[From Reminiscences of Notable Douglas Citizens etc, 1902]
POLITICAL PIONEER AND PATRIOT.
"MONA'S HERALD" FAME.
By JAMES COWIN.
"To live in hearts of those we love,
Is not to die."
It is a matter of regret to me that some abler pen than mine should not have given a sketch of the life and labours of this eminent man who stood forth as the central figure in all things pertaining to the public life of the Island during the middle of the last century. To me personally I have always considered him a born reformer, a leader of men, and one who did more to mould my public life and the life of others than any other man I have ever met with he was my political Gamaliel. I sat at his feet when I was but a youth, and drank in the inspiration for that love of liberty and hatred of wrong that. has so far guided my life, and will, 1 trust, to what must now be its near end.
Robert Fargher was born in Maughold in 1803, but he was a descendant of the Southern Farghers his grandfather married the heiress of a Maughold estate, and from this dates their connection with the North side of the Island.
I have heard him tell with great gusto his grandfather's description of the first steamer that put into Ramsey Bay; how he got on board and examined the wonderful propelling power, and how the rustics stared to think that a steam kettle could have such a magical influence. Robert's mother was one of the Christian Ballure's, a well-known Ramsey family, and many will remember that his son John had Christian as his second name, and Mrs George Jefferson; wife of the printer and publisher of the "Manks Advertiser," was also a Christian Ballure, and maternal aunt to Robert Fargher.
Robert, no doubt, got the best education that the parish of Maughold, or the town of Ramsey, could afford at his youth, and we all know, who have to look back on our school days, what this means, for it was the rule then to devote the talents and time of such men as were born cripples, or met with some accident, to take the cane in hand and teach the young idea how to "shoot," for no Manx teacher was considered capable of driving knowledge into boy's heads except by flogging it in.
AT THE AGE OF 14 HE LEFT THE ISLAND,
and went to London to act as a kind of amanuensis, or private secretary, to a gentleman who was afflicted with imperfect sight. This provided an excellent training and coaching up for the young Manxman, for he had to read aloud the leading articles and principal news from the newspapers of that period:
No doubt this practice was of immense " service, as the gentleman would take . pains with his young, protégé and train him in proper pronunciation and good reading, for in after life, in ordinary conversation, he spoke and gesticulated as if he was delivering a speech, and usually, like most Manxmen, on a high-toned scale, he threw the words from 'his mouth clear and slow, unless it was something that had vexed his righteous soul, then at once he fired up, and in the most fervid and impassioned way would let out a flood of invective that few could equal.
The George Jefferson above referred to was the father of the late George Jefferson, civil engineer, of Douglas, and of Mrs Hawley, wife of Parson Hawley, of St George's, Douglas; he came to the Island from Whitehaven and started business in Duke Street, Douglas, as Printer, Stationer, Bookseller, &c. . "Jefferson's Nautical Almanack" became a standard marine authority, and had a large sale in the ports of the adjoining countries. The tide and lunar calculations were principally the work of Robert Corteen, who was a Douglas schoolmaster, and another Maughold man, and after his death the mantle fell on the late John Goldsmith. These two Northern lights were considered great authorities on astronomy, but more especially with respect to the calculation of tides, &c.
My old friend, Mr Robinson, of Bolton, still living, who served his time with Jefferson for a printer, once told me that the compositors in the office assumed the role of weather prognosticators, and put in the words in the days of the months as "fair," " showery," " changeable," " cloudy," &c., and often did it more accurately than did " Old Moore's" or " Zadkiel's." Mr Jefferson sold over his "Advertiser" to Dillon and Sammy Rogers, and, if I am not mistaken, it developed into what is now the " Manx Sun," and to
"WHAT BASE USES DID IT COME AT LAST, HORATIO?"
