Sunday 16 May 2021

(457) Batt of Purdysburn House and Rathmullan House

Batt of Purdysburn and Rathmullan 
This family traced its origins back to Samuel Batt (d. c.1702), who is said to have moved from Cornwall to New Ross (Co. Wexford) in about 1650, and to have established himself there as a merchant. He and his son, another Samuel Batt (d. c.1716), also acquired lands in County Wexford including a farm called Ozier Hill, which remained in the family until the 19th century. The younger Samuel's son Thomas (d. 1741) had two recorded sons, of whom the elder, Samuel (d. 1765), inherited Ozier Hill, while the younger, Robert Batt (c.1728-83), entered the army. Samuel's son and heir, Major Thomas Batt (c.1742-79), was an officer in the 18th Foot who went to America with his regiment. In 1773 he seems to have retired from the army and settled in Nova Scotia, but two years later he joined the Royal Fencible American Regiment and led a decisive action at the Battle of Fort Cumberland in 1776. Soon afterwards he had a very public disagreement with the Colonel of the regiment about the terms of an amnesty granted to a group of rebels, and he may have resigned soon afterwards. Family sources say he was killed in a military engagement in 1779, but I have been unable to confirm this. He died in or before 1779, however, for his property at Ozier Hill passed at that time to his uncle, Robert Batt.

Robert Batt (c.1728-83), with whom the genealogy below begins, was also an officer in the 18th Foot, but retired on his marriage in 1765 before his regiment went to America. He applied the proceeds from the sale of his commission to establishing himself as a merchant in Belfast, where he seems to have prospered and raised a family of five sons. The eldest son, Narcissus Batt (c.1766-1840) joined him in the business at an early age and continued it after his father's death in 1783, later taking his younger brother Robert (1773-1811) into partnership. In 1808 he moved into banking, becoming one of the four partners in David Gordon & Co.'s Belfast Bank, which quickly gained a solid reputation, based on the good reputations of its partners. In 1827 the firm (by then sometimes referred to as Batt's Bank) merged with the Belfast Commercial Bank to form the Belfast Banking Company. Narcissus was also active in the broader commercial affairs of Belfast. In 1783 he became the youngest member of the newly-founded Chamber of Commerce, and later he was one of the Harbour Improvement Commissioners, whose work turned the city into a major port and shipbuilding centre. 

The profits of banking and mercantile activity enabled Narcissus to buy firstly, in 1807, a long lease of Donegall House in Donegall Place, Belfast, the former town house of the Marquess of Donegall, and then in 1811 to purchase the Purdysburn estate south of the city, which he remodelled very extensively to the designs of Thomas Hopper in the 1820s. In his declining years he retired from business and lived at Purdysburn, where he died in 1840.

Stranmillis House, as built for Thomas Batt (c.1806-61).
His sons, Robert (1795-1864), who inherited Purdysburn, and Thomas (c.1806-61) were both involved in the banking business. Thomas retired in 1857 when his health began to fail and bought an estate at Stranmillis, where he built a new house to the designs of Sir Charles Lanyon, which was unfinished at the time of his death and which was sold soon afterwards. Robert was succeeded at Purdysburn by his only son, Robert Narcissus Batt (1844-91), who was apparently not involved in the family bank, and became well-known as a racehorse owner. In 1883 he owned just over 12,000 acres in Co. Down. He married and had two daughters, who are said to have declined the opportunity to inherit the house at Purdysburn. He therefore left it to Belfast General Hospital, and it was sold in 1895 to Belfast Corporation, which made the house part of an extensive mental hospital and also built a fever hospital in the grounds. The house survived until 1965 but was then demolished and replaced by undistinguished office blocks.

