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Maria Pirrie Gordon (1842-1921)

MP Gordon portrait

Maria Pirrie Gordon (1842-1921). Oil on canvas by Frank McKelvey (1895-1974). LMILC.2010.147.

Maria Pirrie Gordon (née Barbour) was like so many women in Irish society during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – we have very little information about her life, and what little we do know is often told through the lives of her male relatives.

She was born on 25 October 1842, the youngest of thirteen children born to William Barbour (1797-1875) of Hilden and his wife, Eliza Kennedy (1800-73). Her father had moved the family’s linen thread-spinning business from The Plantation to Hilden around 1823, and built Hilden House the following year. Through time, his company became world-renowned for its high-quality products.

Maria was probably named after her cousin, Maria Barbour, daughter of John Barbour Jnr. (1796-1831), who married William Pirrie, son of Captain Pirrie of Belfast, in January 1843 (shortly after Maria’s birth). She was baptised in Market Square Presbyterian Church, Lisburn, on 3 March 1843.

Nothing else is known about Maria’s early life, but having twelve elder siblings must have made for an interesting upbringing in Hilden House!

Hilden House photo

Hilden House, c. 1920, from William Barbour & Sons Ltd., Linen thread (Lisburn, 1926), p. 50.

On 7 December 1865, she married Robert Wilson Gordon (1825-97) of Glenmachan, Strandtown, Belfast. They were wed in Rutland Square Presbyterian Church, Dublin, by the Rev. Alexander Henderson, a military chaplain. Robert was a member of the family firm, Gordon & Co., the Aberdeenshire flax spinners and manufacturers which had a premises in Belfast. Clearly, the Barbour’s and Gordon’s shared business interests made this a suitable marriage.

Maria’s father, William, died in 1875, and it has been noted that she and her sisters were disappointed at the miniscule inheritance they received from his estate. As was common at the time, most of his fortune was divided among the male members of the family. However, the Gordons were given permission to live in Hilden House where they raised a family of eight children: Robert Barbour, Charles Victor, Malcolm, William, Eliza, Alice, Mary, and Vera. Malcolm and William would eventually become directors of the firm established by their grandfather, William Barbour & Sons Ltd.

Maria died in 1921, aged 78.

She is the sole female portrait featured in our exhibition, Hilden Mill 200 years: portraits of the Barbours (ends Spring 2024).



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