[from Jefferys A Descriptive Account of the Isle of Man, 1808]
The next place is
a poor village, of about thirty houses, situated in a deep glen, opening into a fine bay on one side, and partly surrounded on the other by high and steep mountains; and about three miles from Laxey is the great mountain of
This mountain is the extraordinary height of 580 yards from the level of the sea. It stands very majestically, surrounded by others of great height, but less magnitude; and to travellers who, in search of a fine view, are regardless of fatigue, the prospect from the top of Snafield will be very gratifying. All who have seen it agree in opinion, that it is unparalleled, as beneath lay expanded the lesser mountains, and all around the romantic hills and vales of the whole Island, beautifully intersected with trees, waters, villages, and towns; and the surrounding ocean heightens the sublimity of the prospect, which is terminated by the majestic mountains of Scotland, England, Ireland, and Wales.
The effect produced upon the mind by such scenes as here present themselves in every direction, it is beyond the power of ordinary language to express, and such only as may be supposed to have influenced our first parents in the sublime composition of their morning hymn in the garden of Paradise:
" These are thy glorious works, Parent of
" Almighty ! thine this universal frame,
" Thus wond'rous fair; Thyself hour wond'rous then!
" Unspeakable! who sitt'st above these heav'ns
" To us invisible, or dimly seen
" In these thy lowest works; yet these declare
" Thy goodness beyond thought, and pow'r divine."
This mountain may be considered as the centre of the British dominions- in Europe. The descent, by rather a rapid declivity, leads again to the village of Laxey; and farther on towards Douglas is
where strangers, who die at Douglas, are generally interred, and to whose memory many monuments are erected.
Having now conducted the reader (as may be seen by a reference to the map) to every place of note in the Isle of Man, I shall add a few observations upon such miscellaneous subjects, connected with the Isle of Man, as may be useful or amusing, and begin with the
which is a source of so much wealth and employment to the Manks. The herrings first appear oh the Isle of Man about Midsummer, but the fishing seldom begins till about the middle of July, and then it is confined to a few places.
Towards the end of August, they shoal round the whole Island; and the fishermen ply their vocation with increased activity till the equinoctial gales commence, which usually dissipate the herrings, and intimidate their pursuers.
The boats employed in this fishery seldom exceed eight tons, and are well adapted for their destination; when new (including nets) they cost seventy or eighty guineas, and are generally held in partnership.- The produce of every night is divided on the following morning, into nine parts; two belong to the owners of the boat, one to the proprietors of the nets, and the other six to the same number of fishermen who belong to each boat. The boatmen are chiefly composed of the inhabitants of the inland places, who return to a life of indolence on the close of the season, and seen to be supremely blest if they have been able to procure enough for the maintenance of their families during the interval of the fishery: few have any ideas of accumulating wealth, and much is spent in temporary jollity.
The Manks fleet consists of near five hundred boats, besides other larger vessels. An Admiral and a Vice Admiral are annually elected; to the former of whom an allowance is made by government of £5, and to the latter £3. During the season, their province is to conduct the fleet to the herring ground; and their boats are distinguished by appropriate flags; the boats sail with the evening, and return with the morning tide. On leaving the harbour, the fishermen, throughout the fleet, with uncovered heads, invoke the blessing of Providence; and Bishop Wilson's form of prayer, for the herring fishery, is used in the churches during the season.
Under the cloud of night they shoot their nets, and many of the boats return laden with fifty or a hundred meazes of herrings, each meaze consisting of five hundred.
Among the herrings are caught get quantities of dogfish, which prey upon the former, send often are very destructive to the nets, in which they get entangled, and swallow the baits and hooks; they not only destroy herrings, but cod and other fish; and it is the opinion of Sir Joseph Banks, that the dogfish is a real small shark.
However attractive to the Manksman is the profit of the herring fishery, they are so observant of the Sunday, that they will neither put to sea on that day, nor on the Saturday night.
They have a tradition, that one Sunday evening, more than a century past, when the boats there fishing, a tremendous storm arose, accompanied with thunder and lightning, which destroyed a great part of the fleet, and that several, which took shelter in a neighbouring cove, were crushed by the fall of the impending precipice. Whether this actually happened, or is a pious fiction, it would at this time be no easy matter to ascertain.
