretch
of water approximately 200 yards long and varying in depth
from three to seven feet. It also gave us the Lagan Lido; a
free gratis swimming pool for the use of generations to
What a great joy it is to reflect down the
years as myriad memories jostle each other in my mind, of
those apparently rain-free summers when we boys; and
latterly and insidiously the girls - for prudence dictated
that females should not encroach within a hundred yards of
this undressed male preserve on penalty of being branded a
"brazen hussy" - eventually indulged in mixed bathing. Eve
had arrived and fig-leaves were a must.
My first introduction to this aquatic
paradise was when, as a 5 year old, I was taken by my older
brother across fields, over ditches, through barbed-wire
fences - with the inevitable snagging of clothes on barbs -
till at last the panoramic vision of the promised land lay
before our eyes. The gentle cascade of water over the weir
all a-bubble of spume and froth, the groups of bathers at
their favourite bathing points along the river bank. The
little piles of clothing discarded in hurried abandon as
their owner's hastened to get into the swim; but the towels
carefully draped on rushes or bushes to dry in the sun.
Eventually we reached a part of the river
called "The Wee Pool" which because of it's shallowness; was
ideal for `L' or kindergarten beginners. As a five year old
I had neither bathing pants or modesty and to this day, some
sixty years on, I vividly recall being led by the hand of
big brother until the water reached my belly-button - which
is the Plimsoll Line for young bathers - and the fear that I
would be lifted clean off my feet by the buoyant water and
drowned, but for the reassurance of the hand on mine, The
tentative attempts, aborted at the last moment, to duck
entirely under the water. Until finally with clenched teeth,
a sharp intake of breath, eyes tightly closed, I submerged
and surfaced again gasping and spluttering, a baptised
Thus began an alliance with the Lagan which
provided the happiest hours of my young life. To-day at the
drop of a sleepy eyelid I can relive, like a replayed video,
the sights, sounds and sensations of life on the Lagan. The
bird song, particularly the Chiff-chaff, whose voice
repeated his name over and over again. The yellowhammer not
to be outdone sang unmistakably "A little bit of bread and
The swallows who, when we were in
mid-stream, seemed to be heading straight for our heads like
miniature spitfires at water level. The lazy, languid
wing-beat of the Heron which belied the speed of his
stabbing beak as he speared another fish. The flashing vivid
colours of the Kingfisher as he hurtled up stream and the
almost indiscernible speck high in the sky where the Skylark
rehearsed his repertoire of sun-sponsored songs.
There were the other winged marauders in the
shape of clegs that feasted on our bare bodies and burst in
a mess of blood when we managed to swat them. And the
Daddy-longlegs who looked so drab compared with his
colourful look-alike, the Dragonfly.
Overall was the continuous hum of flying
insects, interspersed with the castanets of the Grasshoppers
and the popping of whins as they ejected their seeds. While
the brousing cows would come inquisitively to the waters
edge, attracted by the splashing of our swimming, and nose
and tentatively nibble at our clothing strewn on the river
There were about six main bathing spots on
the river. Starting from the weir itself and much favoured
by mothers with paddling toddlers. The next, and my
favourite spot, was 100 yards up-stream called "The Gib"
where a huge submerged stone measuring about six feet by
four feet suggested a miniature Rock of Gibraltar - hence
the "Gib". Further along was the "Ash Tree", the deepest
part of the river where the elevated bank provided a natural
diving platform. Further along still was the "Policeman's
Pool" where according to legend a policeman was drowned.
