BURT, CO. DONEGAL.
I came home in the autumn of '79 and found myself very soon engaged to
preach in eight vacant congregations: Dundrod, Maghera, Donacloney, Burt,
Castlederg, Dundalk, Carnmoney and 2nd Ballynahinch. I set my heart on
Donacloney. I liked the country as I drove out from Banbridge. I liked
what I saw of the people, and they spoke kindly of me. I liked the size of
the congregation (a little over a hundred families). They talked of giving
me a call, but within ten days of my being there the call came from Burt,
and I had always thought I should consider very seriously the first call I
I think I should tell here an experience I had after preaching in one
of the large Belfast congregations a few months ago. When I came into the
vestry, an elderly man came in. I knew him as an old Burt man, and he said
in the presence of several: "Boys a boys, it's wonderful. When you
preached for Burt, they said, don't call him, for he will not live long",
and now, he said "Hamill, Dickey, Ross, Park and others are all gone and
you are as vigorous as ever you were." [JVH NOTE: Hamill was the Rev.
Thomas Macafee Hamill (1853-1919), Professor of Systematic Theology in
Assembly's College; Dickey was the Rev. Robert H.F. Dickey (18561915)
Professor of Hebrew at Magee; Ross was the Rev. Robert Ross (1825-1894) of
Carlisle Road, Derry, father of Sir John Ross, last Lord Chancellor of
Ireland. The Rev. William Park is referred to later in this chapter].
As a matter of fact, the Burt people thought about two others, neither
of whom had the required majority, and then someone proposed Hamilton and,
tired of their wrangling, they called me. I was ordained there on Friday,
30th January, 1880.
Burt had the name of being a proud and not a specially religious place
and there had been a perpetual quarrel between the people and the last
minister. [JVH NOTE: This was the Rev. William Clarke, who resigned in
July 1879, after only three years at Burt, to become Minister of 2nd
Bangor; he was Moderator of the General Assembly in 1889]. Professor
Witherow advised me not to go to Burt, for they would freeze me. The Rev.
Dr. Stewart, visiting me a few weeks after my ordination, when walking
along the road to the train on his way home, said to me: "I always think
of Burt as like the cities of the plain - a beautiful land and godless
people." I confess I was not much moved by either of these opinions. I had
a great assurance that God had put me there, though I did not really want
to go there. I had told the Donacloney people that if they would hurry up
I would rather go to them. For at that time I feared that I might get
Burt. But God had put me there and I had then, as now, the profound
conviction that human nature was the same everywhere, and from my own
experience, that the power of God was omnipotent, able to subdue the most
stubborn hearts and tame the fiercest spirits.
I would like to record the great generosity always shown to me by the
Burt people; they gave me four or five presentations during my brief years
with them, and I do not think I ever bought oats or hay or straw for my
horse or potatoes for the house. Fowls and eggs and butter were frequent
travellers towards the Manse. Of course, my own people sent some of these
valuables from Trentagh, but the Burt people were unstinting in their
I had a happy ministry in Burt. My health was sometimes feeble enough,
but the people from the beginning to the end of my almost six years there,
were most kind and God gave us much blessing among rich and poor, young
It was a beautiful country. From Grianan, about a mile from the Manse,
there was the finest view I had ever seen. You could see the rise of the
Swilly, Muckish and Errigal. The course of that river through rich and
fertile lands, overlooked by the magnificent Highlands of Donegal,
widening out to the Lake of Shadows, a beautiful Lough and extending for
25 miles out to the Atlantic.
On the other .side, you could see where the Foyle rises, away in the
Tyrone mountains. The course of the river ever extending, passing through
Londonderry, down past the rugged Magilligan hills, on to the Giant's
Causeway and the ocean.
Along the courses of these rivers, there are some of the best
cultivated agricultural lands in Ireland. For extent, variety and
magnificence, I know of no view to equal this.
After visiting Killarney, I said that we had a better view, a mile from
our home, than any I had seen there.
My wife, who came from Co. Cork, and her brother, Dr. Donaldson smiled
incredulously. I explained that in Killarney you have more beautiful
grouping of scenery within a comparatively narrow area, but at Grianan you
have vastness of extent and wonderful massing of all the elements of land
and sea that go to make magnificent scenery.
On the day of my ordination, the Rev. William McKean, then of Raphoe,
afterwards Dr. MCKean of Ballymacarrett, one of my best friends, and I
were walking along from the Manse to the Church, when, looking around, he
said, "Man, Bob, if I lived here I would preach quare sermons."
Dr. Eben Donaldson was the dispensary doctor in Burt. He and I became
great friends and saw much of each other. [JVH NOTE: according to my
father, RWH and the doctor differed on the question of whether medicine or
theology was the queen of the sciences]. In the autumn of 1881, his
sister, Martha Lilian came to visit him. She had just come to the end of a
long period of nursing: her sister Eva and her father Dr. Ebenezer
Donaldson, of Newmarket, Co. Cork. [JVH NOTE: According to a marginal note
in the handwriting of my late cousin G.C. Hamilton, quoting from the
Donaldson family bible: Ebenezer died 23/2/1878 and Eva died 10/6/1881].
Both these loved ones seemed dependent on her ministry and wished her
always to be near them, so that night and day the strain on body and mind
was heavy. But there was no other daughter in the family. [JVH NOTE: There
had been a daughter, Mary, born 7/4/1850, who only survived till
31/5/1850. Mary Jessie, the next eldest was born on 21/7/1851 and lived
till 1935, but by this time she was working abroad as a governess; she
worked at one time in St. Petersburg. Elizabeth, born 1868, survived only
two months]. The mother had the household affairs and five or six boys to
look after and the day of trained nurses had not arrived, so that Martha,
capable and willing, was the constant ministering angel to her dear ones
until they passed away [JVH NOTE: The boys were Dr. Eben (1855-1904);
George (1857-1917), who emigrated to Australia; Robert Gray (1858-1933),
also in Australia; Colonel John McFadyen (1859-1943) of the R.A.M.C. who
had served in the Burmese Expedition of 1888-9; the Rev. Charles
(1861-1903) who had been at various times a Presbyterian Minister in
Hillsborough, Co. Down, a curate in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, a Plymouth
brother and, finally a patient in Sligo Lunatic Asylum; James (1863-1933),
Australia; Adam (1864-1944), San Francisco]. Now she (Martha) came north
for a rest, her health much run down, her heart perhaps so overstrained
that it gave her trouble all her life and probably had something to do
with her final illness.
I had friends at the Manse that day, and we went out for a walk and met
the Doctor and two ladies, his sister and his cousin Meta Bernard. [JVH
NOTE: Meta (later Mrs Butler), was a daughter of George Bernard,
Solicitor, Dublin; George was a brother of Martha Bowles (nee Bernard),
wife of Dr. Ebenezer Donaldson of Newmarket]. We were introduced and
either that evening or the next, when my friends left, I spent the evening
at the doctor's.
From the time I came to Burt, good friends were having me married to
this one and the other. If there was any improvement going on at the Manse
or in the Manse garden, it was surely coming now. A friend one day in
Derry said to me, "You are going in the right direction now." I asked him
to be sure and let me know the date in proper time.
I can be quite candid in saying that I never seriously thought of
marriage. I sometimes thought that probably some day I would be married,
but the matter was no serious concern to me. But it became a matter of
very serious concern to me from that night I spent with the doctor and the
I was attracted, smitten and conquered all at once. I knew nothing
about her history or mind, but soon came to see that the attraction and
affection were mutual. We both believed that God was drawing us together
and in our happy, helpful married life of 46 years, neither of us ever
doubted that. We were permitted and enabled to help one another in the
service of Christ, and while each of us possessed an independent mind, we
were wonderfully one in the things that mattered. We had much joy in one
another and in the work God gave us to do.
George Bernard, a well-known Dublin Solicitor, and Mrs Bernard,
Martha's uncle and aunt, conceived the idea of our being married in
Dublin, as being convenient for Mrs Donaldson, Martha's mother, who lived
in Newmarket, Co. Cork, and for me who lived in Co. Donegal. They most
kindly offered to have the wedding take place from their house in
Grosvenor Road, Rathmines, and their generous hospitality was gratefully
The Rev. Dr. A.C. Murphy, who was then minister of Rutland Square
Presbyterian Church, Dublin, had formerly been minister of 1st Derry and
had known us both - Martha through her visits to her uncle, Dr. Walter
Bernard of Londonderry. [JVH NOTE: Dr. Bernard, in the 1870's, was
instrumental in having the Grianan restored.] It was therefore decided
that we should be married in Rutland Square. Accordingly, Martha went to
her uncle in Dublin some weeks beforehand, became a member of Rutland
Square and received great kindness from Dr. and Mrs Murphy.
