[from History of IoM, 1900]


The character of the history of the Isle of Man has been largely determined by its physical characteristics, its position and extent. We therefore prefix to our narrative a brief account of the way in which those physical characteristics were developed, together with a few pages of topographical description, in order to enable the reader to understand the nature of the stage on which the history has been enacted.


Far back in the dawn of geological history there were deposited layer upon layer at the bottom of an ocean the muds and sands which were afterwards to be consolidated into the slates and greywackes forming the framework of the present Isle of Man. Owing to the almost entire absence of fossils in these strata, their exact age is somewhat uncertain; but, since they cannot be newer than the Lower Silurian, or Ordovicean, and may be as old as the Cambrian, they are, at any rate, among the oldest stratified rocks. These rocks are traversed by numerous metalliferous lodes, some of which have proved to be extremely productive. The most important of these are the silver-lead and zinc lodes of the Laxey and Foxdale areas. Copper and iron have been found in comparatively small quantities at Bradda, Maughold, and elsewhere. But, as we propose in Book VIII. to give some details with reference to mining, we will now return to the slate rocks.

Periods of Upheaval

After they were deposited, there came a period of upheaval, during which they were crumpled up in the true mountain-building form. So extreme were the forces brought to bear upon them that, not only were they thrown into folds and over-folds, but the once continuous strata were, in some places, rent into fragments and re-consolidated in the form of crush-conglomerates.*1

And of injection and instrusion

Then followed a period during which masses of igneous material were injected among these folded strata. This material at first took the shape of innumerable " dykes" or veins, basic in character, forming the greenstones. These were succeeded by intrusions of a more acid character which made the granite bosses at the Dhoon, Foxdale, and Santon, as well as the felsitic " dykes " streaming out from them. This was truly a time of " storm and stress," and it was fitting that it should be succeeded by a long interval of quiescence. The land stood up far above the water, perhaps forming part of a continent, and, if we may judge from the structure of these rocks, it would appear that the site of the island was occupied by lofts mountain ranges. These mountains were exposed to weathering influences during the long ages market by the deposition of vast masses of strata in other countries, but which are wanting in the Isle of Man :whose geological history thus exhibits a void till the beginning of Carboniferous times, when it is evident from the conglomerates at Langness and Peel*2that sea-shores once more surrounded the bases of the mountains

A period of depression followed by volcanic action

Then, as the waters deepened during the depression which was in progress, Carboniferous limestones were laid down far below the sea-level When this process had been completed, an outbreak of volcanic action took place, the evidence for which is to be found on the shore between the Stack of Scarlett and Poolvash, where volcanic ashes traversed by "dykes" of lava may be seen. This Outbreak seems to have been submarine since we find that the ashes at Poolvash are partly interstratified with limestones and that the limestones themselves contain marine remains. The volcanic rocks here were supposed, until recently, to be the newest "solid" rocks which the island contained, but borings which have recently been undertaken in search of coal in its northern district show that Triassic and Permian strata are found there at from 100 to 200 feet below sea-level. The Permian strata include salt-bearing marls, underneath which are red sandstones of great thickness, resting with a conglomeratic base on a highly-tilted and eroded surface of Carboniferous rocks. Although the Triassic and Permian rocks are now only found in the north of the island, there are some slight indications that they may once have extended over the whole of it. If this were so, it is-probably due to their protecting agency that the mass of the older rocks have been preserved in so marvellous a way from the denuding agency which, otherwise, could not have failed to have obliterated them in the long interval between the Carboniferous era and the present time. And now we again come to a vast blank in the geological history of Man, the long succeeding ages during which the Jurassic and Cretaceous strata and the whole of the Tertiary rocks were deposited elsewhere, having left no trace here. The only newer " solid" rocks than those described are the basaltic dykes which traverse the island from side to side. They are believed to be of Miocene age, being probably connected with the vast manifestations of the volcanic activity of that period which are to be seen in the north of Ireland and the west coast of Scotland.

