[From Brown's Directory, 1894]

Historical Chapter


Colonel Smelt was, in 1805, appointed by the Crown the first Lieutenant-Governor after the Revestment Act, and filled the office for twenty-seven years. Upon his death, in 1832. Major-General Ready was appointed his successor. As the Lieutenant-Governor presided in the Insular Court of Chancery as Chancellor, much inconvenience and dissatisfaction were felt from the fact that serious results might arise by the appointment of persons to the post of Lieutenant-Governor, who were totally unacquainted either with legal principles or practices. The Crown in order to remove this grievance, on the death of Governor Ready, appointed to the vacant office, the Honourable Charles Hope, son of the Earl of Hopetoun—and M. P. for the county of Linlithgow—a member both of the English and Scotch bars. He was most energetic iii the discharge of his official duties, and introduced into the Legislature several measures, eventually sanctioned by the Crown, which tended largely to advance the material prosperity and interests of the Island. An agitation was commenced, and vigorously kept up for many years, for the purpose of reforming the House of Keys— by introducing into its constitution the principle of popular election—that branch of the Legislature being then a self elective body. However, it was reserved for latter years to successfully accomplish this change in the Insular constitution. The honourable gentleman, for private reasons, resigned his office, and left the Island to reside in Scotland. On the resignation of the Hon. Charles Hope, the post of Lieutenant. Governor of the Island was awarded to Francis Pigott, Esq., M.P. for Reading, and brother of the late Baron Pigott. He was sworn in at Castle Rushen on the 12th Nov., 1860. He was received upon his arrival at Douglas with great eclat ; but his administration of Insular affairs did not come up to popular expectation. He removed the seat of Government from Castletown, where previous Governors had resided, to Douglas, selecting as his residence the mansion house of Villa Marina, with its beautiful grounds. He died in 1863, and was succeeded by Henry Brougham Loch. Esq., who was appointed on the 29th January, 1863. Mr Loch, previously to his appointment to the office, had carved out for himself an historical career of some interest. As an officer in the Bengal Cavalry he served as the aide-de-camp of Lord Gough in the war waged, in 1844, by that distinguished general against the Sikhs in the Punjaub. In 1854 he was sent by the Foreign Office to the Turkish Government to assist in organizing its military forces ; and he subsequently served in the Crimea. In 1857 he was appointed to Lord Elgin’s special embassy to China and Japan, and was entrusted by Lord Elgin to bring home the Japanese Treaty of 1858. Returning to China as Secretary to Lord Elgin’s Embassy, he was, in 1860, captured by the Chinese during the hostilities carried on in that year between the two countries, and, together with Mr Parkes, the English Consul, suffered the most barbarous indignities. He brought home the Convention of Pekin and the ratified Treaty of Tient-sin, and for his services was made Companion of the Bath. Upon his return to England, he was appointed Secretary to Sir George Grey at the Home Office. His administration of Insular affairs vas marked by untiring energy and ability.

Directly or indirectly, every branch of the Insular administration felt his guiding and controlling hand, and was the better for it. He especially encouraged the development of the Local Government principle in the Island; and with his advice and stimulation, the Douglas Town Board, under the able leadership of its chairman, Mr. John Mylrea, and its vice-chairman, Mr. C. Cleator, zealously prosecuted its labours for the improvement of the town. Arrangements were made with Mr. Stevenson, the Borough Engineer of Halifax, for the preparation of plans for the complete drainage of the town, and, among other measures intended to improve the position of the town as a summer resort, a series of bye-laws were drawn up b the Town Solicitor, Mr. A. W. Adams, and sanctioned by the Tynwald Court (17th Nov. 1863), under which the Town Commissioners obtained authority to prevent the injury done to the shore by the practice of removing sand and gravel for highway and building purposes. Hampered, however, in their work by the insufficiency of the powers they possessed under their Act, they introduced into the Legislature a Bill to amend and extend their authority. This Bill—the Douglas Town Amendment Bill—came before the House of Keys for consideration on 23rd February, 1864, and after a lengthened discussion, extending over four days, it was lost through not obtaining the necessary majority of the whole House. The discussion on this measure was remarkable as showing the irreconcilable opposition to urban progress which actuated the legislative acts of the old country members. Indeed, so bitter was the spirit which animated their resistance to this Bill, that it led them to use language as degrading to themselves as it was insulting to the community for whose benefit the measure had been introduced; one of them actually characterising the Town Commissioners as "mere tradesmen," who, aiming at royal authority, ought to be called "kings "and "wear royal crowns"!

