Rev. George Walker

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Walker, George, Bishop designate of Derry, Governor of Londonderry during the siege, was born in the County of Tyrone in 1618. [His father, George Walker, D.D., was Chancellor of Armagh Cathedral and, as such, rector of Kilmore.] The single fact known of his early life is that he was educated at the University of Glasgow. On 16th July 1669 he made the requisite subscription to the Act of Uniformity at Armagh, on his appointment as rector of the parishes of Lissan and Desertlyn. Before this he had married Isabella Maxwell of Finnebrogue. In 1674 he received the additional cure of the parish of Donaghmore. Pending the rebuilding of the church and glebe-house of this parish, he resided at Dungannon. Local tradition assigns to Walker the erection of a cornmill in Donaghmore, over the door of which the initials of himself and wife — "G. W. I. 1684" — are inscribed.

In the autumn and winter of 1688 the Protestants of the north took up arms in the interest of William of Orange, as opposed to James II. and his Viceroy Tirconnell. On 18th (o.s.) December 1688 the apprentices of Londonderry shut the city gates in the face of Tirconnell's army. Walker, although in his seventy-first year, raised a regiment at his own charge, and applied "what interest he could make towards the preservation" of Dungannon; besides immediately opening communications with Londonderry. The garrison of Dungannon made more than one successful sally against the bodies of Jacobites that occupied the surrounding country, and the place would probably have been able to hold out, but that on the 14th March, Lundy, governor of Londonderry, directed that it should be evacuated. The order was obeyed with reluctance, and the garrison, with many of the inhabitants, retired towards Londonderry and Coleraine, allowing a large supply of provisions to fall into the enemy's hands. Five companies under the command of Walker were quartered at Rash, near Omagh, whence, a fortnight after, they were removed to St. Johnstown, five miles from Londonderry.

On 13th April, Walker hastened into town with the news of the approach of a large force under James II. in person. Governor Lundy advanced against the enemy and retreated, then entered into private negotiations with them, and also, it is said, persuaded the officers in command of a relieving fleet in Lough Foyle, to return to England. He then declared the defence hopeless, and the inhabitants, disgusted at his pusillanimity, deposed him from the governorship, and permitted him to leave the town secretly. On the 19th April, Walker and Major Baker were appointed joint governors, a messenger was sent to London for assistance, and the memorable siege may be said to have regularly commenced. The fortifications were in a miserable condition; the place was badly provisioned, and ill supplied with artillery and munitions of war. The garrison consisted of 7,369 men, encumbered, besides the inhabitants of the place, with numerous fugitives from the surrounding districts. Everything was wanting but brave hearts and heroic self-devotion.

The besieging army, at first commanded by King James, and afterwards by his most experienced generals, outnumbered the garrison by some three to one. "It was certainly," says Harris in his life of William III., "a very bold undertaking in these two gentlemen to maintain against a formidable army, commanded by a king in person, an ill-fortified town, with a garrison composed of poor people frightened from their habitations, and without a proportionable number of horse to sally out, or engineers to instruct them in the necessary work. Nor had they above twenty cannons, of which not one was well mounted, and, in the opinion of the former governor, not above ten days' provisions." The defence, which lasted above a hundred days, was one of the most heroic in history; and when the siege was raised, the garrison was reduced by deaths in sallies and on the walls, and by disease, to 4,300, "of whom at least a fourth part were rendered unserviceable." Of garrison and inhabitants 9,000 are calculated to have died within the walls during the siege. To increase their difficulties, De Rosen, James's general, upon one occasion drove some thousands of Protestants from the surrounding country under the walls, and kept them there for three days, in the hope that the garrison would take them in and thereby be further weakened. By the time they were permitted to depart Walker had cleverly managed to draw in from amongst them the strong and hardy, and to send away in their place some of his old and useless mouths.

On 30th June Major Baker died, and Colonel Mitchelburne was made Walker's assistant. Without declining the post of danger and honour at the head of the garrison, Walker always appeared willing to concede to others, where practicable, the military functions so little suited to his cloth. He took part in the daily service in the cathedral, as well as in the other duties of his office, and his dress always indicated that in becoming a soldier he had not ceased to be a priest. Towards the end of the siege, "such a scarcity of the vilest eatables was in the city, that horse-flesh was sold for 1s. 8d. a pound; a quarter of a dog fattened by the dead bodies of the slain Irish, 5s. 6d.; a dog's head, 2s. 6d.; a cat, 4s. 6d.; a rat, 1s.; a mouse, 6d.; greaves by the pound, 1s.; tallow. 4s.; salted hides, 1s.; and other things in proportion. Their drink was water mixed with ginger and anise-seeds; and their necessity of eating a composition of tallow and starch not only nourished and supported them, but proved an infallible cure for the flux."

