BELFAST, a sea-port, borough, market-town, and parish, partly in the barony of LOWER, but chiefly in that of UPPER BELFAST, County of ANTRIM, and province of ULSTER, 8 miles (S. by W.) from Carrickfergus 13? (S. E. by E.) from Antrim, and 80 (N.) from Dublin; containing, in 1821, 44,177, and in 1831, 60,388 inhabitants, of which latter number, 53,287 were in the town and suburbs, and 48,224 in the borough ; and within three years after the latter census the population of the parish had increased nearly 7000 more.
At a very early period this place obtained, according to some writers, the appellation of Beala-farsad, which has been supposed to signify "Hurdles-ford town," and according to others that of Bela-fearsad, "the town at the mouth of the river ;" which latter is accurately descriptive of its situation on the river Lagan, near its influx into the lough or bay of Belfast. But, perhaps, a still more probable conjecture is that which ascribes its etymology to the Irish Ball-Fosaght, signifying "the town with a ditch or foss," which, from its low situation, were anciently constructed round the town, to protect it from the tide.
Previously to the English conquests in the province of Ulster, it appears to have been a fortified station commanding the passage of the river, which is here fordable at low water, and important also from its position on the line between the ancient stations of Carrickfergus and Ardes, respectively in the counties of Antrim and Down, between which the Lagan has ever been regarded as the boundary. The original fort, of which the site is now occupied by St. George's church, was taken and destroyed about the year 1178, by John de Courcy, who soon after erected a noble castle on a more eligible spot.
King John marched his army to this place, in 1210; but no notice of any town occurs till the year 1316, when the destruction of the town and castle by Edward Bruce is recorded. The Irish chieftains, having by his aid recovered their ancient possessions, rebuilt the castle, of which, through the intestine divisions in England and their union with the English settlers in Ulster, they kept uninterrupted possession for nearly two centuries, till the reign of Hen. VII., when the Earl of Kildare, at the head of a large army, in 1503, took and destroyed the town and castle; but the latter was soon afterwards repaired by the native chieftains, from which, however, their forces were again driven by the earl, in 1512, and compelled to retire to the mountains.
From this period Belfast remained in a ruined and neglected state, till the year 1552, when Sir James Crofts, lord-deputy, repaired and garrisoned the castle; and during the same year the Irish of Ulster again appeared in arms, under the command of Hugh Mac Nial Oge, but the English government offered terms of accommodation which that chieftain accepted, and, swearing allegiance to Hen. VIII., he obtained a grant of the castle and town of Belfast, with other extensive possessions. After the death of Hugh, who was killed in 1555 by a party of Scottish marauders, his possessions passed to other branches of his family, with the exception of the castle, which was placed in the custody of Randolph Lane, an English governor; in the lath of Elizabeth it was granted, with its extensive dependencies, to Sir Thomas Smythe and his son, on condition of their keeping a certain number of horse and foot in readiness to meet at Antrim after a brief notice) to attend upon the lord-deputy.
In 1573 the Earl of Essex visited the fortress, which the Irish had previously, on different occasions, frequently attempted to take by surprise; and in 1575 the Lord-Deputy Sydney encountered the Irish forces at the ford of this place. About that period, Belfast is said to have had a forest and woods, of which all traces have long since disappeared. After the death of Elizabeth, the garrison, influenced by Hugh O'Nial, Earl of Tyrone, refused submission to the English crown; but, on the defeat of that powerful leader and his adherents, the English gained the ascendency, and Sir Arthur Chichester, lord-deputy in the reign of Jas. I., issued his summons requiring the supplies of horse and foot, according to the tenure by which the castle was held; and no one appearing in answer to this requisition, the castle and demesne became forfeited to the crown, and were given to Sir Arthur in 1612.
The Chamber of Commerce was originally established in 1783; its meetings were suspended from 1794 to 1802, since which time they have been resumed without interruption, greatly to the benefit of trade and the interests of the town.
The Old Exchange, situated nearly in the centre of the town, at the end of Donegal-street, is the private property of the Marquess of Donegal; it was formerly the place of public resort for the merchants, but, since the erection of the Commercial Buildings, has been used only for the election of the chief magistrate.
