Thursday 21 July 2022

Ker of Portavo

20,544 ACRES

DAVID KER (1530-1610), a Scottish laird who settled in Ballymena, County Antrim, in 1566, fled Ayrshire following the murder of David Rizzio (private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots).

By the 18th Century the family had prospered in the linen industry.

DAVID KER, a merchant, of Ballymena, married Jean, daughter of _______ Boyd, and had issue, eleven children, including
William, of Ballymena;
Hugh. of Dublin;
DAVID, of whom hereafter.
One of his sons,

DAVID KER (1710-70), of Cateaton Street, City of London, and Tottenham, Middlesex, a prominent merchant banker, married, in 1748, Martha, daughter of William Macpheadris (sometimes spelled Mackpheadris), and had issue,
Richard Gervas, MP, of REDHALL, County Antrim;
He purchased the Portavo estate in County Down for £23,000 (equivalent to about £4 million in 2019), in 1765, for his eldest son,

DAVID KER (1751-1811), of Portavo, who purchased the MONTALTO demesne about 1800 from the Earl of Moira.

By Maddelena, his wife, daughter of Francesco Guardi, of Venice, he left a son and heir,

DAVID GUARDI KER JP DL (c1778-1844), of Portavo and Montalto, MP for Athlone, 1820-6, Downpatrick, 1835-41, who purchased, in 1844, the De Clifford estate, Downpatrick.

He married, in 1814, the Lady Selina Sarah Stewart, daughter of Robert, 1st Marquess of Londonderry, and had issue,
DAVID STEWART, his heir;
Richard John Charles Rivers, JP, DL, MP for Downpatrick;
Catherine Anne Frances; Madelina Selina.
The eldest son,

DAVID STEWART KER JP DL (1816-78), of Montalto and Portavo, MP for Downpatrick, County Down, 1852-7, High Sheriff of County Down, 1852, Antrim, 1857, wedded, in 1842,  Anna Dorothea, daughter of Hans, 3rd Baron Dufferin, and had, with other issue,
ALFRED DAVID, his heir;
RICHARD WILLIAM BLACKWOOD, succeeded his brother;
Hamilton Chichester (Rev);
Selina Frances Imogene; Helen; Violet.
He espoused secondly, in 1869, Caroline Hellena, eldest daughter of Parsons Persse, of Castle Turven, County Galway.

Mr Ker was succeeded by his eldest son,

ALFRED DAVID KER JP (1843-77), of Montalto and Portavo. High Sheriff of County Down, 1877, who married, in 1871, Eva Frances Caroline, elder daughter of Thomas, 1st Baron Deramore, by his wife, the Hon Caroline Elizabeth Anne, second daughter and co-heir of George, 4th Baron Dynevor, and had issue,
Sybil Anna; Eva Winifred Selina; Kathleen Elianore Mary; Eva Cecil Violet.
Mr Ker died without male issue, and was succeeded by his brother,

RICHARD WILLIAM BLACKWOOD KER JP DL (1850-1942), of Montalto and Portavo, High Sheriff of County Down, 1880, who wedded, in 1876, Edith Louisa, daughter of William George Rose, of Wolston Heath, Warwickshire, and had issue,

MAJOR DAVID ALFRED WILLIAM KER OBE (1878-1954), of Portavo, High Sheriff of County Down, 1939, who wedded Anna, eldest daughter of John Pollock, DL, of Mountainstown, County Meath, and had issue,
The son and heir,

CAPTAIN DAVID JOHN RICHARD KER, Coldstream Guards, High Sheriff of County Down, 1952, wedded, in 1948, Virginia Mary Eloise, daughter of the Hon James Knyvett Estcourt Howard, and had issue,
Caroline Moira; Camilla Rosanna Glan.
Ker armorial bearings in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick

THE family of KER (pronounced Carr), of Portavo and Montalto, of whom David Ker (1530-1610) settled at Ballymena, County Antrim in the second half of the 16th Century having fled Scotland after the murder of David Rizzio (private secretary to Mary Queen of Scots) in 1566.

By the 18th Century the family had prospered in the linen industry, and David Ker (1710-1770) a banker and merchant purchased Portavo in County Down for his eldest son, David (1751-1811).

This David Ker was a voracious purchaser of land and by 1800 had acquired a number of estates culminating in the purchase of Montalto from the Earl of Moira in 1800.

He and his brother had taken the Grand Tour together in 1771, where David eloped with a Venetian singer by the name of Madelina Guardi, reputedly the daughter of Venetian painter Francesco Guardi.

Following the death of his young wife, David Ker returned to Italy with his three daughters, leaving his son to be educated at Eton.

