H. Campbell Perry – The First President, Sligo Chamber of Commerce

Celebrating 100 Years of Sligo Chamber

On this Week in 1935

H. Campbell Perry

The First President, Sligo Chamber of Commerce

Harper Campbell Perry

Harper Campbell Perry was the First President of Sligo Chamber.  His appointment as President came at the meeting held on the 29th of December 1922 in the Café Cairo, Wine Street, for the purpose of inaugurating a Chamber of Commerce in Sligo.  Initially appointed for the year ending the 31st of December 1923, Harper Campbell Perry would go on to serve as President until 1935 when he died while still in office.  Over that period, he guided Sligo Chamber of Commerce in its formative years, in challenging times which paralleled the beginnings of the Irish Free State.

So, who was Harper Campbell Perry?  What was the Sligo Campbell dynasty of which he was the last prominent business merchant?  What were his achievements that led to his being the sole nominee appointed unanimously by the traders and business captains of Sligo to be the inaugural leader and First President of Sligo Chamber of Commerce?

The Hermitage, home of H. Campbell Perry’s Grandfather

Born in 1866, Harper Campbell Perry, or H. Campbell Perry as he always signed his name, was the son of Mr. Arthur Perry of Cedar Hill, Roscrea and Shrewsbury Road, Dublin.  His mother, Mary, was a daughter of Harper Campbell, the founder of the Campbell firm, the pre-eminent business in Sligo in the late 19th and early 20th century, and who lived at the residence known as The Hermitage, (now part of Sligo Grammar School), on the Mall.

The Campbells were one of several Protestant merchant families from Ulster who settled in Sligo in the early to mid-19th century.  Having served his apprenticeship in the Campbell family business in Belfast, Harper Campbell senior moved to Sligo in 1844.  He became one of the leading merchant princes in Sligo, with his firm Harper Campbell being one of the largest provision merchants in the Northwest and with business interests extending into the importation of corn, flax and coal.

He was succeeded as Chairman in the business by his eldest son, Colonel James Campbell D.L., under whose stewardship the company continued to flourish.  In the early 1900s, Harper Campbell Ltd., was listed in trade directories as “Flour, Grain & Coal Importers and Maize Millers” and had stores and offices at Adelaide Street, Georges Street, Knox Street and Lynns Place as well as mills at the Quays.

Educated at Parsonstown (now Birr) Preparatory School, records show that in 1884, Harper Campbell Perry was presented with a Special Prize by the Earl of Rosse for Exemplary Due Diligence having placed first in the school examination.  That early promise shown at Preparatory School would be realised in the career that followed.  It was four years later in 1888 that he joined the firm of Harper Campbell, founded by his grandfather, and moved to Sligo.  His early years in Sligo were spent learning the functions of the family business under the direction of his uncle, Colonel James Campbell, becoming its first Secretary in the early 1890s on the conversion of the firm to a Limited Company. Aside from his business interests, Harper Campbell Perry was also instrumental, along with his uncle in the formation of The County Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point. 

In 1894, his uncle conceived the idea of forming a club and acquired the lease of a certain portion of the area known as the Greenlands from the Middleton family for that purpose.  The first meeting for the formation of the golf club was held in the Sligo Courthouse on the 18th of October 1894.  A committee was formed, the principal members of which were Senator Arthur Jackson, Colonel Campbell who was subsequently elected the first Captain of the club, and his nephew, Harper Campbell Perry, who was the first Secretary to run the club.  The Sligo Champion in its centenary issue of the 7th of November 1936 recorded that “Mr. Perry will be well remembered for his long period in the role of Honorary Secretary.  His close attention to these duties, and his ungrudging advice and assistance at all times proved invaluable in promoting the welfare of the Club”.  He would later become President of County Sligo Golf Club in 1924, following on from his uncle, Colonel James Campbell, who died suddenly in September that year.

