Additional Sidelights on Belfast History



MS Sir William Ellison-Macartney

In dealing with the two branches of the Macartney family, which settled in Belfast in the second quarter of the 17th century, the author of Benn's History of Belfast and the editor of The Town Book of Belfast have fallen into several inaccuracies.

Though both these publications were issued during my father's lifetime, neither of these writers made any enquiries of him for the purpose of identifying the respective personalities of the two George Macartneys who came from Scotland, and who occupied very prominent positions in Belfast, during the second half of the 17th century. One was George Macartney of Auchinleck, whose son George acquired in 1742 an estate in the north of Antrim, and whose descendants are known as the Macartneys of Lissanoure; the other was George Macartney of Blacket, from whom are descended, with others,

1. Colonel John Merton Macartney, late of Dorset Regiment, the male representative of this branch;
2. Edward Henry Macartney, M.P., of Glenallan, Brisbane, Queensland ;
3. Myself, The Right Honourable Sir William Ellison-Macartney;
4. Sir John Macartney, Bart., of Queensland; and
5. The late Very Rev. Hussey Burgh Macartney, Dean of Melbourne.

Of the above, 1 and 2 descend through George Macartney, eldest son of Isaac (the second son of George Macartney of Blacket), and 3 and 4, through William, the second son of Isaac.

The difficulty in distinguishing between the two Georges above-mentioned, who were, it is believed, closely related, arises not only from the similarity of their Christian names, but from their having been, for nearly thirty years, contemporary burgesses of the town of Belfast, both of them taking a prominent part in its government and in its commercial life.

A close examination, however, of (1) the signatures attached to the Records of the proceedings of the burgesses; (2) of the Roll of Sovereigns and Burgesses; and (3) of the Roll of the Freemen in The Town Book of Belfast, makes it possible to distinguish their separate personalities.

The first mention of a George Macartney in The Town Book occurs on p. 253, where the Roll of Freemen records that on the 29th of January, 1651, "George Macartney, merchant, was admitted and sworn a free Commoner".

The reasons for assigning this entry to George Macartney of Auchinleck appear to be conclusive, and are:--

(1) The form of a next entry of a Macartney in the Roll of Freemen. This occurs on p. 255 and records that "George Macartney surnamed Niger was admitted and sworn a free Commoner and Merchant of the Staple" on the 13th November, 1656.

The designation "Niger", or its equivalent "black", is repeated afterwards, in connection with this Macartney, in the Rota Burgensi, p. 232, and in the further list of Burgesses, p. 234 of The Town Book, where his election as a burgess is recorded. The official entry of this event is to be found on p. 106 of The Town Book, and is attested amongst others by a "Geo. Macartney", undoubtedly the George Macartney who was elected a Burgess six years before in 1659 (Town Book, p. 78).

(2) The entry in The Town Book, p. 169, of the election as Burgess of Mr. Arthur Macartney in the place of George Macartney, Esq., burgess, who had died on the 23rd May in the same year, 1691. This Arthur was the second son of George Macartney of Auchinleck, and we know from The Town Book that "Niger", or "Black George", was alive in 1691, as it was not until 1702 that George Macartney, Counsel-at-Iaw, was sworn a Burgess "in the room of Mr. Black George Macartney mort" (Town Book, p. 194).

As between the dates 1651 and 1702, only two George Macartneys were admitted to the freedom and elected Burgesses, and as I have shown that at his admission as freeman, election as Burgess, and vacation of office as Burgess, one is always distinguished as "Niger", or "Black" George, it is beyond question that the entry of admission to the Roll of Freemen, p. 253 Town Book, must refer to George Macartney of Auchinleck, whose election as a Burgess is recorded six years and nine months afterwards, on p. 78, as George Macartney, Gent., and on p. 234 of The Town Book as "Capt. George Macartney", and whose death is recorded, as we have seen, in 1692, in The Town Book, p. 169.

