[Rev.] William Hamilton

Life
1755-1797; b. Derry; clergyman; Govt. supporter and magistrate-rector in Donegal; fnd. a society, Palaeosopheus, which with Neosophus became RIA in 1786, contrib. papers to early RIA transactions on antiquarian matters; issued Letters Concerning Northern Coast of Antrim (1786); Letters on the Principles of French Democracy and their Influence on Britain and Ireland (Dublin 1792), both works supporting government against Catholic and nationalist feeling; assassinated (‘by a rapparee’). ODNB DIW DUB OCIL FDA

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Works
Letters Concerning the Northern Coast of the County of Antrim in Ireland
, containing a natural history of its basaltes, with an account of such circumstances as are worthy of notice respecting the antiquities, manners and customs of that country; the whole illustrated by an Accurate Map of the coast, roads, mountains, &c., / In these letters is stated a plain and impartial View of the Volcanic Theory of the Balsaltes, By the Rev. William Hamilton, AM FTCD, Dublin, printed George Bonham for Luke White no.86 Dame-Street MDCCLXXXVI. 195pp. The map extends from Coleraine to Ballycastle, and includes an inset profile engraving Doon-Point in the Island Raghery.

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Commentary
Robert L. Praeger, A Populous Solitude (Dublin: Hodges & Figgis 1941), [Chap. 5:] ‘Dr. Boate and Dr. Barton’, pp.112-38, includes lengthy comments on William Hamilton of ‘palaeosophy’ fame in conjunction with conjectures about Northern basalt.

J. W. Foster, Colonial Consequences (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1991), remarks on William Hamilton (1755-1797), Derry antiquarian whose Letters Concerning the Northern Coast of the County of Antrim professed a volcanic theory of the formation of basaltic rock in the Giant’s Causeway, was assassinated as a magistrate and a clergyman.

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Quotations
Letters Concerning the Northern Coast of the County Of Antrim (1986): ‘While Ireland lay prostrate, and gasping under the fatal wounds received in a bloody struggle of two hundred years, against these northern invaders, the English, under Henry the Second, made their successful inroad, and easily established themselves in a feeble and distracted country; from which time, till the beginning of the present century, this island presents nothing to our view but a wasteful scene of misery and desolation.’ (p.36.) On Bull Laudabiliter: ‘[W]hen we cast our eyes on King Henry the Second, advancing toward this devoted nation, bearing in one hand the bloody sword of war, and in the other the iniquitous bull of Pope Adrian, granting him unlimited authority to root out heresy, and to extend the empire of Rome - we see an irrefragible argument to prove that this was not originally an island of popish saints, and that the jurisdiction of Rome was not unquestionably established here; since it does by no means accord with the principles of that court, to sacrifice its obsequious votaries to the ambition of a proud prince, who seemed but ill suited to accomodate himself implicitly to the papal authority’, with ftn. quoting: ‘To Ireland also by King Henry (Le Fitz/Of Maude, daught of first King Henry)/That conquered it for their great heresy’; vide Harding’s Chron., C.241; Hamilton, p.45.)

Further (Letter ... Antrim, Chap V:) ‘You would hardly believe how little remains of Irish history, language or customs, are to be traced in this part of the country, The revolutions which it has undergone, in consequence of forfeitures to the English, and the encroachments of the Scots, have overturned every remnant of its original state’ (p.59);

Further (Letter ... Antrim): ‘As the people of those days generally followed the fortunes of their chief, the greater part of the native Irish who survived these bloody scenes, transplanted themselves elsewhere; while the Scots remained peacable possessors of the field. Hence the old traditions and customs of the country were entirely losts; and the few who speak the Celtic languge at all, use a kind of mixed dialect, called here Scotch-Irish, which is but imperfectly understood by the natives of either country./The present possessors are in general an industrious thrifty rac of people. They have a great deal of substantial civility, without much [60] more courtesy to relieve it, and set it off to best advantage. The bold ideas of rights and priveliges, which seem inseparable from their presbyterian church, renders them apt to be ungracious and litigious in their dealings.’ Hamilton taxes Voltaire on the revolution of the Earth and its changing axis in a ftn. on ‘this extraordinary philosopher’ (p.193; the foregoing all cited in J. W. Foster, op. cit., 1991, p.60, &c.).

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References
Dictionary of National Biography calls him a naturalist and antiquary, FTCD, 1779; MA 1779; rector of Clondavaddog or Fannet, Donegal, 1790; published Letters Concerning Northern Coast of Antrim (1786); murdered by banditti [sic], Sharon. SEE also Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica, Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, p.292.

Whelan Books (Cat. 32) lists Letters Concerning the Northern Coast of the County of Antrim containing observations of the Antiquities, Manners and Customs of that Country. With memoir of the author and itinerary and guide to the Giant’s Causeway (Belfast: Simms & M’Intyre 1822, Pull-out map and 6 pls. [good copy 125].

Belfast Public Library holds Letters ... Antrim (1786, 1822, 1839).

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