[from History of IoM, 1900]




§ 5. Military Organization.

We will now briefly trace the history of the Manx military forces after the passing of the Revestment Act. In 1779, war having been declared against Spain, the militia was called out to perform the duties of " watch and ward." 1

Neglect of the foot militia.

Between 1765 and that date, the custom of " calling the inhabitants together to muster " had been " entirely neglected," so that there were " but few officers capable of teaching the exercise properly," 2 and most of the men had become " altogether unaccustomed to and ignorant of any military order and discipline." 3 This state of affairs probably explains why the celebrated Paul Jones was enabled to swoop down on the island and to carry off some prisoners,4 as well as much booty, without being interfered with. It is on record that the militia were again called out in 1793,5 and, in 1798, Feltham mentions that the militia were " commanded, under the governor, by three majors and seventeen captains of parishes." 6 And yet, only three years later, it would seem that this ancient organization had been superseded, since a proclamation issued by Lieutenant-Governor Shaw ordered the captains of parishes to make lists " first of those able to bear arms and willing to join the enrolled Volunteers in the more active defence of their country, . . . and next of those to be employed with the able women in driving cattle and other effects to the mountains." 7

Which practically ceased to exist in 1793.

It is curious that, though there is no record of the militia having been called out since 1793, its captains have been continued as civil officers to the present day, their duties 8 being connected with the preservation of the peace, though recent legislation has conferred on them the additional function of acting as returning officers at school-board elections. The uniform worn by the militia, or rather by its surviving captains, as late as fifty years ago, was dark blue with red facings.

The horse-militia survive till 1823

The horse-militia survived a little longer. In 1793, Briscoe’s Manx Mercury, in describing the proceedings at Tynwald, remarks that, " in addition to the Manx Fencibles, his Excellency the Duke of Atholl was attended by the cavalry of the Isle, which consists of a certain number of horsemen from each parish, amounting in all to upwards of a hundred. They were all properly accoutered, and appeared a remarkably fine body of men." In the Orderly Book of the Fencibles, referring to the arrangements for the same occasion, the following notice occurs :—" The Hill will be guarded by the horsemen, who, on all such occasions, are the constitutional guards of the Governor and Legislature of the Island and to be considered as the eldest brothers of the infantry." In 1820, this corps consisted of one troop, under a captain-commandant, two lieutenants, and a cornet. In 1822, a " strong muster of " it was at Tynwald, but, after that date, nothing more is heard of it.

Volunteers between 1793 and 1815 and after 1858.

During the period of the long war with France, at the end of the last and the beginning of the present century, several volunteer corps were embodied. They were—" The troop of Constitutional Dragoons," " The Yeomanry Cavalry," " The Manx Gentlemen and Yeomanry," and " The South Manx Volunteers," and " Dawson’s Volunteers," who were foot soldiers. The troop of Constitutional Dragoons was raised in 1793, mainly by the exertions of George Quayle, of Castletown ; but it did not last long, because, in 1796, the Duke of Atholl found fault with its appearance and with some arrangements made by the officers, who consequently resigned, and the troop was disbanded. In 1799, the indefatigable George Quayle organized " The Manx Gentlemen and Yeomanry," which was disembodied on the conclusion of peace in 1802. Their uniform was dark blue. " The Manx Yeomanry Cavalry" was destined to have a longer career. It was formed in 1796, disembodied in 1802, but embodied again in 1803, and was not finally disbanded till 1825. We hear of them, under the command of Captain Thomas (Deemster) Gawne, escorting the Duke of Atholl to the Tynwald in 1813 ; and, in 1822, under the command of Lieutenant Corlett, they performed the same office. They were then described as " a very respectable, well-dressed body of men." 9 the previous October they had been called out to suppress the flour riots. In 1799, " The South Manx Volunteers," consisting of two companies, and " Dawson’s Volunteers," consisting of one company, were raised. They were disembodied in the year 1802, and re-embodied in 1803, when "Dawson’s Volunteers" became " The North Manks Volunteers." None of these bodies, either horse or foot, every saw any active service. On the 10th of April, 1816, all the foot volunteers were disbanded. 10 In 1859, when a French invasion was feared, Manxmen took up the volunteer movement with great enthusiasm. No fewer than six companies of rifles and two of artillery were enlisted, but, when the fear of invasion was seen to be without foundation, the zeal for volunteering waned, and, at the present time, only one company of rifles survives. It should not, however, be forgotten that the liability of all able-bodied Manxmen to serve for the defence of their country has never been abrogated, and that there is nothing to prevent the militia being called out at any time.