With regard to the title of Capt., the records of the Lissanoure family show that he had acquired this rank, though actively engaged all his life in commercial undertakings. In fact the only entry in which this George Macartney is described as merchant is that recording his admission as freeman, this designation being abandoned for either "gent" or "Esq." in subsequent entries. This conclusion, which is corroborated by the form of signature adopted by the two Georges in attesting the records of the old Corporation, consisting of a Sovereign and twelve Burgesses, enables us to assign the following dates to the connection of the two Georges with the old Municipality:

Admitted to freedom Elected Burgess Sovereign
George Macartney of Auchinleck Jan. 29, 1651 Sep. 17, 1659 1662, etc.
George Macartney, Niger, of Blacket Nov. 13, 1656 Dec. 1, 1665 1672, etc.

Mr. Benn in his History of Belfast confuses the personalities of the two Georges, giving to George Macartney of Auchinleck the soubriquet of "Niger", and placing his admission as freeman in the year 1656, whereas the real date of his admission was, as I have shown, the 29th January, 1651. He was followed in this error by the editor of The Town Book who, on p. 337, in a note, attributes the record on p. 253 to "Niger", though the latter's admission as freeman is to be found two pages further on at p. 255. This mistake of Mr. Benn's permeates a good deal of the account which he gives of George Macartney of Auchinleck, especially in connection with the supply of water to the town of Belfast.

I may add here that the records of my family attribute the soubriquet "Niger" to this Macartney of the Blacket stock.

A more difficult matter to decide is the respective positions which these two Georges occupied during their long contemporary service as Burgesses of Belfast.

But here again a careful examination of the records exhibited in The Town Book, and of the attached signatures will, I think, enable us to decide to which George the signatures belong and, consequently, the position which each George held at the dates of the various signatures.

Now between September, 1659, the date of George Macartney of Auchinleck's election as a burgess, and December, 1665, the date of George Macartney (Niger) of Blacket's election as a burgess, the records of The Town Book are signed eleven times by a "Geo. McCartney" thus. This form of signature continues to appear attached to the records of the Corporation in The Town Book until the year 1691, the year in which we know George Macartney of Auchinleck died. Altogether, in these years, this form of signature appears thirty-eight times. It does not re-appear in The Town Book until the year 1705, when George Macartney, Counsel-at-Law (son of the first George of Auchinleck) used this form in the first signature of his which appears in The Town Book, p. 195.

Between December 1st, 1665, and October, 1702, the dates of the election of George Macartney "Niger", of Blacket, as a burgess and his retirement from that office, there are twenty-nine instances of the signature "George McCartney", twenty-three of these are as Burgess and six as Sovereign. As this signature does not appear before "Niger's" election, as Burgess, or for some time after his withdrawal from that office, there can be no doubt that it is the form which he used.

We may safely conclude then that Macartney of Auchinleck signed his Christian name in the form "Geo." and Macartney (Niger) of Blacket in the full form"George ".

In adopting the difference between "Geo." and "George" in the signatures to the records as the criterion to discriminate between the positions held at the time by the two Macartneys as Sovereign or Burgess, it is necessary to point out that in five instances some obscurity is caused by the form of signature used.

1. On p. 95 under date the 26th December, 1662, a certificate given to John Creighton is signed "George McCartney".

Immediately below this entry appears another record, dated the 30th October, 1662, to which is attached the signature, "Geo. McCartney". Now George of Auchinleck was undoubtedly Sovereign in 1662, and the explanation appears to be that the record of the certificate to Creighton was an entry of the certificate made by the Town Clerk, but not "according to the originall." The omission of these words is important, as they appear in the two following records, which are dated earlier in the same year, and which are signed by the Sovereign, in his usual manner, "Geo. McCartney". It would seem therefore that the insertion of this record was an afterthought, and that it is not, as the others are, an exact copy of the original.

2. On p. 98, the form "George" is appended to a record dated January 7th, 1663, though undoubtedly George of Auchinleck was Sovereign at this time, and his ordinary signature "Geo." is appended to two other records of the same date.

3. On p. 104, the form "George" is prefixed to the signatures of both Macartneys, as attesting a record dated the 4th January, 1665, though in the next page the usual distinctive forms are used, viz., "George" and "Geo.", in attesting another record of the same date.