A void in the geological history of Man till the Great Ice Age

Well might Cumming say that " the physical history of the Isle of Man is . . . but a book with its middle portion torn out and its preface a good deal injured."*3It is not, indeed until the comparatively recent period of the "real ice age that we can pick up the thread of our narrative. Just before its advent it would appear that the Irish Sea was already in existence and that Man stood out in it in much the same form as at present. With the gradual cooling of the climate that then took place, glaciers gathered in the mountain valleys and crept down towards the sea, which was itself being gradually displaced by the conjoint glaciers of the highlands of England, Scotland, and Ireland, adjacent to the island. These coalesced into a huge ice sheet which advanced slowly till if reached the Manx shores, over-riding them as completely as the already considerable body of native ice would allow. To this foreign ice the numerous erratic blocks, from the Scottish and other surrounding coasts, which are now so freely scattered over the north of the island and along its flanks are attributed; and by its conjunction with the native ice, the masses of stone, gravel, and clay filling up the irregularities of the rocky surface which is sometimes polished and striated beneath this covering, were produced.

Result of the action of ice on the island

Were it not for the huge quantity of material left behind by this ice-sheet on its retreat, which has been sufficient to fill up the sea and form what is now the flattish northern part of the island, the coast of Man would have terminated with the range of hills extending between Ramsey and Kirk Michael.*4With the gradual disappearance of the ice the more elevated part of the island emerged from its covering, and around it bodies of fresh water accumulated, which, by their drainage, have caused some abnormal features in the Manx river system. Then, when the ice had entirely disappeared, the land would seem to have stood at a somewhat higher level that at present, perhaps high enough to unite Man with the adjacent shores and so to permit the passage of the Irish elk, whose remains have been found in various places. *5 But, though the ice had gone, the discovery in a peat bed, amid the terraced gravels near Kirk Michael, of Arctic plants and of a fresh-water crustacean, *6 which now lives only in the pools of icy water along the margins of the glaciers in Norway and Spitzbergen, would show that the temperature only grew warmer at a very slow rate; and, as an indication that the rainfall was much heavier than at present, we may point to the highlevel flood terraces to be found in many of the mountain valleys, to the rocky gorges carved out where now insignificant streams lose themselves amid their ancient alluvia, and to the broad, dry valleys, with grassy banks, which confine most of them near their sources in the mountains.

A subsidence of the land

A subsidence of the land then affected Man, in common with the adjacent shores, and brought up the sea to a level some 10 or 15 feet above that of the present day. This level must have been maintained for a considerable time, because we find that a bench has been carved out of the strongly resistant rocks which is still visible in the profile of most of the headlands, while, in the recesses of the coast, sandy or shingly beaches which now form the sites of the ancient portions of the insular towns, were piled up.

Formation of the Ayre

The widest development of these beaches was attained in the extreme north of the island where they form the broad,*7low tract called the Ayre, which is composed of shingle partly covered with blown sand. It was probably during the formation of this and other raised beaches that, as will be shown in the next chapter, neolithic man first appeared in the island. *8

Charcteristics of this period

In the interior, this same epoch was probably marked by the presence of large bodies of fresh water filling all the hollows of the lower grounds, which continued to exist long after the gradual elevation of the land to the present level. *9


The Isle of Man lies in the Irish Sea almost midway between the coasts of England, Ireland, and Scotland,*10 from which it is visible in clear weather. It is about 33 miles long *11 by about 12 broad in the broadest part. Its general form is somewhat like that of an heraldic lozenge, though its outline, as will be seen from the map, is very irregular, being indented with numerous bays and narrow creeks. Its chief physical characteristic is the close juxtaposition of mountain, glen, and sea, which has produced a variety and beauty of scenery unsurpassed in any area of equal size elsewhere. The greater part of its surface is hilly. The hills, which reach their culminating point in Snaefell (2,034 feet), have a definite tendency to trend in the direction of the longer axis, but throw out many radiating spurs, which frequently extend to the coast line.*12 They are, for the most part, smooth and rounded in outline, the rocks being such as do not favour the formation of crags, though, owing to the rapidity of their descent, streams have frequently rent steep-walled craggy galleys in their sides. The strength of the prevalent winds has caused them to be treeless, except on some of the lower slopes, but they are clad with verdure to their summits. Their general aspect may perhaps be best described as not unlike that of the southern uplands of Scotland. Rising almost directly from the sea, they appear higher than they really are, and therefore present a much more imposing appearance than many hills of greater altitude which have not this advantage. On the south-west, where they descend precipitously into the sea, they unite with the cliffs to the north and south of them to produce the most striking part of the coast scenery for which the isle is remarkable. But, indeed, its whole coast from Peel round by the Calf, past Castletown and Douglas. to Maughold Head, near Ramsey, is distinguished by rugged grandeur of outline. From Ramsey round by the Point of Ayre to within a few miles of Peel extend low sandy cliffs, bordered by flat sandy shores, which surround the northern plain. This plain is relieved only by a low range of hills, the highest of which attains an elevation of 270 feet.

