Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Londonderry's Black Man

As late as the nineteen seventies Londonderry mothers could be heard admonishing their recalcitrant children with threats that , "the Black Man," would come and get them if they did not behave . This was not some politically incorrect term gleaned from listening to the lofty Don Estelle but rather was a reference to the statue of Sir Robert A. Ferguson which has stood at the entrance to the city's Brook Park for over eighty years. Even on a bright summer's day there is something rather intimidating about this statue. Sir Robert glowering down from his pedestal at those entering the Park and scuttling past him. Maybe it was the fear that he instilled in the youth of the City that saved him from elevation and destruction from a few pounds of home made explosive during the, "Troubles." 

This statue was not always in Brook Park. It was originally erected in the Diamond at the top of Shipquay Street. It was removed from there and re-erected in its present location in the late twenties to facilitate the erection of the War Memorial.

Statue of Sir Robert Ferguson, Brook Park
Who was this baronet? Born on the 26th December 1796 he was the eldest son of Sir Andrew Ferguson and his wife Elizabeth (daughter of Robert Alexander of Boom Hall.). It is suggested that the baronetcy was created as compensation for Andrew Ferguson when he lost his seat with the Act of Union. Prior to the Act  the Borough of Londonderry returned two members to the Irish House of Commons but only one was permitted to join the House of Commons of Great Britain and Ireland on 1st January 1801. The continuing member was Henry Alexander. Andrew Ferguson resigned and accordingly there was not the necessity of drawing lots. That was the selection process for fifteen boroughs.

Robert succeeded to the baronetcy on 17th July 1808 consequent upon his father's death in a carriage accident at a bridge near Moville.

At the general election held on 17th August 1830 Sir Robert was returned for the borough of Londonderry. There were at that time apparently no more than 450 voters. There were 258 votes in his favour and 87 for his closest opponent John R J Hart . His election was ultimately declared to be void. It appears that he was technically still the returning officer at the time of the vote and therefore ineligible to stand. A bye-election was then held and he again defeated Hart, this time by 202 votes to 62. Sir Robert continued to represent the City until his death on the 13th March 1860 when the baronetcy became extinct. Both Sir Robert and his father are buried in St Augustine's graveyard, Londonderry.

Sir Robert's seat was at The Farm, Culmore Road Londonderry. That property eventually came into the hands of the McFarland family and was ultimately developed for housing. My recollection is that building works started in the late 1960's or early 1970's. Prior to that certain of the lands were used by Aberfoyle Nurseries for growing cut flowers.

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