THE MODERATORIAL YEAR
June 1924 - June 1925
In early 1924, or perhaps a month or so earlier, I began to hear it
whispered that some of my brethren were anxious, or indeed determined,
that I should be Moderator of the General Assembly. This was a position
that I never dreamed of or aspired to, but when the first Tuesday of
February drew near, I had good reason to know that many of my brethren in
the ministry and others, especially the younger men in the Church, were
determined that I should gain this high position and honour. I had
personal misgivings, chiefly on account of my health, as I had not, for
many years, been specially vigorous. I asked my son, Burt to come over
from Manchester and to arrange for a meeting with W.W.D. Thomson [the
future Sir William Thomson, a leading Belfast physician], an old friend of
ours, that they might examine me thoroughly and say if they thought I
should be physically fit for the strain of a week at the Assembly and the
incessant travelling about during the year. They unhesitatingly said I
would be physically equal to the strain. I was nominated by a considerable
majority of the Presbyteries after a keen and interesting contest between
an old friend of mine and me, a contest, I think, which we both enjoyed
and which left no bitterness behind. In all the exciting and interesting
competition on, I was, of course, from beginning to end, absolutely
passive [JVH NOTE: The old friend was the Rev. Thomas Haslett of 1st
Ballymena, who became Moderator 1925-26.]
I was, of course, gratified at the result, and I determined not to make
a toil but a joy of all the duties involved, and in this I succeeded.
First of all, I greatly enjoyed the Assembly week, and we had the
remarkable experience that there was not a division taken by the ballot
during the whole Assembly but one, and that was when I was at lunch and
Dr. Strahan in the chair. I often twitted Dr Strahan, one of the ablest
and most farseeing men in the Church, whose death recently the whole
Church lamented, for permitting this division.
On several occasions, when divisions Were threatening, I appealed to
the one side or the other, and they always yielded to my appeal. I
remember, as I came down from the platform on the last night of the
Assembly, having the feeling of regret that this experience could never
occur again. And throughout that exceptionally busy year, I had the same
There was just one dark shadow obtruding itself all through the year;
that was that my dearly loving and dearly loved wife, who could have
filled her place so well, and with no less joy than mine, was unable by
reason of her health to attend any of the interesting functions incidental
to the office; for example dining with the Duke and Duchess of York at Sir
James Craig's, lunching with them at the City Hall, as guests of Sir
William Turner; Lord Mayor of Belfast, and dozens of such interesting
functions and entertainments, including two garden parties at Buckingham
Palace, to all of which she too was invited. But she, who could have
filled her part so well and so happily, had been compelled to give up her
bible classes and all her outside and public work, work for the Zenana
Mission, the Y W.C.A., etc., owing to high blood pressure and a very weak
heart. This was to me an abiding source of regret and disappointment. My
sorrow, however, was much relieved by the beautiful, childlike
acquiescence in her Heavenly Father's will which characterised her then
and in all the future short years.
I had an experience in Dublin, when asked to distribute the prizes at
St. Andrew's College, which became quite notorious, and which I think I
should refer to. I was the guest of honour at a dinner in the Shelbourne
Hotel the evening of the distribution. There was a large number of the
leading men of Dublin present, Presbyterians and others, Sir William
Thompson, Registrar-General in the chair. [JVH NOTE: See Northern Whig
22nd December 1924 et seq.] It was the Toast of Prosperity to Ireland that
I was to respond to. I spoke about the Governors and Governments and the
existing state of affairs in the country. I indicated that I thought
Timothy Healy was an admirable Governor-General and that in the
circumstances a better selection could not have been found. I indicated
also that I thought the Dublin Government, confronted with perhaps the
most difficult situation in Ireland's history, had done admirably, had
displayed wonderful courage and wisdom and tolerance. There were nine High
Court judges in the Free State, five of them were Protestants, three of
them Presbyterians - we never had three Presbyterian judges before.
Appealing to them as friends, and oblivious of the possibility of my words
getting publicity, I went on to say that I was a Liberal and one of those
who still thought that if Mr Gladstone's Home Rule Bill had become law we
would not have had the deplorable lawlessness and strife and murders that
had so blackened our history. I deplored the customs barriers that existed
through partition, and indicated that there were many people in the North
who deplored them. I thought that the saner people in the North and in the
South might come to some understanding as to better working agreements
between the two sections of the country, and I appealed to them that if
they in the South would be on their good behaviour for ten or twelve
years, I thought the business people in the North would be glad to enter
into better working relations between the two countries.
I deplored that there were wild men in the North, as in the South, and
that the Northern press played too much to the gallery.
At an earlier stage I had said that I thought our Northern Government
had done well, that Sir James Craig and the other members of the
Government had displayed much wisdom and tolerance and had given
themselves energetically to the development of the country.
This speech was in extenso in all the papers the next day. Especially
did the Belfast papers exploit it and put the worst construction on it.
Notably, the Northern Whig and the Belfast Telegraph. Indeed the editior
of the Northern Whig [Sir Robert Lynn] was so zealously moved in the
matter that he got a special meeting of the Cabinet called to deal with
it; however, the Cabinet did not take things as seriously as he did and
took no action. Probably exasperated at the Cabinet's callousness in the
matter, the Whig continued in all moods and tenses to denounce me, but the
vituperation fizzled out after a week or so. Letters for and against me
appeared daily in the papers. I wrote some myself, and enjoyed the whole
business. [JVH NOTE: Sir Robert Lynn's contributions to the debate verged
on the hysterical.]