The Commercial Buildings were erected in 1822, opposite to the Exchange, at an expense of £20,000, by a proprietary of 200 shareholders incorporated by act of parliament in 1823, and by a committee of whom, annually elected, the affairs of the institution are conducted: the buildings comprise an excellent commercial hotel, a spacious and handsome news-mom, over which is an elegant assembly-room, and behind these an area with a piazza for the use of the merchants; and in connection with them are numerous offices principally occupied by professional men. The north front, of Irish granite, is decorated with eight lofty Ionic columns, and the west front is principally occupied by shops: the merchants assemble in the news-room and hold 'Change on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
The revenue derived by Government from the post-office, in 1835, was £10,073.
The banking establishments are:
- the Northern Banking Company, established in 1824;
- the Belfast Banking Company, in 1826; and
- the Ulster Banking Company, in 1836:
all have branches in the different large towns throughout the province. There are also branches of the Bank of Ireland, the Provincial Bank, and the Agricultural and Commercial Bank of Ireland.
17th CENTURY BELFAST
Prior to the civil war in 1641, the town had attained a considerable degree of commercial importance, and was the residence of many merchants and men of note; but the inhabitants, being chiefly Presbyterians, suffered severely for refusing to conform to the Established Church; many of them left the kingdom, and those who remained embraced the parliamentarian interest. The immediate local effect of this rebellion was the suspension of all improvements, but the town was saved from assault by the defeat of the rebels near Lisburn; and, while the insurgents were overpowering nearly all the surrounding country, Belfast was maintained in security by the judicious arrangements of Sir Arthur Tyringham, who, according to the records of the corporation, cleared the water-courses, opened the sluices, erected a draw-bridge, and mustered the inhabitants in military array.
In 1643 Charles I. appointed Colonel Chichester governor of the castle, and granted £1000 for the better fortification of the town, which, while the people of the surrounding country were joining the Scottish covenanters, alone retained its firm adherence to the royal interest. The royalists in Ulster, anticipating an order from the parliament for a forcible imposition of the Scottish covenant, assembled here to deliberate upon the answer to be returned to General Monroe, commander of the Scottish forces in Ireland, when required to submit to that demand; but the latter, being treacherously informed of their purpose, and favoured by the darkness of the night, marched to Belfast with 2000 men, surprised the town, and compelled them to retire to Lisburn.
The inhabitants were now reduced to the greatest distress; Colonel Hume, who was made governor of the castle for the parliament, imposed upon them heavy and grievous taxes, and the most daring of the Irish insurgents were constantly harassing them from without. After the decapitation of Charles I., the presbytery of this place, having strongly expressed their abhorrence of that atrocity, were reproachfully answered by the poet Milton; and the Scottish forces of Ulster having, in common with the covenanters of their native country, embraced the royal cause, the garrison kept possession of it for the king. But General Monk, in 1648, seized their commander, General Monroe, whom he sent prisoner to England, and having assaulted Belfast, soon reduced it under the control of the parliament, who appointed Colonel Maxwell governor. In 1649, the town was taken by a manoeuvre of Lord Montgomery; but Cromwell, on his arrival in Ireland, despatched Colonel Venables, after the massacre of Drogheda, to reduce it, in which enterprise he succeeded.
On the abdication of James II., the inhabitants fitted out a vessel, and despatched a congratulatory address to the Prince of Orange, whom they afterwards proclaimed king; but, within a few days, James's troops having obtained possession of the place, many of the inhabitants fled to Scotland and elsewhere for safety, and several of the principal families were placed under attainder. On the landing of Duke Schomberg at Bangor, on Oct. 13th, 1689, with an army of 10,000 men, the Irish forces evacuated the town, of which Colonel Wharton took possession in the name of King William: a reinforcement of 7000 well-appointed troops from Denmark shortly after joined the forces of Schomberg, which had encamped under the walls; and on June 14th, 1690, the king arrived in person, and issued from this town a proclamation to the army forbidding them to lay waste the country. The king remained here for five days, whence he proceeded to the Boyne by way of Hillsborough, and on his march issued an order to the collector of the customs of Belfast, to pay £1200 per annum to the Presbyterian ministers of Ulster, which grant formed the origin of the more extensive royal bounty at present paid to that body.
18th CENTURY BELFAST
The castle was destroyed by an accidental fire in 1708 and has not been rebuilt. In 1715, on the threatened invasion of the Pretender, the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood formed themselves into volunteer corps for the better defence of the country; in 1745 they again had recourse to arms; and in 1760, by their prompt muster, in conjunction with the people of the surrounding country, they saved their town from the French under Thurot, who had landed at Carrickfergus, intending to surprise Belfast; but, overawed by the muster of 12,000 men, posted within two miles of Carrickfergus on the road to Belfast, he hastily re-embarked, after having obtained a considerable supply of brandy, wine, and provisions from the merchants of that town.
