Rev. George Walker's Treatment of the Presbyterians

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER VIII...continued

But the most discreditable part of Walker's pamphlet is his unworthy treatment of the Presbyterians, and the reckless manner in which, without any provocation, he flung a brand that kindled ill-feeling among the defenders of the city. When both denominations had acted in concert, and had behaved so well, the Presbyterians neither expected nor desired special praise; but if it was thought necessary to refer to them at all, it ought not to have been in a tone of disparagement. Presbyterians in modern times do not mind it much, but unjust depreciation was such a novelty to our ancestors that it came upon them with surprise, and what seems so natural to us that we take it as a thing of course, excited their indignation. What gave them just cause of offence was the following:—

1. Dr. Walker pretended that he did not know the names of the Presbyterian ministers who were in the city during the siege. These men had preached in the Cathedral of Derry every Sabbath during the fifteen weeks of the blockade: one of them was chaplain to his own regiment: in Edinburgh, where Presbyterians crowded round him to do him honour, he could and did name six of them to their brethren there:[41] but when he reached London, where Presbyterianism could safely be ignored, he had quite forgotten them; for he speaks of them as "several Nonconforming ministers to the number of seven, whose names I cannot learn, four of which died in the siege."[42] This is the approved manner of saying that the ministers of Cookstown, Strabane, Donagheady, and Ballykelly, were poor obscure creatures, quite unworthy of having their names known to such a great man as the Rector of Donaghmore.

2. All that Dr. Walker had to say in favour of the Presbyterian ministers in connection with the siege is: "The seven Nonconforming ministers were equally careful of their people, and kept them very obedient and quiet." Under the guise of faint commendation, he in these words conveyed a gross libel upon the Presbyterian people, as if they had been naturally so unruly that they required to be held in restraint, and as if their main merit was that they consented to keep quiet while Dr. Walker and his brethren fought the battle. He does his best to convey the impression to his readers, that while the Episcopalians saved the city, the Presbyterians merely held their peace.

3. He went out of his way to publish a gross libel upon the Rev. Alexander Osborne, a respectable minister of Dublin whom we have already named in this history. He was, as we have seen, the first to give warning to the North of the designs of Tyrconnel. He was not in Derry during the siege. He was one of the Irish ministers who waited on Walker a week or two after it in Edinburgh. But when "the Governor" wrote his pamphlet, he went out of his way to speak of this eminent minister as "a spy upon the whole North employed by my Lord Tyrconnel." Mr. Osborne's whole conduct, as already described, was the very reverse of this; and so glaring and gross was the malicious statement of Walker, that on the 19th day of November, 1689, a paper was signed by Lord Massareene, Sir Arthur Rawdon, Arthur Upton, Esq., and others, in which they state the facts in regard to Mr. Osborne, vindicate him from the offensive charge brought against him by Walker, and thus conclude—"We cannot but own that we, who had, as we suppose, good reason to understand him therein, had, and still have, better thoughts of him, and are so far from looking on him as guilty of any such matters, that we are well assured of his having intended and done therein the best service he could to the Protestant interest there; and that he was very faithful to the same to his utmost."[43]