Probably, had I known that so much notice would be taken of my speech,
I would have been more guarded. But I have often heard from men of
different political opinions since that what I said then all men were
Another experience of my Moderatorial year was the controversy between
the Churches and the Government in reference to bible teaching in the
day-schools. In the Education Act of 1923, which had many valuable,
progressive features, the teaching of scripture was no longer a regular
requirement. In the old Education Act, the provision was: united secular
and separate religious instruction, the latter by the teachers, half an
hour daily. In the new Act, the teachers might or might not give religious
instruction and they might be persons of no religious belief.
The schools were almost all hitherto built and sustained and fostered
by the Churches, and there was the above principle in reference to
religious instruction. The new Act proposed to take over the schools from
the Churches, the management being taken out of their hands and vested in
a Committee, on which they would have a representation of about
one-fourth, and this Committee had not the right of appointing or
dismissing; that belonged to the Regional Education Committee.
Those representing the Churches who were transferring their property
and rights to the state authority felt that they ought to have some say in
the appointment of teachers and that the teaching of scripture should not
occupy a less secure position under the new Act than under the old. There
were other matters, but these two were deemed the most vital and
important. Representatives of the school managers of the three Protestant
Churches met, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, and formed a defensive
association and elected three secretaries, who proved to be most able,
wise and resolute men, who after many interviews and conferences with
representatives of the Government, finally succeeded in obtaining what was
The Secretaries were;
the Rev. James Quinn
the Rev. W.H. Smyth
the Rev. William Corkey
[JVH NOTE: The Rev. James Quinn (Church of Ireland), was incumbent of
St. Michael's, Belfast 1913-24 and of St. Jude's, Ballynafeigh 1924-56;
Chancellor of Down 1940-56.
The Rev. William H. Smyth was the paternal grandfather of my good
friend James Corry Fraser Smyth, Barrister-at-law. The Rev. W.H. Smyth was
the leading educational spokesman of the Methodist Church in Ireland. He
was twice President of the Methodist Conference. He retired in 1933, after
36 years in the ministry and died on 14th July, 1949.
The Rev. William Corkey was installed in 1924 as colleague and
successor to the Rev. John Irwin at Windsor Presbyterian Church, Belfast,
where he remained until his retirement in 1949. He was Moderator 193334
and died in 1964.]
Perhaps I had something to do with the enlarged publicity of the
matters in dispute. Asked by Dr. MCGranahan, Minister_ of First Derry
Church to attend a special historic meeting of the congregation, I spoke
on the new Education Act, and while, as a democrat, I welcomed the Act
generally, I criticised some of its provisions. I pointed out that quite
recently all managers of schools had got a circular from the Minister of
Education requiring that all teachers should take an oath of loyalty to
the King. The circular contained this paragraph:
"In the case of a teacher who has no religious belief, he is not
required to make an oath; an affirmation or declaration will be
That meant in my school which was founded and fostered by my
congregation, and had property valued at about £10,000, that within a year
or two, if we transferred under this Act, there could possibly be a man as
principal of the school who had no religious belief.
I pointed out that in my school, I had both Methodist and Episcopalian
teachers, and that I would not mind if either a Methodist or an
Episcopalian should become principal, but that I would resist to the
uttermost an Act that allowed the possibility of a man of no religious
belief occupying such a position. I pointed out that this was why some of
us had taken off our coats and determined to fight to the death. This
speech was blazoned abroad in the papers next day, and the fat was in the
Most of the meetings, and they were many, of clergy and laymen, the
latter being as determined as the former, were held in our Church House,
Belfast, and at all of them I was put into the chair. The final meeting
was in the Assembly Hall, ministers and managers from all parts of the six
counties being present, also the Grand Master of the Orangemen, Sir Joseph
Davison, an immense audience filling the great hall. [JVH NOTE: Sir Joseph
was County Grand Master for Belfast.]
Sir Joseph was on the platform on my right hand, and in my opening
remarks as chairman, I mentioned that the significance of the meeting
might be inferred from the fact that the Grand Master of the Orangemen of
Ulster and a Moderator who had recently been in Dublin were side by side
on the platform. This was evidently appreciated by the great audience.
A number of able speeches were delivered by clergymen and laymen,
calling upon the Government, indeed demanding of the Government the
amendment of the Act. And the Government yielded, undertook to do what the
Churches were demanding, and although it took some time to have all
misunderstandings cleared up, the Churches were finally satisfied.
I think I should state that at an earlier stage I met Sir James Craig,
the Prime Minister and Lord Londonderry, the Minister of Education, in the
Lord Mayor's Parlour in Belfast City Hall, and quoted to them the
paragraph in the circular to managers referring to "no religious belief."
It seemed to be new to the Prime Minister, and no more was heard of it; it
In an amending Act, teachers were required, as formerly, to teach
scripture, and the Committee of Management was to have the final say in
the appointment of teachers.
[JVH NOTE: For a rather different view of the controversy, see The
Londonderrys, a Family Portrait, by H. Montgomery Hyde (London, 1979),
p.154 et seq. and Education and Enmity by D.H. Akenson (London 1973), p.72
OUR AMERICAN TOUR
1926 was notable, perhaps a red letter year in our experience. Early in
June, Martha and I crossed to the United States in the good ship Caledonia
of the Cunard Anchor Line. This was the jubilee year of my class of '76 at
Princeton University, and the Trustees of the University, wishing to do
the class some special honour, summoned me to attend the commencement
exercises to receive the degree of D.D. The class, while it had a meeting
every year since graduation, wished to have a very special gathering of as
many members as could attend, at Princeton. The class had been well
organised, with committee, president, treasurer and secretary, elected
each year. H.L. Harrison, familiarly known as the General, was the most
efficient secretary during all these years, keeping the members of the
class informed about everything pertaining to the class, editing and
publishing a record of the history of the members every five years, and
arranging for the annual meetings of the members in June. He and I sat
beside each other in the various classes and remained very warm friends
all down the years; on one occasion he and his wife paid us a visit here
in Lisburn for a few days.
