[From King Orry to Queen Victoria, 1899]




THE constitution and laws of the Isle of Man are the next, and not the least interesting, subject to be brought before the reader’s attention. Of the former he will have pretty well gathered a good idea from the history already given.

An eminent Manx lawyer has written as follows:

‘The Isle of Man having an autonomy separable from the Imperial Parliament, may safely pioneer the path of progress by augmenting legislative improvements rather than slavishly following its Imperial neighbours, and may thus fill a place of honour and usefulness quite proper to its central position and ancestral dignity, but out of all proportion to its size and population.’

The constitution of Mona is virtually the same, in principle, as that founded by King Orry nearly a thousand years ago, and Manxmen are only too proud, and very justly so, of having the oldest Constitution in existence, ever to consent to its being very materially changed; and they take good care not to jeopardize its continuance by making themselves a danger or a nuisance to their neighbours.

Like as the willow bends to the blast, but resumes its former position when the storm has passed, so the Manx Legislature appears to have adopted a policy in effect the same.

The oath that every official has taken from time immemorial to maintain the ancient laws and customs unimpaired—in principle—and which they have always kept, has no doubt been the tiller and the needle by which they have steered their little vessel through many a political crisis.

The very unique and ancient constitution of the Isle of Man is beloved and highly prized by all Manxmen, and it is well worth keeping up as a curiosity of olden times. The place is so small that no possible harm can come of the inhabitants indulging in the full enjoyment of their Home Rule. The government of the island is no example or instance to be pointed to by the inhabitants of any other part of the United Kingdom as being one applicable to, and to be adopted by, them.

It is, in fact, simply nowadays a most interesting toy, too precious to be destroyed, and very well worth retaining, so long as it is not in any way a nuisance or a danger to its surroundings; but, should it ever become so, to be relentlessly squashed out of political existence at once, and the island joined on as an appendage to either Lancashire or Cumberland, and administered by county officials, a thing no more likely to happen than that the United Kingdom is to be divided up into a modern heptarchy, each part with separate interests, and ere long squabbling and fighting like so many cats and dogs. The Manx people are far too wise ever to invite such a catastrophe.

Some of the laws were, and in a few cases are now, somewhat despotic, even draconic. The kings and lords had full powers of life and death over their subjects. An instance of this was the sentencing of Illiam Dhôan by Charles, Earl of Derby, in spite of King Charles of England and all his powers.

So late as the first quarter of the present century no man could leave the island without a permit from the Lieutenant-Governor for the time being, and any owner or master of a ship or boat who carried a man away from the island without such permit or license was liable to a fine of £10.* The Governor or his officials had power also to prevent the landing of any person, and of expelling him from the island and shipping him away by the first vessel sailing, without any consideration of where he might wish to go, England, Ireland or Scotland. These laws, though still in force, have fallen into disuse.

Anyone not a native-born Manxman is subject to immediate arrest and imprisonment if he attempts to leave the island owing any money, however small the sum may be. In August of this year (1899) a Douglas hotel-keeper arrested a man who had walked off without settling his bill for himself and lady friend. He was taken to Castle Rushen and locked up in the same apartment that used to be the council-chamber of the celebrated Charlotte, Countess of Derby.

Like the British Constitution, that of Mona has three estates : the Queen, or Lady of Man, repre sented by her Lieutenant-Governor; Lords or Upper House, by its Council; and the Commons, by the House of Keys.

The Lieutenant - Governor is Chief Magistrate, President of the Council and of the Tynwald Court, Commander - in - Chief of whatever military forces there may be on the island, and also Chancellor. Through him and his secretary all communications between the Insular Parliament and the Imperial Parliament and Govecnment take place through the medium of the Secretary of State for the Home Department at Westminster.

The Council, or Upper House, consists of the Bishop, Archdeacon, Attorney - General, Receiver General, the two Deemsters or Judges, the Vicar General, and the Clerk of the Rolls, over whom the Lieutenant-Governor presides.

The whole island is divided into ten electoral districts, comprising the six sheadings of Garf, Ayre, Michael, Rushen, Middle, and Glenfaba, and the four towns of Douglas, Castletown, Ramsey, and Peel.

The four southern sheadings return three members each, the two northern ones two each, the town of Douglas five, Castletown, Ramsey, and Peel one each, making twenty-four members in all.

The most important and successful Governor the island has ever had since the purchase of the island from the Duke of Athol was Sir Henry Brougham Loch, the present Lord Loch, who was appointed by that excellent judge of character, Lord Palmerston.

Sir Henry Loch, in 1866 A.D., carried through the Keys the great Reform Bill, by which the election of members was restored to the people, inhabitants and householders of the Isle of Man. Prior to 1430 A.D. the Keys were always chosen by the people; but at that time the election became a sort of close family affair.