The women shared in the labours of the men, carrying ammunition to the soldiers, attending to the sick and wounded, and at times giving assistance in repelling the assaults of the besiegers. Eighteen Church clergymen and eight dissenting ministers took part in the toils of the siege, and their turn in leading daily services in the cathedral and other places of worship. In June an English fleet arrived in Lough Foyle; but the banks of the lough being in the occupation of the enemy, it was unable to throw any relief into the town, and could not even have communicated with the inhabitants, but for the bravery of Colonel Roche. [See page 456.] At length, on the 30th of July, the Mountjoy broke the boom that the besiegers had placed across the river, and, running the gauntlet of a furious cannonade, sailed up to the quay, followed by two other vessels carrying supplies and provisions. All the eatables in the place at the time are said to have been nine lean horses, and a pint of meal to each man. A few days afterwards De Rosen broke up camp and raised the siege, having lost, it is stated, 8,000 to 9,000 men. Walker presented the keys of the city to Major-General Kirk, who had come with the fleet. Kirk declined to receive them, but next day permitted Walker, who was anxious that "he might return to his own profession," to resign the governorship to Captain White, "a gentleman of experienced valour and known merit."

Walker, when praised for the part he had taken, with great humility declared that the "whole conduct of this matter must be ascribed to Providence alone... God was pleased to make us the happy instruments of preserving this place, and to Him we give the glory... With his own right hand and his holy arm getting Himself the victory." At a meeting of the heroic inhabitants of Londonderry, Walker was deputed to go to England to present an address to King William and Queen Mary, expressive of their gratitude for the relief they had received, and to assure their Majesties of their devoted allegiance. He went by way of Scotland, and was received with great distinction in Glasgow, where the freedom of the city was conferred upon him. A similar honour was accorded him at Edinburgh. On the journey he was met by a letter from King William: he was escorted into London with great respect, and was graciously received at court. With much good taste, Walker refused to accede to the desire of many that he should appear before his Majesty in the semi-military apparel he had worn during the siege. Sir Godfrey Kneller painted his portrait for the King; a grant of £5,000 (never paid, apparently) was made by Parliament, in consideration of his heavy expenses and losses; he was designated to the bishopric of Derry, was entertained by the Irish Society, and received the thanks of the House of Commons. In September he published his famous True Account of the Siege of Londonderry, the statements in which were afterwards re-asserted in the publication of his Vindication of the True Account.

There appears to have been consideable bitterness amongst the defenders regarding the statements given to the world of the events of the siege. Quite a number of True Accounts and Answers appeared, and in the end both inhabitants and leaders in the defence considered themselves very negligentLY treated by Government. [See CAIRNES, DAVID, p. 67.] Walker returned to Ireland in the beginning of 1690, receiving at Oxford, on his way, the degree of Doctor in Divinity. When William III. landed at Belfast in June, Walker presented him with a congratulatory address in the name of the Ulster clergy. He accompanied William in his march southward, on the way being confirmed in the bishopric of Derry. On 12th July, in the early part of the battle of the Boyne, he crossed the river with one of the Enniskillen regiments, fell mortally wounded, and was interred on the battle-field. After several years, and at his widow's desire, his body was exhumed by a faithful servant who had accompanied him into the fight, and deposited within the church at Castlecaulfield, where a tasteful monument marks his resting-place.

In 1838 his remains and those of his wife were placed in new coffins. It was not until 1703 that his son received a pension of £200 per annum from the Irish Parliament, terminated in 1717 by the grant of 2,000. In 1828 the monument to his memory on the walls of Londonderry was completed. Macaulay says: "On the summit is the statue of Walker, such as when, in the last and most terrible emergency, his eloquence raised the fainting courage of his brethren. In one hand he grasps a Bible; the other pointing down the river, seems to direct the eyes of his famished audience to the English topmasts in the distant bay." The likeness appended to a memoir in the Ulster Journal of ArchAeology, vol. ii., represents Walker as a noble-looking man.

Sources

11. Archaeology, Ulster Journal of. Belfast, 1853-'62.

223. Macaulay, Lord: History of England, from the Accession of James II. [to 1702]. 5 vols. London, 1849-'61.

318. Story, George, Wars of Ireland, 1689-'92. 2 parts. London, 1693.

337. Walker, Rev. George: Account of the Siege of Londonderry. London, 1689.

347a. William Henry, Prince of Orange, Life and Reign: Walter Harris. Dublin, 1749.
Wills, Rev. James, D.D., see No. 196.

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