The formation of the Irish volunteers, induced all the principal young men of Belfast again to accoutre themselves, and they assumed a formidable political attitude until suppressed with the rest of that body. Notwithstanding the powerful excitement which prevailed towards the close of the 18th century, Belfast, although the centre of motion to the northern union, was preserved in peaceable subjection by the precaution of Government in placing in it a strong military force: but the spirit of disaffection had diffused itself considerably, and seven individuals were executed here for treason. With the exception of commercial difficulties, from which, however, this town suffered less than any other of equal importance in the kingdom, few circumstances have occurred in modern times to retard its progress; and it is now the most flourishing in the island, celebrated alike for its manufactures and commerce, and for the public spirit of its inhabitants in the pursuit of literature and science, and in the support of charitable and other benevolent institutions.
19th CENTURY BELFAST
The town is advantageously situated on the western bank of the river Lagan, a long narrow bridge of 21 arches, erected in 1686, connecting it with the suburb of Ballymacarrett, in the county of Down, below which the river expands into the noble estuary called Belfast or Carrickfergus Lough; another bridge over the Lagan into the county of Down has been lately erected, and there is a third at some distance to the south.
Its general appearance is cheerful and prepossessing; the principal streets and squares, which are well-formed and spacious, are Macadamised, and the footpaths flagged with excellent freestone. The houses are handsomely built of brick and slated, and several new squares, terraces, and ranges of building have been recently erected, making the total number of houses 8022.
The town is lighted with gas from works belonging to a company established by act of parliament in 1822.
The inhabitants, previously to 1795, were but scantily supplied with water; but the late Marquess of Donegal granted to the trustees of the Incorporated Charitable Society a lease, for 61 years, of all the springs of water on his estate; and in 1805 the Malone springs were purchased, and the water was brought to the town at an expense of £3650. In 1817 an act was obtained, under the authority of which the trustees appointed water applotters, who took upon themselves the whole management, and now receive the rates, paying to the Society £750 per annum.
The town, though situated little more than six feet above high water mark of spring tides, is considered healthy, the air being pure and salubrious; and the surrounding scenery is richly diversified and, in many parts, picturesque. An extended range of mountains, 1100 feet in height, rises at the distance of two miles to the north-west; and within the limits of the parish is Divis mountain, 1567 feet above the level of the sea at low water. The views down the lough in a north-eastern direction are strikingly beautiful, the shores on both sides being decorated with elegant country seats and plantations.
The inhabitants have long been distinguished for their zealous encouragement of literary pursuits, and the first edition of the Bible ever published in Ireland was printed at Belfast in the year 1704. In this town also was established, in 1737, the Belfast News Letter, the first newspaper ever printed in the North of Ireland: there are now several others, also a Mercantile Register and monthly periodicals.
The Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge, established in 1788, is supported by annual subscriptions of one guinea; the library contains more than 8000 volumes, and there are a cabinet of minerals and a valuable philosophical apparatus.
The Literary Society, for improvement in literature, science, antiquities, and the arts, was established in 1801; and the Historic Society, for the study of general history, the British laws and constitution, and the cultivation of oratory, in 1811.
The Natural History Society, established in 1821, has recently erected a very handsome building: the lower story is an imitation of the Choragic monuments of Thrasyllus, with a portico, which is an exact copy of that of the octagon tower of Andronicus at Athens; and the upper portions are designed after the model of the temple of Minerva: the interior comprises several spacious, lofty, and elegant apartments, with lecture-rooms, an observatory, and a very valuable museum. The Botanic Gardens were formed in connection with the Natural History Society, by some of the members, who, in 1827, purchased for that purpose about 16 acres of land, on the banks of the Lagan, about a mile from the town, on the Malone road: they are under the direction of a committee of 21, elected from the holders of 500 shares of five guineas each, of whom those holding less than four shares pay also a subscription annually; the society has expended more than £4000 on these gardens, to which persons may subscribe without being shareholders.
