[From Manx Recollections, 1894]
ELEANOR ELLIOTT was the elder daughter of William Weatherell, Esq., and Eleanor, his wife. Mrs. Weatherell's maiden name was Lawrence. The Weatherells are an English north county family. They came originally from Durham. Their name, until a comparatively recent date, was spelt Wetherell. The noted Sir Charles Wetherell was a member of the family. He was a son of the Dean of Hereford and learned Master of University College, Oxford, for more than half a century. Sir Charles was born in 1770 and died in 1846. He was an eminent barrister, being the wellknown Solicitor-General of the time, and famous opponent of the Emancipation Bill. To use the words of a descendant of his, " He determined to have nothing to do with the scarlet Individual, whose seat is on the seven hills! "
The Weatherells past and present appear to partake more or less of the strictly Protestant character of their relation, Sir Charles.
Eleanor Weatherell (afterwards Elliott) was born in 1813 at Salford. When she was three years old, and her sister a year, Mr. and Mrs. Weatherell came with their children to live at Douglas, in the Isle of Man. Mrs. Weatherell had lived there with her parents before her marriage.
Douglas was then a primitive town, with probably less than a quarter of its present population, which at its average rate is something like 20,000, and in summer as much at times as 50,000. In appearance it has also so altered as to be scarcely recognisable with what it was then. There was the old Red Pier with its lighthouse (then New, having been completed in 1800), but there were none of the other piers, harbours, and promenades that adorn the place at the present day.
No line of fine steamboats was at that period connected with the island; the only vessels that touched upon its shores with merchandise and occasional passengers were small coasting schooners. Visitors to Mona had consequently a very uncertain kind of access to its remote attractions, the passage from Liverpool, according to weather, being more like a matter of weeks, perhaps, than as now, of hours. It has been stated by old inhabitants that it not Infrequently happened that the Post Office official was suddenly summoned out of church during the Sunday service to be in readiness to receive the mails, a vessel with the anticipated cargo having been sighted on its way to the island.
We may here add, that the Postmaster-General of the island about this period was a member of the fair sex, a Miss Grave, or de Grave-as she alleged was the correct derivation. This dame was by no means an authority to trifle with. She was cognisant, or said to be, with almost all the "whos" and the " whets " of the insular populace; and it was a very mistaken proceeding to cross the magnate's good opinion, as it soon became transfigured into a sentiment of a very reverse nature, and laid the offender's reputation open to severe and retributive attack. She maintained a wholesome discipline in Post Office Lane, where was situated her abode and office of business. She had a brother, Peter, an estimable and mild individual, who occupied the position of a subordinate clerk to his official relation, and over whom the official right was swayed with authoritative rigour. Miss Grave died some fourteen years ago at an advanced age, the deep depositary of insular family history, a strict Calvinist, and a severe disciplinarian to the last. The demise of this lady and her gentle worthy brother benefited the island charities by a few timely legacies. The Spinsters' Home in Clark St., Douglas, owes its existence to the benevolence of Miss Grave, a useful institution for the housing of eight indigent unmarried women.
What Douglas lacked in primitive times in convenience and man's device, it gained in interest and the picturesque. The fine sweep of the beautiful bay was uninterrupted by breakwaters, iron piers, ant artificial contrivances of many kinds to attract the ordinary pleasure-seeker at the expense of the lover of nature; and on either hand the bold promontories of Onchan Head and Douglas Head extended their arms and enclosed seemingly in a jealous embrace the blue expanse of ocean and the quiet insular town set in its background of distant undulating hills, and, nearer, many tinted fields and brilliant foliage. Amid the watery enclosure, sleeping in siren-like beauty, a concealed peril, lay Conister or St. Mary's Isle; and unimpeded over it swept the ocean waves, and at night, with no beacon tower as now, the unwary mariner too often found himself stranded in distress on its hidden rocks, his ship and himself hopelessly doomed to destruction.
But Douglas then, if its population was small in comparison to that of to-day, made up in some respects in quality for what it lacked in quantity. Then, or at least a few years later, was the fair island town the haunt and home of many of the younger scions of noble families, of the gentleman of good old lineage but impoverished fortune, of numerous retired military and naval officers, and of the dilettante in search of literary and artistic quiet. If, as it often happened, the ruined scapegrace of gentle blood and blighted fame thought that, along with immunity*1 from his creditors' claims, here he could hide his head, and assume an incognito, and none be any the wiser, he soon found that had he chosen a big thoroughfare of the city of London it would have been nearer his purpose, for in Douglas everybody knew everybody; and society there was as select as exacting self-respect and human pride could make it. It was no easy matter for the unknown, or the dubious, to gain an entrance into the privileged circles of social life in Douglas and its neighbourhood in those days. It needed a very clear parchment of evidence as regarded the antecedents and recommendations of the applicant. Gentle blood and an old name were a great deal, but not all, that was required; the wild " ne'er-doweel " found no quarter amongst the elite of Man. Would he make sure of a resting-place for the sole of his foot, he had need to fly to the retired glens and hills and remote villages of the beautiful isle.