4. Walker also went out of his way to drag into his pamphlet the name of an obscure Presbyterian probationer who had no connection whatever with Derry, in order that he might have the opportunity of saying that "Mr. Hewson was very troublesome, and would admit none to fight for the Protestant religion till they had first taken the Covenant." This David Houston, or Hewson, was "an indiscreet and turbulent licentiate" in County Antrim, who, for certain alleged irregularities, had his licence withdrawn by the Presbytery of Route in 1672, and was finally excluded by the same Presbytery from communion in the Presbyterian Church on the 8th of February, 1687.[44] When Hamilton invaded Ulster in the spring of 1689, Houston attempted to raise a company in County Antrim. He succeeded in enrolling about two hundred men without ammunition, arms, or order; and it was some foolish regulation that he made among these followers, that provoked the criticism of the Governor of Derry.[45] There is no trace of his presence in the city during the siege. The remainder of his erratic life was spent sometimes in Antrim, sometimes in Ayrshire, in efforts to organize a new denomination separate from the Church of Scotland and the Presbytery of Ulster. Dr. Walker was furnished with a very convenient memory: he could not remember the names of any of the eight ministers within the city at the siege, but he could, without any difficulty, remember the name of a man who never reached the length of being a minister in the Presbyterian Church, who was not in Derry at the siege, who lived in a different county, and who had been cut off from membership in the Presbyterian communion some years before. Where Presbyterian ministers are entitled to some credit, Dr. Walker's memory fails him so much that he cannot remember their names; but he grows marvellously acute and tenacious when anything can be said to their disadvantage. Mr. Houston may have been "troublesome" to the Church of which he was once a member, but he was never troublesome to Dr. Walker or to the Derry garrison, and, therefore, Dr. Walker's observation was alike impertinent and offensive. His opinions may have been erroneous and his practice culpable; but culpable practice and erroneous opinions can discredit no Church except that Church which retains in its ministry and membership those who are guilty of them; which, in the present case, the Presbyterians did not do. And if Mr. Houston would "admit none to fight for the Protestant religion till they had first taken the Covenant," it was an individual opinion for whose absurdity nobody was accountable except the person who avowed it; and it certainly was a small matter in comparison with the infamous Test Act, for which the Episcopal bishops and clergy throughout a whole century contended as for a thing of life and death, according to which none was admitted to serve his king and country, whether as an officer in the army or a magistrate in a village, except he had first taken the sacrament in a parish church.

5. Neither Osborne nor Houston was in Derry during the siege. Osborne was in Edinburgh; where Houston was, is not so certain; but had he been in Derry he would have made himself heard, and the people would scarcely have been so "quiet and obedient" as they are represented, But Dr. Walker, without expressly saying that Houston was in Derry, has contrived, with great ingenuity, to mention him in such a way as to give every reader who does not know the contrary, the impression that he was present at the siege.[46] Thus, by an uncalled-for statement in regard to Houston, and an unfounded one in regard to Osborne, he takes care that the faint praise he bestows on the Presbyterian ministers for keeping their people "quiet and obedient" shall not be permitted to operate very much to their credit. No sentence in his pamphlet perhaps cost him so much time in its construction. Under it I fancy I can detect an influence from without, the influence of his friend and associate, Archbishop Vesey, the undying hatred of a renegade to a cause to which his father, if not himself, had sworn and proved unfaithful. However this may be, and under whatever influence it was composed, perhaps no other passage could be produced from the whole range of English literature in which an equal amount of deliberate and stinging malice is conveyed under the garb of innocence and praise. Quietly and naturally, as if he meant to pay a compliment, Dr. Walker says:—

"The seven Nonconforming ministers were equally careful of their people, and kept them very obedient and quiet; much different from the behaviour of their brother, Mr. Osborne, who was a spy upon the whole North, employed by my Lord Tyrconnel, and Mr. Hewson, who was very troublesome, and would admit none to fight for the Protestant religion till they had first taken the Covenant."[47]

6. To crown all. In the Dedication of his pamphlet to King William and Queen Mary, Dr. Walker, in a strain of affected humility, not only represents himself as, under Divine Providence, the Defender of Derry, but rests on that presumption an argument on behalf of that one of the Protestant Communions to which he himself belonged, as if God thereby was showing to their Majesties, that the Episcopal Church was the grand instrument for maintaining their Majesties' interest in Ireland. A very thin argument often seems substantial enough to those who do not know the facts of the case, and for such people —always the majority—the argument was produced; but in men who knew how matters stood in Derry at the siege, the following statement was better calculated to excite derision than to produce conviction:—

"But as the whole conduct of this matter must be ascribed to Providence alone, as it ought, this should then give them occasion to consider that God has espoused your Majesties' cause, and fights your battles, and for the Protestant religion; and by making use of a poor minister, the unworthiest of the whole communion of which he is a member, would intimate to the world by what hand He will defend and maintain both your Majesties' interest, and the religion you have delivered from those that were ready to swallow both up."[48]