The natives, however, consider it as an awful instance of the wrath of heaven, and are therefore deterred from subjecting themselves to a similar calamity; and though the world may be disposed to ridicule the superstition of the Manks, on this occasion, it must be acknowledged that an over-scrupulous observance of the Sunday is not one of the errors of the present times.
During the fishing season, the natives seem roused from their constitutional lethargy; they assume an air of gaiety and mirth; and, after good success, joy is heard in every corner.
The coasts of the Isle of Man abound with a variety of fine fish. The salmon frequents the bays from July to September. Cod, ring, gurnet, and most flat fish, are in great plenty, and extremely good. But herrings may be considered as the staple commodity Of the Island; they are the great support of the Manksman, and can alone rouse the dormant energy of his mind, stimulate him to industry, and enliven the whole Island.
A prodigious number of vessels from England, Scotland, and Ireland, attend the Manks fleet, and purchase many of the herrings out of them at sea, to sell fresh at their respective markets; but the greater quantity are salted for exportation.
Of this extraordinary fish, in its emigration from such distant seas, and in such prodigious numbers, it is said, that about the beginning of the year they issue forth from the remote recesses of the north, in the inaccessible seas of which (being covered with ice the greater part of the year) they find a sure and quiet retreat from their numerous enemies, for there neither man nor the larger fish dares to pursue them.
They proceed in a body surpassing description, and almost exceeding the power of imagination. Their enemies are also innumerable, especially the sea fowl, which, watching their emigration, spread ruin among them, and in this exigence the defenceless emigrants have no alternative but to crowd close together; thus affording, by their instinctive example, a most salutary lesson of wisdom to mankind, in the advantages which result from unanimity in the resistance of oppression.
The first column moves towards the west, by the coast of Newfoundland, to America; the eastern column, proceeding by the coasts of Iceland, sends off one division along the coasts of Norway, which soon divides into two, one passing by the straits of the Sound into the Baltic, and the other towards Bremen, Holstein, &c.
The larger and deeper column falls directly upon the isles of Shetland and Orkney, and passing these, divides in to twos one of which moves to the eastern side of Britain, detaching smaller shoals to the coasts of the continent, while the other passes on the western side of Great Britain, by the Isle of Man and Ireland.
The remains of this body reassemble in the channel, and, proceeding thence to the ocean, retire to their asylum in the north, where, in peace and safety, they repair the losses they have sustained; and when grown large, they set out again next season, and make the same tour.
They swim very near the surface, sometimes sinking for a few minutes; and their approach, which is anxiously looked for by the Manksman, is known by a small rippling of the water, the reflection of their brilliancy, and the sea birds which attend stem. At this period, therefore, the Gull is considered as sacred. The first boat that discovers the herrings sounds a horn as a signal to the others, and the first meaze that is taken is entitled to a bounty.
The herring is a very delicate fish; when taken out of the water it gives a faint squeak, and instantly expires; and though immediately thrown again into the water, before it can be supposed to be dead, it never recovers, from whence, probably, originated the elegant expression of "as dead as a herring"
Of the importance to the Isle of Man which the herring has ever been considered, an opinion may be formed by the singular allusion to that fish in the oath of the Deemster, " to execute the laws of the Isle betwixt party and party, as indifferently as the herring's back-bone doth lie in the middle of the fish," that his daily food, which the herring for many was, might perpetually put him in mind of the obligation he lay under to administer impartial justice.
The boat builders in the Isle of Man are uncommonly skilful in constructing their work entirely by the eye, without the use of either line or rule, except in laying the keel.
The peculiar shape which nature has given to most fishes, we endeavour to imitate in such vessels as are designed to sail with the greatest swiftness; but the progress of a machine is nothing, when compared with the rapidity of an animal designed by nature to reside in the water; as any of the larger fish overtake a ship in full sail with the greatest ease, play round it, and outstrip it at pleasure.
As the fishery, which takes place during the most important months, engages upwards of 5000 men, the getting in of the harvest falls to the women, and to the few men who prefer staying on shore. The women are expert reapers, and do many other parts of husbandry.
of the Isle of Man is the Erse, or dialect of that spoken in the Highlands of Scotland, with a mixture of some words of the Greek, Latin, and Welch, and many also of English original, to express the names of things not formerly known to the people of the Island. And the dialect with which the English language is spoken in the Island, by the natives, is so completely the Irish brogue, as to cause a strong suspicion, that the eminent services boasted of by Sir Callaghan O'Brallaghan, to have been performed by one of his ancestors, "who went from Carrickfergus one day, and peopled all Scotland with his own hands, had been extended to the Isle of Man.
