The Reward for the Defenders of Derry

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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The Siege of Derry and the Defence of Enniskillen did not, as we have shown, terminate the struggle nor extinguish the hopes of King James in Ireland; but they stopped the meditated invasion of Scotland and England. The loss of time, the loss of money, and the loss of prestige, resulting from the unsuccessful assault upon these towns, made it impossible for him to attempt to carry his army across the Channel. The defeat had localised the war in Ireland; but had left the struggle to be finished afterwards at the Boyne, at Aughrim, and at Limerick. The North of Ireland, and especially those districts which had been the seat of war, suffered severely. Both parties wasted and destroyed the property of the enemy, and also the property of their friends, for fear it should be seized by the enemy. It was difficult to say whether the helpless non-combatants suffered most from the one party or from the other. Between them the whole province was impoverished to such an extent, that years were required to enable it to recover. Houses were in ruins, villages burned, the fruits of the field wasted, everywhere around, famine and death. The gentry, clergy, farmers, artizans, and labourers of a whole province were driven from their peaceful avocations; some of them fled from the country; others were turned into soldiers; many of them were dead. The cannon, the musket, the broadsword, had become the familiar every-day weapons of men who had been much more appropriately employed at the sickle or the plough.

Enniskillen, from the circumstances which its heroic defenders had created for themselves, had lost little except the time of its industrial people, and the precious lives of brave men who had fallen on the field. In every other respect it was a gainer. But Derry was almost destroyed. Its suburbs were levelled to the ground; its houses were shattered with bombs and balls; its very streets were torn up. The trade of the town was ruined, its wealth exhausted, and in a wide circle of country around, the fields were waste and the dwellings burned. Multitudes of men had perished, leaving helpless widows and fatherless children, who could neither work nor do without food; and many survivors who were rich and prosperous before the siege, were beggars ever after.

Walker and Hamilton, when sent to London to report the state of public affairs to the King, had both been commissioned to bring the case of officers and private men, and of orphans and widows, under notice of the Government. In the circumstances, the two towns had some claims upon England and Scotland, and it would have been appropriate if some substantial compensation had been given to the widows and orphans who had lost everything in the King's service, and if officers and men who had served in the city regiments had received the ordinary remuneration of soldiers, from the date of the commissions sent to the officers by Captain Leighton in February 1689, up till January 1690, when the Derry regiments were reconstructed, and were admitted as a part of the regular army of the country.

Both Hamilton and Walker represented to Government the state of matters, and for a time it appeared that just claims would receive every fair consideration. Upon the 10th of September, 1689, Walker made a representation to the Parliamentary Committee on Irish Affairs, and obtained from them a recommendation that all the Derry officers should be continued in full pay, whether as acting or as supernumerary officers, until all that served as officers in Derry during the siege should be provided for; and His Majesty, by a letter dated 16th September, 1689, and addressed to Duke Schomberg, gave orders that this should be done.[1] Like orders were issued in regard to the Enniskillen regiments; but as, in the case of both the Derry and Enniskillen officers, this order only took effect from January 1689, the amount due for the service of the preceding ten months in which they had been engaged in the King's service was left unpaid.

Every means was taken, that could properly be taken, to obtain from Parliament a substantial recognition of their claims. On the 18th of November, 1689, Dr. Walker petitioned the House of Commons on behalf of 2000 widows and orphans reduced to poverty by the siege of Derry, and who, without relief, had no prospect before them but starvation. The House even recommended that ten thousand pounds should be given to those who had sustained losses, by way of compensation. But this proved to be generosity of word only. The money was never paid.

Whether Parliament chose to be generous or not, was, of course, its own affair. But officers and men were only asking justice when they asked the ordinary soldier's pay from the date of the commissions in February 1689, up to the time when they were taken on the civil establishment of the country, in January 1690. A Government may not afford to be grateful, but it is bound to be honest; and one would think that, by such a Government as that of England, the claims Had only to be substantiated in order to be allowed.

Charles Fox, Esq., Paymaster of the Forces, reported on March 1st, 1691, to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, that to the eight Derry regiments, from the dates of their commissions to the end of the siege, there was due a sum of £74,786, 18s. 2d.[2] The matter was subsequently investigated by a Committee of the House of Commons in 1705, and it was found that when the sum due the officers was added to that due to the men, there was a just debt due the Derry garrison alone of £134,958, 3s, 3d. Of this sum, it does not appear that anything more than £9,806,15s. 4d. had been paid up till 1705. When the sum due the Enniskillen regiments was added, it brought up the whole sum to £195,091, 5s. 0d.[3] In this sum is not included the amount expended on horses, arms, and accoutrements, most of which were provided by the officers and men from their private resources, but only the ordinary wages paid men acting as soldiers under the Crown. So that a balance of £185,000, for work performed, was a just claim against the Government and nation.

Colonel Hamill, of Lifford, a gentleman who had commanded one of the regiments in the siege, was appointed to urge the claims of the garrison upon Government. In 1698, when he, in despair, resigned the thankless task, the office of Agent was conferred on his brother William, then residing in England. Petition after petition seeking redress was presented to Parliament. Parliament referred it to this or the other Committee. The Committee reported it was a just debt. Parliament proposed to take it into consideration on a fixed day. When that day came, it was postponed till another day. When that day came, it was postponed again.

At one time it appeared as if something was about to be done. On the 23rd June, 1698, the House of Commons agreed to present an address to the King, asking that some compensation should be made to the Governor and garrison of Derry for their unparalleled services and sufferings. His Majesty had then control over the Irish forfeited estates, and he promised that he would take care of the Derry soldiers as required. But before anything could be done, Parliament removed the forfeited estates from the control of the Crown, vested them in trustees, and ordered them to be sold. With the product, £700,000 of other debt was discharged, but still no part of the sums due to the garrison was met. Parliament took from the Crown all power of making the promised compensation, and they never made it themselves.[4]

For thirty years Hamill pursued his thankless task of dunning at the gates of the English Parliament, asking the payment of an old debt. But the war was then over; the danger was past. Ireland was of little account. There was a strong party in Parliament, anxious to prevent the King from gratifying his wishes towards the people, and to make the people dissatisfied with the King. Unable to resist the Revolution with any hope of success, their aim seemed to be to make its warmest friends regret that it ever occurred. The very men nearest the throne were, some of them, in correspondence with the exiled King, and could not, therefore, be zealous in their endeavours to act justly to those who had helped to drive him away. The result was, that the sum due to the garrisons of Derry and Enniskillen was never paid. No compensation was ever given, although the fairness of the claim was admitted. At last Hamill, having spent his all in fruitless labour, was himself thrown into prison for his own debt, and from prison he sent forth, as well he might, his pamphlet, entitled, The Danger and Folly of being public-spirited and sincerely loving ones country—a full statement of the facts, a memorial of persistent urgency and of disappointed hopes, an instructive illustration of the value that attaches to the honesty and gratitude of nations.

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[1] Hamill's Danger and Folly, pp. 30 and 31.

[2] Hamill's Memorial, p. 22.

[3] Hamill's Danger and Folly, pp. 47 and 53.

[4] Hamill's Memorial, p. 25.

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.