To the Presbyterians it seemed alike unjust and unmanly to claim thus for one of the two Protestant Churches represented in Derry the entire credit of the siege, and to found on that claim an argument to the effect that Divine Providence was showing that it was by the Episcopal Church he was about to "defend and maintain their Majesties' interest." The Presbyterians were very far from claiming for themselves the sole honour of the defence of Derry; they knew that one party could not have defended it with success without the other, and that both together could not have done it without help from England. They were quite willing to allow to the Episcopalians, as their brave companions in arms, all the credit to which they were fairly and deservedly entitled. But they knew that the gates of the city had been shut by the Presbyterian apprentices, acting by the advice of a Presbyterian minister, and in opposition to the opinion of Dr. Hopkins, the Protestant Bishop; they knew that Lundy, who did his best to betray them and the city, was an Episcopalian; they knew that by far the great majority of the officers and country gentlemen who deserted the city and escaped to England were Episcopalians; they knew that very much the smaller number of them who remained to take part in the defence of the city were Episcopalians; and they knew that had it not been for the part taken by themselves and their gallant leader Murray,[49] the city would have been surrendered without striking a blow. Under such circumstances, it seemed to them very hard that the very man who was sent to London on behalf of the whole garrison, and whose office and profession might have been a guarantee for his integrity and honour, should attempt by a disparaging and unfounded representation to injure them before their Majesties and the world, and, from a transaction that was honourable to all alike, should seek, at their expense, to make capital for his own party.

But why, it may be asked, have Presbyterians lain under this charge for almost two centuries? Why did they not contradict it at the time, when hundreds were living who knew the facts of the case? This is the very thing they did.

The "Account" of Walker had scarcely issued from the press, till public attention was called to the gratuitous insults which he had offered to the Presbyterians, and to the unfounded claims which he advanced in favour of his party and of himself. The first to speak was an anonymous writer in a brochure, entitled "An Apology for the Failures charged on the Rev. Mr. George Walker's Printed Account," and which was printed in 1689. The writer knows little about the siege except by hearsay, and detracts from the weight of his statements by the freedom with which he indulges in irony, and by the fact that he withholds his name; but by a sort of instinct he feels that Walker has done his best to wound the party of which the writer is a member, and in the course of his remarks he speaks of "that great body of Northern Scots . . . which the above 'Account' endeavours to extinguish, and bury with some ingenious scars, in the grave of perpetual oblivion." Before 1689 was ended, Mr. Boyse, of Dublin, had completed, and early in 1690 had published, his Vindication of Osborne, in which he contradicted the statement of Walker in regard to his friend being a spy of Tyrconnel, and set the character of that worthy minister in its true light. No rejoinder was ever offered by Walker, or any one for him, by way of refuting the statements of Mr. Boyse. But two anonymous pamphlets, in the interest of Walker, were published, in explanation of the offensive and inaccurate statements of the "Account"; one of these, the "Observations," I have not seen; the other, "Reflections on a Paper pretending to be an Apology," etc., palliates the accusations made, but the unknown writer is void alike both of the manliness to retract and of the power to establish them. Such was the clamour excited by these publications, that before the end of 1689, Dr. Walker came out with a Vindication of the True Account, in which he again pretends that he did not know the names of the Presbyterian ministers in Derry at the siege; virtually admits the charge of sectarianism, when he confesses that in writing his book, "he thought it necessary for him, with as little offence as possible, to discover that he was a true son of the Church of England"; and argues that Presbyterians could not have been in the majority at Derry, when they consented to submit to Episcopalian Governors, and to be content with the use of the Cathedral on the Sunday afternoons, instead of claiming it every day and hour in the week.[50] Little more need be said of the "Governor." Had the Presbyterians demanded a Presbyterian Governor, and claimed the use of the Cathedral as exclusively their own, it would have been quoted for ever in proof of their insolent bigotry and intolerance; but when they submit to the government of others, and try to be agreeable, their conduct is held up by a "true son of the Church of England" as a sure proof of conscious inferiority and weakness.

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[41] Ante, p. 303.

[42] Walker, p. 57, App.

[43] Boyse's Vindication of Osborne, p. 22.

[44] Reid, ch. xviii., Notes 36 and 37; ch. xix., Note 16.

[45] McBride's Animadversions, p. 21.

[46] Thus Dr. Leland in his History of Ireland:—"Some jealousies, however, broke out from these different religious parties, even in the hour of their common danger, and one dissenting teacher pronounced those unworthy to fight for the Protestant cause who should refuse to take the Covenant. But the discreet and pious of both parties prevailed," etc.

See Concise View, App., p. ix.

