3. Billy, later Sir William, Findlater 1824‒1906

Alexander the founder’s eldest brother, William the ship broker, had four children. His only son, Billy, later Sir William, was born in 1824. In 1831, when Billy was seven years old, the senior William died in Londonderry at the age of thirty-nine, and as a result Billy and his three sisters spent much of their childhood in Dublin with their Uncle Alexander. Billy later made a successful career in the legal profession and for four years was a Liberal Member of Parliament for Monaghan, sitting as a moderate unionist. He took an active part in the passing of Gladstone’s 1881 Land Act, which gave tenants the famous three Fs: fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale. In 1879 he became proprietor of the Mountjoy Brewery (see Chapter 4).

The Scottish connections were still strong while the children were growing up, and young Billy’s elderly cousin, the Rev. Charles Findlater from his parish in Newlands in Scotland, took a keen interest in his welfare. Surviving letters show a pleasant intimacy. The first was sent in 1834, when young Billy was ten.

For Little Billy alias the Admiral.

How do you do, Billy? And how is Gran Mamma? I trust this finds you both in good health. I doubt not that Grand Mamma is as kind to you as ever—and that you repay her kindness by endeavouring to please and oblige her.

What are you learning at present? Do you continue at the Latin? I trust you are also becoming expert at writing and counting, with English, Geography, or probably also some swatch of civil or natural history—you cannot however attend to everything at once.

What amusements and diversions have you? Do you sometimes regret the want of the Newlands schoolboys with whom you used to romp or have you got Irish little Teagues to supply their place?

The Whitefords are all well—and since you left us there is an addition to the family of a bold, squalling little brat named James, after his father. We had an examination of the school last week—I made G. Williamson (who seems inclined to become a doctor) translate upon a slate a paragraph of Celsus from the Latin—and Aitkin to translate a paragraph from the French—and made both extract the square root—and both performed their tasks to satisfaction—and all the rest acquitted themselves well. Mr Whiteford’s school is much increased, the one at Goldiesmill being given up.

Mr Gladstone* goes out to Demerara, the beginning of May, to oversee schools upon a large estate belonging to Mr Gladstone of Liverpool and to preach to and cate-

*The Rev. William Gladstone was ordained in Newlands in April 1834 to go to Demerara as Minister of the gospel at the request of John Gladstone, owner of plantations there and of Fasque in Kincardineshire in north east Scotland not far from Aberdeen, and also of Liverpool. John Gladstone’s fourth son, William Ewart, a Liberal, was Prime Minister in the latter half of the 19th century. The eldest son, Thomas, born 1804, was, as we have seen, a partner of Alexander Findlater.

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Billy, 1824–1906, Solicitor, Brewery
proprietor and M.P.

chise his Negroes. How did Grand Mamma pass the winter? Did she get a party made up for whist?

Write to me or your aunt and tell us all about it–and give my best wishes to your Uncle and Grand Mamma and Aunt Snowden.

Yours truly Chas. Findlater Newlands 14 April 1834

to me in your hand, as your Aunt thought. Tell your Uncle the whiskie arrived safe—having escaped the various laws of the Excise, altho neither permit nor account came along with it. It seems very good, and we prefer it even to the Inneschonian.

A year later, a certain schoolmasterly facetiousness enters the correspondence:

To Billy Findlater

August 1835

Dear Sir,

I was well pleased to receive your letter—in which I have nothing to remark excepting your display of extreme modesty—so becoming in a young man–for, when speaking of yourself in the third person, instead of pushing yourself forward with a bushy cropped head and slender waist as an (I) I find you creep modestly forward with a most humble (i).

I delayed writing, endeavouring to procure for you Rupells popular lectures on natural philosophy, which I saw lately advertised, but of which I could not procure a copy either in Glasgow or in Edinburgh—the whole I presume having been bought out by those attending mechanics institutions—I therefore now send you a book which, tho’ I consider it as in no way so useful, may nevertheless serve as a showbook – I consider it as the first stereotype publication edited in France—which country got the start of us in applying this cheap mode of printing to such books as seemed calculated to defray the expense by an extensive and continual demand. I trust you are now attending more to things than to mere words.

My parishioners, as a testimony of their regard, have subscribed for a marble bust of me–to be placed I presume in the Church—as there is no other place of public resort but the change house—and I presume you’ll agree with me that it would be rather out of character to set me to preside over drunken orgies—I sat to the Sculptor eight different days in Edin. and am now returned.*

You may consider this as of the date of your receiving the book—I leave some empty space for your Aunt to speak a word in season to you if the spirit shall so move her. Meantime, with best wishes to your Grandmother and uncle and aunt.

Yours truly, Chas. Findlater.

* This bust may be seen in the art gallery in Peebles.

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Charles Findlater, born in 1754, graduated from Edinburgh University in 1770 and in 1777 was ordained assistant to his father, the Rev. Thomas Findlater. In 1790 he moved to the neighbouring parish of Newlands where he lived until 1835. He died in Glasgow in 1838, aged eighty-four. Charles was a scholar and an author; in 1802 he wrote Findlater’s Agriculture of the County of Peebles and in 1830 published his Sermons, or Essays as the reader shall choose to design them, upon Christian Duties. In his retirement, in the winter of 1835–6, he translated Roman Nights at the Tomb of the Scipios1 from Italian/Latin.

Mary Jane Wolfe, Billy’s first wife

His intention had been to give the translation to a publisher gratis, but alas upon so offering it, it was found that he had been anticipated by a London translator.

