[from Jefferys A Descriptive Account of the Isle of Man, 1808]
The usual passage to the Isle of Man, from the south, is from Liverpool; from whence vessels are so continually sailing, that a passage may be had at almost every tide. The distance is about sixty miles, and is sometimes performed in twelve hours, generally in twenty-four; and the distance from London to Liverpool in two hundred miles.
The shortest and most agreeable passage to the Isle of Man is from Whitehaven in Cumberland. It is about thirty miles, is frequently performed in six or seven hours, and generally in about twelve. From this place there is a regular post-office packet, which sails with the mail and passengers every Monday evening, as soon after eight o'clock (the time of the post's arriving from London) as the wind and weather will permit. - The charge for the passage is half a guinea.
The excellent order in which this vessel is always kept, and the known experience and skill of the captain and sailors, from being constantly employed on this passages give to this mode of conveyance every possible degree of safety that can attend a passage by sea.
From the frequent communications which are taking place between the Isle of Man and Whitehaven, opportunities may almost every tide be had of a passage in the trading vessels,which are continually passing, and which, to those who prefer sitting upon the deck to the confinement of a close cabin, it is unquestionably more desirable (in a passage of only a few hours) to avoid being at sea in the night, which of course is always the case with the packet, from the hour at which I have stated it to sail from Whitehaven; by which means also the sickness, so very distressing to many people at sea, is either prevented or greatly mitigated by the benefits of the open air.
Another most desirable object is,the pleasure to be derived from the passage, which, from the circumstance of the two coasts being continually in view, and the sea generally covered with a great variety of shipping, is highly amusing. The expence in this case is generally less than the packet.
Though I went over in an open boat, and had a safe and expeditious passage, I would particularly caution my readers not to follow my example, unless they have the advantage of a very fair wind, every appearance of settled weather, and daylight sufficient in which to accomplish the passage.
The Irish Channel is frequently very tempestuous; and if the sea should break over the vessel to any great degree, there is much danger in such a case of her going down.
A melancholy instance of this nature occurred not long since, in the loss of a boat that went from Whitehaven, with several respectable inhabitants of that place, who were going to Douglas upon business. The vessel sailed in fair weather, and all-out half the channel over she was found floating, upset, with no person near her; of course all on board had perished.
Within a moderate distance, on the approach to the bold and rugged coasts of the Isle of Man, its frowning precipices, and its deep and gloomy recesses, together with the majestic height of the mountains, and the screaming of the various sea birds,tend to fill the mind with very awful sensations.
The approach to the harbour of Douglas is uncommonly fine. Li the bay describes a crescent, extending about three miles, from Clayhead to Douglas promontory. The high lands that environ it render it an asylum from the tempests of the north, south,and west; but it is greatly exposed to an eastern gale. A variety of fish is caught here, and in great abundance.
The entrance to the harbour is fenced on each side by a range of precipices at no great distance. In the center of these formerly stood a lighthouse, which, with a great part of the quay, was destroyed by a violent storm in 1786. The misfortunes which have attended ships and boats since that period, it would be painful to detail. The awful calamity, however, which happened in September,1787, is too interesting not to be recorded.
The preceding day had been uncommonly serene. In the morning about 400 boats appeared in the bay and harbour, richly laden with herrings to a considerable amount. The earlier part of the day was spent in discharging their cargoes, and the remainder was devoted to mirth and relaxation.
The shoal of herrings was then about three leagues off Douglas, and the boats sailed in the evening with every prospect of temperate weather; but, about midnight, an equinoctial gale arose, and the fishermen, with their usual timidity, fled into port. On the ruins of the light-house was fixed a slender post, from which was suspended a small lanthorn by way of substitute.
This was thrown down by the fishing boats, in their eagerness to gain the harbour, and in a few moments all was horror and confusion. The darkness of the night, the raging of the sea, the vessels dashing against the rocks, the cries of the perishing men, and the screams of the women onshore, imparted sensations of the greatest misery and horror !
When the morning arrived, it disclosed an awful spectacle; the beach and rocks covered with wrecks, and a group of dead bodies floating in the harbour.