I went to Dublin on 21st June, put up at the Gresham Hotel, dined that
evening at the Bernards' and on the next day, 22nd June 1882, we were
married in Rutland Square Church by the Rev. Dr. W. Fleeting Stevenson of
Rathgar Church, an old friend of mine - Dr. Murphy being away on holidays.
After a beautiful luncheon at the Bernards', whose generous kindness we
could never forget, we crossed to Scotland from Belfast that night,
spending a few days in Edinburgh on our way to Sanday, Orkney, where we
spent with the McConaghys a very happy honeymoon. [JVH NOTE: He does not
mention the Phoenix Park Murders, which had occurred the month before.]
The sorrows and trials that came bound us together in ever increasing
confidence in one another and in Our Lord. I have reason to bless, and do
bless the day I met her. The precious gift He gave me, the uplifting
influence of her whose brave, bright, buoyant spirit did so much to brace
me for the tasks God gave me to do.
She was the most unselfish, unselfseeking person I ever knew. I have
said that God gave us times of much blessing in Burt, and I must explain
this more fully.
When I went to Burt, there was no evening service on Sunday. And on
looking round I found there were three day-schools within the bounds of
the congregation, situated widely apart, and one of the farmers had a
commodious barn. These four houses covered the area of the congregation
fairly well, and we started a Sunday evening service in each of them,
having thus four stated services each month. There were many, both old and
young, who never came to church, but within a short time we got most of
them to come to these evening services, which were held near their homes.
The places began, indeed, to be crowded, and instead of detracting from
the morning attendance at the church, it soon began to increase it.
During my almost six years in Burt, we had no special evangelistic
services and very seldom any week-night service. I believe in evangelistic
services and frequently went from home to conduct Missions. I can scarcely
say why we had none, but I did a great deal of visiting. I visited mostly
on horseback, and soon came to know all the people and to know indeed
their relation to Christ. I embraced every possible opportunity of
speaking personally to people, but only when I found them alone in the
home or the yard or the fields or the road. I do not think I bored anyone.
I was a farmer's son and deeply interested in farming, cattle, horses,
etc. I had had much contact in my home with working people and knew their
interests and mode of life.
In other words, I was human, and I think, as they began to know me,
they expected me to speak about the things that I sought earnestly to
present on Sunday. I do not remember anyone who resented my asking them,
not if they were converted, or if they were saved, but if they were
trusting Christ. Of course, some sought to turn the conversation away from
serious things. I shall give two interesting incidences:
One old man, who had been, in his early days, coachman to my uncle Dr.
Andrew A. Hamilton, when I would be speaking about Christ to him, would
say, "Boys a boys, but you are like your uncle." Another time it would be
something else about my uncle. He was now a roadman, looking after part of
the road near his cottage. He had a daughter living with him, who was a
humble, earnest Christian, much concerned about her father's salvation,
and I am sure she prayed much for him. He never came to any of the
services. One day, immediately after returning home from my summer
holidays, I was riding along the road on which he was working, and asked
him, as I was passing, how he was. He replied, "Thank God, I am well,
sir." Here was a new note. I never heard John speak of thanking God
before. So I said, "I hope you do really thank God." His reply was
"Indeed, I do, sir." I had a talk with him and found that God had opened
his heart to see and confess his sins and to accept Christ as his Lord and
Saviour. The remaining years proved the reality of his conversion.
The other case arose in this way: an old lady who was mother and
grandmother in one of our best-to-do homes, and a remarkably capable
woman. In a matter, family, social or business, within the range of her
experience, I would have taken her advice unhesitatingly, and she was no
mere dreamer but had lived a most active, strenuous life and contributed
greatly to the prosperity of her family.
She was now about 80 years of age, clear and vigorous in mind and
enjoying good health. When I spoke to her about spiritual things, she
would begin to tell me about Mr Gray, who was the minister of Burt in her
early days or in some other way divert the conversation from more serious
things. [JVH NOTE: This refers to the Rev. Robert Gray, who ministered at
One Monday forenoon, I was visiting on the hill near Grianan. I first
went to a house where there was a young girl, about 18 years of age, who
told me she had given herself to Christ, and I had a gratifying talk with
her. I then crossed the road to a house where an old woman lived, whom I
had often spoken to about personal salvation, and she told me she had
found Christ and seemed very happy in trusting Him. Later in the day, I
came to the house where the old lady was mother and grandmother. During
the evening, when she and her daughter and daughter-in-law were in the
room, I began to tell the daughter-in-law, who was a fine type of
Christian woman, my experiences in the two houses on the hill in the
forenoon. I said nothing directly to the old lady. The next time I went to
the house, the daughter-in-law told me that after I left, the evening I
told about the conversion of the young girl and the old woman, the old
lady said to her, in her anxiety, "Are they all going to be saved and am I
not?" Her daughter-in-law spoke sympathetically with her, and the old lady
sought and found Christ. I found her quite happy, looking to Him and
eagerly listening to what one said about the Gospel of His grace. Some
months afterwards, she had a very serious attack of illness, which I did
not know about. When I visited the house next, she told me of her illness
and how she thought she was going to die, and added, "And sure, Mr
Hamilton, I was not afraid to die."
In February, 1885, there was a simultaneous mission in all the
Presbyterian churches in Belfast, and I had been invited to help. On the
Monday on which the mission began, a severe day, with blowing snow, I left
the Manse early, to attend the funeral of an old friend, Mrs William
Foster of Ballinacross. [JVH NOTE: This will be Mary née
Mills, whose son Sam was married to RWH's sister Mary Jane.] After driving
all morning, I hastened to Derry, housed my horse, had some lunch and
caught at the Waterside the 3 p.m. train for Belfast. I was to stay with
an old friend, the Rev. Dr. John MacDermott of Belmont, for the week. [JVH
NOTE: This was the father of Lord MacDermott, Lord Chief Justice of
Northern Ireland.] On arriving in Belfast, I went to the Lombard Cafe for
tea, and nearing 8 p.m. went to the church I was to preach in, on that
Monday night. I found my way to the vestry, but there was no minister or
elder or anyone else but the sexton to confer with about the meeting. I
understood afterwards that the minister, who was an able, good man, did
not approve of the mission: [JVH NOTE: Assuming that the church was
Rosemary Street, then the disapproving minister will have been the Rev.
William Park. Installed in Rosemary Street in 1873, he was Moderator of
the General Assembly in 1890. He retired in 1923 and died while addressing
the General Assembly on 5th June, 1925.] At 8 o'clock, I entered a large
church and found 57 persons scattered through the building. I had not
allowed myself to be influenced much by numbers, great or small, and
preached in my usual way, enjoying the service. An elder came to me at the
close with some apologies. I confess I thought it rather poor business to
come from the wilds of Donegal, in such weather, to preach to 57 persons,
in a large church in Belfast. [JVH NOTE: The church I think referred to
was destroyed by incendiaries in the air-raid of 4-5 May 1941. The other
church in Rosemary Street which still exists belongs to the NonSubscribing
Presbyterian Church of Ireland.]
About ten or twelve years afterwards, a Co. Down elder told me that he
had met a lady at Ballyclare recently, a sister of some of the ablest
ministers of our church, who told him that she was converted at the
service. I preached in a different church every night, and addressed a
noon-day service that was held every day during the week at Rosemary
Street church, and greatly enjoyed the week.
The most remarkable meeting I addressed was in Linen Hall Street
church, the Rev. John McIlveen's, where we had immense crowds of people,
and I was led to speak for more than an hour, no-one seeming tired. [JVH
NOTE: This church, built in 1839, closed in 1887, being replaced by the
Crescent Church. The Rev. John McIlveen was Moderator of the General
Assembly in 1908 and continued in the Crescent till his death in 1914.]
Shortly after this, the Rev. James L. Bigger of Railway Street Church,
Lisburn, wrote to me asking my wife and me to come to Lisburn, to spend
Easter with him and Mrs Bigger. He was at that time a candidate, I think
the only candidate, for the vacant Chair of Hebrew in Magee College, and
in his letter of invitation he said he wished the Railway Street people to
hear me, as he would like me to be his successor. I emphatically refused
the invitation, which otherwise we would have gladly accepted, because I
had made up my mind long since that I would not again preach on trial.