Even on a sunny day there was always a sombre, brooding
menace hanging over the small, dark and deep pool. We
children gave it a wide berth as we hurried on to the "Wee
Island", which was a raised shelf of rock and silt splitting
the river into two channels of fast flowing water below
which Gudgeons cavorted in shimmering shoals, providing the
amateur angler with inexpensive sport using his best pin and
a grub from the river-bed as a lure. "The Wee Pool" was but
a stone's throw from here and "Brennan's Pool" and the
"Stepping Stones" marked the boundary of our aquatic
But it was not to last. The unthinkable
happened when the stitching factory no longer needed the
millrace for power, and farmers who owned land adjoining the
river complained about their fields being inundated with
flood water which could have been dispersed but for the weir
spoiling the drainage. . It was a disastrous day for
swimmers when the weir was breached in numerous places and
the river level sank several feet - even the submerged "Gib"
stone was now exposed - and our Lagan Lido was ruined and a
great play area devastated.
But it will forever remain in my memory in
all it's natural, pristine, condition when it was the love
of my young life and as years pass by it diminishes not and
distance lends enchantment. From time to time I have tried
my hand at composing poetry and lying on the river bank was
most conducive for this pastime. It was in such a setting
that I mused over John Masefield's "Sea Fever", the opening
lines of which read "I must down to the sea again. To the
lonely sea and the sky And all I want is a tall ship and a
star to sail her by."
I parodied it with the following, which
encapsulates the thoughts of.
I must down
to the "Gib" again,
To the lovely "Gib" and the
And all I want is a tall
With a clear and starry eye
And a sweet lip and a neat
And no teeth missing.
With two shapely legs, and
her own 'fegs',
And a fierce desire for
The blonde was fictional but my Lagan
reveries were real.
THE GREAT FORT
BY JIM HUTCHINSON
Our local mount has, in some circles, become
known as the mound.
However, instead of this more genteel and
probably more correct title I much prefer the use of the old
traditional name. That this is based on common, local usage
can be seen by the fact that the street leading to it from
the Market Square has always been known as Mount Street.
Learned sources tell us that our prominent
local landmark is in fact a Motte with an accompanying
Bailey - an Anglo-Norman defensive earthworks, built, it is
believed in the 13th Century. It is known that the native
Irish also constructed similar `raised' raths. In
considering the great number of raths still existing in the
vicinity it is not unlikely that the Normans used an
existing rath as the basis for their later fortification. In
any case, what we have today is one of the best preserved
examples of this type of Norman military earthworks existing
in the North of Ireland.
John DeCourcy's northwards thrust from
Dublin in 1177, in which with a force of 22 knights and some
300 foot soldiers, he carved out for himself a considerable
fiefdom in the Northeast of this country. This resulted in
the appearance of a great many Norman fortifica tions in
this area. Some 40 such mottes have been identified in Co.
Down with 70 being found in Co. Antrim.
use of the motte seems to have been an important factor in
the Norman's military strategy. One is depicted being
constructed at Hastings in the Bayeaux Tapestry. It would
have been relatively simple to construct during a campaign
and must have proved to have been a particularly effective
instrument in an alien environment, as here it is being
employed in Ireland a couple of centuries later. Their
purpose would appear to have been the provision of a secure
base for military operations. Somewhat similar to today's
fortified Police and Army posts throughout the province. In
many cases the simple motte was further developed into stone
built castles - as in the case of Greencastle in South Down.
This was presumably done to meet prevailing requirements.
Although few records exist of the Norman occupation of the
Mount, it has been calculated (based on the food supply
required for Dundrum castle) that a possible garrison of 2
knights, 11 foot soldiers, 12 servants and archers may have
been based in the fortification.
