[From King Orry to Queen Victoria, 1899]
LIFE OF BISHOP THOMAS WILSONHIS LETTER TO THE EARL OF DERBY HIS DISPUTE WITH GOVERNOR HORNEHIS IMPRISONMENTHIS INTRODUCTION TO KING GEORGE OF ENGLAND.
FROM 1693 A.D. to 1698 the See of Sodor and Man was vacant for nearly five years after the death of Dr. Baptist Levinge, till the Earl of Derby appointed his own domestic chaplain, Dr. Thomas Wilson, who proved himself one of the greatest men ever connected with the Isle of Man; indeed, he was one of the most memorable men in the annals of modern history, and truly one of the greatest ornaments that ever adorned the Anglican Church.
His name will be venerated by posterity after many of the so-called eloquent preachers of the present day, who use their pulpits as the showman does his caravan, are either forgotten altogether or merely remembered for their eccentricities, with many other bygone follies of our age.
Thomas Wilson was born at Burton, a small village in the Hundred of Wirrall, in Cheshire, on December 26, 1663 A.D., of honest, God-fearing parents. He studied medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, with a view of following that profession, and he afterwards found his knowledge so obtained most valuable in his after-life and ministrations in the several parishes he lived in, and in the Isle of Man, where there were few or no medical men.
By the advice of Archdeacon Hewetson he changed the direction of his ideas to the Church, though he continued to prosecute his medical studies, and was ordained deacon on St. Peters Day, 1686 A.D., in the Cathedral of Kildare, by Bishop Moreton, on the presentation of his friend Archdeacon Hewetson.
His first appointment was that of curate of New-church, in the parish of Winwich, of which Dr. Sherlock was rector, at a yearly salary of £30, out of which, thus early in his career, he devoted one-tenth to charitable uses.
In 1687 A.D. he was ordained priest by the Bishop of Chester, and he then and there vowed he would never accept two livings, take any preferment for which any consideration had been paid or given, and would only take a cure where he could reside among those under his spiritual charge.
In 1692 A.D. his reputation for practical Christianity was brought under the notice of William, Earl of Derby, a son of the great Earl James, who had been executed at Bolton, who appointed him his chaplain, and also tutor to his son, Lord Strange, at a salary of £30; and he was soon after elected Master of the Almshouses of Lathom, with an addition to his income of £20. On receiving this augmentation of income, he increased the sum he devoted to pious uses and the poor from one-tenth to one-fifth.
Both his courage and integrity were put to a rather severe test when he felt himself called upon to address the following letter of reproof to his lordly patron for neglecting his affairs and getting into consequent embarrassment. He considered it a duty, and did it. Far from being offended, the Earl rightly estimated his upright devotion to the interests of the family, and pressed upon his acceptance the Bishopric of Sodor and Man, which had been vacant four years, since the death of Dr. Baptist Levinge.
THE REV. THOMAS WILSONS LETTER TO THE
EARL OF DERBY.
Nothing but a sense of duty and gratitude would have put upon me this liberty; because I have reason to believe it concerns your Lordship, I can willingly hazard all future favours your Lordship designs me, rather than be silent in a matter of this moment, though I have no reason to fear any such consequences. I do therefore, with all imaginable submission, offer these following particulars to your consideration.
First, though several of the debts be, as your Lordship urges, unjust, and perhaps most of the
bills in part unreasonable, yet it is very probable that a great many are really just; and if these are not paid, those who suffer have just complaint to God and man, which must certainly have an ill influence on your Lordships affairs.
Secondly, that several in this neighbourhood are undone if they are not speedily considered; they are forced to the last necessity, some of them to sell their estates, others to leave their country, or lie in jail for debts which are owing to them from your Lordship. They come day after day, with tears and petitions, which nobody takes any notice of: and so your Lordship never comes to know what they suffer. Your Lordship sees what methods the rest, who are able, are taking; and you best know what may he the consequences: but however it ends, if these demands are just, they will still have reason to complain of the wrong that is done them.