The drainage.of the island radiates from the neighbourhood of Snaefell, from which mountain and its spurs streams*13have on all sides found their way to the sea. The narrow, winding glens thus formed, which are studded with clumps of fir, sycamore, and mountain ash, interspersed with patches of gorse, heather, and fern, afford a striking and beautiful contrast to the bare mountain tops. Traces of an older system of drainage than that which now exists are noticeable in many places, the most remarkable being the central depression between Douglas and Peel.

The chief bays are, on the east coast, Ramsey, with an excellent anchorage, Laxey, Douglas, Derbyhaven, Castletown, and Port St. Mary; and, on the west coast, Port Erin and Peel. But the flat, sandy shores on the north coast were even more convenient for the Vikings to draw their ships upon, as were the numerous small and narrow creeks ran the east and west coasts for the smugglers.*14

Prehistoric Monuments

The prehistoric monuments*15in Man are numerous, but there are none of the first rank, though there are remains of what may have been such. There are earth entrenchments, seemingly of the earliest period; fragments of stone circles and alignments; burial cairns with stone cists of several successive periods; urn mounds and crannoges, or lake dwellings.


Historic Monuments and Buildings

The monuments belonging to the historic period begin with the humble Celtic keeills *16 and the sculptured crosses, *17 in which the island is especially rich. *18

The Crosses

Of these crosses about onefourth have inscriptions, which are in the Old Norse language. In shape they " are in general rectangular, sometimes having the upper corners rounded off, and sometimes the whole head in what has been called a wheel-cross. Occasionally the spaces between the limbs and the surrounding circle are pierced, and, in a few instances, the slab is itself cruciform. Usually both faces are sculptured. and in all cases the cross is the chief, if not the only feature. This is of the type known as 'Celtic,' be., modified Maltese cross within a circle, but having the shaft prolonged and the other limbs generally projecting slightly beyond the circle."-*18 In the ornamentation of these slabs " a regular development may be observed from the most simple Plait and Twist to the most complex and beautiful geometric designs, and from the geometric to the zoomorphic. A striking feature is the realistic and admirably drawn forms of birds and beasts of the chase." *19 According to the view generally held by competent authorities, these crosses may be classified in four periods-the first, including early and rude crosses, of unassignable dates from the fifth to the tenth centuries; the second, crosses of refined Celtic workmanship, executed prior to the conversion of the Scandinavian settlers; the third, crosses wrought by Scandinavian workmen under the dominating influence of Celtic Christian art; and the fourth, crosses in which Scandinavian individuality had asserted itself and given an exclusively Scandinavian feeling both to the design and the treatment of its work. These last three stages cover the period from the eleventh (or at earliest the tenth) to the middle of the thirteenth century. With one exception, viz., that of the lofty pillar cross of the fourteenth century at the gate of Maughold churchyard, there are no crosses of later date, like those found so extensively in the Western Islands of Scotland, which range from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries

Early Buildings

The origin and history of the early buildings remaining on the island are obscure.*20 Rushen Castle, or Castle Rushen, as it is usually called, on the south coast, Peel Castle on St. Patrick's Island off the west coast, and a tower at Bishop's Court in the interior are the only buildings of a military character that survive. Nor is there evidence that any others of any consequence ever existed. Castle Rushen consists of a central keep; a lesser tower or castle from which a lofty curtain wall makes the circuit of the keep; and an outer curtain with moat, glacis, a redoubt tower, and a barbican gateway. A wet moat, now filled up, defended the inner keep. The outer moat was also probably a wet moat. The inner curtain is evidently contemporaneous with the keep to which it is a necessary adjunct. The outer glacis work dates from early in the sixteenth century, and the central keep from the fifteenth, or, at earliest, from the fourteenth century. The lesser castle is presumed on architectural grounds to be the oldest part, but it cannot be asserted that any part of it was an existence when Robert Bruce besieged Castle Rushen in 1313, though this is by no means impossible. The conjecture that it dates from the time of Magnus (1252-1265) is destitute of foundation.

