The Sinclairs of Hopefield House

John Sinclair, of Hopefield House, b. 1809, one of two brothers who did more during their lives than any others, that could be named, to raise the standard of giving in the Irish Presbyterian Church, proposed that instead of £5,000, they should raise £25,000, promising that in case his suggestion was adopted he and his brother (the late Mr Thomas Sinclair of Hopefield House) would subscribe £1,000. The proposition was startling. But it was accepted, supported as it was by such an offer.
Mr John Sinclair died in 1856, at the early age of forty seven. The Presbyterian Church at Conlig was built almost entirely at his expense, and after his death the beautiful Sinclair Seamen’s Church in Belfast was erected as a memorial of him. One of his sons, William P. Sinclair, sat in the House of Commons as a representative of Antrim, his native county, in 1885, and in 1886 was elected Member of Parliament for the Falkirk Burghs. Mr Thomas Sinclair died in London in 1867. It may safely be said that the Irish Presbyterian Church has never had a son whose name is more imperishably interwoven with her history. His givings to the cause of Christ were incessant, and his labours, as a Sabbath School teacher and superintendent, as a ruling elder, on committees of the Church, and in many other spheres, were unwearied. Duncairn Church (with its manse and schoolhouse) owes its origin to him, and much more than its origin. In his son and namesake the virtues of the father are well continued into a second generation.

From History of the Irish Presbyterian Church, by Rev. T. Hamilton (Chapter XX: The Last Thirty Years), cited in The Sinclaire Family of Belfast, N. Ireland and their Descendants 1660-1964, by Mrs St. Claire Lappe Daub (USA), p.80-81.

Notice of dissolution of Partnership between the undersigned Thomas Sinclair, Eliza Sinclair, William P. Sinclair, Thomas Sinclair the younger, John Sinclair, Thomas McElderly Sinclair, John Morrison Sinclair at 43 Exchange Place West Seventeenth St., New York, has been dissolved by mutual consent Augut 1, 1866. Business to be continued by said John Sinclair and Thomas McElderly Sinclair under the name of Sinclair & Co.

From Blackwood Notes, cited as above, p.80.

Thomas Sinclair was born on 23 September 1838. He was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen’s College, Belfast. Rather than follow an academic career, he joined the family business, J. & T. Sinclair, which had been founded by his father and uncle John. They had been provender merchants in Tomb Street. The company was engaged in worldwide trading and were probably the largest shipowners in Belfast at the time. In later years, they built up a considerable fleet of vessels of more than 1000 tons register. On the death of his father in 1867, Thomas became head of the firm until his own death in 1914.

Thomas introduced golf from Scotland into Ulster in 1881 and was really the founder of the Royal Belfast Golf Club, but he is best remembered for his contribution to Ulster Presbyterianism and to Ulster Unionism.

He was the leading layman in the Presbyterian Church. The family contributed much of the cost of Duncairn Presbyterian Church, and the Sinclair Seamen’s Church was a memorial to his uncle John. Thomas was also a strong supporter of foreign and home missions, especially the Belfast Town Mission (later the Ciy Mission), and he became its president in 1893.

In politics, he was one of the leaders of Ulster Liberalism and a founder of the Ulster Reform Club in Belfast. However, like most Liberals, he was a committed unionist. When the Liberals divided over Home Rule he became the first president of the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association. He was chairman of the committee which organised the Presbyterian Anti-Home Rule Convention on 1 February 1912. Later that year, in May, he presented the case against Home Rule to Scottish Presbyterians in the Synod Hall in Edinburgh.

Thomas was a prolific writer on behalf of the Unionist cause and a particularly fine example of his work was an essay entitled ‘The Position of Ulster’ which appeared in Home Rule – The Case for the Union, a volume of essays published in 1912. In it, he said: ‘The Ulster Scot is not in Ireland today upon the conditions of an ordinary immigrant. His forefathers were ‘planted’ in Ulster in the troublous times of the seventeenth century… Large numbers of settlers were brought over to Ulster, many of them English, but the majority Scotch.’

In due course, he penned the Ulster Covenant and at the first pre-covenant rally in Enniskillen he explained the document he had drafted. By this time he was an elderly man, but he attended the eve-of-covenant rally in the Ulster Hall and the following day he signed the Covenant he had penned.

Sinclair died at his home, Hopefield House, on 14 February 1914, as the crisis of the Third Home Rule Bill reached a crescendo. The funeral was on the following Tuesday and men from the four Belfast battalions of the Ulster Volunteer Force accompanied the coffin as it made its way along the Antrim Road, and headed towards the City Cemetery. A memorial window was unveiled in Church House, the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church, on 8 June 1915, and the Sinclair Memorial Hall at Duncairn Presbyterian Church was opened on 10 September 1915.

From information kindly provided by Nelson McCausland MLA (Democratic Unionist Party – Constituency: North Belfast), currently (2011) Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure in the Northern Ireland Executive.


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Descendant table

John Sinclair of Hopefield House, Belfast
m. unknown wife
Thomas Sinclair (London)
m. Sara Archer of Rockshill, Hillsborough
Rt. Hon. Thomas Sinclair, PC, DL
m. 1st 1876, Mary Duffin (-1879)
m. 2nd 1882, Elizabeth Lecky Richardson, widow of John M. Sinclair
Eldest daughter m. 1906 USA, Cricton
Elizabeth Cricton m. 1908 Captain M. Carbery
Sir Kenneth Duncan Lecky Sinclair, DL, Chairman of Belfast Harbour Commissioners 1963,
m. 1914, Elleanor Laura Clark
Millicent Sinclair m. Knox Ingram
One son and one daughter
Thomas Roland Lecky Sinclair (-1991)
m. 1938 Jean Ann Dorothy Coates
Two sons and one daughter
John Sinclair (1809-1856)
m. unknown wife
William Pirrie Sinclair (1837-1900), MP, Co. Antrim 1885; MP, Falkirk Burghs, 1886-1892
Thomas McElderry Sinclair of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA (1842-1881)
m. Caroline Soutter — (1848-)
Thomas Sinclair, Jr.

Thomas Sinclair of Hopefield House.

The Sinclair Seamen’s Church. With thanks to John Hamilton.

Hopefield House after the Rt. Hon. Thomas Sinclair and his family had moved out. In September 1925 it was the scene of a tragedy when three of its twenty tenants died of gas poisoning. Courtesy of the Glenravel Local History Project.