The House of Keys and its Members.


In early days the Keys usually held its meetings in Castle Rushen or in one of the Lord's houses, and it was not until after 1706 they had a House of their own . The earliest entry in their Journal, which is in 1762, refers to the acquisition of this "House". In May, 1706, Governor Mawdesley granted Bishop Wilson "a piece of waste land near the house of Arthur Halsall, porter," for the purpose of a Public Library" (a) and , eight months later, the Bishop entered into an agreement that " in consideration of twenty pounds to me assured by the 24 Keys and to be raised by an Act of Tynwald " (b), he would grant them a certain " room under the said library" to "be solely set apart for the use" of the said twenty-four Keys, to be the "place of their meeting." This House was not ready for their reception till 1710, and even then, if we are to believe Waldron, who wrote in 1726, they did not use it, as he states that their room was in Castle Rushen at the extremity of "a long winding passage between two high walls"(c). In 1791 the building where the House of Keys room was situated was described by John Taubman, Speaker, as being in a ruinous condition and he also mentioned that it was capable of " containing about 36 " persons " (d). The Commissioners appointed in 1791 to inquire into the condition of the Isle of Man reported that " the Keys " assemble in a mean, decayed building, little " more than sufficient to contain the number " of which they consist." And yet nothing was done till 1813, when the Duke of Atholl informed the Keys that plans had been laid before the Government for a. new house. Five years later the Keys unanimously resolved that their House was " not only unfit, but imminently (sic) unsafe for holding their meetings, and that they should forthwith adjourn to the George Inn." This resolution was transmitted to the Secretary of State, who replied " that the expense of re-building the House of Keys should fall on the proprietors of lands in that Island."

The Keys, thereupon, communicated with Governor Smelt, saying that they "observe with regret the opinion of the Lords of the Treasury that the expense of rebuilding the House of Keys in the Isle of Man shall fall upon the proprietors of lands in that Island." They point out that the " Commissioners of 1791, in adverting to the state of Public Buildings, class together as objects of a similar nature the buildings allotted to the House of Keys, and for the other Courts of Justice ; a classification the more appropriate because a much smaller portion of the time which the members are required to allot to their public functions is occupied in their deliberations as a branch of the Legislature than in their laborious attendance at a Court of Appeal, and the Commissioners further report that., previous to the Re-vestment, public buildings were kept in repair by the Lord, who was entitled to exact from the Inhabitants certain carriage services described in another part of their Report, which services three out of four reports of the Crown Officers consider to have been vested in the Crown by the Act of 1765, but which have since remained dormant, the Crown having apparently resolved to provide for these objects from the surplus Revenues of the Island ; inasmuch as the erection by grants from the Crown of sufficient Court Houses at Douglas and Ramsey, and the more recent repairs of Castle Rushen, have provided decent accommodation for all public purposes down to the Courts of the High-Bailiffs,with the single exception of the House of Keys." They conclude with protesting against this distinction ; they decline to authorise the proposed tax, and they beg that. the grant which has been solicited, and which bears so small a proportion to the sums allotted by the liberality of Parliament. to purposes of, at least, so superior pretension," may be given in the following year Lord Sidmouth gave his authority for entering into a contract for re-building the House of Keys at a cost of £1,039 l0s., and he expresses a " desire that the carriage services to which the Crown has a right may he assigned pro tempore in diminution of the contract price." The Keys, in reply, expressed regret that " the resumption of His Majesty’s rights to the carriage services in the first instance be applied to the exclusive purpose of providing accommodation for this House," and represented " that they may be permitted, prohac vice, to pay from their own resources the amount for one year of the said carriage services." Lord Sidmouth’s secretary replied : His Lordship has directed me particularly to advert to the paragraph in your letter in which you state your belief that the Duke of Athol persists in his claim to these services and that the inhabitants claim to be altogether exempted from them, and to acquaint you that the claim of right on the part of the Duke and that of exemption on the part of the inhabitants ’ appear to his Lordship to be equally unfounded, and he, therefore, directs you to do no act by which his Majesty may be prejudiced in this respect. But his Lordship takes no exception to your accepting the proposal of the Keys in the present instance, with a distinct declaration that the King’s Rights shall not be thereby prejudiced."

