[From High Bailiff Laughton's Recollections, 1911]


A Case of Bigotry.

The morning after my arrival at home I was waited on by a gentleman dressed in high canonicals, who introduced himself as Dr. Errington, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Trebizond, and he very succinctly informed me of the object of his visit.

It appeared that several months before, a poor Irish girl had been left in a destitute and altogether distressful condition by her parents, who were: Roman Catholics, but drunken and immoral in their habits. Some of her neighbours had managed to get her into the House of Industry, which was a sort of Poor House, supported by voluntary contributions, for all sects. The parents were ignorant people, of the labouring class, and, imagining that they would have a bad chance of obtaining admission for her, if she were known to be a Catholic, they entered her in the books of the House as a Protestant. Of course, therefore, she was obliged, according to the rules of the establishment, to attend the Protestant religious services. This she regularly did. At length she became very ill, and her friends when visiting her, asked if she would not like to see a priest, to which she readily assented. One was sent for, but the Superintendent refused to admit him, saying that the girl had been admitted as a Protestant. The object of Dr. Errington's visit was to consult me as to what steps should be taken in order that the dying girl might receive from the priest Extreme Unction, according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. By my advice, an application was made to the late Rev. Joseph Henry Gray, then the incumbent of St. Barnabas, as Chairman of the Committee, and the true state of things was made known to him; but permission was peremptorily refused.

Upon being further consulted, and informed that the girl's life was fast ebbing away, I advised that the only course now to take, though a very painful one, was for some person, with the authority of the parents, or of one of them, to remove the poor dying girl from the Institution. This was done, and on a wet and stormy day she was carried in her father's arms, to a lodging in the town where she received the last rites of the Church, and died within two days.

This case created very considerable excitement, and was the cause of a very bitter struggle between Dr. Errington, as representing the Roman Catholics, for whom I acted, and a certain somewhat intolerant section of the then Committee of the House of Industry.

The Committee were at length compelled, by the force of public opinion, to make an alteration in one of their rules, but they did it in such a way that they could, by a process of Jesuitical reasoning make it appear that no change of the kind had been required.

Thank God, that the wretched narrowness of that period has passed away, and that the House of Industry has long since been, and I hope ever will be, a model institution of which the whole island may be proud.

In consequence of this case, I formed a friendship with the Archbishop, who was one of the most deeply read Theologians which the Church of Rome then possessed. Many a stiff theological debate we had together but, as is the usual result of such disputations, he failed to convert me, and I am pretty sure that I also failed to convert him. We agreed to differ, and finally parted exceedingly good friends.

Father Gavezzi.

There was another conspicuous man whose close acquaintanceship I also made about this period, and I introduce him here because he had been, although I am not sure that he was at the time a Roman Catholic Priest–Father Gavazzi. He paid me a short visit, and during that period he delivered several addresses both in Douglas and Ramsey, strongly denouncing Pope Pius the Ninth, and the alleged corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church. I never heard so eloquent a speaker. He had evidently studied the art which Demosthenes, in olden days, had laid down as the essence of oratory, viz., delivery. His eyes, expression of face, motion of arms, attitude of body, as well as tone of voice. were all brought into one concentrated action and sympathy. Did the voice express withering irony ?–so did the flash of the eye, the curl of the lip, the position of the arms, and the turn of the hands. Did he, with full torrent force denounce in a perfect thunder of passion, some alleged grave outrage ?–his whole body trembled. The effect was simply overwhelming. again, when he wished to describe the serene sweetness and beauty of some divine sentiment, his voice became as the gentle notes of a silver flute, and every action of his body seemed to be subdued to its influence.

One of his attitudes was particularly striking. He usually addressed his audience, enrobed in a flowing black gown, emblazoned in the front with a large cross. When he dwelt, as he often did, upon the beautiful life of Christ, with its many noble acts of self-sacrifice, love, mercy and charity, he would spread wide his arms, exposing to full view the entire cross, but when he proceeded to describe the desecration of that cross by the alleged cruelties, idolatries, corruptions and superstitions of the Church of Rome, he would abruptly fling one of the capacious sleeves athwart his breast, altogether hiding the cross from view, and the voice and action conveyed a perfect paroxysm of fierce and almost demoniacal denunciation. The effect was electric! There was no resisting it. You might not agree with his argument, but you were carried entirely off your balance by the tremendous force and impetuosity of the great orator's words of fire. I have heard some of the greatest speakers of the day, but Gavazzi towered far above them all in the splendour and force of his delivery. His expenditure of nervous force must have been immense, and as is frequently the case with such men, he could consume an exceptional amount of nourishment. For breakfast, Gavazzi preferred, to anything else an omelette, and I have known him demolish one containing fourteen eggs! He would take nothing more until evening when he would eat a hearty dinner, but not by any means in proportion to his breakfast.


A Clever Frenchman.

Whilst I was practising in Ramsey, several interesting cases were brought before the Courts. Mr. Fred Lamothe (father of the late High-Bailiff) was engaged in one of these. He was full of caustic wit and humour and though by no means what I should term a reading man, he yet possessed the faculty of picking up knowledge easily and applying it cleverly; also he was a ready and forcible speaker. Perhaps he inherited this latter talent from his father, Dr. Lamothe, who was a French surgeon on board one of Admiral Thurot's men of-war, when they fought the English Frigate, commanded by, Captain Elliott, off Ramsey Bay. The French ships were conquered; and taken, and Thurot slain. Lamothe amongst other French Officers, was taken prisoner, and finally released; but he preferred to remain upon the Island, and lived in Ramsey until his death.

