[From Our Centenarian Grandfather]
BISHOP MURRAY left the island this year, being translated, no doubt to his own relief and certainly to that of most Manxmen, to the See of Rochester where, free from the traditional family feud he seems to have been a reasonable success. indeed, one of his foremost Manx detractors admits that he became rather a popular bishop. Probably his failings were exaggerated by the islanders, so prejudiced as they were against his family, and his appointment had certainly been a job, though recognized as a quite venial one among the circles that jobbed. To be a tutor to a great nobleman was the royal road to a bishopric in those days. Murray had been a duke's nephew, which was still better. But he was obviously a round peg in a square hole, though his attempt to make a big income out of tithe for a small bishopric would seem on the face of it to have been a fatuous move. The author of the MS. is almost silent about him, save for briefly noting his unpopularity and its causes. He certainly had no falling out with his bishop, who indeed was anxious that he should go on with him to Rochester. But that sort of tame work did not recommend itself to his ardent lieutenant who, moreover, soon discovered that his lordship by no means saw eye to eye with him in his views of spreading the Word, which one may well imagine, and that " he had obviously a contempt," writes my grandfather, " for the Gospel truth." Murray was the last nominee of the Athol family as the clerical appointments of the island henceforward lay with the Crown. The immediately preceding one, that of Bishop Claudius Cregan in 1784 is made a cause of tremendous scandal by the Manx chroniclers. How far it is accurate I do not know, but here is their story which is perhaps worth recording in brief for the humour of it.
Dr. Cregan was a person of humble origin, being the son of a tailor in Omagh, co. Tyrone. He became, however, chaplain to an infantry regiment and while quartered in the West Indies married the daughter of a rich planter, who brought him a fair dowry. So he resigned the Army and settled in Liverpool where he took charge of a church in the outskirts, a wholly praiseworthy proceeding. Now it would appear that the nomination to the See of Sodor and Man had in some way been devised on the Lady of the House of Athol. At any rate the Duchess of that day regarded it as her perquisite. The unfitness, or at least unpopularity of two successive bishops had not acted apparently as a deterrent, for the Duchess, like Queen Elizabeth, decided to make some money out of her bishop this time, small as was the stipend, about a £1,000 a year, I believe. Now there was a certain Mrs. Calcraft, formerly in her employ and I much in her confidence, as house keeper, then residing in Liverpool. Her Grace seems to have communicated her intentions to this lady and requested her to keep an open eye for any cleric who might be trusted to meet the Duchess half way in the ticklish transaction. Mrs. Calcraft happened to enjoy some acquaintance with the Reverend Cregan, whose wife she knew had money if only she could be prevailed upon to part with some of it. So she put the question direct to the surprised parson, whether in short he would like to be Bishop of Man and if so would he prove grateful to her Grace for his appointment. Cregan bowed and hoped that in such case the Duchess would never have cause to alter her good opinion of him. "O hang your morals and religious character," said in effect though more discretely this rather candid ambassadress, but will you be grateful? "
The Irishman, whether ingenuous or astute, assured the lady that she need have no fear on that score, and the business went through without a hitch. When the bishop designate was starting for Bath to express his verbal gratitude to his Patroness, Mrs. Calcraft appeared upon the scene again and hoped that he understood that his gratitude would have to be expressed in something solid.
. "Madam!" said Cregan, "Do you come to insult me ? "
"Sir,"said the lady, "if you fail to settle this matter and that too right quickly, the Duchess desires me to inform you that she will never confirm her appointment."
But the Rev. Claudius was quite a match for the Duchess. He sent her a copy of the Consecration Oath of a Bishop, together with several direct passages he had culled from her correspondence with Mrs. Calcraft (for the negotiations have been much curtailed here) and threatened to publish the whole matter and lay it before His Majesty's Prix,y Council. There was nothing more to be said ! The new bishop, the method of whose appointment became known, suffered much obloquy for a long time. But he was really an honest and excellent cleric, made a passably good bishop and in time became quite popular in the island with everyone but the Duchess. Forty seems to have been the prescribed minimum age for this particular bishopric at any rate. In Dr. Murray's case the law had been ignored.
