Saturday, 1 November 2014

Northland House
Dungannon, Co. Tyrone

Uchter John Mark Knox, fifth Earl of Ranfurly, 1903 by Christian Wilhelm Allers, 1857-1915 Charcoal and watercolour, on sheet 700 x 550 mm
Accreditation- Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

The name of the man in the portrait is revered on the other side of the world in New Zealand but very little acknowledges his existence in Dungannon in Co. Tyrone in Northern Ireland, where his expansive ancestral home was once located.  While few could claim to have heard of Uchter John Mark Knox, fifth Earl of Ranfurly, anyone with a passing interest in ruby will be aware of the Ranfurly Shield that he donated in 1902, which is still New Zealand’s premier rugby trophy. The fifth Earl was the Governor of New Zealand in the early 1900s but in 1875 he had inherited the family estate in Dungannon, after the accidental death of his brother in a shooting accident. Today nothing remains of the substantial Northland House but a distinctive solitary gate lodge along the main road in Dungannon. The decline of the Ranfurly estate was as a result of the common problems that beset landed families in the early twentieth century, death and taxes.  In 1915, the fifth Earl lost his son and heir in the First World War and afterwards he was plagued by financial problems when meant he could no longer maintain Northland House. The artist, Christian Wilhelm Allers, who painted this homely portrait of the fifth Earl in New Zealand in 1903 also originated in Europe. He travelled to New Zealand to escape a scandalous series of events and had hoped to restart his career under a different name.

The Ranfurly crest is a falcon standing on a perch hence the reason for their appearance on the pillars on either side of the gate lodge. The main house was located some distance from the road and a lengthy drive lined with laurel which passed a lake as visitors made their approach to the main house.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland

The gate lodge of Northland House is all that survives today of the ancestral home of the Earls of Ranfurly in Dungannon.  The decorative falcons that once stood on either side of the gate lodge are now long gone rather like the former owners.
Accreditation- Photograph by Ellie Ross

The Earls of Ranfurly had a long association with the town of Dungannon in County Tyrone, beginning with the original house of the Knox family built in the seventeenth century. The estate had been in the procession of the family since 1692 when it was purchased by Thomas Knox, a Glasgow merchant who had settled in Belfast. The town and the surrounding estate had been sold by the third Earl of Donegal and in the same year as Thomas Knox purchased these lands, he was elected as a Member of Parliament for Newtownards in Co. Down. Three years later in 1695, Thomas changed his main place of residence from Belfast to Dungannon and afterwards represented the area in Parliament. Thomas’s first house in Dungannon was replaced by a farmhouse which stood in the demesne on the outskirts of the town. Northland House which was the third reincarnation of the home of the Knox’s which was built in the area and replaced the smaller residence which was then used to house their servants.  The family would also come to own a Dublin town house which also shared the same name as the Dungannon mansion. The Irish townhouse named Northland House was located at 19 Dawson St., Dublin.  In the following generations the family began to rise through the peerage which culminated in Thomas Knox IV being created Baron Ranfurly in 1826 and five years later was elevated to the Irish Earldom of Ranfurly. The Earldom of Ranfurly originated from the Irish peerage but the holder of the title could sit in the Home of Lords in England as Baron Ranfurly. The Ranfurly’s owned the greater part of the town of Dungannon in County Tyrone which was once located at the centre of the linen industry.  Thomas, the first Earl did not spend much time in Dungannon as he had a home in London and also spent a great deal of time in Paris. Despite not spending much time in Dungannon, upon his marriage in 1785 to Diana Jane Pery, an heiress from an aristocratic Limerick family, Thomas’s father decided to build Northland House.

The lengthy and imposing entrance front of Northland House, you will note that the entrance portico to the house shares a striking similarity with the surviving gate lodge.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland

The garden front of the house with its curvilinear roofed conservatory was likened by the local people in Dungannon to the Crystal Palace in London. In the foreground can be seen the tennis courts.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland

The ancestral home of the Earls of Ranfurly was set within 600 acres and was near the site of an earlier castle built by a chieftain named Donald O’Neill in the fourteenth century.  In 1799, it was recorded that Robert Woodgate, an architect, made an addition to the house of Thomas Knox and that it cost £4,000. It was said that this architect was possibly also responsible for the gate lodge that survives as a relic of the estate today. Northland House was recorded as under going further improvement between 1840 and 1846 and was then described as a three storey, irregular mansion with classical influences; the entrance front was described as large, austere and imposing. The garden front of the house had a lengthy colonnade of Ionic columns which had an orangery at one end. From this side of the house one of its most impressive features could be viewed, a conservatory with a curvilinear glass roof which was often likened by the locals to the Crystal Palace in London. The grounds of the house were extensive and the people of Dungannon were allowed to walk the outer park where the Earl allowed them to play cricket. The parkland around the house had lawn tennis courts and was large enough to accommodate a 18 hole golf course for the private use of the family. The grounds of the demesne were accessed by one of two sets of white stately gates, found on either side of the gate lodge which were flanked by cast iron falcons that formed part of the Ranfurly crest. The avenue was lined with beech trees and the drive that passed the lake in the grounds was lined with laurel.