The Keys then proceeded to negotiate with Bishop Murray, who wrote to the Speaker stating that upon an application having been made to him to accept the sum of £20 for the ground on which the Library at Castletown is built I readily assented to the proposition, but I expect that the materials of which the building consists will be valued separately, a certain sum being deducted therefrom for the interest of the House of Keys’ claim on the building," and he adds that any claim he has arises solely from his " situation as Bishop of the Diocese." An agreement was come to with the Bishop on these lines, and the building of the new house was begun. In 1859 this building was referred to as being out of repair, badly ventilated, and too small, and as having no accommodation for the Bar and the Press, and in 1874 it is described as a small unassuming building, with two pillars at the door in front, standing nearly opposite the Castle" (e). About this time the sittings ceased to take place in Castletown, and, since then, the building has been used as a bank.

Among the most frequent entries in the Journals are those relating to the elections of members. The practice was to select two candidates for the nomination of one of them by the Governor. It was usual to place the favourite candidate of the House first, and he was generally, but not invariably, selected by the Governor.

Out of a large number of elections recorded we select the following as the most notable Standish Christian, of Ellanbane, a descendant of the well-known Lancashire family of Standish , was elected in 1768, and Captain Thomas Christian, of Ballamoar, Jurby, in 1771. In 1779 Philip Moore resigned, and George Quayle, of Castletown, and Caesar Parr, of Peeltown, were chosen ; Hugh Cosnahan resigned, and John Cosnahan, of Douglas, and Edward Gawne, of Ballagawne, were chosen. In 1780 Edward Gawne of Ballagawne, and John Curphey, of Douglas ; Caesar Parr, of Peeltown, and Daniel Callow, of Claughbane, and John Lace, afterwards the well-known Deemster . In 1781 , on the resignation of Thomas Radcliffe, Thomas Allen, of Ballavarry, and John Christian, of Ballure, were chosen, and, on the death of Thomas Fargher, of Shenvahley, John Curphey, of Ballakillingan, and John Fargher, of Shenvalley. John Taubman (junior), afterwards Speaker, became a member in 1785. In 1790, there being a vacancy through the death of Daniel Callow, Caesar Parr, of Peeltown, and William Oates, of Oatland, were chosen. In 1791 Philip Garrett died, and the names of Thomas Kirwan, of Castletown, and John Frissel Crellin, of Orrysdale, are found. Three years later the last named became Deemster. In 1795 James Quirk, of Knockaloe, became member in the place of R A. Stevenson, deceased.

In the same year Richard Qualtrough, of Kentraugh, resigned, and the House nominated Robert Farrant, of Ballamoar, and William Quilliam, of Castletown. Robert Farrant become a member in 1796. In 1807 Captain John Quilliam was elected. he resigned on going to sea in 1810, and, on his final retirement from the Navy in 1817, he was re-elected. Calcot Heywood, who was also elected in 1807, refused to be sworn. The House. therefore, prayed Governor Smelt that he would "take proper and necessary steps according to the law and custom that ease provided." He was duly fined £10, but, as Heywood then went to the Peninsula with his regiment, it was probably not paid. He became a member of the House in 1817. In 1813 John Lucas, of Knockrushen, and Captain Hugh Crow, of Ballaterson , were nominated.

From 1825 onwards to 1844 Major Caesar Bacon had been proposed as a member by the Keys from time to time, but he was not nominated by the Governor, and so never became a member of the House. Probably this was due, at first at least, to the fact fact he had married the Governor’s (Smelt) daughter. in 1815 the House elected Edward Christian, of Balachrink, Bride, and Lieut.Colonel James Campbell, of Ravensdale, Ballaugh, to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Philip Garrett.

Governor Ready selected Colonel Campbell, who, however, declined to serve. The Keys called the Governor’s attention to this, and the Governor ordered the Coroner of Michael Sheading to give personal notice to the Colonel to attend at Castle Rushen to take the accustomed oaths. Col. Campbell did not appear, and the Governor fined him £10.. No further pressure was put on the gallant gentleman , whose reason for declining to serve was that he had signed the memorial to the Queen, praying for an alteration in the mode of electing the House, and that he could not become a member consistently with his opinions as to the constitution of the House.

In 1858 W. F. Moore declined to serve on being elected and nominated by the Governor, but afterwards consented to do so.

The following miscellaneous entries also relate to the members of the house :

In 1775 John Taubman, of the Bowling Green," petitioned the Governor against John Lace, Attorney," for "scandalous abuse," and asked that the case might be heard by the Keys. The Keys stated that they had no jurisdiction.

In 1778 the House decided that W. Callow and W. Quayle vacate their seats on their appointment as High-Bailiffs, of Castletown and Douglas respectively, because they have "become placemen and entitled to salaries under His Majesty."

