The first of the family we have been able to trace is Henry Hamilton of
Gortaquigly, Raphoe, Co. Donegal, born about 1700. He was married twice.
There were three sons and two daughters by his first wife. It is not
clear, perhaps not possible, that Catherine Foster could have been his
wife, more likely she was the wife of Henry of Belaghan, his son.
The sons resided - Henry at Belaghan near Newtowncunningham, William at
Gortaquigly and Alexander at Trensalagh near Trentagh.
The daughters became - Alice, Mrs Hamilton of Castlederg, and Jane, Mrs
Kinkaid of Ballyholey.
By his second wife, Catherine Stewart, there were two sons and three
daughters: Andrew of Tullyowen, Matthew of Trentagh, Margaret (Mrs Foster
of Drumevis), Eliza (Mrs Mills of Balloughery) and Catherine (Mrs Mills of
Ballinacross); the last-named became the owner of Ballinacross and
bequeathed it to her daughter, Mary Mills, who became Mrs William Foster,
mother of Samuel Foster of Ballinacross and William J. of Derry, who
purchased the Bishop's Demesne after Disestablishment.
William Hamilton of Gortaquigly b. 1730 d. 1812 married as his first
wife Elizabeth Mills and there were five daughters, all noted for their
beauty and accomplishments - Mrs Dill, wife of Rev .....Dill, Mrs McCrea,
mother of Mrs James Graham of Derry and of Rev Wm McCrea of Ballindrait,
Mrs King, Mrs Crawford of Drumbarnett and Mrs Munn.
His second wife was Miss Henderson and there were two sons, William of
Coolaghy and Henry of Gortaquigly and one daughter, Eleanor. Henry died
1868 aged 85 years: he and Eleanor were unmarried.
[JVH NOTE: I have searched the Registry of Deeds records in Dublin in a
vain endeavour to discover more than RWH knew about the early history of
the family. I did find in Book 351, at page 339, No. 236677 an abstract of
an indented deed dated 11/1/1781, William Hamilton (1) Jane Henderson only
daughter of Joseph Henderson of the Topps, Co. Donegal (2) said Joseph
Henderson and his only son John (3). The effect of this deed was to grant
to Joseph and John as Marriage Settlement Trustees certain lands in
Gortaquigly which William held by lease from the Lord Bishop of Rapho
[sic]. The Settlement having been made on the marriage of William to his
A note in RVH's writing states:
"On 11/8/32 RWH made the following note at the Raphoe graveyard:
William Hamilton, Gortaquigly b. 1730 d. September 1812 age 82. Jane
Henderson Hamilton 2nd wife d. September 1834 age 82. Eleanor Hamilton d.
1858 age 63.
Henry Hamilton, Gortaquigly, d. 1868 age 85. William Hamilton, Coolaghy,
d. 1871 age 81. Jane Wilson, mother-in-law of Wm Hamilton d. 1879 age 90.
Jane Hamilton, wife of Wm Hamilton of Coolaghy, d. 1897 age 84, daughter
of Jane Wilson and Rev James Wilson of Corboy
Eliza Hamilton (1st wife Mills) d. 1779 Aug."]
William Hamilton of Coolaghy married Jane Wilson daughter of the Rev.
James Wilson of Corboy, Co. Longford. There were four sons and one
William, who died in Canada; Sir Henry who gained distinction as
principal medical officer in India and Egypt, K.C.B. etc. [JVH NOTE:
Crone's Dictionary of Irish Biography: "HAMILTON, Sir Henry, Surgeon
General; b. Coolaghey, Donegal, 1851; ed. Raphoe and Q.C.B; B.A. 1872; M.D.,
1875; entered I.M.S., 1876; took part in march to Kandahar, 1878; senior
M.O. Chitral Expedition, and principal M.O. China Expedition, 1900-1; C.B.,
1904; K.C.B.; d. Mentone 1932"]
James became a distinguished physician in London and died in July 1924.
Thomas, the farmer at Coolaghy died in 1929. Jane became wife of the Rev
Robert Smyth of Donaghmore, Co. Donegal and died in Portrush.
[JVH NOTE: According to A History of congregations in the Presbyterian
Church in Ireland 1610 - 1982, this Robert Smyth ministered in Donoughmore
[sic] 1865 - 1907, retiring at the latter date]
Thomas Hamilton of Coolaghy had three sons and two daughters: William,
who died young; Thomas James, who lives in Canada; Henry at Coolaghy;
Adelaide and Jane both died in 1929. Thomas Hamilton Senior married
Margaret Allen of Longford.
The mother of the above-named Jane (n�e
Wilson) was Jane Allen. The latter Jane was a sister of my maternal
grandmother Eleanor Allen who became Mrs Robert Wilson of Drumearn, St.