Later on, Bigger wrote that he would like to spend the Assembly Sunday in
Derry with his people, and would I exchange with him on that Sunday. I was
equally emphatic, and for the same reason, that I would not again preach
on trial. A deputation from Railway Street came to me at the Assembly
asking me to preach and of course I declined.
It appears some Railway Street people heard me preach at the Belfast
Mission in February. Some of them were said to have followed me night
after night. That year I had undertaken the supply of Killarney for a
month, beginning shortly after the Assembly. My wife went with me. We
stayed at her mother's in Newmarket, Co. Cork, and I went on to Killarney
for the week-end. One Saturday, I found on my return to Killarney another
letter from Bigger beseeching me to give them a Sunday in Lisburn. My
first thought was annoyance with Bigger for his persistence, in view of my
refusals. But this feeling was replaced in a moment by another, which
caused me to say, I think, aloud in the room, "This may be the will of
God"; and I took the matter very seriously and prayerfully.
We had a remarkable experience coming away from Burt to Killarney. We
started a day or two earlier than we needed, so that we might spend a
night or two with relatives in Dublin. But when coming down the steep
avenue from the Manse at Burt with a good deal of luggage on our phaeton,
I found there was something wrong with the phaeton, which caused it to
press down on the mare's hind legs. We managed to get down the avenue,
hoping that on the level road there might be no trouble; but there was, so
that we found it impossible to go on, and returned home. The blacksmith
mended the phaeton, so that we got safely to Derry and the train next day.
We took a monthly excursion ticket to Killarney; they were quite cheap at
the time. We went to Dublin and on to the South, my wife going to
Newmarket and I to Killarney.
RAILWAY STREET, LISBURN.
Had we started on the 11th, our ticket would have expired on Saturday
the 11th of July and we would have returned home for service in Burt on
the 12th; but owing to the day's delay, we started on 12th June, our
ticket expiring on Sunday 12th July, and we found that because the 12th
was a Sunday our ticket would be good for Monday the 13th. We then
determined to spend that Sunday with our friends in Dublin and come on to
Burt on the Monday. Here, then was the situation that presented itself -
there was Bigger's letter, there was the new and deep impression as to the
possibility of this being the will of God, and there was Sunday 12th July,
now free from any engagement, so that, after consulting with my wife, I
wrote to Bigger consenting to go to him for the services on that Sunday.
My wife and I came on Saturday, 11th July, I preached twice on the Sunday,
and we both had a very happy time with Bigger and his wife - both of the
excellent of the earth - and came away on Monday, I a good deal relieved
that Bigger's persistence had come to an end.
After a month or so the call came from Railway Street. I did not want
to go. I delayed replying, but finally accepted the call, and was
installed in Railway Street Church on 8th October, 1885. I have often said
that Bigger coerced me into coming to Lisburn, but I have long felt that
Bigger was only God's instrument in the matter.
My dear wife had much bad health. Most trying experiences both in Burt
and in Lisburn. Two little girls, quite premature and still-born came at
Burt. I can never forget my experiences in carrying their remains in the
stillness of the night, about midnight each time, I think, over to the
ground behind the old church and burying them there, between the church
and the old session house. I had this remarkable experience: though I put
no mark whatever when the first was buried and though it was more than
twelve months afterwards when I took the second over, in digging the grave
for it I found I just opened the ground beside the box in which the first
had been deposited. I could not have pointed out the ground in daylight to
anyone, as I so covered up the deposits that no trace of them could be
Then, in our early days in Lisburn, another little still-born girl
came, and the remains were buried in Lisburn cemetery. It can well be
understood what sufferings of body and mind my dear, much loving and much
loved wife endured in these experiences; yet she murmured not, submitting
bravely and childlike. My wife was not in good health at the time I came
to Lisburn, and it was decided that she would remain with her brother in
Burt for the winter.
On 30th March 1886, great joy came to us when Eben Stuart Burt Hamilton
was born to us. [A note in RVH's writing states: The name "Stuart" was
probably due to an error in the registration by Uncle Eben Donaldson, as
no doubt "Stewart" was intended. JVH NOTE: In those early days the
dispensary doctor had to act as registrar of births and deaths.] We gave
him the name Burt because he was born there, where we had so many loving
friends. He was baptised in Burt church in June, by the Rev. Professor
James L. Bigger, and shortly afterwards mother and child came to Lisburn.
Our other son, Robert Victor was born in Rubicon, [Belfast Road,]
Lisburn on 12th November 1888. We lived in Rubicon for about nine years
and afterwards moved to Grianan, a new house on the Magheralave Road.
On the evening of the installation in Lisburn, there was a great
meeting in the Orange Hall, many of the leading townspeople and clergy
being present. It was not only to be a reception for me but a farewell to
Mr and Mrs Bigger; presentations being made to both. Each of them, by
their excellence of spirit, largeness of mind and outlook and devotion to
the great work which God gave them to do, not only had a warm place in the
affections of poor and rich in Railway Street church, but had come to be
greatly respected and loved by the whole community. Mr Bigger was a man of
outstanding ability, of very marked singleness of mind as a servant of
Christ, and of boundless energy.
There was a heavy debt resting on the church when he came to it and
before he left, largely by his own efforts, this was entirely removed. For
debt and church extension, £1,400 was raised in his time.
Mrs Bigger was equally devoted to the service of Christ. Full of energy
also and one of the brightest and most beautiful spirits one knew.
They did a great and noble work in Lisburn, where blessings long outlived
them, and in Londonderry afterwards they took the same place of esteem and
affection, not only in Magee College, but in the city of Londonderry, that
they had enjoyed in Lisburn.
Railway Street Church was really an outcome of the Revival of 1859.
There seemed to be a need for a second Presbyterian Church in Lisburn.
Over 100 families and the Rev. John Powell gathered together for a year or
two in a hall in Castle Street. A committee was appointed in November
1860, and in 1861 they gave a call to the Rev. D.J. Clarke, who became
their first Minister. [JVH NOTE: For a fuller account of the origins of
the congregation, see Rev. David Stewart: The Seceders in Ireland (Belfast
1950) p.404 and A History of Congregations.... (Belfast 1982) p.595.
Powell's extreme anti-Catholic views brought about his enforced
resignation from Carlow. When he came to Lisburn in or about 1860 he held
services in a hay-loft in Castle Street, granted by Mr Jonathan Richardson
of Killeaton. In 1861, the majority of the newly-formed congregation gave
the call to Clarke. Powell thereupon joined the Secession Synod and
founded the congregation which later became Sloan Street. In 1887 the
Sloan Street congregation was received into the General Assembly; by that
time the Rev. J.W Gamble was its Minister].
Mr William Barbour of Hilden contributed most generously to the new
church and was a member of it. Mr. Clarke had great difficulties to
encounter, first in getting a site for a church and afterwards in raising
money for the erection of the church and manse.
I never knew Mr Clarke, but he must have been an able, far-seeing man,
for with comparatively few people he built a church whose capacity is
still ample for an immensely increased congregation. He built up a
vigorous congregation and was manager of four national schools: the Boys'
School and Girls' School at Railway Street, the Hilden School and the
Largymore School. The last-mentioned was handed over to him by a generous
townsman, Captain Bolton, who built it, but when he died there was some
flaw in the title deeds and the [Hertford] Estate office took it over and
appointed the sub-agent manager; when he left the town, the estate being
sold, it was handed over to the Cathedral.
Mr Clarke was minister of Railway Street Church for 17 years and died
When I came to Railway Street, I found a number of earnest people and
an excellent spirit in the congregation. Rich and poor received me most
kindly and from the outset to the latest day of my ministry here, the
happiest relations existed between the people and my wife and me, and I
must add that from the outset on to the end God, in his wonderful mercy,
bestowed much blessing on us as a congregation, young and old, along the
years, coming under the gracious convincing and converting power of the
I made a rule of visiting the people three or four or more times a
year, feeling that if there was not the friendly touch there could be
We had great missions, mostly annually, for many years, conducted by
such men as the Revs. Dr. William Rogers of Whiteabbey, Dr. John Stuart of
Waterside, Londonderry, John Morrison of Tullylish and other ministers of
our own Church, besides evangelists from at home and abroad. Our people
took a great interest in these missions, and many from other churches
came. Some gave much help and many got much blessing. Our communion roll
was, almost invariably, largely increased by these missions, and all were
refreshed and stirred up.