A spacious and handsome news-room, to which respectable strangers have free access, on entering their names in a book kept for the purpose, occupies the lower story of the Commercial Buildings: there is another large news-room in one of the wings of the White Linen Hall; a third has been recently opened in connection with the office of the Northern Whig newspaper, and a fourth under the patronage of the Belfast Society. Over the exchange is an elegant suite of assembly-rooms; there are also others in the Commercial Buildings, and there is a neat theatre in Arthur-street.
On the north-eastern side of the town are artillery and infantry barracks; and a town-major is regularly appointed, this being nominally a garrison town: it is also a chief constabulary police station for the county.
Belfast owes much of its importance to the increase of the linen trade of Ulster, of which it has now become the grand depot.
- In 1830 a very extensive mill was erected for spinning linen yarn upon the same principle as in the chief houses at Leeds, in order to meet the increasing demand of the manufacturers; and, in 1832, a large cotton-mill was adapted to the spinning of the refuse flax of the linen-mill, for the use of the canvas weavers. In these two mills more than 700 persons are employed, and, since their erection, a linen cloth manufactory has been established on a very large scale at Ligoneil, two miles distant, which is the first of the kind in this part of the country.
- Seven more spinning mills, containing 48,000 spindles, and affording employment to more than 5000 persons, were built in 1834, and several others have been erected since; they are all of brick, roofed with slate, and are mostly five stories high.
- The celebrated Ardoyne Damask manufactory was established in 1825; and the elegance of the fabric soon extended its reputation, and obtained royal patronage, an extensive order for his Majesty being at present under execution. Linens and sheetings of the stoutest fabric, for the London market, are likewise manufactured in this establishment, the proprietor of which, Michael Andrews, Esq., obtained the gold medal of the Royal Dublin Society for specimens of his productions, shewn at their exhibition of national manufactures, held in Dublin, in May 1835.
The business of the linen trade of the whole kingdom was for a long time transacted solely in Dublin, by agents resident there; but the serious inconvenience experienced by the numerous bleachers in the province of Ulster, in consequence of the remoteness of the principal mart, prompted them to the establishment of a linen-hall at Belfast, and in 1785 a spacious and handsome quadrangular building was erected in the centre of Donegal-square, by public subscription, and called the White Linen Hall, which affords great facility for making up assorted cargoes for foreign countries; great quantities are exported to America, the West Indies, and various other places, and nearly all the London merchants are supplied by factors resident here. The Brown Linen Hall, erected about the same time, is an enclosed space on the south side of Donegal-street, containing several detached platforms, where the merchants attend every Friday for the purchase of brown webs from the weavers, who assembled here from the surrounding districts. The webs brought to this mart are principally one yard in width, and of the finest quality; and so great is the quantity purchased by the merchants, who are also bleachers, that in the Belfast district, situated within a distance of six miles of the town to the west and south-west and containing in all fourteen bleaching-greens (of which eleven are within the parish of Belfast), 260,000 pieces are annually bleached, exceeding by 87,000 the number of pieces bleached in the same district in the year 1822; the value of the goods finished annually in these establishments is little less than one million sterling.
The cotton manufacture, of which Belfast is the centre and principal seat, was originally introduced here in 1777, by Mr. Robert Joy, father of Chief Baron Joy, and at that time one of the proprietors of the Belfast News Letter. That gentleman had been chiefly instrumental in establishing the incorporated poor-house, which under his auspices became the nursery of this important branch of manufacture, at that time unknown in any other part of Ireland, and which, after struggling with various difficulties, at length attained such rapidity of progress that, in 1800, it afforded employment to 27,000 persons within a circuit of ten miles round Belfast, and is still carried on here to a vast extent in all its branches, more especially in the spinning department, for which alone there are, in the town and neighbourhood, no less than 21 factories.
The machinery used in these works is partly impelled by steam, but chiefly by water, for which the streams in the neighbourhood are particularly favourable, by reason of the rapidity of their currents and their numerous falls; and gives motion to about 982,000 spindles and 640 power-looms, which latter are of very recent introduction. The buildings are of very large dimensions, in general from six to eight stories in height, and in some of them from 800 to 2000 persons are employed. The principal articles manufactured are velvets, fustians, jeans, ticking, checks, ginghams, quiltings, calico muslins, and muslinets. There are also very extensive print-fields, bleach-greens, dye-works, and establishments for every department of the manufacture, which in the aggregate affords employment to 36,225 persons; but is at present in a declining state, several of the works having been recently suspended, and others applied to different purposes. Connected with these establishments are various manufactories for machinery, iron-forges, and works for the preparation of oil of vitriol and other chymical products used in bleaching, dyeing, and printing, together employing about 1000 persons; engraving also, as connected with the printing of cotton goods, is carried on extensively. An iron-foundry was first established here in 1792; in 1798 the Lagan foundry, in Ballymacarrett, was erected, where steam-engines are now made; and in 1811 the Belfast foundry, in Donegal-street, was built, in which the patent rotatory steam-engines, originally invented by one of the proprietors, have been manufactured.