In 1780 information was given to the House that Philip Garrett, one of its members had communicated the contents of their memorial, "contrary to the rules of the House," to the Duke’s Seneschal.

The House, thereupon, resolved that a complaint be forthwith preferred to the Lieutenant-Governor by this House against Philip Garrett To this complaint they point out that however sensible this House may be that their proceedings in a Legislative and Judicial capacity ought to be transacted with notoriety, yet . . . in all instances of opposition to the invasions and attempts upon the rights and liberties of this Isle, it has been found so indispensibly necessary to preserve a profound secrecy in deliberations and proceedings of this House thereon that the Constitution imposed in oath : That the King’s council, your fellows, and your own you shall not reveal.’ Notwithstanding this, that "Phil. Garrett, gent., a member of this House, instigated by improper motives as we conceive, did, with manifest and premeditated design to defeat or effect the proceedings of the said House . take a copy of the said memorial . and afterwards proceed from the said House to a person immediately connected with the authors or abettors of the said unconstitutional proceedings." The House, therefore, prayed the Governor that Philip Garrett " be forthwith suspended from sitting in the House or acting as a member thereof until he be legally acquitted of the charges aforesaid." He was duly suspended, but a year later, he having confessed himself sensible of his impropriety, "was re-admitted, "on receiving the censure of the Speaker."

In 1790 John Christian Curwen received the thanks of the House "for his patriotic attention to the welfare and interests of this Island." This refers to his opposition to the Duke of Atholl’s schemes in Parliament. In the same year we find that it was resolved that some mark of public respect is due to the memory of the late Dan. Callow, Esq, who departed this life in London, " while acting as one of the delegates of this House, and discharging his duty in a manner highly useful to his country and honourable to himself." It was resolved also that a marble monument with a suitable inscription he erected to his memory, and that the expense thereof be defrayed by a subscription to be made by the gentlemen of the keys." This monument is in St. Mary’s Chapel, Castletown. George Aust having resigned the agency for the Keys in London J.C. Curwen and Thomas Quayle, of the Middle Temple, barristers, were appointed in his place. In the following year it was—

" Resolved that John Taubman, Esq., Speaker of this House, and Richard Ambrose Stevenson, Esq., a member of this " House, are entitled to the warmest thanks of this House for the zealous, disinterested, and very able manner in they, in conjunction with John Christian Curwen, Esq, and the late Daniel Callow, Esq. conducted the defence of this isle, and the highest liberties and properties of the people against the Bill brought by the Duke of Athol into the House of Commons in the last session of Parliament. (Signed by 18 Members.) House of Keys, 12th January, 1791."

In 1808 John Christian Curwen received the following letter from a Committee of the House : —

" Sir,— We, the undersigned, being the Committee of the House of Keys of the Isle of Man, beg leave to assure you, sir, that we feel most grateful for your exertions in defending the People of this Island from injustice and oppression., have reason to think (and are sure it should be so) that the name of John Christian Curwen will be as much venerated from henceforward as that of his ancestor, John Christian, has hitherto been. We had maturely considered the Plan proposed , to obtain the sentiments of the people, and, although we did not approve of the measure, yet, coming from you, sir, you have by the bearer, George Moore Callow, the result of our best endeavours. We did conceive that the Duke’s trial of strength would, under the circumstances, be a more complete victory than anything we could offer. His Grace at the Head of the Government, with the whole Patronage of the Church, the " Law, the Military, and the Revenue, has been able to procure but 500 or 600 signatures out of a population of 35,000, and, from all we can learn, we have great reason to think there is very little of consequence and still less of property this small number. The natural conclusion, then, is that all who did not sign for him were against him. Taking this with the unanimity of the Keys, which you have been pleased to value highly, we would humbly beg leave to submit, gives the Lie to all His Grace’s assertions, and, we think, is a stronger proof of the sentiments of the People than the signatures we have procured, which, although few in number, are, in point of actual landed interest, equal to two-thirds of the Island. In 1703, in 1780, 1781, and 1790, the People were not called upon by the Keys to take a part in the disputes with the Lord of the Island, and, knowing that few would sign for him, though numbers would be afraid to sign against him, we did not think it prudent to risk a business of so much consequence on so precarious a Tenure on the opinion of the People.