Jane Allen (who became wife of the Rev James Wilson) had two
daughters:- the above-mentioned Jane who became the wife of William
Hamilton; and Margaret who married Colonel Charles Scillery; Colonel
Scillery's son, C.J.C Scillery was the father of Mrs Sparrow, of Hillside,
In her closing years Mrs William Hamilton had her mother to live with
her at Coolaghy.
[RVH NOTES: Both RWH's grandmothers were Allens: Matthew Hamilton
married Mary Allen of Stranorlar; Robert Wilson married Eleanor Allen of
Henry Hamilton of Coolaghy died there, a bachelor, on 13 February 1961.
His brother James in Canada had predeceased him, leaving a son]
Matthew Hamilton of Trentagh (b. 1750 d. 1814), son of Henry of
Gortaquigly married Mary Allen. They had three sons and four
daughters:James who lived and died at Letterkenny, Andrew Allen (b. 1800
a very popular doctor in Londonderry, Henry Stewart of Trentagh, Co.
Donegal (my father), Isabella, Hannah (Mrs John Baird of Strabane and
Montreal), Catherine (Mrs Bonner, U.S.A.), and Margaret (Mrs Samuel Ewing
of Montreal). [JVH NOTE: He has forgotten Mary (Mrs Gault) - see page 24.]
Uncle Dr. Andrew Allen Hamilton married Mary Ann Ewing. They had a
family of three boys and six girls:- Matthew Allen who lived and died in
Baltimore (d. 1898); Samuel Ewing of Dublin; Andrew of Belfast; Annie;
Catherine (Mrs Hooper); Emily (Mrs Law); Charlotte (Mrs John Edwards);
Hannah and Harriet, who both lived in Kansas Avenue, Belfast.
Matthew Allen Hamilton of Baltimore married the widow of an officer
killed in the Civil War, Mrs Sarah Gee; they had two daughters and one
son:- Tempe (Mrs Blodgett), Sally Alexander and William Howard, a
Solicitor [sic] in Baltimore [RVH NOTE: William Howard died 2/11/1941] He
married Rosaline Page and had a daughter Elizabeth.
Samuel Ewing married Margaret Todd, daughter of William Todd of Orwell,
Dublin and Todd Burns & Co., Mary Street and Jervis Street, Dublin; they
had four sons:- Andrew, William, Allen and Bruce.
Allen married Gertrude Mary Izard of London. They had a daughter
Dorothy and a son Samuel Ewing "Pat". Allen died in London, where he had
built a beautiful residence, in 1906.
Of Uncle Andrew's daughters, three were married:- Charlotte became Mrs
John Edwards of Drumgowan, Burt, Co. Donegal; she had three daughters,
Mary, Maude and Charlotte and three boys, Robert, Hamilton and Stanley.
The other two daughters of Uncle Andrew had no families.
My father, Henry Stewart Hamilton of Trentagh (b. 1806 d. 1871) married
Jane Wilson, daughter of Robert Wilson of Drumearn, Carrickmore and his
wife Ellen (or Eleanor) Allen of Longford.
They had 14 children:
[JVH NOTE: there appear to be slight errors in the dates of birth, in
some instances, probably resulting from the date of baptism being confused
with the date of birth.]
Mary Jane (Mrs Samuel Foster) b. 27 Nov. 1831 d. 1 Mar. 1919
Henry Stewart b. 19 June 1834 d. 25 Aug. 1906
(married 29 September 1860 in 2nd Presbyterian Church, Strabane to
Harriett Georgina daughter of Robert Holmes of Strabane)
Eleanor (Mrs Wm Porter, Raphoe) b. 21 Jan. 1836 d. early 1860's
(married in Monreagh Presbyterian Church 23 August 1860)
Matthew b. 15 Oct. 1837 d. Mar. 1887
Robert Wilson (the 1 st) b. 25 Apr. 1839 d. July 1842
Andrew Allen b. 3 May 1841 d. Nov. 1875
John James b. 28 July 1842 d. ?
Samuel b. 10 Apr. 1844 d. Oct. 1886
Catherine (the 1st) b. 11.Jan. 1846 d. Jan. 1853
Margretta Elizabeth (wife of Dr McConaghy) b. 13 Apr. 1848 d. ?
Hannah b. 7 Mar. 1850 d. Feb. 1877
Robert Wilson (the writer) b. l July 1851 [d. 12 Oct. 1935]
William b. 30 Apr. 1854 d. ?
Catherine b. 16 Apr. 1855 d. 1929
[JVH NOTE: Harriett Georgina n6e Holmes was related to Lord Justice
(Hugh) Holmes, son of William Holmes of Dungannon.]
My father was a tall, handsome man, kind-hearted and cheerful and fond
of his children. He played the violin in the winter evenings. Between
playing the violin and playing draughts or cards with us younger people,
my mother meanwhile nearby plying her spinning wheel or knitting or
patching, the time passed very happily. Of course some would be reading,
some preparing school lessons, some looking at the beautiful pictures in
Goldsmith's Animated Nature, all cheerful and happy.