About the year 1820 Fargher returned to the Island to learn the printing business with his uncle-in-law, Mr Jefferson. In the early part of his apprenticeship he attended the preaching of Dr Robert Aitken, an ex-clergyman of the English Church, and father of the Rev W. Hay Aitken, who held some mission services on the Island lately. This revivalist. preached in Thomas Street (Victoria Street) Wesleyan Chapel; his exhortations were of the most sensational and theatrical style, but it caught on, and Robert. Fargher, the late Rev W. T. Radcliffe, and others were numbered among the converts, and Fargher, with all the impetuosity of his nature and his new-born zeal,, at once became "a fisher of men," in and out of season he proclaimed the liberty by which he was made a free man, and with a message to others which he it once set about to proclaim. We have now occasional midday services and midday prayer, meetings as new things or innovations, but young Fargher, when, only an apprentice, preached, prayed, and exhorted, not only going out into the highways and hedges, but at the dinner hour in the printing office he improvised and conducted religious services among his fellow apprentices and workmen. I know nothing in the future life of this man that stamps his character with more moral force and courage than this action of his an action that 999 out of every 1,000 would recoil from and shrink into their boots but this earnestness of purpose and courage of his convictions were the marked features of all his after life; he was a brave, born fighter, and difficulties only nerved him with more enthusiasm and determination to gain his end.
THE "ADVERTISER," JEFFERSON'S PAPER,
was the organ of officialism and of the Established Church, the upholder and stalwart defender of all abuses in Church and State, and its motto might have been: "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be." This, of course, was entirely repugnant to the young Radical, and he thirsted for the opportunity of establishing a newspaper as the organ of Reform and Dissent. Was, a printer in the same office, joined him in the venture of floating the " Mona's Herald," and my friend, Wm. Robinson, and others helped the new firm in setting up the type for the first: number, and launch it on to the Manx world.
Perhaps in the whole history of Methodism on the Island they never had a greater number of gifted " local brothers" than just at this time Robert Fargher, John Cain, James Hales, William Gick, and other men of great ability in preaching far ahead of the general public in their knowledge and intelligence; they were a power in the State, for not only in the pulpit, but on the public platform, at public town's meetings, or any other phase of public life they could hold their own, and by sheer dint of ability and courage they were more than a match for the lawyers, who were then the men always put forward as the mouthpieces of the powers that be, and the special pleaders for letting things slide on. The Island largely, but the towns in particular, were " bossed" by the High Bailiffs; they were the civil and sanitary authorities, and held the balance of power and scales of justice. It was at some of these town or public meetings Fargher had his fiercest battles, his toughest fights. George Wm. Dumbell and he were at variance on most things, but Dumbell was as imperious as he was unscrupulous in a meeting, his manner of scowling down an opponent made many quail and funk, but it only intensified Fargher's anger, and when angry he was at his best as a speaker; he opened the floodgates of his irony and invective and the two gladiators faced each other in fierce battle, and to this may be attributed Dumbell's antagonism, indeed his hatred of Fargher, who stood in the way of his domination and ambition, plucked some of his feathers, clipped his wings, and tethered him to his position as an ordinary Dunghill Cock, instead of that eagle position of a bird of prey that he would have assumed, swooping down and destroying all opponents.
GEORGE W. DUMBELL AT THE BAR AND GEORGE W. DUMBELL AT THE BANK.
were two different men; at the Bar he was overbearing, tyrannical, and unmerciful to witnesses. Robert Fargher watched cases when he thought he had over-reached the courtesies and fair treatment that witnesses were entitled to, and fearlessly exposed them and denounced the Judges for allowing it, and if it was Deemster Heywood, the judge who only knew "Breast Law," he got it ten-fold. But when George William Dumbell became a banker, the lion became a lamb plausible, courteous, obliging, and after this event his great antagonist of former years received something like a personal recognition from him and a measure of fair play.
When James Teare, our distinguished countryman as a pioneer of teetotalism, missioned the Island about the years 1834-1835, Fargher and the "Local- Brothers" named above, Mr Nicholas Moore, the Cannell's (hatters), and others identified themselves with the movement, and it was campaigning for this cause throughout the Island, and even in England, that Fargher showed his conspicuous talent as a speaker, pioneer, and fighter. The question with most men in these degenerate days would be Will it pay for me to take up this position; will I jeopardise my shop interest, my public character, or above all, will I offend the high and mighty of our Manx grandees? Is it not easier to swim with the tide than to breast it ? If " shop" had guided Robert Fargher's principles, he would have been bought and smothered with orders, but no man tried to buttonhole him; they knew that whatever else his failing, he was a man of public honour and integrity, and would never truckle down for pence or power.