We have a perfect reliance on your judgment, and can never have any hesitation in approving of and complying with any measures suggested by you, but we beg leave strongly to recommend a most minute investigation into the application of the Surplus Revenue, as well as into the whole management of that department which has been so long left to the sole control of His Grace and his dependents. We have great reason to believe that the enquiry will afford better grounds for the removal of His Grace from the government than any other.It is strongly urged by the old Inhabitants that the people were basely treated by the Lord of the Island on the sale of 1765, as he neither gave them any notice of his intentions or made any terms for them whatever. Unquestionably the people were much greater sufferers at the time than the Family of Atholl, without taking into consideration the very ample compensation which cc they secured to themselves. We conceive it will not be amiss to insert the " word ‘ ultimately ‘ before the words " ‘Happy for the People’ " in the petition. It may appear something extraordinary that the signatures of three ladies should appear on our parchment, but we beg leave to put them in point of real property against the whole Party who have signed for His Grace. The lateness of the hour and the hurry of the occasion prevents them being a more full meeting of the Committee.

But we beg you will believe that we all remain, with the greatest rest, " Your most obedient,
Very faithful, and humble servants,
John Taubman, jun.
Thos. Kirwan.
Tho. Harrison. John Moore.

Castletown (2 o’clock in the morning),

14th of May, 1808."

In 1814, one of the members, Thomas Gawne, was appointed Deputy Attorney-General.

In 1816 a Committee was appointed to draw up a complimentary address to Colonel Mark Wilkes on his safe arrival in England from St. Helena. In 1824 T. A. Corlett, afterwards Vicar-General, was reprimanded " for making personal allusions to members of this House. In 1818 the Speaker wrote to Governor Smelt informing him that John Quane, a member of the House, had absented himself from his duty this day, " and asking his authority to enforce his attendance."

In 1844 seven members were fined £1 each for being absent.

As regards the Speakers, the earliest of whom we have any record is John Stevenson, who held that office for the long period of 33 years, from 1704 to 1737. He was succeeded by Thomas Heywood (1737-58). Then came Sir George Moore (1758-80). On his resignation in the latter year John Taubman (1780-99) was elected, and it was resolved that he should express to the late Speaker " the grateful sense the House entertains of his faithful, proper, and trustworthy discharge of his said office." On the leath of John Taubman it was resolved unanimously that the Honourable "John Taubman, Esq., late Speaker of this House, and a distinguished member thereof near seven and forty years, deserved well of his country." It was resolved, also, " that this, our just tribute to the memory of so great and venerable a character, be inscribed in letters of gold on Manks marble and placed in some conspicuous part of this House." We do not know whether or not this monument was placed in the House; there is certainly no trace of it now. So far as we know, John Taubman’s record of services in the House has only twice been exceeded, viz., by John Christian Curwen, who was a member for 51 years (1777-1828) and by John Moore (1807-1854). J. C. Curwen, however, rarely sat in the House after 1800. The Keys presented John Taubman (1799-1822), son of the late Speaker, and Robert Farrant, to the Governor as their selection for the office of Speaker, and the Governor chose the former. This is the only recorded instance of the Governor chosing the Speaker. During John Taubman’s frequent absences from the Island, we find Thomas Gawne, afterwards deemster, George Quayle, and Mark Wilkes acting as his deputies. Colonel Mark Wilkes succeeded him. He was followed by General Goldie, in 1831 ; then Caine J. P. Goldie-Taubman, in 1844. in December, 1847, the Lieut. Governor " having informed the House thathe had accepted the resignation of Colonel John Taubman Goldie-Taubman, a member and speaker of the House of Keys, it was unanimously resolved that this House desire to express their deep regret at the loss this Island at large, and the House of Keys in particular, have experienced by being deprived of the services of Colonel Goldie a Taubman, an invaluable member of Society. John Moore was unanimously elected Speaker in his place. Edward M. Gawne, the last Speaker of the old House, was elected in 1854. On the dissolution of the House the ancient Speaker’s chair was presented to him by the members as a token of their high esteem and personal regard, and as a momento of his long connexion with the House as a member for 37 and its Speaker for 12 years."

Till the appointment of J. C. LaMothe, in 1884, the Secretaries of the House were also members of it. Judging by the differences in handwriting, there were three or four Secretaries between 1762 and 1793, but we do not know their names before the latter year, when Thomas Gawne, afterwards deemster, was appointed, at the " usual salaryof £3."

In 1813 John Llewellyn was secretary, and his salary was £12. It was raised to £30 in 1816. He seems to have resigned in1824, as we find a different hand-writing in that year. In 1805 the clerk’s salary was raised to £40.

