[From High Bailiff Laughton's Recollections, 1911]
Prior to my admission to the profession, and in expectation thereof, I had ordered an elaborate desk, secured two rooms in Duke Street, next door to Mylrea. and Allen's booksellers' shop, provided suitable furniture ordered my name" Alfred N. Laughton,Advocate "to be painted on the side pillars of the door, and finally acquired a small clerk to sit on a high stool in the outer office, and put down the names of all clients who might call when I happened to be in Court or elsewhere. For the first two weeks I was not visited by a single client. The friends and companions of my student days came in abundance, but they were " unprofitable servants"; moreover they did not impart to my surroundings a business-like appearance, and: therefore I altogether discouraged their attentions.
At last my patience and self-denial were rewarded. I actually got a client. The case certainly was not likely to lead to fame, but, at any rate, it was a genuine one, and that was something.
My client had not an inviting appearance, and I did not even know his name. He called himself Pat Looney, and he wished me to " bring a suit" in the High-Bailiff's Court, for the substantial sum of thirteen shillings and two pence, against one Bridget O'Rafferty, for work and labour done, and goods supplied.
Accordingly I took the necessary steps, and the! case in due course came on for hearing. On the day of hearing, Saturday morning, I attended the Court. my small Clerk solemnly carrying my books in the orthodox blue bag of those days, close behind me. Never before had an advocate with so small a case been followed to Court with so large a bag carried by so diminutive a clerk; but it was my first, my one and only case.
Upon arrival at the Court House, then situated on the Red Pier, I found my friend Adams seated at the lawyers' table, with several law books in front of him. I speedily ascertained that he was to conduct the case of Bridget O'Rafferty, in opposition to my client, and I felt rather nervous, for he having been admitted to the Bar some two years prior to me, had already made considerable progress in the profession.
The case was eventually called on. I began by calling my witnesses. In order that my readers may fully take in the situation, they must remember that his Worship High-Bailiff Quirk was an exceedingly fat and heavy man, and of stentorous breathing. I should say that his fighting weight must have been something over twenty stone, and he was in the habit of taking a short nap during the hearing of each case.
On Saturday he held two Courts, one at 10 a.m. in which small debt cases came before him; in the second, as soon as the Debt Court was over, he sat as a Magistrate, to inflict fines for assault, provoking language, breaches of the peace, and such like.
The great debt case of " Looney v. O'Rafferty " proceeded. The witnesses on both side had been examined and cross-examined, and my legal argument was in mid career when his Worship slowly opened his eyes, glanced suspiciously around to see if anyone had noticed his somnolence, pulled out his watch, and observing that a considerable time had elapsed since he was last awake, asked, " What case is on? "
"Looney v. O'Rafferty," your Worship," I replied.
" Who's for the Plaintiff? "
" I am, sir," I observed.
" Who's for the Defendant? "
" I, your Worship," said Adams, getting very red in the face.
Then the worthy Judge, with an irate expression of fate exclaimed, " I wish I could fine you both."
We hastened respectfully to inform him that it was not a case for the infliction of a fine, but for the recovery of a debt.
His Worship at this looked rather puzzled; he, however, rose to the occasion and told us " that we had wasted a great deal of time" (which was certainly true), " and that the case stood adjourned to the following Saturday !! "
Thus ended my first appearance in Court. My client, disgusted with me for not having succeeded in obtaining peremptory judgment for his " thirteen and twopence," withdrew the case, never paid me a fee, and I had reason to believe he and the fair Bridget very appropriately settled their differences in the " Pig and Whistle."
About this period, Call, who had been practising in Ramsey, and had been appointed Clerk to the Ecclesiastical Court, married one of the daughters of the late Mr. Whitty, of Liverpool, and by that means, acquiring some influence in high quarters in Melbourne, Australia, left the Isle of Man. I went to take his practice in Ramsey, where at that time F. B. Clucas, Fred. LaMothe (the elder), Robert J. Kelly, Thomas Arthur Corlett, and Daniel Flemmg Wilson were the practising advocates, and Mr. Tellett was the High-Bailiff.