Charles then sent the two handwritten leather-bound manuscripts to young Billy in Dublin—‘I doubt not but the work will afford you amusement as it has done to me.’ Billy was then eleven years old. Charles wrote to him in November 1836 to reproach him for failing to thank him for the gift, forgetting perhaps what might be expected of a lad of that age—‘little rogue that you are, you never have had the grace to thank me yet’.

Billy was apprenticed to a solicitor in 1840. From a letter written to Billy by his mother Sophia in Derry in November 1840, it is clear that his Uncle Alexander paid his apprenticeship fees. He also acted as his guarantor at the King’s Inns. This was clearly not taken for granted, as she writes ‘your uncle’s truly noble and generous conduct to you and myself, I cannot express in as grateful terms as I would wish, but I must just repeat your own words and say as long as we live we can never forget?’ The letter finishes ‘let us ever rejoice with trembling and leave every thing in his hands who will never forsake those who trust in him.’ Sophia died in 1870.

Billy was admitted as a solicitor in 1846, starting his professional career just at the beginning of the Great Famine of 1845–9.

Billy’s first partnership was as Findlater & Lee. In 1851 he practised with Matthew Anderson, Chief Crown Solicitor for Ireland and father of Sir Robert Anderson, one-time Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department in England. He then appears to have joined John Wolfe, solicitor of Ormond Quay and Fitzwilliam Street as his junior partner. In 1853 he married Wolfe’s daughter

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Mary Jane. In 1856 he became a full partner and subsequently took over the practice on Wolfe’s retirement. In 1863 we find him as Findlater & Collins from the same address (35 Ormond Quay) before practising on his own account as William Findlater & Co., ultimately taking his nephews Edward Neptune Blood and Adam Lloyd Blood into partnership. The practice continued until 1956, finally closing on the death of Ken Lloyd Blood, son of Adam Lloyd Blood.

John Wolfe died in 1871 and his daughter followed not long after, in 1877. She and Billy had no children. In 1878 Billy married Marion Hodges,

The Findlater Scholarship

daughter of Lt Col. Archibald Park, son of Mungo Park, the celebrated African explorer. She had two sons and a daughter by her first marriage, and she and Billy then had three children. The first, William Alexander Victor Findlater, was born in 1880, when his father was fifty-six. He was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Dublin before joining the Royal Irish Rifles, where he was awarded the DSO during the First World War. In 1904 he married Leila Blackwell, daughter of Thomas Blackwell of Merrion Square, and then settled in Kent where they had two sons and three daughters. Billy and Marion’s second son was Percy (Percival St George) of the Royal Army Services Corps, who was killed in action on 28 March, 1918. His memory is recalled on the memorial plaque in the Kildare Street and University Club in Dublin. Billy and Marion’s only daughter Muriel was born in 1884 and died in 1896 at the tender age of twelve.

In 1852 when he was still in partnership with Matthew Anderson Billy joined one of the Dublin freemason lodges, Victoria Lodge.* It is possible that he was introduced to freemasonry by one of the Blood family, whose members were prominent in various Dublin lodges. Towards the end of his life he joined more

* Adam and Willie Findlater (of the next generation) were both masons. Willie was affiliated to several lodges in the 1920s, including the Lodge of Research, and he progressed to the 18th Degree, implying some interest. Dermot Findlater became a mason in 1938, when Frank Lowe, Chairman of The Irish Times and deputy Grand Master was on the Board of Findlaters.

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specialised lodges, working his way through the higher degrees. In 1892 he achieved the 28th degree (out of 33) of the Ancient and Accepted Order, an elevation that implies simultaneous membership of various lodges, each with their regular monthly meetings.

Although well-known in business circles, Billy’s Uncle Alexander did not attempt to enter politics. Billy, or Sir William, as he eventually became, certainly had aspirations in that direction, as did his cousin Adam. Billy started his public career, as many do, in the organisation of his profession, becoming a member of the Council of the Law Society in the late 1850s. He was elected President of the Incorporated Law Society in 1877/8 ten years after it had been entrusted with the task of training solicitors’ apprentices. In the same year he endowed the Society with the Findlater Scholarship at a cost of £1,000 [€98,000] and in 1900 added to its value by transferring £700 [€80,000] Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway Company 4 per cent debenture stock, and £165 [€3,000] 4¼ per cent debenture stock in the same company, to the Society to be held on the same trusts as his original gift. The scholarship is awarded annually to the top scoring apprentices in the second and third Law examinations.2 According to Charles Gamble in Solicitors in Ireland 1607-1921 it ‘continues to be the blue ribbon of the Society’s educational awards, which stamps the successful candidate as the first of his class amongst his contemporaries’. The scholarship is currently awarded for the best overall performance in the professional and advanced courses. In 1919 another President of the Law Society, Trevor Overend of Overend,* McCarron and Gibbons, added further funds so that all three law examinations were covered. A few highly talented apprentices have won both the Overend and the Findlater scholarships.