The house contained a large collection of paintings which included works by Rembrandt, Titian and Van Dyck. A number of curiosities also existed in the house which included a clock that had a peculiar mechanical arrangement that enabled only those acquainted with its secret to be able to calculate the correct time. The clock was made this way so that the visitors to the house would have no reminder of the time and therefore would possibly stay longer to enjoy the hospitality of the family. The house contained the original Prayer Book and Bible of the Irish House of Commons which had been abolished with the Act of Union and were presented to William Knox, the brother of the first Earl of Ranfurly in 1791. A visitor to the house in 1910 gave an interesting description of the now lost interiors of Northland House. Off the hall in the centre of the house was a wide stone staircase with iron railings. The flooring in this area was black and white marble floor tiles and weary guests said that ‘the newcomer has to learn by experience that the marble affords treacherous footing’. The floor was covered in places with the skins of lion, zebra, bear and tiger which had been shot by family members including the fifth Earl. The walls of the hall were decorated with tapestries and an oak statue of Charity was to be found at the foot of the grand staircase.  Off the hall was located the sitting room of the fifth Earl’s wife which contained many photographs of her children together with her personal books and ornaments. Many of the reception rooms were filled with Chelsea, Mandarin, Worcester and Berlin china which filled large glass display cases. On the first floor there was a gallery where the family’s art collection was displayed, off which most of the main family and guest bedrooms were located. The walls were so thick in this part of the house that the entrances to most rooms consisted of two doors which acted like a lobby to each room.

Governor of New Zealand, Lord Ranfurly, circa 1900, wearing ceremonial uniform
Accreditation- Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

The fifth Earl of Ranfurly, Uchter John Mark Knox and was born in the Channel Islands in August 1856. He was the second son of the third Earl, he had not received the name Thomas which was a family tradition for the elder son and the holder of the title to be named. His father was Thomas Knox, third Earl of Ranfurly who had died in 1858 making his elder son the fourth Earl as a young child. The family also were descendants of the seventieth century Quaker, William Penn who was the founder of Pennsylvania in the United States. Prior to the auction of the contents of Northland House there had been numerous books associated with William Penn in the library including one detailing his visits to Holland and Germany in 1677. The fifth Earl began his maritime education on H.M.S. Britannia and afterwards attended Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge where he matriculated but did not graduate. Lord Ranfurly succeeded his brother to the estate in Dungannon and the Earldom in 1875 after he died on a shooting expedition in Abyssinia. At this time the Ranfurly estate extended to 9,647 acres in Tyrone and 506 acres in Fermanagh which brought in an income of £11,237 a year. Lord Ranfurly was a keen yachtsman and it was intended that he should adopt the Navy as a career but an illness as a child affected his health which necessitated that he spent time in Australia. He married Constance Elizabeth Caulfeild in 1880 and the new Countess of Ranfurly was the only child of the seventh Viscount Charlemont of Drumcairne, Stewartstown Co. Tyrone. In 1880 their first child Lady Annette Agnes was born but she died in childhood in 1886. In 1882, the firth Earl’s heir was born, and in keeping with family tradition, was named Thomas. Two further daughters followed, Lady Constance born in 1885 and Lady Eileen in 1891.

Governor of New Zealand, the fifth Earl of Ranfurly, seated at a desk in Government House, Auckland, circa 1900
Accreditation- Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

In March 1897, the fifth Earl was appointed the Governor of New Zealand succeeding the Earl of Glasgow. It was said that he had intended to resign the post as a result of the salary. Not being a man of substantial means he didn’t believe he had adequate funds to travel and move his family to the other side of the world. Three months later, The Earl, his wife and their young family travelled to New Zealand from Europe. Their party which would have included servants and other aides numbered thirty and they carried over sixty tons of baggage. They stopped over in Montreal from which they travelled to Vancouver, sailed to Sydney and then finally to Wellington. The family pet Hamish, a Skye terrier, also accompanied the family to their new home however they had to leave their beloved horses in Dungannon. The fifth Earl had been a Lord in Waiting to Queen Victoria between 1895 and 1897 which was followed by the lengthy term as the Governor and Commander-in-Chief of New Zealand 1897-1904. Constance was a great support to her husband’s time in New Zealand and she entertained the future King George and Queen Mary during their trip there in 1901. 