In some boats, whole families perished. The shore was crowded with women, some in all the frantic agonies of grief, alternately weeping over the remains of father, brother, and husband; and others sinking in the embraces of those, whom, a few moments before, they imagined were buried in the waves !
The bustle of trade ceased; its eagerness yielded to the feelings of nature. An awful gloom sat on every countenance, and every bosom either bled for its own anguish, or sympathised with the sufferings of others.
Notwithstanding this dreadful catastrophe, it was some years after, before attention was paid to repair the harbour, till the erection of the present beautiful stone pier and lighthouse, the first stone of which was laid on the 24th of July, 1793, by his Grace the present Duke of Athol.
The harbour is not only of consequence to the natives, but it seems intended by nature as a general asylum from the tempestuous seas that surround it.
Douglas is now the principal town in the Island, but the seat of government is at Castletown, about ten miles distant.
It rises near the southern part of the bay in a triangular form, and commends a charming view of the neighbouring country and the sea, as well as distant prospects of the Lancashire and Cumberland mountains.
About a century ago, it consisted only of some clay-built cottages; the establishment, however, of the excise in England, united with other circumstances, occasioned its rapid improvement.
The bold adventurer, frequently accumulating wealth by illicit commerce, Pulled down his paternal habitation, and built one according to his own fancy, and more suitable to the property he had acquired. From this fortuitous cause, the streets are very narrow, as well as irregular; and in no part of Douglas, except by the side of the quays and the river, do the buildings extend in a straight line for fifty yards together; and the best houses are often times mixed with the worst.
There is another singular circumstance, that the streets are not named,but go by the general name of Douglas; which, from their number and irregularity, make a guide absolutely necessary, to find the residence of any person; a difficulty, however, not much to be complained of, from the extreme civility of the inhabitants.
A better spirit of building has, however, begun to prevail, and there are now a great many excellent family houses, particularly those situated on each side of the river, which are very pleasant j but, with the exception of a few public buildings, decorative architecture is no where to be found in the Isle of Man. The house of the Duke of Athol, in Douglas, is a substantial handsome building, it was built by a merchant of Douglas, previous to the sale of the royalties of the Island, who with a short-sighted policy, dreading that the very circumstance which has proved of such great advantage to the Island, would be its bane, sold his mansion for a sum not exceeding the value of the materials.
Douglas is furnished with a free school, and, what will perhaps appear astonishing to an Englishman, there is not, in the whole Island, a single edifice devoted to the restoration of the sick, or the relief of the poor, yet in few places is private charity more universally liberal
Near the mouth of the harbour is an ancient tower, and in the centre of the town is a small chapel, dedicated to St Matthew. It has a handsome monument of marble, with an inscription to the memory of the Rev. Philip Moore, rector of Kirkbride, and officiating minister at this chapel.-
His education was completed under the auspices of the good bishop Wilson; and he made a grateful return for this singular advantage, by superintending the education of others, being, for above forty years, master of Douglas school. He was likewise principally concerned in revising the memorable translation of the scriptures into the Manks language. He was born in Douglas in 1705, and died there in 1785.
On an eminence, to the west of the town, stands the spacious modern chapel of St George, built by subscription. It has a handsome organ,with spacious pews and galleries.
Douglas, carrying on the principal trade and commerce of the Island, has the greatest intercourse with strangers. The residence of the English is chiefly confined to this town; among whom are many officers on half-pay, and gentlemen, as well as families of great respectability of small fortunes who are invited to take up their residence here, from the pleasantness of the situation, the abundance of necessaries, and the cheapness of luxuries.
There are also in Douglas many families of great respectability, and very considerable wealth, native inhabitants of the place, extensively engaged in mercantile pursuits.
The society of the English and Irish has given life and gaiety to the place,and there are frequent convivial meetings, assemblies, and card parties.
Though the liberal arts have not many votaries in Douglas, yet a theatre has been erected there, with the charitable intention of contributing to the relief of the poor; but its success has not answered the benevolent intentions of its founder.
It may easily be supposed that mutual prejudices occasionally distract the harmony of Douglas. In many of the natives, under the mask of a civil exterior, there is said to lurk a secret aversion to strangers; and occasionally the English shew a very unjust contempt for the Manks. The latter is deemed too shrewd and selfish, the former too prodigal. The Manksman has been stigmatised with an insatiable thirst for gain, in all his pursuits; and the Englishman, in his turn, has been upbraided with sacrificing every object to present enjoyment.
