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A Random Life: The Tale of David Williamson

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 07, 1991


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by W. A. Maguire

"James Williamson's autobiographical 'Tale', which provides material for the article on eighteenth-century surveyors and surveying by J.H. Andrews published else­where in this journal, also contains the story of his father's extraordinary adven­tures.

The words, addressed to his son William, with which Williamson begins his 'Tale', would endear him to any genealogist: 'It is a considerable time ago that you intimated a sincere wish (0 have a sketch of the Family you are descended from. I now sit down to comply with your desires, from a conviction in my mind that the story will be both gratifying and interesting to you and your Children at a future period'.

The careful preservation of the 'Tale' suggests that his descendants did indeed find it interesting. They could scarcely fail to have been fascinated by the tale within the 'Tale', that of his father's life.

Williamson introduces it by saying, 'I have always considered the History of his life as something uncommon in the lot of Man' and goes on to tell us that' gentlemen in Dublin who had heard something of it wished that he had written it under a fictitious name'.

David Williamson's life does indeed sound like the plot of a novel; to be more precise, the plot of an eight­eenth-century picaresque novel; to be exact, of a picaresque novel by Smollett, such as Roderick Random."

This article looks at the extraordinary adventures of David Williamson, including his voyages to India and the Far East.