chapter five


Conversely, in terms of industry Belfast boomed – that was what provided Thomas with his livelihood. Thomas would have been a regular at the port loading his cart, and he would have been part of a large network of carters who transported the fuel and raw materials for Belfast to grow. The shipbuilding industry in Belfast was spurred on by the Harland and Wolff shipyard which was founded in 1862, although shipbuilding was first mentioned in connection with Belfast in 1635. The port of Belfast also flourished even though the Lagan was shallow and winding. In 1841 a channel was dug to by-pass one of its curves thus forming Queens Island. The channel was extended in 1849 and the extension was named Victoria Channel. Both it and Queens Island were named after the visit of Queen Victoria to Belfast in 1849 – I wonder what Thomas thought of all that pomp and circumstance – maybe he just took the day off and had a quick bath and a rest from coal delivery!

Among the other Belfast industries of the time were the rope making and paper industries. But during the 19th century, linen was the dominant industry replacing the existing cotton industry (only 1 cotton mill remained in 1877). In the early years of the century, linen had been woven by hand in people's homes in Belfast and the surrounding villages. No wonder Ulster linen became famous: the intensive labour involved made for a high-quality product. However, in 1850 the linen industry was industrialised and was woven in factories that also needed fuel. There were several iron foundries in Belfast in the mid 19th century, and in the later part of the century a large engineering industry grew up. Belfast also had a mustard factory and flour mills then – enough employment for a fast-growing population. We can only imagine the air quality in the city during those times! That and the coal dust Thomas would have inhaled during his working life makes me wonder how he lived to the ripe old age of 76! The Carabines were obviously made of strong stuff then.

Most likely Thomas would have spared a few farthings to taste the famous Belfast aerated water – flavoured water with bubbles in. He may also have indulged in the odd (or not so odd) glass of the hard stuff, since there was, not surprisingly, a whiskey distilling industry in Belfast and also various breweries. He may also have congested his lungs even further by smoking the cigarettes made locally from imported tobacco (no filters in those days!).

All in all, Thomas lived in very interesting and busy times. In his later years, he would have been able to recount to his grandchildren how he arrived in a large town and lived at its very edge in a humble dwelling while watching the transformation of Belfast take place before his eyes.