Mr. Lamothe used to boast that "he had never read a law book in his life and God willing, he never would " Not withstanding this drawback I thoroughly believe that in Criminal, Nisi Prius, and Jury cases, he would have taken a leading position at the English Bar

Upon one occasion he made a triumphant and successful appeal to a Manx Common Law Jury. Mr Adams was on the other side. He was the exact opposite of Lamothe in legal qualifications, being a man of law from his youth up. A thoroughly well-read, learned lawyer of the first rank, and although by no means devoid of genuine humour, yet he had not the sparkle and natural mother-wit, and almost infinite resource of his opponent. Lamothe, when at a pinch, would hesitate at nothing.

In one case, Adams had quoted general principles of law, applicable alike to England as well as the Isle of Man, and the leading cases, with decisions thereon, contained in the reports, and had evidently satisfied the presiding Deemster.

Lamothe was quick enough to see this, and indeed he probably was equally aware that he had no sufficient reply to make to the cases quoted against him. In such a difficulty, even a more eminent Counsel might have been non-plussed. Not so, the quick-witted but audacious descendant of the Gallic Doctor. At once it flashed upon him that though the Judge was against him there was still the Jury left; and that if he could, by one fell stroke, disparage the Judge and discredit Adams's law, he might yet secure a verdict. The difficulty to an average pleader would have been how to accomplish this. Not so, however, to Lamothe. Having risen to reply, he proceeded to address them upon the merits of the case, putting his view of the law and the facts in a very attractive form, and making it appear, as he stated the law to be, that his client was clearly entitled to their verdict. " But," he continued, " His Honour may possibly give you his opinion, and it may, or may not, be in harmony with mine, and to tell you the plain truth, gentlemen, it does not much concern me whatever view His Honour may take, for the verdict and the responsibility will be yours, not his. You have been sworn on the Holy Book, gentlemen, a true verdict to make, according to the evidence and the law of the land. You, therefore, are sworn to declare what is the, law. The Deemster has no responsibility whatever. He is no more than the Chairman of a meeting. His duty is simply to put the question to you, to recapitulate the facts and the arguments on both sides, and to leave you to find the verdict. As for Mr. Adams's books, they have nothing to do with this case. This is a Manx case, gentlemen, and not an English one. Mr. Adams himself is not a Manxman, but a foreigner; and, gentlemen," he added, in tones of deep indignation, " would you believe it, gentlemen, not one of the men who wrote his books ever set foot in the Island, from the day they were bom to the. day their bodies were buried in English graves. What, then, gentlemen, could they know of the Manx Law? Gentlemen, you sitting in that box are the sworn defenders of our ancient constitution, its laws, its rights and its privileges The whole, Island is gazing upon you at this moment, It is a critical time in its History. The question is no less than this, are you going to surrender our Manx laws and to change them into foreign ones?"

This grandiloquent speech evidently had a tremendous effect. Adams, in reply, very properly ridiculed the argument, and certainly so far as the Deemster and the Bar were concerned, he succeeded in utterly disposing of it. The Jury, however, preserved a stolid look. Finally the Deemster summed up, altogether in favour of the law as quoted by Adams, For this, of course Lamothe had prepared the Jury, and they, evidently, were taking the Judge's opinion for what they thought it was worth. At length they retired to consider their verdict They remained absent for ten minutes, and then returned to their Box. Their decision was in the following words: - We find for the Defendant. We are of opinion that the cases quoted in the English authorities do not affect the question, and no Manx one having been brought before us, we dismiss this action with costs." The Deemster looked at the Jury; Adams gazed at the Deemster. The Jury, however, only glanced at Lamothe, and perceiving a decided expression of complacent satisfaction on that gentleman's face, they returned to their farmsteads, satisfied that they had manfully defended the laws of their Island Home, and that they deserved well of their country.


Are Trials by July Satisfactory?

My comment upon this, and upon many other Jury trials is, that, as a rule they are a failure. Political and criminal cases I would still, possibly, continue to try; by Juries, if properly safeguarded. All other disputes I would have settled by stilled Judges, subject, of course, to certain rights of appeal. Common Juries, unaccustomed to the active exercises of their brains, are suddenly placed in a room where a tangled technical dispute is brought before them, and they listen to learned Counsel contending for an affirmative, and other learned Counsel strongly trying to prove a negative, in addition to legal squabbles as to the admission, or non-admission of evidence, and all the by-play of the legal battle. This frequently utterly confuses the Jury. Perhaps too, their sympathies become enlisted on behalf of one or other litigants, in consequence: of evidence being excluded, which, in their opinion, ought to have been admitted. Then follow sometimes very unequal speeches of the respective Counsel.

All these things which are perfectly familiar to, and could not, for a moment, mislead a trained Judge, indeed Counsel would not " try it on " with him' fresco prove overpoweringly confusing to the intelligence of ordinary countrymen. Of course an erroneous verdict might possibly be rectified by a new trial, etc., but this adds immensely to the expense and delay of suitor

Moreover, in a small community such as the Isle of, Man, a certain class of Jurors are liable to be "got at." by the parties. I know of one case where a person; was charged with perjury. On his trial, his Counsel saw that he was becoming extremely nervous; and, upon being reminded that he had expressed himself as quite satisfied that he had a favourable Jury, who were all well-known to him, he replied, " Yes, but one of them: had not given a positive pledge to acquit him!".

Then, by our law, each prisoner upon his trial at the General Gaol Delivery, may challenge twenty of the Jurors, whose names may be called, so that supposing two prisoners were tried together, the result would be that the Jury would practically be picked by the Prisoners. I have, in my own experience, upon several, occasions, known this prisoner's privilege lead to a distinct miscarriage of Justice. That privilege may answer in England where probably the person tried would not know one of the Jury but in this Island it is quite different.



Back index next


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