[From Brown's 1882 Directory]

[Historical Chapter]

[Manx Industries 1867-1868]

Other legislative measures of great importance to the development of the general interests of the Island, and the assimilation of its modes of procedure with those of the neighbouring countries, were adopted by the Insular Legislature during the period thus occupied in the discussion of the Highway Question. Among these were the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, the Petty Sessions and Summary Jurisdiction Acts, the Criminal Code, the Limited Liability Act, the Real Property Act—making real property liable to the payment of debts and devisable by will—the Wills Act, the Act for the Prevention of Adulteration and the appointment of a Public Analyst, and the Registration of Deeds Act. The steady progress of the country was clearly shown by the persistent increase of its revenue, which, according to the Lieut.. Governor’s financial statement for the year ending March 31st, 1868, presented to the Tynwald Court at St. John’s, on July 6th, was £3,500 in excess of the preceding year, notwithstanding some considerable reductions which had been made in the duties on tea and several other articles. Agriculture also made great progress under the stimulating influence of the Isle of Man Agricultural Society and the Isle of Man Farmers’ Club, which, by encouraging the improvement of farm stock and the introduction of modern implements and machinery, and of more scientific systems of manuring and cropping; by instituting prize ploughing matches, by establishing annual shows of farm stock and produce, and generally by disseminating information respecting the latest improvements in agriculture, contributed powerfully toward placing Manx farming upon a more satisfactory footing. The rapid growth of the trade of Douglas consequent upon its increasing reputation as a summer watering place, also greatly assisted in this improvement of Manx agri culture. Until this summer trade had grown sufficiently to influence the demand for farm produce, the prices attainable had been too unremunerative to stimulate enterprise or repay any great outlay upon the land. For example, the best beef and mutton in the Island sold at two-pence to fourpence the pound, and good veal and pork were sold at three-halfpence to twopence the pound; fresh butter sold at sixpence the pound, and new laid eggs at four a penny; potatoes could be bought at twopence the stone of 14 lbs., and other things in proportion. With such prices as these at home, and with no foreign market open to him, there was nothing to encourage the Manx farmer to put more capital into his land or to increase the amount of his production. But with the development of the summer trade of Douglas, things gradually changed for the better. Year by year the number of summer visitors increased, for many years defying the most energetic efforts of the Steam-packet Company and the people of Douglas to cope with their wants; and, notwithstanding the utmost attempts of the farmers and market gardeners (who had sprung up with the occasion) to meet the requirements of the home market, the supply, during the height of the season, often fell far short of the demand. Coincident with this improvement of the home market came the opening up of the English markets to the Island through the establishment of the Steampacket Company. The central district has never availed itself to any great extent of this additional market, being fully occupied in supplying the home trade; but in the northern and southern districts a considerable export trade has sprung up, especially in cattle and potatoes. As a natural consequence of these favourable circumstances prices have greatly improved, so much so that there is now scarcely any difference between the market value of farm produce of all kinds in the Island and in England. Some few things are a little cheaper in the Island in the winter, when the demand is less; but, on the other hand, many articles in special request for the visitors are considerably higher in the summer. This improvement in the agricultural market of the Island has strongly re-acted upon Manx agriculture itself. Rents have steadily gone up, until, the quality of the land being taken into account, they are as high as (higher, it has been asserted than) they are in England; the old lands are more carefully cultivated, and large tracts of new land are being fast broken in; the condition of both farmers and farm labourers has been greatly improved; and, though the Manx farmer has suffered, like his English and Scotch brethren, from the effects of American competition, he is very much better off than his forefathers.

