Big thank you from

Story of a letter posted in Glenavy almost 174 years ago


The letter is addressed 'Furze Lodge', Glenavy, County Antrim, Ireland and dated December 28, 1834.THE Glenavy we know today bears no resemblance to the village in the mid 1830's and neither do the court sentences handed out by the local magistrates.

In January 1835 we read that Elizabeth Braddell was found guilty of the theft of a bonnet and chemise at Lisburn, the property of Eliza McArevy. There would be no mercy shown and she was imprisoned for nine months and given hard labour in the House of Correction.

On 4th January 1835 the first fair in 25 years took place in Glenavy. We read in the Belfast Newsletter that the exertions of the Rev. Dean Stannus, William Gregg, Fortesque Gregg, Captain William Bell of Bellbrook and other 'gentlemen of property in the neighbourhood' would hopefully lead to the most favourable prospects of success'.

Several days earlier, one such gentleman, a Mr. J. Stewart at his residence named Furze Lodge, in the townland of Ballymacricket, Glenavy reached for his writing paper that bore the watermark 'Robert Weir, Carron Mill 1833'. On 28th December 1834 he penned a letter to a Mr. George S. Boulton who was located at Cobourg, Upper Canada, North America.

Mr. Stewart was looking for a balance to be paid on the first 200 acres of land which he claimed Mr Boulton had sold. Mr. Stewart was also looking rid of another 100 acres and he asked if the recipient of the letter has got a purchaser for it.

The outstanding balance was due in February, and in order to speed up the transaction Mr. Stewart suggests that the return letter from Canada be sent via New York as it would arrive one month sooner. Mr. Stewart explains that he has some money to pay in March and he was depending on Mr. Boulton to make contact. Mr. Stewart finishes his letter -"Parliament having now dissolved owing to the late change in the Ministry, we will have nothing but contested elections and a vast trouble throughout Great Britain."

He applied five folds and a tuck to the letter and used a wax seal at the rear. The seal still bears the imprint 'Truth'. The letter was taken from Furze Lodge to Glenavy Village approximately one mile away.

The markings stamped on the outside of the letter act in a similar way to our modern day parcel tracking system and assist us in tracing its movement prior to reaching the Canadian shores. The Boulton surname, is very similar to a local one found in that district 'Bolton'. A local road in the area to this day is referred to as 'Bolton's Lane'. One could naturally assume, perhaps that George S. Boulton had left these shores at some earlier period and set up home in Canada.

Further research coupled with several clues in the letter penned by Mr. Stewart take us in a different direction in an attempt to identify the recipient of this letter. The last paragraph in the letter specifically makes reference to the state of politics in Great Britain and the dissolution of parliament.

The Belfast Newsletter from that time informs us that this event took place on 29th December 1834 having sourced that information from the London papers dated 30th December, 1834 that had arrived via the Dublin Mail into Belfast.

We can only assume that perhaps Mr. Stewart commenced his letter on 28th December and finished it the next day.

His predictions about the contesting of elections was correct of course. Locally, Henry Meynell returned to represent the Lisburn Borough in Parliament for the fifth time in January 1835.

It was reported that there were tar barrels lit and carried through the town 'amidst the firing of musketry, and the cheers of thousands who crowded the streets'. The newly formed cabinet included Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington.

I had wondered why these events at home warranted a mention at all and why our Canadian recipient would be remotely interested. Everything would become apparent when I managed to turn up the name of George Strange Boulton, born in New York in 1797.

Several years later he arrived in Upper Canada and became a lawyer in 1818. He became a very influential and powerful figure in the region, involving himself in politics and joining the militia in Canada during the civil war in 1837. George Boulton was also involved in land speculation, explaining the content of the letter that had been penned by Mr. Stewart. George Strange Boulton died in 1869.

The Ordnance Survey memoirs compiled at this time inform us that the mail from Dublin was despatched from Glenavy at 5 pm and arrived at 7.30am. The mails were conveyed 'in taxed cart, carrying only the driver'.

We cannot be sure as to who the postmaster or mistress was at that time in Glenavy village. Some early records indicate that a Miss Jane Quigley was a deputy postmistress.

She may well have been related to Edward Quigley, the local innkeeper, whose premises were used for The Glenavy Hunt meetings during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. A Francis McAfee was listed as a postmaster in the mid 1840's and Anne Jane Ferris as the village postmistress almost a decade later. The Ferris name was synonymous with the postal service in the village into the 20th century.

Mr. Stewart's letter travelled the 98 miles to Dublin. The letter bears a red Dublin diamond transit date stamp, dated '2M DE 29/34' (December 29th 1834). The charge of 2/8 had been applied at Glenavy. The letter went across to Holyhead and then to Falmouth. At this point it had travelled a total of 522 miles.

It would then be transported across the Atlantic by packet boat. Packet boats left for destinations such as Lisbon, Malta, Madeira, Brazil, Jamaica and America on regular schedules.

This particular letter left Falmouth on January 10th 1835 on board the packet boat called 'Plover'. It arrived at Halifax on February 13th. A 'HALIFAX N.S' date stamp dated 'FE 14/1834' (February 14th 1834) was struck on the front of the letter and forwarded to Quebec.

The top right hand of the letter bears a calculation converting the original British rate to Canadian currency. There was a further 1/8d for the carriage via river to Quebec. Prepayment of letters was no longer required for mail to the Canadian Colonies from 1815.

On arrival at Quebec the letter received a Quebec double ring stamp dated 'FE /28/1835' (February 28th 1835) and a 'FORWARDED' hand stamp.

A further 11d was added to complete the journey to Cobourg leaving a total postage charge of 5/7d to be paid by Mr. Boulton. We may never know if Mr. Stewart ever got his money on time, but the letter gives us a fascinating insight into our postal history.

"Furze Lodge" in the townland of Ballymacricket was named as 'Stewart Vale' on the first Ordnance Survey maps. At that time it would have been the third largest holding in the townland.

Although the name of Mr. J. Stewart appears on the letter, the name of Robert Stewart has also been associated with this property. The property was under the ownership of Langford Geddis in the late 1860's. He was an influential member of the Orange order. He was a member of L.O.L. 227 and a member of the County Antrim Grand Lodge Committee. In the 1880's Mr. R.T. Phillips is listed in various directories as the owner of Furze Lodge. The Lisburn Standard dated 30th November 1889 carries an advert for the sale of the property and lands totalling 64 acres and one rood, 'all in grass for many years, with 8 acres in permanent meadow'. The property was purchased by the McAlister family in whose name it remains today.

There was always one local mystery about the name of the property. From the late 1890's the property is listed in various directories as 'Fir' or 'Firs' Lodge. In fact the current name of the road - 'Furze Road' was being brought into question by some locals who believed the road should have been named 'Fir Road'.

There is logic to this argument due to the type of trees located in and around this property. Furze, however, was a name associated with gorse or whin. Perhaps the house name 'Furze Lodge' that appears in the top right hand corner of Mr. J Stewart's 1834 letter will resolve the matter.

Thanks to Colin Breddy, Fife for permitting me to utilise his research into the background of the letter's postal history.

The Digger can be contacted at or by contacting the Ulster Star office.