Porridge for supper before ten o'clock and family worship wound up the
sleepless hours. Father was a deeply religious man. I remember his keen
interest in the Revival of 1859, when "meetings" were being held many
miles around our home.
[RVH NOTE refers to a tradition that the Hamiltons left Scotland
because they would not sign the Covenant and were certainly Church of
Ireland down perhaps to the time of RWH's grand-father Matthew]
Father, with several members of the family - a car full - always
attended these meetings, held both on Sundays and week-days. I, though
young, was mostly with him, and the impressions then made, though somewhat
indefinite, I think, never wholly left me.
Father lived an upright life, and seemed to be always on friendly terms
with all our neighbours. He was a member of the Board of Guardians and
regularly attended its meetings at Strabane. In that day magistrates were
mostly either landlords or their agents - farmers were not eligible!
We Hamiltons, I think, had the name of being a proud family, and no
doubt we were a bit particular as to whom we associated with. When some
people in Derry or elsewhere became wealthy in business or otherwise, I
remember my father often, not in any offensive spirit, but rather as a
matter of fact, saying that "we are a much better family than they."
At the same time, while we were within ourselves an affectionate
family, there were generosity and tolerance and friendliness towards all
others - Roman Catholic as well as Protestant.
Neither my father nor any of the family had any sympathy with Orangeism
- it was looked upon as unworthy of intelligent Christian people.
Father must have been a man of considerable energy and ability, because
when he came into possession of Trentagh it was heavily encumbered with
debt, which he had to pay off.
I never knew definitely how he, the youngest of the brothers, came to
possess Trentagh, but I know that Uncle James, the eldest brother, was
addicted to drink, and probably the landlord compelled him, on account of
non-payment of rent and mismanagement, to give it up and transferred the
farm to my father. Of course, Uncle Andrew, who was educated as a doctor,
would probably be considered to have got his share in his profession.
It was the largest farm at that time in the Abercorn Estate, consisting
of upwards of 250 acres. [JVH NOTE: See Griffith's Valuation (1858) Parish
of Taughboyne, Townland of Treantagh, Union of Strabane: the entire
Townland containing 249 acres 3 roods and 38 perches was in the possession
of Henry S. Hamilton or his sub-tenants; included among the latter was
Andrew Donnell, who had the schoolhouse]. But a large portion of it
consisted of bog and heather, which father gradually reclaimed and drained
and saw it yield excellent crops.
Before his death, the financial embarrassment, notwithstanding the
rearing and educating of a large family - all provided for - had
In June 1857, father came into possession of property in Stranorlar for
which he paid the Incumbered Estates Court �500. This property belonged to
relatives named Allen. My grandmother was Mary Allen and at the death of
Andrew Allen of Stranorlar a grandfather clock and some other articles of
furniture came to Trentagh.
An old lease indicates that on 29th March 1770 this property passed
from John McCausland to James Allen at a rent of �12-16-0 Irish.
In 1841 Andrew Allen was owner and gave sub-leases to tenants, the last
being made in 1845.
In 1857, as already mentioned, father bought the property. He took it
subject to the above mentioned rent. [JVH NOTE: The Incumbered Estates
Court conveyance was dated 24th June 1857]
My father soon learned that there was a demand in Stranorlar for
labourers' cottages, and he built a terrace of ten or twelve houses which
were readily tenanted, and they, together with several small farms on the
property, yielded a considerable income. This property was disposed of
after mother's death. [JVH NOTE: These 11 cottages, in Pound Street, were
called Hamilton's Row.]
Mother was the daughter of Robert Wilson of Drumearn and Eleanor Allen
of Longford. They had four sons and three daughters. The sons were:-
Thomas, who married Margaret Lowry of Drumcrow and as a doctor went to
Melbourne, Australia; John George who went to Australia; James who went to
America; and William who lived and died (young) in Carrickmore, given to
him by his uncle Thomas Wilson, who was unmarried - he was a brother of my
grandfather and of the Rev. James Wilson of Corboy and there were three
unmarried sisters. William, mother's youngest brother, married Caroline
Lowry of Drumcrow. They had one son, Thomas and three daughters, Lizzie,
Jane and Caroline - Thomas married a Miss Allen of Longford. They had one
son, Willie and two unmarried daughters, Edith (a nurse in Huddersfield)
and Amy (Amelia Evangeline) who became Matron of the County Antrim
Infirmary, Lisburn. His wife died when Amy was 8. Later, Thomas married "a
Miss Mehaffy; he died in 1929, aged 74. [RVH NOTE: Amy Wilson died
28/11/1966. Her brother and sister predeceased her.]
The three daughters of Robert Wilson of Drumeam were:- Margaret (Mrs
Motherwell of Monglass); Jane (my mother); and Rebecca (Mrs Humphrey
Galbraith), mother of Maggie (Mrs Robert Wilson of Carrickmore, who died
17th July 1933 aged 87).
