Major Baker chosen Governor of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER III....concluded

King James, having ascertained from the reception which he met with when he advanced towards Bishop's Gate, that he had entirely mistaken the temper of the citizens, retired with his men to St. Johnstown in order to allow time for concluding the negotiations; but finding by the more than usual delay that something had gone wrong, sent a trumpeter on Friday to inquire into the cause. As he soon learned, something had, indeed, gone wrong for him. A new government was that day inaugurated in the city. Murray would have been chosen Governor by the populace, but he resolutely refused to allow himself to be put in nomination. This determination showed his good sense, for he was by nature better fitted for venturous and daring deeds than for planning and administration. At a meeting of fifteen of the principal officers in the garrison, at which Murray was present, Major Baker was chosen Governor by a majority of votes; but as he complained that the military and administrative duties would, be too heavy for one man, he was permitted to name an assistant. He named the Rev. George Walker as joint Governor, and to this the whole Council agreed. Baker took charge of the military arrangements; and the oversight of the provisions—a charge not much less important in a besieged city —was confided to Walker.[63] Nearly a thousand non-combatants, consisting of old men, women, and children, unfit to fight, left the city of their own accord now that hostilities were about to begin. After all had retired who chose to go, it was calculated that there were still 20,000 remaining cooped up within the walls; and among these it was found that there were of men able to fight 7020, and 341 officers. These came from all parts of the province. The citizens fit to carry arms, strictly so called, were not more than three hundred men. The garrison was divided into eight regiments, and one leading officer was appointed as colonel of each. The new appointments were as follows:—

Governor Baker to be Colonel of Sir Arthur Rawdon's Dragoons (25).[64]

Major Walker to be Colonel to the Lord Charlemont's Regiment, the Lieutenant-Colonel being gone (15).

Major Parker to command Coleraine Regiment (13).

Major Mitchelburn to command Mr. Skeffington's Regiment (17).

Captain Hamill to be Colonel to a Regiment (14).

Lieutenant-Colonel Whitney to be Colonel to Francis Hamilton's Regiment (13).

Major Crofton to be Colonel to Colonel Canning's Regiment (12).

Captain Murray to be Colonel to the Horse (8).[65]

When these appointments were made, each company in a regiment whose officers had deserted it, was allowed to choose a captain under whom it was willing to serve. This was a mark of confidence that the common soldiers well deserved. Loyalty to the cause for which they fought, and dogged determination to fight to the end, were much more conspicuous among them than among their leaders, who, perhaps from their superior knowledge, were less hopeful of success. Indeed, it shows how deeply the spirit of Lundy pervaded the leading officers, that some of them, despairing of being able to defend the city, proposed even in the new Council to carry out the treaty of surrender on which Lundy had entered; but the refusal of Murray to be a party to the movement, joined to the menaces of the multitude, squashed the proposal, and a message was sent to the King that the negotiations were finally broken off.

On Saturday, the 20th of April, it was known in the Irish camp that the treaty of surrender had proved a failure, and that both sides must now prepare for the worst.

As a last resource, the King sent the Earl of Abercorn with new terms and proposals, and Colonel Murray at his request had a conference with him outside the walls. He was commissioned by the King to offer the garrison, on condition of surrender, their lives, their estates, the free exercise of their religion, and pardon for all past offences; and to Murray himself a colonel's commission in the King's Army, and £1000 of gratuity for his services in the affair. Murray, however, proved incorruptible: his honour and principle were as conspicuous as his courage. The interview was brought to an end in consequence of the garrison observing that the enemy, as if to give effect to the negotiations, were taking advantage of the suspension of arms to plant their guns in position; whereupon his lordship received notice to retire, and Murray did him the honour of seeing him to the outside of the lines.[66]

Both sides spent the remainder of Saturday in completing their preparations. Each regiment in the city was assigned its post, and each company had a bastion that it was to defend; and each man was instructed what to do in case of an attack or alarm. Two guns were erected on the Cathedral tower, which commanded all places round the town, and annoyed exceedingly the detachment of the enemy stationed at the Waterside. Sixty men were posted in the Windmill, which then stood on the site occupied now by the Casino, and they did good service as an advance guard. Blinds were erected on the walls, to cover the men who occupied the ramparts from the enemy's shot; and, lest the bombs shot by the besiegers might do harm by falling on the streets and knocking the stones about, the pavements were pulled up, and the paving-stones carried to the wall. This served two objects: the bomb when it fell upon the street found a soft bed in the clay or sand, and did little harm when it exploded; and loose stones upon the wall supplied an inexhaustible store of hand-shot, that might be useful in case of an attempt of the besiegers to scale the ramparts.[67] At every gate there was a gun planted, commanding the approaches to it; and at the Market-house there were four guns, one commanding each of the streets by which it was approached. On each of the bastions about the wall there were two or three guns ready at all times to be used when the occasion required.

The Jacobite army on the same day was not less active. The main body occupied Carrigans and St. Johnstown, and were in charge of Sir Maurice Eustace and Brigadier Ramsay. A strong party, three thousand in number, under command of Lord Louth, took up a position on the east side of the river, immediately opposite to Ship-quay Gate. Another strong detachment occupied Pennyburn Hill and Brookhall, and cut off all communication by land or water with Culmore. A party of horse that afternoon swept down through Ennishowen, and robbed all those who had deserted the city but had not succeeded in getting aboard the ships, which the day before had carried back the two English regiments to England. Their whole strength at first was estimated at ten thousand men; but their communications with Dublin being open by way of Omagh and Dungannon, it was subsequently increased by considerable reinforcements. On that Saturday night both sides were ready for battle.

The approaching meeting of Parliament in Dublin on the 7th of May, as well as the importance of forwarding further supplies and reinforcements without delay, made it necessary that King James should not linger at Derry. When it became quite clear that the city would not surrender, even to him, and was determined to stand a siege, he immediately left the camp. The French officers Rosen and Lery returned with him; Maumont and Pusignan remained with Hamilton. On Tuesday, the 23rd, he had reached Newry on his way to the capital, and on the 25th arrived at Dublin. Even before he had left the North, the first battle had been fought, and the first blood shed under the walls of Derry.

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[63] Boyse's Vindication of Osborne, pp. 2 and 24; Certificates in Mackenzie's Narrative a False Libel, pp. 5 and 6.

[64] Mackenzie, April 19th. The figure at the end shows the number of companies which, according to Walker, were in each regiment. Each company had sixty men.

[65] "Col. Adam Murray, General of the Field, who upon enterprises commands in chief and orders all the sallies."—Good News from Londonderry.

[66] Mack., April 19th and 20th; Walker, April 20th. True and Impartial Account, p. 20.

[67] True and Impartial Account, p. 23.

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 into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries 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., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.