He arranged everything most thoroughly and comfortably for our stay at
Princeton. The members of the class lived in houses rented to them. But
special and most comfortable quarters were found for Martha and me in the
house of the secretary to the President.
The hospitality and kindness we received during our week there were
never to be forgotten. We dined with the President, President Hibben, and
with several other notable people, and were being entertained all the
time; the class gave us a special evening. Out of a class of upwards of
150, about 67 still survived, and 37 met together for this jubilee time.
Besides Harrison, who had been corresponding with me months before June,
Bayard Henry, a well known lawyer, took a very special interest in us. We
stayed with him for some days before going to Princeton, at his beautiful
home in Germantown, Philadelphia, and greatly enjoyed the kind hospitality
of his charming wife and himself and the various entertainments they had
arranged for us. Henry had arranged that I should preach in his church, he
being an elder in it as his father before him was. I forget the minister's
name, an able and scholarly man.
There were two bible classes that I addressed before the morning
service, one the "old brigade", taught for about 40 years by Henry
himself, the other taught by a very intelligent young man; in the former,
there were about 30 members, most of them over 50 years of age; the latter
had over 120 members, young men.
In the church afterwards, there were most of 800 present, though the
summer holidays had begun. The congregation, besides much local mission
work, sustained several missionaries in the Foreign Mission Field.
Henry also arranged that I was to preach in the First Presbyterian
Church, Princeton on Baccalaureate Sunday. [JVH NOTE: In American
Universities the sermon to departing graduates was called the
Baccalaureate Sermon.] There too was a splendid audience, including the
members of my class, who had come for the jubilee. The Rev. Dr. Erdman,
Professor of Theology in the Theological Seminary, was also Pastor of this
Church, and one of the finest types of Christian men I have ever met: His
kindness in motoring us about, in entertaining my wife and me and having
us entertained was something wonderful. His wife, too, took the greatest
interest in making the visit to Princeton happy and memorable for my wife.
Dr. Stevenson also, the President of the Seminary, took great pains to
facilitate our enjoyment of the visit, not only to Princeton but to other
parts of the country. Perhaps the most wonderful thing of all was that
Dick Wilson, an old member of '76 and now a Professor in the Seminary, and
a champion of the Fundamentalists, said he enjoyed my sermon. We lunched
with him and his family one day.
Meeting these 37 members of the class, only one of whom, Harrison, I
had seen in 50 years, was a unique experience. I found it difficult to
discover the boy I knew in the old man's face, but they all knew me, as I
was expected and the only stranger at their yearly gatherings; they were
truly kind to us both.
On the 22nd [June], our 44th Wedding Day, the degree of D.D. was
conferred by the President, in the presence of several thousand people
seated in the open air in the Campus in bright warm sunshine. [JVH NOTE: I
have the degree certificate, signed by President Hibben. It is dated, in
Roman style, a.d. X Kal. Jul. Anno Domini MDCCCCXXVI that is ten days
counting back from 1st July.]
From beginning to end, our time in Princeton was an unbroken joy. But
what a Princeton it was now, compared with the Princeton of 1876. The
first evening there, after dinner, I went out alone to see if I could
discover any of the old landmarks. I was bewildered, and would have lost
myself in a wilderness of magnificent buildings, a place so changed as to
be unrecognisable by me. In the earlier time, Princeton was a very plain,
unkempt village with poor houses and streets. Now it was a place of
magnificent suburban mansions and beautiful streets and drives, the
favourite place for distinguished men to retire to. Here Presidents
Cleveland and Taft lived and died and many wealthy families found here
their congenial abode. It is looked upon as one of the show places of the
country. Among other transformations was that of a tiny stream which ran
through the woods, a favourite walk of mine, now enlarged through the
beneficence of Mr Carnegie into a lake over two miles long where Yale and
Princeton have their annual boat races.
Bayard Henry had arranged that I was to preach in the foremost
Presbyterian Church in Washington, the Minister of which was the Rev. Dr.
Woods. When I arrived at Dr. Woods' house on the Saturday, where a number
of interesting people were invited to dine with us, he showed me at dinner
a handbill announcing an open-air service on the Sunday afternoon at 4 0'
clock on the Temple Heights, to be addressed by "an eloquent Irish
minister," the Moderator of the Irish Presbyterian Church. This was the
first that I heard of the open-air service. On the Sunday, there were said
to be 800 people in the Church, and at the close of the service scores of
people came to shake hands with me, among them the Italian Ambassador, who
was a Waldensian.
At the Temple Heights, in front of the Masonic Temple, there were said
to be about 1200 people. At the close, Dr. Woods estimated that about 500
shook hands with me. This is a usual custom of the American Churches, when
a stranger preaches. Among others, we received great kindness and
hospitality here from Mr Butler, a brother of Howard Butler, at present
Secretary of 1876.
On the Monday, we had the pleasure and honour of being received by
President Coolidge in the White House. [JVH NOTE: Numerous indeed are the
anedotes about that laconic President. My favourite: Coolidge, on
returning from Church, is asked: "What was the sermon about?" Answer:
"Sin." "But what did the preacher say about it?" "He was against it."]
I should have stated earlier that when we first landed in New York we
went direct to Washington, to our cousins, Fred and Kathleen Wright, who
entertained us royally, taking us to Mount Vernon, the home of George
Washington, and round the other wonderful sights in this city of
magnificent buildings: the splendid Lincoln Statue, the Parliament Houses
and one of the finest buildings I have ever seen, the Congressional
We spent a most delightful ten or twelve days with them and their
interesting children, going to them thus early because they were about to
start for their summer holiday to the Finley home in the Murnand Islands.
