[From Reminiscences of Notable Douglas Citizens etc, 1902]
The history of these Schools never will nor never can be written they have played an important part in the moral and religions life of the town for nearly the whole of the last century. They were the great feeders to the adjoining chapel and that chapel, or church, has been the main spring of Methodism on the Island, and Methodism, numerically, socially, and religiously, is the dominant sect of the Island. But its influence for good has not been circumscribed to the Manx nation, but England, and the whole world, have been in some degree bettered by the teaching and training of Thomas Street Schools,
With the report of the Valedictory Meeting, and the tribute from one of your correspondents, I am quite in harmony, and I leave it to my Wesleyan friends to discant on the religious bearing of the old place, as I have no right. or inclination " to do the pious," but to give some of my recollections of incidents known to me as an outsider, and to some extent, an actor in many of the meetings held in the rooms separate and apart from their legitimate and normal use as Methodist Schools.
I am surely growing old, if even I do not feel I am, and to have a minute recollection of 60 years back, perhaps some credit may be given to the fact that in Thomas Street School-room I was taught often that if I would keep hale and hearty, I must not "apply hot and rebellions liquors to my blood."
These schools were frequently hired for religious, social, and moral meetings, at a very trifling rent; and I have known Quakers preach and exhort in them and lecture. on various subjects, but my knowledge is chiefly confined to the Temperance meetings, and the men associated with the movement, and that the first meeting to form the Juvenile Rechabite Tent was held there, and for years it was the rallying point for Temperance enterprise.
This was all the, more significant from the fact that the Wesleyans of Douglas in those days were greatly divided in their opinion on the drink traffic, and that the Sunday School superintendents and the principal office bearers were brewers and grog seller,, and that the Rev Jacob Stanley's Conference resolution was recognised to be in full legal force:
"That no Wesleyan Chapel should be used for propagating so-called Temperance principle, ,; no minister to go into another Circuit to advocate teetotalism, and no unfermented wine to be used at the Sacrament."
But despite all these safeguards, there was a large leven of teetotalism in the Methodist Society in Douglas that made itself felt, and I never heard that the right or privilege of holding temperance, meetings in the upper school-room had been objected to although the speakers made no bones of calling a "spade a spade," or a. grog seller " poisoner-general."
The two forces of grog and teetotalism were very clearly defined, and often came into wordy contact, and it speaks well for the moral stamina, of the teetotal element that in the face of an overpowering force with the "Super." and other ministers against them, that they not only held their own, but made steady and sure advances on the citadel of King Grog.
I could easily give names and numbers of those who then ruled in Douglas Methodism brewers, publicans, grocer-grog sellers but I could not well hit the guilty without giving some. pain to their children, or children's children, and in my life-struggle for the public good, I have carefully avoided hitting the innocent in trying to inflict a blow on the guilty. If I have ever deviated from this rule, it has been a necessity and not a. choice, and even my deadliest opponent, Mr J. A. Brown, paid me once "the compliment.," publicly, that I was a hard, but fair, fighter.
I have no difficulty in grouping the men and women who stood in the forefront of the battle for righteousness and Temperance; and who courageously bore the heat and burden of the day.
My difficulty is where, or with whom should I begin, for, like Horniman's Tea, they were "always good alike." but of divers gifts and accomplishments, but all fitting in their own spheres of influence some leaders of men, others hewers of wood and drawers of water, constituting a harmonious whole of earnest men, and not a few good women. in point of number, social influence and works, I ought, I think, to place the Cannell families first. These were the
Cannell, the shoemaker, poet Cannell, "Friendly Bob," and Cannell, the "heckler." Teetotalism and Methodism on the Island owe much to the Cannell (hatter) family. These were originally in Douglas, John, the eldest brother, who became an itinerant, or " English preacher," and ministered with great success and popularity in various circuits in England, was, before leaving the Island an active supporter and propagandist of Temperance principles. Robert was a steady-going supporter all his life, and James, before he went to Peel, and when in Peel, along with his friends and colleagues, Tom Kermode, Robert Quiggin, Henry Crellin, Mark Watterson, and others, were most active workers, whilst the younger brother, Hugh, in Ramsey, along with his friend, Dan Joughin, were most energetic, both dying in the meridian of life
"A heaven-born band.