The youngest son of Robert Batt (1728-73) was Thomas Batt (c.1775-1857), who was apparently a timber merchant in Belfast until c.1829. In 1837 he bought the 6,000 acre Rathmullen estate in Co. Donegal, where there was a moderately-sized new house and splendid views over Lough Swilly. He was succeeded at Rathmullan House (the village is Rathmullen but the house is now called Rathmullan House) by his only son, Robert Batt (1816-97), who enlarged and modernised the house about 1870 to accommodate his large family. In 1883 he owned 4,337 acres in Co. Donegal, but under the impact of the agricultural depression and the cost of long-running litigation this shrank further before his death. His eldest son, Col. Thomas Edmond Batt (1854-1908), inherited what was left but also many debts, and in 1904 he sold off everything except the house and its gardens. Four of his surviving younger brothers emigrated to Australia and a fifth became a commercial clerk in London. When he died in 1908, Col. Batt left the house to his two surviving unmarried sisters and their brother Charles Lyons Batt (1860-1932). They occupied the house until the last of them died in 1938, and in 1944 it was sold to the Holiday Fellowship as a walkers' hostel.

Purdysburn House, Co. Down

The earliest reference to the house is in a document dated 1712, indicating that a residence had been built here by James Willson (1680-1741), a successful merchant who had been building up an estate in the area since at least 1708. His son, Hill Willson (1707-73), embarked upon a major remodelling of house and gardens in the late 1730s, as indicated by a date stone of 1740 in the summerhouse in the walled garden. In 1744, Walter Harris was able to refer to ‘a house and pretty improvements... at Purdysburn'. At the same time as the house was remodelled, new formal gardens were created, which apparently remained unchanged when the first Ordnance Survey map was surveyed in 1834. 

Purdysburn House: the demesne as shown on the Ordnance Survey 1st edn. map of 1834.
After Hill Willson's death, the house and gardens at Purdysburn passed not to his eldest son, who was disinherited, but to his second son, also Hill Willson, who showed little interest in the house and demesne. The contents were sold in 1785 and the property was then let to the Bishop of Down & Connor until 1799. The house then stood empty until it was bought in 1811 by Narcissus Batt (1761-1840), a successful Belfast merchant and banker. A further decade then elapsed before Batt commissioned Thomas Hopper (1776-1856) to remodel and enlarge the old house. He was working at Gosford Castle in County Armagh at the time, but was based in London, and it is doubtful how much personal attention he can have given the job, which lacks the confidence and sophistication of his other commissions, although it is among the very earliest examples of the neo-Tudor style in Ireland. Work was apparently complete by 1825, when Batt was able to move in. 

Purdysburn House: the west and north fronts in about 1900.
The building that resulted from Hopper's alterations was a rather awkward stucco-faced gable-ended double pile house comprising a six bay three-storey block with arrays of transomed and mullioned windows, label mouldings, string coursing, plain parapets and an array of tall decorative chimney stacks. Octagonal turrets with decorative parapets and slender onion-shaped pinnacles flanked the main entrance on the west front, and similar turrets surround a canted bay on the north front. The east front facing the gardens was broken by a two bay two-storey recessed centre with an unusual gothic parapet. Whist working on his new house, Narcissus Batt was also engaged upon both the gardens and demesne. New gates and lodges were added and a neo-Tudor cottages were built in the estate village. In the garden he built a summer house in the form of a sham medieval tower house, and he probably laid out the park planting shown on the 1834 Ordnance Survey map, including three miniature lakes. 

Purdysburn House: aerial view of the east front and formal garden c.1930. Image: National Museums of Northern Ireland.
The last member of the Batt family to occupy Purdysburn was Robert Narcissus Batt (1844-91), whose two daughters declined the offer of inheriting the property. He therefore bequeathed it to Belfast General Hospital ‘for whatever use they saw fit', and in 1894 it was sold to Belfast Corporation with 295 acres. The corporation established a mental hospital on one side of the demesne and an infectious diseases hospital on the other, and the original house became part of the mental hospital. It was the construction of the fever hospital (later known as Belvoir Park Hospital), in close proximity to the policies of Belvoir House, which induced the 3rd Lord Deramore to abandon Belvoir in 1904 and move to Yorkshire. The gardens at Purdysburn were maintained by, and for the benefit of, the patients of the mental hospital until 1965, when the house was demolished and replaced by dull government office blocks and a prison, although some elements of the gardens, including the Gothick tower, remain. Belvoir Park Hospital remained in use until 2006, but has now also closed.

