[From Ellan Vannin, 1895]




IN the discussion of Manx wealth, the term must be taken with moderation. There is no scope, either in the heirship of land, or the opportunities of business, for the accumulations of the millionaire. Conspicuous wealth is an exception; general competency and safe advance a characteristic feature.

In the history of the general subject may he noted some chief hindrances, in the early violence of invaders, in natural disadvantages, in the exactions of Romanism, and in the demands of the lords of the Isle.

I. The invasions and plunder of the early ages might well find expression in the Manx proverb, "Boght, boght dy bragh," "Poor, poor for ever." They came with irresistible force. They were part of the movement of the northern nations which affected other countries besides Man The Danes had found their way to the eastern coast of England, about 868, from Northumbria down to East Anglia. In the issue they conquered England, and for twenty-seven years, from 1017, held its sceptre, and extended their ravages to Normandy also. On the western side of England, the Norwegians came into the Irish sea, plundering the island and other places on their way from the north. From 912 to 1065 seems to have been an interval of savage spoil. It is stated in some of the records extant, that Man was nearly depopulated by Harold of Norway, in 888, and that it was afterwards laid waste by Sweyn, his son. In 1077 came the successful invasion of Godred Crovan, after two previous attempts, with his command of the island and seizure of its resources. He had escaped, as stated, from the Norwegian defeat at Stamford Bridge, near York, in 1066, by the English king, who himself the same year fell at the battle of Hastings before the Norman Conqueror. There were other conflicts added to those from without ; a battle between north and south at Jurby, in 1098, the north victorious; another at Ramsey, in 1142, between Godred, son of Olave, and his nephew Reginald, the former slain, but avenged with terrible reprisals. Beween 1158 and 1164, arose the war which separated " Man " from "the Isles," Somerled taking the latter, but also plundering the Manx people. After an invasion with great slaughter, in 1182, came another in 1204, when John of England, in his invasion of Ireland, would not spare the little island. A little before this Reginald, dethroned, had laid waste the south. At other dates came marauders from Scotland, calling at Derbyhaven and Ronaldsway, and from Ireland. In 1228 occurred the battle between Olave and Reginald, at Tynwald Hill, when the latter lost his life. In the conflict at Ronaldsway was defeated Ivar, who had seized the throne on the death of Magnus, the last of the Norwegian line. Norway had sold "Man and the Isles" to Scotland for a capital sum and a yearly rent. Then occurred a succession of transfers which could have tended only to poverty; claimed by Edward I., given to Alfrica, sister of Magnus, and who had married Montacute, by whom the island was mortgaged to Beck, the opulent Bishop of Durham; after this given to other royal favourites. Still there were invasions: by the Scots, at Ramsey, in 1313, and at Castle Rushen by the Irish, and by the French, all in quick succession. It would, under these circumstances, be with the Manx people, as previously with their Celtic kindred in Wales, Cornwall, and Cumberland, under the Saxon invaders poverty and distress.

2. There were also natural hindrances to escape from poverty. In the isolation of the early times there could be but little commerce. Add to this the barren soil, the absence of manufactures, and the unskilled farming of those ages. There was no commerce to carry off the abundant fisheries of herring, cod, turbot, and shell fish. The cattle and produce of the farmer must remain without export; the mineral wealth was but slightly opened, though the resources of Laxey and Foxdale, as well as the quarries of lime and poolvash marble, could not be entirely unknown. There were no visitors as now. The time was far in the future when Ellan Vannin would become one of the chief watering places of the United Kingdom. The local demand for produce would, therefore, be small from farmer, shop keeper, or merchant. There was no impulse to new houses in the building trade, nothing to give increased value to land. The smuggling which prevailed until the Revestment in 1765, would really bring no relief in its profits, and only demoralisation to the social condition. The lord of the Isle was supposed to derive some advantages when so slow, to take legal steps in resistance, though the Imperial Exchequer had immense losses yearly by the want of restraint. The impulse also which came from the dishonest law of bankruptcy brought profit to a class, but was no source of real prosperity to the island.

