Monday, May 24, 2010

The missing Montgomery portraits and memoir - an open message to art collectors, libraries and museums in New Zealand and Australia

Montgomery Portrait 2 small.jpg
(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog)

I'm posting this in the hope that, one day, these items might surface and perhaps copies of them could be sent back to Ulster in the interests of history and cultural heritage.

The Montgomery Manuscripts were written by William Montgomery in the late 1600s and early 1700s. They were first printed in Belfast in 1830, and then again in 1869 with the addition of magnificent footnotes by Rev George Hill. Hill's portrait hangs in the Great Hall of Queens University in Belfast, in which he is holding a copy of the manuscripts. Because of the limitations of printing at the time, there are very few illustrations in the book. Tantalisingly, Hill does refer to two then-extant original portraits - of Sir Hugh Montgomery, the First Viscount of the Great Ardes (1560 - 1636) which is said to have been a life-size portrait - and also one of his second son Sir James Montgomery of Rosemount (1600 - 1651). Here is Hill's description: -

"...An oil painting of the first viscount is in the possession of Mrs. Sinclair, formerly of the Falls, near Belfast, who is seventh in lineal descent from him. The same lady also possesses a portrait in slate of sir James Montgomery of Rosemount, and miniature likenesses of col. Wm. Montgomery of Killough, and his wife, Isabella Campbell of Mamore. Col. William Montgomery was grandson of the author, and great-grandfather of Mrs. Sinclair..." (The Montgomery Manuscripts, footnote, page 117)

No-one alive in Ulster today has ever seen these portraits - they are thought to have been taken to Australia or New Zealand by emigrants.

In the Preface, Rev George Hill refers to a biography of Hugh Montgomery II (1597 - 1642) - "...The memoir of the second viscount is unfortunately lost, at least for the present, having been probably carried away to Australia by the author's lineal descendant, captain Frederick Campbell Montgomery, who settled in that colony about the year 1835..."

Sir James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery have been called "The Founding Fathers of the Ulster-Scots". Hamilton's original portrait hangs at Castle Ward, the National Trust property near Strangford. It is a tragedy that 150 years ago, an equivalent original portrait of Sir Hugh Montgomery was in a private collection in Belfast but has since been lost, probably taken to the other side of the world.

If you know where these two Montgomery portraits might be - PLEASE GET IN TOUCH!! There may even be a reward for the person who uncovers them, and who helps to return copies of them to the people of Northern Ireland.

(NB - The portrait of Sir Hugh Montgomery shown here is the one which has been used in recent years. It is from a copy indenture from Fraser's "Memorials of the Montgomeries", which is a poor facsimile of an original 1630 indenture. I was recently given a digital copy of the original indenture, and the portrait looks much better than the one shown above - but as I don't own the copyright for it I won't post it here)


Who was Mrs Sinclair? A few months ago a local historian was good enough to send me this background info:

"...There were several wealthy families with the name Sinclair resident in mid 19th century Belfast. The most prominent were the owners of J&T Sinclair, Merchants and Ship owners, they owned two of the largest mansions in the North of the city, the Grove and Hopefield. Another family were the owners of S Sinclair and Company Linen Merchants who lived in College Gardens and other houses in the South of the city. The only connection of a Sinclair family to the Falls would be in the late 18th and early 19th Century. William Sinclair, a very successful Linen manufacturer, is described as the Falls Bleacher. The family house and business premises were in Mill Street, where Castle Street and Divis street now are. Their very substantial house faced the entrance to King Street. He built Fortwilliam House at the end of the 18th Century but the bleaching business was still carried on at the Mill Street site and they presumably retained their house there. William Sinclair died in 1807 and left three daughters but no sons. Fortwilliam was sold soon after his death but his wife survived him until 1854. She lived mainly in Donegal Place but she would always have been associated with the Falls. To my mind she is the only possible candidate among the Belfast merchant classes of that time. As is not unusual at that time the name appears as both Sinclaire and Sinclair. I hope this is helpful, incidentally William Sinclaire was quite a character with wide interests which included being Chairman of the Society of United Irishmen..."


Colin Maxwell said...

Just to get the email follow up

Colin Maxwell said...

Is there any connection with the Sinclair Seaman's Presbyterian Church in the Belfast docks area?

Just a thought.

Mark D Doherty said...

Thank you for this very interesting blog. I am researching the life of Con O'Neill, and find the London meeting between O'Neill, Montgomery, Hamilton and King James I fascinating to contemplate. A local film-maker is writing a script for this historic encounter. Would you be willing to share a higher resolution image of the Montgomery engraving? I would credit you for this. Mark Doherty