As the guy who is responsible for finding records which will be of interest to our members and putting them online, I confess I get to visit some fantastic archives and see many great historical manuscripts. A trip to Ireland last week however, introduced me to what I think might be the most unusual historical document I’ve ever come across, the fantastically-named ‘Lord Viscount Morpeth’s Testimonial Roll’.
In 1841, when he left his role as Chief Secretary for Ireland, the Yorkshire aristocrat George Howard (or Viscount Lord Morpeth as he was better known), was presented with a leaving card. Nothing unusual there – except this leaving card was in the form of a giant paper scroll over 400 metres in length, containing the names and addresses of an estimated 300,000 men from all over Ireland and from every level of Irish society!
Presented to him at a ceremony in Dublin, the roll was packed into its mahogany box and returned to his family home, Castle Howard
in North Yorkshire. It remained there in the archive until 2009 when it was sent to National University of Ireland at Maynooth
, to be conserved, studied and – crucially – unrolled.
For an English politician to be afforded such an honour in itself is remarkable enough, but for so many names to be collected in such a short time (it seems the entire endeavor was completed in around a month) is nothing short of amazing. A fitting testimonial to someone who must have been a remarkable man.
An intriguing significance also for us family historians: all the names seem to be male head of households. If the name estimate turns out to be accurate, the roll would seem to include a direct link with a substantial proportion of all the families in Ireland in 1841. Effectively, it could be one of the last national ‘roll calls’ before the terrible events of the Great Famine would change Ireland forever.
Many thanks to Dr Christopher Ridgeway the curator of the Castle Howard archive for arranging my visit, Terry Dooley, Pat Cosgrove and all at the Russell Library at Maynooth for a fascinating and educational afternoon.