Back to the future

Gwyn's Institute back in the 1930s, almost 100 years after it was built. (Photo courtesy of Libraries NI).

Gwyn's Institute back in the 1930s, almost 100 years after it was built. (Photo courtesy of Libraries NI).

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Emigration, alcoholism, poverty, flags, vandalising ‘ruffians’... it may all sound very familiar, but these were the issues making the headlines in Derry back in 1840.

To mark the discovery of a Time Capsule buried at Brooke Park 175 years ago, the ‘Journal’ today looks back through its archives at what was happening in the North West at that time, just prior to the Irish Famine gripping the nation in the mid-1840s.

A harrowing depiction of the Irish Famine from the time.

A harrowing depiction of the Irish Famine from the time.

The census of a few years earlier put the population of Derry City at almost 14,000 people.

The ‘Londonderry Poor Law Union’ was formally declared on the 17th January 1839 with a stated catchment of 60,000 people across Derry and much of Donegal. The population of Ireland was around eight million by this stage.

At the same time as Gwyn’s Institute was being built in Brooke Park, across the River Foyle, Derry’s Workhouse at Glendermott Road was also under way. It opened in November 1840, with accommodation for 800 inmates.

The 1939 New Year’s Eve edition of ‘The L:Derry Journal and Donegal and Tyrone Advertiser’ carries a notice relating to Gwyn’s Institute for Boys being constructed at Brooke Park, after money was left for such a purpose by wealthy local businessman and native of Muff, John Gwyn, with the time capsule buried as part of this.

The edition of the L;Derry Journal from New Year's Eve 1939.

The edition of the L;Derry Journal from New Year's Eve 1939.

In the Journal, Gwyn’s Institution Trustees give notice that they are to hold a meeting in January 1840 to elect a new trustee to replace a Mr John Kelso, who had died.

There is also a report of an Inquest into the death of a certain William Campbell “an itinerant pedlar, beyond the prime of life who died suddenly in a public house in Bishop Street the evening previous”.

The report states: “From what we could learn respecting the deceased it would appear that he was for a number of years past addicted to indulge in the use of ardent spirits, but had from June last till within 10 days of his death totally abstained from intoxicating drink, when he again resumed drinking, but was not intoxicated at the time he died.”

The doctor who examined Mr Campbell gave his opinion that the death was “produced by apoplexy, arising from previous intemperance.” And the verdict was that he “died by the Visitation of God”.

A story about Gwyn's Institute carried in the Derry Journal back in 1939, just before the time capsule was buried.

A story about Gwyn's Institute carried in the Derry Journal back in 1939, just before the time capsule was buried.

Under the headline ‘Outrage’ meanwhile, there was a report that: “Last week, an outrage, very unusual, we must say, in the district, was committed on the chapel of Kilteevogue, a number of windows of which were destroyed by some ruffians. A handsome reward has been offered for the discovery of the perpetrators.”

There are also reports of how a request from Belfast bakers to allow foreign flour into Ireland as it was in England was rejected.

Another report states how: “On Monday last James O’Neill who was for some time in a weak state of mind broke out of his father’s house at Bridgend, Strabane and threw himself into the river and was drowned.”

Among the adverts for ‘Peruvian Pills’ for Syphilis and ‘unadulterated Malt Whiskey’ from Newtoncunningham, there are also ads about the selling off of several taverns and other buildings, including the public auction of an Inn at William Street with stables for 50 horses and previously belonging to the late Joseph McLaughlin.

Daniel O'Connell.

Daniel O'Connell.

There was also an ad for Foyle College which was described as being “beautifully situated on the north side of Derry” and a “handsome modern building with “accommodation for 200 students, of whom 80 may be boarders”.

“Conversation, morals and manners are carefully inculcated” at the school, the report states, with drill sergeants regularly attending to train the pupils “in an easy and graceful carriage”. The students were also taught Hebrew, Euclid, Algebra, German Languages, French, Latin, Greek, Spelling and Book-keeping, among other subjects.

Numerous ads for Emigration Ships are also carried, some listing prices for different classes of cabins “either in Splendid Packet Ships or first-class Trading Vessels” which were “sailing weekly to all parts of the United States and British America”.

Local people could “apply by letter to James & W Cairns at the Corn-market Derry”.

There were also ads for ships departing for Liverpool and Glasgow at a time when many Irish were emigrating out beyond these shores.

The paper at the time was also heavily concerned with international events, including the curious trial of a 33-year-old French woman who challenged a man to a duel, and allegedly verbally abused several members of the public, including one man who was “often offended and had even received on his head a projectile of a very unpleasant nature”.

Derry's Workhouse Museum is located at Glendermott Road in the city's Waterside. Photo: Peter Higginbotham.

Derry's Workhouse Museum is located at Glendermott Road in the city's Waterside. Photo: Peter Higginbotham.

There were also stories about the French and British navies taking offence over the hoisting of flags; the ongoing exploration of, and emigration to, the lands around Sydney and other parts of Australia; a ‘lion king’ tamer and his beasts enthralling the crowds in Paris; and how Queen Victoria will be attended to by 10 bridesmaids at her wedding to Prince Albert, five of whom served at her coronation.

One figure dominates the whole edition of the Journal, and puts in an appearance across several stories- Daniel O’Connell.

The giant of Irish politics who had campaigned for Catholic Emancipation, including the right for Catholics to sit in the Westminster, and the repeal of the Act of Union which tied Ireland to Britain, is painted as an impassioned orator who 
could fire up his diverse audiences.

Several speeches of Mr O’Connell’s are carried in the four-page broadsheet, including one in which he makes “an appeal to the people of Ireland to adopt with promptitude the constitutional means to protect their lives and their liberties against the enemies of their country”.

Mr O’Connell lists those enemies who preside over them as the House of Commons, Bishops, High Sheriffs of the Counties, the gentry, the clergy, and an English people “infuriated by the incessant appeals to their bigotry”, in a systematic, “foul and atrocious conspiracy” overseen by the Tories of the day.

�/Lorcan Doherty Photography - 2nd April 2015. ''175 year-old time capsule uncovered in the foundation stone  of the former Gwyn's Institute, during the current renovation work at Brooke Park.'''Photo Lorcan Doherty Photography

�/Lorcan Doherty Photography - 2nd April 2015. ''175 year-old time capsule uncovered in the foundation stone of the former Gwyn's Institute, during the current renovation work at Brooke Park.'''Photo Lorcan Doherty Photography