[From Brown's Directory, 1881/2]

[Historical Chapter]


The bill having now become law, and the dissolution of the old House of Keys and the election of a new House being in consequence imminent, preparations in anticipation of the event were began all over the country. But the Manx people, being unaccustomed to electioneering, much difficulty was at first experienced in falling into the usual routine of such work, and a considerable amount of apathy was found to exist among the mass of electors, especially in the country districts. But as the time grew nearer and the electors familiarised themselves with their work, the preparations went on more smoothly. Both in town and country numerous excited meetings of the electors were held, at which candidates were selected and committees for securing their election appointed. In Douglas, especially, the focus of the political life and public spirit of the community, the excitement was intense. Four influential candidates (Messrs Dumbell, W. F. Moore, J. S. G. Taubman, and R. Sherwood) were in the field, and at several meetings addressed the electors in explanation of their political principles; whilst the wordy contest was briskly carried on in the rival newspapers of the town. At length, on the 12th March, 1867, the Governor’s Proclamation appeared dissolving the existing House and ordering the election of a new one within twenty-one days. The elections were carried out in the first week in April, and resulted in the return of a thoroughly conservative house; 13 of the 24 members elected having sat in the old self-elected House, and a majority of the 11 new men being pledged to conservative views. This result might readily have been expected, under the circumstances, and though it was an undoubted triumph for the "Tory" party, it was, perhaps, in the then condition of the country, well that it was so, the strong conservative instincts of the majority frequently acting as a drag upon what some considered the too rapid action of the Lieut. Governor.

During the course of these protracted proceedings, the country had been making steady progress in other directions. The arrangements for the erection of a permanent lunatic asylum was completed, and the building itself was begun on the ground purchased for the purpose at the Strang, near Douglas, under the direction of Mr H. Cowle, of Douglas. Meantime, until its completion, a temporary asylum was opened at Oatlands, on the southern road. The sanitary condition of the country had long been in a very unsatisfactory state; the towns, especially Douglas, where the population had most rapidly increased, were in a very unhealthy condition. In the older and more thickly-inhabited parts of the towns and villages fever, chiefly typhoid, was chronic and occasional destructive. In 1864 and 1865, there was a heavy outbreak of this disease, which spread throughout the Island, and, among other measures adopted, Boards of Health were formed to take the necessary steps to stay its progress. In 1866, in view of the approach of cholera, which had extended itself into all the neighbouring countries, measures were taken to diminish the chances of its extending to the Island, and to lessen the danger of infection should it, unfortunately, be introduced. In spite however, of these precautions, it broke out in the end of November among the families of the fishermen of Peel soon after their return from the Irish late herring fishery, and several persons died within a few days. This outbreak naturally produced great alarm not only in the infected town, but throughout the Island ; but the disease happily did not spread, and, through the steps taken to meet the visitation, or from the effects of the cold weather which set in, it disappeared as suddenly as it had showed itself, and the country gradually resumed its usual appearance. Urged on by the Lieut.-Governor, whose care for the health of the people was as unceasing as were his efforts for their political welfare, the Douglas Town Commissioners instructed Mr Stevenson, C.E., the borough engineer of Halifax, to draw up plans for the complete drainage of Douglas; and after a considerable delay, arising chiefly from the limited powers of the Commissioners and the want of the necessary funds, the drainage works were commenced in the autumn of 1866, under the superintendence of Mr Stevenson. Other sanitary measures were also adopted by the Commissioners under the additional powers conferred on them by the new bye-laws, such as the regulation of the slaughter houses within the town boundaries, the removal of nuisances, &c., and the health of the town gradually assumed a more satisfactory condition. In June, 1866, in spite of the precautions which had been taken to prevent it, the cattle plague showed itself in various parts of the country. To meet this disaster the most energetic steps were taken by the authorities—the infected farms were isolated, the diseased animals were slaughtered and their dead bodies buried, and a bill was passed through the Legislature authorising compensation to those whose property had been thus compulsorily destroyed.

Imitating the example of Douglas, Ramsey, the capital of the North, the most energetic and thriving town in the Island next to Douglas, began in 1864 to agitate for local self-government. After some opposition, a bill was framed upon the Douglas model, and passed through the Legislature in 1865; and in August of that year, the first election of Town Commissioners for Ramsey took place amid great excitement. The proceedings of the Northern Commissioners, though, on the whole, not characterised by the same self-denial and energy which have distinguished generally those of the capital, have largely benefited the town of Ramsey. As the Northern members of the Legislature also are, uniformly, remarkable for their steady advocacy of Northern interests, it has followed that the town of Ramsey has shared fairly in the improvements carried out with the funds provided from the surplus revenue. Its development, however, has been greatly impeded by its isolation from the rest of the Island. Shut in by the northern mountains, and accessible only by difficult roads through these mountains, its trade with the South was never important or extensive; while, for its intercourse with the outside world, it has been dependent upon Douglas since the collapse of the Ramsey Steampacket Company. Encouraged by the success of the Southern railway, and supported by a Government guarantee, obtained by the faithful exertions of the Northern members, the construction of the long-projected railway from Ramsey westward to St. John’s, was begun in 1878. This line, which joins the Douglas line at St. John’s, was completed and opened on the 23rd of September, 1879; and thus, at last, the North has a fair opportunity of developing its resources and of bringing its produce to the general market of the Island.