In the summer of 1829 the Philpot family moved out of Douglas to Oak Hill, two miles away, near the sea and the little cove of Port Laudric [sic Port Soderic]. "A roomy and charming house with wooded grounds and enclosed on the land side by folding hills. I had a trammel net, a trawl, a boat and lobster pots in the cove which kept us abundantly supplied with all sorts of fish, among them fine cod and lobsters. My nets were often broken by large fish and conger eels. I remember Cowle, my gardener, coming up the road to the house one day with a huge conger's head over his shoulder and the tail trailing far on the ground. I had a clever mountain pony, too, in my stable who used regularly to bruise his own gorse with his fore feet." Gorse was and doubtless still is used for cattle and horse feed, not only in Man but in South Wales and North Devon. In the last named, at any rate when I was young, it was cultivated in patches for the purpose and cut while young and tender, and the prickles either bruised or more usually put through the chaff cutter and made "chop" of often mixed with meal. It was good strong food, cost nothing to grow and was independent of weather. I have often wondered why it is not more generally made use of.
That my grandfather had made some way with the Manx people, even by the time the bishop left, may be judged by the following letter from J. Christian, the chief Deemster at that time. He had just been appointed to the Barrow Professorship, a chair founded in the preceding century by one of the Island's best bishops for giving lectures to young Manxmen intended for the Church. He never, however, touched the stipend but let it accumulate, and it formed a nucleus of the fund raised for founding King William's College. This was work after his own heart. In a letter from the Deemster congratulating him and warmly commending all his past endeavours he adds : " Whatever complaints we might make against the late Bishop, he has well-nigh redeemed them all by leaving behind one zealous and sound minister."
But another cause of offence arose soon after this that awoke, and perhaps not unnaturally, all the old jealousies that were in a fair way to disappear. Now it was some time before the next bishop, Dr. Ward, was appointed. He was an Irishman and had been tutor to Lord Goderich, and held the living of Great Horksley, near Colchester, which he continued to hold until he died there, dividing his time between his English living and Bishop's Court. When he arrived, however, it became necessary to appoint a new Vicar-General, an important position in the island, and carrying a seat in the Upper House of Keys, otherwise on the Council of eight or nine members. The present holder was a layman and barrister, which was unusual, and an Irishman withal. He had been appointed by Dr. Murray and had been such a violent partisan of the Athol faction that it was impossible to retain him.
"On Dr. Ward's arrival he expressed himself so well pleased with what I had been doing that he asked me to accept the office of Vicar-General, as he dared not re-appoint R-- [Roper]. I had done a good deal of magisterial work in Suffolk which in some measure fitted me to become an ecclesiastical judge. But at first I declined it, feeling that I had quite enough to do in my present work. The office, till the late Bishop's time, had been held for centuries by a Manx clergyman, and in general rather loosely administered. So when it was rumoured that the post had been offered to me, whose election to St. George's had already been viewed with much jealousy, there was great indignation among the clergy and their lay friends. I had really not intended to accept the Bishop's offer, but when I reflected on the number of good posts Manxmen held in England, together with the number of anonymous letters I received, the agitation seemed unjust. My combative spirit was aroused and I went straight to the Bishop and accepted his offer. I immediately proceeded to master the Manx code of laws and opened my first Court at Douglas with a carefully prepared address, setting forth my position clearly, which I think made a considerable impression on the local bar and was printed and discussed throughout the island. At this first court R-- (the ex- Vicar- General) came in, flung his umbrella noisily on the table, and defiantly continued to wear his hat. I appealed to him quietly as a gentleman and a barrister to show proper respect to the Court and remove it. As he refused to do this I reminded him of my power to enforce the order which I should certainly use. At this he bounced out of Court in a rage and never entered it in Session again."