Your Lordship is never suffered to know the in fluence these things have upon your temporal affairs; but I am ready to make it out, whenever your Lordship shall think it your interest to inquire into this matter, that you constantly pay one-third more for what you want than other people do. I know very few care or are concerned at this; but I cannot but see and lament this hardship, which cannot possibly be remedied till your Lordship has taken some order with your creditors, and reformed those who have the disposal of your monies.
I am not able to see how these things will end, and one cannot tell what they may be forced to attempt. It is too likely that if any disturbance happen in the Government, their wants may make them desperate, and their members insolent. I have been lately told that some of them have threatened some such thing.
And now, my Lord, if I have said anything unbecoming of me, I hope your Lordship will pardon me, and I think it a fault of indiscretion rather than design. I mean honestly, and that your Lordship may think so, I do protest in the presence of God that I had rather beg all my life than be so wanting in my duty as not to have given you these short hints, which your Lordship could not possibly have but for some faithful servant, as I presume to subscribe myself, etc.
To THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
THE EARL OF DERBY.
Dr. Wilson declined the appointment when first offered him, from consciousness of his own unworthiness to assume so great a responsibility; and the see still remained vacant in consequence for two or three years, which caused Dr. Sharp, Archbishop of York, the Metropolitan, to report the fact to the King, who at once gave notice to Lord Derby that if he did not appoint a bishop he would do so himself.
On the Earl again pressing the office on his chaplain, Dr. Wilson was, according to his own version of the matter, forced into the bishopric, and was consecrated on January 16, 1697 A.D., at the Royal Chapel of Savoy, in London, by Archbishop Sharp, of York, aided by the Bishops of Norwich and Chester.
It is somewhat difficult to realize the feelings of a man who requires forcing to be a bishop; it is but too often a scramble to obtain a vacant see. Although I cannot imagine a mitre to be an over-convenient or comfortable headgear, it would take mighty little persuasion to induce the majority of parsons to accept one, and with it the lawn sleeves, duties, and emoluments of an English see.
On arriving at his diocese, Dr. Wilson found a people the greater majority of whom spoke a language he did not understand, who were not only depressed by poverty and ignorance, but very much debased by the illicit, contraband trade already mentioned, and which for many years formed their only pursuit.
He soon put his shoulder to the wheel, and set to work to cleanse the Augean stable. The little difficulty of the language he speedily surmounted, and was not long before he could preach in the native Manx dialect.
The revenues of the see did not then exceed £300 a year; but by good management and economy he was not only able to maintain himself respectably, but also to give liberally to the poor. He assisted in repairing many of the old churches, and also in founding new ones, and established parochial libraries throughout the island. He considerably enlarged the Episcopal Palace at Bishops Court, at a cost of £1,400, out of his own means, making it commodious enough for the reception of a number of students, whom he had educated personally, for the purpose of having a succession of competent clergymen.
He was particular in maintaining his authority in matters of religion and morality, and sometimes got into hot water with some of the officials.
On October 27 of the following year he was married to Mary, a daughter of T. Patten, Esq., of Warrington, at Winwich Church, by the rector. Six years after his wife died, leaving two sons and a daughter, one son only being spared, Dr. Thomas Wilson, D.D., who afterwards was a Prebendary of Westminster and Rector of St. Stephens Church, Walbrook, in the City of London.
A copy of some publication, which he considered was antagonistic to the discipline and dignity of the Established Church, having been presented to one of the parochial libraries under his control, he ordered it to be seized. Captain Horne, the Governor of the island at that time, differed from the Bishop, and ordered his messenger to be arrested. After much disputing between the two, the messenger was liberated, and the obnoxious book withdrawn from the library; but this little quarrel had created angry feelings on both sides, which afterwards had their ill effects upon another dispute between the Governor and the Bishop.