The change of dialect is peculiarly striking, and indeed harmonious, to the southern traveller, who comes to the Isle of Man by the North of England, where the discordant guttural pronunciation of the lower order of the people, puts one in perpetual fear of seeing a rattle-snake leap out of their mouths; but this observation, of course, applies only to the inferior classes.
The most ancient records of the Isle of Man, subsequent to the grant of it to the Stanley family, in 1406, are the laws and ordinances commencing in 1417; and the first of these is an act passed, by the authority of commissioners appointed by the Lord of the Isle, and the twenty-four Keys*, to prevent an abuse of the places of refuge, at that time afforded to criminals by some Ecclesiastics of the Island.
The Manks statute book commences in 1422, and contains " a collecttion of divers ordinances, statutes, and customs, presented, reputed, and used for laws in the Island."
* So called, according to Bishop Wilson,from unlocking, as it were, the mysteries of the law.
In 1450 a House of Keys was elected, but soon after they elected themselves. On a vacancy, the House presents two names to the Governor,who chooses one; and the person elected then takes the dath and his seat, which is for life, unless he resigns, is expelled, or accepts an office that entitles him to a seat in the council. The qualifications are, to be of age, and to possess freehold property. Non-residence is no disqualification. They elect a Speaker, who is to be approved by the Governor; and he holds the office for life, without emolument.
The Keys appear to have been always jealous of their right. They have uniformly, with great spirit, opposed every thing that they conceived militated against them in Parliament. The people look up to them as the guardians of their property and rights;- and it does not appear that they have ever forfeited the confidence placed in them.
One remarkable circumstance redounds much to their honor. So uncertain was the state of property, that, in 1643, from the fraud of a Deemster, the people were prevailed upon to surrender their estates, under the idea that they held merely as tenants at will. The Deemster and Lord's officers led the way, gave up their estates to the benefit of the Lord, and accepted leases for lives of their own estates of inheritance. The people followed their example; and the Deemster had no sooner carried this point for the advantage of the Lord, than he obtained a restoration of his own estate by an act of Tynwald; and the people found themselves deceived.
The Keys continued to act with firmness upon this occasion, till the act of settlement was obtained, which did away these proceedings, and restored the violated tenures.
From the time the Scots first conquered the Island to the accession of the Stanley family, was one hundred and fifty years, during which period it was five times conquered by the Scots and English; and by these revolutions the ancient regal government was sometimes laid aside, and a military and arbitrary government substituted, as is frequently the case with conquered nations, of which too many instances unhappily exist at the present moment on the continent of Europe, to make any particular mention of them necessary
And during the whole time that the Stanley family were Sovereigns of the Isle of Man, till the reign of James I, they were obliged to keep a constant standing army and numerous garrisons, in consequence of the frequent attempts made by the Scots to enforce their claims to the Island.
But the last great change which took place was the
The causes which gave rise to the necessity for that measure, the groundless fears, as to its effects, which it occasioned in the minds of the natives, as well as the benefits which have resulted from it, I will endeavour to detail as clearly and as briefly as the information that I have collected will admit of.
During the civil wars in England, several persons of fortune sought an asylum in the Isle of Man, and introduced a considerable flow of money, beyond the usual circulation. Previous to that period the trade was chiefly confined to an exchange of commodities, and this was conducted in the most simple manner.
To prevent monopolies, four merchants were annually elected by the people to purchase foreign merchandize for the whole Island. These merchants, upon the arrival of any vessel with necessary imports, appeared with the owner of the cargo be fore the Governor of the Island; and the value of each article being ascertained, the country cheerfully acceded to the agreement. The articles given in return were the native produce of the Island; but if that was inadequate, a general money assessment was laid upon the inhabitants.
This primitive mode of commerce gradually gave way to more enlarged notions, and a more general diffusion of that encreased quantity of specie, which had been brought into the Island from the circumstance before stated.
The encrease of the customs, together with the establishment of the excise in the neighbouring Kingdoms, rendered the Isle of Man, from that time, an important mart for those luxuries which, in Britain, were loaded with heavy imposts. On their importation they paid only a very trifling duty to the Lord of the Island; yet such immense quantities were in a short time admitted, that they produced, previous to the sale of the royalties, a very large revenue.
