Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Brief biography: William Hugh Patterson (1835 - 1918)

(Having mentioned Patterson in this recent post, I thought a sketch of his life might be of some interest to readers here at the 'Burn.)

William Hugh Patterson was born in Belfast in 1835. His family had been linen merchants and ironmongers for at least two generations; he was educated at Inst and Queens University and also worked in the family business. His grandfather was Robert Patterson (1750 - 1831). William's father, also called Robert Patterson (April 18 1802 - February 14 1872) was a successful businessman; he also wrote hymns which appeared in John Beard's collection for Unitarians. Robert was famous naturalist, publishing a series of important books on the subject.

William shared his father's interests and also developed a passion for history. In 1858 he married Helen Anderson, daughter of John Crossley Anderson of Knockbreda. In 1863, aged just 28, William was a founder member of the Belfast Naturalists' Field Club, and in 1869 the Club published his booklet entitled "A Notice of some Ancient Tombstones at Movilla". In 1872 he published "The Christmas Rhymers in the North of Ireland". Helped by other correspondents, he published perhaps his most famous work - "A Glossary of Words and Phrases used in Antrim and Down" - in 1880. He described the words in the Glossary as being "in the main of Scottish origin...(which had)... naturally underwent changes consequent upon the lapse of time since their introduction to an alien soil". For Patterson the origin year was "about the year 1607, when... immigration, previously a mere rivulet... became a flood". (The actual year was of course 1606).

His prestigious address was Garranard, Circular Road, Belfast - the same road that C.S. Lewis grew up on, and where Craigavon House had been built in 1870. He was a member of the Royal Irish Academy, the USPCA, and a Board member of the Royal Victoria Hospital and of the Belfast School of Art. Patterson signed the Ulster Covenant at Strandtown Halls, off the Belmont Road in Belfast. (see PRONI digital image). He died in 1918.

• Princess Grace Irish Library entry
• He was a contributor to the Ulster Journal of Archaeology (here's an example of his work from 1896 on the subject of "Ulster Settlers in America")
Dictionary of Ulster Biography entry
• Patterson was the uncle of Robert Lloyd Praeger (1865 - 1953)
• He was brother of Sir Robert Lloyd Patterson (1836 - 1906)

(NB: additions and corrections to this biography are very welcome)