Happy Independence Day to all our American followers! We thought it was an appripriate day to share the tale of John Paul Jones, who, on 13th April 1778 brought the American Revolution to our shores! John Paul Jones, a Scots-American, sailed his privateer, the Ranger, into Belfast Lough. He attacked, and captured the British warship HMS Drake and made off with its cargo. He described the scene: “The sun was now a little more than an hour from setting, it was therefore time to begin…The action was warm, close and obstinate; it lasted for an hour and five minutes when the [...]
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John Delaney was a 17 year old resident in the Belfast Poor House when he was offered the opportunity of travelling to Canada with Thomas Alexander Stewart as an apprentice to learn how to farm. T.A. Stewart was the son of Belfast Charitable Society founder, William Stewart, and lived with his family at Wilmont, Drumbeg. T.A. Stewart went bankrupt and decided to seek a new life in Canada, and offered the opportunity for an apprentice to go with him. John Delaney accepted this offer and sailed with Stewart to a new life in Upper Canada. The Stewart family, along with John Delaney [...]
This year (2022) marks 270 years since the foundation of Belfast Charitable Society. Throughout the centuries, the Society has been at the heart of philanthropy, working collaboratively with others since its earliest years. The Charitable Society initially set in motion the creation of a Poor House and Infirmary for the town to provide a safety net to those in distress and to relieve the pressures of paying for medical care. After a number of fundraising campaigns, the Poor House formally opened its doors in 1774. Throughout the years thousands of people, from young and old, to local citizens and passing sailors [...]
HMS Queen, leaving Malta (Robert Strickland Thomas, 1842) Edward Campbell was admitted into the Poor House aged 7, alongside his older brother, Alexander, in January 1840. After 3 years in the House, Alexander began an apprenticeship at the farm of William John Anderson. However, Edward’s life, would not be one spent in the fields outside Belfast. Instead, he would find himself on the ships of the Royal Navy in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. Discharged from the Poor House on the 6th July 1848, Edward enrolled in the Royal Navy, before finding himself aboard HMS Crocodile, which had docked in [...]
Ellen Murray first entered the Poor House as an 18 year old on 7th December 1816, as her mother was struggling to support her at home. Unusually for a person of her age Ellen was placed in Class Three during her time in the institution to improve her reading and writing abilities. However, this changed after nearly two years in the Poor House, when, on 31st October 1818, the Committee decided that: “Ellen Murray… to assist in the Wash House and not to go anymore to School; nor to sleep with the other girls but in another part of the house”. [...]
On 23 May 1754 Anne Drennan née Lennox gave birth to her youngest son, William Drennan. Anne was the wife of the Rev Thomas Drennan, minister of the First Presbyterian Church, Belfast, and William was born in its manse. William Drennan would grow up to become a renowned physician, poet and patriot. Due to the Penal Codes limiting access to third level education in Ireland, many Presbyterian ‘sons of the manse’, such as William, attended university in Scotland. He studied arts in Glasgow (1772) and completed his medical studies in Edinburgh (1778). Dr Drennan was heavily influenced by enlightenment ideas and [...]
Belfast was once famous the world over for its linen production, but this was not the first textile to be industrialised in Belfast. Robert Joy was a paper producer and proprietor of the Belfast Newsletter, as well as the designer and project manager of the Poor House. Robert Joy, his brother-in-law Captain John McCracken and Thomas McCabe, all of whom sat on the Poor House Board, set out to discover the next ‘big thing’ in manufacturing. Although generous individuals, they were merchants and set sail to Britain to investigate the developing industries there. On their travels they discovered pioneering cotton spinning [...]
Today marks National Numeracy Day and who better to highlight than the remarkable Mary Ann McCracken! Throughout her life she was an ardent educationalist, inspired by her childhood teacher, David Manson. David Manson was born at Cairn Castle on the Antrim Coast and settled in Belfast in 1752, the same year that Belfast Charitable Society was founded. He’d been sick as a child and was schooled by his mother, who based his learning around ‘play’, and not as was the wisdom of the time ‘discipline and punishment’. He developed a love of learning from his mother and experimented with his own [...]
This week we are taking a thematic approach to our Children of the Poor House series by looking at one of the more unusual reasons that led to some of the children being admitted to the Poor House. Transportation was a common form of punishment in the past, particularly for the crime of theft. The first ships to 'transport' convicted criminals to Australia from Britain occurred in 1787. By 1868 it is estimated that some 162,000 people had been transported. The Poor House records illustrate the impact that having a parent transported could have on a family, with many seeing the [...]
Mary Lawn was born c.1824 during a time of massive growth in Belfast, both in terms of population and industry. The population of Belfast had grown by approximately 16,000 in the decade before she entered the Poor House! Her father was employed as a bricklayer but tragically lost his life on the job following a fall from a chimney. Mary subsequently entered the Poor House in June 1830, following her father's early death. Mary followed the path of many children who, once they had been given a new set of clothes and assigned a room, were given a well rounded education [...]