I was not many months in Lisburn when I found that Orangeism and
Freemasonry were very powerful. I remember saying one night to a member
who afterwards became an excellent elder that my strong impression was
that these two movements were more powerful in Lisburn than the Church of
Christ, and that they were both distinctly unfavourable to spiritual
religion. I did not till then know that my friend was a mason, nor did I
exhort him to give it up; but soon afterwards he gave it up himself and
became an exemplary elder.
I have still the conviction that these two organisations are distinctly
unfavourable to true religion. I am glad, however, to acknowledge that in
recent years they have both been immensely dissociated from the public
house and that, in connection with both, there have been for years
On two occasions only, I addressed political meetings, my sole reason
being that there was a distiller on the other side. I then thought, and I
think still, that a distiller should not represent a Christian community
and have a say in the making of its laws. [JVH NOTE: As to the two
political meetings, I wonder was the "distiller" Charles Curtis Craig,
brother of the future Lord Craigavon. The Craig family was closely
connected with Dunville's Distillery. C.C. Craig was returned as M.P. for
South Antrim in 1903, defeating Samuel Keightley and again, (unopposed) in
I think I should say here that I have always been an enthusiastic
admirer and follower of W.E. Gladstone, whom I have always regarded as the
greatest statesman of my time. While my politics differ widely from the
overwhelming number of the people of Lisburn, I have been treated with
great kindness by rich and poor in the community. During some election
times, when feeling ran high, there may have been east-wind breezes, but
they soon blew past.
I was in the fullest sympathy with Mr Gladstone's Home Rule Bill for
Ireland, and am convinced to this day that, had it been passed, we would
not have had all the deplorable doings since then, but something of real
peace and goodwill.
The unfortunate thing seems to have been that the Imperial Government
so seldom gave Ireland what she sought until such feelings were engendered
as to make the Irish feel they did not care whether what they sought came
or not - hence bitterness, eager speaking and eager doing abounded.
Personally, I have never liked Home Rule, but for over 40 years have
regarded it as inevitable. [JVH NOTE: At first sight this statement seems
to be at variance with the earlier reference to "fullest sympathy with Mr
Gladstone's Home Rule Bill." Perhaps my grandfather's approach was the
same as that of Percy French:
"When we've got all we want, we're as quiet as can be
Where the Mountains o' Mourne sweep down to the sea."]
Personally, I have found Roman Catholics wherever I have been as
trustworthy and decent as any others. Both in Burt and in Lisburn, I have
had many friends among them and have always been treated most kindly by
But to come back to Railway Street: Mr Bigger had taught large Bible
Classes for men and for women; and in my early days they were, I think,
still larger. Episcopalians and Methodists and others outside the
congregation attended, and at times we had over 200 members. In the course
of years, the classes became smaller because all the other churches began
to have them, and this was entirely healthy and good.
During the last few years of my ministry, there were a men's Bible
Class on Monday night and a women's Bible Class on Tuesday night, each
numbering from 70 to 80 members. I am glad these classes continued to grow
strong under my successor. [JVH NOTE: The reason for the segregation
I was not long in Lisburn until I discovered there was much drinking in
the town. One night, I visited nine families, all working people, and in
six of them saw drunkenness that night. In one of the houses, there was no
more after that night, the head of the house, who was the culprit,
becoming an exemplary communicant. I mentioned this night's experience at
the first meeting of the Session, and discovered that the elders were
little concerned about it, and that only one of them was a total
abstainer. At that time, the secretary of the congregation was one of the
leading publicans of the town, and I think the publican influence was the
strongest in the committee, but not numerically. There were several
publicans in the congregation, decent men, more ready, perhaps, than
others with their pounds in the days of financial stress. They took much
interest in the congregation and had much influence.
A most worthy bank manager, who afterwards became an elder, said to me
one day, that "it would be difficult for me, in view of the publican
members, who were so influential, to preach temperance vigorously." Of
course, my reply was that drunkenness was sin and that my business was to
expose and, by the blessing of God, diminish the prevalence and power of
sin. I never in the pulpit attacked the business. I felt it would not be
fair to attack the business of the few in the presence of the many, but I
was unsparing in the exposure and denunciation of drunkenness, and had but
too many facts to draw upon.
Within twelve months, there were no publicans on the committee, but
none of them left the congregation. The secretary and others, in time,
gave up the business.
I may here tell how the Temperance Union came into being. A family that
my wife and I came to know intimately were the Pims of Lisnagarvey,
especially Mrs Pim and her two daughters, Miss Laura and Miss Alice. They
were of the salt of the earth. [JVH NOTE: the Pims and the Richardsons
were among the best known Lisburn Quakers.) I am thankful that Miss Laura
is still with us, bright and vigorous, finding today, as she always did,
her joy in doing good, ministering in connection with the Y.W.C.A., the
Nursing Society and otherwise, to the material and spiritual needs of
young women, the poor and afflicted, giving unstintingly of her time, her
love and her means in the service of her Lord.
More than twelve months after my coming to Lisburn, Miss Alice Pim,
afterwards Mrs Brownrigg and I were walking through the Park, and talking
of the abounding drunkenness in our midst. [JVH NOTE: This refers to the
Wallace Park, given to the town of Lisburn by Sir Richard Wallace, the
local landowner.] I happened to say that what was needed was united effort
on the part of all the clergy and the churches, something like a
Temperance Union. Miss Alice mentioned this in a few days to her uncle,
James N. Richardson of Lissue. He came to me about this, and after
consideration requested me to write to all the local clergy, asking them
to meet on 21st February, 1887, at the Friends' Meeting House, to consider
the desirability of forming a Temperance Union, and to bring any
sympathising friends with them. All the clergy in the town came, except
one, who was from home. Mr Richardson was asked to preside and after
prayer he asked me to explain the object of the meeting. After saying
something about the need for united action in view of the drinking habits
in our midst, I said I thought that three things might be done by such a
First - to hold united temperance meetings in the Orange Hall, to
impress public opinion and to take total abstinence pledges.
Second - to be a sort of vigilance committee to see that the licensing
laws were observed and enforced.
Third - to look forward to having a building as a centre of temperance
influence and as a counter-attraction to the public house. [JVH NOTE:
Presumably when he refers to "all the clergy" he means "all the Protestant
clergy." Canon Pounden, Rector of Lisburn Cathedral 18841917, was not a
teetotaller. RWH got on particularly well with the Rev. Arthur John Moore,
Rector of Christ Church, Lisburn 1886-1894, Vicar of Holywood 1897-1919.
Great support for the temperance movement came from the Rev. Joseph
Atkinson Stewart of Killowen, near Lisburn, Curate of Derriaghy 1862-1863
and 1866-1913, who was extremely wealthy. As to the pledges, according to
RVH it was not uncommon for the pledges to be pushed back in through RWH's
letter-box on or shortly before 11th July.]
After very full discussion, in which nearly all present took part, warm
approval was given, those present cordially agreeing to be members; the
following office-bearers were appointed:
President: James N. Richardson of Lissue.
Treasurer: James R. Boyd of Greenwood.
Secretaries: Revs. A.J. Moore and R.W. Hamilton.
At a meeting of the Committee the following week, Mr Richardson
intimated that he had engaged the Rev. Samuel Pearson of Portland, Maine
to give temperance addresses in the Friends' Meeting House and that he
would quite willingly give him to our committee to address united
meetings. This was cordially agreed to, and it was arranged that there
should be a meeting in the Orange Hall on Sunday afternoon, 6th March, at
4 p.m., and meetings during the week at 8 p.m. Great crowds came to these
meetings. 570 persons signed the total abstinence pledge, and I believe
there was immense blessing to many.
Mr Pearson, the son of a rich American, in early days left his home and
spent seven years in riotous living. He gave a lecture one night entitled
"Seven years in Hell" - describing his life in those evil days. But God
had mercy on him. He was converted and became a Gospel Temperance
Lecturer. While pointing out the evils of intemperance, as only a man of
his experience could do, and believing in the signing of the pledge, his
chief remedy was the Gospel of Christ, and not only did I know at the time
of many who saw their sin and took Christ to be their Saviour, but for
years afterwards I met from time to time persons who told me they were
savingly blessed at those meetings.
Along the years, we had many memorable series of meetings, productive
of much good. Another American, the Rev. J. Quincy Adams Henry, (a
relative of the famous Quincy Adams and Patrick Henry), a man of much more
culture than Mr Pearson, attracted great crowds in the Orange Hall. Within
twelve months of the founding of the Union, the matter of a suitable site
for a Temperance Institute was discussed. Sir Richard Wallace, through Mr
Capron, his agent, was asked for the vacant ground at the end of Railway
Street opposite the Courthouse. The site was offered at an annual rent of
£7.10s., but finally Sir Richard was personally appealed to and he
generously gave the ground free for ever.
