Bristow, Reverend William. 1772 - 1808
Sovereign of Belfast 1786-1788, 1790-1796 & 1798. “As a Clergyman, he was orthodox without bigotry, and zealous without superstition. Devoted to the established religion, of which he was a shining ornament, his liberal and enlightened mind led him to entertain sentiments of Christian moderation and respect towards those who dissented from it ; and to follow the apostolic precept of living peaceably with all men.” [Belfast News Letter 30th December 1808].
He presented a pulpit to the first Roman Catholic chapel to open in Belfast, in 1784. He is said to have preached the last sermon in the old church in High Street and the first sermon in the new church in Donegall Street.
Born in 1735, he died in office on 22nd December 1808, in his 73rd year.
The following extract from “Belfast Sixty Years Ago” by “an Octogenarian” was published in the Belfast Telegraph in 1938.
“His [Bristow’s] house stood at the corner of Talbot Street and overlooked Saint Anne’s churchyard. He had serious duties to discharge in the troubled times but he was a man of great energy and prudence and was generally esteemed. When the Royal Irish Artillery, under the command of Colonel Barber, came to Belfast there was no accommodation for the officers and men and temporary sheds were erected for them in the churchyard. Here they were daily exercised and the manoeuvres of the men were watched with interest from the lobby window by the vicar’s tall and handsome daughters.
“The officers were not long in making their acquaintance and one of them, Captain Coulson, carried off the first prize. His son was for a considerable time resident magistrate in Belfast. The Misses Bristow were by no means prudish. When the drill of the men was over they had no hesitation in opening the window and escaping into the churchyard, when they joined the officers for a promenade. The military, however, were not the sole visitors for the curate of Saint Anne’s married the second Miss Bristow and the Reverend Mr Lyons obtained the hand of the youngest.”
Commenting on the article, John J Marshall points out that Bristow had his opponents who held advanced republican opinions and did not look upon this active member of the ruling party in so favourable a light:-
“The ‘Union Star’ offers to justice [Bristow, as] one of the detestable traitors.
“Perhaps some arm, more lucky than the rest,
May reach his heart and free the land from bondage!”
“William Bristow, Sovereign of Belfast, by trade a minister of the Church of England. The infernal Mountebank unites the cruelty of an inquisitor to all the chicanery of an vicious priest.” (Quoted – Madden’s History of Irish Periodical Literature, vol. i, p 195).
According to Dr Malcolm’s “History of the General Hospital” (Belfast), 1850, there was “no man more justly merited the character of an intelligent, active and upright magistrate and his amiable qualities and rare endowments made him the delight of all who were privileged to know him. On the day of his death all the public marks of the deepest regret were exhibited and his funeral procession was the most solemn and imposing spectacle which had been ever witnessed”.