Peel Castle is of an different architectural character. King Godred II. died on the islet in 1187, *21 but no secular building of such an early date remains.*22 The earliest existing part of the castle is the tower on the south-east corner of the islet, with, possibly, part of the contiguous curtain wall. This tower seems originally to have been similar in form to the " peels " of the Scottish border, but it has been modified and enlarged - probably, judging by the workmanship, in the thirteenth century. The curtain wall around the islet dates from the end of the fifteenth century. The tower at Bishop's Court is certainly of early date. It is now surrounded on three sides by other buildings, and has been much altered by inserted windows. The remains of the moat that once surrounded it point to its importance and military character at some remote period. *23

The remains of ecclesiastical buildings are numerous and interesting, though, with the exception of St. German's Cathedral on Peel islet, they are only small and simple structures. Even the remains at Rushen Abbey, mere fragments as they are, indicate that the Cistercians of Furness Abbey who built it had no lofty architectural aspirations. The island contains several churches of pre-Reformation date, some of which are still used for worship. Of these the most interesting are the two on St. Patrick's Island, viz., the Church of St. Patrick and the Cathedral of St. German's. St. Patrick's Church, down to 1714 the church of a parish on the mainland, is now a dilapidated ruin. At some period it was enlarged by an extension at the east end. It had at most three Windows, and shows on the inner face of the walls rude ornamental string courses of herring-bone work. A few paces from the door is a round tower, of which only the lower part is old. This has undoubtedly all the essential characteristics of a true Irish round tower, its doorway, by comparison with other examples, indicating that it was constructed about the tenth century. The church cannot be assigned to a later date; it may be even earlier. St. German's is' a cruciform church built on a steep slope on the eastern or inner side of the islet. In the Chronicon Manniae it is said to have been built by Bishop Symon.*24 . The chancel is a beautiful Transition building, and can hardly be later than the end of the twelfth century. The transepts, central tower, and nave are of later style and quite dissimilar character, their architectural features being consistent with the statement that they were built by Bishop Symon. Of many subsequent alterations in the edifice there may be mentioned the insertion of new vaulting in the crypt, a south aisle (c. 1300), fourteenth century windows in the transept and the walling up of the south aisle arcade with fifteenth century windows in the bays. The character of these alterations is to some extent an index of the highest attainments in the way of ecclesiastical architecture at successive periods in the Church in the Isle of Man.

After the Reformation St. German's seems to have gradually fallen into decay. With the exception of the choir, it was roofless in the eighteenth century, *25 and before the end of that century the choir also was abandoned to dilapidation.