[JVH NOTE: Kathleen Wright was a daughter of Sam and Emma Finley, the
latter being a daughter of RWH's aunt Mary Gault nee Hamilton.]
We returned from them to Bayard Henry's at Germantown.
In the second visit to Washington, on our way back to Philadelphia, we
called at Baltimore and spent a few delightful days with our cousin
William Howard Hamilton and his kind wife and Elizabeth, their only child.
Elizabeth discovered that 1st July was my 75th birthday and produced a
wonderful birthday cake with 75 candles at dinner, when her grandfather, a
brother of the distinguished Ambassador, and wonderful friend of England,
Walter Page, her grandmother and her aunt were present with us. It was a
great joy to discover these most affectionate people.
[JVH NOTE: W.H. Hamilton, a Baltimore lawyer whom we have already met,
was a son of Matthew Allen Hamilton of Baltimore, the latter being a son
of RWH's uncle, Dr. Andrew Allen Hamilton of Derry (1800 1860). W.H.'s
wife was Rosalind Page. Walter Page, Rosahnd's uncle was Walter Hines Page
(1855-1918), U.S. Ambassador in London at the time of World War I.]
We went from Baltimore to Philadelphia again, to stay with the Porters
at Rose Valley. They formerly lived in: Lisburn; their father, Thomas
Porter was managing director of Stewart's Mill, Lisburn for many years and
belonged to Railway Street congregation. His wife and he were great
friends of ours. Over twenty years before our visit, the father and mother
had gone to the United States. [JVH NOTE: Their emigration will no doubt
have been at approximately the same time as the Stewart company became
bankrupt and the mill was taken over by William Barbour & Sons.] He had
started a successful linen business in Philadelphia. The mother and father
are now both gone, but four of the boys carried on the business and were
very successful. These four were all married and had beautiful homes out
at Rose Valley, about 30 miles from Philadelphia. There was a fifth
brother, the youngest, a barrister, but he was at home in England that
We went first to stay with William and his wife and young people. They
were at Cape May, a popular seaside resort, and William drove us through
an interesting and beautiful countryside, largely studded with fruit
trees, to Cape May, where we spent a few delightful days.
Late on, before leaving for home, we returned to Rose Valley, and spent
delightful, but very hot - 104 in the shade - days with Stewart Porter and
his wife and children, and were most hospitably entertained by all the
brothers and their wives. It was to me a great gratification to find these
four sons of our old friends working together happily and prospering
greatly. Being with them on a Sunday, I preached in their Church nearby. I
forget the minister's name, but he was a Princeton man.
On Sunday, 11th July, I preached twice in the Church of the Covenant,
New York. It is the oldest Church in New York, having been founded by the
first Dutch settlers, centuries ago. The Church in which I preached was
their third building. It was, I think, in 75th Street and Broadway, a very
magnificent building, with halls and rooms for the various meetings of
their numerous organisations. Yet, as the business of the city was
steadily creeping up town and the people steadily moving farther out, the
office-bearers of the Church felt that they must soon move their Church
farther out also. As a matter of fact, they had been offered seven million
dollars for the site; let them move everything worth moving and this price
was theirs for the ground. They were naturally reluctant to face the
necessity of removal. They had magnificent rooms filled with most
interesting and valuable historical and archaeological treasures, and the
family associations were strong and tender. Still, the day must come soon;
it may have come by this time. This congregation had founded and fostered,
I think, five mission Churches in various parts of the city, and had
It was specially interesting to us, in that President Theodore
Roosevelt, who was of Dutch descent, was baptised in it and became a
communicant in it, and was deeply interested in its prosperity all his
life. After his death, a gold plate was placed on the outer end of his
family pew, on which were inscribed the dates of his birth, his becoming a
communicant, his becoming President, and his death.
Still more was I interested in it because my old classmate and friend,
Henry L. Harrison was an elder in it, was session clerk and a deeply
interested member and worker. It was through him that I preached there. It
appears that during that week a large number of college students came to
New York for examinations and conventions. Harrison cabled me in April to
know if I would preach there that Sunday, indicating that the fee would be
100 dollars. I replied that I would. There were five congregations at both
services, and I greatly enjoyed the day, a feature being a lunch with a
lot of Princeton friends in the magnificent Union Club. Perhaps I should
say that I received the same fee for preaching in Princeton, Philadelphia.
The day was very hot. Bayard Henry tried to dissuade me from preaching
in New York at that date, but I felt bound to keep to my engagement with
Harrison. The next day at 8 a.m., we took train for Chicago, which we
reached at 8 a.m. the following day. We found Tom Jones, who lived 30
miles out of Chicago, waiting for us with his car at the station. Tom and
his brother, David came to our class in the Sophomore year. Both the
brothers were hard-working, industrious students, sensible and purposeful.
They were of Welsh descent; David had been born in Wales. I always
remembered a remark of David's after a religious meeting. I am not sure
who was speaking, possibly myself. He said to me, "I wish he had pointed
out that it was manly to be a Christian."
They got on well at Princeton, settled down as lawyers in Detroit, then
got into real estate business and became rich men in Chicago. David had
died some years previously; he was married. Tom remained single, was an
elder of the church and an influential man in Chicago. When we were at
Princeton, a fund was being raised for the extension of the University and
in the list of subscribers Tom Jones' name was down for 200,000 dollars,
We went to Chicago en route to Vancouver and San Francisco, to see my
niece Harriett Burbidge and her husband Herbert at Vancouver and Martha's
brother Adam Donaldson at San Francisco, also some other friends.
[JVH NOTE: Harriett, as we have seen, was the daughter of RWH's brother
Henry Stewart Hamilton; her first husband was Bartholomew H. McCorkell.]
