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Race day tragedy that led to calls for a ban

The sermon preached at Lisburn Presbyterian Church in 1841 by the Rev. Josias Wilson after the tragic death of James Patterson was subsequently published and titled 'The Sin of Horseracing.'
	The Digger recalls the campaign to halt horseracing at the Maze racecourse

THE death of Bridge Street resident James Patterson Jun on 5th August 1841, as a result of a fall from a train returning to Lisburn from the Maze race led to a public outcry and provoked Presbyterian ministers to campaign for the banning of horse racing.

The Rev Alexander Henderson was a well known figure in Lisburn during this period. He had been the minister at First Lisburn Presbyterian church since 1829 and had established the local Temperance Society that met in Lisburn Presbyterian session house in 1836. After the tragic death of James Patterson he asked the Rev Josias Wilson, who was the first minister installed at Townsend Street Presbyterian Church, to preach at the Sunday service in Lisburn on the evening of the 13th August 1841.

Rev. Wilson had previously warned of "the sin and danger of horse racing". He told the congregation that evening in Lisburn that the origin of the amusement was "with heathens" and that it was "an unnecessary and cruel amusement putting the riders life in danger." He claimed that within Britain and Ireland during the previous two decades that there had been 300 lives lost in connection with horse racing. He used strong words in his condemnation of those who were attending the racecourses, the great multitude of whom he refereed to as "drunkards, adulterers, sceptics, Sabbath-breakers, profane swearers and the gambler" who he described as being "accomplished in the very science of hell."

He asked those present at the service to set an example to all surrounding churches and to arise and Nine to the "help of the Lord against the mighty''

It was noted the sermon had been well received and later several members of the congregation requested him to publish it "in a cheap form for circulation in that part of the country." It was finally published in September 1841 and was sold for 3 pence. A copy, titled "The Sin of Horseracing - a discourse occasioned by the death of Mr. James Patterson, Jun.," survives to this day and can be viewed at the Linenhall Library in Belfast• on request.

The figures released by the proprietors of the Ulster Railway in September 1841 reinforced the popularity of the horse racing at the Maze. During race week the number carried on the trains was 18,503 between Belfast and Lisburn.

In the autumn the Maze Racecourse was advertising races to be held on the 20th - 22nd October. It was reported later that month that a man by the name of Lavery had been found on the Maze road by some passing car men. He later died and it was stated that he had lost his life in consequence of hunger and the severity of the night." He had attended the racing the previous day.

There were reports of a "very thin attendance" of spectators on the opening day of the 1841 October races, however it is not known if the ministry and their campaign had been responsible for this.

Two years later, in July 1843, the Rev. Dr. Cooke preached in Lisburn Presbyterian Church on the subject of horse racing. Announcements were made to those present that a public meeting would be held during the forthcoming week to consider plans "best adapted to meet the evils and dangers connected with the approaching races at the Maze Course."

The chairman of that meeting was William Cladbeck, Esq., who admitted that he had seen the error of his ways. He was now in support of the ban of horse racing.

He told those present "no fewer than four persons had perished at the last summer races." He added he had been assured that seven lives were sacrificed on that occasion and that one victim had lay dying in an outhouse in the Maze area for several days before he was finally carried away by distressed friends.

The Rev. Henderson, in his speech, stated that the people near the Maze, or those of Lisburn, were not the lovers or fosterers of the races and that most of them felt they were "a sore visitation and a source of numberless annoyances and vexations."

A public meeting for the suppression of horse racing was held in the Commercial Buildings in Belfast in October 1843 to coincide with the October Maze race.

The Rev Henderson continued his campaign against the races at the Maze and in September 1851 he held a meeting in Lisburn. It was noted that the names of Richardson, Coulson and Stewart were amongst a list of noted millowners and manufacturing businesses who gave their support to the cause and recorded "their strong regret at the continuance of the Maze course."

Despite the protestations, the races survived at the Maze. The arrest and charging of a Glaswegian, William Brown, for an assault on a female in July 1855 was one of many cases that strengthened the resolve of the critics. It was alleged Brown had travelled from Glasgow to attend the races at the Maze. He was known to be a "thimble-rigger" which was a term used for a person involved in cheats.

The Rev Alexander resigned his post in Lisburn in 1855 and he took up a new appointment as a Chaplain to the troops at the Curragh.

The Rev Wilson left Belfast in 1844 and became minister of Scots Church, River Terrace, Islington, London. He died at the early age of 47 as a result of a liver complaint. A white marble monument, approximately ten feet in height was erected to his memory by the members of his congregation over his grave at Highgate Cemetery.

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