Notes to Hall Caine's The Deemster

These notes are intended to provide links to the Manx background plundered by Hall Caine in this, his first and very successfull, novel. Its publication in 1887 started him on his career as an extremely well paid novelist and dramatist and also brought the enduring distrust of many Manx who would have immediately recognised the basis of the major places and personages portrayed as well as many of the smaller details taken from Hall Caine's period as a rural schoolteacher. However in many sections it seems that Hall Caine had read Train's history and was intent on recycling as much as possible of this, as well as many of the Manx sayings that were to appear in Moore's 1891 Folk-Lore (had Moore lent him a Mss copy ?).

Some background as to how Hall Caine acquired the Manx setting may be found in Kenyon's book.

Deemsters presided as judges over the courts both civil and criminal in both the Lord's and any Baronial courts. Although they had power over the whole island, in practice one sat in the Northside courts (Peel, Kirk Michael and Ramsey) and the other in the Southside courts (Castletown and Douglas). They usually held office for life, though legally it was at the Lord's pleasure. Post Revestment in 1765 they were appointed by London though for many years there was just a single Deemster - Daniel Mylrea the younger, who resided for much of the time at Castletown and who, it seems, never married..

There were two Daniel Mylrea's, the father appointed as Deemster1734-57 and on his death his son 1758-1775; a second son, William, was appointed Archdeacon in 1760, his father having used his influence with the Duke of Athol to get him this post. The father's appointment and son William's earlier preferment, appear to have been made because of their known opposition to Bishop Wilson who by this time did not get on with James, 10th Earl of Derby. The Mylrea's were a Ballaugh family of Dollough (Black Lake) double quarterland. Luckily for Hall Caine the male line of these Mylreas had died out by the late 19th Century.

According to Kneen 'Mona' as a second element in Manx names may have two meanings: 1. A boggy or turfy place; 2. A brake or shrubbery. As the bogs have in most cases been drained and the shrubberies brought under cultivation, it is often difficult to say what was the original word. 'The farm of the turbary or shrubbery.; Balla means home or farmstead. There are two Ballamona quarterlands in Ballaugh , Ballamona Mooar (large) and Beg (small). Manx readers would also know that Ballamona (in Braddan) was the site of the mid 19th Century Lunatic Asylum.

The description of the wedding is straight out of Train (Chap 17) who in turn based it on Waldron's, not always accurate or friendly, descriptions of mid 1720's customs.

Gilcrist's departure via the 'King Orry, an old sea tub plying once a week to Liverpool' is anachronistic, Liverpool was a developing port but most of the packets still went to Whitehaven, the name 'King Orry' reflects that of a 19th century Steam Packet, 18th century packets were usually named 'Duke of Athol' or similar. His subsequent progression 'From Liverpool he went on to Cambridge, to offer himself as a sizar at the University' mirrors almost exactly that of T.E. Brown at Oxford.

The stopping of the Tithes in chapter 2 would have seen Mylrea in prison very quickly.

Hommey-beg, small Tommy in Manx, was also the nickname by which Hall caine was called by his Manx grandmother.

The simonical method by which he acquired the deemstership is a retelling of the way in which Bishop Crigan was reputed to have been offered the Bishopric in 1784 - in that tale it was the Duchess of Atholl, whose family had retained the right to present the Bishop after selling the regalities in 1765 (the right of appointment of the Bishop would be transfrred to the English Crown under the final buyout of the Atholls in 1828).

Bishop Wilson, well known to every Manxman, is the obvious model for Bishop Mylrea, Hall Caine retells all the well-known tales though conflates years.




Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2003