Ihave been asked for other papers that give a flavour of life in Tyrone in the1800s. I have attached this one from the Abercorn Estate papers which (I think)shows that not all the big estate owners were totally heartless people screwingevery last penny out of their tenants. We are often told that in Ireland,absentee landlords treated their tenants terribly, and there’s plenty ofevidence to support that. However not everyone was the same. This letter seemsto me to show a more humane approach on the Abercorn Estate.
JamesHamilton was the agent or estate manager for Lord Abercorn. He would write tohim in England about twice a week updating him on important matters. These letters have survived and are in PRONI. Thisletter from 1800 shows that his farmer tenants could not pay their rents infull due to a collapse in the price of barley. Barley is of course the keyingredient in Irish and Scotch whisk(e)y. The Government had clamped down onthe number of distilleries, so consequently the bottom had fallen out of thebarley market, and they couldn’t get the expected price. I do not know whetherany action was taken to pursue the tenants later for the unpaid parts of theirrents but my interpretation of the tone of the letter is that such action wasunlikely, not only because you can’t get blood out of a stone, but because theEstate Manager knew their predicament was genuine and sympathised. Youcan also see the impact that our tricky Irish weather has on farming, as asignificant part of the summer crop has been lost. Something farmers havelittle or no control over. Theother element that I found interesting was the care that the manager seemed tohave for the orphaned children on the estate. Efforts were being made to helpthem along in life. PRONIis full of similar documents, not only from the Abercorn Estates but also frombig Estates like the Earl of Antrim’s. If you have time to spare in PRONIthere’s a months reading in them. I’llpost a few more over the next week or so. ElwynSoutter LETTERFROM ABERCORN ESTATE PAPERS PRONI: D623/A/92/32 >From James Hamilton jr (Estate Manager) toLord Abercorn Strabane 24th September 1800 My Lord, There is nothing particular that I have to say to your Lordship. Ihave…the most of last week in Baron’s Court,where I went principally to put the tenants of Derrynook to as littleinconvenience as possible in paying their rents. I was very much disappointedin what I got. I did not receive anything like the half of what I expected.They have not been able to discharge the debts they incurred last winter inbuying provisions. And the present suppression of Private Distillery’s hasreduced the price of barley so low that nothing but actual compulsion will makethose who have it sell till the price increases. There has been a total change of weather since I wrote last –torrents of rain almost every day, accompanied with very high wind. We hope itwill not continue and is only consequence of the equinox. I fear I was rathertoo sanguine when I said that there was two thirds of the crop of this part ofthe country out of the … of the weather – experienced……have convinced me thatthere is above a third yet uncut. I hope to make a remittance shortly. While I was in Baron’s Court it struck me that it was full timesomething should be done with the little orphan boy and girl supported by yourLordship. The boy is near 16 years old and the girl near 14 years old. Kittyseems to have done her duty to them very faithfully, they can both read andwrite astonishingly well. The boy is very desirous of being made apprentice toa saddler. So that if his fee were to be paid by your Lordship he would be putin a fair way of doing for himself. The little girl is an excellent servant andthe housekeeper was so much attached to her that I think she will leave herfortune to her, if a husband should not tempt Kitty. There is a little son ofGeorge Foster’s that it is high time should also be apprenticed. I received aspecimen of the little Baron’s Court Liz’s writing. Perhaps your Lordship wouldtake them over as servants to the Priory. They have a very lively sense ofexactitude to all your Lordship’s family. The boy would make a stout stableservant and the little girl who promises to be pretty would soon learn to be amaid to one of the young ladies. I have the honour to be your Lordship’s devoted and ever faithfulhumble servant.  Baron’s Court is the Duke of Abercorn’s estate, near Strabane.
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