Only one judgment in all the new Vicar-General's years of office was reversed on appeal to the Court of Chancery. The business of the Court increased and an annual dinner at Douglas, given alternately by himself and the Bar, was instituted, " where all sharp practice was forgotten and brotherly love prevailed."
" By degrees I abolished many old superstitious customs, such as swearing to the amount of the debts claimed on the grave of the deceased debtor, while standing at its east end, also the custom of doing penance in a white sheet in the chancel. Many of the cases dealt with were clerical delinquents who had misbehaved themselves. Some concerned those who had been suspended, praying for restitution. My predecessor in office, R--, who had been so violent against me, lay on his dying' bed two years' later and sent me a message of reconciliation to come and give him the last consolations, which I was glad to do. The affair which led to the abolishing of penance was this. Three bad characters at Ballaugh, in scorn of Church rites, led a horse into the porch of the Church on a moonlight night and, tying a white sheet upon its head, made game of baptizing it. The case came before me and I passed the sentence of full excommunication, which included penance in white sheets in Ballaugh chancel. I charged the Sumner to place himself in the rood loft within sight of the penitents and report on their behaviour at the next Consistory Court at Ramsey. The Sumner reported that they passed the time in dancing Scotch reels. After that, I made a general appeal to put an end to these old Popish relics which was ultimately successful, though the new bishop for some reason did not like it." The Vicar-General did not seem to realize to what extent his friends the Scottish Presbyterians just across the water cherished this humiliating practice. But then it would have taken a bold man to dance a reel in a kirk! A kirk elder was altogether another sort of functionary to an Anglican churchwarden and a stiff-lipped minister backed by a bodyguard of uncompromising Calvinists to a free and easy parson.
Of all former bishops in the island, the memory of Wilson easily overshadowed the rest. he had been dead over sixty years by our Vicar-General's time, but his name constantly crops up in his MS. in connection with this or that institution or tradition. He had been a power in the island for fifty-eight years, and resided in it all the time, a prodigious contrast to nearly all those who came before and some who came after him-often men awaiting better preferment or others whose chief object was to evade residence and see how long they could occupy the second benefice they usually held in England, before some warning note was sounded. Wilson held principles unique in his day. The lords of the island, whether Stanleys or Murrays, were almost contemptuously casual about the appointment of their bishops; or it would be more correct to say that the Stanleys were, while the others were inclined to make a "job" of it. There was frequently a hiatus of several years in which the fact that the island was without a head shepherd seems to have been overlooked. When Wilson, as a young man, was chaplain to the Lord Derby of his day, at Lathom, in Cheshire, he undertook to risk his bread and butter and wrote the Earl a lecture on his debts and other goings on, which his Lordship happily took in a generous and contrite spirit. In due course he offered his chaplain the bishopric which had been vacant for five years. But the latter established what must have. been something like a record for his period and generation by refusing it as being unworthy of such responsibility. So the Earl was still more imbued with respect for his chaplain but forgot all about the spiritual needs of the island.
Two years later, however, the Archbishop of York protested and took the matter up. Seven years of absent- mindedness was too much even for those days, and the King informed Lord Derby that if he didn't fill the vacant See at once he would do so himself. This of course brought matters to a head and that too in a hurry. The chaplain was told by His Lordship that he must be bishop whether he liked it or not. So Wilson was consecrated in London in 1697, and repairing to his diocese created another record by remaining in it for fifty-eight years till his death in his ninetyfourth year, when he was followed to his grave in Kirk-Michael churchyard by the whole population of. the island, and a plain tablet by his express desire marks the spot. The stipend in these early days was only about "£300 a year, but this modest sum sufficed this good prelate excellently, for he not only gave regularly to charities, but half rebuilt Bishop's Court and kept a sort of theological college within it. He learnt Manx, of course, and preached regularly in the language to a population demoralized by wrecking, smuggling and drink. One of the Governors, a Mr. Horne, came to be jealous of his power and undertook to dispute his authority in one or two cases. The Governor's dame, however, got herself into a really bad scrape by tittle-tattle concerning a local lady of her circle and a certain baronet, who were driven to make oath before the Bishop, that they were innocent of all offence. The scandal-mongering lady then found herself forced according to Manx law to prove the truth of her accusations, which she failed to do, upon which the Bishop excommunicated her.