And even Lord Macaulay, describing the state of things within the city at the siege, says:—"On the other hand, a Scotch fanatic, named Hewson, who had exhorted the Presbyterians not to ally themselves with such as refused to subscribe the Covenant, had sunk under the well-merited disgust and scorn of the whole Protestant community." —Hist. of England, ch. xii., vol. ii., p. 335.

Evidently Leland and Macaulay believed that Houston was in Derry at the siege, for which there is not a single tittle of evidence except the false impression left by the words of Walker; and yet his words, carefully examined, do not assert that Houston was in the city. How ingeniously contrived was a sentence which, without stating what was false, conveyed an impression that was false, both to Leland and Macaulay, and to I know not how many more.

[47] Walker's True Account, April 19th.

[48] Walker, Dedication.

[49] Dr. Reid (Hist., vol. ii., p. 374) states that Colonel Adam Murray was a Presbyterian. I believe the statement to be accurate for the following reasons:—

1. He was the descendant of a Scottish family, the Murrays of Philiphaugh, on the Tweed; and most Scotsmen, especially those who settled in Ireland in the days of persecution, were Presbyterians. —Londerias, ii., 9.

2. It is confirmed by the following extract from a letter addressed by the present head of the family, Sir John Murray, to the late Rev. William M'Clure, dated Philiphaugh, Ettrick Forest, 9th Feb., 1874:—"Adam Murray I have every reason to believe was, like the other members of his family, Nonconformist—a Covenanter, like my ancestor who suffered much persecution from the Episcopalians in the time of the Charleses. My ancestor of that period was deprived of his estates and fled to Holland. The cousin of John Knox was a chaplain or tutor in my family, and that name is very dear to me."

3. The Murrays after coming to Ireland settled at Ling, in the parish of Cumber, which, prior to the Revolution, united with the parish of Glendermot, to form one congregation. We have it on the testimony of Bishop King, that there were few in either parish who conformed to the Episcopal Establishment. When he visited Cumber, in 1693, the Bishop made the following entry in his Visitation Book: —"The parishioners have been much offended by the vicious curates that formerly served this parish, so that there are not above fifty comformable persons in the parish, though near seven miles in length." On visiting Glendermot the same year, he made the following entry:—"The people are much disaffected to ye Church, there being only about fifty comformable persons in it." This proves that the bulk of the population in both parishes were Nonconformists.

4. At the Presbytery of Laggan, held at Ray, on the 3rd of August, 1674, Adam Murray attends as elder from Glendermot. On July 11th, 1676, James Murray attends as elder from Glendermot, at a meeting held in St. Johnston. On 15th of August, 1676, Adam Murray attends as elder from Glendermot; and on September 29th, 1680, Adam Murray attends as elder, but this time from Londonderry. See Minutes of Laggan, pp. 61, 127, 129, 243. We know that Colonel Murray had a brother who served during the siege, and that his father was then living at some distance from the town.

5. His close connection with the town and neighbourhood is shown by the Londerias, i., 9:—

"The valiant Murray's friends dwell in the town, And all the neighbouring Scotsmen are his own; He's a stout man; his trade of late hath been To hunt the Tories, and their heads bring in."

6. The following sentence of the pamphlet entitled Mackenzie's Narrative a False Libel, p. 2, would have no point, if Murray did not head the Dissenters in the same sense as Walker headed the Episcopalians. The writer, supposed to be Bishop Vesey, speaking of Mackenzie's Narrative, says:—"The whole substance of the book may be resolved into two lines—viz., All the brave and glorious actions in that siege were performed by the Dissenters, and Colonel Murray at the head of them; all inglorious actions and treacherous attempts are to be imputed to the other part of the garrison, and principally to Dr. Walker." The fair inference is that Murray was as closely identified with the Presbyterians, as Walker with the Episcopalians. On the other side are the facts, that there is no documentary evidence to prove Murray's connection with the Dissenters in later life, and that his descendants, so far as the memory of the last generation can travel back, were members of the Episcopal Establishment. The evidence on either side cannot pretend to amount to demonstration, but the weight of it, so far as now known, favours the opinion that Murray was a Presbyterian. Cairns and Gladstanes certainly were.

[50] Vindication, pp. 13-15.

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.