The Dromore Mount occupies a fine defensive
position, being situated on a ridge and within a bend in the
Lagan. It's height would have afforded commanding views of
the river crossings in the area. Overlooking Dromore on the
North East of the town the circular motte, which rises some
40 ft. above the encircling ditch, which not only encloses
the rectangular bailey but serves to separate the two, has a
curious narrow shoulder around it's circumference at about
two-thirds of it's height. The summit is surrounded by a low
bank, as is the much lower bailey. The fortification is
further protected on three of it's sides by an outer rampart
and ditch. However, in the case of the bailey, this does not
extend along it's Western side, where the ground falls
steeply away to the river. Further fortifications, which
were probably of timber, can only now be guessed at,
although it is thought that both motte and bailey were
originally linked by means of a swing bridge. Excavations
carried out in the 1950's suggested that original defences
on the top of the motte consisted of a wooden palisade. A
few years later a further excavation of the bailey produced
no sign of medieval occupation, but uncovered part of the
wall of a brick-built structure which was possibly 18th
A local belief exists that there is an
underground cave or tunnel linking the Mount with the old
castle in the town. J. F. Mulligan thought that in an old
description of the Mount, reference to a covered way 260
foot long, 7 foot wide and 9 foot deep leading from the
Lagan up to the Mount, may have given rise to this mistaken
belief. He was of the opinion that the covered way referred
to the deep and wide ditch at the South East side of the
site, leading to the river. The purpose of this ditch is a
matter for conjecture. It may have served to drain the
ditches surrounding the motte and bailey. But in that case
why was it covered? Like Mulligan, I have found no evidence
supporting the belief in a linking tunnel. The fact that the
dates of construction of both fortifications are centuries
apart and that they occupy opposite banks of the river some
distance apart makes the existence of such a tunnel somewhat
doubtful. J. F. Mulligan may be right. The covered way at
the Mount and the discoveries of a cave and tunnel at the
old castle may have linked themselves in people's minds when
in actuality they are linked only by the river Lagan.
A few centuries ago the Mount seems to have
been the focal point for various sports and pastimes for the
young people of the town at Easter time. The Dromore poet
Thomas Stott (1755 - 1829) added the following footnote to
his poem celebrating the Mount of Dromore.
"N.B. It has long been the annual custom for
the young folk around Dromore to assemble on Easter Monday,
and amuse themselves in various ways, on this celebrated
Mount, one of the completest specimens in the north of
Ireland." Indeed to the present day some of our older
inhabitants will address the following query to children at
Easter - "Are ye goin' up to the Mount to `trinnle' yer
In the more recent past the Mount would
appear to have served as the Town Park where it was possible
to promenade and take the air on Sundays or holidays. The
concrete bases can still be found on the outer ramparts
which once held metal summerseats.
Over the centuries the Mount has become
synonymous with Dromore. More so, perhaps, when the main
Belfast/Dublin road ran through the town and the northern
approach provided ample views of this local landmark.
It is a relic of our past of which we should
be rightly proud. Today it's outlines are still clearly
delineated, one wonders how much the absence of trees and
undergrowth from it's grassy slopes has contributed to the
retention of it's distinct outlines down the ages. . While
at present it's care is in the capable hands of the D.O.E. -
Historic Monuments and Buildings Branch, the continuing
maintenance of it's well-being is the duty of each and every
citizen of Dromore.
In years gone by it was known as "the great
fort" and it's existence may even be the reason for the name
of the town itself. Long may it's prominent and
unmistakeable slopes rise above our town!
Information for this article has been
drawn from the following sources:
A talk to the historical group by
An Archaeological Survey of County Down (HMSO 1966), `A
Ramble Through Dromore'- J. F. Mulligan,
`Songs of Deardra' - Thomas Stott,
and from a compilation of local history by Dromore High
MEMORIES OF OLD DROMORE
by WILL PATTERSON
(My wife and I went to see a former Dromore
lady, Miss Grace May Kerr who lives at Shimna Road,
Newcastle. She was born in Dromore and moved to Newcastle
with her mother, Mrs. Olive Bertha Kerr in 1934, where her
mother kept a boarding house. Grace worked for Newcastle
Council until she retired. The following article contains
the conversation that we had with her.)
Grace was born in Rose Cottage next to
Pantridge's coachworks on the Ballynahinch Road in 1905 and
was the daughter of Richard and Olive Bertha Kerr. Her
father was a cabinet maker and worked for Harland and Wolf.