My mother was not tall or stout, but well built and proportioned,
healthy and full of energy. A beautiful face, purposeful and eager,
cheerful and kindly; she was possessed of rare practical qualities and
loving solicitude for her family. She had a most strenuous life, yet far
from any shadow of strain or fuss. I heard an old lady who usually paid us
a visit in the summertime say that mother "was the bee that made the honey
in Trentagh". She was very fond of flowers and encouraged me to look after
We had usually from 25 to 30 milk cows and three or four times a week,
sometimes oftener, a cart with a large churn full of buttermilk, a large
box filled with butter printed in half-pound lumps by mother, and dozens
of eggs was sent to Londonderry. The milkman and his horse did little else
but take this load regularly to the city; he had his customers in various
streets and had no difficulty any day in disposing of his precious load.
He brought back the groceries and other requirements of the household and
farm. [JVH NOTE: It is just about 10 miles from Trentagh to Derry]
There were immense flocks of poultry, ducks, geese and turkeys in the
farmyard, and mother saw that they were all fed and cared for. Moreover,
from home-grown wool she spun the yarn that made all the blankets, socks
and stockings and petticoats required. Every year, also, a large number of
cheeses were made. With one maidservant, mother attended thoroughly to all
these duties incidental to a large farm and a large family, and the idea
of drudgery never entered her mind or the minds of any who saw her daily.
Nothing was too good for her family, and while frugal and careful she
always seemed to get pleasure in providing the table with good things for
young and old. And when friends came there was always the generous welcome
She was married, I think, when she was 19, and had fourteen children,
never had toothache, and her hair remained black till she died at the age
of 86 years. She was very undemonstrative in her manner, and while she
read her Bible and other religious and devotional books and one could see
loved to do so, she never said much about personal religion - she lived it
all her life. But on her deathbed she gave us all great joy in a wonderful
ecstasy of experience God gave her. Although she had been suffering
considerably, she became utterly oblivious to this, and seemed to be in
the Divine presence, and in the presence of members of the family long
since gone, whom she named as if speaking to them - sitting up in the bed
and looking up. Her manifest joy and satisfaction in this wonderful Divine
rapture filled me with new joy and gratitude for many days.
A Princeton College friend - Howard Butler - a distinguished artist in
the U.S.A., writing about the death of Dr Paley Stewart, adds: "As an
artist, I find that the colours of the evening sky are the most
My sister Mary Jane, Mrs Samuel Foster, acted as a thoughtful and
loving mother to us youngest members of the family until her marriage, and
afterwards I regarded her home in Ballinacross as a sort of second home
all the days of her long life.
Henry Stewart [my brother] was regarded as a very capable and
successful businessman, a wholesale tea merchant in Londonderry, very fond
of horses and kept a good hunter all his life. [RVH NOTE: Henry Stewart
married a Miss Holmes. Lord Justice Holmes was closely related. Her
sisters kept a well-known ladies' school in Derry. The children we knew
best were Sam, who succeeded to the business and Harriett, who married 1st
a Mr McCorkell of Derry and later Herbert Burbidge. Sam died 27/12/1941;
his wife Nellie some months earlier.]
[JVH NOTE: Bartholomew Hebert McCorkell b. 1 Aug. 1852 educ. Fettes,
married at St Columb's Cathedral, Derry on 27/11/1894 Harriett Georgina
daughter of Henry S. Hamilton of Bayview House, Derry. The wedding guests
included the Rt Hon. Mr Justice Holmes (cousin of the bride). Mr B.H.
McCorkell died in Northampton on 27/11/1895 (a remarkable coincidence of
dates). Administration granted to the widow 22/4/1896, effects
�32476-5-11. As to the tea business, this eventually failed because it
could not stand up to Lipton's competition.]
Ellen was a very beautiful woman, very deeply religious and very loving.
She became Mrs William Porter of Raphoe, but died a year or two after her
Matthew was the farmer, helping father in the earlier days, and after
father's death managing it for mother. Fond of horses and an excellent
rider and trainer, he taught me to ride and manage horses. I think I was
his most devoted pupil. No member of the family was more affectionate. In
the closing years of father's life, owing to frequent attacks of asthma,
he was unable to go to the fairs and markets, so that Matthew had to do
most of the buying and selling in those years and afterwards.
