[From Birds of the IoM, 1905]



Manx Shearwater
[Manx Shearwater - not from Ralfe]

Willughby described the Shearwater (Ornithologia, 1676, P. 252; Ornithology, 1678, p. 334) from a young specimen taken from the nest, and almost certainly Manx, as is shown by the detailed description of the Calf of Man, and the habits of the birds nesting there. Ray saw later, in Tradescant's Museum and that of the Royal Society, other specimens, which he assigns to the same species, but this must remain uncertain. In the catalogue of the Royal Society's Museum, printed in 1681 and compiled by N. Grew, no mention of Puffinus anglorum is found, but an entry under 'Puffin, Anas arctica: They breed in Island, in the Isle of Mona, in Scotland, in those of Fero and the Syllies; also in Ireland, and other places'1. In the Museum Tradescantianum (1656), as Professor Newton kindly informs me, the 'Puffin' is simply given without note or comment.

From Ray's English version of the Ornithology (p. 334) I quote as follows: 'At the south end of the Isle of Man lies a little Islet, divided from Man by a narrow channel, called the Calf of Man, on which are no habitations but only a Cottage or two lately built. This Islet is full of Conies which the Puffins coming yearly dislodge and build in their Burroughs. They lay each but one Egg before they sit, like the Razorbill and Guillem, although it be the common persuasion that they lay two at a time, of which the one is always addle. They feed their young ones wondrous fat. The old ones early in the morning, at break of day, leave their Nests and Young and the Island itself, and spend the whole day in fishing on the sea, never returning or once setting foot on the Island before evening, twilight;2 so that all day the Island is so quiet and still from all noise as if there were not a bird about it. Whatever fish or other food they have gotten and swallowed in the day-time, by the innate heat or proper ferment of the stomach is (as they say) changed into a certain oyly substance (or rather chyle), A good part wherof in the night time they vomit up into the mouths of their young, which being therewith nourished, grow extraordinarily fat. When they are come to their full growth, they who are intrusted by the Lord of the Island (the earl of Darby3) draw them out of the cony holes; and that they way the more readily know and 'keep an account of the number they take, they cut off one foot and reserve it, which gave occasion to that Fable that the Puffins are single-footed. They usually sell them for about ninepence the dozen, a very cheap rate, They say their flesh is permitted by the Romish Church to be eaten in Lent, being for the taste so like to::fish. . . .

'We are told that they breed not only on the Calf of Man, but also on the Silly (sic) Islands. Notwithstanding they are sold so cheap, yet some years there is thirty pounds made of the young Puffins taken in the Calf of Man. Whence may be gathered what number of birds breed there.'

The equivalent Latin passage is as follows : 'Australi termino insulae Monae (quae in medio niari Angliam inter et Hiberniam sita, aequalibus fere intervallis ab Anglia, Scotia et Hibernia distat, perque triginta milliaria ab Austro in Aquilonem porrigit-ar) alia adjacet insulula,angusto freto dirempta, The Calf of Man dicta, inculta proraus ant duobus tribtisve tantum tuguriolis nuper ektructis habitata, cuniculis scatens, quos quotannis vere adventantes Puffini abigunt, inque eorum foraminibiis nidificant. Ovorum unicum una vice pariant, quein admodum Anas Arctica, Alka, etc., quamvis vulgo persuasum sit, cos duo semper ova ponere, quorum alteram perpetuo sit infaecundum. Pullos exclusos mirum in modum saginant. Matres summo inane, quam prinium illucescit, nidos et pullos ipsamque insulam deserunt, totumque diem in mari piscando impendunt, nee unquam ante crepusealum vespertinum redeunt, aut Cibi in insula pedem figunt. Quicquid piscium aliusve esculenti per totum diem deglutiverint, innato ventriculi seu calore seu alia quadain vi occulta in substantiarn quandam oleosam (ut aiunt) facessit, eujus bonam partem noctu in pullorum ora evomunt, qui eo enutriti supra modum piiiguesount. Adultos quibus id muneris a soli,Domino datum est cuniculis extrahunt; et ut expeditus captorum numerum ineant, teneantque, pedem alterum abscindunt et reservant. Hine orta fabula, Puffinos esse monopodes. Pullos duodeiios novem plerumque denariis nostrae monetae vendunt, satis vili pretio. Eorum esum tempore Quadragesimae permissum aiunt, quod videantur quodammodo piscibus affinis, sapere scilicet carnis.'