The effect produced by the loss of this Bill, not only in Douglas but throughout the entire country, was extraordinary; the natural indignation caused by the rejection of so useful a measure being greatly exaggerated by the circumstances attending its rejection. In reporting these proceedings of the House of Keys, The Isle of Man Times, the leading Manx newspaper, on February 27th, 1864, commented upon them in deservedly severe terms. This condemnation was followed up by other strongly. worded articles in the issues of that journal, for March 5th and March 12th. In this course the editor of The Isle of Man Times was supported by the Mona’s Herald, a moderate Liberal organ, which condemned the proceedings of the House in a violent article, in its issue of March 2nd. The Conservative organ, the Manx Sun, on the other hand, substantially upheld the action of the Keys. This show of popular condemnation, so far from inducing the Keys to reconsider their decision in the light of public opinion, only made them more determined in their resistance to popular progress; and when summoned to Castletown, on the 15th March, for the despatch of public business, before taking up the matters for whose consideration they had been called together, the conduct of the two journals named—The Isle of Man Times, and the Mona’s Herald—in daring to comment adversely upon the action of the House, was brought forward by Mr. J. M. Jeffcott, who moved that the articles in these journals referred to were "libellous" and "scandalous," and "a contempt of this House and a breach of its privileges." This motion was seconded by Mr. Harrison, and agreed to without a division—so little did these arrogant persons understand the tendencies of the times, or the temper of the people. Mr. Jeffcott next moved "that James Brown, the printer and publisher of The Isle of Man Times, and John C. Fargher, the printer and publisher of the Mona’s Herald, be summoned to attend at the bar of this House, at eleven o’clock, On the following day, to answer for such contempt and breach of privilege." This was seconded by Mr. Callister, and was also agreed to without a division. The House then adjourned until the next day, refusing to transact any public business until it had satisfactorily vindicated its "privileges."

At ten o’clock the next morning, the House met, twenty-one members being present; and sat in private session until eleven o’clock, when the doors were thrown open and the public admitted. On Mr Brown being called, he appeared, accompanied by Mr A. W. Adams, his counsel; and claimed to be heard by counsel, according to rule. The House, however, harshly refused his claim: and Mr Brown, thus thrown upon his own resources, proceeded to defend the position he had taken upon this question with much ability and force, and asserted his determination to sustain it at all risks. The House then eat in secret session for two hours; and on re-opening, the Speaker, Mr E. M. Gawne, declared the decision of the House—that Mr Brown having "been guilty of contempt and breach of privilege, and that, as the course which he had pursued that morning was considered by the House to be an aggravation of the contempt, the House had, therefore, resolved that he should be imprisoned in the gaol of Castle Rushen for six calendar months." Mr Brown was then removed in custody of the Chief Constable to Castle Rusher’ Gaol. After a short adjournment, the second offender, Mr J. C. Fargher, was called to the bar of the House; but Mr Fargher, being in delicate health, and of less resolute character than Mr Brown, and being, moreover, terrified at the severity of Mr Brown’s sentence, at once gave way, expressed his regret for having offended, and was contemptuously dismissed by the House with a reproof. The House then adjourned to the next day, when it made a show of proceeding with the neglected public business; but little progress was made; and on the sudden and fatal illness of Mr LaMothe, the leader of the opposition to the Douglas Town Amendment Bill, the House again adjourned to April 12th.