Besides the milk cows and young stock, there were usually in the winter
about 100 cattle stall fed, and there were young horses to sell. This
meant that Matthew was much in the public, and as he was genial and
generous and popular, he made many friends. Unfortunately, in those days
the common way of expressing friendship in fairs and markets was by
treating one another in the public house. He became too fond of drink and
as always the day came when it mastered him. He would have the best
intentions leaving home in the morning and would promise mother to come
home early, but, alas, his will-power became feeble and the whole inner
Life in Trentagh became most uncomfortable for mother and Cassie
[Catherine] and eventually they were compelled to leave it and reside in
Londonderry. In a year or two poor Matthew died, Trentagh was sold and
thus ceased to belong to the Hamiltons. [JVH NOTE: RVH had a tale of
Matthew, in the d.t.'s parading round the farmyard flourishing a loaded
revolver and of RWH travelling all the way from Lisburn to disarm him. A
note in Cassie's handwriting states: "Trentagh sold to Mr. G. Hyndman for
fifteen hundred pounds on Saturday 26th November 1887. He got possession
of Trentagh on Tuesday 29th November 1887. Mother, the Fosters [presumably
Sam and wife] and I went up on the following Saturday to see about
removing our furniture. Saturday 3rd December our last visit to Trentagh.
Things finally settled with Mr Hyndman and him put in possession of house
by Mother - day cold, wet and stormy." [Matthew's drunkenness probably
influenced RWH's extreme views about intoxicating liquor.]
The first Robert Wilson died, I think, of croup, when only three years
Andrew Allen served his time to the drapery business, and subsequently
was a partner for several years in the firm of Hastings and Hamilton in
the Diamond, Londonderry, and afterwards entered into partnership with
Samuel as Hamilton Bros, in Shipquay Street. They carried on a very
successful business. Gortaquigly, the old home of the Hamiltons, came into
the market; he bought it, and in visiting it, often, in all weathers, he
contracted a cold culminating in lung trouble, from which he died when
still comparatively young. He was a decidedly religious man, taught in the
Great James Street Church Sunday School and helped in Church work and
every good cause. He was greatly beloved and greatly lamented.
John James, tall (6ft 2in.) and strong and handsome, studied medicine
for some years in Dublin, but not having completed his course, went off to
Australia. He was famous and popular at College as an athlete, probably to
the neglect of his studies, and dreading the final examinations, greatly
to the grief of father and the whole family, he abruptly left Dublin and
settled down in Australia, where he married. He acquired some property
still in the possession of his son Henry Stewart and daughter Mattie,
Snowview, Ournie, Australia.
Samuel, having served his time in Derry, was for some years a buyer in
Lindsay Bros, Belfast, and subsequently became a partner in Hamilton Bros,
Londonderry. He was more intellectual, perhaps, than any of my brothers,
possibly more of a dreamer or visionary than of the practical type, but a
very interesting conversationalist, genial, tall and good-looking. After
Andrew's death, he gave up business and bought a farm near Letterkenny,
thinking that it would be more favourable to his health, which was far
from good - after a few years he died there.
The first Catherine died when a child - at least seven years old.
Margretta became Mrs James McConaghy. Her husband Dr James McConaghy
was the son of our old minister in St. Johnston, Rev. Joseph McConaghy.
Dr. McConaghy practised in the Orkneys; he lived in Sanday for several
years. They had five children and as they grew up better educational
advantages became imperative and the Doctor bought a practice in London,
but only survived his advent there by a year or two.
[JVH NOTE: A note by RVH states "The family may later have had a pew in
St Johnston; but Lady Anderson says Henry S. Hamilton and his family
belonged to Monreagh. On the other hand, Mary Jane married Sam Foster in
St Johnston". Lady (Wilhelmina) Anderson, daughter of Rev Andrew Long of
Monreagh - he ministered there 1845-1869 - was the wife of Sir Robert
Anderson Bt of Anderson McAuley, Belfast (1837-1921). Whatever about all
that, Dr McConaghy (or McConaghey) was far from being a dutiful
son-in-law. I have in my possession a copy writ issued at his behest on
14th May 1886 in the Exchequer Division at Dublin against his
mother-in-law Jane Hamilton and his brother-in-law Matthew Hamilton
claiming �250 and interest on foot of two promissory notes dated
22/10/1884. The addresses of the respective parties are as follows: Jane,
Marlborough Terrace, Londonderry; Matthew, Trentagh; the Doctor, The
Poplars, Turnham Green, London. The writ was issued by A.M. Munn,
The McConaghy boys, as they grew up, went to Australia; the mother and
girls followed them, and after a few years she died in Melbourne. As a
young girl, Margretta was possessed of a beautiful appearance, mind and
spirit and I owe much to her early good influence. I remember specially
one experience: when I was living in Raphoe I came home frequently on
Saturdays for the week-end and on returning on Monday some of my sisters
would walk a mile or two with me. [JVH NOTE: This will have been at the
time when RWH was working for his brother-in-law William Porter in
Raphoe.] On one of these occasions, when going along about Brockagh, a
mile from Trentagh, Maggie [i.e. Margretta] was giving me some good
advice, pointing out especially that I had a very hot temper and urging me
to endeavour to control it. I never forgot that talk. It was not
lecturing, but affectionate, frank speaking to me in real sincerity and
did me much good - it did not keep the rising temper away, but enabled me
to see the duty of controlling it, and the advice was not, I believe,
altogether lost on me.