In 1820, or thereabout, a miniature court might be said to have been held in Douglas, and the Duke of Athol the representative of Majesty; indeed he was styled " king in," and was virtually sovereign of Man. His residence was Castle Mona, a truly regal structure, and situated amidst lovely grounds on the crescent of the bay. The Duke entertained considerably, giving periodical dinners and balls to the gentry, chiefly military and naval officers and their families, especially after the wars of Wellington, when there was a great addition to the influx of military, who settled in Mona for economy, and for the pleasure of each other's society. Wealth was at a discount, and society was so exclusive, that any one ever so remotely connected with trade aspired in vain to gain an entry into the privileged sets
Sedan chairs at this period were of not uncommon use by ladies of consequence, who were conveyed in them by elegantly bedizened bearers in livery with knee-breeches, when their dameships went to church, or on their rounds of calls.
From 1736 to 1765 the whole island was the property of the Dukes of Athol; previous to that it had been owned be the Earls of Derby and others. In 1765 the reigning Duke of Athol ceded the revenue of the island to the British Government for £70,000, retaining, certain rights.
In 1825 the island was unreservedly given up to the Crown, the Duke agreeing to receive from the Lords of the Treasury, in lieu of his remaining interest in the insular estate, £4I6,lr4. Home rule, however, was never abolished, and the island to this day has its own government and laws, the civil government being vested in the Lieutenant-Governor and House of Keys. "The Council, which is the upper branch of the Legislature, awl corresponds to the British House of Lords, consists of the Bishop, the Clerk of the Rolls, the Water-Bailiff, the Archdeacon, and the Vicar-General. The Mouse of Keys, which answers to the British House of Commons, consists of twenty four members, who are now (since 1867) chosen by the votes of the electors of the island."
In 1830 a small steam-packet company was formed, and once a week a steamer crossed between Liverpool and Douglas. The means of reaching the island thus facilitated, Douglas eventually became a yearly attraction to the inhabitants on the mainland, especially to those of the northern counties.
What a refreshment to the busy citizen and toil-worn mechanic of the English manufacturing districts in past days as now to visit the beauties of this tranquil isle, this gem of the sea, with its splendid coast scenery, its mistcapped hills, verdant vales, and innumerable streams, and all its loveliness enhanced by the interest attached to its ancient laws and primitive customs, its legendary and romantic lore, its old castles with their exciting stories of days gone by, its fairy bridges and weird haunts rife with superstitions infinite, its quaint cosy-looking cottages with their great open fire-places and peat furnaces. Yes, the island was a world of wonder and of charm for the health-seeker and solace-seeker, as well as for the novelist and poet, the dreamer and student of divers colours and degrees.
When the Weatherells came to Douglas to make it their home they took a house on the South Quay. The South Quay in those days was a quiet but quite fashionable locality; now it is completely out of date and its character altered. The Weatherells had, we believe, but at a somewhat later period, amongst their neighbours a certain mysterious Manx official who shall be nameless, Major and Mrs. Tallan and their family of five daughters, and a Captain and Mrs. Jones.
Captain Jones was a very eccentric gentleman He was usually styled " Count," on account of his haughty reserved bearing. He kept his little wife, who was a great beauty and naturally lively and sociable, in an habitual state of fear and trembling-and everybody else of his acquaintance at arm's length. He made, however, an exception of Mrs. Weatherell, whom he styled "a sensible woman," and to whom he would occasionally stop to speak. The regiment to which Captain Jones belonged had been engaged in active service in Canada, and he had fought at the battle of Williamsburgh in Upper Canada, where he was severely wounded, and now suffered mentally as well as physically from the effects of his wounds. He was a brave officer and a kind master. He still retained Charles, his servant, who had fought beside him, and had restored his life when he lay for dead on the battlefield. It may here be mentioned that poor Charles, though he never showed the " white feather " in the hottest engagement, died in Douglas of cholera in 1832, which he had caught from the sheer dread of catching it.