In 1834 the manufacture of machinery for spinning flax was first successfully introduced into Ireland, by the proprietors of the Belfast foundry; two other foundries have been since established,—the Phoenix, in York-street, and the Soho foundry, in Townsend-street, where spinning machinery is made; there are also several other foundries on a smaller scale, the whole affording employment to about 600 persons. The making of vitriol was introduced in 1799; at present there are two establishments, in which about 180 persons are employed.
- The manufacture of flint glass was commenced in 1776, and in a few years several extensive glass-houses were erected; at present there are only two in operation, employing together about 90 persons.
- There are two distilleries, which annually produce 311,000 gallons of spirits, nearly the whole of which is for home consumption: about 150 men are employed in the process; and at Brookfield, adjoining the town, is another upon an extensive scale.
- There are twelve extensive ale and porter breweries, from which many thousand barrels are annually exported;
- some large flour and meal-mills, worked by steam and water; and
- extensive manufactories for tobacco, soap, candles, starch, glue, and paper, both for home consumption and for exportation.
- The tanning of leather for exportation was formerly carried on to a great extent, and at the commencement of the present century there were 36 tanyards in the town and neighbourhood; but it has much declined, and is at present chiefly confined to the home market.
- The manufacture of ropes and canvas was originally introduced in 1758, to which were added, in 1784, the making of sail-cloth, and, in 1820, the making of sails, which has since grown into celebrity and affords employment to a great number of persons of both sexes.
Ship-building was commenced in the year 1791, prior to which time all vessels belonging to the port were built and repaired in England and Scotland; there are now two extensive yards, with graving docks and every requisite appendage, in which more than 200 men are constantly employed, and from which four or five brigs of the first class, and schooners of from 100 to 360 tons' registered burden, are annually launched. Several ships have also been lately built, among which is the Hindoo, of 400 tons' register, for the East India trade.
The trade of the port, comparatively of modern origin, has been rapid in its growth and uniformly increasing in its progress: it originally rose into importance on the purchase by the Crown, in 1637, of the privileges possessed by the corporation of Carrickfergus (of which port Belfast was formerly only a dependency), of importing merchandise at a far lower rate of duty than was paid at any other port. After the completion of this purchase, the custom-house of that place was removed to Belfast, which, however, arose into distinguished notice only with the linen trade, as, at the commencement of the last century, there were only five vessels, of the aggregate burden of 109 tons, belonging to the port; and the amount of custom-house duties, in 1709, was not more than £1215. In 1740 it had not only become well known on the continent as a place of considerable trade, but was in equal repute with the most celebrated commercial towns in Europe; and in 1785 it became the principal depot of the linen trade, from which time its commerce rapidly increased.
During the fluctuations of trade by which other places suffered so severely, Belfast experienced comparatively but little diminution of its commerce, and in 1825 derived a considerable addition to its trade in the increase of the cross-channel intercourse, from the introduction of steam navigation. In 1833, the number of vessels which entered inwards at the port was 2445, and which cleared outwards, 1391; and the amount of duties paid at the custom-house exceeded £412,000. The trade has been rapidly and uniformly increasing every year; and in that ending on Jan. 5th, 1836, the number of vessels that entered inwards was 2730, and that cleared outwards, 2047; and the amount of duties paid at the custom-house, was £357,645. 2. 10., and of quayage dues at the ballast-office, £9289. 19. 11. The commerce of the port consists of various branches, of which the most important at present is the cross-channel trade, which in 1747 employed only three vessels, collectively of 198 tons' burden; from that time it appears to have rapidly increased, and, since the more direct and expeditious intercourse with the principal ports of Great Britain, afforded by the introduction of steam navigation, has absorbed a considerable portion of the foreign and colonial trade.