But after almost two months of festivities, limelight business all the
time, and the steady rising of the temperature until it was considerably
above 100, and especially the heat and confinement, though we had a
comfortable Pullman car room, the interminable dust, and the incessant din
and lurching of the cars, being so large that the buffers were
ineffective, when I got to Chicago I seemed to be on the verge of a
To go on to Vancouver meant four continuous days in the train, and
greatly to our regret and disappointment and the regret and disappointment
of the friends who expected us, after anxious and careful consideration,
we decided to go no farther but to return to the east as soon as possible.
We were both convinced that to continue the train journey for four days
in such conditions would have meant serious, perhaps permanent breakdown
for me. So we returned to the hospitality of our friends at Rose Valley
and came home a few weeks sooner than we intended.
We returned by the same steamer that took us out, the Caledonia and
received again great kindness from the officers and staff. I had conducted
three services on the way out to New York and one on the return voyage,
all of them greatly enjoyed. We were most comfortable on board, had not
berths but two beds, armchairs, a couch, a writing table and a bathroom
adjoining. I think we owed our comfortable and luxurious accommodation to
the good offices of one of the kindest of businessmen, Mr Douglas of
Though my dear wife had been troubled with blood pressure before this
visit to America, she was wonderfully well all the time, enjoyed every
inch of the journey by land and sea, and met and made many friends
wherever we were. The Americans are past masters in the art of
hospitality. Had she been here, she could have described far more vividly
our innumerable happy experiences.
DEATH OF MARTHA
Although Martha had been so seriously ill and disabled in 1924-25, she
enjoyed the American trip immensely, and continued wonderfully well during
1926 and 1927, taking part again in outside and public work. She began
again to go about addressing meetings in the interests of the Zenana
Mission and of temperance. She was for years president of the Women's
Branch of the Lisburn Temperance Union. She probably was outstripping her
strength in these activities. Shortly before Christmas, 1927, she
organised a drawing room meeting in the Manse, addressed magnificently by
Mrs McWhirter, and a few days later distributed the prizes at the Brownlee
Memorial School, one of whose foundation stones she had laid some years
These two efforts were a great strain upon her strength, and
constituted, indeed, her last two public appearances. The heart trouble
recurred; she did much, perhaps too much, in arranging for a happy
Christmas, that she said would be her last with us, when Burt and Robin
and Marie [Robin's wife, my mother] and Burt's three boys [Bob, Geoffrey
and Peter] were all with us.
Most of the remaining days were spent in bed, and from about the middle
of January she was increasingly the victim of acutely painful heart
spasms, lasting from twenty to fifty minutes, and recurring four or five
times during the day. It was quite remarkable how well she slept at night,
usually getting eight or nine hours sleep, the attacks seldom occurring
during the night.
She taught me many a lesson during her illness, in her patient,
unmurmuring submission to her Heavenly Father's will. After one of her
painful attacks, she would say, "Robert, I am just going to have the time
of my life", and with her books and letters and Peter, she would be "as
happy as the day is long" until the next attack came.
[JVH NOTE: Peter was Peter Donaldson Hamilton (1921-1963), ESBH's
youngest son by his first marriage. Peter's mother died a few weeks after
his birth, so Peter spent much of his childhood with his Hamilton
Dr Munce was her greatly beloved physician. She knew the sound of his
car and brightened up when he was coming. He came more than once daily
during her closing weeks. Dr McKisack, also, a Belfast specialist and an
old friend, saw her frequently. Both doctors took a most kindly,
sympathetic interest in her, and she greatly appreciated their attention.
But notwithstanding all the ministries and remedies, her strength
steadily ebbed away, and in the early days of February we expected night
after night to be her last on earth. Maggie Kearney was her night nurse
for weeks and Amy Wilson was with her several times during the day,
staying often till near midnight, and indeed all night several times
before her death. Our own "nurse" was the valued helper all the time. She
was most grateful to all these for their efficient and loving ministries.
[JVH NOTE: Maggie Kearney, a local nurse, was a member of Railway Street
congregation. Amy (Amelia Evangeline) Wilson, Matron of the County Antrim
Infirmary, RWH's cousin we have already met. "Our own nurse" was Jennie
Mercer. She was not, I think, a qualified nurse, but had helped to look
after Peter in his childhood and was devoted to the family. She survived
Peter by a few years and was convinced that just before his death he
appeared to her in a dream to say good-bye.]
We had summoned Burt from Manchester. He arrived on Sunday, 5th
February (1928). His presence greatly cheered her, and she enjoyed the day
with him. After a good night's sleep, she was wonderfully bright, smiling
on us, but very weak on Monday. The spasms were infrequent during the last
few days; the doctor said she was too weak to experience them. On Tuesday
morning, while no change seemed visible in her strength, she was duller
than usual, and little inclined to talk. After early dinner, about 2 p.m.,
Burt took Peter with him to go to see his other boys [Bob and Geoffrey] at
Campbell College. I went up to her room to allow Nurse - our own nurse -
to get her dinner. As soon as I got to her bedside, she made an attempt to
rise, looking up and saying, "I am going away, Robert, let me go away,"
she being evidently in the presence of sights I did not see. I put my arm
round her and began to quote texts of scripture and hymns, which
manifestly calmed and soothed her. I felt myself so possessed of spiritual
realities that I began to sing - a most unusual thing for me - an old hymn
which had not been in my mind for years:
There is glory all around,
There is glory all around,
There is glory, glory, glory,
There is glory all around.
Angels are hovering near,
Angels are hovering near,
Angels, angels, angels,
Angels are hovering near.
Poor sinners are coming home,
Poor sinners are coming home,
Poor sinners, sinners, sinners,
Poor sinners are coming home.