4. On p. 129 the form" George" is used by both Macartneys in attesting a record of the 5th January, 1673, though George of Blacket was undoubtedly Sovereign at this date, and the only explanation that can be suggested is that in this and the previous entry Macartney of Auchinleck's signature is irregular.

5. Again on p. 149 the form "George" is used by both Macartneys, in attesting a record dated the 21st of April, 1681. Here again the only explanation is that given above, as immediately following this record is one, dated June 24th in the same year, to which the usual distinctive signatures are attached, showing that "George" of Blacket was Sovereign at this date and "George" of Auchinleck an attesting Burgess.

As the Sovereigns were elected on the 24th of June and came into Office on the following 29th September, the probable explanation of these signatures is that "George" of Blacket was in office from September, 1680, until September, 1681, and that the Sovereign's signature attached to both these records is his. This would explain the entry on p. 242. "Francis Thetford Burgess ellected and sworne Sovereigne for ye yeare end Michaelmas 1682 ", as he would have been elected Sovereign in June, 1681, and have entered upon office at Michaelmas of that year. At the same time it conflicts with the statement in the entry immediately preceding, that George Macartney (of Auchinleck), who was elected in 1675, was "after ellected and sworne from yeare to yeare successively till the end of the yeare 1681," i.e., to Michaelmas, 1681.

No doubt there are inaccuracies in the lists of Sovereigns given under the heading "Juratio superiorum " and it is perhaps difficult to arrive positively at a solution of four of the five instances above referred to, owing to the looseness of some of these entries. As an instance it may be mentioned that though the record of Macartney of Blackett's election as a Burgess is dated December, 1665 (see Town Book, p. 106), he apparently signed the records, as such, on January 4th of that year (see pages 104 and 105 of The Town Book). A similar difficulty occurs in connection with Arthur Macartney whose election as a Burgess is recorded under date June 1st, 1691, though he apparently signed the records as a Burgess on the preccding 7th March.

The following immediate descendants of the two Georges above referred to were Freemen and Burgesses during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.



JAMES MACARTNEY: Counsellor-at-law: elected Burgess October 19th, 1676: Sovereign 1692: resigned 1715: re-elected in the place of Edward Clements: Sovereign 1725 and 1726: died 1727. Eldest son of George, M.P., for Belfast 1692-1695. Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

ARTHUR MACARTNEY: Merchant. Admitted Freeman 1678. Elected Burgess 1691: Second son of George Macartney of Auchinleck.

GEORGE MACARTNEY: Counsel-at-Iaw: elected Burgess 1702. Fourth son of George Macartney of Auchinleck. Half-brother of James and Arthur: M.P. for Belfast. Sovereign 1704/05/06/07.

MAJOR GEORGE MACARTNEY: Son of the above Arthur: elected Burgess May 7th, 1709: Sovereign 1724: M.P. for Belfast 1721-1724.

CHARLES MACARTNEY: Son of the above George Macartney, M.P.: Elected Burgess November, 1723.



ISAAC MACARTNEY: Merchant: Elected Burgess, 1701: second son of George niger.

GEORGE MACARTNEY: Merchant: admitted Freeman 1723: Elected Burgess 1746: Sovereign 1749/50/51/56/59/63: eldest son of Isaac.

WILLIAM MACARTNEY: Elected Burgess 1745: second son of Isaac: M.P. for Belfast 1747-1761.

WILLIAM AND JOSEPH MACARTNEY: Admitted Freemen 1756: sons of George Macartney the eldest son of Isaac.

THE REV. GEORGE MACARTNEY, LL.D.: Admitted Freeman 1756: elected Burgess 1796: son of George, eldest son of Isaac: Vicar of Antrim for 51 years, died 1824.

REV. ARTHUR CHICHESTER MACARTNEY AND JOSEPH MACARTNEY : Sons of the Rev. George Macartney, LL.D. Two of the twelve Burgesses on the last list, 1842, of the Old Corporation.


With these preliminary observations, I now proceed to set down such facts as are known about George Macartney of Blacket, who settled in Belfast about the year 1670, when he was a very young man. He was the son of George Macartney of Blacket and married Martha Davies, stated to have been a near relation of Sir John Davies, Knt. We have seen that probably about middle life he had sufficiently established his position to enter the very close Corporation which then administered the affairs of Belfast, and that, in conjunction with George Macartney of Auchinleck, he became one of the most prominent members.

