Talk of Surrender at Londonderry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER IV...continued

TALK OF SURRENDER.—Wednesday, 10th of July.

As the straits in which the garrison was placed were well known in the camp, General Hamilton, having had his commission renewed meanwhile, thought that he might now repeat the proposal to surrender, with some better hopes of success. Accordingly, on the 10th of July a dead bomb was cast into the city,[52] enclosing the following letter:—

"To the Soldiers and Inhabitants of Derry.

"The conditions offered by Lieut.-General Hamilton are sincere; the power he hath of the King is real.[53] Be no longer imposed upon by such as tell you the contrary. You cannot be ignorant of the King's clemency towards his subjects. Such of you as choose to serve the King, shall be entertained without distinction in point of religion. If any choose to leave the kingdom, they shall have passes. You shall be restored to your estates and livings, and have free liberty of religion, whatsoever it be. If you doubt the powers given to General Hamilton by the King, twenty of you may come and see it with freedom, under the King's hand and seal. Be not obstinate against your natural Prince; expose yourselves no longer to the miseries you undergo, which will grow worse and worse if you continue to be opinionate; for it will be too late to accept of the offer now made you, when your condition is so low that you cannot resist the King's forces longer.—July 10th, 1689."[54]

An incident, which evidently was a panic on the part of some of the garrison, occurred on the day after this letter was received, and is thus described by Captain Ash, under the 11th of July:—"That evening the Governors caused five or six out of each company to be drawn out, and to march beyond the trench towards the gallows, to alarm the enemy, and to see if there were any great number in the camp. They seeing this, drew up, and Major-General Buchan led his men down to the ditch near to the gallows, and lined them everywhere. After our men had marched round the field above the gallows, and were drawing up in a body near the trenches with colours flying, etc., some of the enemy came over the ditches and fired a few shots. Governor Mitchelburn commanded our men to retire to the trenches. Immediately you might have seen all the men running over the ditches, as if the devil drove them, without any cause but a few shots; for no enemy was within a great distance of them: and after pausing some time on what had happened, they dropped one after another towards Bishop's Gate, nor would they nor any of them return, notwithstanding the orders of their Governors and officers, but stood thrusting and thronging each other at the gate, which was kept shut a long time in order to force them to go back; but all would not do."

Soon after this, a parley was proposed, and a messenger was sent from the camp to know if the garrison was now willing to treat. The hour for the city was very dark indeed. Half the garrison almost had perished; the other half were living on starch, tallow, and horse-flesh; the women and children were dying in swarms; the ships were making no attempt to come up the river, and it was even supposed that they had left the Lough; it was therefore decided to enter upon negotiations, were it for no other object than to gain time. Before meeting the Commissioners appointed to treat on behalf of King James, the authorities in the city drew up certain articles to be submitted to Hamilton, as the condition on which the garrison was willing to surrender.[55] On behalf of the garrison, six persons were appointed to meet a corresponding number from the camp, and a written commission was given them.[56] If surrender they must in the end, it would be satisfactory to know beforehand the terms which they might expect.

On Saturday the 13th of July, the Commissioners went out from the city to the camp, and met the Commissioners, consisting of Colonel Sheldon, Sir Neil O'Neill, Sir Edward Vaudry, and others, appointed to act on behalf of the besiegers. In a tent prepared for the occasion near the camp, the Commissioners on both sides dined together, and when dinner was over entered on the subject for which they had assembled. After a long debate, everything was agreed upon with the exception of three matters, which the enemy absolutely refused to grant: they would grant no longer time for the surrender of the city than Monday, the 15th, at twelve o'clock; they would allow the hostages, demanded by the garrison as a pledge of their good faith, to be kept in Derry, but not to be sent aboard Kirke's ships; and they would allow the officers and gentlemen, but not the common soldiers of the garrison, to retain their arms.

While the commissioners were sitting in deliberation upon the terms of surrender, a little boy, sent by Lieutenant Mitchell from the fleet, made his way into the city, having concealed in his garter the following letter from Kirke to Walker:—

"SIR,—I have received yours by the way of Inch; I writ to you Sunday last, that I would endeavour all means imaginable for your relief, and find it impossible by the river, which made me send a party to Inch, where I am going myself to try if I can beat off their camp, or divert them, so that they shall not press you. I have sent officers, ammunition, arms, great guns, etc., to Iniskillen, who have 3000 foot and 1500 horses, and a regiment of dragoons, that has promised to come to their relief, and at the same time I will attack the enemy by Inch; I expect 6000 men from England every minute, they having bin shipt these 8 days; I have stores and victuals for you, and am resolved to relieve you. England and Scotland are in a good posture, and all things very well settled; be good husbands to your victuals, and by God's help we shall overcome these barbarous people: let me hear from you as often as you can, and the messenger shall have what reward he will. I have several of the enemy that deserted to me, who all assure me they cannot stay long. I hear from Iniskillen the Duke of Berwick is beaten; I pray God it be true, for then nothing can hinder them joining you or me.

"Sir, your faithful Servant,

Walker transcribed this letter, but in doing so, perhaps with a view of keeping up the drooping spirits of the garrison, he made the letter say that the party sent to Inch for the relief of the city consisted of 4000 horse and 9000 foot—intelligence which for the moment revived the hopes of the garrison and gave them great joy. When the Commissioners returned from the camp, bearing with them the only terms that General Hamilton could be induced to grant, a council of war met to consider the posture of affairs. At this meeting it was observed that Walker was very urgent in favour of a surrender, and when it was used as an argument on the other side that it would be disgraceful to surrender now when thirteen thousand men had landed at Inch and relief was at the very door, he then confessed that that part of the letter had been concocted by himself: an incident not very well calculated to inspire those about him with any very high opinion either of his judgment or integrity. Next day being Sabbath, 14th of July, the council resumed its sittings, and, notwithstanding the opinion of Walker in favour of accepting the terms, they agreed upon a policy of No Surrender, except the enemy would extend the time till the 26th of July, and would send to the ships the hostages to be given in security that they meant to fulfil their engagement. This General Hamilton regarded as tantamount to absolute rejection of his proposals, and so the whole negotiations came to an end. As the result proved, the enemy committed a mistake in not accepting the terms agreed to by the garrison.[57]

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[52] It is said that the bomb still preserved in the vestibule of the Derry Cathedral is that which was used on this occasion.

[53] The garrison having, as we have already seen, taken exception to Hamilton's authority to treat with them, this led to the renewal of his commission from the King, under date July 5th.—Macpherson Papers, vol. i., p. 212.

[54] Ash, July 10th.

[55] Appendix, No. 9.

[56] Appendix, No. 10.

[57] Mackenzie,, July 11th and 13th.

Fighters of Derry: Their Deeds and Descendants, Being a Chronicle of Events in Ireland during the Revolutionary Period, 1688–91

William R. Young's Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

Fighters of Derry

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry and the second has 352 on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., and the not so eminent too, there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.

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