Sunday, June 17, 2018

Henry Thomson & Co - Old Irish Whisky, Newry, Ireland

Henry Thomson Bottles

This firm was a big brand in its day, seemingly advertising itself heavily in Scotland. Henry Thomson senior is a bit of an unknown; he died in 1859 and must have made a vast fortune from whisky. The distillery seems to have been on Trevor Hill in Newry. However his obituaries make no mention of this. He lived from 1797-1859 (see grave reference here), but the brand claimed an origin date of 1816, when Henry senior was just 19 years old. Perhaps a previous generation of Thomsons were also in the Newry drink trade.

Interestingly, just a few miles away, Dundalk County Museum has in its collection a buffalo skin coat, worn by William of Orange at the Boyne, which was owned by a Robert Thomson of Ravensdale, a large estate just a few miles south of Newry.

Henry's second son, also Henry Thomson (1840-1916), took over the business and in the 1880s became Unionist MP for Newry (Wikipedia here). During his lifetime the family owned an impressive number of properties - Scarvagh House (best known as the location for the annual ’Sham Fight’ on 13th July), Altnaveigh HouseDownshire House and Ballyedmond House. They gave land for the building of Scarvagh Orange Hall (opened in 1908).

When Henry Thomson junior died in 1916, the local community set about establishing the Henry Thomson Memorial Orange Hall which was opened in June 1921. The opening event included a presentation of a portrait of Thomson and his Orange sash. A Royal Black Preceptory Henry Thomson Memorial RBP No 1000 was also established. To clear the debts from the building of the Hall, a two day bazaar was held in November 1923 which was opened by Lady Craig, the wife of Sir James Craig who had of course been involved in the Dunville’s Whisky empire. When you also consider the drinks empire of Lyle & Kinahan, and the Orange connections of the Kinahan family, an unexpected picture emerges of the spirits industry in Victorian Ulster in which, like many industries of the time, senior Unionists and Orangemen played a leading role. Presumably they were mostly ‘temperance’ people rather than ‘total abstinence’.

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Thomson’s quality must have been good as they secured the ‘By Royal Appointment’ status, and supplied Parliament.

Henry Thomson & Co seem to have had a particularly energetic agent in Scotland - Robert Brown & Co of Glasgow. They even had a brand of Scotch, and a ‘Fine Old Demerara Rum’. Their advertising in the early 20th century is as strong as many of the big brands of that era. Some examples are below, a few of which are from ‘Burns Chronicle’ publications.

I am not clear on when the brand went into decline. The ‘Ulster Pavilion’ at the British Empire Exhibition in London in 1925 had an area devoted to promoting Ulster whiskies, but perhaps the Prohibition era in the USA from 1920-33 had an impact on the global market. A search of the British Newspaper Archive shows no adverts for the brand beyond 1929.

 • Some more Thomson items are online here at IrishPubCollections.com

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Greater Britian Sat Feb 15 18901940s HENRY THOMSONS LTD NEWRY SCOTLAND SCOTCH WHISKEYBL 0000563 19241127 111 00111903 6Henry Thomson 1908 v2Henry Thomson 1908

Henry Thomson Poster

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