The first extant return of the Subsidy Roll for the County of Antrim, in which Belfast figures, is dated 1661, and from it, it would appear that in that year there were only thirteen members of the trading community who were required or were deemed able to meet the demands of the tax. Amongst these both the George Macartneys appear. George Macartney of Auchinleck, who is described as "Esq.", being rated at £5, and George Macartney, of Blacket, described as "gent.", at £3. In the Subsidy Roll, Antrim, 1666, both again appear rated under the heading, "Bonorum Taxcico" at £3.

In the list of Protestants who "fled out of the Kingdom" on the submission of Belfast to King James' forces under the command of General Hamilton, George Macartney's name appears, his real estate being estimated at £300 and his personal at £150. In this list he is described as "merchant", and thus distinguished from George Macartney of Auchinleck, who is described as "Esq."

Amongst his many mercantile activities he appears in a shipping list of Belfast as one of the part owners, with Anthony Wild and Edward Wilson, of the ship, "Olive Branch", built at Coleraine.

The most important work, however, which he carried out for the benefit of Belfast was the introduction of a pure water supply.

This undertaking is attributed by Benn in his History of Belfast, p. 485, to George Macartney of Auchinleck. An analysis of the Civic Records relating to this work would have preserved him from an error, which he would never have made, had he taken the trouble to disentangle the relations between the two branches.

In a note on p. 259, he refers to their settlement in Belfast, but abandons any attempt to distinguish them with the remark that "great difficulty would be experienced in tracing their separate descents." Having asserted that the Auchinleck branch was much the more eminent, an opinion in which he was undoubtedly influenced by the reputation of Earl Macartney, he proceeds to attribute every work connected with the growing importance of Belfast to George Macartney of Auchinleck, his ancestor. He starts on his career of inaccuracy by attributing to this George the entry recording the admission as a Freeman of George Macartney Niger of Blacket, but having omitted to devote any critical attention to the records of The Town Book, naturally failed to observe the distinction between the two Georges indicated throughout its pages by the suffixes to their names.

In consequence he attributes the introduction of a pure and convenient supply of water into the town to George Macartney of Auchinleck instead of to George Macartney Niger of Blacket.

The Municipal Records connected with this work are set out on pages 485, 486 of Benn's History and on pages 138, 149, 150, 151, and 152 of The Town Book. From these it can be very clearly gathered that, while George Macartney, Esq. (i.e., of Auchinleck) had in 1676, when Sovereign, recognised "the grievance and want", the work was planned and designed by George Macartney Burgess (i.e., of Blacket) and Captain R Leathes. It is important in this connection to recollect that George Macartney of Auchinleck is only once designated "Merchant", in these Records, and that on every other occasion on which his name appears he is described as "gent" or "Esq."; whereas George Macartney of Blacket is invariably described as "Burgess" or "Merchant". The very first record in The Town Book on this matter on pages 138 and 139 ought to have kept Benn from the mistake he fell into, as it is signed "Geo. McCartney, Soveraigne" and addressed to "George McCartney, Marcht ". The next entry 11 May, 1682, deals with an assessment of £135 for the repayment of "George McCartney of Bellfast Marcht" for "the work made and performed and water brought to the said Towne Runing at three severall conduits", and immediately after is another long entry recapitulating (1) the recommendation in 1678 of George McCartney, Esq. (of Auchinleck), then Sovereign, that the work should be done: (2) the projection of it by George McCartney, Merchant, and Captn R Leathes: (3) the execution thereof at the cost of the said George McCartney; and (4) authorizing the issue of a Warrant for the collection of the £135 previously assessed.

It is evident that George of Blacket, like his namesake, prospered in his various undertakings, as he was able to leave no less a sum than £10,000 to his eldest son George, who elected to follow the profession of Arms instead of the pursuit of a merchant; while Isaac, the second son who carried on his father's commercial undertakings occupied such a position as to be an eligible husband for one of the best endowed heiresses in the County Down. George Niger retired from the Corporation, to which Isaac, his second son had been elected the year before, in 1702, and his long and busy life terminated soon afterwards.