Characteristics of the Manx People

We have no evidence relating to the moral, mental, and physical characteristics *26 of the Manx people till the middle of the seventeenth century, when Blundell, a Lancashire gentleman who lived in the island for some years between 1648 and 1660, describes the gentry as being "truly gentle, courteous, affable," speaking English like Englishmen, from whom they were not distinguishable "either by the countenance, carriage, apparel, diet, or housekeeping; " and the farmers and peasants as " tall and big, slow-witted, surly, grasping, and penurious, and as austere and strict in their religious observances as abstemious in their living." *26 Chaloner, who was governor of the island during part of the same period, adds the details that they were " very civill " and " much addicted to the musick of the violyne."*27 Denton, writing in 1681, says that they were lazy and that their habits were mean. *28 Early in the following century they are described as naturally jovial and sociable, "much inclined to music, very loving among themselves, good-natured, but choleric"; *29 and, a little later, we are told that " dancing was their great diversion," and that they were " great shooters with bows and arrows." *30 Our next information about them is in 1777, when Vicar-General Wilks, a native clergyman, states that they were " orderly, religious and industrious, *31 patient and persevering, anxiously careful in gathering riches which they well know how to take care of when got, not prone to quarrelling, nor revengeful but by the law, to which they are more addicted than any other people I ever knew, not given to theft, very cheerful over a glass, of which they are very fond, great lovers of music and dancing." *32 He describes them as being strongly built, healthy and robust, of similar height to " the inhabitants of the neighbouring countries." With "round visaged regular features," grey eyes, "and the major part strong black beards."*33Our knowledge of the physical characteristics of Manxmen at later dates is derived from two sources, viz., a " Description " book of the Manx Fencibles between the years 1806 and 1810, and an inquiry by Dr. Beddoe in 1886.*32 A careful comparison of the results thus obtained demonstrates that the Manx are mainly of Scandio-Celtic origin, with some slight traces of earlier races. They have large and broad heads, usually broader than those of their brother Celts (Goidels *34 ) in Ireland and Scotland, with very broad, but not specially prominent, cheekbones. Their faces are usually either scutiform, like those of the Northmen, or oval, which is the usual Celtic type, and their noses are almost always of good length, and straighter than is general among Celtic races. Insight eyes and fair complexion, with rather dark hair, are. the more usual combinations. They are usually rather tall and heavily built, their average height being 5 feet 7.52 inches, and their average weight (naked) 155 lbs. There is no very great difference in the proportionate distribution of the fairer Northmen and the darker Celts in the north and south of the island, though there appears to be a decided preponderance of the former in the parishes of Jurby, Ballaugh, and Michael, and of the latter in the parishes of Maughold and Lonan, while there are distinct traces of other races in the towns of Douglas, Castletown, and Peel, especially in the latter, where the large proportion of dark eyes and fair hair is very remarkable.

For a description of the moral and mental characteristics of Manxmen at the present day we must refer our readers to the admirable sketches by the late Rev.. T. E. Brown, *34 contenting ourselves with the statement that they have shown themselves to be a thoroughly capable people. As a proof of this we may point out how successful they have been in America and in the colonies, where they have not been restrained by want of opportunity as in the narrow bounds of their native land.


Distinguished Manxmen

The little island, moreover, has contributed its full proportion of names to the list of British celebrities. In Literature it has in Thomas Edward Brown (b. 1830, d.1897 ), the author of the inimitable Fo'c's'le Yarns in the Anglo-Manx dialect, a poet of high rank; and in Hall Caine, who is so widely known, and John Quine the author of The Captain of the Parish, novelists of undoubted power. In science, too, it can boast of one great name, that of Edward Forbes (b 1815, d. 1854).

In politics John Christian Curwen (b. 1756, d.1828) was greatly distinguished, being recognised as a leader at a time when Parliament contained many able men. He was the only man who has been a member both of the House of Commons and the House of Keys.

In medicine the name of Charles Bland Radcliffe (b. 1822, d.1889) is well known.

Among the names of the great Indian pro-consuls who have done so much for the empire, that of Sir Mark Cubbon, K.C.B. (b. 1775, d. 1861), will always stand high.*

We conclude our introductory remarks with a brief account of Manx literature.



Of original literature the Manx language has none, except a few ballads and carols, and these, for the most part, not of ancient date.

Archdeacon Rutter's ballads were first written, probably in English, between 1641 and 1660; it is not known when they were translated into Manx. The earliest date of a written Manx ballad that we can fix with certainty is 1762,*35 and of a written Manx carol, 1735. *36 Some printed Broadsides, containing ballads, were issued at the end of the eighteenth century. Train, in his History of the Isle of Man (1845), published a ballad giving a traditional account of the history of the island up to 1507, which seems to have been written by some one living in that year. Between 1865 and 1871 the Manx Society printed some ballads, some more appeared in the Manx Note Book between 1885 and 1887, and these, together with a large number from MSS. and oral sources, were published by the writer in 1896. He also edited a collection of carols in 1891. Both the ballads and carols are, for the most part, more interesting as curiosities than as literature.*37 We may perhaps account for this poverty and paucity of Manx literature by the following facts: (1) The number of different nationalities who have ruled the isle. (2) The practical state of serfdom in which the great majority of the people were in before the Act of Settlement in 1704. (3) The tyranny of the discipline of the Established Church. (4) The influence of Methodism. (5) The absence of books in the Manx language before the eighteenth century. (6) The immigration of English after 1790, and the emigration of Manx after 1825. (7) The entire indifference, generally speaking, of educated Manx to their native tongue.