He played football for Glentoran and had won a gold medal
along with some other awards. Her mother was a daughter of
David Johnston a building contractor. Her parents met at
Gillhall while on a visit to the Castle, where the Ghost of
Gillhall tragedy had taken place. (For a full account of
that incident see Vol. 1 of the journal.) Her father
unfortunately contracted an illness and he died early in
Her grandfather in his capacity as a builder
had worked on the Ulster Bank (Henry Hobart of Quilly being
the architect) and he was also responsible for mounting the
stocks outside the Town Hall in 1910. He also mounted the
Celtic Cross at Banbridge Road.
The Kerr's lived where Reid's newsagents is
in the square and ran a shop there which amongst other
things sold ice cream.
Grace recalls the army buying horses in the
square for use in the 1914-18 war and the square being
packed with horses.
After Richard died Mrs. Kerr bought the
Stag's Head public house in Church Street from a Mr. Stewart
and she changed the name to the Railway Hotel. The spirits
licence was given up in 1915. She kept boarders, usually
bank officials and Dr. J. C. Wilson stayed with them when he
first came to Dromore. Next door to them in Church Street a
Miss Jardine lived in the Temperance Hotel. Grace attended
the Church School where Mr. Loughery was headmaster and
afterwards went to Miss Dunn's Secretarial School in
Belfast. She played the organ in Banbridge Road Presbyterian
Church until they went to live in Newcastle in 1934.
Mrs. Kerr had three sisters, Margaret who
married James Ledgett who had a butchers shop beside Reid's
newsagents, they had a family of five daughters Queenie,
Elsie, Peggy, Dorothy and Josephine. Mrs. Kerr's other
sister Sophie was a V.A.D. nurse in the 1914-18 war. She
married an army chaplain. Maud, another sister went to live
Grace's grandfather was a founder member of
the Independant order of Rechabites, organised in Dromore in
1894. He was also a member of RAC No 70 Masonic Lodge. He
died in 1931 and was buried in Banbridge Road graveyard.
Grace Kerr is now 87 years of age and still
has a great memory. Her mother died in 1978 just a few
months before her 98th birthday
The Colvill Family in Dromore, Co. Down in
the Eighteenth Century
BY F. G. WATSON
The Colvill family was connected with
Dromore over a period of eighty years, but during that brief
span they exerted an influence over the local Presbyterian
congregation which was to affect its future and involve it
in the wider history of the Presbyterian Church in Ulster.
The first of the name at Dromore was;
REV. ALEXANDER COLVILL
Alexander Colvill was minister of the
Presbyterian congregation of Dromore in the County Down
(1700-1719). He was born in Scotland and obtained his M.A.
at Edinburgh in 1689. On the occasion of his marriage to
Christian Thompson in Edinburgh on the 4th August 1692 his
occupation was given as that of a schoolmaster. He was
ordained at Newtownards on 26th July, 1696 but removed to
the congregation in Dromore in 1700.
Colvill was a member of the Belfast Society,
a society which was formed about 1705 and comprised
Ministers and students who met to discuss, confer and debate
on matters of religion and operate in concert for the
purchase of books. The members came from various
Presbyteries and Belfast being central to their various
residences they met there and became known as the Belfast
Society. Colvill died prior to the major Synodical
controversy which involved that Society.
Mr. Colvill attended regularly the meetings
of the General Synod of Ulster, served on various committees
and was chosen Moderator on 23 June 1713 at Antrim. The
following year he opened the Synod at Belfast by preaching
on 1 Timothy 4:16, "Take heed to yourself and to your
teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both
yourself and your hearers." He died suddenly on 1st December
1719 in his pulpit at Dromore while conducting the service
and was buried the following day.
Alexander Colvill had, as far as is known
two children. His daughter Christian married John Bradner
who was recorded as a student of Divinity in Dromore in
1714; and his son Alexander who succeeded him at Dromore.
