[From Laughton's Reminiscences, 1916]
Mr. Jebb, an English barrister, succeeded Mr. Thos Arthur Corlett, as Vicar-General of the Island.
He was a wholly different man from his predecessor a well-read man, and had been Chairman of the London Commissioners of Sewers. He was an old bachelor, quaint, original, and genial, and lived at the Castle Mona Hotel, where he was very popular. He had the peculiar idiosyncrasy of thinking aloud, and moreover, was not very quick at recognising his friends in the street. Sometimes this was awkward. Upon one occasion, when seated in a tramcar, on the way to his hotel a gentleman, well-known in Douglas, entered. He had married a lady with an exceedingly plain face, but with a very large fortune. Upon entering the car, this gentleman said " Good morning, Vicar-General."
" Ah ! who are you, sir ? "
" I'm "
" Oh! Ah! him, him, Ah! Ah! yes, the man that married the ugly woman for money. Oh! Ah! Yes ! How are you ? "
This gentleman often told the story himself with perfect good humour, to show the peculiarity of the Vicar-General. I very much doubt, however, whether he ever ventured to tell it to his wife!
It was formerly the practise for the Vicar-General to hold a Chapter Court twice in the year, at which Court was read over a list of the names of all persons who had died in the district during the previous halfyear, whereupon the Sumner, the officer of the Court, called aloud upon the executors and next-of-kin of each " to appear to Court, to appear to Court," to have the will proved, and the executors appointed. or otherwise, for an administrator to be sworn over the estate of the deceased.
When Mr. Jebb was first appointed, all this was new to him, he having had no previous practice at the Manx bar. At his first Court, Deemster Stephen and the then Clerk of the Rolls (the late Mr. M. H. Quayle) happened to be present.
To their astonishment, instead of merely calling the names of the " Defuncts," leaving it to the officer then to summon the executors or next-of-kin, His Worship himself summoned each of the deceased persons by name to " appear to Court" to have his will proved or administration set up to his estate.
The Deemster, being a matter of fact man. was very shocked, and exclaimed, " Why he is calling the dead persons to Court! " " Quite right " said the Clerk of the Rolls, " you seem to forget, Deemster, that this is a 'Spiritual' Court."
The Vicar-General's father was an Irish Bishop. and his uncle was the Judge who tried the " Colleen Bawn" case, the notes of which, taken by him, were in the Vicar-General's possession. Mr. Jebb resided for some time in Ireland, and I should imagine had had some experience of the " goings on" at Irish wakes at any rate he took a very liberal view as to the extent to which people might go in the way of social entertainments at funerals.
A case once came judicially before him as to such expenses, and his decision fairly took my breath away.
An old miser of the name of Gruar had died in Peel. He had lived in a miserable garret, and had been looked upon and treated as a pauper. Nobody knew how he lived, and nobody seemed to have cared how he died.
The Sumner, an officer whose duty it is to look after the effects of deceased persons, entered his garret, and, on looking into an old moth-eaten box, which was the only seat in the room, found to his surprise, papers, representing several thousands of pounds in Bank Deposit receipts, besides documents showing other large sums of money invested in land. This he at once communicated to my predecessor, Mr. Robert J. Moore, High-Bailiff of Peel, who, having inspected the box and its contents, immediately wrote to Mr. John Quayle, the Sumner-General of the Island, informing him thereof. That officer at. once took possession of the treasure, and a day was fixed for the funeral, at which the HighBailiff, the Sunmer- General, and several others who had never known the deceased in the flesh, were present, attired in rich silk scarves, hatbands, etc., etc., supplied by the Sumner- General out of the funds of the; dead man. There was a hearse, containing a handsome brass-mounted coffin, several mourning carriages " containing persons mourning for the loss of a man they never knew," and a funeral breakfast in first-rate style paid for out of the same funds; and so the poor unknown but gorgeously lamented " pauper" was buried!
The difficulty then arose as to his next-of-kin, who would be entitled to his personal property. By examining some old papers, it appeared that he was a Scotsman, and had resided in Dumfries in his early life, and so the Sumner-General caused advertisements to be inserted in several Scotch newspapers, describing the deceased and asking for information as to his next-of-kin. In due course I was instructed by several claimants to the property; the late; Mr T. C. Callow acted for others; and Mr. Adams for Mr. John Quayle, the Sumner-General. The first phase, of the litigation was an application by the Sumner- General for the expenses of the, funeral. These appeared to me to be exceedingly heavy. I forget what was charged for the eatables consumed at the breakfast, but I have a distinct recollection that mnongst other things, no less than seven bottles of sherry were charged for. On behalf of the next-of-kin I stoutly opposed what I considered to be a most unreasonable claim. The Vicar-General, however, in giving judgment, expressed himself to the following effect, " that considering those who were present at the breakfast, gentlemen occupying the high positions of the High-Bailiff, the Sumner-General, etc., etc., and that the amount of eatables consumed was quite in proportion to the drinkables, that it was not, as in Falstaff's case, one halfpenny worth of bread to two gallons of sack, he thought that the seven bottles of sherry were not an unreasonable number, and accordingly he gave judgment for the whole amount ! "
Fortunately for His Worship, the teetotal agitation was not then so far advanced as it is now, though I do not think that Mr. Jebb would have cared three straws about it. He was " a fine old English gentleman, all of the olden time," and not given to pay much heed to Faddists of any kind or description whatever.
