The Boy Travellers in Great Britain and Ireland

Thomas W. Knox

New York: Harper & Brothers 1891

Included here for its amusement value - Knox freely admits in his preface that he drew upon the work of other travellers - whether he ever set foot in Man is rather debatable after reading this chapter. The illustrations are also admitted to have appeared in other publications - however several I can not place so I can't guarantee that these publications were connected with the Island. However the Manx Fisherman with a glass of jough is particularly appealing.

Pages 269/283



WE did not have much time to see Barrow-in-Furness, as the city is called, to distinguish it from Barrow-on-Soar, in Leicestershire. It gets the first part of its name from an old ‘ barrow,’ or monumental mound, which is supposed to have been the burial-place of some Norse pirates of very early days. It is on the peninsula of Furness, and that’s where the last part of its name comes from. We’ll call it Barrow, ‘ for short,’ as we say in America.

"Though our stay was brief, we had time enough to learn that Barrow is a very important port, and, what’s more, it’s growing very fast. It has 50,000 inhabitants, and great industries of iron and steel making, ship-building, and other enterprises. In 1847 it was a fishing village of about three hundred inhabitants, and annually exported a small quantity of iron ore, which was smelted elsewhere. Soon after 1847, smelting-works were established here for reducing the iron ore found in the neighborhood. A gentleman interested in the business told us that the ore is red hematite, the best in the world, and yields an average of fifty-seven per cent. of iron. In prosperous times they make between six and eight thousand tons of pig-iron at Barrow every week, and convert one thousand or fifteen hundred tons of it into steel.

" We counted twelve great blast-furnaces belonging to one company, and saw several iron and steel ships on the stocks. Some of the steamers in the transatlantic trade were built here, and the place promises to be a sharp rival of Glasgow in the ship-building line.

" The boat for Douglas, in the Isle of Man, was puffing at her dock when we reached her, and was off almost as soon as our feet touched the deck. As soon as we got out of the harbor we saw the outlines of the Isle of Man on the horizon before us, and at the end of three hours were on land again. And now let me tell you what this little island is.

" It is a good deal smaller than Long Island, the one that belongs to the State of New York, and not much larger than Staten Island, which it resembles somewhat in shape. It is thirty - three miles long, and about thirteen miles across in its widest part, and it has sixty or seventy thousand inhabitants. Anciently it was called Mona, and its present capital and largest town is Douglas.

" It is rarely indeed that an American comes to the Isle of Man, although it is easily reached from Liverpool and also from Dublin and Barrow. It is a very interesting place, partly on account of its antiquity and partly because of the primitive ways of its inhabitants and the large fishing industry that is carried on at its ports. It is an interesting study to the politician, because the inhabitants have what the Irish are struggling for, namely, Home Rule. We’ll say something about that before. we drop the subject of our journey.

"We passed between two high promontories and entered the harbor of Douglas, and the change from the chopping sea outside, on which our steamer was tossed like a cork, to the smooth water within, was very gratifying. The sea between the English coast and the Isle of Man is generally rough and wet. It is wet both above and below, as it nearly always rains in the Channel, and the wind blows, as one of the passengers expressed it, hard enough to shave the hair from a bull-dog’s back. What with wind, sea, rain, and a small steamboat, the voyage to Mona is not at all monotonous.

Manx Cat
Manx Cat

" They landed us at a handsome quay of stone, and as we went on shore we could easily see that the town was prosperous and a good deal of it modern. The old town is making way for the new, much to the regret of visitors, who prefer the narrow and tortuous streets, where some of the houses are so close together that their inhabitants might almost shake hands from the upper windows with their neighbors opposite. The new town has wide streets, and is principally on the hills above and along the shore. Unfortunately, the new houses are crowding among the old, and causing them to be torn down, as their owners are actuated less by sentiment than by a desire for increased rentals.

Douglas Head Light
Entrance to Douglas Harbour [sic -actually Douglas Head Lighthouse]

" The bay on which Douglas stands reminded us of the famous Bay of Naples, but this was due more to its shape than anything else. The population of Mona is very different from that of Naples. Instead of an idle, macaroni-eating people, whose whole thought is how they may get through the day with the least exertion, there is here an industrious race of Scotch and Irish origin, many of them speaking Gaelic, and with difficulty making themselves understood in English. The bay is shaped like a crescent, and is backed with hills. It forms an excellent harbor, and to this circumstance is due a considerable part of its prosperity.

" The island has a great number of summer visitors, and sometimes many hundreds of them come here in a single day. They come for sea-bathing and recreation, and annually leave a large amount of money behind them. Many hotels have sprung up in the past twenty years, and their chief source of profit is the tourist.

