[From Bullock's History of IoM, 1816]
Review of the State of the Island under the dominion of the House of Stanley-Excessive Alarm excited by the revestment in Great Britain-the revival of Prosperity and general amelioration of Character and Manners resulting from a better order of things-Prejudice against the Duke of Athol, whence it originates, and how maintained.
HAVING brought the history of the island down to the time when it underwent its last great change, I shall endeavour to give a summary view of the condition in which the Manx people stood, when the power of the house of Stanley was extinguished.
As I have before observed, the population had been essentially reduced by the Scottish usurpation, and the inhabitants were levelled to a class of mere peasants, who, at the time the. Stanleys came into possession, were too poor to emigrate, and too ignorant to effect their own improvement. Their new lords, therefore, claimed an indefeasible right in the whole landed property, and appear to have considered the people in much the same point of view, that a Russian noble regards the vassals on his estates, as creatures existing only to cultivate lands for his benefit, in which they had, individually, neither right or interest. In this state of humiliation, the Manx remained with little variation for three centuries, employing themselves in fishing during the short season the herrings were on the coast, and for the rest of the year devoted to complete idleness, except the trifling garrison duty exacted from each, whilst the women performed the task of cultivating just so much land as, on the closest calculation, would supply the wants of the family, and pay the lord's rent. They dwelt in mud huts, without doors or windows, merely serving the single purpose of defending them from the inclemencies of the weather. There was at this time an essential difference between the Manx and the Scottish Clans, inhabiting the out-isles, formerly associated under the same government, and, probably, then actuated by the same habits and manners.
In those. isolated spots, though the land belonged altogether to one chief, yet were his interests so bound up by participation and relationship with those of his dependents, that his superiority seemed to be reflected: back, and to give to the whole community an elevation proportioned to his own. On the contrary, the lord of Man, for many ages, came amongst his people, but to coerce their persons, or to subtract from their little gains: in comparison to him, they were a distinct and inferior race of beings, who could only, gaze on him in his elevated sphere, as. a meteor or a comet, likely to endanger or alarm, but without a promise of advantage to mark his track. So circumstanced, they had quietly taken the evil with the good, neither stimulated by comparison, nor encouraged by hope, till about twenty years before Bishop Wilson's time, when a new channel was opened by a band of adventurers who came from Liverpool, and settled themselves, in Douglas, for the avowed purpose of carrying, on an illicit trade; and by the advantages they held out,, they soon induced ships: to and, from the. East: and West Indies, as well as those engaged in the Guinea trade, to touch: at the island,, where they found a ready market for part of their cargoes, which were afterwards conveyed in Manx vessels (and by those means eluding the custom dues) into other countries, as well as Great Britain and Ireland.
The profits attending this nefarious traffic were soon perceived to be so large, that the natives, awakened from their stupor, resolved to participate with the strangers. The lord of the isle also, deriving advantage from certain small duties paid to him, was little concerned to suppress it; and the people., already trained up to the sea, and inured to hardship, were well calculated to encounter the dangers of such an employ. But, in a pursuit of this kind, it is obvious the morals of the nation must be put to extreme hazard; it was impossible a commerce, founded on trick and fraud, could be prosecuted, without an entire surrender of principle, and the conviction that such was the case, gave to the good Bishop Wilson, as may be easily imagined, the most lively concern. In a letter to his son, dated in 1742, he says,
" Our people are mightily intent upon enlarging the harbours at Peel, Ramsay, and Douglas; but the iniquitous trade carried on, to the injury and damage of the crown, will hinder the blessing of God from falling upon us."
He earnestly strove to divert their awakened activity into another channel; but, in this particular, all his influence could impose no restraint, the gains and profits were obvious and present, the injury done to a government whose relationship they scarcely admitted, was founded upon abstract principles, which they had a difficulty, as well as disinclination, to comprehend; and it became evident, that only the strong arm of power could extirpate this nest of plunderers. On this ground, the revestment of the island in the crown of Great Britain was proposed, and carried into effect, as we have related, greatly against the wishes of its former possessors; and yet their reluctance bore no comparison to that with which the change was regarded by the natives. This feeling was also considerably aggravated by the secrecy observed on the part of the Duke of Athol or his officers, in relation to the treaty whilst pending; it appears by evidence given in before the English commissioners in 1792, that the first news of this intended sale was, only a slight rumor, which reached the island in January, 1785[sic 1765]; in consequence whereof, a requisition was made to the governor to convene the keys, with which he did not comply; that, in the month of March following, the proceedings in parliament becoming a matter of notoriety, and when, in fact; the consent of the duke and duchess had been given to the transfer, a second petition was presented for assembling the legislature of the island, which was at length granted; and, in consequence of this meeting, two gentlemen (* Mr. Moore and Mr. Cosnahan.) were deputed by the keys to attend parliament on behalf of the Manx, accompanied by merchant as agent for commercial affairs.
To have thus transferred a nation and its inhabitants, without the compliment of informing them of the change about to take place, appears a stretch of arbitrary power, hardly reconcileable with our ideas of civil liberty. It is true, that when complaint of this disregard to their claims and feelings was made to the duke, he expressed some surprise, and declared he had given direction to one of his officers to make the matter known in the island, whilst it was yet- undetermined. This officer, when applied to, alleged his obedience to the order; but, on further investigation, it came out, that he had only aquainted the governor, and between these two gentlemen the secret had rested till the whole as effected, and remonstrance had become equally vain and useless.
Soon after this event, an act passed both houses of parliament, not merely calculated to root out the illicit trade, but imposing such severe restrictions on the regular commerce of the island, that the people, previously alarmed and agitated, were now driven to such despair, that they believed their ruin to be complete; insular property sunk to the lowest state of depreciation, and nearly all who had the means of removal, began to entertain the idea of emigration, when, as a last effort, three other commissioners were dispatched to England, to represent the miserable condition of the inhabitants, and endeavour to obtain some redress cf their grievances.