The town of Douglas, during the same period, also made considerable progress. Under the impulse communicated by the steadily increasing numbers who annually visit the Island during the summer months, the town rapidly spread itself along the high grounds to the west and north of the old town. Fine streets of handsome, commodious houses sprung up in all directions, and the population and trade of the town grew steadily. But with this growth of the town there came a corresponding change in the circumstances of its inhabitants, and in the cost of living throughout the Island. The growth of "The Summer Visitation "—as it is called, created a growing demand for all kinds of farm produce which the surrounding districts were scarcely able to supply. This caused a steady and persistent rise in the prices of all articles of consumption, which, while it greatly improved the value of land, has largely increased the cost of living throughout the Island, until, instead of being so low as to make the country a favourite resort for half-pay officers and annuitants, it approximated and, in the summer, even exceeded in some points the cost of living in England. With this increase in the rate of living came also increased rentals and more taxes; and as each new burden seemed only to prepare the way for another, there were many who began to look back with regret to "the good old times" of no taxes and cheap living. As the Island thus lost its reputation for cheapness, those who had settled in it on that account gradually forsook it for cheaper quarters; and thus the town and the country became more and more dependent upon the summer visitation. This process has gone on, until now, with the exception of the mining and fishing districts, the whole population of the country is almost entirely dependent upon the summer visitors. The towns lodge them and the country feeds them. And the tendency is still to depend more and more upon this one source of trade. This is regarded by many as a mistake and a misfortune. The "season," they say, is too short and too uncertain to depend so exclusively upon it. The class of visitors who frequent the Island, chiefly from the cotton and woollen districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, is not of the most remunerative sort; and the prices charged, though fairly satisfactory under ordinary circumstances, do not leave sufficient margin for unfavourable seasons. From these and other causes, which our limits will not allow us to enter upon, it is contended that while the town is spreading far beyond its former dimensions, and straining every nerve to make itself the equal in architectural appearance and in social comforts and conveniences of any similar town in England, its inhabitants are not nearly so well off as from appearances we might suppose them to be.

Among the progressive party in the Island it was hoped that the inauguration of a representative House of Keys would be productive of greater and more rapid progress in the removal of injurious grievances and in the assimilation of the Manx laws and customs with those of their neighbours. But on the assembling of the new House for its first session on April 18th, 1867, it was found that, though the personnel of the House might be modified, its spirit and policy were in no degree more liberal or progressive; nay, if there were any change at all it was that the House had become more conservative in its views, and more opposed to all radical changes in the existing order of things. Of the 24 members constituting the House, 13 had been members of the preceding House, and of the 11 new members a large proportion belonged to the country or conservative party; and thus, when permitted freely to indulge its predilections, the majority of the House opposed to all concessions to the towns which affected the interests of the country was larger and more determined than it had been during the later days of the old self-elected House. The first real trial of strength between the two parties was over the new Highway Bill. This greatly needed act was introduced by Mr W. F. Moore, one of the members for Douglas, on the 13th of June, 1867, but after a heated discussion, several times adjourned, it was ultimately rejected, November 26th. On April 22nd, 1868, a series of resolutions were laid before the House which it was hoped might form the bases of an acceptable bill, and the House, in accordance with its rules, was addressed in opposition to the continuance of the highway impost upon the towns of three shillings per house, by Messrs Adams and Sherwood, as counsel for the towns of Douglas and Ramsey. After the hearing of the two counsel, it was resolved that "it is requisite to amend the acts at present in force for making and repairing the highways "—"that there be a fixed rate for the maintenance of the highways "—"that such rate may be paid by money or by labour at the option of the ratepayer according to a scale of prices to be fixed upon by such Act of Tynwald as may be passed to provide for the matters aforesaid." It was then proposed "that property under the government of towns having commissioners should be exempted from the payment of such rates or any impost now levied thereon." The discussion of this resolution was renewed the following day, and finally rejected in favour of an amendment which continued the tax in a still more objectionable form. This decision was met by the Douglas Town Commissioners resolving to suspend all further drainage works until the obnoxious tax was removed, and to send a deputation to the Governor on the subject.

