The History of the Trust

Richard Jackson died at the age of sixty-five on June 10th, 1787, but his life is referred to as a short one. His portrait certainly shows him young looking, as he rather self-consciously holds his open Horace. He was liked by his tenants at one time over 750 in number of the Forkhill estate alone. Most of them were easy going enough to tolerate his somewhat strong, but certainly not bigoted views concerning the Protestant faith.

His grandfather was William Jackson of Jackson hall Coleraine whose great great granddaughter Anne was the wife of Nathaniel Alexander, Bishop of Meath who for some time leased the estate of Forkhill and whose son and grandson also leased the property. Between them they were responsible for the smooth running of the estate for nearly a hundred years to the benefit of the Charity to which it belonged.

When Richard Jackson died, he left his estate in trust for three lives, namely his wife’s, his sister and her daughter. After their deaths to “the Trustees of the charitable donations of Richard Jackson”, though a large bequest of money inaugurated the charitable trust on his death. His will at first appears clear and simple in its directions, nevertheless over the years a great deal had to be interpreted by legal luminaries, from the Lord High Chancellor downwards.

Richard Jackson was much concerned with his estate; the Manor of Forkhill (Forkill is now the proper spelling) as it is referred to in his will, which he had bought in 1749 when he was 27. According to the Trustees, it was a model property and more than once they called it “a thriving estate”. His residence was Forkill Lodge near the village and here also his widow lived and his sister Mrs. Barton and her daughter Mrs. Ogle, all lessees after his death.

Part of Forkill house must have been built before his death and it was here that the Alexander’s, father and son, lived till the twentieth century. Mrs. Barton and Mrs. Ogle carried on with great interest in the estate and the Trust, knowing that after the latter’s death the rent roll would be devoted to the Charity.

Richard Jackson’s epitaph on his grave at Forkill Church must be included in these notes. The monument on which it is inscribed having been erected by the parishioners of Forkill sometime after his death.

“Underneath this monument are interred the remains of Richard Jackson Esq., of Forkill Lodge, m 10 d Jun AD 1797 ann aet 65.

A firm friend to the Religious and civil constitution of his country, he exerted his most strenuous endeavours for its improvement by an almost constant residence on his estate, where by the steady practice of all the virtues that adorn the retired paths of private life, by piety and rectitude in his own conduct, by humanity and benevolence towards all, by a lenient indulgence towards his poorer tenants and by the example of extensive agriculture he used his utmost efforts to promote the temporal and eternal welfare of all who lived within the reach of his influence.

Nor did he confine his pious and charitable intentions to the short period of his own life, but by his extensive bequests he perpetuated and rendered permanent, schemes well calculated to promote the furtherance of piety and morality and to diffuse the light of the Gospel by the extension of pure Christianity.”

This sums up his life and aspirations and on his death the estate was extremely valuable to its owners and possibly prosperous for the tenants as well, so it was an important bequest. Alas, from our point of view after nearly 200 years, it is no longer a major concern, for several reasons; social conditions and legislation together with the debasement of the value of government securities have reduced the income of the Trustees to probably one tenth in real value of what it was originally, though the actual figures of the income are almost the same as they were then.

This diminution of the value of the income must be inevitable under the circumstances. The Founder though did not foresee that it would happen, as he left his property as a going concern in the best form possible in those days, landed property. And the history of landed property in Ireland being what it is, it is almost surprising that it lasted as well as it has. The estate was virtually intact by 1915 when the sale of it to the Irish Land Commission took place, though by then the actual rent collected had been considerably lessened by various compulsory and voluntary abatements, as well as by the depreciation in the value of money, which would have applied to any estate in Ireland especially one not actively worked by the owner.

On the sale, the money paid was of course invested in Government securities as it had to be by law, for trustees, and depreciation set in at an ever steeper rate. In the 1960’s the law was amended and the trustees were enabled to invest a proportion of the endowment in ordinary shares which it is hoped will eventually offset some of this.

On the death of Richard Jackson the executors found it necessary to incorporate the conditions of his Will in an act of Parliament, which was duly done and the appointed trustees met for the first time at Forkill Lodge on August 1st 1789 where they had a quiet meeting, receiving £3628-2-5 ½ d from the executors and arranging to lease the estate to Mrs. Barton. But they tendered their thanks to one of their number, the Rev. Edward Hudson, Rector of Forkill, “for his exertions as a magistrate in putting an end to some mischievous Disturbances on the Estate.”

Soon after this they made an abatement of their lessee of 40 guineas to indemnify the sub-tenants who had suffered in the late disturbances. Alas, two days prior to the February meeting of 1791 worse befell, when one of their newly appointed schoolmasters, Alexander Berkely, was attacked in his house by a gang of local “Defenders”, tortured and permanently injured by them, and his wife so brutally treated that she died soon afterwards. The Trustees resolved to suspend the operation of the Charity as they ‘found it impractical to protect their Protestant Schoolmasters in the execution of their duty.”