Victoria Street
Victoria Street, Douglas

" Our first walk was along Victoria Street, which is in the new part of Douglas, and a very grand street it is for such an out-of-the-way island. It has tall buildings with plate-glass windows, and the shops are well stocked. I observed that nearly every shop had letter-paper, wooden spoons, and other souvenirs of the island, which were sold to tourists, and evidently have an important place in local commerce. Frank and I patronized the shops, for we could not afford to let slip the opportunity of writing to our friends on note-paper which had a picture of a crag in the Isle of Man, and was stamped with the name of Douglas. Quite likely every visitor buys as much paper as we did, so that the aggregate trade for the year must be very large.

" It was at Market Square that we first realized the quaintness of the population and saw the natives in their glory. Numerous men in fishing-coats and sou’-wester hats were lounging about or talking business with each other, and altogether there were far more of them than of all sorts of landsmen, including the tourists. Then there were stout and rosy-checked women in red shawls and coarse gowns, dhatting and laughing with one another or with the men, or carrying baskets filled with fish, oysters, or other products of the sea. Fish were sold at stands presided over by these stout maids and matrons, and also by men who declared that they had just caught their wares and knew them to be. fresh. There was a babel of voices, as everybody was talking, and a goodly portion of the crowd using a language of which we are ignorant. On one side of the square is an old church, on another the harbor, and between the church and the water is a hedge of taverns and cheap restaurants adapted to the economical inhabitants of the island.

" Let me remark that the tourists who come here are not usually of the fashionable sort, but mainly of the class that gets as nearly as possible the value of its money. It is the tradesman and clerk class with limited incomes, who want a cheap place for a summer’s outing, where they can bring their families and have a good time at small expense. Occasionally a fashionable visitor comes along, and there are some fine residences belonging to merchants and manufacturers in the north and west of England ; but, as a general thing, the swell tourist dreads the rough voyage that must be made to reach the Isle of Man, and prefers to go where he is more likely to meet individuals with handles to their names.

" We are touching hands with old times in the hotel where we are stopping, as it was once the residence of the Duke of Athol, and was known as Castle Mona. It is a pleasant sensation to be lodged in an old castle, but the prosaic fact remains that the modern style of architecture is more to the taste of the traveller of the nineteenth century. But they have managed to make a very good hotel out of this ducal castle, and we are glad we came to it."

Manx Fisherman
Manx Fisherman

Frank was busy with his sketch-book during his stay in the Isle of Man. he had a portrait of a Manx fisherman, in pea-jacket and sou’-wester hat, and a sketch of one of the tailless cats that abound in Manxland. And thereby hangs a tale that was told to the youths during their stay in Douglas.

" The tradition is," said their informant, " that the Manx cats once had tails like other felines, but it became the fashion to cut them off, just as it is the fashion in England and other countries to dock the tails of saddle-horses. In the course of several generations the tail disappeared altogether from the cats, and it is quite possible that it will disappear in time from the horses if the amputating custom is kept up.

" The Manx cats are quite reconciled to what elsewhere would be a deformity, and if a cat with a full tail is brought among them from some other country they will not acknowledge any relationship to it. They run away from it in great alarm, or attack it so savagely that it has to run for its life. A dozen Manx cats have been known to pounce upon a tailed stranger and tear him to pieces. Perhaps they do so from envy, perhaps from contempt. Who can tell ?"

Manx cats taken away from the island after attaining full size are said to continue hostile to other cats ; but if carried off when kittens, they soon become reconciled to the situation, and get along amiably with other and more ornamental pussies. Here is an interesting field for a student of natural history.

" There is a good system of narrow-gauge railways," wrote Fred, " and we were able to go by them very expeditiously to the principal parts of the island. We went first to Castletown, which is interesting on account of Castle Rushen, built in the tenth century, and splendidly preserved. Marks of the builders’ chisels are visible to-day, in spite of time and the elements, and it was strong enough to resist a siege of six months by Robert Bruce in A.D. 1313. Additions have been made to it from time to time, and it is in practical use to-day. Part of it serves as the common jail, and the rest is for the city offices and the requirements of the courts. We had no trouble in seeing it, as the building is public and open to anybody.

"Nearly all the people of Castletown are fishermen, and the same may be said of Peel, Ramsey, and the other ports. Peel has two hundred fishing-boats, manned by two thousand men and boys, and it has half a million dollars invested in the herring-fishery. Manx sailors go to all parts of the world, and a good many men from this island have drifted to America and found homes there. Altogether, they say that quite six thousand Manxmen are engaged in fishing or other sea-faring pursuits, and it is fair to estimate that fully one-third the population is supported by the harvest of the sea.

" But there is a good harvest of the land, too," Fred continued, " if we may judge by the fact that more than one hundred thousand acres of soil are under cultivation. This is more than half of the area of the island, and much of what remains is suitable for pasturage. Then there are mines of copper, lead, and zinc, and the lead ore contains a good percentage of silver. The mining industry is not very extensive, as it employs altogether not quite two thousand miners.