But the Archdeacon of that day was persuaded by the Governor to administer the sacrament to his wife, and then the Bishop suspended the Archdeacon. The fat was now in the fire! But the Bishop instead of appealing as he should have done to the Archbishop of York, made the mistake of going to the Civil Court of the island of which the Governor was head. The latter, of course, misused his powers, fined the Bishop and Vicars General, of which there seem then to have been two, heavily, and on their refusal to pay, imprisoned all three clerics in Castle Rushen, the chief prison of the island. Here they languished for more than two months, to the injury for a long time of the good Bishop's health. The people were furious and went in crowds to the Governor's house in Castletown, and would have destroyed it with the Governor inside, but for the pleading of Dr. Wilson from his prison windows. On the latter's release he appealed to the King-in- Council. The decision of the Governor's Court was reversed, the fines repaid, and the King was so much impressed by the reputation of the Bishop that he offered him the important See of Exeter. Once again this single-minded prelate belied his generation and refused to desert his people and his work in the poor island diocese. It is said that the Queen and people of the Court were quite staggered at discovering such a man. His toleration endeared him not merely to the dissenters and Quakers, but even to the Irish papists on the island. While his fame being noised abroad, Cardinal Fleury conceived such a high regard for him that in the French wars, French ships were instructed to leave the Isle of Man alone. But it would be no place here to record all the benefactions wrought upon the island by this remarkable man.
I have ventured on the above incidents as evidence that there were some single-minded bishops in those days, even in obscure Sees, and further that things ecclesiastical were often quite lively even in that remote little kingdom. I t was further blessed, too, in having as Wilson's successor for nearly twenty years, a man who followed in his steps, Dr. Hildersley. It was he who had the translation of the Bible into Manx completed, a hundred and fifty years after Bishop Morgan had done the same for the Welsh. A famous story tells how one, Dr. Kelly, the bearer, of the last portion of the translation across the water to the printers in England was wrecked. The ship was lost, and the only thing), except the passengers and crew saved, were the precious manuscripts which the devoted custodian standing waist deep upon a rock, held above water for five hours. A slump in Episcopal effort now followed into which I need not enter, but it terminated with the haughty Bishop Murray as we have seen, and his endeavours to get £6,000 a year in tithe out of the indignant islanders.
"The dear good Bishop Ward," as his Vicar General calls him, used to come over periodically to the island from his Essex living. An amusing passage at arms took place between the two anent my grandfather's outdoor services. By this time he had extended them to many of the remoter parts of the island where circumstances were against the weaker members of the populace at any rate, getting to church. It was a rough country then, and the roads leading over its mountainous and wilder parts were in a primitive condition. He had a wonderful saddle horse named " Captain " that he used to talk of to the end of his life for its extraordinary endurance and activity. For the miles he had to cover in pursuit, both of his normal and self-imposed duties by night as well as day, were excessive.
Open-air services in those days were of course looked at askance by the orthodox. In fact they were uncanonical, and technically illegal. The Vicar-General had still plenty of enemies besides the negative hostility of all the slacker parsons.