The colony had already been briefly mentioned in Camden (1586), and Chaloner, in 1656, had already given a quaint account of the 'Puffines' of the Calf; 'nourishing (as is conceived) their Young with Oyl; which drawn from their own Constitution, is dropped into their mouths; for that being opened there is found in their crops no other sustenance but a single Sorrel leaf, which the Old give their Young, for digestion's sake, as is conjecturd ; the flesh of these Birds is nothing pleasant fresh, because of their rank and Fish-like taste; but, pickled or salted, they may be ranked with Anchoves, Caviare, or the like; but profitable they are in their feathers, and Oyl, of which they make great use about their Wooll.'4

After this almost every describer of the Isle of Man has something to say of the 'Puffin,' but little information is added, and we fail to get anything that looks like an account by a person who had visited its breeding place and observed the birds. Bishop Wilson says that young were ready to fly about the 15th August; that they were then 'hunted,' and great numbers, few years less than four thousand or five thousand, taken. They were, he adds, almost one lump of fat. 'They who will be at the expense of wine, spice, and other ingredients, to pickle them, make them very grateful to many palates, and send them abroad ; but the greatest parts are consumed at home, coming at a very proper time for the husbandman in harvest.'5

In the account of 'The profits of the Calve Island this year' (1708) is included 'the Puffins of ye s' Isle this year being 2618 birds,at 1d., 13: 05: 06' (Manx Note-Book, No. 8, p. 190). John Quayle, C.R., in his formerly quoted letter to his brother-in-law, James Moore (1776), says: 'The other day I sent you a Kegg of Puffins. . . . I hope ere this comes to hand that you have received and tried the Puffins.'

Pennant (1776) Brit. Zool., ii. p. 551, tells us: 'These birds are found in the Calf of Man; and as Mr. Ray supposes in the, Scilly isles; they resort to the former in February; take a short possession of the rabbit burrows, and then disappear till April; they lay one egg, white and blunt at each end, and the young are fit to be taken the beginning of August; when great numbers are killed by the person who farms the isle; they are salted and barrelled, and when they are boiled are eaten with potatoes. During the day they keep at sea fishing; and towards evening return to their young; whom they feed, by discharging the contents of their stomachs into their mouths; which by that time is turned into oil; by reason of the backward situation of their legs they sit quite erect.6 They quit the isle the latter of August or beginning of September; and, from accounts lately received from navigators, we have reason to imagine, that like the storm finch, they are dispersed over the whole Atlantic ocean.'7

Townley, on his arrival in the island, desired to see something of the ornithological curiosity of which he had heard, and was told at Douglas that for this purpose he must go to the Calf. He visited the islet on 11th June 1789, but does not seem after all to have seen the Shearwaters, and adds little to our information concerning them. His account of the Calf, however, is interesting.

'When we had got safely landed . . . we ascended a very steep hill up towards the herdsman's house; the only one now in the solitary isle; and that inhabited by only one old man and his old wife, each having attained the age of seventy and upwards. The old man was gone out upon his bird-catching business, but soon returned with his booty of eight sea-parrots. . . . Nightly plunderers are the only people they have either to fear or guard against. Their visits being for the injurious purposes of destroying the rabbits and puffins, two main articles of traffic and profit, belonging to the island. . . . I found myself quite mistaken in the opinion I had formed respecting the sterility of the island, having often heard, from vague reports, that it was unable (from its produce) to support any living creatures, except rabbits and puffins; but I found it abounding in sweet pasturage; that the surface of the ground in general consisted of a very fine turf intermixed with some spatches of short heath, or ling and some (it is true) of barren rocks. I asked the old man, why they had no sheep upon the island, as the pasturage seemed admirably adapted for that valuable, profitable stock. He answered, that sheep were so handy to carry off, and had been so frequently stolen by sea-faring plunderers, that it was thought advisable to pasture the island with young stock of the cow-kind; of which I saw several grazing about.' Townley went round the greater part of the Calf both by land and sea, and proceeds to describe the Burrow and Eye, the Stack, the Sound, and the Cow (Cow Harbour). 'The rabbits upon the island,' he remarks, '(according to the old man's information) have formerly made a hundred and forty pounds per annum; puffins,8 and the feathers of the sea-birds, about half that sum ; but the profits on both these articles have diminished, since the rats have got such a footing in the place.'