Hannah was taller than Maggie, less intellectual but very beautiful and
very loving. She was never physically robust and died comparatively young
- twenty-eight years.
In such a large family as ours there was a sort of natural dividing
into groups, and Maggie, Hannah and I formed a group, always together when
possible. What they did, I did - whether knitting or crocheting or washing
the tea things. They both played the piano, and Maggie especially was a
beautiful singer. She had been at school in Glasgow, and had learned a
number of Scotch songs which she encouraged me to sing with her. Moore's
songs, too, were great favourites. I still love these old songs better
than any others except the songs of Zion, which I dearly love.
William as a boy was full of fun and mischief - my superiority was
asserted at times by being able to hold him down in his frolics. He grew
up to be a tall, strong man. After some years in business with Henry in
Derry, he came to possess Gortaquigly after Andrew's death, but
subsequently went to Canada, where he bought a farm in Alberta. However,
the conditions of life and climate were so trying that he died in a year
Cassie, except for a few years at Miss Black's School in Holywood,
always lived with mother - in the early years in Trentagh and afterwards
in Londonderry - and was most faithful and loyal and loving to her all her
remaining days, and continued to live in Derry after mother's death.
She was vigorous and capable, possessed of an independent spirit - she
lived alone for years. She was very hospitable, always delighted to see
and entertain any of her family, and made many friends in Derry. She
belonged to First Derry congregation and took much pleasure in helping at
its various meetings.
For many years she had an internal growth which gave little trouble,
and which in those early days the doctors did not advise an operation for.
But when she was about seventy years of age she required to see a
specialist and had a serious operation. She was receiving treatment from
this doctor for several years. In October, 1928 her Derry doctor advised
her to see the specialist in Belfast at once. She came here on the 30th
and Amy Wilson and I took her down to Dr Lowry on the 31st. After
examination he told us we would not have her for three months. She
remained with me and without much pain her strength gradually ebbed away
and she died on 9th February 1929. This left me the last of my large
family and as I go to Derry from time to time I miss her very much. [JVH
NOTE: Cassie's full name was Catherine Bonner Hamilton; her paternal aunt
Catherine married Mr Bonner. They lived in California.]
Trentagh, where I was born and where my father was born and where my
grandfather lived for many years and died in 1814, was situated among
hills near the village of St. Johnston, Co. Donegal, and between seven and
eight miles from Londonderry. [JVH NOTE: Taylor & Skinner confirms the
distance, but in Irish miles; the Irish mile contains 2240 yards].
The views from some of the hills within the farm were very fine. In my
early poetic days in describing the scene, the following are the only
words I can now recall;
"A vale descended far and wide Into a lake, the landscape's pride."
The lake consisted in a wide bulge in the River Foyle for three or four
miles of its length, the bulge being about two miles wide opposite St.
The house, though old in my day, was regarded as a very fine one. It
contained three reception rooms, six bedrooms, besides servants'
apartments, an ample hall and lobby, a large kitchen, pantries and cellar.
The "school-room" in early days was used as such, but with an increasing
family, I being the twelfth, was in my time used chiefly as a bedroom. It
was on the ground floor, and had the great advantage, as we boys thought,
of a large window opening out on the back garden, where in season there
were lots of delicious pears and apples of such a quality as I have seldom
got anywhere since.
Often in the early mornings of summer or autumn, Willie and I, who
slept together in that room, would bring armfuls of these apples and pears
into our bed and have a good feast while others still slept. Small fruit,
too, in season was generously dealt with.
The ceiling of the kitchen was of black oak and studded almost
continuously with joints of corned beef, bacon and ham, all home produce.
Cattle and sheep and pigs were killed periodically for home use. In
summer, the frequent and favourite dish for dinner was fowl and ham. In
the autumn, the flock of geese was invaded and when Christmas drew near
turkeys were killed. Goose and turkey formed the Sunday dinner, the one
earlier and the other later, throughout the whole winter. And while the
Sunday dinner was very special and all well prepared for it, no-one stayed
at home from Church to look after it. The maid was almost always a Roman
Catholic and went to mass about 8 a.m., and was home in good time to do
the cooking. We seldom bought fresh meat or indeed meat of any kind in
those days - when the cattle or sheep or pigs were killed there was always
fresh meat for some time, and afterwards the farmyard came to the rescue,
dozens of ducks and scores of fowls were running about, and every year
from 20 to 30 geese and as many turkeys were reared, none being ever sold,
but relatives, especially in the town or city, were generously treated.
Mother, though frugal and careful, was never happier than when sending
some of the farmyard produce to some of the family or other friends in
Derry or elsewhere; father, too, was always generous.