The Dublin Artisans’ Dwellings Company

The state of Dublin housing had actually improved during the first part of the 19th century as the poorest families moved into the abandoned houses of the rich. But as jobs became scarce, the houses decayed, and more and more people crammed into less and less space. The notorious Dublin tenements were created. As an early response to the poor state of working-class housing, the Dublin Artisans’ Dwellings Company was founded in 1876. The venture was supported by the great and the good of the day, including the Earl of Pembroke, the Guinness family, the Earl of Meath, and most of Dublin’s top lawyers, doctors and businessmen. It set out to provide decent housing for the city’s respectable working families at manageable rents. Its initial capital was £50,000 in 5,000 shares of £10 each [€5m]. The original directors were Sir Arthur Edward Guinness (later Baron Ardilaun) Chairman, Richard Martin (timber merchant), Deputy Chairman, Richard Armstrong (a land agent), William Findlater,

Father of Letitia and Naomi Overend of Airfield, Dundrum. The celebrated sisters, famed for their 1927 Rolls Royce, were founding members of the Children’s Sunshine Home in Stillorgan, much involved with the St John’s Ambulance, and, in 1993, left their home and farm, including Jersey herd, in a private trust as an educational facility, open to the public.

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Edward Kinahan (a wine and spirit merchant), Frederick Stokes and Robert Warren.3

The company’s first building included a tenement block in Upper Buckingham Street and cottages in Upper Dominick Street. After that the emphasis was on cottages and terraced houses for which there was an excess demand. Cottages were built in the Manor Street area in 1880 and at the end of the year a scheme was started in the Coombe which involved 210 houses housing 1,100 people, six shops and premises for two caretakers. The earliest cottages built in Upper Dominick Street cost £120 [€4,300] and were let at 5s 2d per week. This was too much for the average un-skilled labourer, being approximately 40 per cent of his wages, so the houses were let to skilled workers and those with steady earnings. By 1914 the company had built a total of 3,081 dwellings housing a total of 13,938 tenants. The company was profitable. Dividends averaged 4 per cent during the 1880s, by the 1890s they had reached 4½ per cent and were at their maximum level of 5 per cent from 1899.

The Irish Builder of January 1881 reported:

Although the operations of the Artisans’ Dwelling Company in Dublin are small compared with the wants of the city, a little improvement is better than none at all. The Corporation of Dublin can clear sites, but it is not empowered to build; and even in the clearing of sites there are difficulties in this city when it is borne in mind that there are upwards of 10,000 tenement houses, inhabited by more than 120,000 persons, who are living in dwellings practically unfit for habitation, and yet, if suddenly dispossessed, have no better houses in which to seek a home.

And if the public authorities can not build under some wise restrictions, at any cost, we fear they will be compelled for the public safety to pull down thousands of rookeries which are a constant danger and menace to the public health . . . the Corporation, as the sanitary authority, is called upon to compel landlords to do their duty in keeping a number of the houses from which they draw large incomes in a clean and habital condition. It is a notorious fact that a great number of the owners of tenement houses in Dublin will not lay out a penny on the repair of their property if they can avoid it and particularly there is a class of landlords who, anticipating a scheme of strict improvement, will do nothing at all, and yet are ready to prefer preposterous claims for compensation . . . [these landlords] should be promptly and summarily dealt with by bringing them before the magistrates, and inflicting heavy penalties for their continued defiance of the law.

Findlaters themselves owned a small number of tenement buildings, behind their premises in Upper Sackville Street, and the records show that year after year as much as half of the rent was spent in refurbishment. At another level, the Guinness family set up the Iveagh Trust with a benefaction of £50,000 [€6.27m] in 1890; it built 586 tenements (flats) to a high specification. The emphasis was on smaller properties more in tune with the needs of the city’s unskilled workers, and rents were more modest than those in the Artisans’ Dwelling Company.

At least two streets developed by the Artisans’ Company were given the Findlater name. The first is off Infirmary Road, near the Phoenix Park on the outskirts of the city, and the other is in south county Dublin, just beyond Dún

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Laoghaire in Glasthule, named in respect of Adam Seaton Findlater Junior, who was Chairman of the Kingstown Commissioners at the time. And there’s another. On perusing the records of Dublin’s Municipal Council for 1881 I came across an interesting entry:

An application was before your committee from Messrs A. Findlater & Co., stating that they had been endeavouring to improve the condition of Gregg’s lane by erecting Artisans’ Dwellings but found it difficult to get a respectable class of persons to occupy the houses on account of the name, Gregg’s lane. A letter was also received from Alderman Gregg, suggesting that the lane might be called Findlater Street, and a sub-committee were requested to call on Messrs. Findlater on the subject; and your committee, having fully considered the matter directed that in future this place be called Findlater’s Place.

Findlater’s tenement buildings: the nearest first floor window is the one from which Cathal Brugha is reputed to have been shot in 1922.

And there it is to this day beside Cathal Brugha Street but alas, the tenements, in which I once had a flat and a lot of student fun, were knocked down in the 1970s.

MP for Monaghan

In the 1874 general election Billy acted as ‘conducting agent’ for the winning Liberal candidate in South Londonderry. With his Presbyterian background he was firmly on the side of the modernisers in opposition to the economic and political power of the Church of Ireland ascendancy.

The 1880s were a political watershed period, not just for Ireland, but for the British Isles as a whole. The decade saw the beginnings of the great Liberal attack on the landed interest that resulted in what David Cannadine, in The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, called ‘a territorial transfer rivalled only by two other landed revolutions in Britain this millennium: the Norman Conquest and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.’4 Estates in Wales, in England and to a lesser extent in Scotland, were broken up and dispersed, so that by the 1920s the rural landscape was completely transformed.

