James Victor Hamilton




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 experience.

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 saying now.

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 required.

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 sufficient."

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 fire.

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 was withdrawn.

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 et seq.]



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 Library.

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 summer.

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 missionaries abroad.

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, 40,000.

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 nervous breakdown.

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 McCalla's.

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.



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 before.

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 grandparents.]

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 He did.

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 heart.]



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 the 1950's.]

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 service.

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 abounded!"

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 life."

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 in bed."

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 months previously.

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 [1935] 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)

Topic Paper Date
RWH's installation, Lisburn Northern Whig 9th October 1885
RWH Silver Wedding Lisburn Herald 1 st June 1907
Railway Street Jubilee and RWH semi jubilee Lisburn Herald 19th November 1910
General Assembly 1924 The Witness 20th June 1924
  Various Belfast daily papers June 1924
Telegram of sympathy on death of Cardinal Logue: "Deep sympathy on death Cardinal Logue - a great Irishman - R.W. Hamilton, Moderator of General Assembly." Irish News 20th November 1924
His attendance at Cardinal Logue's funeral Irish News 26th November 1924
His Dublin speech  Various Belfast papers 22nd December 1924 et seq.
Retirement presentation and unveiling of MLH memorial  The Witness also Lisburn Standard
window of same date
 6th March 1931
Letter from RWH re Lisburn Disorders.* Belfast Telegraph 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 O'Donnell."
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."