" There is very little manufacturing in Manxland, and the companies that have undertaken business there have not been generally successful. They tell us that the island sends a great many fat cattle to the English market, and the beef commands the highest price. The frequent fogs and rains make the grass rich, and thus develop the sleek cattle, of which we have seen several herds. Frank suggests that the cattle must have skins like the otter or fur-seal to enable them to keep out the moisture, and he wonders that Manx leather is not put into competition with that of the porpoise or the alligator.

" From Castletown we continued by rail to Port Erin, and then hired a carriage to take us to Peel, a drive of between two and three hours. There is some interesting scenery along the road, and we passed many quaint-looking cottages, which seemed to be occupied exclusively by women and children, the husbands and fathers being away elsewhere to win bread for their families. At the door of one cottage a woman looked up from her knitting-work and answered very pleasantly our Good-afternoon.’ We stopped there and asked for a drink of water, which was cheerfully given, together with an invitation to ‘ walk in.’

We accepted the invitation, and found ourselves in a modest dwelling, where everything was spotlessly clean.

" There was a sideboard covered with shining crockery, of a pattern of perhaps a hundred years ago, and every article of furniture betokened a goodly old age. There was a Dutch clock in one corner that would be a valuable prize in New York, and near it was a heavy oaken table, of the kind we see in New England as having come over in the 'Mayflower.’ A sleek cat of the tailless pattern looked wonderingly at the strangers and sought the corner, as though it was not at all pleased at our coming, and a child, with its finger in its mouth, stared at us as though not quite sure whether we meant any harm. But it was soon reassured, and answered the invitation to come to us, though it did so with the caution characteristic of the islanders in all the walks of life. Its sense of acquisitiveness was appealed to by a shining six-pence, and here, as in many other parts of the world, the influence of money was manifest.

" Peel has an old castle, which dates in its present shape from the fifteenth century, and is the scene of Fenella’s escape, described in Scott’s novel, Peveril of the Peak.’ They showed us the dungeon, deep down in the rock, where the unhappy Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, was imprisoned fourteen long years for sorcery. She died there, and her ghost is said to haunt the place and to appear at irregular intervals. For my part, I don’t believe the ghost story. It seems to me that the duchess must have had enough of the place in her fourteen years’ imprisonment to be willing to stay away from it now in her shadowy form.

" There’s a good deal more we could tell you about the Isle of Man, but we’ll stop now, so far as harbors, mines, scenery, fishing, and other every-day matters are concerned, and come around to politics. You want to hear about Home Rule in the Isle of Man, and how it works."

Then Fred took up the history of the island, which shows that. the is a spot was little known until the sixth century, when a line of Welsh kings began to rule, and remained on the throne for three hundred years. Then the island was conquered by the Norsemen, and afterwards by the Danes. Their chief, Orry, was favorably received and became king, and he had several Scandinavian successors, who carried out the constitution that Orry had given, and is said to be the basis of the Manx constitution of to-day.

In the thirteenth century the Isle of Man was ceded by the King of Norway to Alexander III. of Scotland, and after Alexander’s death the Manx people sought the protection of England, which has been maintained under one form or another ever since. For a long time the island was the seat of an extensive business in smuggling, and in order to stop it the sovereignty was purchased by the English Government, partly in 1765 and completely in 1829. Altogether, the Government paid about half a million pounds for the island, and now receives not far from fifty thousand pounds annually in revenues of various kinds.

" The result of our studies and questions about Home Rule in the Isle of Man," said Fred, " is as follows :

" The Manx people have no representative vote in the British Parliament, and they do not want any. The acts of Parliament do not affect the Isle of Man unless it is specially mentioned in them, and whenever the island desires anything from Parliament it sends its legal agents to say so, and lay the case before the proper committees or members. They have a lieutenant-governor, a council, and a single representative body, called the House of Keys. The Manx Legislature comprises the Governor, Council, and Tynwald Court, as the House of Keys is locally called. The Tynwald Court is elected from the various counties and -towns of the island, and in the elections widows and spinsters vote on the same terms. as the men. The advocates of woman suffrage will find an argument in their favor by studying the elections in the Isle of Man."

" Why are the members of the Tynwald Court called Keys ?"

" Because they were often called upon in former times to unlock or explain the laws and customs to the reigning sovereign or his deputy, and expound the mysteries of the ancient legislation which were not on record, but had been mainly preserved by tradition."

The foregoing question occurred to Fred, and the answer he received is given as it came from the lips of a Manxman.

" The House of Keys, or Tynwald Court," continued Fred, " consists of twenty-four members. The council consists of eight high officials, who are appointed by the Crown in the same way that the Governor is, and the highest of them is the Bishop of Sodor and Man, with a salary of ten thousand dollars a year and a fine house to live in. There is absolute freedom of religion in the island ; any man may make his choice as to where he will go to church ; or, if he chooses, he need not go at all. He may do exactly as he likes.