In Ireland the process started with failing harvests. The tide of agricultural growth turned in 1877; 1878 was wet and 1879 was disastrous—prices were down 30 per cent on 1876 levels. Tenants, better-off and better organised than the generation of the 1840s, began to combine to demand rent reductions. Small reductions were often granted, but landlords had their own problems (mortgages, pensions to mothers and sisters, and hunters to maintain) and were happy to think that the distress was exaggerated. (‘Why,’ complained a Clare magistrate, ‘the people appear to me to be well-off. The son of one said his father would not sell a cob to which I took a fancy.’5)

 Protest activity grew more and more threatening. On one side evictions and re-letting; on the other speeches and demonstrations which quickly turned into rent strikes, boycotts and ultimately violence. Landlords, land agents, bailiffs and process servers were attacked; sometimes they were killed, sometimes merely beaten, occasionally mutilated. The Liberals, led by Gladstone, responded by a new Land Act which conceded the famous ‘three Fs’ thus effectively redefining the relationship between landlord and tenant. In a telling attack on the ‘rights of property’ it enabled any tenant to apply to have his rent fixed by legal arbitration. A kind of dual ownership of the land was established, the first step that eventually led to the complete buying-out of the landlord interest and the establishment of an agricultural economy based on small (and very small) farms. The political lesson was clear too, for it did not take long for people to associate the absence of landlords with the absence of any British connection.6 The Tories of course opposed any diminution of the landlords’ legal position.

Early in 1880 the Catholic lawyer Charles Russell was invited to stand for the Liberal interest in County Monaghan. Russell was born in 1832 near Newry, Co. Armagh. He attended Castleknock College, and afterwards became a solicitor, practising in Belfast. He later decided to join the Bar in London, and was a striking success. A notable feature of his persona was his strong and public Catholicism. Indeed he strongly suspected that a move to nominate him as Liberal candidate for Durham in 1874 was thwarted by anti-Catholic feeling. He had stood unsuccessfully in the Liberal interest for Dundalk in 1868 and 1874. He accepted the invitation from County Monaghan on condition that they thought him ‘the best man to fight the battle’. The prominent Liberals in the constituency, however, ultimately came to the conclusion that he would not win the seat because though the Catholics were willing to support a Presbyterian Liberal candidate the Presbyterians were not willing to support a Catholic on any terms. The Catholic bishop accepted the realpolitik of the situation, as was revealed in a telegram from James Riordan, Monaghan, to T. A. Dickson, MP for Dungannon.

House of Commons, Feb. 1880: Have just seen the [Catholic] Bishop. He is strongly of opinion that starting a Catholic candidate would lose both seats. I am sorry to have to say that I concur with him. See to this at once.

Accordingly, Russell was passed over, and two Presbyterian solicitors, John Givan and William Findlater (Billy), were selected, despite the somewhat

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unpopular image that profession had as agents of the law. Socially, of course solicitors were looked down on by the Anglo-Irish ascendancy; according to Elizabeth Bowen, a writer typifying that caste, solicitors were not people one invited to dinner.

The two solicitors were elected.* Although he was elected for Dundalk, Russell was bitter about the experience. As he told his biographer:

The Catholics of the county out-number Episcopalians and Presbyterians combined, and yet they were not manful enough to make a stand against the Presbyterians. The meeting at which the candidates were selected was held in a Catholic chapel. Almost all present were Catholics, and the meeting decided unanimously to reject the Catholic candidate and to adopt the two Presbyterians. The Catholics were, in my judgement, too timid; but what they did they did on public grounds, and were not swayed by religious prejudices. But the case illustrates the narrowness and bigotry of the Presbyterians, who are always talking of their Liberal principles.

After his election, true to his principles, Billy threw his weight behind the rights of the tenant farmers. At Monaghan, on 21 November, a massive meeting was organised by T. A. Dickson, the two Liberal MPs Givan and Findlater, William Ancketell (a Liberal landlord) and Canon Smollen, parish priest of Clones. Henry Overend, a Carrickmacross Orangeman, opened the meeting by proposing a resolution that tenant right did not provide protection against eviction or unjust rents, and Canon Smollen went through the situation in Monaghan where tenant right had virtually ceased to exist. The objectives of the meeting were indicated by Dickson in a speech which clearly demonstrated that it was a new departure for Ulster liberalism.

When in March we canvassed you for support, we advocated fixity of tenure at fair rents and free sale with the creation of tenant proprietary . . . But we were regarded as visionaries. But what is our position today? We don’t recede nor take one step backwards. The force of circumstances has driven public opinion up to our platform and today we see the farmers’ three Fs and a tenant proprietary . . . recognised by leading statesmen as the true and only solution of the Irish land question . . .

The coming Land Bill will meet with tremendous opposition. The men whose only remedy for Ireland’s miseries is coercion and Peace Preservation Acts, failing in their dastardly attempts to frighten the Executive into suspending the liberties of the people will, in the Houses of Commons and Lords . . . endeavour to fritter away the Bill and by cunning amendments, to render its clauses ambiguous and negating. Then will be the time for Irish members, North and South, to stand by the government and resist insidious compromises and thereby prevent the disastrous mistakes and blunders of the Land Act of 1870 from again being repeated.7

* Votes polled: Givan (Liberal) 2,818, Findlater (Liberal) 2,545, Leslie (Conservative) 2,117, Shirley (Conservative) 2,009.