During the same period the two other great employments of the Manx people, mining and fishing, were being zealously carried on and with remarkably successful results. The two best developed mines, the Foxdale and the Great Laxey, steadily increased in value, and paid large and regular dividends. Tempted by their brilliant successes, adventurous speculators made exploratory excavations in numerous promising localities, and several of these enterprises, as the Maughold Head, the North Laxey, the Snaefell, the Kirk Michael, the Baldwin, the Ballacorkish, and the Bradda Head mines, for a time looked very promising. But Manx mining is very costly in its initiatory stages, the metal, in paying quantities, lying very deep; and after exhausting all the procurable capital of one or more sets of shareholders, they have almost all been abandoned. At this time, too, it seemed probable that slate quarrying would become one of the staple employments of the Manx. A great part of the area of the island consists of a series of clay slates, and in some localities the cleavage is so fairly developed that it was thought the rock could be worked into roofing slates and ornamental slabs. With this view quarries were opened in various places—at South Barrule, at Glen Rushen, at Glen Helen, at Peel, and elsewhere—and large sums of money were spent upon these schemes; but, from some cause, they have all proved greater or less failures, and have been almost all abandoned. It is a very remarkable fact that, though the Isle of Man is exceptionably rich in certain metals, and contains two of the most successful and profitable lead mines in the world, none others have succeeded; and that, though so many attempts have been made of late years to establish others, and enormous sums of money have been spent in making these attempts, none of them have been sufficiently successful to make them permanent enterprises.

The Manx fisheries also have been, on the whole, fairly progressive. They are more energetically prosecuted, and the boats follow the fish further to sea than formerly. The results of the Kinsale mackerel fishery have also proved very satisfactory; this fishery being already almost as valuable as the older summer herring fishery off the Manx coasts. This has encouraged attempts to establish new fishing stations, and several efforts have been recently made by the Peel boat owners to open up a winter herring fishery off the north-west coasts of Ireland; though, so far, with little success, owing mainly to the disinclination of the Manx fishermen to such a fishery. The present average annual value of all the Manx fisheries, so far as it can be ascertained, is about £200,000; but it is very difficult to speak with precision owing to the absence of official registers, no official account of the fisheries being kept by the Insular government.

Notwithstanding the great improvement effected by the Town Commissioners of Douglas in sweeping away nuisances and requiring that every house erected within their boundaries should be properly drained, the sanitary condition of the town was still very unsatisfactory. In the old town, low, crowded, and undrained, with the sewage flowing over the surface in open channels, and ash-heaps lying festering in the corners of blind alleys and courts, fevers were perennial and always at work upon the miserable population; and when their causes were intensified by the heats of summer they frequently overstepped their native boundaries and spread over the whole district. The same, though perhaps to a less degree, may be said of the other towns of the Island, and even of the country districts themselves; for though the population in these latter was not so dense as in the town of Douglas it was crowded into unhealthy dwellings, and neither understood nor practised the simplest of the laws which regulate human health. At this period, the average annual death-rate for the whole Island was estimated at 24 per thousand; a rate higher than the average death-rate for England including the large towns, and very much higher than the death-rate of the English rural districts and small towns, which was only 17 per thousand. Various attempts were made from time to time to check these recurring fever epidemics, but as the exciting causes remained untouched, the utmost that could be effected was to stamp it out for the time. In the autumn of 1863, the disease appeared with unusual virulence, and various measures were adopted to limit its ravages. The Douglas Town Commissioners had long recognised the necessity of taking more radical measures if this plague, which was yearly becoming more destructive owing to the increased crowding in the town and the general neglect of the most ordinary sanitary arrangements, was to be checked, much less eradicated; but they had been so hampered by the limited powers conferred on them by the Town’s Act, and by the want of the necessary funds, that they had been unable to undertake any but the most pressing and inexpensive steps. In July, 1864, however, they obtained further powers by the Douglas Town Amendment Act, and, anticipating the speedy remission of the oppressive tax levied upon the town towards the maintenance of the country roads, they at length considered themselves warranted in taking up seriously the idea of thoroughly and systematically draining the town of Douglas. Accordingly, plans were advertised for, and that of G. W. Stevenson, Esq., C.E., F.G.S., of London and Halifax, was finally accepted as the best. After some delay, caused by opposition to Mr Stevenson’s plan, but which was surmounted by Mr Lawson, an eminent authority on drainage matters, reporting favourably on it, this plan was adopted by the Town Commissioners, and Mr Stevenson was appointed superintending engineer, September, 1865. The main features of this drainage scheme, as thus adopted, were as follows: The system began opposite Castle Mona, about the centre of the Douglas shore, from which point a main intercepting sewer, 15 inches in diameter, ran along the shore road to Broadway, opposite the Iron Pier. At this point the secondary drains from the higher parts of the town, in the neighbourhood of Victoria-road and Derby-road were connected with the main drain, which was now increased to a diameter of 24 inches. Proceeding along the Shore-road to Castle-street, it there received the drains from the districts lying to the west, including Wellington-square, Finch-road, and other parts, and then, further enlarged to a diameter of 30 inches, it turned on to the shore, along which it ran, receiving subsidiary drains at the different "slips," or openings on to the shore. Opposite Drumgold street it was again enlarged to 36 inches, and, crossing the sands to the Pollock rocks, it joined the main outlet, which was 42 inches in diameter. The south parts of the town, lying between Drumgold-street and the harbour, are drained by a second intercepting sewer, with subsidiary drains running into it, along the North-quay and through the adjoining districts, joining the main outlet at the Pollock rocks. The outfall is carried along a natural slope through these rocks to below low water, where it discharges the sewage matter into the sea. In the existing condition of the finances of the town, the whole of this scheme was too extensive to engage in at one time; it was, therefore, divided into sections and carried out as the drainage of the various districts seemed to the Commissioners to be most urgent. The first section, the intercepting sewer from Castle Mona to the outfall at the Pollock rocks, was commenced in the summer of 1866, and completed in June, 1868. On the 29th of April, it was decided by the Commissioners to defer for the present the execution of the North-quay sewer and the secondary drains connected with it, in consequence of the adverse vote of the 23rd instant, by which the House of Keys resolved to lay an equal highway rate upon town and country alike. The Commissioners had been confidently relying upon the remission of this unjust tax to furnish the funds neces sary for the completion of their drainage scheme, and the refusal of the Keys to remit the tax compelled them to suspend further operations.