The principal exports connected with this branch are linen cloth, manufactured cotton goods, and agricultural produce. Its extensive trade in provisions is of very recent introduction, and affords a striking demonstration of the great improvements in the system of agriculture which have taken place since the commencement of the present century, previously to which considerable quantities of corn were annually imported, and in 1789 the only articles shipped from this port were beef and butter, in very limited quantities.
The chief imports by the cross-channel trade are tea, sugar, cotton, wool, and various articles for the use of the manufacturers, bleachers, and dyers; also British manufactured goods, and articles of general merchandise.
The number of vessels that entered inwards from British ports during the year 1835 was 2949, and the number that cleared outwards, 1534; of these there were nine steam-boats, of which four were employed in the Glasgow, three in the Liverpool, and two in the London trade.
- The first steam-boat that crossed the channel to this port was from Liverpool, in 1819, but it was not till 1824 that steam-boats were employed in the transmission of merchandise: the passage by steam navigation to Liverpool is performed, on the average, in 14 hours, to London in 132 hours, to Glasgow in 14 hours, and to Dublin in 14 hours.
The trade with the United States and with British North America is also very considerable: the chief exports are linen cloth, manufactured cotton goods, blue, starch, and whiskey; the imports are timber and staves, tobacco, cotton, wool, ashes, and flax and clover seeds. In 1835, the number of vessels in this trade which entered inwards was 78, and of those that cleared outwards 76, the latter taking out 2675 emigrants, of whom 1824 were destined for the British American colonies, and 851 for the United States. The trade with the West Indies commenced in 1740, and, of late, several first-class vessels have been built expressly for it; 9 vessels entered inwards, and 15 cleared outwards, in 1835, in connection with the British West India islands only. The trade with the Baltic, which is on the increase, consists in the importation of tallow, timber, ashes, flax, and hemp. Tallow and hides are also imported from Odessa; mats, pitch, tar, flax, and flaxseed from Archangel; and wine, fruit, lemon and lime juice, olive and other oils, brimstone, and barilla, from the Mediterranean and the Levant.
The total number of vessels employed in the foreign trade, which entered inwards in 1835, was 184, and of those that cleared outwards, 145. The coasting trade is also of great importance; exclusively of ordinary vessels of different classes, and of the regular steam-packets for goods and passengers to Liverpool, London, Dublin, Greenock, Glasgow, and Stranraer, it employs packets, in the summer season, to the Isle of Man, Whitehaven, North Wales, Port Stewart, Derry, and to several other places on the Irish and Scottish coasts. There is also engaged in this trade a regular establishment of vessels of different classes to London, Maryport, Workington, and Whitehaven, those to the last three ports being chiefly employed in the coal trade; the imports supply the greater part of the North of Ireland. The number of vessels belonging to the port is 219, of an aggregate burden of 23,681 tons; but they are very inadequate to the extent of its commerce, of which a very large portion is carried on in ships belonging to other countries.
The port is very advantageously situated for trade at the mouth of the Lagan in Belfast Lough, sometimes called Carrickfergus bay, a noble arm of the sea forming a safe and commodious harbour, well sheltered and easy of access; the entrance is about six miles in breadth from the point between Groomsport and Ballyholm bay, in the county of Down, and White Head in the county of Antrim; the length from the latter point to the quays at Belfast is 12 miles, decreasing gradually in breadth towards the bridge, where it is very much contracted by the different quays and landing-places, and the embankments of Ballymacarrett. The preservation and improvement of the port and harbour were vested in the Ballast Corporation, constituted by act of parliament in 1785, which was repealed by an act obtained in 1831, and a new "Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port and Harbour of Belfast" was created, consisting of "the lord of the castle" and "the sovereign," the parliamentary representatives for the counties of Antrim and Down, and the boroughs of Belfast, Carrickfergus, and Downpatrick, and sixteen other commissioners, of whom four go out of office annually, and their successors are elected subject to the approbation of the lord-lieutenant and privy council. Their annual income, arising from pilotage, tonnage, quayage rates on imports and exports, ballastage, &c., on an average of five years, ending Jan. 5th, 1836, amounted to £8868. 18. 8., and the expenditure to £8789 8. 4.