And Jesus bids them come,
And Jesus bids them come,
And Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
And Jesus bids them come.
I am not now sure whether it was when I was singing the last or the
third of these verses, but I think it was when I was singing the last,
that she closed her eyes, the blood left her face, and thus she was
tenderly and lovingly carried away by invisible hands to her Father's
Eternal Home, leaving this home poor indeed, but my heart warm and
grateful for the gentle, beautiful way in which she was taken.
I had asked Christ to deal gently with her in her closing moments, and
I find the following entry in my diary on Tuesday, 7th February, 1928:
"The best of wives, wise, unselfish, loving, bright and true passed away
peacefully and beautifully at 2.45 p.m. She accepted the facts bravely in
childlikeness as to the wisdom and kindness of her Heavenly Father's will
and way. God gave me for 45 years the precious gift of her loving
companionship. I cannot and do not murmur, but feel full of thankfulness
for our life together and her larger, richer life now."
On Thursday, 9th February, I have this entry: "A wonderful funeral -
wreaths and flowers innumerable in the house, coffin carried by various
friends to the Church, the Church crowded, the service conducted by Haire,
Waddell and Rankin - beautiful". [JVH NOTE: The Rev. James Haire was
Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics in the Assembly's
College, Belfast; he became Moderator in 1939. His son Professor J.L.M.
Haire later became Principal of Assembly's College. The Rev. John Waddell,
a cousin of the famous Helen Waddell, was minister of Fisherwick Church,
Belfast 1920-1945; he became Moderator in 1937. The Rev. Thomas John
Kinnear Rankin was minister of Legacurry Church, near Lisburn 1910-1949;
his wife was a sister of the Rev. William Corkey.]
Shops closed and blinds drawn and crowds along the streets. A crowd
waiting at the grave, including the children's choir, who, with numbers of
other children, sang most sweetly: "Shall we gather at the river?"
I think her deepest regret was the thought of leaving Peter, her
grandson, whom she had mothered so tenderly and carefully since his dearly
loved and dearly loving mother, Elsie had passed away in April, 1921, when
he was only a month old. She brought him home, a very fragile, delicate
child, whom doctors and nurses told her she could not rear, but she poured
her life into him, and her wise and loving and anxious care was abundantly
rewarded. He was as the apple of her eye, but she had committed him to the
tender, loving care of the Good Shepherd, whose goodness and mercy to
herself had been so real, and I think fretted little more about him. I
often think how astonished she would be if she saw him now (perhaps she
does), a big healthy boy of 12 years, fond of and good at games, and good
at his lessons too. [JVH NOTE: Most of Peter's working life was spent as a
dentist in Herne Bay. As we have seen, he did not live to be old. He had
had two attacks of rheumatic fever in childhood, which badly damaged his
After returning from America, I gave some account one Sunday of the
Church life I had seen in the States, among other things mentioning the
large men's bible classes I had addressed and heard of. This may have
suggested the request from a young man that I should start a men's bible
class on a week evening. I readily consented, and after due announcement,
a men's bible class began in October 1926 on Monday nights, encouraging
from the first. The attendance rose till we had over 80 on the roll, and
on Tuesday nights I had the young women's bible class. I took the same
subject in both classes, "The Doctrines of our Religion." These classes
were a great joy to me, and, I believe, a blessing to many, and they
continued from October till April during the remaining years of my
ministry, the numbers ranging from 70 to 80 in each class. A feature of
the men's class was that several fathers and their sons were members - we
had all ages from 16 to upwards of 60 years.
I am glad that the classes have continued to be a gratifying feature of
my successor's work since he came among us in 1930.
There had been a congregational debt hanging over and accumulating for
several years. It began in the cost of a new heating system in the Church,
costing about £500. Just at that time, the fictitious financial boom that
immediately followed the war had spent itself, and the Committee decided
that they would defer appealing to the congregation till times would
improve. Times did not improve, and the debt was steadily increasing,
until in 1927 it was £800. I had brought the matter several times in
recent years before the Committee, but they were averse, in the still
depressed state of business, from appealing to the congregation.
When I returned from summer holidays in 1927, I came with the
determination to make an effort to clear the debt. I well knew that,
notwithstanding the general industrial and commercial depression, the
people could easily, and if properly approached would readily, raise the
money. I put the matter privately to a number of our people, with the
result that four persons gave £50 each and six or seven others gave,
between them, more than £200, so that at the first meeting of Committee, I
think in October, I announced that nine or ten of our people, giving the
names, had contributed over £400 for paying off the debt, and there was no
difficulty then in persuading the Committee to issue an appeal to the
congregation. This being done, the response was most generous, and in a
month or two the debt had disappeared.
Subsequently, money was raised to put electric light in the Church and
in the Manse. [JVH NOTE: I think that by 1930, the date of my birth, gas
lighting was almost entirely a thing of the past in Ulster; though I can
remember gas lighting being still in use, in very rare instances, up to
One of the gratifying experiences of my ministry in Railway Street was
the readiness of the people to respond to any reasonable call.
On the last Friday in January, 1930, I attained my ministerial jubilee.
The ministers of the Dromore Presbytery gave me a Dinner and presented me
with a beautiful silver salver with all their names inscribed on it. Their
generosity and kindness have always helped me to tread the pilgrim path
with a light and buoyant step.
For a year or two, I had been thinking seriously of retiring, but the
people did not wish it. I was always determined that I would not carry on
beyond the stage of efficiency, and though apparently as able for the work
as ever, I was often possessed with the feeling that a younger man would
be more in touch with and a greater blessing, especially to the splendid
lot of young people that we had in Railway Street than one like me nearing
the four score years.
