[From Brown's Directory, 1881/2]

[Historical Chapter]

[Bishop Powys & St Thomas's]

We now resume our narrative of the Bishop’s proceedings, and their collateral results. Declining to accept the verdict of the Northern jury, the Bishop appealed to the " Full Court of Common Law," the Attorney-General (Mr. J. Gell) and Mr. Callow appearing for the appellant (the Bishop), and Messrs Adams and Sherwood for the respondent, Mr Laughton. The case came on for hearing on the 23rd June, 1870, and continued throughout that and the following day ; the proceedings being enlivened by a " scene " between the Governor—the President of the Court—and Mr. Adams. On the 7th July, judgment was given reversing the verdict of the Court below, with costs, on the ground of misdirection on the part of the judge (Deemster Stephen) in leaving the question of malice to the jury. On the 4th August, a meeting of Mr. Laughton’s friends was held in St. James’s Hall, Douglas, and a subscription list was opened towards defraying the heavy expenses which he had incurred in prosecuting this suit. Encouraged by this and other demonstrations of public sympathy, Mr. Laughton, after consulting with an eminent English lawyer, lodged an appeal with the Privy Council; and, after a lengthened course of proceedings, judgment was given on December 14th, 1872, affirming the judgment of the Appellate Court of the Isle of Man, and dismissing the appeal with costs. A considerable sum (about £430) had been subscribed by the public towards Mr Laughton’s expenses ; but the result was eminently unsatisfactory, both to Mr. Laughton himself and to the general public. On the 20th December, Mr Laughton published, in a communication to The Isle of Man Times, a series of extracts from the evidence given in the original trial, in justification of his proceedings, or, as he phrased it, to place " his defence before the great body of the public" — an act which terminated this long and disputing episode in Manx ecclesiastical affairs.

While this great law suit was thus dragging its weary length from Court to Court, a number of minor cases, arising out of it, had run their course. On the 7th February, 1871, six suits for libel were brought by members of the special jury which had sat in the " great trial," against Mrs. Harriet Curphey, for publishing in her paper, The Manx Sun, certain articles reflecting improperly upon their conduct on that occasion. The first case heard was that of John Wade. The proceedings occupied two days, and ended in a verdict for the plaintiff, £10 damages and costs. The second case, that of John Teare v. H. Curphey, was then heard, and resulted in a similar verdict of £15 damages and costs. Before the third case came on for hearing, on the 17th, it was announced by the defendant s attorney that the remaining cases had been compromised by the payment of £15 and costs in each case. The total penalty thus incurred in these suits was estimated at above £400—a heavy fine to pay for indiscreet support of an unpopular bishop.

Meanwhile, the dispute between the Bishop and the Vicar of Braddan remained undecided, the church of St. Thomas still remained closed, and the public mind was still agitated by the open scandal of a church so much wanted by the spiritual interests of the town being closed for years through the quarrels of two unsatisfied clergymen. On the 10th August, 1870, Mr. Christian drew the attention of the Tynwald Court to this dispute, and suggested the appointment of a committee to consider the question. The Archdeacon was glad Mr Christian had brought the matter forward, as it was one which, by the Act of 1847, was entirely within the discretion of the Court. Mr. Dumbell agreed with these remarks, but thought that a bill to regulate the patronage should be drawn up. Mr Christian then moved:— That a Committee of five members be appointed to prepare a Bill providing for the separation of the town of Douglas from the parish of Braddan, in compliance with the Act of 1847.

Seconded by the Archdeacon, and carried. The Clerk of the Rolls, the Archdeacon, and Messrs Christian, Dumbell, and W. F Moore, were then appointed on the committee. On the 23rd of February, 1871, they presented their report, in which they recommended that the proposed parish of Douglas should be divided into ecclesiastical districts, and that the first appointment to St. Thomas’s should not be vested in either of the two claimants. On the 21st March, this Bill was passed by the Council, and on the 29th came before the House of Keys, together with a petition from the Rev. W. Drury, Vicar of Braddan. On the motion of Mr. Sherwood, their consideration was adjourned. Mr. Sherwood then gave notice that, at the next meeting of the House, he would introduce a Bill for settling the presentation to St. Thomas’s Church, and opening it for public worship.

On the 1st March, 1871, the Bishop suddenly returned to the Island, after a prolonged absence ; in consequence, it was generally supposed, of its having been recently discovered that, by an old Act of Tynwald, he would forfeit his salary if he absented himself from his diocese more than four months in one year. On the 2nd June, the annual convocation of the Insular clergy was held at Bishop’s Court, the Bishop presiding. During the proceedings, which were of no public importance, Mr. Drury, a son of the Vicar of Braddan, was ordained a deacon by the Bishop.

On the 29th May, Mr Sherwood brought in his Bill for regulating St. Thomas’s Church; and on the 13th June, the Government Bill for separating the district of St. Thomas from the parish of Braddan, came on for its first reading, together with Mr. Drury’s petition against it. A long debate ensued on the question whether Mr. Drury should be heard by counsel ;and, on its being agreed to, Mr. Adams addressed the House in support of Mr. Drury’s rights as vicar of Braddan. On the 16th, the discussion was resumed ; and, ultimately, the Bill was thrown out on the preamble. Mr. Sherwood’s Bill was then taken up, and considered clause by clause. On the final motion, 10 voted for it and 9 against it : it was thus lost for want of a legal majority.

On the 13th February, 1872, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners informed Mr. Drury’s London solicitors that they had determined "to proceed to give effect to the wishes of the promoters of St. Thomas’ Church, in regard to a declaration vesting the patronage in the Bishop of the diocese, and to the assignment of a district to the same church." Upon receiving this intimation, Messrs Baxter & Co., the Vicar’s solicitors, made an attempt to stay this declaration, but unavailingly ; and the Commissioners proceeded to carry out their intention. Their interference in this dispute excited the greatest indignation among the Manx, by whom it was generally regarded an an invasion of their privileges unwarranted by the Act (6 and 7 Vic., cap. 37) which constituted them. Preparations were made for opening the long-closed church, and the Rev. F. Hutton was appointed by the Bishop to the incumbency. On the 28th May, the Bishop suddenly consecrated the building ;and on the same day, the Vicar of Braddan addressed a letter to the Bishop, stating that he had "received no information that St. Thomas’s Church had been separated from his parish," and that " until this was done, his right to inhibit any person from officiating therein" was unaffected. He also on the same day wrote to Mr. Hutton, forbidding him to officiate in St. Thomas’s Church without his permission ;and three days later he wrote again to Mr. Hutton, inviting him to apply for his licence. On the 6th June, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners issued their official instrument, attaching a district to St. Thomas’s Church ;and on Saturday, June 29th, the church was re-opened with considerable ceremony. the Bishop being present. On the following day, Sunday, he preached twice in the church ;and in the following week the seats in the church were formally allotted to the congregation. Thus closed, so far as the public were concerned, this long-continued dispute ; its termination cannot, however, be accepted as satisfactory or creditable to its author, inasmuch as it was brought about by means of an authority from without, and by means the legality of which was much questioned ; but as this act, however unsatisfactory in itself, put an end to a glaring scandal in the Manx Church, and as, with. out some such act, there seemed no probability of the dispute ever being closed, it was quietly accepted by the country.


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