In a paper I read in Douglas at the Temperance Conference, January, 1884, I refer to his connection with teetotalism in the following words, and with this I close my first chapter on the friend of my boyhood
"No reference to the early history of the movement on the Island would be complete without the name of the late Robert Fargher, of the " Mona's Herald," its earliest and most distinguished' champion; for years its central figure, most eloquent and uncompromising advocate. He stood like a lion in the earliest and the thickest of the fight; he was made of the right stuff to lead on and champion an aggressive movement; by instinct and training a reformer, and, like John Knox, " did not fear a face of clay." His "Temperance Guardian" aided the movement all over the world. we regret his declension; who were to blame I am not here to decide; but we must honour his memory for his work's sake. He was quitting the scene of his active labour when I was entering, a mere boy but I remember
" How well Horatius kept the bridge In the brave days of old."
It seems to me that there is a falling off in that public spirit that marked the introduction of the movement, and that guarded and guided it through the perils of infancy. Where would a second James Teare find men now to bear the brunt of the battle; men with sufficient back-bone? "There were giants in the earth in those days; "where are their descendants? 'The age of chivalry is gone; that of economists and calculators has succeeded.'"
There can be but little doubt that a man of Robert Fargher's Iconoclastic tendencies would soon come into collision with the powers who ruled at that time in Douglas Methodism, for he fully endorsed James Teare's doctrine of " wrong to make, wrong to sell, wrong to drink," and he hurled his anathemas without stint at the grog selling hierarchy of Thomas Street Chapel, which at this time was the Cave of Adullam for the " trade" ; at least three or four brewers, two or three publicans, and well on to a dozen of drink-selling grocers held high positions in society, and adorned the galleries and horse-box pews. The vestry cupboard contained a refresher for the preacher, and the cellars below were let off for drink storing-" the good creature of God" was in palpable evidence as part and parcel of the Methodism of that day in the town.
These evils Fargher attacked most fearlessly, and as a matter of course the fight was often shifted from the temperance platform to the more sacred arena of the vestry and the Society meeting; but Fargher did not fight alone Hales, John Cain, and others, stood shoulder to shoulder with him, and in the "Isle of Man Temperance Guardian," Robt. Cannell, shoemaker and poet, helped largely with his clever rhymes, I am not sure whether this lot of "noisy men," who wanted to turn Methodism if not the world upside down were expelled from the Society, or they quietly cut themselves adrift from Methodism, and became a kind of outlanders.
But it was in
THE WORLD OF POLITICS
that Fargher was seen at his best a real leader of men; but he had men, real men, to lead; men, who have not left their equal's in the Island as their successors. The freedom's battle begun by them has been baffled oft,, but not fought for by their degenerate sons, who would shirk from the same political responsibilities that their forefathers struggled for. Where, in these days' could we find on the Island allied together contending for the rights of civil and political liberty such men as Colonel Campbell Collister, Thornhill ; Monk and Kelly, of Ramsey; Moore, Baljean; the three Duffs, Gordon Kelly, Gavin Torrance, Tommy Garrett, old Kelly the chandler, and many others? They were proud of the role they played as reformers, and never shirked their duties for fear or favour; they did not sell their principles to sell their goods, but were foremost in the fight, and it is to their efforts and teaching anything like a representative form of Government was conceded to the Island; for Lord Palmerston often said he was prepared to grant not only a representative government, but a control over the finances, when the people demanded it but our officials were as stupid then as now our self-elected House of Keys stood with their backs to the wall, and stifled all reforms as long as they possibly could do.