3. The earnings of the working classes were low. As late as 1609, the year's wage of a ploughman, with board and lodging, was only 13s. 4d.; under the same conditions the mason and the tailor had but 4d. per day. The labourers were badly housed; coals, being imported, were too costly for their fires, and, in the towns, turf was not always within reach. The farmer had only low prices for his produce in the market. In 1798, the prices were : for pork, 2½d. per pound ; for ham, 5d. ; for a couple of chickens, 6d. ; for fowls, 12d. each (the shilling was 14d.) ; for geese, 1s. each. Crops, cattle, poultry, the dairy, the orchard, had no outlet beyond the Manx shores. 'The style of home life was humble: breakfast, porridge and milk ; dinner, mainly potatoes and herring; supper, cowry or broash meat seldom, except on Sunday, when the savoury broth, thick with vegetables and enriched with the meat and pudding boiled in it, with barley bread, was a chief luxury; tea was deemed an extravagance leading to bankruptcy; occasionally there was a substantial meal of "Solaghan." In clothing, much was home-spun and home-woven; the children, often barefoot, the men behind plough and harrows, or in the field of green crops, wearing "carranes" for shoes. On the social level next above, of course, life had more luxury, though drapers' shops were few, even in the early years of the nineteenth century, the demands on the butcher limited, and no need of the poulterer's shop in Douglas itself.

The working classes were held down by the want of opportunity for education.

In the old time schools were few, and, with a few exceptions, feeble; the parish school especially. In those of the parish many of the children went barefoot. Each would daily take to the school a turf for the school fire, in the cold of winter. The masters and mistresses were often personally infirm, and humble in teaching ability; in my own list of schools, two were lame, one humpbacked, with a squint, another with a wooden leg. It is only just to add that in the succession were some of no ordinary qualifications. It must be admitted that in those days parental feeling was not awake to the value of an education more than commercial. This was no less true of the respectable farmer than of other classes. The results were what should have been foreseen. The prizes of civil life fell to strangers of better education. In some cases Manxmen held their own, particularly the Deemster's office, which required knowledge of the Manx tongue in Court, and others also did honour to their country by superior powers. Yet often, at the Bar and elsewhere, the Manxman had the disadvantage. The experience of English life and training won the forensic honours of years gone by for men like Roper, Dumbell, Bluett, and others who might be named. At other times, it is true, the promotion of strangers came from the patronage of the Stanleys and the Murrays, the last above all. The lesson of the whole, however, was the importance of the highest education, and of experience in cultured life. Where the opportunities were given, the gifts were found in science and philosophy, in the region of law, or in the greater affairs of imperial administration. It would be only just to apply to the Island the policy carried out in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and to award the best positions in public appointments - - other things being equal - to men of the native race. This wise policy has been adopted in the recent appointment of Archdeacon, as in some past instances in other spheres.

4. Conspicuous among the hindrances to wealth must be named the exactions of Popery which drained the resources of the Manx people. The property and revenue of insular Popery, apart from the Establishments abroad, whose heads were at one time Barons of the Isle, were very considerable. The current demands for tithes and fees for the priesthood were only a part. Extensive lands were given to Bishop's Court, to Peel Cathedral, to Rushen Abbey, to the Nunnery, and to St. Trinion's. In 1219 the Island had been surrendered to the Pope, and placed under the obligation of a yearly payment. To the Bishop had been given, in addition to the lands just named, the Islet and harbour of Peel, the revenue of the fishery there and in the Lake of Mirescoge, in Lezayre, with a margin of valuable property adjacent, and the tithes of the lead and iron mines, one penny for every house with a fireplace, an extensive turbary in the mountains, the Earl of Derby adding, in 1505, one-third of the manor of Kirby. The stretch of land between the Laxey River and the Dhoon Glen, and reaching from the sea to the mountains, was Church property. Rushen Abbey had, immediately around the Abbey, 422 acres of land, with cottages and mills, with 2,000 acres elsewhere, and with the right of fishing at Lezayre. The Nunnery had the tithes of many hundreds of quarterlands. As a survival, there are still "Sergeants" of lands in German, Lezayre, Lonan, Braddan, Malew, and Rushen. The Seneschal, Ecclesiastical Judge, the Sumner, the Vicars-General, were officials in Church affairs. The names of the Abbey lands in Lonan and Onchan, and of Ballamenagh - " the monks' farm " - still remain. The tithes and fees to the priests were enforced by the ecclesiastical Courts with the terrors of Canon law, extending from the money fine to excommunication and purgatory. On the list of priestly claims were the cattle of the farm, the pigs and poultry of the farmyard, the fish of stream and lake, every catch of herrings; and, on land, the crops at harvest, the grain at the mill, the beer at the brewing, and a tax on each public-house and the products of the dairy. Three times a year there were oblations, and also fees for every stage of birth, marriage, death, for examinations in the faith, for acts of Church discipline, for masses for the dead. Intestate property came under priestly administration ; wills must be written by the priests.

