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The History of Ulster
The Siege of Londonderry (Cont)


The Inhabitants of Londonderry reduced to great straits - The Inniskillings take Omagh - Gustavus Hamilton proceeds against Sutherland, who retreats - He attacks and takes Colonel Scott and other Officers Prisoners - The Inniskilling-s acquire Valuable Spoils - The Jacobites construct a Boom across the River - The Besieged reduced to living on Horseflesh - An Expeditionary Force sent to their Relief from England under Command of Colonel Kirke - Death of Governor Baker - Colonel John Mitchelburn succeeds him - Kirke's Cowardly Inactivity - Rosen arrives from Dublin - His Barbarous and Cruel Methods of Warfare - His Ultimatum of the 1st of July - The Citizens retaliate by threatening to hang their Prisoners.

"The leafy month of June" saw practically no change in the situation. Bombs continued to play strange pranks, killing those who were in places of comparative safety and sparing those who most exposed themselves. "One of them fell on the Diamond-house, went through it, and fell within six feet of forty-seven barrels of gunpowder which had been buried in a dry well"; another "fell on the house of Captain Cairnes, and made its way down to the cellar, where some of the sick men of Captain Ash's company lay; it killed two of them, and wounded many others". On Friday, the 5th of June, "twenty-six bombs played against the city, by which many were killed and wounded. They broke down houses, raised stones, and made great holes in the streets." The Jacobites now "increased their shells to a great size; some of them were said to weigh two hundred and seventy-three pounds, but their fuses not being prepared in an effectual manner, a great proportion of them fell without bursting, and did no damage". Those that did burst were very destructive, and terror of them made some of the inhabitants leave their houses at night and lie under the walls, where they contracted diseases, which added to the prevailing mortality.

On the 10th the Governor of Enniskillen, having heard of "the dreadful state of the Protestants in Londonderry, who, it was generally thought, would be obliged to surrender if not relieved in a few days", marched with 2000 men towards Omagh. On the way a false report reached them that Omagh had been abandoned by its garrison; and a small party travelling with the forces, "but not under any command", in their anxiety to reach the town first, marched a mile in advance of the troops and nearly came to grief, being surprised and attacked by Jacobites "that lay in ambuscade in a valley". On the day following Gustavus Hamilton "possessed himself of the whole town except the fort, which he invested; his men being good marksmen, as the Protestants generally were, placed themselves in the houses about it", and fired with such precision upon the besieged "that not a man of them came in view, after one of them had been killed and others wounded". In the midst of these proceedings "an express arrived" informing Hamilton that Sarsfield was besieging Ballyshannon and Colonel Hugh Sutherland had appeared before Belturbet, and he hastened to return to Enniskillen. Omagh would have been burnt to the ground but that it was the property of Audley Mervyn, "a sturdy Protestant", and "for his sake" it was spared.

Gustavus Hamilton returned to Enniskillen not a moment too soon, for Sutherland's force before Belturbet was daily increasing, and it was reported that he intended to invade Fermanagh. To anticipate him the able Governor of Enniskillen directed Colonel Lloyd to take the field against him with the largest force he could collect. When Lloyd reached Macguire's Bridge, midway between Enniskillen and Belturbet, a spy fled at his approach and gave Sutherland a grossly exaggerated account of his forces. Sutherland had with him at Belturbet only two regiments of foot, a regiment of dragoons, and a few troops of horse. He had brought with him from Dublin spare arms for two regiments to be utilized for such as should join him, and he had also "some pieces of cannon and a great store of biscuit, wheat, flour, malt, and other provision" in case he besieged Enniskillen. When the news of Lloyd's approach reached him, he gave credence to the exaggerated account of the numbers of his opponents, and considered it unsafe to remain any longer at Belturbet, "there being no place of strength there but the church and graveyard about it, and not large enough to contain the men he had with him". He therefore retreated towards Monaghan (intending, if pursued, to get under shelter of the fort at Charlemont), and left a detachment in Belturbet of eighty dragoons, with about 200 foot, under the command of his Lieutenant, Edward Scott, and some other officers.