He had tried to institute monthly meetings of the clergy for mutual encouragement and discussion, so general everywhere in later days. Only two had so far joined, but those two, Parsons Howard and Gill, are the couple most eulogized of their day in the local chronicles, and they supported all these things heartily and insisted that the trio should meet regularly till better times came. Later on the Vicar-General while living as Archdeacon at the north end of the island, had to fill the passages of his rectory with temporary beds to accommodate the numbers which came from afar to these gatherings. But with regard to the open-air services, Dr. Ward rallied him not a little on his unorthodox enterprises, the noise of which had spread to the mainland. In short, the Bishop remonstrated in a kindly way and declared that the canons forbad a clergyman to preach or expound except in the family circle. " What limit in number," said the other, "would you put to a family circle ? " " Well, perhaps about twenty," replied the Bishop. Said the obstinate Vicar-General, " I leave here tomorrow and I intend to stop at Ballacony on my way home and expect to find at least 150 people waiting there to hear me and pray with me. There will be aged men, and sick people and mothers with little children, none of whom can get to church." Oh, go your way," said the Bishop laughing, and do as you will ; you are a rebel and always will be."
"These particular meetings eventually brought about the building of St. Jude's church. I never shall forget the storm of thunder, lightning and hail, which rent the heavens as I was kneeling on the foundation stone in a prayer of consecration in the midst of a great crowd of Manxmen, numbers of whom, tradesmen, farmers and carpenters, had contributed their gratuitous labour towards its erection, sometimes by night."
The little unpleasantness that occurred at the opening of the Vicar-General's first court at Douglas was a mere trifle to the uproar which some months later distinguished his first session at Kirk Michael, though it must be admitted that he took an active part in promoting it himself. Here it is in his own words.
" Some ill-conditioned laymen at the north of the island, nursing their grievance, as they imagined, in the matter of my appointment, had for long waited an opportunity to annoy me. There was at that time a certain Manxman, Robert Cannon, commonly called 'Big Bob,' living in a lonely cottage in Glen Willan. He was of gigantic frame and Herculean strength and dissolute habits. He was so feared in his neighbourhood for the many acts of violence he had committed in his drunken bouts, that it was said forty men had bound themselves together jointly to revenge any injury done by him to one of their number. This was the ruffian who entered my first Court at Kirk Michael, instigated, it was believed, by some of those who had objected to my appointment. He came rudely into the Court and seated himself with his hat on just under me as I sat on the Bench. I could see the top of the hat, and leaning over told him to take it off. My request was met by a scoffing laugh. I then called on the constables who were in Court, but not one of them dare come forward.
" At this moment Mr. Brown, the registrar, came up to me and said in an undertone, 'Perhaps, your reverence does not know who that man is ? I do not,' said I, 'and it matters nothing who he is, he shall not insult this Court.' I again called on the officers of the Court, but not one of them stirred.
If this be the Isle of Man,' I called out, and not of woman, this ruffian must be removed,' but there was still no sign of action. I then hastily and, I admit, improperly, threw off my gown, jumped down from the Bench, and seized Cannon by the collar, and we had a fearful struggle, in which I should soon have been worsted had not Mr. Corlett of Ramsey, and five or six of the other lawyers, come to my rescue. After a furious scuffle, scattering benches and chairs in all directions, we at last dragged him out of Court. I shall never forget the manly but formidable appearance of that Manx giant as he shook off his assailants, and stood in the middle of the road in an attitude of defiance, with his fine countenance, broad chest, and Herculean limbs.
" I then returned to my seat, apologized to the Court for the part I had inconsiderately but unavoidably taken in the fray, and informed the constables that I should present them to the Governor for their cowardice. I had not resumed the business of the Court many minutes before little Gee, an Englishman who kept the adjacent hotel, came in to speak to me, and when I leaned down to him, he said : 'Will your reverence give me an order to arrest Big Bob, and lend me your coachman, William Christian, and I think with half a dozen more we might take him. 'Why, Gee,' said I, what has he done now? He has gone upstairs, sir, into the large room where the lawyers dine, and is sitting in the chair at the top of the table, with his legs on each side of the round of beef, brandishing the carving knife, and swearing that the lawyers shall go home today without their dinner.' So I sent for William, who was a most powerful man. He held back a bit at first, but at length went upstairs, followed by five stout fellows who remained just outside the door. William then entered the room, and going up to Cannon whom he knew, in a cheery way held out his hand, which the other dropped the knife to shake. William then fell upon him, and the other five rushing in, after a tremendous struggle and upsetting everything, they got the handcuffs on Cannon, and locked him up in the little prison till a conveyance could be brought to take him to Castle Rushen, the State prison of the island."