Merchants from various countries established themselves in every town in the Isle of Man, and the natives entered deeply into trade with various hordes of smugglers; for though unlimited importation was allowed, yet the re-exportation of the commodities was contrary to law, which was, however, continually evaded.
Individuals were enriched by this illicit trade, but the community was injured; for the great mass of the people, intent on casual advantages, neglected agriculture and the fisheries.
The revenue of Britain was most materially affected by this contraband trade; and, in 1726, an act was passed in the British Parliament, to sanction the purchase of the Isle of Man; but, from a variety of causes, this desirable event did not take place till 1765. The Duke of Athol then agreed, for a sum of 70,0001. and some annuities, to the re-investment of all the royalties in the Crown of Great Britain.
The sale of the Island spread an universal panic. Commerce ceased, and every countenance indicated fear and dismay. The merchants, rashly supposing that the treasures in their warehouses would all be confiscated, sold them greatly below their original value, and retired from the spot: while many of the possessors of landed property, influenced by an unreasonable dread of they did not know what, sold their estates to any purchaser.
Some individuals, of greater judgment and penetration, availed themselves of the public alarm, and secured considerable fortunes. But, though the sale of the Island was thus injurious to many in its immediate consequence, a short time convinced them, that, what they dreaded would be their ruin, turned out to produce a very contrary effect.
They lost, it is true, a certain species of commerce of no advantage to the Island in general, as but few, in comparison, were enriched by it, while it was secretly undermining them, as it introduced a spirit of idleness and dissipation; and from the easy acquisition of spirituous liquors and other foreign luxuries, was tending fast to enervate the minds, corrupt the morals, and destroy the constitutions of the common people the gains so lightly acquired being for the most part as lightly got rid of
From political ballads relating to any period or event, the prevailing sentiments of the people may generally be ascertained; and drunkenness was then, with the lower class so common a habit, that it may easily be imagined the following lines of popular song of that time, were very feelingly sung:
"For the babes unborn will rue the day,
"That the Isle of Man was sold away;
"For there's ne'er an old wife that loves a dram
" But what will lament for the Isle of Man."
The constitution was not changed, though the government was. The revenue department was then separated from the civil establishment, and a custom-house was erected in his Majesty's name at all the principal ports.
Since this establishment, the importation of foreign luxuries has been limited, and the imposts, though still comparatively very small, encreased. The duties are various, according to the articles on which they are imposed; but they are yet so low as to astonish a native of Great Britain, and an excise is still unknown in the Isle of Man.
The imposts are paid on landing, and the goods are then free from all farther inspection; unless an attempt is made at clandestine exportation.
When it is considered how many advantages would attend striking out new channels for the employment of the Manks people, both for capital and hands, it is surprising that the spirit of enterprise has lain so long dormant!
The land is exempt from taxation, the necessaries and comforts of life are abundant, and the country would supply several manufacturing materials; while, for the greater part of the produce of the land, and many of the manufactures, there would be an immediate demand at home, and for the residue an easy conveyance to various markets abroad. It appears, however, that the Manksman, satisfied with pursuing the fisheries with tolerable activity, reposes in indolence the greater part of the year. And if ever manufactories should be carried to any perfection in the Isle of Man, they must be began by adventurers from other quarters, who, pursuing their own immediate interest, would eventually add to the prosperity and opulence of the Island.
The inhabitants of the towns, how. ever, are not so under the influence of the spirit of indolence, as those who reside in the retired parts of the Island. Living in a more enlarged circle of society, they are called upon to the discharge of more numerous duties; and therefore, more active from necessity, they become more cheerful and enlightened.
Many of the higher classes possess polished manners, liberal minds, and real hospitality; and if there should be some among them, (as there is no large society without a mixture of character) who, having amassed wealth, are haughty and illiberal, but which I cannot from my own experience say to be the case, it is a resection that will by no means exclusively apply to the Manks; for the purse proud and the ignorant are pretty plentifully scattered over the whole surface of the civilized world.
In the favourable impressions made upon my mind of the character of the Manks, and their claims to esteem and respect, I am supported by that most authentic of biographical authorities, Camden, who says, of the in habitants of the Isle of Man, that,
" they are an orderly civilised people, very courteous to strangers; and if they have been otherwise represented, it has been by those who knew them not; or perhaps it is, because they have sense to see when strangers, who are too apt to have a mean opinion of them, would go about to impose upon them."