It was in all probability not accidental that, whereas George of Auchinleck's son became possessed of landed estates in the County of Antrim, George of Blacket's descendants established themselves in the Counties of Down and Armagh.

In the affairs of Belfast, Municipal and otherwise, it is certain that the Macartneys worked together; and there are indications that the interest their families possessed within the Corporation controlled very largely the affairs of Belfast.

Isaac, the second son of George Niger, married in 1699, Anne, daughter of John Haltridge of Dromore, Co. Down. Haltridge was a man of considerable landed property, and, on his death, in 1724, left his landed estates in Down and Armagh, as well as the greater part of his personal estate, to Isaac. Two years after his marriage, Isaac was elected a Burgess and held this office until 1707 when he retired in favour of his father-in-law, John Haltridge. It would appear that he was subsequently re-elected, as his name appears on p. 214 of The Town Book, attesting the record of the Sovereign and Burgesses on the 10th November, 1720.

It is possible that his resignation of the office of Burgess in 1707 may have been occasioned by the enquiry then proceeding, in which Belfast, with other Corporations, was charged with permitting Dissenters to evade the Test Act and continue in the office of Burgess, in contempt of the law. George Macartney, the second of Auchinleck, then Sovereign of Belfast, was summoned in 1707 before the House of Commons on the complaint of Lady Donegall, but, after examination, was acquitted to the satisfaction of the House. The Presbyterian Burgesses published a Vindication of their conduct in 1713 which was signed, amongst others, by Isaac.

In 1707 the greater part of Lisburn was burnt down and a subscription was started in Belfast to relieve the distress occasioned by the fire, the three Collectors, Isaac being one, raised £54 in less than twelve hours.

Isaac was a man of large ideas and about the year 1716 enclosed at his own expense a portion of the Strand near the clock and constructed the Hanover and George Quays, together with Marlborough and Princes Streets. The Joy MSS. state that owing to his Whig principles and attachment to the House of Hanover he met with much opposition in this undertaking. A new Custom House was built on this reclaimed ground and Isaac received two pence a ton on all goods, loaded or unloaded, on these Quays. He granted a lease of this Toll to his eldest son George, who in 1738 sold his beneficial interest in it to his brother William and Rainey Maxwell for ten years purchase, i.e., £800. William and Rainey undoubtedly tried to raise the Toll to sixpence per ton and a struggle at once arose between them and the general body of traders on this point (Benn, p. 478).

Isaac was at this period, 1716 to 1726, probably in the most flourishing period of his life. He is described, in the affidavits connected with the various lawsuits in which his second son, William, was engaged, as a "man of wealth and unblemished truth and integrity"; "one of the most opulent merchants and bankers in Ulster"; and much given to hospitality. It may also be surmised from the financial catastrophe which shadowed his closing years that his enterprises were not always conducted with prudence and judgment.

Apart from landed estate in Down and Armagh, he owned some valuable leasehold property in Belfast. A full description of this is given in the Deed creating the Trust for the benefit of himself and his family and creditors in 1733, as follows :--

"all that parcel of ground lying on the South and North side of the way leading to the Bridge of Belfast over the Lagan River, and also several Houses, Lands, and Tenements in and ahout the said Town of Belfast, late Sir Michael Hicks, like wise a moiety of one Burgage Share in Broad Street in the Town of Belfast near the Strand and six acres of land thereto belonging. And a moiety of the Sugar House tenement lying in Broad Street aforesaid and three acres of land thereunto belonging, and also 22 feet in the High Street, Belfast, and 118 feet backwards, late Biggars, with all houses thereupon erected, likewise the moiety of the Strand situate and next adjoining to the Church Yard of Belfast in front to the river or quay and extending Backwards the full length of the wall of the said Church Yard and equal to the range of the Church Yard wall whereon the School House is now built, with the appurtenances, and also one Tenement on the South side of the said High Street of Belfast."

General George Macarntey

Macartney family


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