Much encouragement to arise and build was given by a number of generous
contributions promised: James N. Richardson £300, John D. Barbour and the
Rev. Joseph Stewart £200 each, John Grubb Richardson, the Island Spinning
Co. and others £100 each. As the building cost much more than at first
contemplated, the three first named above most generously increased their
contributions. [JVH NOTE: According to my father, the local industrialists
had good reason for supporting the cause: week-end boozing was so
prevalent that it was difficult to get the factories started on Monday
morning.] Mr Richardson, to whom indeed the Union owes more than to any
other, gave altogether £800 himself and collected £800 from his friends.
On 24th June, 1889, in bright, warm sunshine, Mrs J.D. Barbour laid the
foundation-stone of the Institute. It was opened the following year, and
with its cafe, reading and recreation room, its gymnasium; its hall, its
garages and stables, it has filled and continues to fill a useful place in
the community. At present there are about 100 young men members of the
billiard room. The Brownlee Library and the various rooms are largely
The Union in its early years did much for the cause of temperance. All
the churches and temperance societies were enthusiastically associated and
energetic in the cause.
The first serious repulse came, and it was a very serious one, when two
distillers became candidates for representing in Parliament the adjoining
portions of Co. Antrim and Co. Down. [JVH NOTE: This probably refers to
the 1906 Election at which James Craig (later Viscount Craigavon), was
returned for East Down and his brother Charles Curtis Craig for South
Antrim; the same thing happened at the two elections of 1910; James was a
stockbroker and Charles a solicitor, but they may well have been
shareholders in Dunville's Distillery, of which their father, who died in
1900, had been a director.] Many hitherto enthusiastic temperance friends
now became enthusiastic supporters of these two candidates, and the
candidates, by their generosity, going so far at times as to provide free
drink in the public-houses, became very popular; their whole influence
being very detrimental to the interests of temperance for some time.
However, the cause is strong and vigorous in our midst and public opinion
in reference to it is now very different from what it was when the Union
was formed. Intemperance hangs it head down to-day, and is seldom seen in
The Institute, that for years was in financial straits, has been more
than self-sustaining for many years and today has almost £1,000 to its
credit in converted War Loan.
When, during the war, our noble King determined to abstain from
alcoholic liquors till the war would come to an end, the matter was
brought before a large congregation in Railway Street at the morning
Sabbath service, and when asked to follow the King's example and to
indicate this by standing up, the whole congregation seemed to rise, and
when those opposed were asked to rise, only two did so. [JVH NOTE:
There is still too much drinking in our midst, but not much, I believe,
by Railway Street people.
Shortly after coming to Railway Street, I was seriously impressed by a
problem concerning young family life among the working people. A decent,
well-disposed young man and young woman married. In a few years, there
would be two, three or four or five children. The normal wage at that time
was 12s per week. 14s or 15s per week was very special and very rare. How,
on any of these wages, could rent and fuel, food and clothes be paid for?
How could the children be clothed for day school and Sunday school on this
one man's wages? It was impossible unless some help came from without, and
if such help did not come, it seemed inevitable that these decent parents
should be slowly but surely disheartened and sink down to the submerged
tenth. Appreciating this very greatly, I sought the help of the
congregation. There was not, hitherto, a collection for the poor. One was
now called for annually, and the people generously responded, and a number
of our better-off people were ever ready to respond generously when I
asked them for help. In this way, boots and clothes were provided for many
families, and no-one knew but myself, nor asked to know, the recipients of
We had a number of noble Christian ladies in Railway Street. We formed
a Dorcas Society. [JVH NOTE: For the origin of the name, see Acts 9 vv.
36-42]. The ladies visited the homes of the people, taking round to the
homes the Monthly Visitor, showing sympathy and brightening by their
presence many a home. The collection for the poor and other monies were at
their disposal, but they, in the nicest way, asked me to give the gifts,
and did not know to whom they were given.
They did not wish to pauperise the poor, but to keep up the spirit of
respectability, and my own custom was often to take things at night to the
needy homes, that no others might observe or know. Later on, when much
more money was at our disposal for the help of the poor, the committee
entrusted it all to me, and no-one but myself knew who was helped. I
regarded it as exhibiting a fine Christian spirit.
As for myself, I seldom asked anyone to come to my door for help,
except an odd one at night; I mostly took the help to them.
By these efforts, many a family was tided over a most trying and
difficult period, before the children were able to work; afterwards, there
was little need for help, except when there was sickness.
Another channel for helping the poor, in old age or whenever no longer
able to work: I never liked to allow a decent member of the Church to go
to the Workhouse, but tried, before the Old Age Fund came into existence,
to have them kept in comfort at home. [JVH NOTE: On 5th August, 1886, RWH
was appointed Presbyterian Chaplain to the Lisburn Workhouse.]
Very early in my ministry in Railway Street, a deep interest was taken
in Foreign Missions. During my ministry in Burt, Dr. Fleeting Stevenson,
who was the Convener of our Foreign Mission, one of the most earnest and
cultured ministers our Church ever had, found me out in some way I never
knew of, took a great interest in me and especially endeavoured to inspire
me with ardour for Foreign Missions. He wrote letter after letter giving
me facts and figures, and succeeded in measure in causing me to realise
the enormous responsibility of the Church to send the Gospel to those who
had never heard of the living and true God, the Saviour of the world.
When I came to Railway Street, I found many, rich and poor, deeply
sympathetic with Foreign Missions. The collection in 1885 was about £12
and it gradually rose. We gave £19 in 1886, and for some reason the
Convener next year asked all the congregations to double their
contributions. Railway Street, in response, gave over £40.
When the next year came round, I appealed to the people, urging that
none of us had suffered from our splendid giving to this collection last
year, that the cause was urgent, and could they not give what they gave
last year. In response, they gave over £50, and went on increasing year by
year, until in 1920 we gave £285.
At the same time, our ladies had, year by year, a sale for the Zenana
Mission, which kept gradually rising until it raised in 1920 £168-1Os. The
great majority of our working people gave nobly.
I frequently preached on the subject of Christian giving, systematic
giving, and pointed out that in Old Testament days the Israelite gave a
tenth to the purposes of his church in his day, and I urged that the New
Testament believer could not surely give less, should indeed give far
For my own part, I nearly always gave about a sixth of what God gave
me. In days of financial stringency, it may have seemed unwise, but God
supplied all the need and left me so that in the closing days with
immensely reduced income, I yet have enough and to spare, and continue now
the sixth. [JVH NOTE: The remuneration promised in the Call issued by
Railway Street congregation in 1885 was £120 per annum.]
One of the best men in the congregation, Frederic Duncan came to me
after a sermon on systematic giving, and said if I was right, he was far
wrong, that he had been giving some shillings to various collections and
other calls, and grumbled at the number of calls. But he now thought I had
made good the case for at least the tenth, and that to him it would mean,
not a few pounds, but over a hundred pounds a year. From that day, he gave
£20 to the Foreign Mission collection and proportionately to other
objects. [JVH NOTE: He owned a drapery business on the island site in
Market Square, Lisburn.]
Another friend at the same time - it was before the Foreign Mission
collection - who hitherto had been giving a few shillings to the various
collections, was not able to be at church the day of the collection, came
to me with £4 and subsequently gave increasingly to all our Missions and
When the people do not give, it is largely due to the Minister. Some
are afraid to urge giving at all, some fear that if the people give to
Missions they will not be able to give to congregational needs. But the
truth seems to be that if people are led to see that their money is not
their own but God's, to see therefore the responsibility and the privilege
of giving, they will give liberally and cheerfully to all good objects, as
God enables them.
I think it is a fact that the people who give most to Foreign Missions
give most to all home things also.
1888 was distinguished by two experiences:
l. The World-wide Missionary Conference.
2. The birth of Robin
[JVH NOTE: My father Robert Victor Hamilton was always known as Robin.]
1. The first World-wide Missionary Conference was held that year in
Exeter Hall, London. It was organised by the Rev. James Johnston, and most
admirably arranged for. Delegates were present from all the churches of
Christendom except the S.P.C.K. of the Anglican Church. [JVH NOTE: Surely
"Christendom" is too sweeping a term?] I was a delegate from our church.
