[From Laughton's Reminiscences, 1916]
When the late Honourable Charles Hope resigned the office of Lieutenant-Governor of this Island, His Excellency Governor Pigott was appointed " Lieutenant-Governor of our Island of Man, Castle Pele, and Lordship of Man, and all the Islands, Forts, Castles and Lordships of the Isle of Man appertaining."
Governor Pigott, brother to Mr. Justice Pigott was a most genial and polished gentleman, a splendid horseman, and he thoroughly enjoyed social life and its gaieties; he was not, however, a lawyer, and I do not think he felt quite at home presiding over the various Courts of law and equity, as was then part of the duty of the Governors of Man. On one occasion, his naturally quick temper got the better of him in a manned which, in these days, would assuredly have been the subject of a question in the House of Commons by some virtuous enquirer after truth.
There was a prisoner in the Gaol of Castle Rushen, imprisoned, if my memory serves me rightly, for debt Becoming tired of his confinement, he, in some way or other, got it into his head that the Governor had not held a Court in due time, and that in consequence, thereof, his imprisonment had been unduly prolonged The prisoner was one of that troublesome class of people, who, instead of attending to their own business, seem to be always studying the provisions contained in Magna Charta, and seeking to put them into action. Acting upon one of the constitutional principles therein contained he applied by petition to his Sovereign, Her Majesty the Queen, setting forth the evils of which he complained, and praying that Her Majesty would reprimand or otherwise bring to a due sense of his delinquencies, her servant the Governor.
This petition, in the usual course, was duly forwarded from the Home Office to His Excellency, for him to report thereon, which accordingly he did, and he heard no more about it.
The petitioned I suppose, promptly discovered that Magna Charta was not likely to extend to him the privileges for which he had petitioned, and there being no Labouchere, or any "Biggar" Man to come to his assistance, he at last, condescended to present a petition to the Governor, stating his claim to be released from imprisonment I believe that he really had a good case for relief had he gone the right way about it, but this, a man of his class of mind could not reasonably; be expected to do. Persons of his peculiar genus always prefer a shrieking appeal to Magna Charta, the British Constitution, or to the Eternal Principles of Justice, etc., etc.
The claim was a technical one; and his petition ought to have been properly prepared by a lawyer, but he, despising lawyers, wrote it himself. When it came before the Governor for hearing, some advocate, appearing for an opposing creditor, raised an objection that the form of the petition was irregular, which was apparent on the face of it, and it was therefore dismissed. His Excellency, in giving judgment, thus addressed the prisoner, " Prisoner, your petition for release from Gaol, in consequence of this fatal irregularity, is dismissed. Had you devoted more of your attention to your petition in place of sending foolish complaints to the Queen, the result might possibly have been different"
There was. strictly speaking, nothing wrong in the actual words used by the Governor. but in the hands of a man of " snarls," they might have been turned round in an unpleasant manner.
His Excellency had some ready wit, as the following anecdote will show. It was his duty, as President of the General Gaol Delivery, to pass sentence upon the prisoners. In point of fact, such sentences were always carefully considered and fixed by the Judges, who were his Assessors, they being written out by them and placed before the Governor for him to deliver. This process was, of course, unknown to the prisoner. At a certain Court, one of them, instead of standing up and quietly receiving his sentence in the accustomed manner began to cry, and made a long and piteous appeal to the Governor for mercy The Judges preserved a dignified silence. His Excellency listened carefully to the words of the prisoner, and, as soon as he ceased, thus addressed him:" Prisoner, you have been found guilty of a very serious crime', and it is the duty of the Court to administer punishment to you, in order to discourage such breaches of the law; but I have taken carefully into consideration your appeal to the Court for clemency and in consequence the sentence will be imprisonment with hard labour, but only for the space of twelve calendar months." This was neither longer nor shorter but precisely the judgment which had been arrived at and written out prior to the prisoner's appeal.
Governor Pigott did not long enjoy the office. He died after a few years; and Mr. Henry Brougham Loch was appointed in his stead. He proved to be a very excellent administrator and a popular Governor. It was through his instrumentality that the House of Keys became converted from a self-elective to a representative body. In connection therewith certain extra duties were imposed upon articles imported into the Island and the amount of Revenue thus raised was to he paid into the Insular Exchequer; but the Imperial Government actually insisted upon £10,000 a year of the Island's Revenue being paid over to her. This has naturally been made a matter of bitter and righteous complaint in the House of Keys, but up to the present date, without any redress.
Shortly before the alteration in the Constitution of the House of Keys, a very important. question was raised as to its powers to commit to prison for an alleged contempt in its presence, whilst the House was sitting in its legislative capacity.
The late Mr. James Brown, Printer, Publisher, and Editor of " The Isle of Man Times," in commenting in his paper upon speeches of certain members, delivered in the House in the course of debate, made use of language clearly amounting to a contempt, and he was summoned to appear at the Bar of the House and to make any explanations he might think fit. He did appear in due course, and instead of an explanation or apology, he made a violent attack upon the House, and, upon being requested, refused to withdraw his remarks. He was at once sentenced to six months imprisonment for his contempt, and was incarcerated in the Gaol of Castle Rushen. He then applied to the Queen's Bench for a writ of Habeas Corpus; Mr. Adams being retained upon his behalf. The only question raised was as to the prowar of the Keys to commit for contempt. In support of their authority so to do, a Manx Statute of 1817 was quoted as follows:" That the House of Keys, Clerk of the Rolls, and the Registrars of the Ecclesiastical Courts when in the execution of their respective offices, have, and shall have the power of punishing contempts in like manner as any Court or Magistrate within the said Isle." In reply to this Brown alleged, and it was not contested, " That the House of Keys sat at certain times as an Appellate Court to try cases, and at other times as a Legislative Assembly to enact laws; that as they were sitting in the latter capacity when the alleged contempt was committed, they had no power of committal, inasmuch as by a true construction of the Statute, its provisions merely extended to the House when sitting in its judicial capacity, and that as no evidence was given that it had any prescriptive right so to commit, its act of committal was illegal." This was eventually so held, and Brown was released from Gaol. He then filed his action against the members of the House for false imprisonment; Mr. Adams appearing for him, and the Attorney-General (Sir James Gell) and I being retained for the House of Keys.
The case came on for trial, and the plaintiff's imprisonment having been already declared to have been illegal, of course there could be no defence, except in mitigation of damages. The verdict was therefore necessarily in favour of the Plaintiff.
It has been said that this case was the original cause of the change in the constitution of the House. This however, is subject to the following qualification. I always understood that the Governor, some time prior to the above, was in advanced correspondence with the Imperial Government with that object in view but the application to the Queen's Bench having disclosed the fact that the House of Keys, when sitting in its legislative capacity, had no power to commit for contempt, any person who might insult them, or interrupt their proceedings in an unwarrantable manner, there can be little doubt that this " causus omissus " would necessarily draw the Governor's attention to it, and to the necessity of such power being at once granted to them. This would open up the whole question of the mode of appointment of the members of the House and the advisability of recurring to the elective principle, which had, in fact, been its ancient form and constitution.