While it may be inferred that our table was always well supplied, yet
there were few of what would be called luxuries or dainties in our day,
except at set times or on special occasions. Porridge, eggs, milk, butter,
home-made bread and lots of vegetables, together with the meat referred
to, constituted the normal diet.
One thing I have often complained of - the impossibility of getting in any
subsequent days a rice pudding as delicious as those that were on the
Trentagh dining table almost every Sunday. It was in a very large deep
cooking dish and was made of milk - not skim milk - probably a quarter
pound of butter, several eggs, together with a good supply of raisins and
currants and probably some spice. Its equal I have never come across in
the ever increasingly fastidious days that have followed. Of course it is
possible that the relish was keen in those early days, or that one has
some impulsion like David's longing for water from the well of Bethlehem.
(But I should scarcely admit this). [JVH NOTE: For the scriptural
allusion, see II Samuel 23 v. 15 and I Chronicles 11 v. 17.]
One of the most lingering memories of my early days, and one of the
frequent subjects of my vagrant dreams is the pleasure derived from
horses. From the time I was six or seven years of age, I was riding
horses; when I was from nine to eleven, "my mother trusted me to drive her
anywhere, and even when father was with us I was allowed to do the
driving. I think from ten to thirteen I could have managed a horse as well
as I ever could afterwards. I rode a fine mahogany chestnut pony to
Monreagh School for about three years.
My father reared well-bred horses. He had an old race of horses of the
hunting class, and the young ones were constantly coming forward. Matthew
and the younger boys, perhaps myself more than others, rode these young
animals. Trentagh had large fields, one of 25 acres, and long meadows, and
one of our most exciting and exhilarating experiences was racing these
young horses in our large fields. I suggested to my doctor lately that my
present vigour at the age of 81 was due to my early horseback experiences,
and he (Dr Murphy), who is also fond of a horse and rode much in earlier
days, thinks the theory is sound. [JVH NOTE: the doctor was Henry Seymour
Murphy of Lisburn c 1871-1945, son of the Rev Henry Charles Murphy, Rector
of Rathangan, Co. Kildare who died 11/1/1902 and grandson of Very Rev
Charles Henry Seymour (c. 18131879), Dean of Tuam.] It was no easy riding,
it was mostly at such speed and vigour as would either toughen the muscles
of the inner man or destroy them - toughen or tear. But both horses and
riders enjoyed the galloping, and all benefited by it.
I rode on all the horses for miles around and loved to go messages on
horseback. I remember one afternoon the girls discovered that a certain
sort of ribbon was wanted, they were going to a party that evening, and
the precious thing could only be found in Derry. So I saddled a fine
horse, I think it belonged to my brother Henry, and had a delightful ride
to Derry and back, bringing the ribbon with me, having ridden about
In my very early days, I had two rather exciting and dangerous
experiences with horses. When I was probably about seven or eight, I was
in the stable with one of the ploughmen, and whether I suggested or he
suggested, I cannot tell, that I could go up alongside of a mare, Fanny, a
very-fine mare. Instead of going up quietly, I made a dash up and I think
the mare thought I was a dog and leaped at me, striking me on the head
with her foot. She partially turned round in the stand to hit me;
fortunately it was a sort of spent kick on the head - the mark is still on
me - had it been more severe I must have been killed. All thought this a
marvellous escape - God's own Hand must have been in it. She was not a
vicious mare, but a very high-spirited one.
Another time, I took out a very fine young mare, and was exercising her
on the road; she was young and untrained. I had her by a long rein and was
close behind her hind legs. She was trotting about as fast as I could run
with her, but not content, I hit her on the rump with a rod or whip, she
flung up her heels and her foot struck my nose and eyebrow. She was unshod
or the blow would have been more dangerous, but the mark of her foot still
remains distinctly on the eye-brow; more indistinctly on the nose now, I
think, though for years it was quite apparent. I may have been about ten
or eleven at this time. Again, I had a wonderful and merciful deliverance.
I think I must have been stunned and lay on the road. I always remember my
mother asking me had I not said my prayers that morning.
Besides riding, I was very fond of shooting. My brother Henry got a
valuable double-barrelled gun at an auction for, I think, �2. He gave me
this gun, and when I came home from school every day, after dinner, I went
out with the gun.
There were lots of snipe within the farm and in the winter plover and
other birds. [RVH NOTE: He used to tell that one of the proudest days of
his life was a Christmas Day when he shot 8 snipe.]
Magpies abounded and as they often picked up young ducks or fowl, they
were regarded as a nuisance. Father offered me 3d per bird for all I would
shoot. I did not make a fortune! They came to know me and my gun, and some
scout among them would chatter forth the warning, which was readily obeyed
by the others.
One day, as I went to the end of the avenue, where there was a cross
roads, coming towards me at desperate speed was a rat being swiftly
followed by a weasel. The rat ran on past me down the hill; the weasel
stopped for a little and then rushed past me. As they approached each
other down the hill, I fired and killed both with the one shot - a rather
Before leaving Trentagh, I must refer to two interesting annual
elements in our social life.
