Drummond, William Hamilton (1778–1865), unitarian minister, theologian, poet, scholar, and controversialist, was born in August or September 1778 at Larne, Co. Antrim. He was the second of three children of William Drummond, a Royal Navy surgeon, and his wife Rose (née Hare), a native of Larne. His younger brother was James Lawson Drummond (qv). William Hamilton Drummond studied at the Belfast Academy of William Bruce (qv), entered Glasgow University (November 1794), but left without graduating (1798).
On his return from Scotland he earned a living as a tutor while studying for the presbyterian ministry under the Presbytery of Armagh. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Antrim (9 April 1800) and ordained for Second congregation in Belfast (26 August), to which he ministered for the next fifteen years. In 1805 he opened a boys’ school at Mount Collier on the northern outskirts of Belfast and resided there. In November 1815 he moved to Dublin to become a minister to the Strand St. congregation and junior colleague of James Armstrong (qv). After Armstrong's death (1839), Drummond succeeded as senior minister. In his theology Drummond was a unitarian. The famous public debate between Thomas Maguire (qv) and Richard Pope (1799–1859) brought a reply to both in his The doctrine of the Trinity founded neither on scripture nor on reason and common sense but on tradition and the infallible church (1827). The same controversy gave rise to his Unitarian Christianity the religion of the gospel and the New Reformation a chimera (1828). Also controversial were Drummond's Unitarianism no feeble and conceited heresy demonstrated in two letters to . . . the archbishop of Dublin (1829) and Original sin an irrational and unscriptural fiction (1832).
Affected by the death of the Hindu religious reformer, Ram Mohun Roy, he gave a discourse published as A learned Indian in search of a religion (1833). When the British Association for the Advancement of Science met in Dublin he gave a discourse published as The union and reciprocal influences of science and religion (1835). As a retort to a judgment of the lord chancellor, Edward Sugden (qv), depriving unitarians of benefit from the so-called ‘general fund’ set on foot in 1710 for the benefit of ‘protestant dissenters’, he brought out a public letter, An explanation and defence of the principles of protestant dissent (1842). Two of Drummond's discourses show him to have been ahead of his time: Humanity to animals the Christian's duty (1830) and The rights of animals and man's obligation to treat them with humanity (1838). Many of his sermons were published as pamphlets; some were collected and published posthumously by the Rev. John Scott Porter (qv), whose wife, Margaret, was a daughter of Drummond's sister Isabella. Drummond edited the memoirs of a unitarian layman, Autobiography of Archibald Hamilton Rowan (1840), and wrote a biography of an early unitarian thinker, The life of Michael Servetus (1848).
Drummond also acquired a reputation as a poet. He published verse from his youth, first Juvenile poems by a student of the University of Glasgow (1795), then, on the political situation in Ulster, The man of age (Belfast, 1797; expanded ed., Glasgow, 1798), and, while still in Belfast, The battle of Trafalgar (1806), The first book of T. Lucretius Carus . . . translated into English verse (1808) and, most successfully, The Giant's Causeway (1811). Attributed to him is an anonymous poem, Hibernia, published by the Belfast radical newspaper, the Northern Star (1797). He was friendly with the great literary patron, Thomas Percy (qv), who used his influence to have the degree of D.D. conferred on him by Marischal College, Aberdeen (January 1810). Drummond was a founder member of the Belfast Literary Society (1801), to which he contributed ten papers showing a versatile and fertile mind. Later, in Dublin, he published a poem on the Christian beatitudes, Who are the happy? (1818), which included an appendix of some 30 hymns, some of which went into unitarian hymnals. Drummond's literary interests increasingly took on an antiquarian character. His Clontarf (1822), praised by Thomas Moore (qv), was followed by Bruce's invasion of Ireland (1826) and The pleasures of benevolence (1835).
Drummond also translated nine poems from the Irish for James Hardiman's (qv) Irish minstrelsy (1831), having probably acquired a knowledge of Irish in his youth in the Glens of Antrim and as a tutor at Ravensdale, Co. Louth. He produced his own collection, which included over twenty translations from the Irish, Ancient Irish minstrelsy (1852). This won him not only praise from the Ossianic Society but, for his discovery of MSS, a prize from the RIA. Much earlier Drummond had been elected MRIA (29 November 1817) and was to prove an active member, serving as librarian (1822–61) and, with William Betham (qv), organising the museum (1827–8). To the RIA's Transactions he contributed two papers on the Hellenistic Greek poet Oppian (1819–20) and another condemning Macpherson's Ossianic forgeries (1829); to its Proceedings he most notably contributed ‘On Magnus Barefoot, king of Norway’ (1853).
A lover of books, Drummond collected several thousand. In his youth he was a democrat, as is evident in Man of age (1797); but in his Battle of Trafalgar (1806) lauds the Royal Navy. In editing Rowan's memoirs he represents Rowan, inaccurately, as having like himself, moved away from radicalism. In his old age Drummond's mental health failed. He died 16 October 1865 at his home at 27 Lr Gardiner St., Dublin.
Drummond's first wife, whom he married c.1801, Barbara, daughter of David Tomb (d. 1799), a Belfast merchant, died young after bearing him several children who died in infancy, two daughters who survived and a son, William Bruce, who lived in Dublin. His second wife, Catherine, daughter of Robert Blackley of Dublin, he married there and with her had, besides a daughter, two sons, both of whom became unitarian ministers, Robert Blackley (1833–1920) at St Mark's, Edinburgh, and James (1835–1918) who became principal of the unitarian seminary, Manchester New College, London (later Oxford). James Drummond's son William Hamilton Drummond (1863–1945) was unitarian minister at All Souls’, Belfast, editor of a unitarian magazine, the Inquirer (1909–18) and a peace campaigner. A portrait of the subject of this article was painted in oils by Thomas Robinson (qv).
More information on this entry is available at the National Database of Irish-language biographies (Ainm.ie).