The objects of obtaining the new act, in 1831, were to enable the commissioners to purchase quays and grounds for the improvement of the harbour, and to render the enactments suitable to the present state of the trade of the town, which had increased nearly tenfold since the passing of the former act. Below the bridge a fine range of quays extends along the north-west bank of the river, with two graving docks, which were constructed soon after the port was frequented by large vessels; three of these wet docks extend into the principal streets of the town. A spacious graving dock was completed in the year 1826, at an expense of £26,000, by the Ballast Corporation; and several extensive wet docks, quays, and warehouses are now being constructed below the town, under an act of parliament obtained in 1829, by Messrs. Holmes and Dunbar, who have already expended £35,000 in this undertaking: the first of these docks, completed in 1832, is 400 yards in length and 100 yards in breadth, and is intended for the large ships in the timber trade, and for those in the coal trade till the other docks are constructed. The harbour commissioners, under the act of 1831, contemplate the deepening and enlarging of the harbour, the formation of a new channel from the quays to the Mile-water river, the construction of floating docks with entrance locks, additional quays, and other improvements; but these works are at present delayed.
Belfast Customs House, a very indifferent building, is situated on Hanover-quay. The Lagan navigation, extending in a line of 22 miles from the port to Lough Neagh, by way of Lisburn, was constructed under an act of the 27th of George III., confirmed by others to the 54th of the same reign, by which the proprietors were invested with a small duty on beer and spirits in the excise district of Lisburn, since commuted for an annual money payment out of the consolidated fund: the number of debentures issued from 1785 to 1793 was sixty-two, amounting to £62,000. The navigation is continued partly in the bed of the river, and partly by collateral cuts to a mile above Lisburn; but, from its circuitous course and the high rate of the tolls, goods are conveyed by land with greater expedition and at less expense. Divers new roads have been formed in the immediate neighbourhood of the town; and, under an act of parliament obtained in 1832, a railway from the harbour to Cave Hill is now being constructed, in a double line, which is the first work of the kind in the North of Ireland.
Belfast Chamber of Commerce was originally established in 1783; its meetings were suspended from 1794 to 1802, since which time they have been resumed without interruption, greatly to the benefit of trade and the interests of the town. The Old Exchange, situated nearly in the centre of the town, at the end of Donegal-street, is the private property of the Marquess of Donegal; it was formerly the place of public resort for the merchants, but, since the erection of the Commercial Buildings, has been used only for the election of the chief magistrate. The Commercial Buildings were erected in 1822, opposite to the Exchange, at an expense of £20,000, by a proprietary of 200 shareholders incorporated by act of parliament in 1823, and by a committee of whom, annually elected, the affairs of the institution are conducted: the buildings comprise an excellent commercial hotel, a spacious and handsome news-room, over which is an elegant assembly-room, and behind these an area with a piazza. for the use of the merchants; and in connection with them are numerous offices principally occupied by professional men. The north front, of Irish granite, is decorated with eight lofty Ionic columns, and the west front is principally occupied by shops: the merchants assemble in the news-room and hold 'Change on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The revenue derived by Government from the post-office, in 1835, was £10,073. The banking establishments are the Northern Banking Company, established in 1824; the Belfast Banking Company, in 1826; and the Ulster Banking Company, in 1836: all have branches in the different large towns throughout the province. There are also branches of the Bank of Ireland, the Provincial Bank, and the Agricultural and Commercial Bank of Ireland.
James I., in 1605, 1608, and 1611, made grants of markets and fairs, which were all included in one grant to Arthur, Lord Chichester, in 1621, of a market to be held on Friday, and fairs annually on Aug. 1st and 2nd, and Oct. 23th and 29th; this grant was also confirmed by Charles II. to Arthur, Earl of Donegal, in 1668. Though the markets are open daily, the principal market day is Friday: the two fairs are now held on Aug. 12th and Nov. 8th. There are in Smithfield two market-places for meat, two for fish, and one for hay, straw, and hides, besides several others for meat and vegetables in various parts of the town, all of which are well supplied: the market for pork and butter is in the weigh-house and buildings adjoining; the sale of poultry of all kinds, collected from a great distance, forms a regular trade; and the fish market is well supplied with turbot and salmon from the coasts of Antrim and Derry.