" The House of Keys meets in Douglas. Formerly it met at Castletown, which had long been. the capital, but the growing importance of Douglas caused a transfer of the seat of Government. The house passes laws, grants charters, and does the other work of a legislative body, and then submits the result of its work to the Governor and council. Then it is sent to London, and if approved by the law officers of the Crown, it goes into force as soon as it obtains the signature of the Queen.

" ‘ You must not miss the Cronk-y-Keillown, or Tynwald Hill,’ said a gentleman with whom we were talking about the government of the island.

" Why so," we asked at once.

" ‘ Because,’ he answered, it is one of the most important things, historically, that we have to show.’

" Then he went on to say that the Tynwald Hill is about two hundred yards from St. John’s Church, near the centre of the island, and formerly all laws were proclaimed from its top. For more than three centuries the Manx people have gathered around it on Tynwald Day to hear the promulgation of the laws that have been passed since the last annual meeting. Formerly no law could go into effect until it had been read from Tynwald Hill. I should tell you that the hill is an artificial one, composed of earth brought from the seventeen counties of the Isle of Man.

" Of course we went to see the hill, and found it a mound about eighty feet from one side to the other, and ten or twelve feet high. It is built in four platforms or stages, so that it reminded us of the five-storied pyramid of ancient Memphis in Egypt, only it is very much smaller. Formerly it was requisite to read the entire text of the laws from this mound, but since the establishment of newspapers the presiding deemster (judge) reads only the titles and side-notes, so that the ceremony does not last long.

" Tynwald Day comes on the fifth of July, or on the sixth in case the fifth falls on Sunday. The fifth is to Manxland what the Fourth of July is to the United States. There is a general suspension of business all over the isle, and a goodly part of the population gathers at the mound. The Governor and all the dignitaries attend service in the Church of St. John and then go in procession to the hill, where they find the populace waiting for them, and railed off by the police and militia of the island. The laws are read, and then the Governor and dignitaries go again to the church and certify to the promulgation of the laws, and that ends the ceremony.

" When the official ceremonies are over there is general rejoicing, and the day is passed in festivities of various kinds. The ceremony is said to date from the tenth century, when it was established by the Scandinavian King Orry. Tynwald is said to be identical with the Icelandic Thingwall and the Thingvollr of Denmark. Thing, in Scandinavian, means court of justice or popular assemblage, and vollr or wald, a field or enclosure. In ancient times the Scandinavians held their courts in the open air, and generally on mounds, either natural or artificial. The Tynwald of Manxland is a relic of the ancient custom, and probably is nearer to it than any other existing at present.

" We asked," said Fred, " what were the powers of the Tynwald Court, or House of Keys, and were told that it could levy taxes to raise money for local improvements, establish laws for the government of the people, regulate education, suppress crime, and do other things usually in the power of representative bodies. It has granted subsidies for rail-ways, authorized the building of docks and piers, and in other ways advanced the interests of the island. Taxation is low, money is plenty, the people are frugal and moral, there is general prosperity, and crime is so rare that the cost of supporting all the criminals on the island is less than one thousand dollars a year, and of this amount some of it is returned by their labor.

" On the whole," concluded the youth, " we are satisfied that Home Rule is an excellent thing for the Isle of Man, whatever it may be for Ireland or any other country. All religions are represented. The Methodists outnumber the members of the Church of England, and there is a goodly force of Catholics. The island was converted by St. Patrick, and the present religious condition does great honor to his memory. There is a friendly feeling among all the sects and denominations, and such a thing as a religious riot on the Isle of Man is practically unknown.

" Before I drop the subject of Manx government, let me mention that one of the earliest writ-ten laws was directed against drunkenness. Here it is : At the Tynwald Court, holden the 24th June, 1610. It is by general consent proclaimed that as oft as any man or woman shall be found drunk hereafter, the party soe offending, if not of ability to pay a fine, shall for the first time be punished in the stockes, the second time to be tyed to the whipping-stockes, and the third time to be whipped therein.’"

Our young friends returned to England by the steamer to Liverpool, and agreed that they had made an agreeable and instructive excursion.

" We’ve been away from the beaten track," said Frank, " and seen something that is missed by ninety-nine hundredths of our countrymen who come abroad. Ask the next hundred Americans you meet while travelling through Europe, and the probabilities are largely that not one of them has been to Douglas and the charming island of which it is the principal port."

" That’s true" responded Fred, " and yet the place is very easy to reach. All through the winter there is a steamer from Liverpool every day, while in summer there are several steamers daily."

" Well," said Frank, after a pause, " we’ll give an account of what we’ve seen and heard, and if others don’t follow in our footsteps it won’t be our fault."

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