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Insolvent and Bankrupt: A Case Study: Samuel Mitchell, Killymallaght Townland, Clondermot Parish, Co. Londonderry

How Bankruptcy Records can be used Successfully in Family History
Compiled and Submitted by
David Mitchell
Cape Town, South Africa
Member of the Ulster Genealogical & Historical Guild (Ulster Historical Foundation)

Many of us are most indebted to Len Swindley and his enterprising researches into insolvents and bankrupts, also to the way these notices have been posted and shared on our County Tyrone Ireland Genealogy website.i

As Len has explained:ii++

  • The court records of bankrupts and the outcomes of their petitions have not survived; all were destroyed in the firing of the Four Courts and the Public Record Office in Dublin in 1922.

  • Those records of bankrupts that have survived were published in newspapers and journals, not only in Dublin but in newspapers across Ireland.

  • These newspaper notices are important as they place individual bankrupts in a specific location and indicate also their occupation. Such folk rarely appear in the tithe applotment books, although their fathers and siblings may.

Also, times were tough. Leniency was not favoured. Bankrupts were detained in a Debtors’ Gaol – say at Omagh or Londonderry – until outstanding debts had been cleared to the satisfaction of creditors.

It was Len who first drew my attention to these records. He had been looking at the “Dublin Gazette” which he described as “the official publication of the British Administration in Ireland and, as bankruptcy was a criminal offence in those times, it was of importance to circulate the intentions of insolvent debtors (held in Debtors' Prisons across Ireland) applying for relief and freedom. The former creditors then had just a few days to lodge any objections.” iii

By way of example, “The Dublin Evening Mail” of Wednesday March 12, 1862 listed petitions that were to be heard regarding Bankrupts and Insolvents:iv

The same announcement appeared in “The Belfast Morning News” on both Friday March 14 and Saturday March 15, 1862:


Among those listed, for the hearing at Londonderry on Monday 31st March, 1862, was the petition of “Samuel Mitchell, late of Killymallaght, in the county of Londonderry, farmer”.

As Len advised, referring to the comment "late of Killymallaght", this meant “recently”, also that the fellow was very much alive, this wasn’t an obituary notice – “you can safely assume that this means ‘at present incarcerated in Londonderry Debtors Prison’ ”.v   Times were tough back then.

Killymallaght is a townland of 571 acres in Glendermott parish of co. Londonderry, once described as a place “where Mitchells and McKinlays were as thick as bees”.vi Killymallaght Hill is right on the border with co. Tyrone, and Killymallaght folk (the Mitchells included) typically attended either the 1st or 2nd Donagheady Presbyterian churches where they are recorded in the registers.vii

We can establish who this Samuel Mitchell was. In the 1831 Census (which has survived for Glendermott Parish), he is one of the sons in the household of Robert Mitchell, listed (as “Robt Mitchel”) at house no. 19, in Killymallaght, with 5 males and 1 female, also 2 servants, all Presbyterian.viii For the First Griffiths Valuation, conducted (at Killymallaght) on or about 19 June 1832, Robert Mitchell had a house and offices with an assessed value of £2. 8s, marginally the highest of the 5 valuation-recorded houses in the townland.ix On 22 June 1848, Samuel Mitchell of Killymalagh, son of Robert Mitchell, farmer, was married by the Rev. Henry Carson, in the 2nd Glendermott Presbyterian Church, to Margaret Smiley, daughter of James Smiley of Kittybane x – probably in the presence of his youngest brother (as a witness), also Robert Mitchell (who as Rev. Robert Mitchell was later the minister at Leckpatrick Presbyterian Church, co. Tyrone, 1882 to 1900).xi It is likely that their mother was Mattie (Martha) McKinlay.xii

A cottage in Glendermott parish, near Killymallaght, sketched by one of the valuators, ca. 19 June 1832
(Valuators Notebook, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, PRONI Ref. VAL 1B 549A)

The first insolvency hearing, at Londonderry on Monday 31st March 1862, was followed by a second – to be held this time at Newtownlimavady on June 26th 1862.

This hearing was advertised widely, the same insertion appearing in “The Freeman’s Journal” (a Dublin paper) on Wednesday June 11, 1862, in the “the Cork Daily Reporter” and “The Belfast Newsletter” of June 12, 1862, and also in “The Belfast Morning News” of Friday June 13 and Saturday June 14 1862:

We are indeed fortunate – further information as to what was happening can be gleaned from the “Derry Journal” of Wednesday June 18, 1862 ….