Mr. Daniel Wilson, or " Dan " as we always called him, was a very pleasant, genial fellow, and a favourite with every one. He was, however, abnormally quicktempered. The attack would come on and pass over in the space of three seconds, and he would retain afterwards not an atom of bad feeling. One one occasion, my friend George Price, the Collector of Customs, came into the Court with several congenial spirits, to see what was going on. He whispered to me " Put Dan in a rage," by which he meant that I was to draw Mr. Wilson out. As luck would have it, the case then before the Court was just concluded, and the next was called wherein Dan appeared for the Plaintiff and I for the Defence. In the blandest of tones I requested to know " what was the nature of the claim ?," to which he replied with equal blandness, " that it was for £20, the amount of a Promissory Note, with interest until paid." Whereupon I rejoined, " Well, Mr. Wilson, I think at all events you might keep your temper." This perfectly outrageous observation on my part took my quick-tempered adversary completely aback; his face flushed to the roots of his hair; he stammered and stuttered to make a fitting reply, but, failing to become articulate, at last he appealed to the Court for protection, amid the scarce stiffled sniggers of Price and his friends.
I certainly had faithfully carried out my instructions " to put Dan in a rage."
A very exciting law case came on to be heard whilst I lived in Ramsey. It arose out of a claim upon the Insular Government made by Ramsey for an expenditure out of the surplus revenue upon her harbour works. In those days there were rivalries between the towns, especially on the part of Ramsey as against Douglas.
We considered that Douglas was appropriating to herself more than her fair share of the general Revenue, and that Ramsey was neglected. The Isle of Man Harbour Board had recently recommended that another portion of the Revenue should be expended upon the harbour works at Douglas, and what we thought the equitable claims of Ramsey had been, if not overlooked, at all events postponed to an almost indefinite future.
A public meeting of indignant Ramseyites was therefore summoned by order of the High-Bailiff, according to ancient custom, to be held in the Court House. The room was crammed; Fred. Clucas, the Rev. W. Kermode, Joseph Mawby (the Manager of the Bank of Mona), the Rev. W. B. Christian, Messrs. Robert J. Kelly, D. F. Wilson, myself, and other citizens of Ramsey being amongst those present.
A Committee, styled the " Ramsey Harbour Committee" was appointed to look sharply after the rights of the town; resolutions were passed stigmatising the conduct of the Isle of Man Harbour Board and the House of Keys, who had backed them up, as unfair, despotic, and unjust, etc., etc. These resolutions when published in the Insular newspapers, created considerable sensation in the Island, and shortly afterwards in the House of Keys, our conduct at the public meeting was criticised severely. Mr. George W. Dumbell, then one of the leaders of the House, denounced us in no measured terms, affirming that we had exercised a " pernicious influence" upon the Island, by our interference about things with which we had no concern, etc.
These fiery words aroused us to fury. Ramsey had no one to represent her interests in the Keys, for in those halcyon times there was no such principle known in the Island as popular representation.
The custom was, that upon a vacancy occurring in the Keys, the remaining members selected two persons having the qualification of £100 a year in landed property whom they considered suitable, and presented them to the Governor, who made his choice between the two, thereupon the favoured one " ipso facto " became the member to fill up the vacancy.
Consequently the only mode by which we could combat our opponents in the Legislature was by the use of the pen. One of the Committee undertook the defence, and, under the title of " A Northside Pen," wrote a series of letters addressed to the " Mona's Herald," which newspaper is still in existence. In the first of these letters a rather severe attack was concentrated upon Mr. G. W. Dumbell, in reply to his observations in the House of Keys; it being somewhat sarcastically asked " whether he or the members of the Ramsey Harbour Committee had exercised the more pernicious influence upon the Isle of Man?" and it was more than insinuated that he would in that respect, to use a slang phrase, " take the cake."
The publication of these letters created a furore of excitement. It was a matter of surprise to many Douglas people that " stones from Heaven" were not precipitated Upon the head of the writer. Others, " willing to wound, but afraid to strike" privately chuckled at the strokes delivered by " Northside Pen." For instance. the writer of the lettersa very young mansubmitted the draught of the particular letter which was made the subject of the subsequent libel prosecution, to an elderly and experienced lawyer the Chairman of the Ramsey Harbour Committee, for his criticism. After a few alterations he entirely approved of it, and with his full sanction it was sent to the Press, but with many cautious winks and nods from that gentleman not to let the name of the author or adviser transpire.