At this time we had one advantage; we could always get copies of correspondence between the Governor and the Home Secretary; but now we can. be bought and sold behind our backs, as the correspondence seems to be of a private nature. And it was often upon the official reports that Faragher challenged the action of those who were in authority over us. George W. Dumbell thought if he could only crush Fargher he would knock the bottom out of the Reform movement: in the Island, and to this he bent his energies and watched his opportunities to pounce down upon him with some antiquated law of libel a harsh, barbarous law and he always went at him for punishment criminally, for he dared not have entrusted the verdict to a jury as a question of damages for any injuries he had sustained. In 1845 or 1846 Fargher had finished a term of imprisonment for a Dumbell Libel in the "Jug," Castle Rushen. When Sentenced in the Douglas Court House he said with his characteristic fervour: "I shall sleep more comfortably in Castle Rushen tonight than Mr Dumbell will sleep in his feather bed at Belmont!" On his release he was met at the prison gates by his ever attached and faithful wife and a large body of Douglas people, who escorted him by road from Castletown. Large crowds went out from the town to meet and join in the procession, and a most enthusiastic reception was given him along the streets to the Royal Hotel [sic though record would indicate opened 1848], where his friends had provided a different repast to his late prison fare. A crowded meeting in the Wellington Hall the same night was presided over by the late Mr W. Duff; of Burleigh, and was one of the most demonstrative and crowded meetings that I ever witnessed in Douglas.
Fargher's ability and popularity with a large portion of his countrymen made him the target for many unscrupulous and dishonourable people to throw dirt at, and all kinds of malicious reports and inuendos were hurled at him. They could not imagine in those days any more than they can now that men can be engaged in public work for the benefit of their country unless there is some money or motive power behind them. Pure patriotism, philanthropy, social, moral, or political freedom are not planks in their own platforms, nor can they understand that any other persons can be influenced except from some sordid motives, or for pay! pay! pay! No man, not even his most ardent admirer, would claim for Robert Fargher infallibility, or that he was a perfect man; he had his failings, but they "leant to virtue's side." He was passionate, impulsive, sometimes even to rashness; he had a strong love of justice and fair play, and nothing would rouse him quicker than any case of tyranny or oppression; he never minced matters, or trimmed his sails for the breezes of popularity, for through the " Mona's Herald," or by his tongue, he would "lash the scoundrels naked through the world," and for this he often had to " bear the proud man's contumely and the insolence of office."
Although very like a characteristic Irishman: " never at peace but when in a fight" he was not a man quarrelsome or offensive, but in his private business and domestic life was a kindly, generous, and amiable man, and often did good by stealth and in the most unostentatious way.
Fargher, in his more fervidly religious days, married a Staffordshire lady, who was a member of the Wesleyan body. His family consisted, I think, of three sons and one daughter. The eldest, John Christian, has not yet dropped out of the memory of many of the "Herald" readers; he died last year, at Croydon, Surrey. Jonadab Callow went to Liverpool, and died there. He was buried in Maughold Churchyard, and was the father of Robert G. Fargher now filling the place of his grand sire and namesake at the " Mona's Herald," in the firm of Clucas & Fargher. Robert Bowring was the youngest son, and he showed signs of considerable promise as a writer in prose and poetry, but "whom the gods love, die young," and he is resting in his long sleep in Maughold Churchyard. His last words to his sister were written in poetic form, one verse on his tombstone reads
"And lay me by my father's side,
In churchyard by the sea,
And as you glide down life's tide
Bestow some thoughts on me."
Most of his poetry is in MSS., a few pieces have been printed. From a piece entitled "A Dream of other years," your readers may gather the lofty sentiments and tender sympathies which actuated the writer
"Years have passed since I beheld
Those old faces which I knew
In the pleasant days of old,
When a friend was kind and true.
Time has changed that homely scene
Those then youthful now are men,
And they strive with dauntless mien,
Some with hand or brain or pen.
To achieve a cherished aim,
Or perform some noble deed;
And to win a. higher fame
Than is known to idler's creed.
Some in foreign cities fill
Up a vacant niche in life;
Others cherish home thoughts still,
And plod onward in the strife.
But each ever has a thought
For the friends he loved before,
Who dwelt in that little cot
In the happy days of yore."
