[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]

CHAPTER XIII.

I BECOME A DISSENTER.

I had been twelve months at the College, when I suddenly received intelligence that my father was very ill. He had been so displeased with me that I had very seldom gone to Kirk Braddan. I went to see my father, and found him in a very nervous and desponding state. He was not so unwell, however, as to be totally unfit for his duties, and with some assistance from his neighbours he went on. Better, however, he did not become, but his illness was of long duration, and we had no doctor who understood the case, and to this day I do not know what his ailment was. At this period I usually walked home on Saturday evening, and read the lessons in the church on Sunday, walking back to Castletown on Sunday night; but very frequently I went to Kirk Braddan after five in the after noon and returned on the same night. The distance is nine miles, the double journey eighteen ; it generally took me a little under two hours each way.

It was towards the end of 1845 that, as the prospect of ordination drew nearer, I felt strong objections to some part of the Church services. My father cared nothing about confirmation, and so I had not been confirmed. I witnessed the ceremony at Kirk Christ Rushen, and it led me to more reflection. The whole subject of baptism as dealt with by the Church of England seemed repulsive to me; I could not in my conscience receive it. Here there was more trouble; my father looked forward to my being his curate to help him in his illness, and I felt that I was no Churchman, less and much less a Churchman than he. His own tendency and example had done much to make me revolt; I felt that to be such a Churchman as my father was not fair to the Church any more than to myself. The baptismal service, the burial service, the communion service, the ordination services, the Athanasian Creed, were all stumbling-blocks; and the bishop was a high, stiff Churchman with whom it was impossible for me to agree. The connection of the Church with the State was not one of my difficulties, and indeed I have never seen my way to take such strong ground on the subject as is generally taken by Nonconformists. Still the disruption that had just taken place in Scotland raised the repute of voluntaryism, and induced me towards it, and under the voluntary system a minister could not be much worse off than the Manx clergy in their connection with the State. Broad Churchism had not then made its appearance, or if it had I knew nothing of it. This system, rivalling and surpassing ritualism in its plausible ways of making the Church rules and creeds seem anything you please, might have reconciled me to the whole Prayer-book, but I was a stranger to its subtleties; and as a poor, honest fool, thought that creeds ought to be taken in their plain, grammatical, and natural sense.

Contrary to my expectation, my father seemed rather pleased than otherwise when I told him my state of mind. The bishop, for reasons of some kind, refused to ordain me to be my father’s curate, having destined me to be a sort of school-teacher parson at Foxdale Mines, and a schoolmaster parson I would not be. This led my father to approve of my course. He went so far as to recommend me to join the Nonconformists, and with his entire concurrence, on leaving King William’s in May or June 1846, I abandoned the idea of ordination, and wrote to the bishop and archdeacon to that effect. The bishop and archdeacon were in a great rage; angry correspondence passed between us ; the archdeacon tried to impress upon me the fact that the bishop was now my father, whom I was bound to obey. I laughed such nonsense to scorn, and again declared that my training for the ministry of the Church had taught me the impossibility of my being an honest member of its communion, and there the matter ended, and I rejoiced to have escaped what seemed to me a galling yoke of bondage.

But now, what was I to do? I take no credit to myself for resolving as I did to die rather than impose myself upon my father’s limited resources. One of the College masters had employed me for some months in taking care of the boys who lived in his house. I kept order among them, corrected their exercises, helped them in their studies, and joined in their games. For this I received £10. This money I had carefully saved, and with it I left home in August 1846 to make my way in the world as best I could.

My first thought was to seek work at my old trade of an engineer. On arriving in Liverpool I made inquiry at several engine-shops, but trade was very dull, and I could get nothing to do. I got very down-hearted. The steamship ‘President’ was then in one of our docks fitting out, and I thought I might get a job as assistant-engineer or even stoker on board of her. I failed, and for once in my life despair took hold upon me, and as I left the ship I had a mind to throw myself into the dock. I am afraid that while high and religious motives were not without their effect upon me, I was deterred from committing ‘the rash act,’ as the penny-a-liners call it, by the thought that I should then give occasion to my Church friends to triumph. One of them had already reminded me of the fate of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, when I told him I thought of becoaiing a dissenting minister. However, the fit of despondency passed off. I thought of my parents, brothers, and sisters. I looked at the few sovereigns still in my possession ; I was conscious of great health and strength. I called to mind the manner of men who had overcome greater difficulties than mine, and my courage came back to me. The ‘President’ went to sea, and was never more heard of; her fate and the fate of all on board are a mystery to this day.