George Walters, an auctioneer in Londonderry, would be handling the sale, “at Killymallach (i.e. Killymallaght), by Order of the Official Assignee of the Stock, Growing Crop, and Implements of S. Mitchell, an Insolvent.” We trust this sale succeeded in satisfying creditors and that the poor fellow was reunited with his family, although I suspect he may well have been released from gaol at an earlier date so that he could prepare his farming stuff for the insolvency sale.

Samuel Mitchell is listed in the Griffith’s Valuation of 1858 as holding 10 acres and a house at Killymallaght, also 15 acres and a share of “mountain” in the adjacent townland of Tirkeeveny (which abuts the townland of Cullion in co. Tyrone).xiii His father Robert Mitchell is also listed. His father died sometime before 1866 when the Valuation Revision Lists show Samuel as taking over his father’s lands, in both townlands, also that a cousin Mary Chambers, her husband Alexander Cunningham and their young family moved into the house that Samuel had previously occupied.xiv

Samuel was still living at Killymallaght as per the 1901 Census.xv An obituary notice appeared for him in “The Derry Journal” of June 8, 1903.

DEATHS ….. – June 4, at his residence, Killymallaught, Samuel Mitchell, aged 79 years.”

While the story of Samuel’s later life and family is beyond the scope of this case study, we can all share in the celebration of the building of a new barn by or for this rehabilitated insolvent, for “The Derry Journal” of Wednesday 13 January 1869 contained the following report:xvi

KILLYMALLAGHT SUBSCRIPTION BALL.—This ball, which was held on Wednesday evening, the 6th inst., was a grand success. It was held in those new buildings lately erected by Mr. Samuel Mitchell, which were beautifully fitted up for the occasion. The stewards were Messrs. Lowry, Mitchell, M'Dermott, Cunningham, and Adair, who have every reason to be proud of their arrangements, which were well carried out. The music, which was rendered by an amateur band, under the able leadership of Mr. David Mulberry, was remarkably well performed, and I think Mr. Mulberry ought to be highly flattered by the progress his amateurs have made of late. The dancing was kept up with great spirit during the night. The dances consisted principally of quadrilles, polkas, schottisches, lancers, and a few country reels and jigs, which took remarkably well. During the intervals of dancing the company was enlivened with an occasional song, sung with that spirit which Irishmen alone can put into their songs; and amongst those who contributed largely to this part of the evening’s enjoyment I might mention Mr. R. Cunningham, Mr. J. Lowry, Mr. Jos. M'Dermott, and Mr. Thos. Mitchell, all of whom were highly encored. The party, which consisted of about three hundred, separated about six o’clock the following morning, highly pleased with the night’s enjoyment.— Correspondent.

The abovementioned Mr Thomas Mitchell of Killymallaght who was one of the stewards on this occasion and who could apparently “sing like an Irishman” was a relative of Samuel’s, and also my own great-grandfather. Recently, when Thomas’s granddaughter, Mrs Georgina Harwood of Cape Town, South Africa (and eldest daughter of Dr J. A. Mitchell of Little Drumenny, co. Tyrone)xvii, celebrated her 103rd birthday, we chided her for “letting family standards slip” and “What would your grandfather say?” – because, quite clearly, a proper family party required upwards of 300 people, who were singing, dancing and cavorting until dawn, and in a way that made the local newspaper!

i# See further at For maintaining this website, we are indebted also to Jim McKane, South Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, webmaster.

ii# Len Swindley’s lucid and informed explanation is quoted verbatim. See Co. Tyrone list email, L. Swindley, Saturday 24 March 2018 21:14:03 -0700, archived at

iii# Personal email from Len Swindley, Australia, to the author, David Mitchell, Cape Town, South Africa, September 2004.

iv# Images available online courtesy the British Newspaper Archive (in partnership with the British Library). All newspaper images contained in this article are available from the British Newspaper Archive, at or alternatively from (see Findmypast’s “Irish newspaper collection”).

v# Personal email from Len Swindley, Australia, to David Mitchell, Cape Town, South Africa, September 2004.