Robertson (1794), whether from personal observation we do not know, mentions the species as breeding only at the Calf on the rocks. Feltham (1798), though he notes at the Calf the 'Razor-bill (Alca torda),' and the 'Puffin (.Alca artica)' (sic), says nothing of the Shearwater. Woods(1811) states that rats, escaping from a wrecked Russian merchant vessel, 'some years ago' almost exterminated the Puffins; he confuses 'puffins' and 'sea-parrots,' and his visit to the Calf was too late in the year (September) for him to see the various birds at their breeding places. Sir William Jardine (iv. P. 255) says of his visit in 1827, 'We were much disappointed in scarcely being able to trace even the recollection of their former abundance,' and adds, 'We are not aware of this Shearwater having been seen in the Solway, or about its entrance, for many years.' The same author wrote in 1836 to T. C. Heysham: 'We went . . . to seek the Manks Petrel, but were unsuccessful. The people said that it had left the Calf several years previously, and if any number had been there we should not have missed them.' (Macpherson, Vert. Faunct of Lakeland, p. 454.)

The bird had some time before 1827 disappeared from the Calf, and it is quite likely that the confusion of the species with Fratercula aretica, which extended even into the scientific world, has caused its extinction to be placed much later than was really the case. Thus Train in 1845 calls it ' Coulterneb Puffin' and 'Tommie-noddie,' and states that it visited the Calf 'down to the beginning of the present century.' Statements, sometimes vague, sometimes (like Woods' as above quoted) definite, that the advent of rats to the Calf was the cause of its extinction or departure, are to be found in Manx literature, and Jardine attributed its loss to the Calf being more frequented and a lighthouse built. Yarrell (lst ed. 1843, vol. iii. P. 508). also ascribes its disappearance there to the settlement of man, and says of its diminution in general that it is 'wholly occasioned by the wanton and greedy destruction of their eggs and young.' Perhaps the rivalry of Fratercula aretica, now so very dominant on the Calf, may have had more to do with it, as Messrs. Harvie-Brown and Buckley suggest in the case of deserted breeding stations in the Hebrides. In Naumann's great work (copied on p. 30, vol. xii. of the new edition from the original) it is said, 'An solchen Orten, wo sehr viele dieser Vogel auf einem Platze nahe beisammen iiisten, wie friiher an mebreren Stellen auf Man, auf Skomer oder St. Kilda, haben sie den Rasen so unterwiihlt, dass der darauf wandelnde Fuss alle Augeirblicke einsinkt.' But upon what authority these details are given, and the statement made that there were several stations, is not mentioned.

In Macpherson and Duckworth's Birds of Cumberland (p. 182) it is stated that when Professor Macpherson, visiting as a Commissioner of Northern Lights, inquired after the Shearwater at the Calf in 1885, he was told that large numbers were still observed in that neighbourhood (see below), and the authors suggest from this that the species may still possibly breed on some part of the coast of Man; nothing further, however, has since been reported to justify this surmise. The Manx Shearwater cannot, however, be very rare in the Irish Sea. In the summer of 1890 Mr. Adams had a specimen obtained off our south coast; on August 19 and 25, 1892, according to Mr. Kermode, several were shot in Ramsey Bay. On 12th July 1893 I picked up a dead specimen at Port Skillion, Douglas. On 8th August 1895 Mr. Kermode saw a number near the Point of Ayre; on 13th July 1905 I observed about six in the tideway off Langness.

On 9th August 1885 'a large number of Manx Petrels' is reported at Langness at 3 P.M.