First, there were several neighbouring families with whom we were very
intimate: the Cunninghams of Castleton, the Porters of Legnathraw, the
Alexanders of Drumenon, the Rankins of Altaskin, the Longs of Monreagh
[Lady Anderson's family], and the Scotts of Ballyhasky. With their
families there was constant most friendly intercourse and in winter
especially, many parties, with dancing, playing cards - never for money -
and other games, and always music.
Then second, among our more immediate relations, there were most
enjoyable annual entertainments - we would go to spend a day at
Carrickmore with the Wilsons and they would come to us for a day; the same
would happen with the Hamiltons of Coolaghy, the Motherwells of Monglass,
the Fosters of Ballinacross and the Kincaids of Ballyholey. These visits
were always in the summer months. There would usually be a carful - six or
seven, young and old - of each family. We would go early for dinner and
stay till late in the evening. After dinner we would go out to the fields
to see the cattle and horses and sheep - perhaps the younger people would
sample the fruit in the garden. For old and young, these were most
While I am now far removed from those early experiences by reason of
the long years, and the absence of all the loved ones that filled the cup
of happiness, I find myself joyfully and perhaps longingly moved in the
inward parts as I think of them, and betimes sympathise deeply with the
poet who wrote:
"Vision of childhood, stay, oh stay, Ye were so sweet and mild,
And distant echoes seem to say, Come, be once more a child!"
But I dare not murmur! The love and mercy and patience of God all
through the long years, the happiness of my family life, the warm
affection of many relatives in many lands, the love and confidence of so
many of my fellowmen, the generous kindness of my brethren in the
ministry, the joy and prosperity God gave me - in my utter unworthiness -
and still gives me, in the work He gave me to do, and the sufficiency of
grace for all the trials and sorrows that came. Moreover, love divine and
human encircling me all around, who else has cause like me for deepest,
truest gratitude or for the impulsion to say: "My cup runneth over
...."[Psalm 23, A.V, v. 5]
I look back with no satisfaction to my early schooldays. There was a
schoolhouse for a long time on father's farm, the only school, I think,
father ever attended. The schoolmaster, Andrew O'Donnell was a very able
man and a really good teacher [As we have seen Andrew is described in
Griffith's valuation as Andrew Donnell. Another sub-tenant mentioned there
is Hugh Donnell. The witnesses to the will dated 24/1/1871 of H.S.
Hamilton, RWH's father were: Andrew ODonnell - presumably a miscopying on
the probate copy for Andrew O'Donnell - and Hugh Donnell.] The children
all roundabout, each bringing in the winter a turf for the fire under his
or her arm, attended this school.
Master O'Donnell lived in a house on the Trentagh farm. He was an old
man in my day. I attended his school for a few months, before going to the
National School at St Johnston. O'Donnell was a Roman Catholic and a very
bigoted one and wielded a great influence in the neighbourhood as a
leader, intensely hostile to Protestantism, and indeed to English rule.
His sister, Jennie O'Donnell was father's nurse and nursed us all and
nursed us well. She was most exemplary in every way and most loyal and
devoted to the family.
About the age of seven, I went to the school at St Johnston. My first
teacher there was also the best, Mr Moorhead, a delicate man, the
advantage of whose teaching I had for only a year or two. He was severe,
but a thorough teacher and the only one to whom I looked back with
gratitude. Afterwards, up till fifteen, I had six or seven teachers,
inefficient and perfunctory, not one of them stimulating or inspiring
youth with anything like eagerness to learn.
My sister Ellen was deeply interested in the Revival of 1859 and deeply
concerned about the salvation of her friends and others. I have always had
the feeling that my being in the ministry of the Gospel was largely due to
her prayers. She married William Porter of Raphoe, a truly good man, wise,
intelligent and amiable. My sister conceived the idea of my becoming a
minister, and my parents and other members of the family sympathised with
this idea. Accordingly, I began the study of Latin. My sister and
brother-in-law wished me to go to live with them in Raphoe and to attend
the Royal School there. Unfortunately, my sister, never very robust,
contracted a serious illness and after a comparatively short time of
married life passed away.
It was about the same time that my brother John James so grievously
disappointed father, who had such high hopes of him and had spent so much
money on him, by suddenly going off to Australia before his medical course
was completed. In his discouragement, father questioned me as to whether I
would really prefer to go on to prepare for College or adopt a business
career. Andrew and Sam were then serving their time to business in Derry,
and came home frequently for week-ends. They had so much to say about city
life and their experiences that I, a boy of twelve or thirteen, was
enamoured of their mode of life and told father I would prefer business.
My brother-in-law in Raphoe now wished me to serve my time to the drapery
business with him.
Accordingly, on 1st May 1866, I went to Raphoe.