Several meetings every day for a week, a most interesting, illuminating
experience. It was the first time that all the Christian forces in
non-Christian lands were tabulated and known.
There were some special entertainments and excursions. One of them that I
well remember was at Haddo House, the residence of Lord Aberdeen, where Mr
Gladstone was one of the guests. I had the great honour, as I have always
regarded it, of shaking hands with this great man, of whom Lord Salisbury,
his lifelong political opponent, in a funeral oration, said "that he was
almost without parallel in history, a great Christian man." [JVH NOTE: I
can remember visiting RWH c. 1935 and seeing a framed photograph of Mr
Henry Drummond was also present, and the Aberdeens gave us a delightful
2. The other thing that distinguished 1888 is that on the 12th November
of that year, Robin was born at Rubicon, Lisburn. His mother was anxious
to give him my name in full, and while I suggested my father's or other
names, this was agreed to. But one day, in great earnestness, she told me
she had been thinking about the name and that if I would consent she would
like to call him Robert Victor; she had been praying much for her darling
child and said she wanted him to be a victor in the battle of life. Of
course, I most cordially acquiesced in her wishes.
When I was about a year in Lisburn, the Committee decided that they
would look out for a site on which to build a Manse. There was a Manse,
next house to the Church, built through the energy of the Rev. D.J.
Clarke, but no minister ever lived in it.
Mr Clarke had built a house for himself nearby, and when Mr Bigger
came, the Manse was well let. He got the rent of £40 and preferred to live
in the suburbs. The same was true when I came. The tenant would have
required notice, which meant the Manse was not available when I came; so
I, too, took a house in the suburbs. But the people were very kind and
thought we ought to have a Manse in the suburbs. So, with members of
Committee, I went round all parts of the town to look for a site. We
agreed that the best site about the town was on this hill, where the Manse
now is. We went to the Estate office about it and were told that Sir
Richard Wallace would not allow any erection on this hill, which was then,
indeed, a sort of wilderness, lest it would obscure his view from the
Castle of Colin and other mountains. But they offered us another site.
[JVH NOTE: The hill referred to is Fort Hill, off Magheralave Road.]
The fact was that I was not very anxious about a new Manse. We were
very comfortable at Rubicon, but I was very anxious about a Lecture Hall,
and persuaded the Committee to erect one.
We had a sale of work in the Orange Hall and raised, between the sale
and the people's givings, more than enough. The Lecture Hall, which has
filled a most useful place all these years, cost - furniture and all -
only about £500.
Later on, it became obvious that we needed more accommodation in the
church, and the vestibule and other parts needed reconstruction. The room
which is now called the Upper Room was then approached by steps outside.
We got a very capable architect, Mr W.J. Gilliland of Belfast, who put
up the side galleries and reconstructed many parts of the Church, putting
in new windows etc., at a cost of about £1,400.
The people themselves contributed generously. We had another sale of
work, held this time in the Fort House, through the kindness of Mrs Robert
arbour of Patterson, New Jersey, who, when over here, always worshipped
with us. [JVH NOTE: For an account of the Barbour Family at that time, see
Report of the Barbour Will Case (Belfast News-Letter Book-printing House,
1885); this relates to the disputed Will of Robert's brother, Thomas. The
case was heard in Dublin in June 1885]: Sufficient money was raised.
Fourteen years after the Office people refused this site, Sir Richard
Wallace was dead, Lady Wallace was dead and the Estate was being sold out.
Mr James Sloan of Plantation House, a member of a family that was a great
strength to Railway Street Church, bought the whole hill and the first
thing he did was to offer a fine site for a Manse. The Committee gladly
accepted the offer, and the Manse was duly erected, the congregation never
being asked for a penny for its erection.
It was financed in this way: £800 was borrowed from the Board of Works at
5%, principal and interest being paid in 35 years. The rent of £40 from
the existing Manse met this. The house adjoining the Manse in Railway
Street belonged to the congregation. Mr Clarke had built it with some
surplus money. The Committee sold this house for £500 to Miss Isabella
Brownlee. Miss Brownlee, by her Will, bequeathed this house to the
congregation and died in a few years. The contractor's tender for the
Manse was less than £1,100. Miss Brownlee's Trustees fenced the gardens,
putting up gates.
We came to the house in January 1901. [JVH NOTE: Following the death in
1961 of the Rev. Dr. J.K. Elliott, this Fort Hill Manse was sold to the
Mr Clarke had built schools behind the church, a boys' school and a
girls' school and they served the community well for many years. But the
buildings became increasingly unsuitable for modern requirements, and
there seemed to be a pressing need for new structures. Miss Isabella
Brownlee, who bequeathed handsome legacies to Railway Street Church, to
several objects in Lisburn and to the General Assembly funds, left a
considerable residue to be disposed of at the discretion of her Trustees,
James Edgar Sloan of Plantation and myself.
She had before her death given proof of her interest in education by
giving £200 for the purchase of a site for a teacher's residence. Mr Sloan
and I decided to use some of the residue in the erection of a new
up-to-date school. We bought a section of the ground which was formerly
Sir Richard Wallace's garden, for this purpose. After many years of
correspondence with the Commissioners of National Education, the plans
etc. were accepted and they gave a grant of £1,400. The school altogether
cost £6,000-£7,000. In the case of the residence, £250 was borrowed from
the Board of Works.
While all admit that the school is a fine one, commodious, well
ventilated, well lit and well built, we would have had further and fuller
accommodation in it, but the Commissioners would not allow us.
I had visited schools in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, but our
Commissioners were impervious to new ideas.
We wished also to build a more commodious teacher's residence but the
Commissioners objected. It so happened that Dr. Lamont, the first
principal, had no family, and the accommodation was sufficient for him.
But when Mr Boyd came with a family, we were compelled to enlarge the
residence at a price which exceeded the original cost; prices during the
years had so much increased. [JVH NOTE: This was James Boyd. His children
included Professor Maurice Boyd of Queen's University, Belfast and Eustace
Boyd, who became a Director of the Ulster Bank.]
For the erection of these buildings, the congregation was not asked for
This school, called the Brownlee Memorial School, in honour of Miss
Isabella Brownlee, whose money made it possible to erect it, has filled a
most useful place in the community; its teachers possessing a high
standard of educational efficiency and that fine Christian spirit which is
of the utmost value in not only training the intellect but in shaping and
developing the character.
The school is now transferred to the Local Education Authority and is
under the management of a local committee of intelligent, highminded men,
which gives me great satisfaction in retiring from it.
[JVH NOTE: As of 1995, the school is still going. About 10 years ago,
the teacher's residence became surplus to requirements; it was
retransferred to the Church and sold by them.]
From the early days of the congregation, there was an afternoon Sunday
School in the Hilden Dining Hall, the use of which was given at first by
Mr William Barbour, who was indeed the chief founder of the congregation.
This Sunday School was carried on earnestly and efficiently by numbers of
willing teachers before my time and during my earlier years here, and was
always largely attended by the children of Hilden and neighbourhood. But
increasingly, perhaps due to the modern appreciation of convenience and
comfort, there was felt the need of more suitable accommodation. So I went
to Mr J.D. Barbour, the head of the firm of Wm Barbour & Sons in my time,
to ask for ground for a Mission Hall in Hilden. He entertained the matter
most sympathetically and sent Mr Milne, his second son out with me to spy
out a site. They offered ground close to Hilden House. But on account of
special expenditure on other operations at the time, the matter of the
Hilden Mission Hall was deferred. [JVH NOTE: The Mr Milne referred to was
the future Sir Milne Barbour.]
Subsequently, when Mrs Milne Barbour, to the deep sorrow of the whole
community, passed away, she left £250 to Railway Street Church. Shortly
after this, I met Mr Milne and he asked me what the Committee proposed to
do with Mrs Barbour's bequest. I told him it was not yet decided, but I
thought it might be made the nucleus of a fund to build a Mission Hall in
Hilden. The next time I met Mr Milne, he told me he would like to add £500
for this purpose. The next time I met him he said he would like to defray
all cost of such a building and for us to go on to select the site and get
We selected the site where the E.M.B. Hall now is, with Mr Barbour's
approval. The ground belonged to Sir Samuel Keightley & Co. We bought and
paid for it, but ultimately Mr Barbour insisted on paying this also.
The plans, etc. were approved, Mr Barbour having given great attention
to them, and indeed to every detail of the building from beginning to end,
anxious that all materials and equipment should be of the best.
Altogether, the building ground, furniture, etc. cost the most of £2500,
and all conveyed to the Session of Railway Street Church.
