[From High Bailiff Laughton's Recollections, 1911]


A Libel Action – The Sequel.

At the next meeting of the Keys, that letter was read before the House by the late Mr. William Callister, of Thornhill, who described the attack upon one of its members as a contempt of the House, which he thought should take steps to "preserve its dignity." Mr. Dumbell, upon this, interposed, stating that he hoped that the House would not notice the vile attack, as he intended to institute proceedings to vindicate himself. Of course this meant business, and very soon a criminal prosecution was commenced by Dumbell against Robert Fargher, the proprietor of the " Herald," for the alleged libel signed " Northside Pen." Mr. Craigie:, Mr. James Gell (afterwards Sir James), and Mr. Adams were retained for Dumbell, and upon the urgent advice of the Chairman of the Ramsey Harbour Committee, Mr. Ogden (then Attorney-General), Mr. T. C. Callow, Mr. L. W. Adamson, and I for the defence.

The case lasted a month or two in its various stages of successful challenges to the Jury Panel, adjournments, etc., etc. Of course there was meanwhile great excitement as to the identity of the author, the names of several persons, including my own, being freely mentioned.

During this period, Mr. Sharpe, a gentleman residing in Ramsey, gave a dinner-party, and amongst other guests was a Mr. Mottram, an English solicitor, brother of the Q.C. of that ilk. The question of the identity of the unknown writer coming on the tapis, one of the gentleman, present – I think the Rev. W. Kermode, in a laudatory speech, said that whoever he might be, he proposed his health, and stated that the thanks of Ramsey were due to him. The toast was drunk with enthusiasm; whereupon up rose Mr. Mottram, and said " that whilst of course he could not make any absolute admission as to the authorship, lest criminal proceedings might be commenced against him, yet he was in a position to return his very sincere acknowledgments for the kind way in which the toast had been dnink" The writer's name, which has never been publicly divulged, was known to several in the room, and was certainly not Mottram. He, however, acquired considerable temporary celebrity of one kind and another by reason of his extraordinary speech.

The trial at last came to an issue. Fargher was found guilty, and sentenced to twenty-four hours' imprisonment) and to pay a fine of £50 and costs. He went to gaol, where, during his imprisonment, he was visited by crowds of sympathising friends. The £50 was at once subscribed and paid, and he had a triumphant return to his native town, and never appeared one penny the worse.


The Scapegoat.

A remarkable phase of this long struggle was the conduct of the Ramsey Harbour Committee during the trial. It shortly became a matter of gossip that " Northside Pen" was one of its members. The Chairman became Nervous, a meeting of the committee was called, and it was resolved that a notice should be inserted in the Insular newspapers entirely disowning the author, whoever he might be, and disapproving of the letter, and stating 'further that the committee had no connection with or knowledge of the writer. The author might have stated the actual facts of the case, but I suppose he preferred silently to bear the brunt himself. The Chairman of the committee knew what he knew, and yet said what he said ! The author, a young man, and not well off, was permitted to pay the whole of the costs; whilst the Chairman, a wealthy man, with a large practice, did not consider it incumbent upon him to pay one penny of the exceedingly heavy bill of costs.

(Note.–It was long suspected, but never acknowledged publicly that Mr. Laughton was the writer of letters written under the name of " Northside Pen," but this may be stated now as a fact.–F. A. L.)


A Dinner In the Olden Days.

I was at this time quite a Junior at the Bar, and naturally looked up to the Attorney-General with great respect. He was a splendid looking man, quite old enough to be my Father, and had been Attorney-General of Canada at the time of the Revolution. His voice was shrill, but his style of advocacy was my admiration; combining as it did great dignity with a stirring trumpet-like tone.

During this trial he was very courteous in his bearing to me, and one day, after we had been engaged in court, he was polite enough to invite me to dine with him that evening. He had left Kirby at that time, and resided in Liverpool, having been appointed Registrar of Deeds for that City, whilst he continued to be Attorney-General of the Isle of Man. When in Douglas, he had private rooms at Hill's Royal Hotel, at which place I duly arrived at eight o'clock. Shall I ever forget that dinner? The Attorney-General had lived in Canada, in the days when people were not in the habit of merely " getting a bit of dinner "; No, they really dined, and they drank as well as ate. Mr. Ogden was a fascinating and genial host, and he certainly was most profuse in his hospitalities upon this occasion. After going through all the various courses, each with its special wine, the cloth was removed, and some fine old crusted port was placed on the table. I asked to be excused participating in the bottle, upon the plea of having already had enough, which plea was summarily over-ruled; my glass filled; and the consumption of the first bottle steadily proceeded. The Attorney-General made some congratulatory allusions to my speeches in the case, and I endeavoured to look modest and make suitable replies; and so the time passed – and the wine! I cannot be sure how many further relays were subsequently introduced. I only recollect that when I met Mr. Ogden the succeeding day he looked very quizzically at me and tenderly enquired how that last bottle had agreed with me?

[note there were two chapter IX's - probably a printers error]


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 1999