When a vacancy occurred, two names were chosen by the members themselves, without any reference to the vox populli, whose names were submitted to the King or Governor, as the case might be, and he appointed one of them.

Now, under Lord Loch’s Reform Act the members are elected by the people—householders, residents on the island—by ballot, precisely as members are elected to the British House of Commons; and the elections take place every seven years, at the expiration of which time the House dies out, and a new election takes place.

Thirteen members form a House or quorum at a sitting of the Keys. The Speaker is elected after each General Election by the members, as at Westminster. The office is entirely honorary, and he receives no salary. The clerk’s stipend of £30 a year, together with the cost of stationery, is paid out of the tax levied on the licensing of public-houses.

At the same time that the free election of the Keys was restored to the people, the judicial powers of the House of Keys were abolished, and all legal matters confined to the Law Courts, under the two Deemsters and the several High Bailiffs of Douglas, Castletown, Ramsey, and Peel; but appeals can be made from any of their decisions to the full Court of Tynwald.

Other reforms were introduced and carried by Governor Loch, and now the duties on wines, spirits, and other excisable goods, are the same in the island as in England. Consequently there is not the slightest inducement for any contraband trading. Smuggling, as far as Mona is concerned, is a lost art; it does not pay.

As important fiscal or other changes are made in the laws of the United Kingdom, the House of Keys, by way of echo, generally pass similar Bills if they affect the island in any way; but none of the old laws affecting land or other property have been, or are likely to be, altered or meddled with; and the Manx people are not liable for any income tax or stamp duties, except postage.

Lord Loch was ever ready to give a helping hand to improvements or reforms, while at the same time ruling with a firm hand. Under his government vast improvements were inaugurated, and in many instances completely carried out in the harbours of the island.

The new piers and breakwater, as well as the magnificent Loch Parade along the shores of Douglas Bay, will be a lasting memorial of him.

To his efforts, in conjunction with the late Duke of Sutherland and the late Sir John Pender, the successful carrying out of the first railways between Douglas, Peel, Castletown, and Port Erin, as well as the electric telegraph between Port-e-Vullian, in Ramsey Bay and the Coast of England, are due.

His career since he left the island, first as Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests at Whitehall, then as Governor of Victoria (Australia), and afterwards the Cape of Good Hope, has still further confirmed the wisdom of Lord Palmerston’s selection of him as a man to be relied upon to rule wisely and firmly. Probably had he remained a few years longer in South Africa, things there might have been very different to what they are now.

In some matters the Reformed House of Keys have gone ahead of the Imperial Legislature. Among other things they have granted the franchise to women. Up to the present time, the fair or weaker (?) sex have used their powers discreetly, and given no symptoms of abusing them. From the fact that the Act for this purpose, after passing the Manx Legislature, had to receive the Royal Assent before it actually became law, the women of Great Britain may take heart to persevere in their efforts to attain other privileges for themselves. All in good time!

The House of Keys acts in every way as does the English House of Commons. A Bill can be brought in by any single member after giving due notice; or may originate with the Governor and Council; or may be introduced by the House of Keys itself. No peculiar privilege is claimed by the House of Keys with respect to any money Bill or levying of taxes, as.is the case with the British House of Commons.

A Bill is discussed, and unless thrown out by an adverse majority, is read three times, passes committee, and is then sent to the Upper House or Council, where it is again discussed; and if passed, is sent to the Governor, who forwards it, through the Home Secretary, to the Imperial Parliament to obtain the Royal Assent. The Queen alone has the power of veto.

No Act, however, is law in the Isle of Man until it has been again passed in a full Court of Tynwald after it has received the Royal Assent at Westminster.

The Court of Tynwald consists of the general assemblage of all the three estates—Governor, who presides, Council, and Keys.

The Governor can summon a Court of Tynwald whenever he thinks fit, and no Court can be summoned or assemble without his orders and sanction.

At the Tynwald Court, after the Act has received the Royal Assent and been returned to the island, the new Act is read again before the people assembled, both in Manx and English, and all the officials sign it. From that date it comes into operation, and is a Statute Law of the land.

On July 6 (Old Midsummer Day) in every year the Governor holds a Grand Court at Tynwald Hill, in the parish of St. John, and a most curious and interesting ceremony it is.

The Tynwald Hill is situated close to the highroad between Douglas and Peel, as near as possible in the very centre of the island, and about 100 yards from the Church of St. John.

On the topmost of the round cheese or cake-likeS formations comprising it is erected a small round tent, with the flagstaff in the middle, from which the English flag floats with the Three Legs emblazoned on the red field.* Large crowds of the inhabitants and visitors to the island flock to the Tynwald meeting; it is a gala-day for everybody.