Upon his condemnation, Mr Brown was at once removed to Castle Rushen, where, with vindictive harshness, he was placed in the part of the prison set aside for criminals. Upon this fact, however, being made known to the Lieut. -Governor he was removed to the debtors’ side of the prison, where the hardships of his confinement could be mitigated by the care of his friends. Steps were also taken to test the legality of his arrest and imprisonment; and an appeal for a writ of habeas corpus was made to the Court of Queen’s Bench. As time passed on, the excitement caused by the arbitrary proceedings of the Keys steadily increased; and in every part of the country they were condemned as harsh and unconstitutional. Nor was this sympathy ror toa imprisoned journalist confined to mere words. No sooner was it known that an appeal against the action of the Keys had been determined upon than subscriptions towards its cost flowed in; while letters expressive of sympathy and encouragement were received from all parts of England by Mr Brown; and articles commenting in severe terms upon the incident appeared in most of the principal papers, both English and Continental. On February 25th, Mr Weisby, acting for Mr Brown, in the Queen’s Bench, moved for a writ of habeas corpus; and on the 7th of May the case was argued before Chief Justice Cockburn, Mr Justice Blackburn, Mr Justice Mellor, and Mr Justice Shee; Mr Weisby and Mr Milward appearing for Mr Brown, and Mr Mellish, Q.C., and Mr Kemplay for the Keys. The case having been elaborately argued by the counsel for the Keys, whether a writ of habeas corpus could issue from the court to the Isle of Man, their lordships, without calling upon Mr Weisby to reply, intimated their unanimous opinion in the affirmative, and also that the writ ought to be made absolute; upon which, Mr Kemplay, on behalf of the Keys, yielded the point, and engaged that Mr Brown should be immediately discharged from custody.

This result was telegraphed to the friends of Mr. Brown, by Mr. Adams; and Mr J. Gell, High Bailiff of Castletown (now Sir James Gell, Attorney-General for the Island), who was conducting the case for the Keys, also telegraphed the decision of Mr. Gawne, Speaker to the House of Keys, to withdraw the order of imprisonment; and later in the day this was done and Mr. Brown released, after an imprisonment of seven weeks and three days. As it was intended to celebrate this great popular victory by a public demonstration, Mr. Brown was induced to defer his return home for two days; when he left Castletown accompanied by a large body of friends and sympatbisers. As they approached Douglas, they were met by large numbers of people on horseback, in carriages, and on foot, who escorted them in triumph to the Market Place; where Mr. Brown addressed the assembled multitude. In the evening, Mr. Brown was entertained at a public dinner, at which numerous patriotic speeches were made. The news of the defeat of the Keys, and of the release of the imprisoned journalist, was received throughout the country with great satisfaction; and at Port St. Mary, in the immediate neighbourhood of the Speaker’s own residence. Mr. Brown was received with an enthusiastic welcome by the assembled fishermen.

Shortly after his release, Mr. Brown filed an action at Common Law for false imprisonment against the twenty members of the House of Keys who had signed the warrant under which he had been committed to prison, laying the damages at £2,000. On the 26th July, the Keys, through their counsel, Messrs. J. Gell, A.. N. Laughton, and L. W. Adamson, filed their plea, in which they argued that, the decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench notwithstanding, they had the power of committing for contempt. This plea was met, on the 24th September, by a demurrer, in which it was contended that the said plea was "not sufficient in law to bar the plaintiff from having and maintaining his aforesaid action against the defendants." This plea and demurrer came on for argument before the "full Court of Common Law," at Castle Rushen, an 4th November; when there were present the Lieut. Governor (President), Deemsters Drinkwater and Stephen, and the Clerk of the Rolls. On the let December, the Court gave judgment overruling the plea set up by the Keys; but leaving them "to establish any other defence they may be advised upon the trial of the case upon its merits." This judgment practically confirmed the decision of the Court of Queen’s Bench, that the Keys had no power to commit for contempt; and left only one point to be decided by the jury, namely the amount of damages Mr. Brown was entitled to for his illegal imprisonment. This point came on for trial, on 6th June, 1865, at Douglas, before Deemster Drinkwater and a special jury, at the Court-house, Douglas. The trial extended over four days, and ended, on 17th June, with a "verdict for the plaintiff, with damages £518 19s. 6d., with the costs of this suit, to be taxed."

We have entered at length into this interesting case on account of the importance of the constitutional questions involved in its issue, and especially on account of the great effect which it had towards deciding the future relations of the House of Keys of the country and to the Press. Mr. Brown’s undaunted vindication of the right of freedom of discussion struck a death-blow to the House of Keys as a self-elected body; and though it lingered a little while longer, it was with greatly lessened prestige, to collapse utterly at the first real assault.


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