With all my natural partiality to my countrymen, I am sorry to say, that, a liberal construction as to the motives for civility on the part of strangers, is too frequently not to be found among the virtues of MR JOHN Bull, who is too apt, in estimating the merit of his own character, to mistake impudence for independence;and, in judging of the conduct of others, to attach the contemptible character of hypocrisy and insincerity to little acts of civility, which cannot possibly originate in any other motive than a desire to please.
I have long had occasion to make this observation, from an experience of the conduct of my countrymen, whom I have met in different parts of the continent and elsewhere. But I will illustrate it by the mention of one fact only, which took place in the Isle of Man. in the course of my tour round the Island, which I performed on foot, I met near Ramsay a man of a very respectable appearance, (whom afterwards found to be a schoolmaster there) and upon asking of him some information respecting my road and the situation of the inn at Ramsay, he immediately turned back to accompany me, going with me full two miles, in an opposite direction to that in which I had met him; and remarking that I appeared fatigued in carrying an umbrella and a great coat, which I had thrown over my shoulder, he insisted upon carrying them both.
Highly gratified by such kind attention from an entire stranger, I mentioned the circumstance with much pleasure to an Englishman whom I met with on the same day, when his reply was, " D_n them all !" they have no sincerity." What proof of sincerity could be necessary to satisfy me, in the civility I experienced, I cannot conceive.
There certainly is, throughout the Island, a very great disposition, on the part of the inhabitants, to pay attention to strangers.
Douglas abounds, in every direction, with shops, plentifully stocked with goods of every description, at fair and moderate prices; and almost every shopkeeper is a wine merchant, no license being necessary to carry on that trade; and indeed, so various are the articles in which they each deal, that the proper superscription to the door of a shop in Douglas might be, DEALER IN ALL SORTS OF EVERYTHING.
There are in Douglas many very excellent inns, the Liverpool coffeehouse, kept by Cole; also Clague's Hotel, and several others. The accommodations at these houses are good, and the charges moderate. The inns are mostly kept by persons from the north of England.
Post chaises, and carriages of various descriptions, with good post horses, as well as saddle horses, may be hired in Douglas to any part of the Island, or to make the tour of it, which may be performed with ease in two days.
There is also at Douglas a well regulated post-office. The mail is brought over by the packet from Whitehaven, which sails every Monday evening, and generally arrives at Douglas on the following morning. As soon as it arrives, the letters for the Government are forwarded to Castletown, and the other letters are distributed in Douglas, or sent, by postmen, to the offices in the different towns for delivery. The packet remains in Douglas harbour three days from its arrival, which affords ample time for the inhabitants of every part of the Island to write letters in answer.
A weekly newspaper is printed at Douglas. It appears to be conducted on very liberal principles. The paper is not subject to any stamp duty, nor are the advertisements liable to any. Most of the London papers, with those of the neighbouring counties in England, and Cobbett's Register, are taken in at the different inns, and the private houses of the inhabitants.
The sands of Douglas afford a fine ride, extending nearly two miles. The sea water here is very clear, and the shore well adapted for bathing, The view of the bay, which is very delightful, is much enriched by the commanding appearance of Castle Mona, the magnificent newly erected palace of the Duke of Athol.
Not far from Douglas stands the Nunnery, in a pleasant solitude, and near to the modern building are the venerable remains of the ancient house, which is said to have been founded by St Bridget, in the sixth century. From the celebrity of this pious saint, the Convent was soon tenanted by female votaries, either led by superstition, or sacrificed by parental authority.
The prioress of Douglas was anciently a baroness of the Isle. Her person was almost held sacred; her power and privileges were important,and her revenue was considerable. She held courts in her own name, and tried her vassals by a jury of her tenants.
Of the Convent, which once conferred such power and distinction, there are no relics that can recall the idea of magnificence or grandeur. The ornaments are faded away, and the mouldering walls are covered with ivy, while the shade of the trees diffuses around a kind of congenial gloom.
The modern mansion has the appearance of being a comfortable family house, and the stile of building is superior to most in the Island.