In the year 1719 A.D., Mrs. Horne, the Governors wife, let loose that most unruly of all members, her tongue. In those days ladies of fashion gave what were called drums a party that, on the principle of Mr. Sam Wellers calling a leg of mutton and trimmings a soirée, comprised a cup of tea, a little whist or piquet, and a good deal of scandal.
The reader must remember the date 1719 A.D., a time when gallantry was a word of expansive and elastic meaning, and one that covered a large amount of transgression. At one of her drums, Mrs. Horne, having a grudge against a certain Mrs. Puller, accused her of being more intimate with a certain Sir James Poole than the strict laws of matrimony and society would altogether sanction; she followed up this accusation by prevailing on her husbands chaplain, Archdeacon Horroben, to refuse Mrs. Puller the Sacrament on the following Sunday.
Mrs. Puller, to vindicate her honour, not only made oath herself before the Bishop, but got Sir James Poole to do so too, that both were perfectly innocent of the scandalous charge brought by Mrs. Horne.
In accordance with the Manx law, their accuser was called upon to produce proof and establish the charge, but in vain. To give vent to a little pique and scandal at a drum, and to substantiate ones words in a court of justice, are two different matters altogether.
Mrs. Horne did not come forward, and in consequence the Bishop passed sentence against her for contempt, and also as a calumniator, calling upon her to publicly apologize. This the lady flatly refused to do, and the Bishop therefore debarred her from the Holy Communion. The Governor, however, prevailed on his compliant chaplain, Archdeacon Horroben, to admit Mrs. Horne to the next Sacrament. When the Bishop heard of this he immediately suspended the peccant Archdeacon.
Thus far, the Bishop was clearly in the right; but instead of appealing, as he ought to have done, to the superior power, his Metropolitan and Suffragan, the Archbishop of York, to whom the only legal appeal could be made, he threw himself at once into the Insular Civil Court, of which Governor Horne was the head.
The Governor basely abused his powers, and the Bishop was fined £50, the two Vicar-Generals, Dr. Walker and Mr. Cargey, £20 each; and on their refusing to pay were all three arrested by the Governors order, and imprisoned in dark, damp dungeons in Castle Rushen.
After remaining there for nine weeks, they were compelled to pay their fines after all. While in Castle Rushen Dr. Wilson caught a cold that affected him for the rest of his days.
The people, on hearing of their good Bishops imprisonment, were furious. They assembled in great numbers, marched to Castletown, and laid siege to the Governors house, and would not only have levelled it to the ground, but have treated the Governor rather roughly, had not Dr. Wilson addressed them from his prison window, and restrained them from doing any violence.
On regaining his liberty, he appealed to the King in Council, where he was more successful than in his former legal proceedings. The decision of the Insular Court was reversed, and the fines restored to him and his two Archdeacons, much to the satisfaction of the whole Manx people.
The King, to mark his esteem for the Bishop, offered him the much more wealthy See of Exeter, which Dr. Wilson at once declined, saying that, with Gods blessing, he would do some little good in the spot where he was, and requested His Majesty not to remove him to a larger sphere, for fear he should forget his duty both to God and his flock. On which Queen Caroline turned round to the nobles of the Court, and said: See, my Lords, here is a Bishop who does not care for translation.
Oh no, please your Majesty, replied the good Bishop; I will not forsake my wife and children, because they are poor.
His character became known all over the civilized world. The celebrated Cardinal Fleury had so deep a reverence for him, that he obtained an order from the French King that no privateer or ship of war should on any account attack the Isle of Man during the war then waging between England and France. This was granted as a personal tribute to the virtues of Bishop Wilson. He and Cardinal Fleury were the two oldest ecclesiastics in Europe at the time.
He was so great a friend of toleration that the members of the Romish Church who resided in the island loved and esteemed him, and not infrequently attended his sermons and prayers. The Dissenters, too, out of respect to him, attended not only the ordinary services, but the Communion, as he allowed them the liberty of either kneeling, sitting, or stand ing, as they thought proper, which, however, but very few ever took advantage of, but behaved in the same manner as those of the Established Church. Even the few Quakers mostly residing in the parish of Maughold visited, loved, and respected him.