Descent: built for James Willson (1680-1741); to son, Hill Willson (1707-73); to son, Hill Willson, who leased it to Rt. Rev. William Dickson, Bishop of Down and Connor, c.1785-99; unoccupied until sold 1811 to Narcissus Batt (1761-1840); to son, Robert Batt (1795-1864); to son, Robert Narcissus Batt (1844-91); bequeathed to Belfast General Hospital; sold 1894 to Belfast Corporation.

Rathmullan House, Co. Donegal

The house, originally simply called 'The Lodge' was built about 1820 on a fine site overlooking Lough Swilly for Lt-Col. George or Andrew Knox, the third son of the Rt. Rev. and Hon. William Knox, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe. After Thomas Batt junior inherited the house in 1857 he enlarged it considerably and added the three not-quite-evenly spaced canted bays with wide overhanging eaves on the main front. 

Rathmullan House: the entrance front as altered by Thomas Batt, c.1870. Image: Rathmullan House Hotel.
When the house became a hostel after the Second World War, the original bedrooms were knocked together to create suitably spartan dormitories, a change that was happily reversed when the house became an hotel in 1962. However, the constant drive to make the hotel larger and more financially viable has seen it greatly enlarged, although the main rooms of the original building retain a country house feel. A pavilion dining room designed by Liam McCormick was built in 1969, a swimming pool and a new bedroom wing were added in the 1990s, and a further bedroom wing and function room in 2004.

Descent: built for Lt-Col. George Knox (1799-1881); sold c.1837 to Thomas Batt (d. 1857); to son, Thomas Batt (1816-97); to son, Col. Thomas Edmond Batt (1854-1908); to brother, Charles Lyons Batt (b. 1860; fl. 1931) and sisters, Alice Elizabeth (fl. 1912) and Mabel Mackenzie Batt (d. 1914)...sold 1944 to Holiday Fellowship; sold 1961 to Bob and Robin Wheeler, who converted it to an hotel; to Mark and Mary Wheeler.

Batt family of Purdysburn

Batt, Robert (c.1728-83). Younger son of Thomas Batt (d. 1741) of Ozier Hill (Co. Wexford) and his wife Jane, daughter of Thomas Devereux, born about 1728. An officer in the 18th Foot (Lt., 1752; Capt., 1756; retired 1765), who sold his commission at the time of his marriage and set up in business as a merchant in Belfast. He married, 1765, Hannah (c.1737-1816), daughter of Samuel Hyde of Belfast, and had issue:
(1) Narcissus Batt (c.1766-1840) (q.v.);
(2) Rev. William Batt (c.1768-1855), born about 1768; educated at Trinity College, Dublin (matriculated 1785; BA 1789); possibly at one time minister at Mallusk, Newtownabbey (Co. Antrim), but retired and for many years lived in Donegall Place, Belfast; married Arminella Turnley (c.1771-1840), and had issue; died 14 June 1855; will proved in Dublin, 1855;
(3) Samuel Hyde Batt (c.1770-1837), born about 1770; cotton spinner and calico printer; married 1st, 7 September 1807 at Lisburn (Co. Antrim), Margaret Mortimer (c.1786-1822), and had issue two sons and one daughter; married 2nd, 25 June 1823 at Newtownbarry (Co. Wexford), Mary Croker (1786-1871) and had issue a further two sons and one daughter; died 27 January 1837; will proved in Dublin, 1838;
(4) Robert Batt (c.1773-1811), born about 1773; merchant in Belfast in partnership with his eldest brother; died unmarried, 8 May 1811 and was buried at Clifton St. Cemetery, Belfast; 
(5) Thomas Batt (c.1775-1857) [for whom see below, under Batt of Rathmullan].
He settled in Belfast in 1765 but inherited Ozier Hill from his nephew in about 1779. 
He died 26 October 1783 and was buried at Drumbo (Co. Down), where he is commemorated by a monument in the churchyard. His widow died 24 April 1816 and was buried at Clifton St. Cemetery, Belfast.