DR. ALEXANDER COLVILL (1699-1777)
Dr. Alexander Colvill was the son of the
Rev. Alexander Colvill above mentioned. Colvill graduated
M.A. at Edinburgh on 2nd March 1715 and was studying
medicine on the death of his father. The Dromore
congregation urged him to become their minister and he went
through a theological course at Edinburgh under William
Dunlop. He acted as tutor to the family of Major Hay of
Parbroath for a while and he signed the Westminster
Confession of Faith and was licenced by the Presbytery of
Cupar in Fife on 19th June 1722.
On being called to Dromore he applied in
1724 to the Presbytery of Armagh to ordain him as minister
of Dromore. The Presbytery refused on the grounds that he
had declined to renew his subscription and Colvill appealed
to the Sub-Synod and then to the General Synod. Fearing an
adverse decision at appeal he left for London, with the
consent of his session in December 1724 and was ordained by
ten non-subscribing Presbyterian ministers in the vestry of
Dr. Calamy's Church; Joshus Oldfield, the leader of the
London nonsubscribers, presiding.
He returned to his congregation in Dromore
and they applied to the Presbytery of Armagh to install him
as they now claimed that all difficulties in the way of his
ordination had been removed. The Presbytery rejected
outright the application and refused to receive him as a
member because Mr. Colvill, contrary to his promise of
subjection to the Presbytery, without their knowledge, or
consent or any certificate from them had withdrawn himself
from under their conduct, obtained ordination and on his
return exercised his ministry in Dromore a vacant
congregation under their inspection without their consent,
or appointment and without having produced his Certificates
before any of the Synods.
In June 1725, Colvill's appeal from the
sentence of the Synod of Armagh was prosecuted by Robert
Hamilton, John Beard, Adam Keatley, Jam. Ker and George
Woods commissioners who appeared for the majority of the
congregation and the minority were represented by Captain
John Magill and others who earnestly desired that Mr.
Colvill would not be settled in Dromore for it was against
their consciences to submit to his ministry.
The Commissioners were asked if they would
subject themselves to the judgement of Synod on this affair
and they answered in writing that they would do all they
could for the preservation of the peace order and just
authority of the Church but did not indicate that they would
accept the judgement. The Synod now decided to consider the
conduct of Mr. Colvill and the people of Dromore before it
entered into a discussion of the appeal. This decision was
minuted and read to Colvill and his commissioners who were
asked to attend on 22nd June, but on the appointed day
Colvill did not appear and his commissioners requested a
dismiss from the General Synod. This request was refused,
and in the absence of his commissioners Colvill was
suspended until the first meeting of the Synod of Armagh in
October, and afterwards until he give satisfaction to the
Presbytery of Armagh for his irregular practices.
The Synod then agreed that Mr. Samuel Henry
should go to Dromore and preach in their Meeting House and
intimate the sentence of Mr. Colvill's suspension to that
congregation, and if the major party refused to give him
access to their meeting house, (which was to prove the case)
he was to preach to the minor party. Mr. Henry was to convey
the sentence of suspension to Colvill and a letter was to be
written to the people of Dromore to exhort them to their
Colvill's rebellion was virtually complete;
he continued to preach to his congregation disregarding the
sentence of the Synod and applied to the ministers in Dublin
to receive him into their Association and to install him. A
deputation of three ministers, Choppin of Dublin, McGachy of
Athy, and Woods of Summerhill, together with Smyth from the
Munster presbytery journeyed North and installed Dr. Colvill
as the minister on 25th October 1725. The congregation
became a non-subscribing congregation but continued to use
old Meeting House until a new one was erected near the Pound
at the head of Meeting Street then called Pound Street.
Colvill became a member of the Presbytery of Antrim and
represented them in consultations with the General Synod.
Colvill's first publication was the funeral
sermon preached at Downpatrick, March 24, 1744 for the late
Mr. Thomas Nevin a gentleman who featured to an even greater
extent in the Non-subscription controversy. His other
publications were (1) The Persecuting, Disloyal, and Absurd
Tenets of those who affect to call themselves Seceders laid
open and refuted, in a letter addressed to the People under
the care of the Presbytery of Antrim. Belfast, 1749, (2)
Some important Queries humbly and earnestly recommended to
the serious consideration of the Protestant Dissenters in
the North of Ireland belonging to the Synodical Association,
At the outbreak of the rebellion in 1745
Colvill obtained from Lord Chesterfield a commission for
raising a Volunteer Corps of which he was Captain with other
officers Lt. Wm. Hall and Ensign Richard Foule.