A few nest on the Wicklow and Dublin coasts and very many on Rathlin Island. It does not breed in south-western Scotland,' and is rare and irregular on the English side of the Irish Sea, but breeds on Bardsey and elsewhere off Carnarvonshire. It nests also in Orkney, Shetland, and the Outer Hebrides, but appears to be generally decreasing in numbers.

8th June 1704.-The Case of John Stevenson, of Balladoole, in relation to his Claim of Five hundred Puffins yearly out of the Calf of Man.

First, That the sd Calf was in possession of my Ancestors for near the space of a hundred years till ye year 1643 when the Right Honble James Earl of Derby10 (of happy memory) being constrained by the calamities of those times to retire to this Island requesting my Grandfather that for the better provision of his Lordship's house, he would let him have the benefit of the said Isle, whereupon my Grandfather out of the deep sense he then and always had of his Lop.'s sufferings, conveyed to his Lop. the said Calf, and in lieu thereof his Lop. assigned certain Closes on the North side of Man to my Grand-father and his Heirs for ever; and his Lop. well knowing the said Closes were not an Equivalent to the sd Calf did at that time agree to allow my Grand-father Five hundred Puffins yearly out of the sd Calf, as by a Certificate under the hand of the right Honoble Countess Dowager of Derby in the year 1656 may appear, pursuant to wch agreemt my Grand-Ffather had and Recd the sd Puffins during his Lop.'s life, and in the year 1651 his Lop. and his whole Retinue being engaged in the Royall Cause in England his sd Countess not having the like occasion for the sd Calf, did then honourably (according to the power she had in her Lord's absence) in consideration of the fidelity and good service done by my Grand-Ffather, surrender again the sd Calf, as by a Deed now upon Record may also appear: But at that juncture the usurping powers immediately succeeding, and my GranFfather neglecting, to put her Lap.'s Grant in execution, he cou'd not then possess himself of the sd Calf nor even of his yearly number of Puffins, untill he had first obtained the Certificate above mentioned wllh the Lord Fairfax 11 was so amply satisfied with, that he gave immediate orders for 'the continuance of the sd Puffins, and Mr. Chaloner his lop.'s Governor was so far convinced of the reasonableness of the demand that he not only paid them as formerly, but also allowed for the year my Grandfather was behind whilst the matter was in question; And so it was yearly continued during the usurpation, and afterwards without any interruption till the year 1668, when my Lord Charles by some suggestions, was put upon to order his officers here to demand an Acct of my Grand-ffather and others what goods they kept in the Calf, as also what Puffins my Grandffather had out of the same, wch Order I presume was accordingly observed, and the Puffins appeared to be my Grandffather's Right: for in that year and every year afterwards during his Lop.'s life there was an allowance always taken in the Accts for them, as by the charge of the respective stewards may appear: But in the year 1683 my Grandffather deceasing, the then steward making a doubt whether the sd Puffins were to be continued as formerly, the whole matter was then again enquired into by Govr Heywood, and the same represented to Earl William who it's presumed was. fully satisfied therewith, because. the sd allowance was that year and afterwards paid and allowed in the Accts till the year 1696 Governr Sankey by what power not yet known took upon him to cause the sd yearly payment to cease.

'And now forasmuch as the sd Puffins have been yearly paid and allowed to my Ancestors for the course of 53 years (wch of itself may seem a sufficient Title) and also that in that time the matter was thrice called in question and still the Puffins found to be justly due, there being no one instance of any writing or Tryall evincing the contrary: And forasmuch as the Right Honoble Charlotte, Countess of Derby, hath so generously demonstrated her true sense of my Grandffather's fidelity and loyalty both to her Lord and herself in the time of her greatest distresses-First, by her deed of Surrender of ye Calf and afterwards by her Certificate confirming our right to the Puffins, and moreover in regard that the said Countess and her Lord together often declared their firm intentions if ever they were restored to their own, not only to resettle the Calf on my Ancestors but to give greater instances of their favour. And lastly, forasmuch as the sd Calf is at this time worth 30£ p. ann. (tho' nothing improved since it came into the Lords hands), and the land wch was given in lieu of the same, together with the allowance of Puffins not worth half that sum: Upon all these considerations, it is humbly hoped his Lop. will be graciously pleased so to order the sd Puffins yearly as formerly that there be hereafter no further uneasyness on that account.