On the 12th February, 1869, the much-needed Highway Bill was advanced a step nearer its settlement by the Council passing a series of resolutions almost identical with those adopted by the Keys on the 22nd of April in the preceding year, except that to the proposals of the Keys numbered 1 and 2, the Council added the important clause "Save as to towns under the management of Town Commissioners "—a clause which would have had the effect of exempting the towns of Douglas and Ramsey from the operation of the proposed Highway Act. On the 23rd of March, these resolutions, passed by the Council, were formally considered by the House of Keys. The first resolution, —" That it is necessary to amend the present Highway Acts, and they are of opinion that it is advisable to consolidate the law as to highways in one Act," was unanimously adopted as embodying the Keys’ own resolution. The second resolution,—" That the Keys’ proposals numbered 1 and 2 should be carried into effect, save as to towns under the management of Town Commissioners; it being declared that the roads and streets in towns not having commissioners should be under the management of the Highroad Committee, or Commissioners "—being read, it was moved by Mr Dalrymple, and seconded by Mr Stevenson, that the words "save as to towns under the management of Town Commissioners" be struck out. In the course of the discussion which ensued, Mr Dalrymple amended his motion to the effect that the House adhere to its former resolution—which would have had the effect of making town and country alike equally rateable for highway purposes, the cost of "repairing the roads and streets of towns under the management of Town Commissioners" being repaid to the Town Commissioners out of the general fund. To this Mr Dumbell, member for Douglas, moved as an amendment, that the words "says as to towns under the management of Town Commissioners" be retained. This amendment was seconded by Mr W. F. Moore, also member for Douglas. After a long and warm debate, the amendment was defeated by a majority of 6; and Mr Dalrymple’s motion being then put was carried by a majority of 2—thus re-affirming the determination of the House to refuse the demand of the towns for relief from the highway tax. The uncompromising temper of the dominant country party was further shown in the discussion on the 8th resolution of the Council, which proposed to popularise the Highroad Committee by throwing it open to gentlemen not members of the Tynwald Court, by striking out the obnoxious words—" But the Commissioners not necessarily to be members of the Tynwald Court." The discussion of the Council’s resolutions was continued on the next day, the 24th, and ended in the relative position of the question remaining almost unaltered; the country party, backed by their overwhelming majority in the House of Keys, refusing resolutely the very moderate concessions proposed by the Council, and declaring anew, and in emphatic terms, their determination to compel the towns to pay towards the maintenance of the country roads according to their rateable value. These proceedings of the Keys excited the utmost indignation in the towns concerned. It was felt to be both high handed and unjust, and, confident in the justice of their demands as well as urged on by the necessities of their position, which made them unable both to pay this heavy contribution towards the maintenance of the country roads and carry out the improvements essential to the healthiness and prosperity of their towns, the inhabitants of Douglas and Ramsey again prepared to contest the point with the House of Keys. On the 7th of July, at a meeting of the House held at Castletown, a committee of the Keys was appointed to confer with the Council on the High way Resolutions, and see.if an agreement could not be arrived at between the two branches of the Legislature. On the 14th of the same month, at Douglas, Mr Jeffcott, on behalf of the committee, reported to the House the result of this conference, from which it appeared that the upper branch objected principally to the proposal of the Keys, moved by Mr Dairympie, that for the maintenance of the Insular roads there should be a uniform rate, not exceeding threepence in the pound, on all lands and houses, including the towns with, as well as the towns without, Commissioners. The Council were of opinion that towns with Commissioners should not be subjected to this rate. Upon the communication of this report, Mr Dalrymple, the mover of the obnoxious proposal and the mouthpiece in this matter of the country party, rose and moved that the proposal of the Council should be adopted; though, he added, he felt confident that the incorporated towns were making a bad bargain by objecting to his former proposal. This motion was seconded by Mr Martin, and carried after an emphatic protest from the members of the Town party present. This skilful manoeuvre of the country party had the effect of bringing the highway question, as far as the two towns were concerned, to its original position—leaving them still subject to the tax of three shillings per house towards the maintenance of the country roads. As soon as this move of the country party became known, the greatest indignation was expressed in the towns affected, and a determined opposition to the iniquitous tax was again resolved upon; the fact that the resolution which had thus brought the whole question back to its first position having been suddenly smuggled through the House at the end of a long and wearisome session, without proper notice, rendering the popular dissatisfaction more intense, and the determination to refuse to accept it as a settlement of the difficulty more definite. But, unsatisfactory as the position now was, neither party was pre pared to make any further move under existing circumstances; the town party required time to prepare their plans and marshal their forces, while the country party, satisfied with their present victory, were content to rest for a time upon their laurels ; consequently, the question of the highways and the mode of raising the necessary funds for their maintenance was allowed by mutual consent to slumber for the present, ready, however, to start up afresh at any future time.


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