Monday, September 07, 2009

Before Hamilton & Montgomery - the failed English settlement of 1572

In May 1572, between 700 and 800 people gathered at Liverpool docks in the north west of England, bound for a new life on the Ards Peninsula of County Down.

The venture had been planned with meticulous detail. The English authorities had been considering a scheme like this since at least the year 1515, so there was no shortage of either theory or interest. It was October 1571 when Queen Elizabeth I granted her Secretary of State, Sir Thomas Smith (pictured left), 360,000 acres of land in this most easterly part of Ulster.

Smith and his son, who was also called Thomas, seized their opportunity and had been advertising their new estate ever since to potential tenants across England. But the land was disputed territory, claimed both by the Clandeboye O’Neills since around AD 1350, and also by the English Crown and the Savage family since the late 1100s.

The Smiths' objective was to establish a new English colony, centred around a new fortress town called Elizabetha which was to be located at the upper end of the Peninsula where “it is joined unto the rest of the Island”, and which would be defended by three major forts that the settlers planned to build. But due to delays, by the time they set sail on 30 August of the same year, the number of emigrants had fallen to just over 100.

The project was doomed before it began – but its failure cleared the way for the breathtaking success of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement of the same lands which began in 1606. The Lowland Scots would succeed where the English had failed...

...more to follow during the Autumn!