June 9th, 1704.

' This is a true state of Mr. Stevenson's case as it appears to us, having examined the Records and other papers laid before us, and this we attest, pursuant to our Honble Lord's Order to us requiring a just representation of this matter.




'12th June 1704.-This is a true copy of the original sent to our Honble Lord, and Examined by me,


D. Cler. Rotul.'


1 1 have to thank Messrs. Harrison and White for searching on my behalf the archives of this Society; also Professor Newton for much kind correspondence, in which he has fully discussed the subject with me. It is to be feared that no further light is now to be obtained on the subject, and the discrepancy with Ray's statement is difficult to explain.

2 This would generally be thought an error of superficial observers, who took for granted that the birds were absent on account of their quietness, while they really spent the day in their holes; but Macpherson (Brit. Birds, p. 116) emphatically states: 'In the Hebrides the Shearwaters are chiefly diurnal in their habits, and may be seen sporting over their fishing grounds on any breezy day.'

3 In 1643 Richard Stevenson, of Balladoole, whose family had long been in possession of the Calf, was persuaded or pressed by James, Earl of Derby, who had then taken up his residence in Man, to give up the islet to him, receiving in exchange certain 'closes' in the north, and yearly payment of five hundred Puffins.

Within the next fifty years it appears that the right of the Stevensons to these Puffins was repeatedly questioned, and finally Governor Sankey in 1696 refused delivery of them. In 1704 a petition was addressed to the Lord of Man by John Stevenson-a curious document, which, by the courtesy of his present heir, Mr W. A. Stevenson, I am enabled to reproduce at the end of this article. The result of the application is not known.

4 William Blundell, who came to Man in 1648, and whose manuscript, written about the same time as Chaloner's treatise, was published only in 1876 by the Manx Society, quotes the latter's account of the ' Puffins' word for word, remarking: 'From hence (the Calf) have the islanders, I mean ye Manksmen, their puffins, which are here as numerous as in the Island of Bardsey, in the west point of Anglesey. Concerning those puffins, Mr. Chaloner hath made so perfect, exact, and excellent an observation of whatsoever concerneth them, that I cannot omit to impart it to my reader, for his recreation as well as mine.' Shearwaters still breed on Bardsey (Zool., 1902, P. 16).

5 Mr. W. A. Stevenson tells me that the Puffins of the Calf are said to have been regularly tithed for the benefit of the Church, and a certain rock at the Sound, where the division was made, is still pointed out.

6 Evident confusion with Fratercula.

7 In none of these old accounts is any mention made of the strange nocturnal clamour of the Shearwaters. But can Waldron's story(' Description of the Isle of Man,' 1731, Manx Soc., vol. xi. p. 67) of the spirit which haunted the coasts have originated in this noise. , described as infernal by modern writers ? ' The disturbed spirit of a person shipwrecked on a rock adjacent to this coast wanders about it still, and sometimes makes so terrible a yelling that it is heard at an incredible distance. They tell you that houses even shake with it; and that, not only mankind, but all the brute creation within hearing, tremble at the sound. But what serves very much to increase the shock is that, whenever it makes this extraordinary noise, it is a sure prediction of an approaching storm. . . . At other times the spirit cries out only, " Hoa, hoa, hoa !" with a voice little, if anything, louder than a human one.'

8 By 'Puffin,' Townley, like previous authorities, doubtless means Shearwater. Although Fratercula arctica existed on the Calf, and was also eaten (see above, and under article ' Puffin'), he mentions it under the name of 'Parrot' and 'Sea-Parrot.'

9 On 26th May 1904 I saw a few close to the Scar Rocks in Luce Bay.

10 This was the ' Great Stanley' whose career eight years later ended so tragically at Bolton. His residence in Man was marked by grave disturbances, and on his death a popular revolution handed over the island to the forces of the Commonwealth.

11 To whom the royalty of Man was made over by the Commonwealth government.



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