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York and their entourage, with Lord and Lady Ranfurly and their party, photographed at Te Koraha, Christchurch, by an unknown photographer, during the Royal Visit of 1901. Identified people are: Commander Godfrey-Faussett (left), Sir Charles Cust (2d from left), Hon Charles Hill-Trevor (4th from left, rear), Duchess of Cornwall and York (11th from left), Lady Ranfurly (12th from left), Duke of Cornwall and York (13th from left), Lord Ranfurly (14th from left, front), Duke of Roxburgh (15th from left, rear), Prince Alexander of Teck (16th from left), Lord Wenlock (19th from left, seated), Lady Mary Lyon (21st from left, seated), Captain Dudley Alexander (extreme right)
Accreditation- Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

As a result of the success of this visit the fifth Earl was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. During his time in New Zealand, the fifth Earl toured the country becoming involved in local affairs and also using the time to collect specimens of rare birds for the British Museum. Lady Ranfurly spent her time, when not engaged on official duties, sketching and painting the landscape of New Zealand and exhibited these art works at the Wellington Art Exhibition in 1897. During his tenure as Governor, the fifth Earl was remembered as a man who respected his role representing the Queen on the other side of the world. At the turn of the century while the Earl was still posted in Auckland, back in Dungannon a skeleton staff of five was maintained to look after the house and grounds in 1901. Also in 1901 the Earl announced that he would present a cup to the New Zealand Rugby Football Union to be used as a prize in competition. The cup when it arrived was found to be a shield and is still a hotly contested trophy today which still bears the name of Ranfurly. In 1903, the fifth Earl sponsored an appeal to establish a memorial in honour of servicemen who had died during the South African War. The Earl opened a veterans home as he had said that prior to this  the “system of herding waifs and strays of humanity is not a fitting or honourable thing.”

View of Government House, Wellington, looking south, taken between 1897 and 1903. During the tenure of the governorship, the fifth Earl and his family would have lived here. This house was built in 1868 and was a large timber mansion in the Italian style. It became the Parliamentary debating chamber after the General Assembly was destroyed in a fire in 1907. A new Governor’s residence was built in 1908 and this house was demolished in 1969. 
Accreditation- Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

In 1903,  the artist Christian Wilhelm Allers completed the charcoal and watercolour half-length portrait of the Earl seated in a leather armchair reading. Allers was born in Hamburg in 1857 and worked as a lithographer in Germany until 1880. In the 1880’s he published a number of collections of prints which became a commercial success. With the revenues from these publications he was able to purchase a villa in Capri in the 1890s where he invited young men to model for him. However this villa became a hot bed of scandal and in 1902 Allers left to travel the world until his notoriety died down.  Another reason for his hasty departure was that a four and half year prison sentence was about to be pronounced upon him. It was while he travelled the world painting wealthy patrons that he came to be in New Zealand in 1903. Allers captured the likeness of the Earl together with a companion portrait of Major Alexander, the private secretary and aide de camp of the Earl. Allers usually completed the portraits within three sessions each lasting about an hour and works cost between 7 and 10 pounds.  During this time the Allers now decided to use the pseudonym W. Anderson to distance himself from his name which had been associated with the scandalous stories at his villa. At this time in New Zealand the Earl was proving very popular with the people of his adopted homeland and at their request; his term was extended to 1904.  After his return from New Zealand to Northern Ireland in September 1904, the fifth Earl was made an Irish Privy Councillor in July 1905.

Lord Ranfurly, his family and staff, at Government House, Auckland, photographed in 1903 on the front steps. Top row (from left); Captain Hugh Boscawen, Hon Charles Hill-Trevor, Hon H C Butler, Lord Northland (the son and heir of the Fifth Earl). Front row (from left); "Shot" (dog), the fifth Earl of Ranfurly and his wife The Countess of Ranfurly and Jock (dog).
Accreditation- Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