In the 1880 election Russell was finally elected to represent Dundalk, and when that seat was abolished in 1884 he was returned for a London constituency. He sucessfully defended Parnell at the Special Commission where he was charged with complicity in the Phoenix Park murders. He was twice Attorney General in Gladstone’s Home Rule governments, and finally in 1894 became the first Catholic Lord Chief Justice of England since the Reformation. R. Barry O’Brien, The Life of Lord Russell of Killowen, London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1901.

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In the House of Commons Billy actively participated in the debates on Gladstone’s historic Land Act of 1881 and the Arrears Act of 1882. The landlord class quite correctly saw these Acts as an attack on their long-established position, and so fought tooth and nail to resist. They saw Gladstone as the villain of the piece. Cartoons of him were hung in the WC and there were chamber pots with his portrait leering up from the bottom. More seriously, many in the ascendancy believed that his speeches were active encouragements to tenants and others to shoot landlords. At the same time, while the landlords cried that the Act would spell ruin, they realised that if the government fixed the rate of compensation, at least that compensation was secure.8 Aided by the Protection of Person and Property Act, and the fair wind of economic recovery, the agitation died down, at least for a time.

One of Billy’s more important contributions to the debate in the House of Commons on 13 June 1881 was reported in Hansard, as follows:

The result of the discussion upon the Amendment was looked forward to with the deepest interest in the county he had the honour to represent (Monaghan). His Catholic constituents looked with great suspicion upon any provision which would enable the landlord to become possessed of his tenant’s holding for any amount less than the fair market competition price. He was sorry to say a very strong and bitter sectarian feeling existed in the county; and as the great majority of the tenants were Roman Catholics, they naturally and properly entertained the greatest dread, from their experience of the past, that if the landlords got possession of their holdings upon easy terms they would be removed, and replaced by a solely Protestant tenancy. They had no confidence whatever that fair play would be afforded to them, and therefore he hoped his hon. Friend would press the Amendment to a division. As the Government would not deprive the landlord of the right of preemption altogether, they should press that that privilege should be only exercised at the same price as an ordinary purchaser would pay in the open market. They were, in his humble opinion, entitled to that protection, and on their behalf he should insist upon it. 9

After the passing of the Acts Billy addressed the tenant farmers of Monaghan at Carrickmacross, in the Barony of Farney and County of Monaghan on Wednesday 27 September 1882:

Men of Farney

When I promised you if you elected me to represent you in Parliament, I said I would, to the best of my ability, with the assistance of my excellent colleague, fight the battle of the down-trodden tenants of this noble County, and endeavour to emancipate them from the unworthy bondage in which the representatives of feudal landlordism held them shackled and confined.

What I promise I like to perform, if in my power, and here, in your presence, I fearlessly aver that I have spared no effort to carry out and perform every undertaking I ever made or gave to you. I have said many changes have taken place since we first met—Is not this true? You are no longer the land serfs you then were, uncertain as to how long you would be permitted to retain your homesteads, dreading continual increases of rent if you ventured to expend your money or your labour on the improvement of your holdings, and unable to realise their full value if you were obliged to part with them by sale.

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The terror of landlordism and its powers was upon you, and no wonder, when you knew that if your landlord discovered that you had recorded your vote for any one who did not meet with his approval all the engines of that unjust law which was placed upon the statute book of the realm by him and his privileged class would be set in motion to oppress and ruin you.

Your clergy, as they always do, did their duty well, and encouraged you by their presence in the polling booths to brave the watchful eyes of the bailiffs and sub-agents who were planted in official capacities there at the instance of alarmed and prying landlordism.

You have got substantially under the tenure clauses of the Land Act of 1881 the fair rents, fixity of tenure, and free sale, you longed and struggled for, if you choose to seek for them under its beneficent provisions. Look at the splendid position occupied by the yearly tenant at the present moment. If he thinks his rent greater than a fair rent he is at once entitled to apply to the Land Commission or the County Court Judge to determine what is a fair rent. In ascertaining this fair rent the Court is bound to exclude from its consideration all improvements made on the holding by the tenant or his predecessors in title, unless they have been paid or compensated for by the landlord or his predecessors . . .

You can form a very inadequate idea of what the great man [Gladstone] had to contend with, but my colleague and I who saw every step of the contest, and how bravely he won success in the face of the bitter opposition of open foes, and the withholding of assistance by lukewarm and weak-kneed supporters, cannot refrain from expressing, as your representatives, our warm and hearty recognition of his generous services. I hope—I know you will be equally grateful, and mark your appreciation of the benefits he has conferred upon you, by availing of them without delay.

To return to the position of the yearly tenant. The moment the judicial fair rent is fixed by the Court the tenant forthwith becomes entitled to his holding for fifteen years, subject to statutory conditions, and during the continuance of this term his rent cannot be increased, and he cannot be evicted unless for violation of those statutory conditions.

Again, although the tenant is entitled to this perpetual tenure, if he desires, the landlord has no power of compelling him to hold on for the fifteen years if he finds it unprofitable to do so, even at the fair rent which has been fixed. He can surrender at any time he chooses, thus being in a far better position than if he had a lease which would bind him irrevocably to his holding during the term . . .

Further legislation became necessary, and on the 18th day of August 1882, after a prolonged struggle with the Upper Chamber, which is now matter of history, the Arrears of Rent (Ireland) Act, 1882, became law. By its enactment the Land Commission are authorised to advance money to discharge arrears due by Irish tenants, either by way of gift or loan . . .

