logoDissenters' Records

But Church houls out her arrums
For every chile that's born;
An' its Her that puts the blessin'
On the marriage morn.

Cushag "The Church brings us home"



Dissenters are those who refused to adhere to the rites of the Established Church, e.g. Quakers, Congregationalists and from the 1830's the Methodists. Under this heading are also Roman Catholics though they would accurately claim that it was the Anglican Church that was in dissent!

Although the Island rightly prides itself on its religious tolerance, there was a period c1650-1690 when the small band of Quakers, centered on Maughold, were persecuted and banned from the Island. See article by Constance Radcliffe Maughold Quakers IoMNHAS Vol VIII No. 2 pp116-129 or chaper 6 of A History of Kirk Maughold. In this she quotes what may be the full list of Maughold Quakers:
Ann Cottiam [sometimes Cottingham or Cottiman]; Will Calow with wife; Robt Calow; John Cottiam; John Calow; Robt Coonill and wife; Jaine Cannell; John Christian and wife; Ewan Christian; John Christian and wife; Bessy Christian, daughter of John (who later married Robert Callow brother of William; James Coleish [Quilleash]; Tho Coonill; Ewan Kerruish and wife.
See also chap 8 of From King Orry to Queen Victoria E.Callow 1899].

After the arrival of Bishop Wilson tolerance reigned, even to the extent that in the mid 18C some troublemakers attempted to claim that there was too much tolerance of Roman Catholics.

In the early 19C two main sects, the Congregationalists and the Presbyterian, were present in Man.
Congregationalism really began on the Island with the appointment of Samuel Haining as Minister in 1808. They built their first chapel in 1811 in Athol Street Douglas. Congregationalists had a strong base in NW England where they drew much support from the 'middle classes'.

The basis of the Presbyterian churches was the expatriate Scots communities on the Island, in Douglas and in Ramsey. Again significant numbers only existed from early in the 19C - their first chapel being built 1830.

For more details of these sects and their churches see Nonconformists in my section of parishes.
It is likely to be members of these sects that would avail themselves of the right under the 1849 to a civil registration of birth.

Roman Catholics were few in number in the 18C - links with Ireland and Europe during the period of the 'running trade' (1690-1765) allowed a small nucleus at Douglas and there appeared to remain a small communitity at the south of the Island. After revestment numbers dropped and in 1779 a Catholic priest noted only 29 (still more than Wesley's famous jibe of 'only six papists'). However the influx of Irish from 1798 brought over considerable numbers and the first church was established in 1814.
For futher history, churches etc. see under Roman Catholics in my parish section.


Methodism, both Wesleyan and Primitive, took great hold in the Island; by 1851 attendances at Methodist services significantly exceeded those at the established church. Methodism had its origins within a group within the Anglican church - it wasn't until 1836 that Methodism declared itself to be in dissent. H.R.Oswald writing in 1834 of the Methodists of Bishop Murray's time (-1826) says:

The Manx Methodists of his time could not be termed non-conformists, for, till very lately, none of them went as far to separate themselves entirely, but were regular attendants at the the Divine service of the Establishment, and respected all her ordinances.

See article on Methodist archives held in Manx Museum

Separation moved more quickly in the towns than in the country but to quote Moore

The process of separation was, however, even then a slow one, and, owing probably to the pronounced evangelical feeling which has gradually increased in the Manx Church, it has never extended to nearly the same extent as in England. It has been accentuated by the following Acts of Tynwald: The Dissenters' Marriage Act, in 1849, by which the governor may cause places of worship, other than those of the Established Church, to be registered for the celebration of marriages; the Civil Registration Act, passed in the same year, by which births, marriages, and deaths could be registered in these places; and further, if any objected to this, they might be married in the office of the deputy-registrar.

Till about 1845, Nonconformists were satisfied to have their children taught in the Church schools, but, after that date, they had a few schools of their own.

Even after the Dissenters' Marriage Act of 1849 and the Burials Act of 1881 there were few marriages or funerals in Methodist chapels as it was considered that 'Proper marriage' and 'Proper burial' could only take place in the parish church.

However rifts did appear towards the end of the 19C - From The Methodist Recorder Oct 3 1889

" Methodism in Manxland has some advantages over that in England. For instance, there is little temptation to our people to have the marriage ceremony performed in a church. So long as a place of worship has been "licensed for the solemnization of marriages" any minister can perform the ceremony, without troubling the registrar to attend. A register is kept at the circuit chapel, and once a quarter the superintendent must send in a return to the Chief Registrar stating what marriages, if any, have been celebrated by him during the three months. "

However this was written by a non-Manx - examination of the table of first dates shows that it was not until the late 1870's that Methodists, outside of Douglas, started to marry in Chapel rather than Church and many chapels were never registered for the 'solemnizarion of marriage'.

Marriage Act of 1757

One of the reasons for this act was to prevent clandestine marriages, requiring proper banns and performance only in an established church..
The preamble reads:

'Whereas great Mischiefs and Inconveniences have arisen from Clandestine Marriages, solemnised sometimes by the beneficed Clergy of this Isle, but more particularly by Foreigners who have resorted hither for that purpose in order to obviate and evade the salutary laws of their own Country against such illegal practices thereof the People of this Isle have not only suffered in themselves, but are also become obnoxious to the neighbouring nations...

Penalties for infringement were rather severe - involving transportation and nailing of ears to a Pillory at Castletown Cross!

It is likely that earlier marriages involved Catholics - if couples were living together without having gone through the Established church they were likely to be presented and thus appear initially in the Presentments.

Marriage Act of 1849

This actually legalised any marriages made contrary to the act of 1757! thus the authorities would appear to be aware that such marriages had taken place.

All four Registry Offices saw marriages in their first year of operation - the earliest dates (taken from Narisimham) of those in non-establishment churches were:

Primitive Methodist (Factory Lane)


Wesleyan Methodist, Thomas Street (later named Victoria Street)


Independent Chapel (Congregational, Athol Street)


Roman Catholic (Athol Street)


Congregational (Finch Hill)


Congregational (Unitarian, Circular Road)


Primitive Methodist (Wellington Street)


Wesleyan Methodist (Castletown)


Wesleyan Methodist (Peel)


Primitive Methodist (Michael village)


Primitive Methodist (Peel)


Records of marriages under the 1849 act are available at the General Registry.

As part of the change in Civil law in 1849 the non-established churches were required to deposit copies of their baptismal/marriage register with the Rolls Office - three such documents can be found on Manx Museum microfilm RB512 - Baptisms only in Athol Street Chapel 82 from 1809 to 1848 and Presbyterian (or Scotch) church 8 from 1841 to 1846. Possibly some 200 baptisms from 1805 and many marriages were recorded in the Catholic register upto 1861. A small number of earlier Catholic marriages (from c.1791) were recorded in the register of the Whitehaven parish which supplied the priest to the Island.

Brian Lawson has indexed these records see - <www.iomfhs.im> (follow research link).


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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001