In June, 1866, notwithstanding the many precautions which had been taken to prevent its introduction into the Island, the cattle disease made its appearance in the neighbourhood of Ramsey, where several animals were found to be infected and were destroyed. About the same time the disease showed itself in one or two other places in the south, causing great excitement and alarm. The most vigorous measures, however, were promptly taken to "stamp it out," and with such success that the disease was soon got under control and finally extirpated.

In the beginning of January, 1867, a terrible storm raged along the Manx coasts, doing great damage both on land and sea. A Scotch vessel was wrecked on Contrary Head, near Peel, the crew being saved with great difficulty and danger from the tops of the neighbouring cliffs. Another vessel, a Welsh schooner, was wrecked near Ramsey, the crew also escaping to land. But the most disastrous of these wrecks was that of the East Indiaman, the James Crossfield, which struck on the promontory of Langness, near Castletown, early in the morning of Sunday the 6th. In a few minutes after striking on the terrible rocks which form this part of the coast, the ship went to pieces, and all on board, 37 in number, perished. The value of this unfortunate vessel, which was considered one of the finest of the East Indian clippers belonging to the port of Liverpool, was, with its cargo, estimated at above £100,000. This terrible calamity, which was only one of a long series of similar disasters, For rarely a winter passed without one or more wrecks upon the same dangerous coast, often attended with great loss of life, excited great sympathy throughout the Island; and a public meeting was held at Castletown, on the 21st of the same month, at which a memorial to the Board of Trade was adopted, setting forth the dangerous character of the coast of Langness, and asking for the erection of a lighthouse upon its southern point. An evasive answer was returned to this memorial, and it was not until 1879, after many years of delay and repeated disasters upon these dreaded rocks, that the Board saw fit to recognise the necessity of a light upon this promontory. One is now (1880) in course of erection, and it is to be hoped that this coast, hitherto so destructive to vessels navigating the Channel to and from Liverpool, will in the future, with this beacon-light upon its extreme point, be as safe to all within sight as is the Calf with its outlying reefs.


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