In 1841 G W. Dumbell was elected secretary, and held that office for 17 years. On resigning his seat and his position as secretary he wrote a. farewell letter to the House, in which he said, inter alia, " To you, gentlemen of the House of Keys, I venture now to address a. word of solemn warning. You are the guardians of public rights in this Island, on you depends the independent defence of the Constitution. There is no other constituted authority that can maintain the same position (as was clearly " proved in 1853). Guard, therefore, I pray you, the privileges that yet remain, and, whilst you continue independently to discharge your duty, may the Lord guide you in all true wisdom."

The Keys passed a unanimous resolution, expressing their appreciation of the great value of his services.

Messrs. R. J. Moore, William Callister, and F. J. D LaMothe were nominated, the first being elected, and he was in office at the time of the dissolution of the House.

We find that, during the period 1765 to 1805, the Keys spent considerable sums in their efforts to obtain greater constitutional freedom. They had a small income of about £55 a year " arising from a portion of the tax for licensing public-houses" and from " the lead penny and dog money," but this was more than swallowed up by their ordinary expenses, which consisted of payments to their secretary and doorkeeper, cleaning of chamber, payments to the Clerk of the Rolls for drafting Bills, etc., so that the sums we have referred to were paid out of their own pockets. Thus, in 1765 and 1766, the expenses of their Speaker—George Moore—and of James Wilkes amounted to £389 7s. 4d. In 1780 and 1781 John Cosnahan’s account was £715 19s, and, in 1784, we have the following entry : " Whereas John " Cosnahan, Esq ., our late agent in London, " borrowed on the credit of this House the sume of £120 British from Messrs. Abel and McCawley, of London, payable with interest from the time of the said Loan—which sum is now necessary to be forthwith paid—we, whose names are hereunto subscribed, do hereby promise forthwith to pay the several sums annexed to our names in order to pay off the debt aforesaid, which is afterwards to be reimbursed to us when the other members in advance shall he repaid." Nineteen members subscribed £6 6s. each, and one £3 3s. ; making a total of £122 17s.

In 1789 there is an account of the money expended and debts incurred in "Defending the Rights of the Inhabitants of thie isle in the British Parliament against the Duke of Atholl’s claims." The total was £1,104 8s. 5d. British, or £1,288 9s. 10½d. Manks.

And, in 1794, an account of money laid out on the " Affairs and Business of this Isle by a Committee of this House in London, in pursuance of a Resolution of this House bearing date the 12th March, 1790," shows a total of £265. Among the items is £2 12s. 6d. " for a silver seal for the House of Keys," a property which has long since disappeared.

Then follows " a general account of the money expended and debts inunrred in Defending the Rights of the Inhabitants of this Isle in the British Parliament, as stated and settled by a Committee of this House. Dated the 18th December, 1793." The total of this account, with interest on part of it, which had been borrowed, was £3,153 9s. 5d., which was " adjusted " and settled on the 3rd of December, 1803.

There were evidently large expenses in 1805 also, but no account of these has been kept . These accounts show that, whatever there is to be said against the self-elected House of Keys, they did not shrink from taxing themselves for what they thought was the benefit of this Island.

Among other matters in connection with the House and its members we may notice the following : —In 1862 Mr W. F. Moore suggested that the proceedings of the House should be opened with prayer. This was agreed to. The House of Commons Prayer Book was obtained, and formed the basis for the book which was then printed for the house. The Rev. E. Ferrier was appointed Chaplain, and prayers were read for the first time on the 28th April, 1863.

In 1859 it was agreed that the porter of the House should have a suitable uniform, and a Committee was appointed to order it. Five years later Governor Loch objected to the porter, Caveen, who was also a constable, wearing the Keys’ livery instead of his police uniform when in attendance on the House. The Keys replied that if this was not allowed they would have to get another porter. We do not know how this matter was settled.

In the same year, 1864, new chairs were ordered for the House from Bell, cabinet-maker, Douglas.

In this year, too, Mr. F. L. Galling, advocate, addressed a letter to the House on the subject of fish culture, a question which was not considered till nearly 40 years later.

At this time a member of the House was censured for visiting James Brown in prison. He was informed that his proceeding was " highly derogatory to the House," and he apologised.

We append lists of the members of the House in 1737, 1782, and 1815 ; and the names of those who became members since the last date.



(a) "Isle of Man Charities," p. 138.
(b) Statutes, vol 1 p 180.
(c) Manx Society, vol. XI p 4.
(d) Commissioners’ Report
(e) Thwaites Guide, 1863


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