Happily, this last remonstrance was attended with success; some clauses of unnecessary severity in the act complained of, were repealed, and certain encouragements held out to the fair trader, which opened a brighter prospect, and effectually relieved the public mind. From this time, the character and situation of the Manx has been gradually improving; the advantages of being governed by a great nation, instead of a petty lord, is universally felt. Those who had already accumulated large gains from the contraband trade, were, by the change, obliged either to sit down upon the lands they had acquired, and turn their thoughts to agriculture, or to embark their capital in regular commerce. Very few sunk back into the state of apathy formerly indulged. Industry,-though ill-directed, had been awakened; some luxuries, too, had crept in, which, though not always beneficial to individual character, are still, up to a certain heighth, universally productive of national advantage.
But whatever pursuits were superinduced the herring fishery, supported by ancient habits and early association, was regarded as the chief good; and to this pursuit, requiring neither talent nor labor, the mass of the peasantry still confined their hopes and exertions; on which account, agriculture, with its moderate returns and permanent advantages, was yet almost entirely neglected.
The Duke of Athol, in making a sale of the island, had reserved all his feudal rights as lord of the soil, with certain other profits coming under the same description. But the enmity excited in the minds of his late subjects, was too active a principle not to produce continual resistance against these claims, which, no longer backed by sovereign power, were met by every species of opposition ; so that it became necessary in 1790, to resort to parliament to establish his mutilated rights, which was accordingly done by the present duke, who further complained, that the sum given to his ancestor was greatly beneath; the value of the revenue ceded to the crown. His petition, therefore, went to obtain an additional compensation, and also to establish those manorial rights, which, being unnecessary to the purposes for which the revestment was made, were never intended to be disturbed.
On this petition much contention ensued; the general feeling was averse to the first article; the keys petitioned against that clause which affected the insular rights; and, at length, after severe debate, the bill was thrown out. .
The duke being thus left even in a worse situation than before, renewed his attempt in 1791, when a case was presented to the privy-council, containing such strong allegations, that commissioners were appointed to visit the island, and make a thorough investigation, both as to the particulars in dispute, and also into the general state of the revenues, produce, and trade.
The result of this inquiry proved, that great part of the duke's complaint was well founded; that the sum of £70,000. given for the cession, had been calculated on a revenue ill-managed and unfairly collected; consequently, falling much short of what, under a better system, it might have produced, and that, in other respects, the property meant to have been reserved to the noble complainant, was unnecessarily crippled.
In consequence of this report, a fresh bill was offered in 1805, on which the former contentions were renewed in both houses; many members
asserted, that the duke had received full compensation for the Isle of Man in its then state, and that if by the fostering care of the British government the revenue had been increased, it was no reason why the late possessor should call for farther remuneration ; it was asserted, that the last Earl of Derby had farmed his whole receipts to a merchant of Liverpool for £1000. per ann.; and it was observed, that if such a precedent was set up, with equal justice might any man, who had neglected his estate and sold it for a depreciated value, demand an additional compensation of the next possessor, when he should, by his industry or skill, have improved and restored the dilapidated property.
On the other hand, the friends of the duke maintained, that the loss sustained-by him and his family, might, at a moderate computation, be estimated at £620,000., a sum so enormous as to excite the ridicule of opposition, but at length, being supported by ministry, the affair was decided; the manorial rights clearly ascertained and established, and an additional sum of £3000. per annum out of the consolidated fund bestowed on the duke and his heirs for ever.
This success renewed the ancient grudge of the people against the Athol family; in the year 1798 the duke had accepted the post of governor of the island, an office, as it appears to me, much below his rank, and which, by constantly keeping alive the recollection of his former supremacy, ought to have been painful to his feelings: nevertheless, when he first assumed the government he was received with every sentiment of respect; the people were disposed to regard him as a fellow sufferer with themselves, by the act of his ancestor, and hoped that his interest would still be exerted in behalf of his natural dependents; as such, on his arrival the natives, forgetting their usual apathy, flocked around him, took the horses from his carriage, and drew him to his house, amidst the loudest acclamations; but this popularity was of short duration; whilst the bill above-mentioned was depending, the people were instructed to believe, that its object went to the entire annihilation of their property, which it was represented the duke, in imitation of one of the Earls of Derby, meant to seize into his own hands. A prejudice once sown, especially by a popular leader, is difficult to eradicate, in proportion to the grossness of the soil in which it has taken root, and the extreme ignorance of the mass contributed to establish a belief, which, to this moment, is not wholly done away; many of the landholders still asserting, that such a scheme was on foot, but that by some means (which they neither understand, nor can explain) it was defeated through the interference of certain individuals, who, from thence forward, have been regarded, without justice or reason, as the protectors of Manx independence; whilst the duke has invariably to encounter either the strongest marks of. aversion, or at best a silent i and contemptuous neglect: his acts, many of them highly beneficial to the community, are viewed with suspicion, and to the utmost of their power the legislature set themselves to negative and defeat all his propositions: most people wonder that so circumstanced, his grace does not resign an office, in which he is so ill understood, and from whence he can derive neither honour nor profit; but perhaps the maintenance of his private rights are bound up to a certain extent in the exercise of his power as a governor, and in addition to that consideration, he has extensive influence in the appointment of officers in the different departments, which are usually filled up through his patronage, by persons connected with, or dependent on, his family, generally to the exclusion of the natives, whose jealousy is very properly excited by this preference shewn to foreigners, who, on the other hand; feeling their obligation to the duke, are strenuous supporters of his power, and serve to compose a little court, and maintain a faint appearance of state during his short visits to the island.