Batt, Narcissus (c.1766-1840). Eldest son of Robert Batt (c.1728-83) and his wife Hannah, daughter of Samuel Hyde of Belfast, born about 1766. A merchant in partnership with his father and later his brother Robert, and one of the founders of the Belfast Bank (now part of Danske Bank) in 1808. He was the youngest founder member of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce in 1783, and was later a member of the Belfast harbour improvement commission. High Sheriff of Co. Down, 1835. He married, 1793, Margaret (d. 1843), daughter of Thomas Greg, and had issue, possibly among others who died young:
(1) Robert Batt (1795-1864) (q.v.);
(2) Elizabeth Greg Batt (c.1801-54); died unmarried in Edinburgh, 27 March 1854; her will was proved in Dublin, 1855;
(3) Mary Batt (c.1805-90), born about 1805; married, 16 May 1838 at Ballylesson (Co. Down), Thomas Richard Greg (1805-84) of Ballymenoch House, Holywood (Co. Down), and had issue one son and one daughter; died at Tunbridge Wells (Kent), 8 January 1890; will proved 10 May 1890 (estate £7,920);
(4) Thomas Greg Batt (c.1806-61), born about 1806; educated at Trinity College, Dublin (matriculated 1822; BA 1827); a director of the Belfast Bank (retired about 1858); he bought the Stranmillis House estate in 1857 and commissioned a new house from Sir Charles Lanyon, but did not live to see it completed; he died without issue at Langan Schalbach (Germany), 3 July 1861; will proved 8 August 1861 (effects under £30,000).
He inherited Ozier Hill from his father in 1783. He bought Donegall House in Belfast in 1807 and the Purdysburn estate in 1811. He remodelled Purdysburn House to the designs of Thomas Hopper c.1820-25.
He died 27 January 1840; his will was proved in Dublin in 1840. His widow died 29 September 1843.

Batt, Robert (1795-1864). Elder son of Narcissus Ball (c.1766-1840) and his wife Margaret, daughter of Thomas Greg, born 23 June 1795. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin (matriculated 1812; BA 1816). A partner in the Belfast Bank. JP and DL for Co. Down; High Sheriff of Co. Down, 1846. He married 1st, 30 November 1830 at Rothesay (Bute), Jean Bogle (1810-33), daughter of Rev. Daniel Wilkie of Greyfriars, Edinburgh, and 2nd, 18 March 1841 at Leamington Priors (Warks), Charlotte Sarah (1815-57), daughter of Samuel Wood of Upton (Ches.), and had issue:
(2.1) Margaret Violetta Batt (1842-44), born 16 July and baptised at Leamington Priors (Warks), 19 August 1842; died in infancy and was buried at Leamington Spa, 8 May 1844;
(2.2) Robert Narcissus Batt (1844-91) (q.v.);
(2.3) Emily Charlotte Batt (1846-1906), born 24 April 1846; married, 23 November 1876 at Drumbo (Co. Down), Capt. John Lewis Way RN (1840-1904), son of Rev. Charles John Way; died 10 August 1906, was cremated and her ashes were buried at Great Yeldham (Essex); administration of goods granted 27 October 1906 (estate £6,359);
(2.4) Mary Jane Batt (1848-1919), born at Purdysburn, 6 September 1848; died unmarried, 17 December 1919; administration of goods granted at Belfast, 22 March 1920 (estate £192);
(2.5) Margaret Sarah Batt (1849-1932), born at Purdysburn, 12 September 1849; married, 5 September 1878 at Knockbreda (Co. Down), Col. Thomas Thompson Simpson (1836-1916) of Birks Hall, Halifax (Yorks WR), son of John Simpson, but had no issue; died 30 August and was buried at North Ockendon (Essex), 2 September 1932; will proved 14 November 1932 (estate £9,225);
(2.6) Geraldine Elizabeth Batt (1851-1931), born at Purdysburn, 16 April 1851; died unmarried, 9 January and was buried at North Ockendon, 14 January 1931; will proved 23 February 1931 (estate £7,692).
He inherited Osier Hill and Purdysburn from his father in 1840.
He died 27 July 1864; his will was proved in Belfast, 16 August 1864 (effects under £35,000). His first wife died at Madeira (Portugal), 14 June 1833. His second wife died at Pau (France), 15 February 1857.

