[from D. Robertson, Tour, 1794]
ARRIVAL AT DOUGLAS - RUINOUS STATE OF THE HARBOUR - AN AWFUL CALAMITY - REFLECTIONS.
AFTER I had indulged myself for sometime in viewing the beautiful and romantic scenery of Douglas-Bay, a gentle breeze sprung up, and we arrived at the town about nine in the evening.
The entrance of the harbour is narrow and dangerous, being fenced on each side by a range of precipices. In the centre of these a light-house, at once useful and ornamental, formerly stood. This, with a great part of the key, was destroyed by a severe storm in 1786; and in this ruinous state highly injurious to the public, and fatal to many individuals, it has remained ever since. To enumerate the various shipwrecks this neglect has occasioned, should be unnecesary: but the awful Calamity, which happened in September 1787, is too interesting to be passed over in silence. I was then in Douglas, and never before witnessed such a scene of horror.
The preceding day was delightfully serene; the sky pure and unclouded; and the sun shone forth in all his strength and beauty. In the morning, about four hundred fisher-boats appeared in the bay and harbour, deeply laden with herrings, to the amount of 5000l Gladness smiled in every eye, and the song of mirth gave new energy to labour. The earlier part of the day was passed in unlading the boats, and- the remainder devoted to festivity.
The herring-ground was then off Clayhead and Laxey, about three leagues from Douglas. In the evening when the boats again sailed thither, there were no indications of a change in the weather; but at midnight a brisk equinoctial gale arose; and the fishermen, impelled by their usual timidity, fled to the harbour of Douglas for refuge.
On the ruins of the Light-house is fixed a slender post, from which is hung a small lantern. This wretched substitute was thrown down by one of the first boats in its eagerness to gain the harbour. The consequences were dreadful In a few minutes all was horror and confusion. The darkness of the night; the raging-of the sea; the vessels dashing against the rocks; the cries of the fishermen, perishing in the waves; and the shrieks of the women ashore; imparted such a sensation of horror, as none but a spectator can possibly conceive! When the morning came, it presented an awful spectacle: the beach and rocks covered with wrecks; and a group of dead bodies floating in the harbour. In some boats whole families perished. The shore was crow deaf with women: some in all the frantic agony of grief, alternately weeping over the corses of father, brother,and husband; and others, sinking in the embrace of those, whom, a moment before, they imagined were buried in the waves. The bustle of trade ceased; its eagerness yielded to the feelings of Nature; an awful gloom sat on every countenance; and every bosom either bled with its own anguish, or sympathised with the sufferings of others.
Dreadful as this calamity was, it did not awaken the parental care of Administration; and to this hour the harbour of Douglas remains in the same ruinous state: useless, in a great degree, to the public; fatal to individuals; and a monument of reproach to Government *1.
For several years the revenue of the Island has been greater than the expenditure: and a considerable balance is now in the British Treasury, which will be annually augmented. The inhabitants of the Isle of Man have therefore a just claim upon Government, that with their own revenue their principal harbour should be repaired; and the safety of the public certainly demands , that what Nature designed for a general asylum from the tempests in the neighbouring seas, should not longer remain ruins.
Were it rendered safe and commodious, his Majesty's cutters would frequently resort hither; and trading vessels, instead of vainly combating the fury of the waves , would, till the storm abated, seek shelter here. Trade would soon be revived in Douglas, and prosperity diffused through the Island.
*1 Since the above was written, (1791) I have, with much pleasure, observed the attention of Government to this subject. A new Key, on a plan at once beneficial and elegant, has lately been projected: which, I hope, will be executed in the ensuring Summer.