Lloyd did not pursue Sutherland's retreating forces but pressed on to Belturbet, ordering Captains Robert Vaughan and Hugh Galbraith to advance with two troops of dragoons. Within two miles of the town they were fired upon by a troop of dragoons, upon which they sprang from their saddles and lined the ditches on both sides of the road, which unusual manoeuvre, and the sudden appearance of the main body at this moment, caused the Jacobite dragoons to retreat to Belturbet, where with the rest of Scott's command, "they took post in and about the church, and in the Archbishop of Dublin's house adjoining to it, and commanding them so from a range of windows in an upper story, that it appeared to be almost impossible for the assailants to stand within the range of their fire". After two hours skirmishing, in which the Jacobites proved themselves but indifferent marksmen, and having lost a large number, they surrendered upon conditions. The prisoners included Lieutenant-Colonel Scott and thirteen other officers. On the morrow " two hundred of the meanest of these prisoners" were discharged, the victors being unwilling or unable to maintain them, and the rest were taken to Enniskillen, together with some seven hundred muskets, "a barrel and a half" of gunpowder, eighty mounts for dragoons, "with all the accoutrements belonging to them, about twenty horse-loads of biscuit, above fifty sacks of flour, one hundred sacks of wheat, some malt and other provisions, and as many red coats as served two companies of men, who were in great want of such cloathing". All these valuable spoils, with the exception of the horses, were conveyed in boats over Lough Erne to Enniskillen, where they proved very acceptable, especially the gunpowder, which was found to be equal in amount to that in the stores.

Matters, however, wore a very different aspect in Londonderry. It was known to the Jacobites that the stock of food in the city was but slender. Indeed it was thought strange that the supplies should have held out so long. Every precaution was now taken by the Jacobites against the introduction of provisions. All the avenues leading to the city were closely guarded. The river was fringed with forts and batteries, which no vessel could pass without great peril. After some time it was determined to make assurance doubly sure by constructing a boom across the river about a mile and a half below the city. Several boats full of large stones were sunk in mid-stream, and a row of stakes was driven into the bed of the river. Finally some young fir-trees were uprooted, and, being lashed together, formed a boom more than a quarter-mile in length. This was held in position on both shores by cables a foot thick, attached to monoliths prepared for the purpose. The siege was thus turned into a blockade.

Within the walls the lack of provisions began to be severely felt. Precautionary methods included the pickling of horse-flesh procured by dragging in the dead animals which had been killed in the second engagement at Windmill Hill, and the reduction of all the inhabitants to the minimum of rations needed to preserve life. "One Mr. James Cunningham, merchant, found out a way of supplying the garrison for six or seven days; he showed them where there was a good quantity of starch in the town, which they mixed with tallow and made pancakes of, which proved not only good food, but physic too to many of those whom weariness and ill-diet had cast into a flux." Famine now stared the citizens in the face, and many died of hunger. They were now reduced to such straits that if those on the look-out reported that a horse was grazing near the walls, an armed party forthwith sallied out to keep guard while others endeavoured to catch the animal. When caught, the wretched steed was killed to supply food. Horse-flesh was the only meat, and of horse-flesh the supply was scanty.

It must not be thought that William was so busy or so blind as to be neglectful of his faithful adherents in. Londonderry. The relief of the city was the thought uppermost in his mind. It is on such subjects as these that a true Parliament knows no party. Political sentiment vanished, to be replaced by that which knits all men together in a common cause, and this was combined with one which appeals peculiarly to Britons: admiration for true bravery, delight in the exhibition of courage in the face of a great danger. "Are those brave fellows in Londonderry to be deserted?" cried Colonel John Birch, who had been in the service of the Commonwealth; "if we lose them, will not all the world cry shame on us? A boom across the river! Why have we not cut the boom in pieces? Are our brethren to perish almost in sight of England, within a few hours' voyage of our shores?" Public agitation became so great that an expeditionary force, consisting of thirteen sail and 5000 men, under the command of Colonel Percy Kirke, of Tangier notoriety, sailed from Liverpool for Londonderry on the 22nd of May, carrying a supply of provisions; but contrary winds made the passage slow, and detained the vessels a long time at the Isle of Man.