Major Tallan had also served in Canada. As for the mysterious Manx official, the first-mentiond neighbour of the Weatherells, it was supposed that he had in some way or other been identified with a murder that had taken place at the Brown Bobby on the Peel Road, but had escaped detection and evaded the law. The story ran that at night he could not rest, and was seen by Mrs. Jones and other neighbours pacing up and down till nearly early morning, in restless disquietude of mind, the garden at the back of his house. The Brown Bobby, where the terrible deed took place, and the incidents of which had never been satisfactorily cleared up, was considered in those days, and perhaps is so still, a haunted spot. Mrs. Jones has been heard to say, that at night her servant Charles never attempted to drive her past that place without the horse becoming restive, and the conveyance in danger of an upset.*2
The surroundings of the South Quay at the present day are, to a certain extent, what they were then. There is the outlook on to the upper harbour, generally full of ships and red-funnelled steamboats-minus these, however, as early as 1816-30; the rushing waters of the united streams, the Dhu and the Glas, crossed with the bow-bridge; and, away opposite, the North Quay, with its busy stream of life, vehicles and equipages of different kinds; to the left, in perspective, the hill ascending to Athol Street on one side, and diverging to the Peel Road on the other; to the right, a view of the market-place and St. Matthew's*3 ancient chapel; and, further along, the Red and Old Landing piers. This part of Douglas, whilst retaining much of its primitive features, has considerably the appearance of a foreign town, so broken is it in outline, so varied in feature, and so rich and profuse in colouring.
To the left of the houses then occupied by the Weatherells and the other families mentioned, is the beginning of the old Castletown Road. A most picturesque bit of road it is now, but how much more must it have been so then, when no modern terraces stole from the background of grassy hills, spangled in the spring-time with myriads of primroses and golden celandine; when, at intervals, trees in patches of woodland decked the emerald bank; and when, further on the row of primitive white houses that, even at the present day, form such a sweet picture were the only dwellings on this part of the road, and stood out in solitary beauty from their charming setting of tall trees and brilliant green sward, commanding in front of them a ravishing view of river, meadow, and varied foliage. A few paces further on there is now, as perhaps then, the old mill with its whirr-whirr of wheel and water, and from it, within a stone's throw, the first entrance lodge to the romantic grounds of the Nunnery. The Nunnery House was, in 1816, the residence and property of Colonel Taubman, grandfather of the present proprietor, Major John Senhouse Goldie Taubman.
The handsome monument to be seen to the left of the path soon after entering the grounds is, of course, a compare lively recent structure. It was erected in 1854 in memory of Brigadier-General Thomas Leigh Ctoldie, of the Nunnery, Lieut.-Colonel of Her Majesty's 57th Regiment, who fell at the battle of Inkerman. Surely nothing could have exceeded the witching beauty of the Nunnery groves of those days. Modern alterations have destroyed much of the character of past interest, but then nature had in a great measure her own way; the trees grew luxuriant, and in some parts so thick that in broad noon it was shadow there. With what stories were these groves rife! How terrible to walk amid their gloom when the moon shone pale through the canopy of interlacing boughs; what visionary shades were, it was said, seen to sit athwart the semi-darkness-nuns of former days, unhappy spirits who returned to haunt the scenes of their earthly woes; what sounds arrested the ear-the sighs and moans of sorrow or the requiem of the passing bell! It was with palpitating fear the timorous Manxman in 1816 wended his nightly way through the Ntmnery walks. Even the inmates of the ivy-clad mansion occupying the site of the ancient Nunnery narrated that they had at times heard a mysterious carriage and horses drive up to the front doorway and ghostly visitors alight, and then suddenly all become silent and no one to be seen. The original building of the Nunnery is said to have been erected in the fifth century, and to have been founded by St. Bridget, who lies buried in the precincts. It was an offshoot of Furness Abbey in Cumberland.
As to the remains of the once beautiful Nunnery Chapel, renowned for the richness of its architecture and strength of construction, scarcely anything survives the ravages of time, and the injuries offered the sacred lane by the enemies and despoilers of ecclesiastical power and authority, but the eastern gable of the sanctuary, surmounted by the hoary convent-bell, now mute with the history of ages.
Restoration has erected a modern chapel on the site of the old, but in the days of which we write the poet and the artist could with untrammelled fancy contemplate in picturesque and ruined decay the pathetic memorial of a renowned and formidable past.
He who to Mona e'er hath been,
And joyed in each romantic scene,
In fancy oft reviews those shades
Sacred of yore to cloistered maids;
Where once they paced in reverend awe,
Communing of monastic law;
Or where at foot of time-worn cross
They pensive mused on couch of moss,
And told their beads when jocund lay
Of soaring lark hailed forth the day;
And where at eve when complines meet
The refrain stole of anthems sweet;
And insect's hum and whispering breeze,
Soft dropping dews and rustling leaves,
And faint sheep-bell and purling stream,
Responded to the hallowed theme.
Such is a brief outline of the fair features of Douglas eighty years ago, such an idea of its personality, those habits and sentiments under which Eleanor Elliott was early trained, and which tended to form and colour her character and life as she grew from childhood to womanhood.
*1 At this date the law had not been repealed which enabled a person who had contracted debts in Great Britain and Ireland to be freed from their payment in Manxland.
*2 Mrs. Jones died in 1875, aged 85.
*3 Built by Bishop Wilson-the famous prelate of Man author of Sacra Privata, &c.-in 1708. . It is the most ancient church in Douglas.