Who fought and died in freedom's cause !"
Out of the five sons of Cannell the. hatter, of Ramsey, three originally kept to the traditional trade one each in Douglas, Peel, and Ramsey, and four out of the five could take the boards speak or preach with acceptance. The exception was William, who was known as Cannell the builder, to distinguish him from his brothers the father of Mr Waterworks Secretary Cannell.
Mr William Cannell, socially, religiously and in every other respect, was a power in teetotalism and Methodism, clear-headed, intelligent, enthusiastic, ready, and a. good worker on committees, &c., but nothing could induce him to get on the platform to make a speech "Not all the King's horses, nor all the Sings men" could have dragged him ; although a most regular hearer at the meetings the old complaint "Jus' the shy,"
was a distinct individualist, a man that would have left his mark if he had been efficiently educated; he had certainly been self-educated to a. greater extent than most of the men of his day, but. he lacked that grounding and fundamentals so necessary to build future acquired knowledge upon. There was no question about his ability as a writer in prose or poetry. Some of his writings are still produced in temperance tract literature. His preaching was a little bit too highly spiced for the country people. Some; no doubt, thought it clever, and deep, although I never heard of his being treated like the Rev W. C. Stallybrass was at Onchan. Parson Howard got him to give a lecture at the school-room, and in moving a vote of thanks to the lecturer, the Vicar said: "If any of you men understood the lecture, it is more than I did; and the next time Mr Stallybrass comes up, we will all bring our dictionaries!" Robert Cannell was no mean poet, and many of his pieces found insertion in various English papers ; but how he could bombard the Methodists of Douglas, and still be retained as a "local," showed pluck on his part, and perhaps some tolerance on the part of the body.
to his faithful co-adjutators in Douglas," was a scorcher. He did all but name the grogarchy of Methodism. "Conduct your Sabbath Schools; go round and gather your pennies from the pews, and few will know you only mock your Maker," was no doubt, intended for Methodist local grog sellers.
was quite an unique specimen of a kindly; friendly man, whose very face was a benediction for good; he fairly beamed with joy until someone touched the chords of his sympathetic nature-then you found his head ran a fountain of waters that found vent in a gush of tears at any real or imaginary tale of woe. This made the good man the victim of the vicious, who took advantage of his kindness, and fairly begged or robbed him of nearly all his worldly possessions. He lived in a large double-fronted house in Great Nelson Street, between where the Star Vaults are now, and Johnny Bill Fell's stables; he had been a large farmer on what is now the Farrants' Estate, and in my younger days Mr R. Douglas' garden, in Brunswick Road, was called "Friendly Bob's Gardens." . It way said that his "Haggard" was near the road, and that he was usually robbed of most of it for fodder by some of the cow and horse-keepers in Douglas, and to throw off suspicion, two always engaged in the theft. One would draw up the cart near the hedge, or wall, and the other would be throwing over the stuff, the man in the cart shouting, if he saw any passer-by, "Thank you, Mr 'Kinnal,' 'deed, and it's very kind of you; and I will pay you it all back again, when I get my stock in." It was said that he refused to prosecute a thief, even when he had been taken red-handed in the act.
worked at the Lake, was a regular attender at the meetings, and now and then put up as a kind of makeshift, or padding more willing to help than he was eloquent to speak, but always told the audience that he merely wished to show what side he was on. He was an enthusiastic Rechabite, and a most regular attender at the Tent.
Time would fail me to tell of the number of good men and true who were fighting against the principalities and powers in Methodism, "supers," preachers, oince-bearers, etc. Anthony Lewthwaite, the father of all the Manx Lewthwaites; the late Robert Cain, builder, father of all the builder Cains; Nicholas Moore, and others. Many good men and women, not prominent in society, fought a good fight in their own spheres; and I cannot pass over the Corkill family, from whom I received much en couragement and kindness. Tom Corkill died when but young; but his sisters-one of whom was the mother (Mr T. P. Ellison, did good service. and their works still follow in the family train.