The daughter married Mr John Douglas, builder, and is mother of Mr Joseph E. Douglas, who, in some respects, inherits the talents and traditions of his grandfather. It was fortunate for Robert Fargher that he got a wife so admirably adapted, and yet the two differed much in their temperaments. She was a good, kind placid tempered Christian woman that had an immense influence over her husband, and "Whatever brawls disturbed his mind, There was always peace at home." and her good tact and judgment would calm his troubled breast and spirit, and he responded to this, for in every respect be was a good, kind, domesticated husband and father.
In the later years of Robert Fargher's life he was an attendant at the 'Primitive Methodist Chapel, Wellington Street, and Mrs Fargher was an active member there, and many of their ministers well recollect with gratitude the kindnesses they have received from her bands as a hostess given to hospitality she ungrudgingly entertained the ministers. I hope some of them were "angels unaware," but one case I remember reflects the greatest credit on her head and heart. A minister whom she had known got uncircuited and boycotted because he had his quiver too full of young mouths to-be fed, and the circuit he was appointed to would have none of him or his large-small family [in those days the stipend depended on the number of children under 15], so he dropped down between two stools and could not be located till the next Conference. Mrs Fargher took some of his family off his off to Douglas till things improved with the good man, who was waiting to get into harness again, and then, no doubt, he went about and "'made a collection" of his progeny to get them again under the parental roof.
Holding, as I did, a very high estimation of Robert Fargher's worth and his efforts to improve the political and social condition of the Island, it was not, I think, unreasonable that I should, also hold a very opposite opinion of Mr George W. Dumbell, as his, I cannot say merely, opponent, but persecutor, and although I did not " nurse my wrath to keep it warm," I always cherished the hope that some day I should have an opportunity of giving my opinion of his conduct.
At the General Election of 1885 I got the returns sent to me regularly, and one day I saw Mr G. W. Dumbell's carriage stop at the Belvedere. I went out. "I understand," he said, "you get the Election returns?" I said " Yes, pretty near them all." " How is it gone?" " Your side has been badly beaten." "'My side ! how do you know my side !" " Because you are a Tory." "How do you know I am a Tory?" "Because you have been one all your life." " Then you know me?" "Yes, since I was a boy." " But we have no Tories and Radicals in Manx politics?" "No, but we have those who want, to progress, avid those who want to put back the clock. Robert Fargher was a Progressive, and you were Retrogressive." " Did you know Robert Fargher?" " Yes." Then you knew a hard nut to crack. He was clever, but hard to bear with it." "Yes, and you tried to crush him, but only partly succeeded. You not only prosecuted, but persecuted him." "You are very candid. Did you ever make a mistake' " "Yes, many." " So have I, and perhaps my treatment of Fargher was one." " Have you always lived in Douglas."' " No, the last time I saw you before now returning to the Island, was in Carlisle Station." '"When you were lame after an accident?" "I. remember you kindly getting me into a cab, and instructing the driver where to drive me. I thank you for that. Now, tell me what is your opinion of my, son, Alured. Has he not done well?" "As a lawyer, he may be all right; as a legislator, a total failure so far; he wants constructive ability." " Now, that is a little too candid. I think you are a second edition of Fargher, and I am afraid we might quarrel; so Good Afternoon." And this ended the only talk I ever had with G. W. Dumbell on politics or, rather, Manx affairs. On the whole, the memory and life of Robert Fargher may be cherished with gratitude by his fellow countrymen. He was thoroughly patriotic never spared himself when he thought his action would promote the welfare of the people and of the Island. He was an enthusiast in everything his hand found to do. Whether religion, temperance, or politics he recognised no friends, no foes, in public life the sacrifice of prestige or of business never entered into his calculations, if he considered it his duty to take action
"His not to reason why,
His but to do and die!