Of translated literature the earliest and most important is Bishop Phillip's Prayer Book, which written between 1604 and 1610.* This was published in parallel columns with the more modern and corrupt Manx translation of 1765 by the Manx Society in 1893. *39 Next in order comes The Principles and Duties of Christianity, by Bishop Wilson, published in 1699, which was the first printed book in the Manx language. The first part of the Bible to be printed was the Gospel of St. Matthew in 1748. This was followed by the Prayer Book in 1765,the Epistles and Revelation in 1767, and the Bible, issued in three volumes, between 1771 and 1775. *40 The only secular book translated into Manx is a portion of Milton's Paradise Lost, by the Rev. Thomas Christian, Vicar of Marown, which was published in 1796 *41 The best-known grammar of the language-and grammar it can scarcely be called, as it does not deal with syntax-was written by Dr. John Kelly, *42 and first published in 1804.*43 His triglot dictionary-Gaelic, " Erse," and Manx, with an English translation-was written before 1791, but was never published. *44 A copy of it, partly in print, partly in MS., is in the possession of the Manx Society. The Manx-English part of it was revised by the Revs. Hugh Stowell and W. Fitzsimmons between 1811 and 1814, and, after being edited by the Rev. William Gill, was published by the Manx Society (vol. xiii.), together with an English-Manx portion by the Revs. W. Gill, and John Thomas Clarke, in 1866. It is a very unsatisfactory book. In 1835, Archibald Cregeen issued his Manx-English Dictionary. which. though brief and imperfect, is much more reliable than the larger work just referred to. Professor Rhys notes as one of its advantages that it marks the tone-syllable, and he comments favourably on the " sobriety and acumen "*44of its author.


  1. See " The Crush-conglomerates of the Isle of Man," by G. W. Lamplugh, F.R.S. (Quarterly Journal of Geological Society, Nov., 1895, vol. ii.)
  2. Prof. Boyd-Dawkins considers that these rocks belong to the Permian series, and describes them as consisting of sandstones of different sorts, and of red and irregular conglomerates, together with calcareous conglomerates and breccias (Prof.W. Boyd-Dawkins, F.R.S., " On the Geology of the Isle of Man," Manchester Geol. Soc., part xxi. vol. xxii.). The writer has, however, followed the opinion of Cumming which has been confirmed by Mr. Kendall (" Glacial Geology of the isle of Man," Yn Lioar Manninagh, vol. i. part ii. p. 399) and - still more recently, by Mr. Lamplugh, who has made a geological survey of the island for the Government, that these beds are similar to the sandy and conglomeratic beds underneath the limestones near Castletown. This view is supported e by the presence of a small patch of carboniferous limestone at . Lhoob-y Rheast to the north of Peel which has now been nearly all quarried away.
  3. The Isle of Man. By J. G. Cumming, M.A.., F.G.S., p8
  4. It doubtless terminated there in pre-glacial times.
  5. It is to this period that the submerged forest at Strandhal1 belongs.
  6. Lapidurus glacialis
  7. Nearly 1½ miles wide, in the widest part.
  8. Mr. Lamplugh thinks that the presence of the flint chips on the inner portion of this beach, while they appear to be absent from the outer portion of it, though flint pebbles are common in both, indicates that the use of flint had been abandoned before the whole of the beach was formed, but the writer cannot believe that the neolithic age in Man terminated at so early a date.
  9. The historical evidence relating to the fresh-water lakes, the erosion of the land,, will be found in Appendix A.
  10. Nearest points: England, 28 miles (Point of Ayre to St. Bee's Head); Ireland, 26.1 miles (Contrary Head, near Peel, to entrance of Strangford Lough); Scotland, 16 miles (Point of Ayre to Burrow Head).
  11. It lies in the direction of N.E. by N. and S.W. by S. from the Point of Ayre to the Sound of the Calf, the former being in latitude 54° 27' N. and longitude 4° 27' W., and the latter in latitude 54° 3' N. and longitude 4° 47' W. Its total area is 145,325 acres, being - land, 141,986 (including roads, 1,667); foreshore, 4,025; and water, 314.


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