The ground is kept by the military, consisting generally of a company of infantry of the line, augmented of late years by a company of the Manx Rifle Volunteers. This is about the only day the regular soldiers do any special duty beyond mounting guard.

On all parties being assembled—and they come from every quarter of the island, travelling over all sorts of roads, across the mountains, and in all sorts of conveyances, from railway carriages to farm-carts —a procession is formed, and all the officials march into church, where morning prayers are read.

After this the procession is again formed in much the following order:

The officer in command of the troops, carrying the sword of the Lord (in this present reign the Lady) of Man. Then follow the Governor, in his official uniform and cocked hat, with his secretary. Next in order comes the Bishop and all the clergy in full canonicals; then the two Deemsters and the other legal officials, the rear being brought up by the twenty-four members of the House of Keys, headed by the Speaker.

On silence being proclaimed and obtained, the Deemsters, one at a time, read out to the assembled people, in Manx and English, the various Acts that have been passed during the year, and declare in the name of Queen Victoria, the Lady of Man, that such an Act is law.

When all the Acts are read over the several parties again march into St. John’s Church, where the Acts are signed by the different members of the Council and Keys, and handed to the Clerk of the Rolls for safe and official custody.

The Bishop then gives his benediction to the assembly, and all is over.

The several parties disperse. The various actors in this interesting and very ancient ceremony join their friends, who have been engaged in the arduous duty of looking on. Numerous picnic parties are made up among the gentry, and they adjourn to the different beautiful spots in the neighbourhood, many well-filled hampers are unpacked, and they refresh and enjoy themselves.

The farmers, fishermen and working classes open a cattle and horse fair, which ends in a carouse and regular jollification all round, wherein a goodly crowd of the holiday visitors from Yorkshire, Lancashire and elsewhere participate.

Such is the Manx Tynwald Court, the great festival of the year, in the present day. It is the oldest constitutional act in the world, established very nearly a thousand years ago by King Orry, and is flourishing yet, under the sovereignty of our Empress-Queen Victoria


The meetings of the Keys and people have not always been held at the same Spot. Records show that they have been held at several places.

In 1429 A.D. the Tynwald Court assembled at Keehill in Baldwin, near Douglas, and for a few years after at Castletown, on the ground outside Castle Rushen.

In 1442 A.D. the Hill Reneasling, or, as it is now better known, Cronk-Urleigh, at Kirk Michael, was selected; but in 1577 A.D. the present Tynwald Hill was formed of ground taken from all the parishes of the island, and has been used without hardly, if any, interruption ever since—over 300 years.

Directly any change is made in the Customs duties in the Imperial Parliament a similar change is made, either of increase or decrease, as the case may be, in the Customs of the island.

Immediately the alteration was lately made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, by his Budget of this present year (1899), in the wine duties, a short Act was passed through the House of Keys assimilating the duties to be levied in the Isle of Man to those of the English Customs. No alterations are made under similar circumstances except in Customs duties. The English Parliament has no power of causing any other fiscal changes in Mona.

With the exception of postage stamps, income-tax, stamps of all kinds, and succession duties on the property of deceased residents in the island, are unknown there; all local taxes and rates of every description being levied and controlled entirely by the House of Keys, independent of the Crown and Parliament of England.

According to the official returns of the island revenue, receipts and expenditure, Manxland may be regarded as a perfectly solvent State.

The total revenue for the official year ending March 31, 1899, amounted to £78,121. Customs duties contributed to this £71,933 local taxation and other sources, the small amount of £6,188.

These figures show an increase of £1,116 on the total for the year 1897-98.

The total expenditure for all purposes was £72,425, being an increase of £1,499 on the year over that of 1897-98. The net indebtedness of the island amounts to £276,852. It will be seen that the increase of expenditure for the year has been greater than the increase of receipts by £383, and in order to provide a surplus in lieu of a deficit in his Budget, Lieutenant-Governor Lord Henniker, who is also Chancellor of the Exchequer of the island, has notified to the Tynwald Court that the grant that has been for some years expended on advertising the beauties and attractions of Mona will be for the present suspended. Whether this is a wise and prudent course is a question that time alone will solve.

If this will involve the shutting up of the London office in Ludgate Circus for a time, it will not be altogether an unmixed misfortune. One benefit may result in the disappearance of the burlesque display of three golden (?) legs, which are supposed by those who know no better to be the arms of the Isle of Man.

It is to be hoped that when the grant is renewed this may be rectified. At present there is a great doubt as to whether the extraordinary effigy that has for some time embellished (?) Ludgate Circus is intended to represent the arms of Sicily or the Isle of Man. In either case it is ridiculously incorrect.

*1 This permit Could be obtained from any of the high bailiffs, who held them in blank already signed by the Governor, and charged a small fee, of course, in exchange for it.

*2 This is now the Manx standard flag.


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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
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