During the famine of 1740 A.D. he exerted himself to the utmost to obtain both work and food for the people. He was very particular about giving employment to tradesmen when he could.
An anecdote is related of his having ordered a cloak from his tailor, which he desired to be made perfectly plain, and with merely one button-loop to fasten it.
But, my Lord, said the tailor, what would become of the poor button-makers and their families if everybody thought as you do? Why, they would starve.
Do you say so, John? replied the Bishop. Well, then, button it all over, John.
It was during his episcopate that the sovereignty of the island was transferred on the death of the Earl of Derby to the Duke of Athol, who succeeded to it in right of his wife, the Lady Amelia Sophia Stanley, a daughter of the great Earl James, to whom the reversion had been given as dower on her marriage.
Dr. Wilson apparently had an inkling of the rapaciousness of the Murray family, and feared that the Duke would lay claim to the one-third of the tithes that belonged to the clergy of the island, and which had been conveyed by a former Earl of Derby to Bishop Barlow. The deeds of the conveyance were missing for some time, and it was only after most diligent search amongst the various papers and archives in the Rolls Chapel, which at that time were kept in a most disorderly state, that the labours of the Bishop and his son, Dr. T. Wilson, were successful; they discovered them at last, and so preserved the Manx clergy from being deprived not to say robbed of one-half of their means of subsistence.
The good and generous deeds of Bishop Wilson were not confined to the island. He caused to be quarried and sent to London, from the rocks of Poolvash or Poyll-Vaase Bay, i.e., the Bay of Death, near to Castletown, the black marble of which the steps of the great work of Sir Christopher Wren St. Pauls Cathedral are constructed. They now remain there as a lasting memorial of this truly practical Christian divine.
It was at the foot of these steps, from the quarries of Poolvash, that our good Empress - Queen, on June 22, 1897, came to return thanks to Almighty God for the blessings He had bestowed on her and her people during her unprecedented long reign of sixty years.
What could have been more appropriate than the assemblage there of Queen Victoria and the repre sentatives of the numerous colonies and dependencies of the great united British Empire, the freest people in the world, at the plain black stone steps from Monas Isle, where constitutional government was really first established by King Orry the Wise, very nearly one thousand years ago?
At last, at the ripe old age of ninety-three, this good man, having faithfully done his Heavenly Masters work, and having served fifty-eight years as Bishop of Sodor and Man, was called away from this troublous world on March 7, 1753 A.D., to ex change his mortal mitre for a crown of incorruptible and unsurpassable glory, illustrating the declaration of Scripture, The path of the just is as a shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day.
His mortal remains were carried to the grave by his broken-hearted tenantry, and he was attended to his last resting-place, in Kirk Michael churchyard, by nearly the whole adult population of the island.
A plain headstone, erected by his son, Dr. Thomas Wilson, marks his grave, and by the express com mand of the good old prelate, it bears no flowery epitaph, but merely records the fact that he lies beneath it. Few people who feel any real interest in the island fail to pay a visit to his simple grave before leaving.
The following is the inscription on the stone:
Sleeping in Jesus
HERE LIETH THE BODY OF
THOMAS WILSON, D.D., (LORD BISHOP OF THIS ISLE),
MARCH 7th, 1753, AGED 93,
AND IN THE FIFTY-EIGHTH YEAR OF HIS CONSECRATION.
THIS MONUMENT WAS ERECTED BY
THOMAS WILSON, D.D.,
A NATIVE OF THIS PARISH,
WHO, IN OBEDIENCE TO THE EXPRESS WISHES OF HIS FATHER, DECLINES GIVING HIM THE CHARACTER HE SO
LET THIS ISLAND SPEAK THE REST.