The baronies external to the island had much in landed possession and in tithes. Rushen Abbey had been given to Furness Abbey, by Olave, in the twelfth century, and therewith the control of the Bishopric, one hundred quarter- lands, and one-third of the insular tithes. Extensive properties with names not now understood, but sounding like Norwegian, were confirmed to Furness, by Pope Eugenius III., to which, in 1245, Harold made additions, including the mines of the Island, the "rectories " (so termed) of Michael and Maughold, three acres of land at "Bakewaldswath," and a meadow near St. Trinion's, named in Manx the "Lheannee runt," "the round meadow." To the Priory of Whithorne belonged five quarterlands and the Barony of St. Trinion's. "Bangor" was a general term in Welsh usage, meaning a college or monastery of distinction, and has been given to places in Flintshire, in Anglesey, and St. Asaph, as well as in Ireland (Bright). To the Bangor in Ireland, near Belfast, belonged eighty-six quarterlands in various parishes, and six which it held jointly with Sabal; to the Priory of Sabal-----clearly distinct from Bangor, though in the same neighbourhood was allotted a position showing that it had a share in Manx endowment, though with the exception of the six quarterlands mentioned, there does not seem to be any other property given in its list of endowments. The meaning of the term Sabal is somewhat difficult of definition, and suggests what is curious in Irish history. It is said that St. Patrick, in his last years, spent much of his time in Armagh, where, at a place named "Sabbal Pheric," understood to mean "Patrick's Barn," he established the Metropolitan See, where, it is alleged, he preached his first sermon in Ireland, and where he died in 465. A writer in The Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, of March, 1891, relates that the royal chieftain, Dicha, who dwelt on the south of the Strangford Lough, and had been converted under St. Patrick's ministry, made one of his barns into a place of worship, and that, on the same site, was afterwards built the famous church called, "Sabbal Padhrig," rendered "Patrick's Barn." I am unable to say whether the term in Irish has the meaning supposed. To St. Bees belonged property in Groudle, in Maughold, and other places, the gift of Guthred, or Godred, and Reginald, lands extending from the Dhoon to Coma.

All these gifts and payments to the Papacy were, collectively, a large deduction from the temporal resources of the Island.

Largely, or entirely, the forfeited properties of the Barons were divided, it is said, between the Bishop and the poorer clergy.

5. The demands of the lords of the Isle in their administration were too heavy to be omitted from this category of hindrances to wealth. The lord of the Isle Stanley or Murray demanded yearly for his household, and his garrisons at Castletown and Peel, 500 beeves and a fixed supply of corn, and also a supply of turf and ling, without cost. Articles for his own use, otherwise subject to duty, were free to him, as also to the Bishop and Archdeacon. He claimed taxation on imports, and a part of all imported timber. Every season each fishing-boat had to pay him a contribution. By his authority were fixed the duties on imports and exports. The lord's rent was his, and one-fifth of the herring fishery. The officials of the Government, Clerk of the Rolls, and others, were not paid generally from revenue, but from their official fees, of which the lord, never theless, claimed a share. Out of the revenue the Deemster received only £13 6s. 8d. yearly. Under the oppressive exactions of the Government the net amount of the annual revenue fell to about £1,000, and the revenue was farmed for that sum to a Liverpool merchant. The Bishopric was some times vacant for an interval of years - once for seventeen years and the moneys thus accruing did not appear to the credit of any public department. At last the lord claimed the land as his own, and the people as his tenants. This was the Stanley of 1643, but the Murray who followed, in 1736, was equally grasping of insular resources. The clergy narrowly escaped the loss of Bishop Barrow's benefaction, who, at the cost of £1,000, had bought for the poorer clergy a portion of the tithes belonging to the Earl of Derby. For a time the Deed could not be found; the Duke of Athol claimed the tithes, and was hindered from the appropriation only by the son of Bishop Wilson accidentally finding the Deed, after anxious search.

During the Athol rule, from 1736 to 1830, some laws were passed which, with whatever advantage to the Duke, brought demoralisation to the people. Such was the law of bank ruptey whiqh held its sway from 1737 to 1814 such was the lax administration towards smuggling which at last led the Imperial Government to seek the Act of Revestment as a defence of the Exchequer, the loss to which was valued at £350,000 each year. Against the will of the Keys and the people, negotiations were urged on with the English Government, for the sale of the Duke's rights and privileges which brought him £70,000, an annuity of £2,000, then £3,000 more for insular revenue, and, as lord of the manor, £416,114. For his interest in the Abbey lands, and in the forfeited properties of Bangor, Sabal, St. Trinion's, and Bishop's Court, he obtained a further sum. To give the Duke's nephew time to reach the canonical age the Bishopric was left vacant for several years after the decease of Bishop Cregan, in 1814. The tithes of the green crops which had ceased from the episcopate of Bishop Wilson, the new Bishop attempted to revive, but the attempt was abandoned from fear of the popular indignation. In compensation for payments to the Duke for his rights, the English Government now claims out of the Manx revenue the yearly sum of £10,000.


Back index next

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001