He had often to regret declensions from among his stalwart followers; the love of honour and prestige found in them their weak points, and the Governor and his advisers used this mode of bribery to draw "Wobblers" out of the reform ranks, and "corrupted freemen are the worst of slaves." Then the nomination as a self-elected member of the "rusty bunch of Keys," or, then, as now, a J.P.-ship, proved a bribe sufficiently strong for weak knees and weak 'heads; but. had Robert Fargher, or another equally courageous, lived on the Island during the past few years, no such official Legislative neglect could have been possible. He would have thundered at the door of the Home Office, or got questions put in the House of Commons that would have prevented any such local scandal and misapplication of office and trusts he would have found another Dr Bowring to champion the neglected cause of the Manx people. Some called him road, but there was a method and common-sense in his madness. So he was thought Saul of Tarsus, and many other soulless people think enthusiasm for Righteousness and Freedom mad.
Robert Fargher's life was not a long one, judged in the light of to-day, when men live much longer than the Psalmist's prescribed limits; but worry, as well as work, told on his health, and then came on that most unendurable of all physical infirmities the loss of sight; and this preyed heavily on his mind. To live, and not to be able to work, would be, to his active nature, :e strain too heavy to bear, and in the year 1863; when only 60 years old, he passed away into the land of rest, and peace, and joy.
We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial;
We should count time by heart-throbs Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best."
His ashes lie in Kirk Maughold Churchyard, where his " forefathers of the hamlet sleep," and although "no stoned urn, or animated bust" marks the place of his sepulchre, part, at least, of the work he did lives after him.
By fairy hands, his knell is rung;
By forms unseen his dirge is sung;
There Honour comes, a pilgrim gay,
To bless the turf that wraps his clay;
And Freedom shall awhile repair
To dwell, a weeping hermit, there."
I was living in Carlisle when Robert Fargher died, and I could not but contrast the public spirit and gratitude of the Border City inhabitants, in placing in their most prominent position the full life-size marble statue of James Steele proprietor and editor of the " Carlisle Journal," and who had only been playing exactly the same role as my departed friend had tried to do for Manxland to express a wish for the same honour for Robert Fargher is only a waste of ink. It is more than could be expected from Manx human nature.
An old and worthy friend Mr William Robinson, of Bolton, one of the ever respected Douglas Robinson family, and younger brother of the late Mr Henry Robinson was an apprentice at Jefferson's printing office, when Robert Fargher was there, and who is still on this side of heaven happened to be on the Island a few days before Fargher's death, and visited him then in his weakness and blindness. What associations this visit would bring up of their former and youthful days! He at once recognised the voice of his visitor, and, grasping his hand Mr Robinson informed me,-he said to him: "Here I am, a poor waif, fluttering on the confines of eternity," and a, few days afterwards, the fluttering had turned into the flight of his soil to "that bourne from which no traveller returns."
"He loved this land, because it was his own,
And scorn to give aught other reason why;
Would shake hands with a King upon his throne,
And think it kindness to His Majesty."
Robert Fargher was not bad tempered or quarrelsome, nor did he seek or promote political or other fights. He "fought against principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places " a battle of Right against Might for the masses, and against the classes; and many of the reforms he advocated, and that were so strenuously opposed by others, have since been conceded. His great sin was that "he was before his time." This, of course, was nonsense; it was others who were behind their time only too stupid to see it.
One of his practical jokes is worth recording. I think it was on the arrival of Governor Piggott that the Manx people went into high jinks in their jubilations. Fargher had 24 rusty keys hung across the roadway, along which the Governor was to pass in procession. Printed in large letters to catch the eye of everyone were the words addressed to Governor Piggott: "A :hard job to scour a rusty bunch."
If he lived now, he never would select anything. so tangible as paste-board, for putty would be a much better representation of many of the pliant official tools who 'now occupy that position. No one who over know Robert Fargher would think that he would have sat quietly down under the masquerading and corruption of our Magisterial bench. He, at least, would have made it hot for them, and would have appealed to our local Appellate Court, carried it to London, or would have had an interview with the Home Secretary long ago. As a Manxman
"To take him for all and in all,
We shall not look upon his like again"
The grit and fibre of true Manx manhood seemed to have been washed out of them when the rush of outlanders. came over to sink the morality of the Island for pay ! pay ! pay !
"Scion of chiefs and monarchs, where art thou ?
Fond hope of the Manx nation, art thou dead?
Could not the grave forget thee, and lay low
Some less majestic less beloved head?"