Belfast is in some measure indebted for its incorporation to the favour shewn to the Chichester family by James I., who, in 1612, granted to Sir Arthur Chichester, who had previously established a number of Devonshire men in the townland of Malone, the castle and an extensive surrounding territory; and in the following year incorporated the inhabitants by charter. In the 4th of James II., on a seizure of the franchises, a charter, the provisions of which were in most respects similar to those of the former, was granted, but is now considered void. George II., in the 33rd year of his reign, also granted a charter, which, however, is only an inspeximus of the charter of James I. The corporation is styled "The Sovereign, Free Burgesses, and Commonalty of the Borough of Belfast;" and consists of a sovereign, lord of the castle, constable of the castle, twelve other free burgesses, and an unlimited number of freemen, assisted by a town-clerk and two serjeants-at-mace. The sovereign is chosen annually on the 24th of June by the free burgesses, from three of their own body nominated by the lord of the castle (or, in default of such nomination, which seldom occurs, elected by themselves), and is sworn into office before the lord, or in his absence before, the constable of the castle, on Michaelmas-day.
The lord of the castle is a member of the corporation by tenure of the castle of Belfast; the office is held by the Marquess of Donegal, in whose family it has continued since the date of the charter; the constable is appointed by instrument under seal of the lord of the castle, and becomes a free burgess. The other free burgesses are chosen, as vacancies occur, by the sovereign and the remainder of their body; the town-clerk is elected by the sovereign and burgesses; and the serjeants-at-mace are chosen by the corporation at large. The freedom of the borough is acquired only by gift of the sovereign and • free burgesses 5 at present there are no freemen. The borough returned two representatives to the Irish parliament from the date of its incorporation till the Union, after which it sent one to the Imperial parliament, but its original number was restored by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 88, passed to amend the representation. The right of election was formerly vested exclusively in the free burgesses, but by the act above-named has been extended to the £10 householders: the number of voters registered at the close of 1835 was about 1600: the sovereign is the returning officer.
The jurisdiction of the corporation and of the town police is supposed to extend on the north to the Mile-water, and on the south to the Blackstaff, both of which streams fall into the Lagan, which forms its boundary on the east; and on the west is also a boundary, but so imperfectly defined that disputes are constantly arising with respect to the county cess, which within it is levied on the houses, and without it only on the acre. Under the act now regulating the harbour a jurisdiction is given to the judges of assize, justices of the peace for Antrim, and the sovereign of Belfast, over all offences committed within the limits of the port and harbour, or within 500 yards of the quays in the county of Down, as if such offences had been committed within the county of Antrim. The act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., cap. 89, assigns a new boundary for elective purposes, which is minutely described in the Appendix.
The sovereign is a justice of the peace for the borough, and usually holds the commissions of the peace for the counties of Antrim and Down; he is also clerk of the market, and, ex officio, a member of different bodies incorporated under local acts for the improvement of the town and port. The charter granted a court of record for the recovery of debts not exceeding £20, arising within the borough or its liberty, to be held every Thursday before the sovereign, but it has long since fallen into disuse. The manor court, held every third Thursday before the seneschal (who is appointed by the Marquess of Donegal, as lord of the manor of Belfast, within which the borough is situated), has jurisdiction over the entire parish, and over the townland of Ballynafeigh, in the county of Down, to the amount of £20 present currency, by process of attachment or arrest: the seneschal also proceeds by civil bill under the manor court acts: the prison of the court was abolished in 1828, and defaulters are now sent to the county gaol. Courts leet for the manor are also held by the seneschal; at that held in May, constables, applotters, and appraisers are appointed for the ensuing year.
The sovereign holds petty sessions every Monday and Wednesday at the sessions-house, at which county magistrates may also attend. The stipendiary police magistrate, appointed in 1816, holds a court of petty session at the sessions-house every Thursday, at which other justices attend; a magistrate's court at the police-office every Tuesday and Saturday, where he disposes of cases respecting servants' wages, and other matters not requiring the attendance of two justices; and also sits daily at the office of the nightly watch establishment. The county quarter sessions are held in this town, in conjunction with other places, four times in the year; and the assistant barrister then determines causes by civil bill under his statutable jurisdiction, for the division of Belfast. The house of correction, adjoining the quarter sessions court-house, is a good building of brick, erected in 1817, but is not sufficiently adapted for the classification of prisoners, who are chiefly employed in breaking stones for the streets of the town: it contains good schools, for both sexes, to which two hours in the day are devoted. Commissioners of police were appointed by an act of parliament passed in 1800, and amended in 1816, under which a police tax, amounting on an average of five years, ending with 1835, to £9000 per annum, is levied for the maintenance of patrols by night and by day, and for lighting, cleansing, and paving the town and precincts.