I went to Crewe, where the London and NorthWestern Railway had by this time built their handsome workshops. I found there some of my old Wolverton acquaintances. I dare say I could have got work at Crewe, but I was strongly advised to go to Manchester and apply to Sharp and Roberts, the great locomotive builders in that town. To Manchester I went, and there met with an old Wolverton mate, Alexander Youlen, who was working at Sharp and Roberts’ place. With great kindness Youlen took me to his home, a very humble dwelling in a court off George Street, and there I remained several weeks. Unable to obtain employment through the badness of trade, for 1846 was an awful year, I applied for a place in the Manchester Town Mission : Manchester was not a city then. In this application also I was unsuccessful. Meanwhile my convictions were leading me to become a Baptist. Youlen had become one, and I went with him to his place of worship, a sort of Scotch-Baptist place, or half Plymouth brethren, of which a Manchester merchant, Mr. Brumman, was the head. I resolved to be baptized, but would first go to Stony Stratford to my old friend Mr. Forster. On makng my intention known to him, he was heartily interested. I was for some time his guest; he applied to the Bristol College, and it was arranged that after my baptism I should enter as a student. In the beginning of November I was baptized in Stony Stratford by Mr. Forster, and preached my first sermon, a very poor one, on the evening of the same day.

A day or two afterwards I was summoned home. My father’s health had been improving during the autumn; a visit to Ramsey had done him good, and he had quite resumed his duties. But now the sad news had come that my brother Robert, who had gone out to the Bahamas in the spring of the year, had died of yellow fever; while my brother Harry, a lad of thirteen, was dying at home of gastric fever; and my father had been so affected that in his anguish he asked me to return. I went and found Harry a corpse, and the household in great grief. There had been no death in the family for more than twenty years, and when it came, it came with crushing effect. I remained at home a fortnight or more. My father’s spirit revived. I drove out every day with him, and told him stories at which he heartily laughed. He resumed his duties; the cloud had blown over; the double affliction was borne by him in a patient and submissive spirit; my father’s state of mind was better than I have ever known it.

So things stood, when on Saturday night, Nov. 28th, I again left home, intending to go to Stratford, and remain there until the College at Bristol should re-open after Christmas. It was a dark, cold, wintry night, with heavy snow, as I drove to Douglas with old John McCulloch, the man-servant, who was to take back the phaeton. I went on board the old ‘King Orry,’ and remembered nothing of the passage save that it was long and dark. I went on the Sunday morning to Great George Street Chapel, and heard for the first time Dr. Ruffles, who was just then becoming an old man, and whose best days were over. In the evening I took the train to Stratford, arriving next morning. Telegraphic communication was then in its infancy. There was no cable to the Isle of Man; I think that there was no public telegraphy in England at all; but the Railway Companies were introducing the wire for their own uses. On the Thursday morning I received a letter that appalled me. My father, made anxious by the weather, had gone out just after I had left, intending to follow me to Douglas, and beg me not to go across to Liverpool on such a horrid night. The man-servant on his return had nearly reached the Vicarage, when the horse shied and would not go on. The object that terrified him proved to be my poor father’s corpse lying cold in the snow upon the road. He was soon got home, and all that could be done to revive him was done, but he had been dead more than an hour; my opinion is that it was an apoplectic fit that carried him off. Luckily I saw that there was a steamer from Fleetwood to Douglas on the Friday. Leaving Stratford on Thursday afternoon, I got to Fleetwood in time, and was at the Vicarage on the Friday evening. We were all utterly stunned by the disaster. The funeral took place on the next day, and then we began to reflect on our position. My father had not insured his life; he left nothing but a little ready money, perhaps £100, but happily he did not die in debt. We knew that we should have to leave the Vicarage in the course of two or three months. We were eight in number—my mother; myself; my brother Will, then serving his apprenticeship as a sailor, and far away in the Pacific Ocean; my brother Tom, sixteen years old; Alfred, seven years ; and my three sisters, Dora, Margaret, and Harriet, aged respectively seventeen, twelve, and ten. We had £100, and the poor furniture in the house, and none of us was earning or, myself excepted, could earn a shilling. What was now to be done ? My mother’s sister, Miss Thomson, had a little income of her own. It was proposed that she should live with my mother. The parishioners raised a sum of between £300 and £400 for our help; my mother and her children, while under age, were claimants for certain clergy charities. Altogether, perhaps £120 a year might be reckoned upon. With such prospects we entered upon the year 1847, and early in that year my mother removed to Gastletown.

As for me, the scheme of going to Bristol was knocked on the head, and never had I been more at a loss to know what course to steer. I had become a Baptist, but with the exception of Forster of Stratford did not know a member of the denomination. I was a total stranger to all the Baptist churches, save that of which I had been two months a member.


 

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