On the 13th of June, a gleam of hope appeared for the beleaguered city, in which fever, cholera, and famine had come to dwell. The sentinels on the roof of the cathedral saw with mingled wonder and delight, nine miles away on the silvery waters of Lough Foyle, the spread of white sails in the sun- shine of the summer morning. The good news gladdened every heart. Signals were sent from the steeples and returned from the mastheads, but were imperfectly understood on both sides. At last a messenger from the fleet eluded the Jacobite sentinels, dived under the boom, and informed the garrison that Kirke had arrived from England to relieve the city.

In Londonderry hopes ran high, but were doomed to disappointment. A few hours of feverish gladness were followed by weeks of misery. Kirke had received false reports of the strength of the defences, and, being afraid to risk his ships, he determined to station himself at Inch, an island about six miles from Londonderry, and there he lay for weeks inactive, a shameful example of cowardice, his lazy ships still visible from the cathedral tower. There, before the eyes of the citizens, were sacks of meal ready to be landed, and hundreds of brave men ready and eager to come to their help, but all rendered useless and inert by the cowardice of their commander.

James became irritated and alarmed at the protracted defence of Londonderry and at the attempt to relieve it, and he therefore directed Rosen to return to the north and push on the operations more vigorously. Rosen arrived at the Jacobite camp on the 20th of June. The heat of midsummer had increased the disease and mortality among the population, closely cooped up within the walls, to such a degree that they buried in one day fifteen officers who had died of fever; and they sustained a still greater loss by the death on the 30th, from the same disease, of Henry Baker, their governor, who on his death-bed recommended Colonel John Mitchelburn as his successor. But the courage of the soldiers and citizens remained unabated ; they showed no diminution in the energy with which they defended their walls ; and they became skilful miners in endeavouring to countermine their assailants. They continued to make sallies, and although their numbers were greatly diminished, they were generally successful; yet the results of these exploits were of little advantage, save in prolonging the struggle and keeping up the spirits of the defenders. Hamilton, on sending into the city in an empty bomb offers of favourable conditions, had his offers treated with scorn by the besieged, who replied that they could place no reliance in one who had betrayed the confidence reposed in him by their king.

Rosen, infuriated by the prolonged siege and the defiant attitude of the citizens, attempted to undermine the walls; but his plan was discovered, and he was compelled to abandon it after a sharp fight in which more than a hundred of his men were slain. Enraged beyond measure, Rosen, who was a native of Livonia, and whose temper was as savage as his manners were coarse, now determined to employ methods of warfare worthy of the Teuton in his most brutal mood. On the 30th of June he sent a letter into Londonderry threatening the citizens that unless "betwixt this and Monday next, at six of the clock in the afternoon, being the first of July, in the year of our Lord 1689", they agreed "to surrender the said place of Londonderry . . . that he will forthwith issue out his orders from the barony of Inishowen, and the seacoasts round about as far as Charlemont, for the gathering together of those of their faction, whether protected or not, and cause them immediately to be brought to the walls of Londonderry, where it shall be lawful for those in the same (in any they have any pity of them) to open the gates and receive them into the city, otherwise they will be forced to see their friends and nearest relations all starved for want of food, he having resolved not to leave any of them at home, nor anything to maintain them". Rosen also demanded "hostages and other deputies, with a full and sufficient power to treat with us for the surrender of the said city of Londonderry, on reasonable conditions", failing which the army "shall have orders to give no quarter, or spare age or sex, in case" the city "is taken by force".