Paid Forces.

As regards the paid forces after the Revestment, the lord’s garrisons of course disappeared, and their place was taken by drafts from English regiments, their headquarters being at Castletown.

The Manx Fencibles.

These, on the outbreak of war with France and Spain, in 1779, were supplemented by three companies of native troops, called the " Royal Manx Fencibles," who formed part of the regular British army, but were liable to serve in the island only. 11 The captains of these companies before receiving their commissions, had to procure 42 recruits, while the lieutenants had to procure 25, and the ensigns 20.12 On the 2nd of November, 1780, the total number of all ranks was 333, being composed of 14 officers, 10 sergeants, 15 corporals, 6 drummers, and 288 privates. 13

Disembodied in 1783 but re-embodied in 1793 and largely increased in 1795 and 1798.

The battalion thus formed was disembodied in October, 1783, after the Peace of Versailles, but it was re-embodied on the 20th of February, 1793, shortly after Great Britain had joined the allies against the French Republic. In 1795, the number of Fencibles was largely increased by the formation of a regiment, to consist, in the words of the order, " of 10 companys, of 3 serjeants, 3 corporals, 2 drummers, and 60 private men in each, with 2 fifers to the Grenadier Company, beside a Serjeant-Major, and Quarter-Master Serjeant, together with the usual Commissioned Officers." 14 These men could be ordered " to serve in Great Britain, or Ireland, or the Islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, and Man." 14

Only five companies were raised at first under this order, but, on the breaking out of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, five more companies were added, and the whole regiment was shortly afterwards sent to Ireland. Nothing is known of what it did there.

Disembodied in 1802, re-embodied in 1803 and finally disbanded in 1810.

In 1800, it was at Omagh, and, in 1802, at Whitehaven, where, on the conclusion of the Peace of Amiens in that year, it was disembodied, the same fate having befallen the " First Royal Manx Fencibles " in the island. On the renewal of the war in 1803, the raising of a corps " to consist of three companies, of four sergeants, four corporals, two drummers, and seventy private men in each, beside a sergeant-major, and quarter-master-sergeant, and two fifers, together with the usual commissioned officers, for service in the Isle of Man only," 15 was ordered. The numbers in each company, as well as the number of companies, seem afterwards to have been increased, for the orderly book of the corps in 1806 gives a total strength of about 800 men, divided into eight companies.16 The uniform of the Fencibles was red with blue facings. They were disbanded in 1810, 17 without, as far as is known, having seen active service. It may seem curious that they were not kept under arms till the end of the war, but it must be remembered that by that time all real danger of invasion had passed away. They, being very broad-shouldered men, are said to have covered more ground than the same number of men belonging to any other regiment in the British army.18

The want of fortifications.

It is remarkable that while, during the time of the wars with France, the island was well protected by the numerous soldiers stationed there, its fortifications were utterly neglected till after the conclusion of peace in 1815. On this a contemporary writer remarks, in 1816, as follows : " It is a curious fact that, during the long period of war, when it was universally allowed that a single privateer might have ravaged the island, or laid the towns in ashes before assistance or protection could be afforded from England, yet no care was taken to organize those means of defence, which were easily within the reach of the inhabitants. It is true that at every commanding point all round the coast there were cannon ; but these lay dismounted and useless, though, at the same time, Government was paying a salary to an ordnance keeper. . . . But, immediately on the conclusion of peace, an engineer, being sent over, has ever since been actively employed in building batteries, arranging stores of ammunition, and mounting the cannon, as if it had been apprehended that, when all the rest of Europe was restored to tranquillity, the arms of the united potentates would be turned against the Isle of Man alone ! " 19 At the same time the military establishment was reduced to about half a company from an English line regiment, stationed in the barracks at Castletown ; and, in 1896, even this was taken away. The only paid force on the island at the present day is a fine corps of the Naval Reserve, whose headquarters are at Peel.