I should have said that at an early stage it was cordially agreed that
the Hall should be a memorial to Mrs Elise Milne Barbour; it bears in
front a memorial stone, and in the Hall our committee put above the
platform a picture of Mrs Barbour.
Our Session appointed a Committee of Management of the Hall and made Mr
Barbour Chairman. He has from its erection taken a deep interest in the
Hall and Sunday School and the work carried on, and, when painting or
lighting or anything else was required, has always borne the cost. It is
only recently that our Committee has insisted on financing the Hall.
I should add that immediately on its erection, our Committee decided
that the annual interest of Mrs Barbour's £250 should go to the upkeep of
the Hall. Mr Barbour has, from time to time, handed over sums for the same
One can never be thankful enough to Mr Barbour for his abounding
generosity to our congregation; personally, I feel most grateful and
thankful to God that I have been associated with him, not only in that,
but also in connection with other institutions. The seat in which his
grandfather sat in Railway Street Church was always paid for by the firm
of Messrs Barbour & Sons, until the Linen Thread Company was formed. From
that date, Mr Milne himself paid the stipend, £4-10s. A few years ago, he
wrote me a letter intimating that he wished to make permanent provision
for that stipend, and enclosed scrip for £200 at 4½%,
thus doubling the annual amount and making it permanent. One heartily
blesses God for such men as the Rt. Hon. J. Milne Barbour, M.P., D.L.,
This, then is the third building, all specially fine buildings, which
came into the possession of the congregation without any financial effort
on their part.
I would have no satisfaction, as a Minister of the Gospel of Christ in
having had a hand in all these material erections in connection with
Railway Street Church, if there had not been also, and chiefly, the
placing of stones in the Temple of God, the building up of the
imperishable Kingdom in the salvation of men. But, thank God, while there
is deepest cause for humiliation in view of faithlessness and shortcomings
in so many directions, our congregation never lost sight of the chief aim
of the Church of Christ, that is the salvation of souls, the bringing of
young and old under the sway and power of the living Christ. And all along
the years, there were tokens of God's presence and blessing in the
conversion of sinners and the comforting and building up of men and women
in the faith of Christ. I can humbly say for myself that the spiritual
building was ever cherished as supremely important and that, through the
grace and mercy of God, the Holy Spirit opened the hearts of young and old
among us and gave us from time to time seasons of blessed refreshing.
The congregation at various times bestowed on us generous gifts. When
we first took up house at Rubicon in 1886, they gave us £50 to help to
furnish. Onetime, my health was a bit run down and they sent me away for a
month or more and paid all the expenses.
1907 happened to be the semi jubilee of our marriage, and the on gave
very handsome gifts to Mrs Hamilton and me, and sent us away to Canada and
the United States for three months. Since then they gave us further
valuable gifts, both in Mrs Hamilton's lifetime and after her death,
including the memorial window in the Church. We received sundry addresses
also. In 1910, the Golden Jubilee of the congregation and the semi-jubilee
of my ministry in Railway Street synchronised.
Mr James Carson, manager for years of the Ulster Bank and treasurer of
the congregation, wrote in this jubilee year a very interesting and
comprehensive history of the congregation from the beginning. He gives the
following figures to show the progress since I came in 1885. He gives 1885
and 1910. 1 add 1920 and 1929:
(*Freewill offering explains)
While the figures give some idea of the steady progress of the
congregation, they do not exhaust either the financial or spiritual
efforts and prosperity.
I could with satisfaction mention the names of men and women in the
congregation who were a never-failing help and encouragement, but they
would be so numerous that I feel I had better not begin to name names.
We have had many earnest, good men on both Session and Committee, and
while from time to time there were little differences of opinion, there
never were any unseemly conflicts but much Christian forbearance and
It could not be expected that a free Presbyterian people in making
radical changes should be all of one mind. So in changing from fermented
to unfermented wine at communion, we had considerable variance of opinion,
and I must confess the teetotal people were the least tolerant at the
time, but the ill-feeling soon passed away. [JVH NOTE: A cutting,
apparently from Mr Carson's history, pasted into my MS of the original RWH
book states: "In the year 1889, unfermented wine was first used at the
celebration of the Communion."]
Then, in the matter of the introduction of hymns, some of our best
people did not like them, but with fine, Christian magnanimity acquiesced
in their introduction. I should say that I was minister of Railway Street
for almost twenty years before I made any appeal publicly or privately to
the people to consent to the use of hymns in public worship.
One Sunday, I made an earnest appeal to them. I reminded them of the
length of time I had been with them without in any way touching on this
subject, and that I had come under the power of the Gospel of Christ where
hymns as well as psalms were constantly used, and that I loved the hymns,
but that out of respect for the views and feelings of many in the on I had
not hitherto urged their use. I reminded them also that there were many in
the congregation and most of the young people who liked the hymns. I added
that for long my own conviction was that we were never meant, in the
worship of praise, to be confined to the psalms, to that subject-matter of
praise in which the name of Christ did not occur and in which there was
nothing of noonday clearness about His atoning work.
I appealed, therefore, to these friends that did not like the hymns,
that as I and others had given proof of great patience towards them during
these twenty years, would not they now have patience with us and cordially
acquiesce in the introduction of hymns. They did so, and we really had no
trouble about their use. Practically the same was true when the use of
instrumental music was introduced in the service of the Church. [JVH NOTE:
Mr Carson's history states: "Instrumental music was introduced into the
service of the Church and an organ installed in the year 1908."]
I think I ought here to refer to generous donors to the Church. I have
already mentioned Mr Sloan's handsome gift of the ground for the Fort
Manse. Mr James Crossin, J.P, Massereene Villas [North Circular Road],
besides being always among the most liberal contributors to all our funds,
presented the congregation with the clock in the Church, and with our
magnificent organ and in his will remembered our Sunday School. He also
bequeathed several thousand pounds to the Mission and other funds of the
General Assembly. Mrs McAfee and Mr McAfee, though Methodists, left by
their wills generous gifts for our poor and church funds.
Miss Isabella Brownlee, the last of an old and much respected family,
who had been a great strength to our Church, left about half of her assets
to relations and by the remainder, except some inconsiderable sums to the
Lisburn Nursing Society, the Lisburn Intermediate School and the
Temperance Institute (for the purpose of a Library), enriched the
Assembly's College Library and this congregation.
Alexander Davidson, an elder of the Church, left £100 for necessary
repairs to the roof of the Church. Miss Jessie Sloan bequeathed money for
the poor and other purposes. Mr H.G. Larmor, J.P, one of the most helpful
and generous members of the Church, an elder for many years, gave, in his
lifetime £200, the interest from which was to help disabled breadwinners.
Miss Lily left £300, the interest from which was to provide prizes for
scripture examination in the Brownlee School. Mrs J.D. Hamilton, who died
recently, and was one of the oldest members, always willing generously to
help in any way, bequeathed £300 for the benefit of the Church funds.
In 1907, my brethren did me the honour of electing me as Moderator of
the Synod of Belfast.
Previously, the General Assembly had appointed me as first Convener of
the Missionary Conferences Committee (now Missionary Propaganda
Committee); subsequently, on the death of the Rev Dr William Rogers of
Whiteabbey, one of the ablest and most devoted and Christlike men the
Church ever possessed, the Assembly released me from the former Committee
and appointed me Convener of the State of Religion and Evangelisation
Committees. Both these Committees involved considerable work, which for
years I greatly enjoyed, but the demands of ever-increasing congregational
and other work in Lisburn and health considerations compelled me to give
up the latter Committee after seven or eight years as its Convener. I came
to the stage when I had to decide between the work involved in connection
with various Committees of the General Assembly - all most important - and
the work God gave me and was giving me to do in Lisburn. I could not give
my best strength to both, so I relinquished for the time much of the
The year 1907 was a memorable one for my wife and me. It was our silver
wedding year, and the congregation, deeply appreciative of the
occasion, gave us two handsome cheques and a silver rose bowl and sent us
off for a few months holiday. Just about this time, my cousin Emma Finley,
perhaps the oldest and best friend I had along the years, who was always
wishing us to visit the many cousins in Canada, made her wish this year
almost practically imperative by sending a cheque for £100 towards the
expenses. So to Canada we went, and spent our 25th Wedding Day, 22nd June,
on the good ship Sonia on our way to Quebec and Montreal. [JVH NOTE: The
Finleys and Gaults have already been referred to. Emma (nee Gault), wife
of Samuel Finley, was the daughter of Mary (nee Hamilton) and Leslie Gault.
