[From Flaxney Stowell, Castletown 100 years ago]
It is a relief to turn from contemplating the tragedies which have taken place on the cruel though beautiful coast of Langness, and think of the many pleasant hours passed on the grass in the sunshine by happy Castletown children, when they come here for their Band of Hope treat.
They are of all Denominations, and represent all differences of Creed. There was a Church in Germany, at the time of Luther, which had inscribed over its portals "Jews, Turks, and Infidels may enter here, but no Papists." It was not so with the Band of Hope in Castletown. The children of the Catholics sailed in the same boats with those whose parents attended the Established Church, or a Dissenters' Chapel, and all the little ones sang together their united determination to "Stand like the brave" in the Temperance cause.
Year by year it has been a memorable day & day of days. Everything was settled so that the excursion could be made on a fine day, and the first morning when the weather seemed propitious the baker got his order to send down to the Pier 1,000 large size currant buns, and these with coffee, sugar, milk, eggs, etc., and a kettle and coal were packed away among four row boats. The bell-man was sent on his rounds to tell the children at the schools and in the streets that "The Band of Hope will meet at the Town Hall at one o'clock noon, to form in procession and march to the pier."
Shortly after three o'clock, eight happy boat loads, would leave the pier, rowed by willing hands. They have two miles to sail, across the placid Bay to the Lighthouse on Langness. The water below them is so clear that the fish at the bottom can be plainly seen, and above, below, and all around there is the beauty of a Castletown summer's day.
Arrived at Langness the children sing -
"Stand like the brave with thy face to the foe."And Martin's "Plains of Heaven," with its inanimate beauty, is dead, and as nothing compared to Langness animated by the crowd of children pure and free from the taint of alcohol - before the heart has grown familiar with the paths of sin, or sown to garner up its bitter fruit. Long may they keep so!
The children pass the hours quickly with games and frolic. The fire is made, and the kettle boiled, with as much smoke and importance as if it was to set the "Empress Queen" going round the Island.
In the evening twilight the tired and happy crews fill the boats for their return trip home, and the treat is over for another year. Standing on the charming peninsula of Langness, one is reminded of John Wesley's beautiful composition at Land's End:-
"Lo, on a narrow neck of land,
'Twixt two unbounded seas I stand
A point of time, a moment's space,
Removes me to that heavenly place,
Or shuts me up in Hell."
There's Heaven on the right in the placid bay we have crossed, and on the left there's an emblem of Hell in the treacherous tide and cruel rocks of Dreswick, where the man-of-war "Racehorse" was lost in 1822. We have here at one view, in the natural sense, an emblem of the two future states.
In Malew Churchyard there lies one to whom all mariners owe a debt of gratitude. This is John McMeakin, agent for the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society in Castletown. He interested himself in having a lighthouse built on Langness point, and though he had to wait and work and persuade for twelve years, he accomplished his purpose. It is a strong proof of the need there was for this lighthouse, that since its erection, through John McMeakin's influence, there has not been a wreck on either Langness or Scarlett. He made his work as agent to the Society his great object in life, his interest in it increasing with the years he worked for it. Every sailor's widow and orphan looked on him as their friend, who would grudge no effort needed to help them when the bread winner had been taken away by the cruel sea.
His grave is marked by a simple stone, with just his name and age inscribed on it. It has been said of another near it, that the elaborate railing was put up to prevent people from reading the lying epitaph on the tombstone. John McMeakin's epitaph in written on the grateful hearts of the mariners' families whom he was the means of assisting in their misfortunes.
The old Aristocracy of the Isle of Man lived in and near Castletown. They made themselves familiar with the working classes, and started and supported Societies for their help. One of these Societies, The Artificers' Friendly Society, was a great help to poor people. By subscribing one shilling per month, members could receive seven shillings per week in time of sickness. These Societies did much to encourage thrift and sobriety before there were any other similar societies in existence to help the, poor.
In addition to starting and helping Benefit Societies, the richer people of Castletown voluntarily paid for the poor people's children to be educated, and would take a turn themselves at teaching the three' R's in the Schools.
A young lad was going down the Market Place on. a fine moonlight night. He saw a young woman he was acquainted with standing at the stops at Deemster Lace's, and he asked her how a young woman's pulse felt at the cool of such a beautiful evening.
Encouraged, he gave her a kiss. The Deemster came to hear of it from the girl, and the lad was at once sent aboard a Man-of-War. He returned to Castletown after spending several years at the war.
The Aristocracy also took an interest in obtaining what privileges they could for the town. It is said that but for their determined opposition, King William's College would have been built at Douglas, and the stones of Castle Rushen used for the purpose.
Now the Law Courts are removed to Douglas. The Governor no longer resides at Castletown. Castle Rushen does not even serve the useful purpose of a jail, for a new one has been built at Douglas. But it is thought there are chances looming ahead for Castletown that will wake it out of its peaceful reveries, and once more make its people busy and prosperous.
"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." Let us hope such a tide may come to Castletown men, and that they may not miss taking it "at the flood."
Many years ago a Mormon came to Castletown to preach. He was to give a lecture on the Sunday, and a few roughs of lads came in amongst the other people. They had provided themselves with sods under their coats, and as the Mormon lectured, the lads were very quietly throwing the sods at him a bit at a time. At last it became so annoying that he closed the meeting, saying he had never met with such keen and subtle persecution. He was complaining of the annoyance to an old man whom he met in the street. The old man pitied him, but said "You are for marrying more wives than one?" "Well, it's true; but we must show that we can support them. All in our community are employed, we have no idlers, no criminals, no prostitutes. We cultivate our own land, grow our own corn, work our own mills, and have our own place of worship, and if we do go on Patriarchal lines in some respects, what about the clandestine prostitution that goes on in every city and town in Europe - "Well," the old man said, "Mormonism won't do here, and if you think you are right, as I am rather inclined to believe you may be, my advice to you is: go to-morrow morning outside Castletown, and shake off its dust from your feet for a testimony against us, and time will tell who is right." - "It shall be so," said the Mormon.