Batt, Robert Narcissus (1844-91). Only son of Robert Batt (1795-1864) and his wife Charlotte, daughter of Samuel Wood of Upton (Ches.), born 10 November 1844. JP and DL (from 1877) for Co. Down; High Sheriff of Co. Down, 1870. He was a racehorse owner, and keen follower of the Turf. He married, 6 March 1866 at Mansfield (Notts), Marion Emily (d. 1892), eldest daughter of Sir Edward Samuel Walker of Berry Hill, Mansfield, and had issue:
(1) Eveleen May Batt (1867-97), born 1867; married, 19 May 1892 at Manby (Lincs), Capt. Charles Arthur Staniland (1856-1931), fourth son of Meaburn Staniland MP, solicitor, and had issue one son and three daughters; died 30 October 1897;
(2) Nella Lilian Batt (1872-1921), born 8 December 1872; married, 18 December 1894 at St Mary Abbots, Kensington (Middx), Col. Frederick Knight Essell (1864-1951), of Bevere Knoll, Claines (Worcs), son of George Essell of Rochester, and had issue three sons and two daughters; died 14 November 1921; will proved 27 January 1922 (estate £5,222).
He inherited Purdysburn from his father in 1864.
He died from the effects of falling downstairs at Purdysburn, 20 November and was buried at Ballylesson, 24 November 1891; his will was proved in Belfast, 11 March 1892 (effects £21,152). His widow died 7 February 1892.

Batt of Rathmullan

Batt, Thomas (c.1775-1857). Youngest son of Robert Batt (c.1728-83) and his wife Hannah, daughter of Samuel Hyde of Belfast, born about 1775. Probably the man of this name who was a timber merchant in Belfast until about 1829, when he sold the business as a going concern. He married 1st, 20 December 1813 at Dromore (Co. Down), Elizabeth (1787-1820), daughter of Robert Waddell of Islandderry, Dromore, and 2nd, 2 July 1827 at Upper Cumber (Co. Londonderry), Sarah (1796-1878), second daughter of Samuel Lyle of The Oaks (Co. Londonderry), and had issue:
(1.1) Thomas Batt (1816-97) (q.v.);
(1.2) Elizabeth Hannah Batt (c.1818-78), born about 1818; amateur watercolourist; married, 6 June 1846 at St Anne, Belfast (Co. Down), Caesar George Otway (1809-67), Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, son of Rev. Caesar Otway; died 24 December 1878.
He purchased Rathmullen House (Co. Donegal) with 6,000 acres in 1837.
He died at Rathmullen, 12 October 1857; his will was proved in Dublin in 1857. His first wife died in 1820. His widow died 27 March 1878.