I have now, I trust, as briefly as the nature of the case would admit, explained to you the most important provisions of the Land Act of 1881, and the Arrears Act of 1882. They hang together, and explain each other, and I do not well see how they can be treated separately, or the provisions of the one expounded without a reference to, and explanation of the other. The importance of the subject must prove my excuse for trespassing upon your indulgence at such length. No measure, where so many different interests are concerned, and have to be considered, can be framed and passed in such a form as to satisfy every one.

Men of Farney, in conclusion, allow me to express my earnest hope that a bright and happy future is before you.10

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When the second reading of the Land Purchase (Ireland) Bill was proposed, Billy spoke again in the House of Commons; as reported in Hansard he

most heartily approved of the Bill which, in his opinion, would confer a great boon upon the people of Ireland. Its provisions were good, and with some slight but necessary Amendments it might be made a good working measure. In the belief that it would be a boon to both parties, he desired to see it pass as soon as possible, and so far as he was concerned, he would aid its passage by making it as perfect as possible. With that object he should make several suggestions to the Government when the Bill reached the committee stage.11

As a staunch Liberal, Billy supported Gladstone in these momentous changes, but like most Presbyterians, he was not prepared to go down the home rule path. Billy was out of parliament by the time Gladstone brought in his first Home Rule Bill in 1886, but it is very unlikely he would have been happy with it. For Presbyterians an ascendancy of members of the Church of Ireland was bad enough—an ascendancy of Roman Catholics was quite unthinkable.12 However, Billy was an active parliamentarian, intervening on a variety of Irish affairs, mostly those with a legal tint. In 1882, for instance, he spoke on the Poor Law, on bankruptcy, on the mail service between Dublin and London, on the grand jury system, on the sale of army rifles, on Trinity College leases, on patent registration, on the registration of deeds, on police pay and on the prevention of crime generally. As a modern, no-nonsense Victorian he was a supporter of the loop line across the Liffey connecting the south and north railway systems ‘for the acceleration of the mails’. He had no truck with the ‘sentimental objection with regard to the beauty of the view from Carlisle Bridge [O’Connell Bridge].’

In 1883 Billy’s fellow-MP for Monaghan, John Givan, was appointed Crown Solicitor for Meath and Kildare and resigned his seat. Tim Healy, representing the new home rule party, was elected in the ensuing by-election and joined Billy in the House of Commons. Ominously, the Liberal vote, represented by Henry Pringle, was decimated.* Perhaps as a result, in the general election of 1885 Billy decided to stand for South Londonderry, where he had been born and brought up. He stated he was leaving Monaghan ‘solely because his constituents had got ahead of his views’. He canvassed for his Liberal unionist stance hard throughout the county but was beaten into third place by none other than Tim Healy,†the Home Rule candidate, and polled less than Col. McCalmont for the Conservatives. Healy actually stood for both South Londonderry and for Monaghan in the election, won both, and elected to sit for South Londonderry. Bad feeling arose between Billy and Col. McCalmont and after the election Billy refused to shake hands. Healy’s success was the first time a nationalist had won

* Votes polled: Healy (Home Rule) 2,376, Moore (Conservative) 2,011, Pringle (Liberal) 274.

Timothy Healy, barrister, later a leading anti-Parnellite. Governor-General, Irish Free State 1922-8.

Votes polled: Healy (Home Rule) 4,723, McCalmont (Conservative) 2,342, Findlater (Liberal) 1,816.

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a seat in Londonderry.

As an active parliamentarian, Billy involved himself with issues of social reform, such as housing. The Londonderry Standard of 23 November 1885 reported his views: ‘He would like to see the working man well housed in a comfortable dwelling, with good sanitary applications, and as an earnest of his efforts in that direction, he mentioned what he, in conjunction with others, had done for the working man in Dublin, where they caused to be erected a large number of most comfortable dwellings, which were let at the low rent of one shilling per week.’ He was also a founder member of the Ulster Reform Club* but took no further part in its affairs after his departure from politics. In his time he would have been remembered by members of the Bar as the principal promoter of the Act of Parliament, (called Findlater’s Act13), which was passed in 1883, and which facilitated appeals from County Court Judges to the Judges of Assize. Undoubtedly his main political contribution was his part in the bloodless revolution that by 1910 saw the old landlord class virtually eliminated from Ireland, and the land in the hands of small farmers.

Inaugural dinner of the Institute of Chartered Accountants

As a leader of his profession, Billy was a guest speaker at the dinner to celebrate the formation of the Irish Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1888.14 The first president of the new institute was Robert Gardner, who was founder of the firm of Craig Gardner, and, by marriage, a connection of the Findlaters. These dinners were done with style, as Tony Farmar, the historian of Craig Gardner, relates:

On the evening of the first General Meeting (19 November, 1888), over eighty gentlemen sat down to dinner at the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin to a repast served ‘in the most recherché style’ as The Accountant characteristically put it. The relationship of accountants and lawyers and the dependence of accountants on the legal profession in those days were clearly shown by the choice of guests at the first dinner.