The Ranfurlys upon their return to Dungannon had hoped to reside for the remainder of their lives in Northland House. The Earl was said to be an uncompromising Unionist and was involved in a campaign against Home Rule. As a result Northland House was the setting for a number of notable Unionist demonstrations and was frequently visited by party leaders. Despite the issues with Home Rule, the Earl was said to popular with people of all classes and different political backgrounds. He had great interest in the welfare of those in Dungannon and always had a sympathetic attitude towards his tenants. He had tried to open a cold mine in the area to provide employment but this venture failed as the mine was prone to flooding. In 1908 the Earl travelled to Quebec but was taken ill upon his return, an operation was necessary and the Earl spent a number of months recuperating. The Earl’s retirement was not to be a quite one when in 1909, his son was named in a divorce case involving John Alexander Stirling, a British man and his American wife, a former showgirl. The case was a great scandal and the entire country followed the proceedings in the press with great interest. The court room was packed each day especially on the occasion when Mrs Stirling’s letters to Viscount Northland were read into evidence. Eventually Stirling was granted his divorce and custody of their daughter however damage had been done to the reputation of the fifth Earl’s son. The Ranfurly finances were obviously coming under stain at this time, as in October 1909, an advertisement was placed in the press. Here the fifth Earl stated that he intended to sell by auction in sixty lots, the ground rents, houses and town markets of the town of Dungannon and other nearby town lands.

The Ranfurly Shield presented by the fifth Earl in 1902
Accreditation- Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

In 1911, the Earl aged 54, his wife aged 52 are living in Northland House which extends to seventy-five rooms. They have a household staff of eleven which includes a butler, footman, ladies maid and chauffeur. In 1915, the Earl and his wife were to receive a terrible blow when their son and heir of the Ranfurly estate was killed in action from wounds received at La Basse in the First World War. The Earl was inconsolable when the news reached Northland House. He had heard from his son a few days previous stating that he was quite well and that he would soon return from the front for a short visit to London see his family and friends. The whole town of Dungannon was plunged into mourning and the church bells in the town tolled during the day. At the outbreak of the war, Thomas had joined the Second Battalion of the Coldstream Guards as he had fought previously with them in the Boer War in 1902. He came of age in New Zealand, the event being celebrated by a ball at Government House in Wellington. In 1912 he married Miss Hilda Cooper and when they returned to Dungannon the town was decorated with bunting and coloured lamps. Their approach was marked by cannon fire and bonfires were lit at each cross road. The fifth Earl had hoped that his son’s marriage to a wealthy heiress would secure the family in Dungannon for another generation. He was to be sorely disappointed, as a result of his son’s early death the effects of the recent marriage settlement the fifth Earl had made became evident. It was his son’s wife who inherited the bulk of his estate and the family silver. The fifth Earl and his wife moved in Royal circles and received a telegram from the King and Queen expressing their sympathies. The heir to the Earldom was Thomas Daniel Knox now styled Viscount Northland who was born in May 1913; the grandson of the fifth Earl. It was said in the press at the time, that as a result of the number of heirs that had been lost in the war that the House of Lords had now become a house of mourning as so many of its members had suffered a bereavement.  During the war, the fifth Earl was a director of the Ambulance Department of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem for which he made was made a Knight of Justice. In 1919 the French Government also recognised the fifth Earl’s efforts and made him an Officer of Legion of Honour for his services during the First World War. The fifth Earl became a Privy Counsellor for Northern Ireland in the 1920s and also served as a Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for Tyrone.

In March 1927, the fifth Earl made the hard decision to dispose of Northland House. Since the war, he and his wife Lady Ranfurly had done everything in their power to retain the estate for their grandson until he came of age, but post-war taxation had been too crushing. In May of that year the contents of the house were advertised for auction together with 600 acres of land including the cottages and gate lodge.  In June 1927 the contents of the house were sold and Northland House received a great influx of visitors for the final time. The demesne lands surrounding the old mansion house were offered for sale in March 1929 by auction but despite a large attendance the bidding only reached £4,000 which was considered insufficient and was withdrawn. In 1931 at Dungannon Rural Council meeting it was proposed to acquire Northland House for conversion into a district hospital. The council would not commit to the project and the house was purchased, stripped of valuable materials and demolished . After the eventual sale of Northland House in the late 1920s, the fifth Earl and his wife resided in London until their deaths the following decade. In October 1933 the Earl of Ranfurly died, a memorial service was held in St. Anne’s Church Dungannon in keeping with tradition, it was also held at the same time as his burial service in Bath. The Earl died at his English home, his wife Lady Ranfurly having died in June the previous year. His grandson Viscount Northland succeeded to the title but received very little inheritance besides the privilege to pay the pension of the retired butler from the family’s ancestral home in Dungannon. Today all that indicates that the vast Northland House once existed is its gate lodge, which now marks the entrance to the modern building of the Royal School which now occupies the site. As a fitting tribute to the fifth Earl, in 2009, his overgrown and dilapidated grave in Bath in England has been restored. This work was carried out and was funded by the Auckland Returned Services Association as a fitting tribute to the Ranfurly name which is still associated with the game of rugby in New Zealand over a century later.

If you enjoyed this you will find more stories about portraits associated with Irish Country Houses in my new book 'Irish Country Houses - Portraits & Painters' . You can purchase a copy by going to the following link

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