1 Lib. Scacc. It was ordered, at the same time, that " upon the first appearance of the enemy all horses, oxen, and cattle . . . and provisions be driven and removed to some place of security."

2 Lib. Scacc. Order of Duke of Atholl, dated 12th of March.

3 Rev. W. Crebbin, vicar of Jurby, writing in 1779.

4 These prisoners, among whom was the bishop’s chaplain, were set free on paying ransoms.

5 In this year twenty of the militia guarded Castle Rushen, each parish sending twenty men in turn, they being relieved every twenty-four hours.

6 Manx Soc., vol. vi. p. 21. It is interesting to note that in 1799 the old custom of sending round the cross was not yet obsolete. For, in that year, some persons had sent round the cross in the parish of Rushen to call out the militia for a joke, and, in the course of the judgment passed upon them for so doing, it was remarked that " according to an antient and laudable custom . . . a certain instrument called the cross hath been and is made use of in the different parishes . . . by order of the proper officer or officers for the purpose of calling the whole or a certain part of the parishioners together in case of invasion by an enemy and upon other emergencies," and that " great respect hath been paid to the summons given by means of the said instrument " (Lib. Scacc.).

7 Lib. Scacc.

8 Though, according to their commissions, they are still obliged to " train up and exercise " the militia, if required.

9 Private letter.

10 Lib. Scacc.

11 Warrant from War Office, in the Insular Records.

12 They received 21s. for each recruit. It would seem that this system of recruiting was not thought satisfactory, since, in 1782, a Bill for the compulsory recruiting " a fensible battalion" was drafted, but it never became law, and the old system continued.

13 Sergeants got 1s., corporals and drummers 8d., and privates 6d. per day.

14 War Office to Duke of Atholl (In Records). These companies were thus much smaller than those of the First R. M. F. At the same time, the following recruiting instructions were sent to " Charles Small, Major 2nd R. M. Fencibles," among which the following are the more important : " You will be particularly careful not to take any man who is not fit for immediate service, nor above the age of forty years, nor under the size of five feet three inches, except stout growing lads, whom you may enlist at the size of five feet two inches. . .

For every good and sufficient man who shall be approved of at headquarters, you shall receive ten guineas bounty, and subsistence from the day of his attestation ; no bounty will be allowed for any recruit until he has been inspected and approved of at headquarters, or by the Commanding Officer, under the attestation of the Surgeon of the Regiment."

15 War Office to Lord Henry Murray (In Records).

16 Loose Papers in Rolls Office.

17 Many of the Fencibles promptly enlisted in the army.

18 Encyclopædia Britannica quoted in Quiggin’s Guide (1847). During the whole of this period there were also a large number of Manxmen serving in the English army and navy, but chiefly in the navy. As proof of this it may be mentioned that, in 1811, twenty-seven Manx sailors and four Manx soldiers were imprisoned in France. Some of the Manx sailors, such as Quilliam, who was Nelson’s Flag Lieutenant at Trafalgar, and Hugh Cosnahan, who was specially mentioned for his gallantry in the action between the Shannon and Chesapeake, greatly distinguished themselves. It should be mentioned also that the distinguished Manxmen, Sir Mark Cubbon, afterwards Governor of Mysore, and Colonel Wilks, who was Governor of St. Helena, at the time of Napoleon’s arrival there, also held commissions in the army, though they made their mark chiefly in the diplomatic service.

19 Bullock, p. 355.


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