Batt, Thomas (1816-97). Only son of Thomas Batt (c.1775-1857) and his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Robert Waddell of Islandderry (Co. Down), born 1816. Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge (matriculated 1834; BA 1838; MA 1841). JP and DL (from 1868) for Co. Donegal; High Sheriff of Co. Donegal, 1844-45. A member of the council of the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland, 1847-52. He married, 6 July 1852 at Hollywood (Co. Down), Charlotte (1825-1905), daughter of Ven. Edmund Dalrymple Hesketh Knox, archdeacon of Killaloe, and had issue:
(1) Agnes Charlotte Batt (1853-1938), born in Derry City, 10 June 1853; married, 23 August 1877 at Rathmullen, Lt. Archibald Hamilton Duthie RN (c.1843-83), third son of Rev. Archibald Hamilton Duthie, but had no issue; died 23 November 1938; 
(2) Col. Thomas Edmond Batt (1854-1908) (q.v.);
(3) Alfred Acheson Batt (1856-1916), born 15 May 1856; naval cadet, 1869; emigrated to Croydon, Queensland (Australia); died 12 November 1916 and was buried at South Brisbane Cemetery;
(4) Edmond Hesketh Batt (1857-82?), born 6 December 1857 and baptised at Rathmullen, 17 July 1858; joined civil service, 1875; said to have died unmarried, 1882;
(5) Arthur Robert Batt (1859-91), born 27 April 1859; miner in Queensland (Australia); died there, unmarried, 13 April 1891;
(6) Charles Lyons Batt (1860-1932) (q.v.);
(7) Gerard Otway Batt (1862-1944), born 28 February 1862; commercial clerk in London; married Anne Elizabeth [surname unknown] (b. 1860); died 23 February 1944; administration of goods granted 28 June 1944 (estate £5,447);
(8) Robert Devereux Batt (1863-1924), born 6 November 1863; emigrated to Australia; died unmarried at Croydon, Queensland (Australia), 31 March 1924;
(9) Octavius Batt (1865-1937), born 16 April 1865; emigrated to Australia before 1904; married, 1910, Violet Myra (1890-1949), daughter of William Thomas Robson, but had no issue; died 1 June 1937 at Wodonga, Victoria (Australia);
(10) Alice Elizabeth Batt (1866-1938), born 4 December 1866; co-heir to Rathmullan House on her brother's death in 1908; died unmarried, 2 October 1938; will proved at Dublin, 8 March 1939 (estate £554);
(11) Frederick Shelley Batt (1869-76), born 8 September 1869; died young, 16 January 1876;
(12) Mabel Mackenzie Batt (1871-1914), born 24 November and baptised at Bathwick (Som.), 27 December 1871; co-heir to Ruthmullan House on her brother's death in 1908; died unmarried, 10 September 1914; administration of her goods was granted 6 November 1914 (effects £5,629).
He inherited Rathmullen House from his father in 1857.
He died 19 July 1897. His widow died 31 January 1905.

Batt, Col. Thomas Edmond (1854-1908). Eldest son of Thomas Batt (1816-97) and his wife Charlotte, daughter of Ven. Edmund Hesketh Dalrymple Knox, archdeacon of Killaloe, born 14 October 1854. JP for Donegal. An officer in the Donegal Artillery (Capt., 1876; Maj.  1889; Lt-Col., 1895-1901; Hon. Col., 1897). He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Rathmullen House from his father in 1897, but sold the estate apart from the house and its immediate demesne in 1904.
He died 27 December 1908; administration of his goods was granted to his brother, 25 January 1909 (effects £166).

Batt, Charles Lyons (1860-1932). Fifth son of Thomas Batt (1816-97) and his wife Charlotte, daughter of Ven. Edmund Hesketh Dalrymple Knox, archdeacon of Killaloe, born 24 October 1860. Clerk of Rathmullen Petty Sessions; Secretary of the Killygarvan parochial council for more than 20 years; Treasurer and Secretary of Rathmullen races. He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Rathmullen House jointly with his sisters Alice and Mabel on the death of his elder brother in 1908.
He died of a heart attack, 19 January 1932; a reredos in Killygarvan parish church, Rathmullen, was dedicated to his memory in 1936.

Principal sources

Burke's Landed Gentry of Ireland, 1912, p. 33; T. Reeves-Smyth & P. Smith, 'An Early Eighteenth Century Garden Bosquet at Purdysburn, Co. Down', Northern Ireland Heritage Gardens Trust Occasional Paper, No 5, 2015;

Location of archives

No significant accumulation is known to survive.

Coat of arms

Argent, on a cross between four bats sable three escallops in pale or.

Can you help?

  • I am always interested to see additional images of the houses depicted in posts, especially early drawings, watercolours or photographs, if anyone has these. I would be particularly interest to see any view of Purdysburn before it was rebuilt by Hopper; or any view of Rathmullan before the alterations of c.1870.
  • I should be most grateful if anyone can provide photographs or portraits of people whose names appear in bold above.
  • Any additions or corrections to the text above will be gratefully received and incorporated. I am always particularly pleased to hear from descendants of the family who can supply information from their own research for inclusion.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 16 May 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Nick, My daughter is a 'Dublin' Batt, we are having trouble firmly establishing the connection between her Great [ x 4] Grandfather, the Rathgar Batts, and the Rathmullan/Purdysburn Batts, but thanks for this!


Please leave a comment if you have any additional information or corrections to offer, or if you are able to help with additional images of the people or buildings in this post.