The first toast after the Queen’s health had been drunk, was ‘The Legal Profession’ proposed by Robert Gardner as President. This was replied to by Mr Carton, QC on behalf of the Bar of Ireland and William Findlater, J.P., on behalf of the Solicitors of Ireland. Findlater’s speech is interesting as it paints a picture of Robert Gardner which explains much that followed in the next few years. He was glad to see that his old friend, Robert Gardner, had been chosen as the man who could most fitly fill the presidential chair. ‘To be sure he found their worthy President a little impetuous now and then (laughter, and a voice ‘impossible’) but then this was a trifle’. Later he referred to Gardner as a ‘despot’ much to the approval of The Accountant who considered that his despotism would be approved by sensible men everywhere. Gardner’s despotism and impetuosity were unfortunately to separate him before long from the Institute he was

* The Reform Club was under discussion from 1880 and officially opened in 1885. It was formed to advance the Liberal unionist cause in Ulster, which was under threat from a strong Conservative strategy attempting to establish the identity Unionist = Conservative. To counter this, in November 1885 a meeting of the Club required that every Liberal candidate pledge himself to the maintenance of the union, declaring that ‘the establishment of an Irish Parliament would be inconsistent with the maintenance of the Union and fraught with danger to the Empire.’ In 1982 it merged with the Ulster Club and is completely non-political.

Now PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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Leaders of the Ulster Liberal Party 1880. From left, standing: Mr John Givan MP; Rt Hon Andrew Marshall Porter; Mr James Dickson; Sir Thomas Lee MP; Sitting: Mr William Findlater MP, Sir Thomas McClure MP; Rt Hon T.A. Dickson MP and James Richardson. The party was wiped out in the election of December 1885, but soon became merged in the new Unionist Party. Belfast Telegraph

so largely responsible for forming.

The toast of The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland was proposed by Maurice Brooks, J.P* who, as a merchant of Dublin, recalled the time when the presence of an accountant in a place of business was looked upon in much the same light as the visit of an undertaker or a coroner would be.

Besides the lawyers, the permanent heads of ‘those Government Departments which deal with accounts,’ the editors of the Dublin newspapers, and of The Accountant, some English accountants, representatives of the banks, and even some Dublin merchants attended that first dinner. Rather wickedly, The Accountant pointed out ‘the peculiarity which could not but strike any visitor’ that probably every single guest was a man of direct practical and daily importance to the accountants of Ireland.

President for the second time

In 1896 Billy was elected president of the Law Society for the second time, despite a special resolution of the society passed twenty years before that no one would be eligible for re-election. The council declared that it took this unusual course in recognition of the many and valued services rendered by him to the profession, as well as to mark their appreciation of the fact that his name was to

* Maurice Brooks 1823-1903, glass merchant and later Brooks Thomas & Co; Lord Mayor 1874–5, Liberal MP for Dublin.

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abe found as one of the members of the council for nearly forty years. A Mr Falls, in putting the resolution, hoped the society would long enjoy the benefit of his great experience. They should also bear in mind that this was the fiftieth year of his professional career, and he looked as fresh today as, he ventured to say, he did thirty years ago, and with as much ‘go’ in him.

The Irish Law Times thoroughly approved:

We have the greatest pleasure to announce that the Council of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland at their meeting, on Wednesday last, elected Mr William Findlater, J.P., D.L., as their President for the year 1897—an office which has been worthily filled by a long succession of men of the highest intellectual stamp, and of great social and personal influence. The Council’s choice will, we are sure, be most heartily endorsed by the public . . .

Mr Findlater is permanent Chairman of the Solicitors’ Benevolent Association, a member of the Council of the Royal Dublin Society, member of the Council of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, and of various other public and charitable Boards in Dublin; in all which various capacities his valuable assistance and advice are eagerly sought . . .15

The Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland

Billy was elected president of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland for 1891-92.16 At the meetings of the society papers on statistics, jurisprudence, political economy, and social science were read and discussed. This was before mathematical statistics were current and the papers tended to stress information rather than analysis—modern developments of statistics such as mathematical tests of statistical significance were hardly known. No discussion was allowed of subjects likely to introduce religious differences or party politics.

In his presidential address in May 1892, Billy presented a paper on ‘Statistics’—covering their origin, history, status as a science, uniformity, use as a proof and value. On other occasions during his presidential year papers were read on such subjects as ‘Co-operative Agricultural Societies in Germany’ (presented by Rev. T. A. Finlay, a great supporter of Plunkett and the Irish co-operative movement), ‘Self-help v. State help’, ‘Legislation on behalf of Neglected Children in America and Elsewhere’, and ‘The Fusion of the Two Branches of the Legal Profession’.


In present-day Ireland the granting of honours is wisely left to the universities (honorary doctorates) and city corporations (city freedoms)—woe be the day that a national honour is re-introduced. However in Victorian Dublin such honours flowed from the Crown, and were (generally) highly regarded. A mark of social distinction sometimes conferred on solicitors (but never on barristers and very rarely on judges) was that of being knighted.17 A number of presidents of the Law Society were so honoured, including Sir Richard Orpen (who was president between 1860 and 1876 and was knighted in 1868, perhaps as much for his services to the Liberal Party as for his services to the profession), Sir William Fry,

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Sir William Findlater, Sir George Roche (president in the year of the Coronation of King Edward VII), Sir John Lynch, and, in Ulster, Sir Samuel Black, Sir Charles Brett, Baronet, and Sir Alexander McDowell.

In 1896 Billy received a letter from the Lord Lieutenant offering him a knighthood, and he was happy to accept—he enjoyed the ceremonial and trappings that accompanied the honour. The Irish Law Times reported the event:

Billy’s second wife, Marion Hodges née Park

We are delighted to find the name of the President of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland included in the list of the recipients of New Year’s honours. In conferring a Knighthood on such a distinguished member of their body, the entire Solicitors’ profession in this country will feel honoured. Long may he live to enjoy his well-merited distinction!18

The knighthood of the great historian of Dublin Sir John Gilbert, the benefactor of the Gilbert Library in Pearse Street, was noted in the same issue of the Dublin Gazette.