In Italy he began to collect in the best traditions of the Grand Tour, purchasing a Raphael portrait and sending ‘three cases’ of purchases from Rome to Ulster, and later another ‘containing a Scagliola table’ in 1794.

This visit, which lasted two years, culminated in David Ker sitting for Angelica Kauffman and, at her suggestion, his daughters sat for Francis Xavier Fabre.

His son, David Guardi Ker, married Lady Selina Stewart, fourth daughter of the 1st Marquess of Londonderry.

This David Ker devoted his life to the collection of books and prints.

He also served as MP for Athlone and later Downpatrick, the seat he purchased from Lord de Clifford in 1844.

His eldest son, David Stewart Ker (1816-1878) started life as one of the richest commoners in Ireland.

He married Anna Dorothea Blackwood, daughter of the 3rd Baron Dufferin and Claneboye, of Clandeboye, County Down.

However, by the time of his death in 1878, he was declared bankrupt and considered ‘quite mad’.

He began the first dispersal of the family collections assembled by his father, grandfather and great-uncle, following the disastrous fire at Portavo in 1844.

First sold were books and prints at Christie’s in a series of seven day sales in 1847, 1848 and 1849, followed by endless dispersals of renowned pictures.

His son Alfred David Ker (1843-1877) did his best, in his short tenure, to bring some order to the family finances, but with his death at the young age of 34, the estates and possessions devolved to Richard Blackwood Ker (1850-1943), his brother, who married Edith Rose of Wolston Grange, Warwickshire.

Dick Ker’s greatest love next to women was horses, and being totally untrained in the management of estates was, like his father, eventually declared bankrupt.

Montalto was then sold in 1912 to the Earl of Clanwilliam, and the family returned to Portavo, where he built a ‘shooting box’ from the ruins of the mansion which had been destroyed by fire in 1844.

Dick Ker was succeeded by David Alfred Ker (1878-1954) who spent most of his life in minority controlled by Trustees.

His son, David Richard (Dick) Ker (1920-1997) finally sold Portavo in 1980, and it is his son David (born 1951) who proceeded to make dispersals from the Ker Collection.

David Ker had an interest in works of art and collecting from an early age, and after a career in property he started the David Ker gallery in 1980; and in 1993 formed Simon C Dickinson Ltd with Simon Dickinson.


The Ker Papers contain a detailed account of the family:-
David Ker, a merchant of Ballymena, Co. Antrim, who had taken a lease of the first fall on Sir Robert Adair's mill-race at Ballymena, c.1710. He married Jean Boyd of Clontfinnan near Clough, Co. Antrim, and had a family of eleven children, of whom three were prominent merchants: William in Ballymena, Hugh in Dublin, and David in London. David Ker settled in London and traded at Cateaton Street, first as Ker & Elmes, then after 1755 as Ker, Elmes & Priest, and later after 1758 as David Ker & Co.
In 1765 he purchased the Portavo estate near Groomsport, in the Ards. He died in 1770 and was succeeded by his son, David, during whose lifetime the firm traded as Ker, Pope & Dyson and later as Ker, Brookland & Priest. In 1785 he purchased the Clough and Magheraknock estates in Co. Down from Arthur Annesley and in 1800 that of Montalto at Ballynahinch, Co. Down, from the 2nd Earl of Moira.
His brother, Richard Gervas Ker, High Sheriff of Co. Antrim in 1791, bought the Red Hall estate at Ballycarry, Co. Antrim, in 1780 from Sir Archibald Edmonstone Bt. David Ker died in 1811, and was succeeded by his son David, who married, in 1814, the daughter 1st Marquess of Londonderry and in 1834 bought the Southwell estate at Downpatrick, Co. Down, from the representatives of Lord de Clifford.
First published in March, 2012.


Anonymous said...

Not connected to this blog but I have just read The Butterfly Cabinet, a novel (local author) based on the murder at Cromore House in 1892 by Mrs Montagu of her small girl. I looked to see if you had written about Cromore, which you did a couple of years ago, but no mention of the murder - just wondered if you could dig up any info about it sometime? Lived quite nearby once but never heard about it.

Timothy Belmont said...

Indeed, curious.

Anonymous said...

New link for newly-built (2009) Portavo House (which demolished the 1880 rebuilt house) -

johnf said...

Aynsworth Pilson of Downpatrick ,founder of the Down Recorder paper, detested Ker. He refers contemptuously to Ker`s efforts to build a road from Quoile Bridge to Killyleagh. When completed this hit the tortuous shipping arrangements on the Quoile very hard. The Pilson Papers (PRONI) are a galloping good read bridging the 18th and 19th Centuries in Co. Down.
Pilson`s name is on the wee mission hall at the back of the new Vet`s surgery .