[From King Orry to Queen Victoria, 1899]




MINING and the herring fishery are the two staple industries of the Manx people. By a return issued by the Home Secretary it appears that in the year 1898 no less than 3,948 tons of silver lead ore and 2,135 tons of zinc or blende (black jack) ore were raised in the Isle of Man. To obtain this metal, 6,083 tons in all, 590 men and women were employed, 357 underground and 233 on the surface above ground. This return shows that more lead and blende were raised in the little island of Ellan Vannin than in the whole of Scotland.

The mines of Foxdale and Laxey have yielded from time to time for many years immense quantities of argentiferous lead of a high class, at very good profits to the shareholders. The whole of the clay slate formation is more or less impregnated with silver, and the lead ores of Foxdale and Laxey are far richer in that precious metal than any others found in the British Isles.

Twenty-six ounces of the white metal to the ton of ore is what the best ore yields, but of late years the veins of ore have consisted more of blende or black jack than of lead, which costs just as much to get and prepare for market as argentiferous lead, but only realizes a very much lower price.

The success of these mines has induced the opening of a vast number of other mines, or rather holes in the ground, in hopes of finding lead, in several parts of the island, with a result far from encouraging or remunerative; indeed, it is quite an open question whether as much capital has not been absorbed and lost in prosecuting these unsuccessful ventures as has ever been won out of the two prosperous ones of Foxdale and Laxey. The lamentable and ghastly wrecks of abandoned mines in various parts of the island are but a sad testimony to this.

At any rate, the mining and the attempts at mining that are made from time to time by adventurous speculators have provided good wages for a considerable number of industrious and hardworking men for many years past.

The herring fishery has been from time immemorial a great source of prosperity to the Manx people. In olden times it provided a staple food for the inhabitants; and when intercourse with the surrounding countries of England, Wales and Ireland was regularly opened up, and markets for the disposal of their catches of the silver herring were available, a money return for their labour rewarded their exertions.

A vast number of Manxmen combine farming their land with fishing the sea, each in its season, and so find profitable occupation the whole year round.

Farming in the Isle of Man has ever been a fairly profitable occupation, as is also the breeding of cattle and horses.

The immense concourse of visitors who go to the island in the summer months, who must be fed, creates, a very ready market for many products of both the land and sea, which is available to the cultivator of the soil and the fisherman alike.

In manufactures there is not so much employment either for capital or labour. Sail-cloth of the very best quality has ever been a well-known production; also to a limited extent, a fairly good homespun frieze or coarse cloth.

The bulk of the preserved potatoes for ships’ use at sea is produced at Douglas, and has been for many years, ever since the process was discovered.

At one time, prior to the Free Trade legislation of Sir Robert Peel, in the early forties, when the import duty on timber from foreign countries into Great Britain was abolished, shipbuilding was an extensive and very lucrative industry. Timber was then imported from the Baltic, Canada and elsewhere into the Manx ports free of duty, and was there used in the construction of ships for Liverpool and other English owners. Although the timber could not have been imported into the British ports without payment of the duty, the ships built of the ‘duty free’ timber in the ports of the Isle of Man, principally Douglas and Ramsey, were admitted free, without any unpleasant questions as to where the material came from, and were at once registered as British vessels.

Ships of considerable size—as ships went in those days—were built in the island and bore a high-class; for the Manx shipwrights had as good a reputation as Manx sailors. Since the repeal of the timber duty there is no advantage in building ships in Manxland, and the trade has died out. The fishing luggers and nickies that carry on the herring fisheries are still built in the island, and are celebrated as second to none that fly the British or, indeed, any other flag.

When the rule of the island became vested in the British Government, subject, of course, to the laws of the original Manx Constitution, by the transfer from the Duke of Athol, the old profitable contraband trade was played out and the bold smuggler had to seek other employment.

Fortunately for the Manx people, shortly after that time a vast change took place, through the introduction of steam navigation, which virtually drew the Isle of Man nearer to all the other British Islands.

The first tide of visitors to Mona’s shores then began to set in, though very slowly at first; but it has so prodigiously grown that there is little doubt that the keeping of hotels, boarding-houses and ‘apartments to let ‘forms now one of the most lucrative industries of the island. The following two extracts show very concisely how, from an almost infinitesimal beginning, this trade—it is a trade, and nothing else—has increased, and to what a vast extent it has grown from the latter part of the eighteenth century to the present time.

In Hutchinson’s ‘Cumberland,’ vol. ii., p. 83, is the following:

‘The only packet boat employed by Government between Great Britain and the Isle of Man sails from Whitehaven and Douglas weekly. It was established in 1766. The packet is appointed to leave Whitehaven the first tide after the arrival of the Saturday’s post from London, which is received on the Monday evening; is to remain two days in the port of Douglas, in the Isle of Man; and then make her passage to Whitehaven as speedily as circumstances will permit. There are frequently from fifteen lo twenty passengers weekly by this vessel, and sometimes a much greater number.’

In a London daily paper of Tuesday, August 15, 1899 A.D., is the following paragraph:

‘There is no abatement of the great invasion of Douglas by pleasure seekers. On Saturday some 16,000 persons arrived by steamers, while Sunday’s arrivals numbered over 10,000. Those residents who depend on the visitors’ traffic for a livelihood are having a glorious time. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company (which at present runs two boats a day, to and from Douglas) announces that extra sailings will take place on Mondays and Wednesdays, when a steamer will leave at 12 midnight; on Fridays and Saturdays there will be extra sailings from Liverpool at 5 p.m., at 12 midnight and 12.30 midnight respectively.’

How many of these went to stay any lengthened time, and how many were trippers, departing again by the midnight boat on Sunday, or rather, 12.5 a.m. on Monday, it is difficult to say; or what number brought their own ‘nose-bags’ with them, i.e. carried their provisions in a basket or red cotton hand kerchief, calling only at the insular public-houses for liquid refreshment, is an unknown quantity, but it shows what vast changes have taken place in 133 years.

To the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, and also to the Cunard Company, belongs the proud, and I believe unique, distinction of never having lost the life of a passenger at sea. Both companies have now been in constant service for over half a century.


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