In the event they resumed by the following May, 1791, when they quietly proceeded to draw up the byelaws for the working of the Charity. But most of these byelaws appear somewhat irrelevant now. Later, Mr. Berkely was granted a pension for life from the friends of the Charity, of £40 per annum and his brother-in-law, Nathaniel Thompson, who was also assaulted, was given £20 per annum. Berkely emigrated to Quebec and later to the West Indies and received his pension till 1809, Nathaniel Thompson till 1844.

The leader of the “Defenders” was publicly hanged at Forkill. A proclamation issued by the Viceroy having led to his apprehension. Writing these notes in 1972, one is apt to ponder on the impact of Irish conditions on an organisation of this sort. But remarkably little mention is made in the deliberations of the Board of Trustees to the antics of their tenants or of their beneficiaries let alone the leaders in Irish affairs. Though in 1841, another of their schoolmasters, one John Gormley, was granted a year’s salary when he was given a passage by the Government to Quebec, after he had been a witness at Armagh Assizes in a political case and no doubt had been threatened in consequence.

There are of course many references to the distressful state of the country, with consequent difficulty in collecting the rent. The trustees were certainly kind landlords in that they agreed to diminutions of rents as far as they were able to, in view of their terms of reference.

One is tempted to reflect on the achievements of a Charity of this kind; is the Founder succeeding in his object and did he go about it in the best way?

He meant half the income to be devoted to furthering the education of the children of the tenants and to help apprentices in their careers and also to benefit certain unfortunates among them the “objects of charity” mentioned in the will. The rest to be expended in “the propagation of the Christian religion particularly in the East, by adding to the number of Danish or other Protestant missionaries.”

All these bequests, the Trustees are carefully carrying out: it was not foreseen that the depreciation of money would so diminish the real value of the grants.

By the middle of the twentieth century, the donations of schools are but a small proportion of the outgoings. And very different schools now exist compared to the estate run ones established so long ago.

“The decent provision to the honest old decayed tradesmen and farmers of Forkill” still continues (see 1994 minutes), but it must be said as above the value is greatly diminished. As is the annual donation of £1,000 for the propagation of the Gospel, though still £1,000, (see 1981 minutes) as when first instituted 150 years ago i.e. in 1830, when the estate came into the possession of the trustees.

The founder did not specify exactly how the gospel was to be propagated though he did say Protestant missions, and especially mentioned some Danish organisation of which he had heard good reports.

The Trustees at first remitted £1,000 per annum to the Bishop of Calcutta to establish missionaries and endow scholarships there. This continued for some time, but it seems that doubts arose as to how the large sums were being expended, and replies, if any, from Calcutta do not seem to have been satisfactory: for we find the Trustees in correspondence with the Bishop of Madras and various donations made in Southern India. Soon, however, the whole annual grant was paid to the S.P.G. and this has continued, to the present day.

One can get a view of the work of the Board by a rather superficial survey of the minutes as recorded by the secretaries. Never once has a quarterly meeting not been held and many special meetings were convened as well. Sometimes for many years at a time, attendance by the Trustees was poor and complaints of this were entered in the book, though Trustees have usually been conscientious in carrying out their duties.

In the first few years, much time is taken up with getting the estate leased, first to Mrs. Barton, then to her niece and on her death to the Bishop of Meath who was her executor and a kinsman and whose son and grandson continued at Forkill House.

Now and again, letters were sent to the Alexanders exhorting them to pay the rent promptly and fully. The lessee often replying that he had been unable to collect it from the sub-tenants. In the 1840’s abatements began to appear and these continued till the end.

By 1795, routine was beginning to be established. The Act of Parliament incorporating the Charity had to be paid for, it cost £1,106; there were protracted negotiations to get this reduced, with what result is not recorded, and compared to it, executor’s charges at £399 seem moderate. Richard Jackson had made a large cash provision for these expenses and the trustees had over £3,000 to begin operations as well as the annual income, though this did not come to them in full until the death of Mrs. Ogle niece of Richard Jackson in 1830.

1797 – The schools did not get off to an easy start. Apart from the outrage mentioned, two of the schoolmasters were fined, one of them £20 for misconduct and non-attendance. Others were dismissed.

1804 – “Resolved to have the Board room built”.

1805 – About 25 old men were “objects of charity”. A complaint was made against some of them alleging that they were not deserving, but on the members of the Board examining them it was found that they were “proper objects”!

More than once residents of Forkill took it upon themselves to question the work of the Trustees, though very politely, usually in the form of wordy “Memorials” drawn up by someone remarkably like the professional letter writer of India and hinting that the spirit of the Charity was not being strictly observed. But they were refuted and the Trustees were able to carry on in the way they had always gone, and as they have continued to this day.

Very early the capital was divided in the specified proportions, to support the three objects: the propagation of the Gospel in the East, the “Old Mans Fund” and the Education Fund. The trustees always consulted their lawyers who obtained counsels’ opinion sometimes on rather minor matters which one would have thought they could have decided for themselves, for these opinions cost a good deal and though couched in circumlocutory verbiage, usually came to the sensible and obvious conclusion.

The complications that built up from the way the Manor of Forkill was held and leased to the Bishop of Meath whose son paid rent to the Charity, were extreme. More complications arose as a consequence of the Tithe Act 1832, much too difficult to be unravelled from merely reading the proceedings of the Board, who one suspects did not understand them clearly themselves.