I had a great deal to do with; and to get good chairmen was often a difficulty, for it was a. standing rule to open the meeting with singing and prayer. We could not always drop on one " that was good at making a prayer." Stowell, the Wooden-Leg. would sometimes come a genial old man, who gave to the Congregational Church Dr Stowell, and two succeeding generations of Congregational ministers, hymn-writers, &c. "Friendly Bob," Robert Cain, and Robert Cannell (hatter), were often in this position; and we had many speakers from the town, and many from the country and other towns. Flaxney and Quayle Stowell came round now and then, when taking their holidays, missioning as they went along. Flaxney was always a draw for his quaint way of putting things, the drollery of his face and satirical touches. The Douglas people were quite as fond of hearing English speakers as the country people were if not still carried away by the "English preachers." We had once the offer of "two gentlemen from England, who would give Temperance addresses in the room, which was duly announced by the bell-man. Mr Robert Cain took the chair, and the meeting preliminaries gone through, one of them said he was not a speaker, but his brother was. The brother made a. few remarks about drink killing people. He informed the audience that they were Manchester cotton hand-loom weavers out of employment, that they had cotton and cotton night-caps to sell, and hoped they would help poor brothers in distress. The collapse of the meeting was supplemented next day by the "two brothers" with white aprons on, and white paper caps, going through the streets singing-
" The sun is set behind yon' hill,
It's set to rise no more;"
Shouting, "Poor cotton weavers pushed out of work by machinery," and then bawling, for you could not call it singing
We are all the way from Manchester,
And we have got no work to do-oo-oo !''
After this dose, we became careful of Gentlemen from England" getting on our platform, or for calling special meetings, except for those properly credentialled.
I have frequently seen speakers collapse in their attempts to address the meeting,, and one of the most complete was a friend of my own
the great Bass Singer and Scripture-reader. John had been for many years before the public as a singer of solos, and was a very good talker privately, especially in giving Manx ghost and fairy tales. Robert Cannell, poet, persuaded him that there was the making of a good speaker in him, and he primed himself for a Thomas Street School meeting. He commenced " Mr Chairman, dear friends " ; (hear, hear), was the response. " Mr Chairman, and friend. "; (hear, hear), again, and John stood petrified. He fumbled in his pocket, found his tailor's thimble, and put it on his finger. "Now," says Robert Cannell, "you will feel at home, go on ! " " Go on! go on ! " came from all over the room. "I can't go on," he. responded, "I am flabber-gasted, and if any of you fellows want to have the conceit taken out of you, come up here for five minutes." I never heard that in after-life. he had succeeded as a public speaker.
was the man that crammed Thomas Street more than any meetings I ever saw in it. Tom was an unpolished Irishman, full of racy sayings, original and selected. He had been a drunken waif picked up by the Father Matthews' movement in Dublin, and after practising at home, landed in Liverpool as a Temperance Missionary, and we had him for some time in Douglas. In giving the history of his life his drunkenness and poverty, his rescue and success were all in his thorough brogue, of which he was master. He had changed all things at home, and made Lady Mary Flynn Chancellor of the Exchequer, in place of the landlady who had formerly taken his money. When his first joint of meat and first basket of groceries landed at his house, the children asked if they were going to start shop-keeping. Tom's get-up for the platform was thoroughly national, his high shirt collar alongside his nose.
On one occasion, he got "warm in the cause," and adopted Fergus O'Connor's plan, when addressing working men, of stripping to it. Tom took off his coat and neckerchief, and it was a relief to the meeting that his doffing ended there, for Tom was regarded as being so impetuous and erratic that no one knew what excesses lie might not go to. When diverted of his coat, Tom showed a good, old-fashioned check linen shirt, which seems now to be out of date. His large white "dickey" burst from its tethering, and stood out like a fan. The predicament was irresistable; a burst of laughter rang round the room. Tom stopped. " I see what yon are laughing at,", he said, replacing. his white front, " but listen to me. Sure, when I drank my money, I could not afford a bit of a shirt at all. Now, you see, I can wear a shirt and a half at the one time." This sally put Tom on good terms with the audience.
took place in Thomas Street School; it was the training ground for some useful, good men, and useful work. Henry McIver, Murray Wilson, and others, made their first venture there in public speaking. It was the opening up of my own public life, and
bars me from giving many interesting particulars of how far I am indebted to the training I got there, and how much many others are indebted indirectly through me to the Thomas Street Wesleyan Sunday Schools building.