In the Spring of 1930, I decided that I would retire at the May meeting
of the Presbytery of Dromore, and I did so.
I hoped that the congregation in the summer months might be able to
select a successor, so that he could begin the winter's work in October,
the usual time for starting meetings and classes.
The congregation appointed an admirable Committee of Selection, who
went to hear different ministers that they had heard favourably of.
The Committee divided every Sunday, one half going in one direction and
the other in a different direction. After a week or two, each set thought
favourably of and would have been inclined to recommend to the congretion,
the one set one man and the other set another. The set that went to
Cookstown were extra enthusiastic, and when the other set on the following
Sunday went to Cookstown, they were equally enthusiastic. At a large
congregational meeting, convened to hear the report of the Committee,
after full and free consideration, all, except one dear old member whom we
all loved and who had a young man that he thought the best possible, voted
heartily for the Rev. T.H. Robinson, M.A., of 1st Cookstown, and a call
was made out to him.
Mr Robinson was in Scotland on holiday, but after a few weeks
consideration he accepted the call and was installed as my colleague and
successor in September. It was a happy, and we believe, a divine
settlement for Railway Street, and I have had a light and grateful heart
as to the future of the congregation under the wise and capable and
earnest leadership of Mr Robinson, a man whom we all love and greatly
esteem. [JVH NOTE: Under the regulations then in force, RWH, as Senior
Minister, was entitled to continue residing in the Manse. I can remember
visiting Mr Robinson in a house in Parkmount during RWH's lifetime and
visiting him in the Manse after RWH's death. Mr Robinson, a most scholarly
man, left Lisburn in 1938 to become Professor of Mental and Moral
Philosophy in Magee College, Derry.]
Two things remain to be noted:
(1) The congregation decided to erect a window in the Church in memory
of Mrs Hamilton. They asked me to choose the subject, and my sons and I
agreed that Jesus blessing the children would be suitable. They erected
the window and gave me a cheque for £100. The window was unveiled by Burt
in the presence of a large congregation on Sunday, 1st March, 1931. The
Rev. Dr Haire preached a beautiful sermon. Milne Barbour and his family
were present. After the unveiling, in acknowledging their generous
kindness, I said, "In my own name, in the names of my sons and of my
grandsons (Burt's three boys were all present) I desire to thank the
congregation most heartily for this handsome expression of their love and
esteem for my dear wife. Of her I shall only say, she was the most
unselfish, unselfseeking' person I ever knew."
(2) The Committee and the congregation had transferred the Brownlee
Memorial School to the government authorities. The Committee of Management
was appointed under the Education Act, a Committee with which I was well
pleased, and of which, at my request, Mr Robinson was appointed Chairman
instead of me. The teachers of the school, in great kindness, presented me
with another silver salver, which I greatly value. We had a happy evening
together, when all met in the Manse and many loving and generous things
were said. The school, in its principal, its teachers and its influence
and work, was a great joy to me.
Finally the day's work is done. It has been a long day and an active
one. I had much of my mother's energy. I wish the quality had been better.
[JVH NOTE: Not long before he died, he said to my mother, his
daughter-in-law: "If I had to live my life over again, I would be kinder
to other people."]
For years, I suffered from the acute dyspepsia that brought me home
from America. I starved myself and was for long periods in an anaemic
condition and incapable, apparently, of long, sustained mental effort and
study. The Railway Street people must have been very patient and
forbearing, for I have never heard them murmur, though the preaching must
have been, at times, very thin.
I have really had more vigour of body and mind in the last fifteen or
twenty years than in many of the earlier days of my ministry. Sometimes
also, I undertook too much work outside the congregation. This was all
most congenial work, but in the state of health I was, it probably
overtaxed my strength. Had my ministry to begin over again, I would give
far more attention to preaching and preparation for preaching than I ever
did. Among a minister's duties - and they are manifold - the supremely
important thing is the preaching of the Word. When the Master had a crowd
round him, we are told that "He preached the word to them" (Mark 2 v. 2).
I would not visit less or be less given to cultivating personal contact
with the people. A minister can be but little blessing to his people if
the relations between him and them are not friendly and affectionate.
The average person will probably appraise my work and influence in
Lisburn by the material evidences that exist, that is, the buildings, etc.
erected by the congregation and others in which I had a leading part: the
Lecture Hall, the Side Galleries and other reconstructions in the Church
at a cost of £1,400, the Fort Manse, the Brownlee School and Teacher's
Residence, the E.M.B. Hall and probably the Temperance Institute. I
confess it is gratifying to look back on one's share in all these
erections, and I feel deeply grateful to the people and friends who have
made such things possible. But as evidences of the ministry of the Gospel
of Christ, I put them far secondary.
I cannot but feel, and I would not be candid if I did not state, that I
believe God, in His wonderful grace and mercy, did make use of me in Burt
and Lisburn and elsewhere in the essentially fundamental work of the
ministry of the Gospel, that is, in the helping of men and women, young
and old, to know and love Christ and to fmd their joy and strength in His
I am deeply thankful to say that I have had some evidence of this
gracious use being made of me all down the years.
But it is equally true and deeply humiliating to think that I might
have been so much more used, had there been more prayerfulness and humble,
living faith in Christ. I was not the means of blessing that I might have
been, that I ought to have been. I have been, at best, a poor and unworthy
exponent of the Gospel of Christ, and my hope and confidence for the
future are grounded in His mercy and merits alone.
I stand upon His merits,
I know no other stand,
Not even where glory dwelleth,
In Emmanuel's land:
I find myself, like Charles Kingsley, sometimes possessed with a
"reverent curiosity" in reference to the life beyond, and sometimes a
longing to enter on it and to know even as I am known. But the Lord
reigneth, let the earth rejoice - and I do.