Christ Church, Gispy Hill, Lambeth

By this time, Harper Campbell Perry was married and living at Union Place.  The Notices in the Irish Independent of the day record the marriage arranged between Harper Campbell Perry and Elsie, the youngest daughter of the late Surgeon Major Roe, which took place “at half past two o’clock” on the 5th of July 1905 at Christ Church, Gipsy Hill, near Crystal Palace in the Borough of Lambeth, London.

Freight train alongside Campbell Stream Mills

From his residence at Union Place House, a substantial two-storey house at Union Place in the heart of Sligo, Harper Campbell Perry could readily walk to the places of his many business interests in the town.  These included the steam mills on Knox Street, (now O’Connell Street) on the site of what is now Penneys and which had a chimney over 90 feet high, a landmark in the town; to offices on Adelaide Street and Georges Street (at the Railway Station); the Harbour Board; and the warehouse building on Union Street, now converted into an apartment building and which still retains the original masonry façade and the two portico arches with laneway openings leading to the interior.  There was also the “new” steam mills building built in 1910 on Deep Water Quay, housed with modern machinery, boiler and water supply system and primarily used for the handling of grain and maize. The building still survives today, known as the “Batchelors Building”.  By this time in the early 20th century, Harper Campbell were one of the largest coal importers and curing merchants in the country, their business extending to export trade to the United Kingdom, Europe and North America.

Sligo was a “lived in” town at the time and through living in the town and walking to his business interests, it must be assumed that Harper Campbell Perry was well known, not only within business but also within the Sligo community.  The Sligo Champion of the day would report that “he loved Sligo and its people – creed or class made little difference to him – the humblest docker on Sligo Quays was as sure of a cheery reception as the wealthiest in the community, while the workman’s wife doing her marketing, got as sincere a salute as did the greatest lady in the land”.  Evidence of how well liked and thought of he was is clear from when he allowed his name be put forward for a seat on Sligo Urban Council.  Although he held very decided views on the best policy to secure “the greatest possible benefit to the greatest possible number” as the Sligo Champion reported, he was a reluctant politician. However, when the burden of local rates became so excessive as to be “intolerable”, and the Sligo Rate Payers Association was formed, he went for election in 1919, topping the poll in the West Ward becoming the Senior Alderman of the Borough.  In the 1925 elections, he retained his seat and would remain a Councillor for ten years, reluctantly resigning to take care of his ever-increasing business interests.

When James Campbell died in September 1924, he was succeeded as Chairman of Harper Campbell Ltd., by his nephew, Harper Campbell Perry to whom he bequeathed a legacy of £3,000 as well as 1,000 ordinary shares and 400 preference shares in the firm.  Already at that time the Senior Alderman of Sligo Borough, he was a Commissioner of the Sligo Harbour Board, having been appointed to that role on the 6th of November 1906.  He was elected chairman of the Board on ten consecutive occasions, a record at the time and a position he held at the time of his death.

Harper Campbell Limited Letterhead

During his time as Chairman, he succeeded with the redemption of the Harbour Board Debentures in the sum of £56,000 through managing the Harbour Sinking Fund investments, watching the markets daily, buying and selling stocks until a sufficient profit was made to enable an offer be made to the Debenture holders. Through this achievement which would forever remain a monument to his skilful management of the affairs of the Harbour of Sligo, and under his able guidance as Chairman, Sligo Port attained a very high degree of efficiency for the time.