Old age

For the last years of his life Billy was in poor health, and did not appear much in public. He spent his time in Fernside,* his Killiney home where he and his family had so often decamped for the summer. Dr Blood of Enniskerry, of the closely intertwined Blood/Findlater/Inglis/Wolfe families (see pages 90‒1) remembers Sir William in his old age:

I knew Billy very well and owing to my double relationship I was always welcome to stay at any time as long as I liked, especially when they went down to Fernside, Killiney, as they did each summer. I recount great kindness from them all. Percy Findlater, who was 3 years older than myself, was my best friend—he was killed in the 1st war.

My great uncle kept a large stable—2 carriage horses—one cob (for himself)—2 ponies for the children—a pony for the luggage cart. He rode every morning before breakfast until he got too old for it. My father rode with him, if he was staying. He

* Completed in May 1862 to the design of architects Deane and Woodward, who designed Queen’s College Cork, the Museum Building Trinity College Dublin, the Oxford Union and the old Kildare Street Club. Frederick O’Dwyer The Architecture of Deane & Woodward Cork: Cork University Press, 1995 pp 467–71.

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drank nothing but Scotch Whiskey and smoked cigars.

In April 1906 Sir William died quietly in Killiney at the age of eighty-two. The Irish Times, as befitted such a prominent citizen, wrote an obituary and report of his funeral:

With much regret we announce the death of Sir William Findlater, J.P., D.L., which took place last Monday morning at his residence, Fernside, Killiney, Co. Dublin. Sir William had been in failing health for a considerable time, and during the last few years was rarely seen in public. On Sunday night he retired to rest apparently as well as usual, but on Monday morning he complained of weakness, and death ensued almost immediately.

After mentioning the Findlater Scholarship and the Artisan Dwelling company the obituary went on:

The deceased also took part in the management of many charitable and other public institutions in Dublin. He was the chairman and trustee of the Solicitors’ Benevolent Association that he had founded 23 years earlier, and a member of the Dublin Benevolent Society of St Andrew. He was for 31 years associated with charitable work for The Royal Hospital for Incurables in Donnybrook. He was a member of the Royal Irish Yacht Club, the Stephen’s Green Club and the Devonshire and Reform Clubs. Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Dublin, 44 years Council Member Incorporated Law Society.*

He was buried in Mount Jerome, some distance beyond his uncle Alexander’s vault. With him is his first wife Mary Jane Wolfe who died in 1877, his daughter Muriel who died aged twelve in 1896 and his second wife Marion, who died in 1916 aged seventy-two. The grave is also a memorial to his second son Percy (Captain Percival St George Findlater) who was killed in action on 28 May 1918, aged thirty-six.

The first stone of the Presbyterian Church, Rutland Square was laid with this mallet by the Gracious Donor of the building, Alexander Findlater Esqr, to whom it is respectfully presented by the builder
Samuel H. Bolton.

26th November 1862’
The mallet, with the above inscription, was retrieved from the cellar of Sir William’s house where it was being used to bang corks into bottles.

* The Irish Times 17 April 1906. Sir William’s deep involvement in Freemasonry is not mentioned in the obituary—but this is surprising rather than sinister or secretive. Next to the report of his funeral, on 20 April, is the description of the funeral of a prominent mason Dr J. G. Byrne, whose masonic activities are reported in detail.

Billy himself laid the memorial stone of the Presbyterian church at Hanley in Staffordshire. I have no idea what the circumstances were.

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Notes and references

  1. The original Notti Romane is from the press of Francesco Bertini Lucca mdccxiv (1814)
  2. Jacinta Morris, Education Office, The Law Society, in the Society’s Gazette March 1981
  3. Mary Daly Dublin’s Victorian Houses, Dublin: A.& A. Farmar 1998; also the archives of the Gilbert Library, Pearse Street, Dublin 2, The Irish Builder 1 Jan 1881, Thoms Directory 1877, 1878
  4. D. Cannadine The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy London: Picador 1992 p 89
  5. S. Clark Social Origins of the Irish Land War Princeton University Press 1979 p 233. The echoes of Penal legislation, under which no Roman Catholic was supposed to own a horse worth more than £5, are unmistakable
  6. P. Bull Land, Politics and Nationalism Dublin: Gill and Macmillan 1996 pp 91-3
  7. Frank Wright Two Lands on one Soil, Ulster Politics before Home Rule: Dublin: Gill and Macmillan 1996
  8. Peter Somerville-Large The Irish Country House London: Sinclair-Stevenson 1995 p 315
  9. Hansard 13 June 1881 p 392
  10. Findlater family records
  11. Hansard 4 August 1885 p 1112
  12. Finlay Holmes The Presbyterian Church in Ireland Dublin: Columba Press 2000, p 119
  13. 45 & 46 Vict., c.29
  14. The inaugural dinner is described in detail in The Accountant for 1 December, 1888 and in Tony Farmar A History of Craig Gardner Dublin: Gill and Macmillan 1985
  15. The Irish Law Times 5 December 1896
  16. Journal of the Statistical & Social Inquiry Society of Ireland vol IX August 1892 pp 636-648
  17. Daire Hogan The Legal Profession in Ireland 1789-1922 Dublin: The Incorporated Law Society 1986
  18. Irish Law Times 2 January 1897