Mary was the sister of RWH's father.]
We got a most affectionate welcome from the cousins in Montreal, but
most of them had moved away to summer quarters. Lizzie Gault (Mrs Matthew
Gault) was still at Braehead, and put herself and her carriage at our
disposal for the week or so we spent in Montreal. [JVH NOTE: I assume that
Matthew was Leslie's son.]
An experience I valued much was to take tea with my old, genial friend,
Bishop Carmichael. But, alas, he was much broken down, a bundle of nerves,
and died some months afterwards. His wife, a most noble woman of a
beautiful spirit, had died some years previously; in my early days in
Montreal, they had both been exceedingly kind to me.
But our destination was "The Islands", where the Finley family had
already gone. They owned two of the "Thousand Islands" in the St.
Lawrence. Mr Finley had been one of two who purchased from the Government
three islands. Mr Finley owned two of them, one of about eleven acres, the
other less than an acre, the two adjoining. They got them very cheap, but
by the time we were there most of the islands were bought, and at very
Life on these islands was ideal for a restful, simple holiday. Of
course, all access and egress was by boats, and my friends had several
canoes, row boats and sailing boats. All supplies were brought from a town
called Gananoque, about four miles distant. They had a cow, but supplies
of every kind, including fruit and vegetables, came from the mainland.
The conditions for a restful, happy holiday were ideal; the heat was
never oppressive, as there was always a breeze. The summer log-house was
most comfortable and the company, Emma and Gretta and Kathleen, others
occasionally, was of the best, intellectually, spiritually and
affectionately. [JVI-I NOTE: Gretta and Kathleen were presumably Emma's
We spent two months here, longer than we intended, because of my
needing the attention of a dentist.
One evening at tea, the girls remarked that they often wished they had
a bridge between the two islands. Later on, I went to where the islands
approached nearest to each other, and did some measuring and thinking that
evening. The next morning at breakfast, I announced that I was going to
build a bridge. I found the span would be less than 30 feet. There were
great quantities of oak saplings on the island, the Government, some years
ago, having cut down the immense oak trees; saplings, three or four or
five from every root, had grown up and were now fifty or sixty feet high.
I first built a stone pier on either side, sufficiently high above the
level of the water. I cut down four of these saplings, but when I had them
cut I found they were so heavy that, although we got four men, we were
unable to move them down to the water to float them to the bridge
quarters. So I had to cut down four smaller ones. These were over 30 feet
long and rested on the two heaps of stones and formed the beams or
framework. Then, across these four, innumerable small poles were nailed
down to make a close floor for the bridge. Then banisters about three feet
high were raised along either side.
The small island was called Drumclamph for Mr Finley's old home in Co.
Tyrone. It was full of squirrels that kept me company while I built, at
first very timorous but after a while running past me across the bridge to
the larger island, where they had never been before.
At length, on Wednesday, 28th August, 1907, I handed the bridge over to
cousin Emma, and, standing on the bridge, recited a poem made for the
occasion as follows.
This bridge is neither straight nor square,
'Tis level only here and there,
Its glory is its inclinations
Its peril is its pier foundations,
But 'tis a bridge that spans two isles,
And cares not what pert critic smiles.
True, proper critics apt to judge
Display discernment of a bridge.
A noble bridge, declare the squirrels,
A splendid bridge, aver the girls,
And since it gives these friends some pleasure,
The pontiff scorns the men who measure.
Behold, how nature vast and full
Despises lime and line and rule,
Like plant and tree and hill and sea,
From all pedantic gauges free,
This bridge is no prim artist's creature,
But emulates the child of nature.
Besides the family, three Miss Shillingtons, who had built a beautiful
summer house on an island nearby, were present, and all took tea on
Drumclamph, a very happy gathering. I think the maids were present too.
The next day, we left Sagastaweke - the Indian name of the larger
island - after some of the happiest experiences of our lives.
Perhaps I should mention two other experiences:
When Mr Finley first came to the islands, there were few people about,
but soon people from Montreal and Toronto and the United States purchased
islands and built thereon. Mr Finley and a Methodist clergyman soon
started Sunday afternoon services at a very interesting spot called Half
Moon Bay. In my day, scores of boats and splendid launches came every
Sunday afternoon, bringing hundreds of worshippers, and I had the
privilege of conducting the services on several Sundays.
The other matter: My cousin's man, George, an Englishman, whom I tried
to enlist to give energetic help at the bridge, but soon found he always
made for the point of least resistance - he would put small stones on the
piers, although there were plenty of large ones about, so I had to
encourage him to do other work about the house and leave the bridge to me.
But there was an elderly man named John McDonald, a boatman who took us to
fish, whom I got to help, the very opposite type from the other; he would
tackle anything and was a great help.
Another story about him: Friends in an adjacent island, to whom we went
for tea, had numbers of fruit trees, but said they never had any fruit. I
suggested root pruning. They did this, and the next year had abundance of
fruit. They told John McDonald that this was due to my advice, and it
appears John said, "Mr Hamilton is the cleverest Irishman I have ever
known." This I regard as one of the finest compliments I ever got.
In 1910, there was a great Missionary Conference in Edinburgh,
representatives of all the Protestant Churches of Christendom being
present, and many native Christians, some of them very able and notable
speakers, from all the mission fields of the world. I was one of the
delegates from our Church, and the privilege of attending the wonderful
meetings was one of the great experiences of my life. I could never forget
one of the great pronouncements of the Rev. Dr Denny, theological
professor of the United Free College, Glasgow, stressing the importance of
the Church at home being alive and vigorous:
"The sort of person that is needed in the service of the Church, at
home or abroad, is the person who is enthusiastically sure that he has in
Christ that without which life has no value.
1914 was a never-to-be-forgotten year. Burt had belonged to a medical
corps in Edinburgh, and was called out for service a few days before war
was declared. He went out with French's Expeditionary Force to France. His
mother and I went over to Manchester to see him before he left. Bob, their
first-born was but a few months old, and he and his mother were to be left
alone. Some hours after he had gone, I was alone with the child, carrying
him about in the drawing-room. Deeply impressed with the pathos of the
occasion, I began some rhyme expressive of the child's mind. I can only
recall two verses:
Daddy is gone to the war,
And, mother and I are alone,
We're going to be good and not cry
Till Daddy comes back again home.
But mother and I are so glad,
I can't tell you how glad we feel,
That Daddy in going to the war
Is not going to kill but to heal.
Then, but a few weeks passed when he was taken prisoner at Mons, and
for some time reported as missing. This was a deeply anxious time for his
wife and mother and us all. But again in a few weeks we learned that he
was at Torgau, an old fortress that had been used as a barracks. After
many trying experiences, he was released with four others in January 1915,
long before exchanges were entered upon. After a time, he went back to
France again, and continued in active service until within a few months of
the end of the war, when he was gassed in rescuing a fellow-officer who
had been gassed in a dug-out. For this he received the Military Cross.
The period of the war was for many of our young people a trying and
tragic time. Many of the young men of the congregation went to the war and
fourteen laid down their lives in the service of God and their country.
[JVH NOTE: It may be appropriate to interpose here a short note on
RWH's elder son, ESBH (Burt);
Born at Burt, Co. Donegal, 30th March 1886. Educated: 1893-1900 Lisburn
Intermediate School; 1900-1903 Campbell College Belfast: 1903-1904 Queen's
College Belfast; 1904-10 medical course at Edinburgh University but 1907-8
was spent as games-master at Wickersdorf School. Germany. Hospital
appointments: 1910-1911 Edinburgh Royal Infirmary; 1911-1912 Cardiff
Infirmary. General practice at 79 Shrewsbury Street, Manchester 1912-1914.
Married 18th January 1913 at 10 Chalmer's Crescent, Edinburgh his 1st wife
Marion Elsie Stewart (1884-1921). 1919 FRCS (Edinburgh) and became an ear,
nose and throat surgeon in Manchester. Took a prominent part in the St.
John's Ambulance Brigade in Lancashire. c.1934 married his 2nd wife
Marjory Kathleen Bird. O.B.E. 1953. Children: by his Ist marriage: Dr
Robert Stewart Burt born 23rd February 1914; Geoffrey Cadzow, C.B.E.,
M.A., born 5th January 1917; he died a few years ago; Peter Donaldson,
L.D.S. 1921-1963; by his 2nd marriage; Henry Wilson, F.R.C.S. born 1st
April 1935. ESBH died 14th March 1962.)