An indication of Alexander Colvill's
property interests is obtained from an examination of the
Registry of Deeds. A deed of lease dated 10 November 1749
between Colvill and Francis McClelland of Ballynafoy records
a letting of 32 acres 3 roods for a term of 2000 years at a
clear yearly rent of �9.16.10 stirling. A mortgage deed
dated 23rd December 1749 records the sale to William Colvill
of the City of Dublin Gent of the upper quarter of the
townland of Ballynafoy, containing 132 acres 1 rood for a
term of 500 years at a consideration of �315 stirling.
From Colvill's funeral service preached by
the Rev. James Bryson, of Lisburn we obtain a cameo sketch
and estimation of his character.
"It is well known that he early applied
himself to the study of polite and useful learning, and
his profiting was quickly known to all. And, to say
nothing of the improvements which he made of a liberal
education, by much reading, and an extensive
acquaintance with men of all ranks and professions; the
very greatness of his own spirit, which seemed to render
him almost independent of those helps and that severe
application by which other men arrive at knowledge,
would have rendered him the admiration of the
discerning, and the delight of his friends. It is but
strict justice to the memory of so great a man to
declare, that in strength, boldness and energy of
thought, in a rich, clear and comprehensive
understanding; and in all the qualities of accuracy in
reasoning, readiness of speech, uninterrupted presence
of mind and masterly command of his talents, to which
these gave birth, he has been but rarely equalled among
the sons of men.
His moral temper was strongly marked
with the most honourable characters of generosity,
sincerity, plain dealing, and integrity. To these he
added a fortitude fit to brave the greatest dangers, a
constancy not to be subdued by the most unrelenting
opposition, and an openness of heart and freedom of
speech, through which his whole soul might be perceived
at once, on every subject that he thought important. The
fear of man never awed him into silence. The hope of
being patronized, never betrayed him into the meanness
of adulation. His piety was the result of the justest
and most worthy sentiments of almighty God; and, like
them, was equally removed from the irrational fervors of
enthusiasm and the gloomy horrors of superstition.
He loved mankind, and of course he was
fond of the society of men: and few have ever combined
the talents of pleasing and improving, in a higher
degree. He gave life to reasoning, and force to wit.
While the strongest imagination and a memory which knew
not what it was to fail or to betray, enchanted and
delighted; so sound an understanding, so correct a
judgement of men and things, could not miss to supply
instruction on every subject. He was a stedfast and
unshaken friend of civil and religious liberty. His
conduct during that most illiberal of all rebellions in
the year 1745, is a proof of the former: and as to the
latter, it is sufficient to say, that he was from the
beginning a fellow-labourer with the immortal Abernethy,
Halliday, Bruce, Kirkpatrick, etc. in defence of the
religious rights of men and christians. Few men
understood this subject better, or were capable of
defending it in a more masterly manner.
As to his public character among you;
his extensive knowledge of the great principles of
natural religion, and his intimate acquaintance with the
scriptures, qualified him to discharge his duty in a
very useful and honourable manner. In devotion, he was
rational, solemn and affecting. In preaching, which he
always performed without the aid of papers in the
pulpit, he was clear, distinct, and instructive: he
delivered himself with dignity and ease; and displayed
an astonishing flow of ready, unaffected eloquence,
remote alike from the swellings of pomp, and the
meanness of familiarity. In expounding the scriptures,
he possessed talents which all must envy, but few
indeed, need hope to equal. In sum. Doctor Colvill was
distinguished through his whole life by a generous
contempt of the world, a frank and open heart, a liberal
turn of thought, a remarkable command of temper, an
active desire to do good, strong social affections, an
undaunted courage, and perfect prefence of mind."