Having given vent to his wrath in this letter, Rosen addressed another to James enclosing a copy of the one addressed to Londonderry, and stated that he had been led to adopt this measure from the little hopes he had of reducing the city in any other way. The trenches, he said, were so filled by the tide and the incessant rains, that the army under his command was in danger of being destroyed by sickness, and, further, he threatened to resign the command if his projected action should be disapproved of by the King. His barbarous order caused serious differences between Hamilton and Rosen, the former being warmly supported by the majority of the Jacobite officers. Rosen, however, as Commander-in-Chief, was supreme, and, not receiving any reply to his letter to Londonderry, issued on the 1st of July an order to his officers, in which he says: "As I have certain information that the wives and children of the rebels in Londonderry have retired to Belfast and the neighbouring places, and as the hardiness of their husbands and fathers deserves the severest chastisements, I write this letter to acquaint you, that you are instantly to make an exact search in Belfast and its neighbourhood, after such subjects as are rebellious to the will of the King, whether men, women, boys, or girls, without exception, and whether they are protected or unprotected, to arrest them and collect them together, that they may be conducted by a detachment to this camp, and driven under the walls of Londonderry, where they shall be allowed to starve, in sight of the rebels within the town, unless they choose to open their ports to them". In another paragraph of the same order Rosen desires that infants should be included, and that none of any age whatever should be suffered to escape.

On the 2nd of July the besieged sent a reply to Rosen stating that they had read his threatening letter in their families and had taken great offence at its contents, by which they understood that no articles of capitulation could be made with him; that his avowed intention of breaking the protections already granted proved that no performance of any new promises could be expected from him. They also observed, that a copy of the commission granted to Rosen was dated on the first day of the preceding month of May, after which a Parliament had passed an Act in Dublin, whereby their lives and properties had been declared to be forfeited, and that, therefore, they did not consider him duly authorized to treat with them, and desired he would procure another commission.

Upon the receipt of this answer Rosen caused his orders to be put into execution, and, beginning with the Protestants in the immediate neighbourhood, had them collected in all directions into churches and other public buildings, some of them into dirty pounds and derelict dwellings, having first stripped them of clothes and otherwise maltreated them. The Jacobite officers employed in this cruel service executed their orders under protest, and many of them declared long afterwards that the lamentations of the persecuted people still rang in their ears. Richard Hamilton in particular was so moved by the sight that, in defiance of Rosen, his commanding officer, he ordered provisions to be distributed among groups of the terror-stricken creatures as they passed through the Jacobite camp.

Five thousand (according to some accounts seven thousand) miserable people, of all ages and both sexes, some sick and some with infants at the breast, were driven under the walls of Londonderry by soldiers with drawn swords. When they first came in sight of the city they were mistaken for a column of the besieging army advancing to storm it, and, to add to their terrors, they were received by a volley of small shot from their friends on the walls; but, strange to say, none were injured, the only persons killed being three of their military custodians. When it was realized that Rosen was carrying out his threat, a universal cry for vengeance went up, and a gallows was immediately erected on the walls for the execution in the sight of the Jacobite army of all prisoners in the city; and a trumpeter was sent to the camp with notice that the citizens of Londonderry would permit the entrance of some "Popish Priests" to prepare them for death. The unhappy prisoners included Lord Netterville, Sir Garret Aylmer, the Hon. Captain Butler, and Mr. Newcomen, and they now wrote to Hamilton imploring him to convey the facts of their sad case to Rosen, to whom they had already made application without receiving any response. They stated their willingness to die like soldiers, with swords in their hands, but begged that they should be spared the ignominious death of malefactors. Hamilton replied, by order of his commanding officer, that the Protestants driven under the walls of the city had to thank themselves for that misfortune; that they had had conditions offered to them which they might have accepted; that if those addressed should suffer for this it could not be helped, but that their death would be revenged in thousands. Hamilton in his letter confounded those without the walls with those within. The letter proves how difficult it is to pen an untruthful statement with precision.

The garrison was by this time (2nd July) reduced from the 7500 effective men it had consisted of at the commencement of the siege to 5709 living skeletons.


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