A roving commission was then granted, to take evidence in Scotland, to find out who were the nearest of kin of the deceased, and so entitled to his personal effects. It might have been less expensive for the claimants to have come to the Island to establish their respective claims, but they were of the very poorest class, and unwilling, and possibly unable, to risk a shilling, especially as they could not be assured of successfully proving their " locus stand)." The consequence was that the Sumner-General and Adams, T. C. Callow, a little Welsh solicitor whose name I forget, and I assembled in beautiful summer weather, in the charming land of cakes, upon a roving commission to discover the nearest relative of the deceased hermit.
What a time we had of it. It was during the Long Vacation. We visited antique and historical Perth, busy Dundee, fair Dumfries, and other interesting localities. We met several gentlemanly and pleasant Scotch lawyers, whose names I now forget. I wish, however, that I could recollect the little Welshman's. He was a particularly good fellow, though I fear that I caused him a time of trouble and anxiety. We had arranged, if possible, to complete our examination of witnesses on a certain Friday, and he wished to give some important technical evidence. His marriage was to take place, somewhere in the South of Wales, at 10 o'clock on the morning of the following day. This he had confided to my friend Callowthey two were acting for the same clients. Having privately ascertained this secret, on the Friday morning before the proceedings commenced, I stated that I was afraid I could not conclude my evidence on that day, as one or two witnesses had turned up, and that I could not consent to any other evidence being interposed until the conclusion of my case. He was silent, but I saw him look pathetically at Callow, alarm being plainly depicted on his face. Unless he left Perth by that afternoon he could not arrive at his destination in time for his marriage, and all arrangements for it had been completed.
I could see how uncomfortable he looked during the examination off witnesses that forenoon, but I went on with my questions as though time was no object to me. At length he could bear it no longer, but came over and asked to speak to me privately. We went aside, when he confided to me the state of the case. Poor! fellow. I could hold out no longer, and in two seconds he was the happiest man in the room! I wonder whether he is still alive? If so, and he chances to read this, he will doubtless recall the incident.
In his later years the Vicar-General became increasingly deaf, and he found difficulty in quickly mastering' the facts of the cases brought before him. This was frequently the cause of considerable confusion in the Court. Upon one occasion a very amusing scene took place during the hearing of a case in which I was engaged as counsel. It was not, however, so amusing to the late Mr. George Maley, the Court officer, whose duty it was to call over the Court lists. He was highly respected by the profession, a capable man, but apt to become irascible if he thought that his dignity or that of the Court, was in any way slighted.
At this Court, the Vicar-General was more deaf than usual, and became in consequence, a good deal confused, finding a great difficulty in taking down the evidence of the witnesses under examination. This caused a discussion between myself, on The one side, and Mr. R. S. Stephen on the other. The witness had given an important answer, highly favourable to my client, but the Vicar-General did not quite catch it, and was proceeding to note it down, not quite correctly. I therefore interposed, the witness at the same time making some explanation as to what he really had said, to which Mr. Stephen was objecting, so that there were three of us on our legs speaking at the same time. This was altogether too much for His Worship, and becoming irritated by the noise and confusion, he threatened to adjourn the case. I was struck on the comical side, and dryly suggested, amid a general but subdued titillation of the Bar, that the confusion would be less if Mr. Maley would not interfere with the progress of the hearing. This was a most preposterous allegation, for that good man had not uttered a single word. He naturally became angry, especially at the titter, and loudly protested that he had not spoken, but I gently begged that he would not continue the confusion. The Vicar- General fixed his eye angrily upon the irate Court Officer, and peremptorily ordered him to sit down, which of course he was obliged to do; but his Worship was not so soon to be appeased. He insisted upon adjourning the case, and stated his intention of inserting in the Court Book his reason for so doing.
The following collocation then ensued;:
Vicar-General, writing in the Court Book, and as usual, reading the words aloud as he wrote: " In consequence of the great confusion in the Court caused by the conduct of Mr. George Maley"
" Sir," cried Maley, in a loud tone, jumping on to his feet
" Sit down, sir," rejoined the indignant Judge. " But I never spoke, your Worship."
" Sit down, sir, or I'll commit you for contempt." The Vicar-General proceeded to read over again, In consequence of the great confusion in the Court caused by. the conduct of Mr. George Maley. the officer of the Court "
This was quite beyond Maley's powers of endurance. He again got up and said, " I'll resign my office, sir, if you write that."
Upon this His Worship ordered him to leave the Court, which, of course, he immediately did; and the Vicar-General finished his minute thus: "This case, for the above reason, is adjourned to the next ordinary Court."
The succeeding cases were then proceeded with. Maley never got over this galvanic shock. His dignity was terribly ruffled, and we all felt really sorry for him. He carried out his threat, and forthwith resigned the Sumnership. He said he would never sit again in that Court, not even for five times the salary, and to the day of his death he never did. This episode did not, I am glad to say, at all interfere with the pleasant relations that always subsisted between us, and which continued to the end of his life. I had several friendly talks with him during his last illness, and I believe that I was the only senior member of the Bar who was able to attend his funeral.