vi# Article “When the shutters were open” (a story about the Killymallaugh Schoolhouse), by Martha Y. Salyer (granddaughter of James Mitchell of Killymallaght, co. Londonderry), first published in 1922 in the “Los Angeles School Journal”, Volume 6, Part 1. Re-published in “Magheramason 1878–1978”, Centenary booklet of the Magheramason Presbyterian Church, co. Londonderry (copy kindly given to the author by Samuel and Evelyn Elder, Killymallaght). A transcribed copy can be accessed here

vii# The Communicants Roll Book and Seat Stipends Receipt Books for the 2nd Donagheady Presbyterian Church, covering the years 1855–1856, list (for example) three Mitchell families, two who lived in co. Tyrone and one in co. Londonderry – James Mitchell at Killymallaght, David Mitchell (later his widow Eliza) at Drumgarty (Drumgauty), and William Mitchell at Cullion (originals inspected by the author at the Donagheady Manse, August 1982, per kind favour of Rev. William Chestnutt). In 1858 and 1861, this same James Mitchell’s two daughters were married in 1st Glendermott Presbyterian Church, and although they were members of the 2nd Donagheady congregation, both he and William Mitchell of Cullion lie buried in Old Glendermott Cemetery. Church attendance for baptisms, marriages and burials did not follow strict county or parish boundaries!

viii# See The National Archives of Ireland, – actual census image now available online at

ix# See Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), Ref. VAL 1B 549A. This study also confirms the size of the townland. This “First” or “1830 Valuation” conducted by Richard Griffith was primarily a valuation of land – houses valued at less than £3 were to be excluded. This amount was later increased to £5 and the valuation field books were altered accordingly (ca. 16 October 1836), with erasures and red lines. Fortunately information that was already recorded is still legible. The other houses listed in Killymallaght were occupied by James McKinley (£2. 4s), Robert McKinlay (£2. 6s), James Mitchell (£2. 2s) and Robert Chambers (£2. 3s). Robert Chambers and his wife Jane Mitchell were the parents of Mary Chambers, wife of Alexander Cunningham, mentioned later in this article. Unravelling and demonstrating the various Mitchell and McKinlay families at Killymallaght and their relationships falls outside the scope of this article – in 1831, per the Census, 8 out of 31 houses in Killymallaght were occupied by Mitchell householders, 4 by McKinlays, several more in the surrounding townlands.

x# Original certificate held by author, as obtained from the General Register Office, Northern Ireland, searchable online at, entry ref. M/1848/X1/2649/1/9

xi# “History of Leckpatrick Parish 1836-1974, pages 8-11 (published in 1974 by the Church Committee, Leckpatrick Presbyterian Church, co. Tyrone, Ireland). Information confirmed by Ms Valerie Adams, Librarian, Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland, Belfast BT7 1LN, Northern Ireland, and verified against Leckpatrick Presbyterian Church Vestry Minutes (microfilm copy held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland). The Leckpatrick meeting house is located in the village (and townland) of Artigarvan and formed part of the Glendermott Presbytery.

xii# Information deduced from correspondence from Mrs Margaret Long Gilfillan, daughter of James Mitchell of Killymallaght, writing ca. 1930 to Mitchell relatives in Pugwash, Middleboro and surrounds, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia (information files held by the Cumberland County Genealogical Society, Amherst, NS). Margaret Gilfillan died 1 May 1938 – see i.a. PRONI Wills Calendars, searchable online at

xiii# Griffith’s Valuation records are now searchable online at Original valuation books and Valuation Revision Lists are accessible at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) – these are also searchable online (with images) at

xiv# See the Valuation Revision Lists, PRONI, as referenced above. See also Ulster Historical Foundation Research Paper, UGHG 4343, dd. August 1982 (privately commissioned by the author). For the story of the Cunningham family, see especially “Camrose Roots and Shoots” (Newsletter of the Camrose-Alberta Genealogical Society), Vol. 1, No. 1, 2004, article entitled “Finding Killymallagh”, by (Prof.) Jack and Sheila Cunningham – this article is online at

xv# Samuel Mitchell is listed in the 1901 Census for Ireland as resident in house no. 8 in Kellymallagh, Glendermot parish, co. Londonderry. This census is now available online at the National Archives of Ireland. For the actual image, see further at

xvi# Image available online courtesy the British Newspaper Archive (in partnership with the British Library). See (accessed 5 November 2015).

xvii# For Dr J. A. Mitchell’s obituary, see “The British Medical Journal”, July 8, 1933, at page 81, available online at

For his birth at Little Drumenny, Donagheady parish, co. Tyrone, see, actual image available online at

For more on Mrs Georgina Harwood, see i.a. “The Telegraph”, 15 March 2015, for article Great-grandmother celebrates 100th birthday with a sky dive in Cape Town”, accessible online at