[fpc - this must be post 1852 when polygamy was first publically admitted and possibly refers to c. 1870 when some attempt was made to remission]
We have lost the Lieut.-Governor, we have lost the Legislative Council and the House of Keys, we have lost most of the Courts, we have lost the Rolls Office, we have lost the Troops, we have lost the Gaol, and we have lost many of the Gentry. I will leave my readers to judge if the Mormon's prediction has been fulfilled.
Could we clear away the liquor traffic we should cleanse much of the impurity and immorality that at present exist in our town. Let us strive by precept and example to help others.
Miss Staveley, from London, delivered a lecture on "Alcohol and Health," in the Town Hall, Castletown, on October 9th, 1901, with great effect. Her manner of address - so morally good - reminded me of the advocating of our principles sixty years ago, in the Grammar School. At that time it was moral suasion, and we were not under the law, but under grace, and there was more pure good done at that time when people were coming and taking the pledge; the clearer light shone within; and many would say: "In the name of God I will." Poor fellows, before, they would not use that name only when they were drunk, but, they took the pledge, and lived and died keeping it - and with a better hope for a better world. Very much good was done.
Before that time everybody indulged in moderation, both saints and sinners. Some went so far that our Religious Societies suffered from the indulgence. On Saturday nights was the time the working-man looked for it. One of our Class Leaders met a mem- ber going home more than "half and half," and said to him: "You are drunk, Dick "! "Yes," he said, "Bless the Lord, I got a good sup" ! Another tale:
"A little boy went in and told his mother, 'Father was sick when he was so steady coming home, for if he was drunk he would be staggering.'" But our total abstinence took the sickness and staggering out of hundreds. When we at first laboured at the beginning, Rechabite Tents were formed and Bands of Hope, and what is the state of things now - 90 per cent. of the licences are in tied houses and syndicates.
In the time of good Mr. Parsons, we had the use of the Grammar School for many years, but a change came. "Now, there arose up a new King over Egypt, which knew not Joseph," and we had to take the streets. A new master came as teacher, then what were we to do - only a few working-men? For it "was all over" to go to the Chapels; it would never do to contaminate them with a temperance meeting. We put our heads together and built a Hall. We drew plans, made specifications, and got subscriptions as shares, etc. If we got shares to the amount of £600 we might go on, but where were we to build it ? We tried three places, but the prices were too high. A place was secured at last for what was one half of the sum the others wanted. The town saw our object, and many of the well disposed came and took up shares, and now the Town Hall stands us for any meetings for the general good of all.
At that time the greatest difficulty was to enlist the preachers on our side. They thought the Gospel was sufficient to save the drunkard. Yet it didn't do it. If it was to be done "the Government must do it. "It was said the Government emancipated the slaves in the colonies with twenty millions of money. But it was not the Powers, but every pulpit in the Kingdom thundered "the slave must be free," and pressure from without uphold the Government to set the slave free. And until our pulpits will set the example, the terrible drink evil will go on and on. What better are we to-day than we were sixty years ago ? The evil is carried on now in a manner that would have astonished our forefathers
Just a few words to the memory of my esteemed friend, Tom Brown. He was a genial man. There was life in his expression-so open-hearted. In his early days he lived in Castletown, being a scholar at King William's College. In the evenings he would come to our Temperance meetings, and sit quietly in a corner of the room. When he got home he was not so quiet, for he would mount a chair and imitate every speaker he had heard at the meeting, mimicking all their humour and peculiarities, and reciting, their speeches word for word. Doubtless these meetings would have something to do with the development of his humour in after life, when he rose to eminence. Many a familiar turn of speech and thought in his writings was gleaned in this way in his early days spent at Castletown.
He is gone now "to be with Christ, which is far better," and we who are left reverence his memory as that of a good man, loving and true to his God and his follow countrymen.
My Temperance friend, thy journey pursue,
To all that is good thou'lt aspire,
If only with patience and God in thy view,
Thou wilt surely rise Higher and Higher.
Who ever would think to accomplish the good,
If from the practical cross they retire ?
For as sure as thou breathest there is no other road
To the heavenly Higher and Higher.
Look round you and see the many there be,
Your aid and assistance require, T
hey are drifting fast down on intemperance' sea,
Oh! help them up Higher and Higher.
Go down in the depths of depression and woe,
And rescue that soul from the mire,
The holy emotions from thee that shall flow,
Will raise you up Higher and Higher.
It's the Lost that were found in the days that are past,
That's the word of our heavenly Sire;
The word stands the same while the heavens shall last,
Then, up yonder, Higher and Higher.
O, my Brother, the good that is centr'd in this,
As his thirsty incentives expire,
He is threading his way to a purer Bliss,
Instinctively Higher and Higher.
Even while we are thinking our thoughts are ascending
And catching the purer fire,
To know that the Lost one His steps He is bending
To the Glorious Higher and Higher.
What a blessing to know there's given to thee
An essence the angels admire,
A stream ever flowing from the unfathom'd sea
Rolling up Higher and Higher.
Higher in the munition of rocks
Thy step will be firm if through fire,
The tempest may rage and the earthquake may shock,
Thou art climbing up Higher and Higher.
The Old Grammar School, Castletown