Ker Papers

Family papers and correspondence of the Ker family of Portavoe, Co. Down, merchants and landowners, c. 1720-c. 1850, charting the emergence and development of the family from the early 18th century onwards.

Descended from David Kerr, a merchant of Ballymena, Co. Antrim, the family fortunes were established by three of his sons who went on to become prominent merchants, in particular, his son David (d. 1770) who set up in business in London and later, in 1765, purchased the Portavoe estate near Groomsport, Co. Down. He was succeeded by his son David (d. 1811), who took over the family’s business concerns and, with his brother, Richard Gervais Ker, extended the family’s landed interests in Counties Down and Antrim. These were further strengthened by David’s son (another David), who married the daughter of the 1st Marquess of Londonderry in 1814 and bought the Southwell estate at Downpatrick, Co. Down, in 1834.

The archive itself falls into three main groups of material, namely family papers, c. 1720-c. 1850 comprising genealogical notes, wills and settlements, the correspondence of David Ker of Portavoe and London, 1779-1811, and the correspondence of Richard Gervais Ker of Red Hall, 1799-1822.

Among the correspondence of David Ker are letters concerning negotiations for the purchase of the Red Hall estate in Co. Antrim, 1779-80, letters from letters David Ker to his brother, Richard, 1799-1822, including his copy out-letter book, 1791-1811, which relate in the main to the management of the estates at Portavoe, Montalto and Clough, but which also touch upon Lord Downshire's support for David Ker in obtaining the parliamentary seat for Blessington in 1796, and the civil unrest in Cos Antrim and Down before and during the 1798 Rebellion. There are also some business letters and accounts of David Ker. The correspondence of Richard Gervais Ker which relates principally to family affairs, but also contains business letters from Carew Ellers, London, for the firm of Ker, Brookland & Priest, 1793-1794, and letters from Benjamin Porter on a Continental tour, 1818-1820.

The collection also includes letters from David Stewart Ker and his wife, Anna Dorothea Ker, on a tour of the Middle East, 1845-1946; and correspondence, etc, relating to the election of D.S. Ker as an independent candidate for Co. Down, 1852.


Of great interest to those researching the social and economic history of the rise of a family of country merchant class to county society.

Physical characteristics

Approx. 400 documents occupying 10 PRONI boxes

Description or Catalogue

See PRONI reference D/ 2651for catalogue of the papers. The catalogue is available for consultation in PRONI's Public Search Room.

See also for a more detailed introduction to the collection.


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Added by PRONI | Last updated on: 25 August 2018