Notes added by RVH
The draft of the foregoing was never far away from my Father's chair,
and some of it was written as late as 1935. It was on his retirement from
active duties in 1930 that he first got the idea of some account of
himself and his family.
I have gone through his diary for 1935 and find from the short entries
he made that up till nearly the end of June he was feeling well and happy.
He certainly looked wonderfully fit and when he was fresh seemed 20 years
younger than his age.
Under date Sunday, 23rd June, 1935, I find this entry: "Preached (a.m.)
in Windsor and much enjoyed it."
On Thursday, 27th June he was with Dr S.T. Irwin about varicose veins
which frequently troubled him this last year.
On 1st July, his 84th birthday, he writes:
"Up and better today. Many loving messages on this 84th anniversary of
my birth from many quarters. R. V gave me a beautiful panama hat. Visited
the grave with flowers. How the years have sped and how the mercies have
On 6th August, Gretta Finley and Mary Adams (her sister) from Canada
came to stay with him. On the 10th he notes their departure, and adds:
"Likely to be the last time I shall see these dear, loving friends in this
On Sunday, 1st September - he puts the entry, by mistake under
Monday's date: "Went to Church." This was no doubt too much for him.
The last entry in his diary: Tuesday, 3rd September: "Bad night. Stayed
On Saturday, 7th September, he was up for the last time. I went to see
him about 3 p.m. He was sitting in the dining room, low and depressed. As
it was a glorious afternoon, and Peter was in a deck chair in the back
garden, I asked him would he like to go out. He agreed, and we helped him
up and fixed him in a deck chair. The garden never looked more lovely, and
he cheered up a bit under its influence.
John Caldwell called later. From the farewell, it was only too clear
that Father did not expect to be long with us.
[JVH NOTE: John Foster Caldwell (later C.B., K.C., L.L.M.) was a son of
Charles S. Caldwell, a Derry Solicitor. John's maternal grandmother was
RWH's sister Mary Jane, Mrs Sam Foster.]
Either on that day or the next, he completed a suggested allocation of
his personal belongings, plate, etc. which he had commenced about 18
From this on, he was very definite that his time had come. Though he
rallied a little at times, he never expected to recover. His death was
ultimately due to anaemia of the brain, and at times he wandered a little
and failed to recognise us.
On Saturday, 12th October  the end came in presence of Amy
Wilson, Dorothy Hamilton, his housekeeper, Jennie Mercer, a Nurse and
myself. It was very peaceful. [JVH NOTE: Dorothy is the daughter of Allen
Hamilton - see Chapter I.]
His wish was that his funeral should closely resemble Mother's. [JVH
NOTE: He is buried with MLH in Hillsborough Road cemetery, Lisburn.]
A few published references
D.H. Akenson: Education and Enmity (David & Charles, 1973) p.79.
W.S. Armour: Armour of Ballymoney (Duckworth, 1934), p.261.
Denis Ireland: From the Irish Shore (Rich and Cowan), 1936, at p.62, a
reference to RWH's journey to Princeton (1926).
The Very Rev. A.F. Moody: Memories and Musings of a Moderator (J.
Clarke, c.1937), ,FF. quote from p.230:
|"It is a singular fact in one so
gentle and considerate that these qualities were finely balanced by
a rare courage which did not shrink at times from standing alone
against the world. He had, on one occasion, the distinction of
having his effigy burned by the rag-tag of Lisburn because he had
expressed political sentiments which were unacceptable to the
majority of his townsmen...."
The Rev. Hubert Quinn: Diary of a Vagrant Heart (Pentagon Press, n.d.)
p.158 et seq. "The Doctor" is RWH.
A History of Congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
(Presbyterian Historical Society, 1982) pp.254 and 595.
NEWSPAPERS (a small selection)
|RWH's installation, Lisburn
||9th October 1885
|RWH Silver Wedding
||1 st June 1907
|Railway Street Jubilee and RWH semi
||19th November 1910
|General Assembly 1924
||20th June 1924
||Various Belfast daily papers
|Telegram of sympathy on death of Cardinal
Logue: "Deep sympathy on death Cardinal Logue - a great Irishman - R.W.
Hamilton, Moderator of General Assembly."
||20th November 1924
|His attendance at Cardinal Logue's
||26th November 1924
|His Dublin speech
||Various Belfast papers
||22nd December 1924 et seq.
|Retirement presentation and unveiling of
||The Witness also Lisburn Standard
window of same date
| 6th March 1931
|Letter from RWH re Lisburn Disorders.*
||28th August 1931
||Various Ulster papers
||14th October 1935 et seq.
|RWH death and funeral The Irish
News of 14th October states: "Very popular with all classes and
creeds, he was a warm friend of his Eminence the late Cardinal
|The Northern Whig of same date refers,
among other things, to the Rev. David Hay's tribute in 1st Lisburn
Presbyterian Church in which he quoted II Samuel 3 v. 38: "...there is
a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel."
* RWH wrote this letter from Manchester, where he was on holiday with his
son, ESBH. The background: The IRA had prevented a Royal Black Preceptory
demonstration from taking place at Cootehill on 12th August, 1931. This
fact, combined with the holding of an Ancient Order of Hibernians
demonstration at Armagh on 15th August, enraged the loyalists and led to
rioting in various towns. On 15th August, when two bandsmen who were
returning from the AOH demonstration got out of the train at Lisbum
station, they were attacked by a mob, who proceeded to break the windows
of a number of Catholic owned buildings. The main point which RWH made in
his letter was: "I am surprised that during the public utterances and
letters that have appeared in the papers there has not been a word of
regret expressed at the cruel treatment of our fellow citizens, or of
sympathy for them in the suffering and trials which they have endured."