Cargo Ships at Sligo Docks

Related to the Port, in shipping transport, he was for many years a Director of the Sligo Steam Navigation Company and his company Harper Campbell Ltd., owned a small fleet of ships and schooners that sailed the Sligo to Glasgow and Liverpool routes.  On land transport, he was Deputy Chairman and Director of the Sligo, Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway Company that served the Sligo to Enniskillen line.  Keenly interested in trade, he was on the Executive of the Saorstat, (Free State), Oatmeal and Maize Millers Association, being Chairman of the Western District and was on the Board of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of the Irish Free State (now Chambers Ireland).  His sporting connections, in addition to being President of The County Sligo Golf Club at the time of his death, included being a patron of both Sligo Y.M.C.A. and the Lawn Tennis Club.  In matters of religion, as a member of the Church of Ireland, he held all offices open to a layman in St. John’s Parish.  In the world of Masonry, he was widely known, being a prominent Freemason and Grand Master of the Province of North Connaught and a “Member of the 33”.  He was Vice – Council for the Netherlands for 29 years and received the distinction of Chevalier of the Orange – Nassau Order which was conferred upon him in 1929 by Queen Wilhelmenia of the Netherlands on the occasion of her birthday.  Mr I.A.R. Weenik, Chief of the Netherlands Council in the Free State, attended his funeral.

His own personal life was not without tragedy.  His two younger brothers. Alexander Steen (Sandy), and James Felix, both military men, died within 15 days of each other in September 1932, James suddenly and Sandy after a long illness contracted in war service, leaving Harper Campbell Perry as the last surviving brother.  Together with his wife Elsie, he had one son Ronald who took up a Shakespearian acting career and did not enter the family business.   And perhaps most poignant of all, the Birth Notices in the Sligo Champion record on birth on the 28th of June 1907 at Union Place House, Sligo to “the wife of Harper Campbell Perry, of a son” (stillborn)”.

Harper Campbell Perry Obituary 1935

Harper Campbell Perry died in the Elpis Private Nursing Home in Dublin on Friday the 15th of March 1935 after a long illness.  It had been evident from the Minutes of Sligo Chamber that all was not well for some time as the President who had led Sligo Chamber since its formation had not been present at meetings for some time, his friend and Vice-President, Mr. Frank Nally, deputising in the Chair.  His remains arrived by train from Dublin on the Monday evening and were brought to St. John’s Parish Church.  At the special request of the Mayor, Alderman Michael Nevin, all shops in the town closed on the Tuesday from 11.30am to 2pm for the funeral as mark of respect to his memory. The streets on the route to the cemetery were thronged by residents as the funeral cortege and line of motor cars passed.  Along with his wife Elsie, who would survive her husband until 1944, were his son Ronald and Mr. W.A. Griffith, a Director of the firm, and a local Sligo man would become the next Chairman and Managing Director of Harper Campbell Ltd.

The funeral was widely reported in the media, locally in the Sligo Champion and Sligo Independent and further afield in the Western Telegraph, the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, the Belfast Telegraph, and the Liverpool Journal of Commerce.  Commenting on the mourners in one to the largest funerals seen in Sligo, the Sligo Champion wrote “High clerical dignitaries of all denominations, doctors of divinity and doctors of medicine, civil dignitaries and county magnates, merchant princes and members of the bar, shipping and railway magnates and dock labourers, shop assistants and shop owners, wedged tightly together and all filled with one objective, to accompany on his last sad journey, the one who in life had been their friend”.

With an outstanding list of achievements and a personality admired by all, it is clear to see why Harper Campbell Perry was the sole nominee appointed unanimously by the traders and business captains of Sligo to be the First President of Sligo Chamber of Commerce.

Plaque erected in honour of Harper Campbell Perry

The most able businessman of his generation, Harper Campbell Perry, H. Campbell Perry as he signed his name, Campbell to his family and closest friends, a truly remarkable man, died at Elpis Private Nursing Home in Dublin, while still in office as the First President of Sligo Chamber of Commerce, on Friday the 15th of March, on this week in 1935.

Researched and written by Conor McCarthy

Supported by the Sligo Chamber Centenary Committee:

  • Catherine Maguire – Admin & Photographic Research
  • Geraldine Courtenay – Creative Direction
  • Aidan Doyle – Review & Publication

The next Article in the series commemorating The Centenary of Sligo Chamber and entitled “From Nagnatha to Sligo – a personal journey by John Ryan” will be released on the 20th of March 2023.

#Sligo Chamber Centenary