Alexander Colvill died of apoplexy on 23rd
April 1777 in his 78th year and his will dated 3rd October
1772 refers to a son and five daughters. The daughters were
married to: Mr. Isaac Moreland of Tullindony, Mr. William
Blackwell of Belfast a cabinet maker, Mr. Dickson of
Dromore, Rev. Isaac Patrick, Minister of Magherally, and Mr.
Henry Munroe of Tullylish. The latter was the father of the
celebrated beauty Dorothea Munroe referred to by Oliver
Goldsmith in the Haunch of Venison, and whose portraits by
Angelica Kauffman are in the National Gallery, Dublin. A son
Alexander Colvill is recorded as a witness in deeds of lease
by his father in 1749 but little else is known about him.
Colvill's other son Maturine did not long survive him.
LIEUTENANT MATURINE COLVILL
Maturine Colvill, a son of the above - Dr. Alexander Colvill,
had emigrated to America, n 1762/3 and disembarked at
Charlestown South Carolina. He later acquired plantations
and negro slaves in Bladen County, North Carolina and was
killed in September 1781 during the American War of
Independence. The Tories of Bladen County had been active
against the Whigs and Hector McNeill who commanded the
Tories was killed at Lindleys Mill on Cane Creek. On his
death a commission was sent to Maturine Colvill to take
command of the Loyalists in Bladen County, which he
accepted. His command was brief as the Dickson letters
record "Some of the leading men of the Whig Party in that
county and Mr. Colvill having formerly been obnoxious to
each other occasioned by some dispute among themselves, and
they dreading his courage and intrepidity and the
impetuosity of his temper, which some of them very well knew
would be fatal to some, as soon as he came to lad his
troops, it was so contrived that he was soon taken off by a
party who slew him in his own house the morning of the same
day in which he was to have headed his loyal troops."
Following Maturine Colvill's death, the
quest for the Colvill estate took Patrick Neil, and Joseph
Dickson from Dromore to North Carolina. Possession of one of
the plantations and some of the slaves was obtained by a Mr.
Patrick and his plantation, which rented out in 1786 and the
negroes hired for wages produced a combined annual income of
one hundred and thirty pounds.
This account of the Colvill's is restricted
to the Dromore branch of that family, but the author would
welcome any information on their connection with the family
of Sir Robert Colvill of Newtownards and William Colvill of
Narrative of the proceedings of Seven
General Synods of the Northern Presbyterians in Ireland by
Ministers of the Presbytery of Antrim.
Manuscript "Sketches of the History of Presbyterians in
Ireland" by William Campbell D.D. of Clonmel 1803.
Historical & Literary Memorials of Presbyterianism in
Ireland by Thomas Witherow 2nd series 1880.
A Ramble Through Dromore. John F. Mulligan 1886. Scottish
Record Office Document Ref RD4/115,CC8/8/101 Records of The
General Synod of Ulster from 1691 to 1820 Belfast 1890.
A Sermon occasioned on the Death of the late Reverend Mr.
Thomas Nevin preached at Downpatrick the twenty fourth of
March 1744 by Alexander Colvill A.M. & M.D. Sermons on
Several Important Subjects by James Bryson, A.M.
Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Volume V Volume VI, Second
Series. Dictionary of National Biography.
Belfast Newsletter index to Birth, Marriage and Death
Entries, Linenhall Library.
A list of officers in the Several Regiments and Independent
Troops of Companies of Militia in Ireland Taken from the
books in the secretaries offices Dublin M.DCC.LXI.
The Dickson Letters compiled and edited by James O Carr Esq.
Register of Deeds 1730-1745 P.R. O.N.I.
Fasti of the Irish Presbyterian Church by Rev. James
McConnell Reid's History of the Presbyterian Church in
Ireland (Killen) 1867 A short History of First Dromore
Presbyterian Church 1660-1981.