Big Bob came out of prison three months later, vowing vengeance against the Vicar-General, who had been the means of thus humbling him to the dust in the face of the community he had been accustomed to flout and bully. Of course, these threats came to my grandfather's ears through acquaintances and anonymous letters, but quite characteristically he paid little attention to them beyond carrying a swordstick when he remembered to. One April evening, just as he was starting to walk into Douglas for his weekly lecture, a man whose affection he had won by some acts of kindness, rode rapidly up to the door crying out, '. Thank God, sir, I am in time." He had been watching Big Bob pretty closely for some time on the Vicar-General's account, and had just seen him settle down in an empty shed commanding the lonely lane leading to Douglas with a double-barreled gun. He also knew that he had sworn in his cups to blow out my grandfather's brains. Indeed, the latter had received an anonymous letter that very morning warning him not to walk into Douglas that day, but had disregarded it. There was no overlooking this, however, and he sent his visitor at best pace to the mayor with instructions to send out some soldiers for Cannon's arrest. Being found still in the shed with the gun and a bottle of brandy, he was again arrested, and the evidence being good enough for the place and the period, he was recommitted to Castle Rushen.
But the opportunity of saving such a lost soul as this far overmastered the Vicar-General's fears for his own safety. So when called upon to swear that he went in fear of his life for Cannon, he refused to do so, which resulted in the prisoner being liberated. This forbearance does not seem to have softened the ruffian's heart as the faithful coachman, Christian, made means to discover, and despite his master's protests, insisted on accompanying him on all his excursions. In due course, however, my grandfather learned that Cannon was haunting a low underground dram shop on the quay at Douglas, and straightway made up his mind to tackle him. Slipping quietly off there one night, when he was told he would find him, and inquiring of the landlady who emerged from the depths, whether Cannon was in the house, she replied he was not. The Vicar-General disputed her assertion with assumed confidence, whereupon she admitted her inexactitude. ' Pointing down some stairs she intimated that her amiable friend was below, but strongly recommended his being left alone-as indeed he actually had been, his quarrelsome condition having emptied her house of customers that evening. But this stout-hearted wrestler with the devil and his works was not to be baffled. He descended to the drinking cellar, and confronting the surly and astonished giant, asked him what he meant by cherishing these wicked revengeful intentions against a man who had done him no harm, but merely executed his duty.
"What! Aren't you afraid of me?" snarled the ruffian.
" I fear God only, and no man living," was the reply.
There is no need here for the full interview, enough that the eloquence of the Vicar-General reduced his savage antagonist to a reasonable measure of repentance. He promised to reform his ways and his war against his fellow-creatures, to return to his wheelwright's work at which he was an adept, and accepted there and then an order for a farm cart, which he faithfully executed. His reformation, to be sure, did not last long, but his respect for the parson-he seems to have been critical of parsons-who had bearded him in his lair, was permanently established. Some years afterwards when the latter was re-visiting the island from Norfolk, and was standing on the quay at Douglas recalling the story of Big Bob to one or two of his children who were with him, an old man standing by, who overheard it, stepped forward and asked my grandfather if he had ever heard the end of the giant. On getting a reply in the negative, he went on to relate that the offensive conduct of this turbulent soul got at last so unbearable that a number of men made a secret agreement to get rid of him on the first opportunity, and he was found one morning at the fall of the tide with his head in the mud, and his legs sticking up in the water-a fate so reasonably probable for a confirmed drunkard as to excite no particular comment. But there were those," continued the veteran, "who could have told another story at the inquest if they had been so minded."