[From A.N.Laughton's Reminiscences, 1916]
ALFRED NELSON LAUGHTON, author of the following reminiscences, was not Manx either by, blood or birth, yet practically the whole of his long life was associated intimately with the Isle of Man.
A native of Tickhill, near Rotherham, Southern Yorkshire, he in early boyhood came with his parents - his father was a landed proprietor in the county of broad acres-to reside in the isle of Man. He received the Best education which was in those days procurable at private; schools in Douglas and the neighbourhood'. One of these schools which he attended had its headquarters in Port-e-Chee farmhouse, and among, his schoolfellows here was Thomas Edward Brown, the distinguished Manx poet and patriot. He was, too, for a brief space of time, a pupil at a school in Yorkshire, and subsequently he was at Dr. Steele's famous school on the Crescent, Douglas, where he had as a senior schoolfellow the later William Farrant, of Ballamoar, who in after years was to become his strenuous political opponent.
As a boy, Mr. Laughton gave evidence' of his subsequent intellectual eminence. He had extraordinary quickness of perception; with him the acquisition of the: humanities was a matter of little difficulty, and although his opportunities of securing a liberal education were comparatively limited, his natural parts were such that the matter of culture he was always in after life able to hold his own even with people who had enjoyed the best scholastic training. On leaving school he became a, law student with the object of qualifying for admission to the Manx Bar, and was articled to the late Mr. John Courtney Bluett, who was High-Bailiff of Douglas and a practising advocate. On the Completion of his studies, Mr. Laughton was admitted to the Bar in 1850. Upon admission, he practised first in Douglas and afterwards in Ramsey, but he eventually returned to Douglas. He then entered into partnership with the late Mr. Alfred Walter Adams, who subsequently became Clerk of the Rolls; and on this partnership being dissolved, he became associated in practice with the late; Mr. Richard Sherwood, who in after years was appointed Northern Deemster. Mr. Sherwood left the Island some fifty odd years ago with the object of settling in Australia-an object which did not materialise, as after a brief stay in the Antipodes he returned to the Island and resumed practice.
Mr. Laughton, after parting company with Mr. Sherwood, continued practice on his own account. Almost upon admission to the Bar he make a great name as a powerful, skillful, resourceful, and fearless advocate. The first case which brought him into prominence was that of the late Mr. George William Dumbell, advocate (the founder of Dumbell's Bank), against the late Mr. Robert Fargher, proprietor and editor of the Mona's Herald newspaper.: The action arose out of the publication in the Herald of an article pseudonymously signed " Northside Pen." Mr. Dumbell was severely commented upon in the article, and feeling himself aggrieved, he proceeded against Mr. Fargher for criminal libel. Mr. Leighton was retained for the defence, and his conduct of it was so bold and masterly as to indicate that a new star had arisen in the Manx legal firmament. Mr Laughton's address to the jury occupied three hours in delivery, and so eloquent was it that at its conclusion there was a general feeling of confidence that a verdict for the defendant was assured. However, the jury found Mr. Fargher guilty, and a sentence of imprisonment was passed upon him. The young advocate was the recipient of inumerable congratulations upon the fine defence he had put up, and what was more to the point, he at once leaped into fame, and an extensive and lucrative practice in the courts was assured him. It was at the time suspected that Mr. Laughton himself was the author the article which formed the subject of the trial, and suspicion was subsequently converted into certainty. Indeed, up to a comparatively late period of his career, he intermittently dabbled in journalism, his writings being invariably trenchant of character, and tinged with satire, the bitterness of which was redeemed by a vein of humour.
Other forensic fame came to Mr. Laughton in connection with a lawsuit to which the late Bishop Powys and the late Rev. John Cannell, Chaplain of St. Matthew's, Douglas, were parties. Mr. Cannell opposed what he considered were attempts by the Bishop to prejudice him in the rights and privileges of his chaplaincy, and on the case coming before the court he succeeded in his resistance. Mr. Laughton, on this occasion was advocate for Mr. Cannell, and he so pleaded his client's case as to enhance his reputation in the courts.
In truth, there was hardly a "cause celebre " before the Manx courts from the 'fifties to the eighties of the last century but Mr. Laughton figured as leading counsel for one of the parties, and especially was he constantly briefed for the defence in connection with important criminal trials.
His experience of the courts was not, however, always in the capacity of advocate!. A dispute arose in the 'sixties between Bishop Powys and the late Rev William-Drury, Vicar of Braddan (father of Bishop Drury), concerning the patronage of the living of St. Thomas's, Douglas, both claiming the right of appointment to the living Eventually, at the instance of the Bishop, a bill was introduced into the Legislature having for object the creation in Douglas of parochial districts, and which incidentally reserved the patronage of the Douglas livings to the Diocesan. Mr. Laughton, as advocate for Mr. Drury, opposed the reservation tooth and nail, and his attitude was warmly resented by the Bishop,. The Bill was eventually thrown out mainly in consequence of Mr. Laughton's opposition. Anything but mealy-mouthed was the advocate in his allusions to the Bishop. " Has he; not," Mr. Laughton asked, " by act after act, until the whole Island has echoed, and re-echoed, with cries of shame, brought foul scandal upon the Manx Church? "
This was by way of reference to Bishop Powys's supposed introduction of Mossman's monks into the Island. In his next Convocation charge to the clergy, the Bishop made certain references as to the character of the opposition to the Bill-opposition which he complained was unscrupulous His, he declared, was the " mens conscia recti" which could ignore the unscrupulous statements of wicked men. Mr. Laughton, conceiving he was libelled by these references, proceeded in the Common Law Court, at Ramsey, against the Bishop, to recover damages for libel, and after a lengthy trial, secured a verdict for £400. The verdict was appealed against by the defendant on the grounds that there had been misdirection of the jury by the late Deemster Stephen, and the full Court of Common Law of the Isle of Man, presided over by Governor Loch, allowed the appeal on the grounds that the Bishop's words were privileged, and that the Deemster ought not to have let the question go to the jury. This decision of the Manx Court of Appeal aroused throughout the Island great indignation, which found expression in a big public subscription to support Mr. Laughton in the appeal which he decided to make to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Although the Privy Council disallowed the appeal, popular opinion was on the side of Mr. Laughton. The victory of the Bishop turned out to be Pyrrhic of character, for the outcome was. the loss by the Prelate of all confidence and respect, not only on the part of adherents of the Establishment, but of Nonconformists all over the Island.
Perhaps the most exciting incident of Mr Laughton's career at the Manx Bar was the attempt to disbar him made forty years ago at the instance of Sir Henry Brougham Loch (subsequently Lord Loch, then Governor of the Island. Defending a Douglas manufacturer upon a charge of adulterating tobacco, Mr. Laughton, in his address to the Court, hinted strongly that the prosecution had been improperly instigated by Governor Loch. " What," asked the advocate, " was mere adulteration of tobacco compared with this adulteration of the fountains of Justice ?" Mr. Laughton's outspokenness resulted in a mandate to him that he should appear at the Chancery Court in Castle Rushen, and show cause why he should not be disbarred because of his disrespectful criticism of the head of the Executive. In those days the Governor was the Judge in the Chancery Court, though the Deemsters and the Clerk of the Rolls sat with him in an advisory capacity. The late Sir James Gell (Attorney-General) appeared to prosecute Mr. Laughton, who was defended by the late Mr. Alfred Walter Adams, the late Mr. Richard Sherwood, and the late Mr. John Kelly, of Peel. At, the outset, Mr. Adams, who led for the defence. metaphorically dropped a bombshell at the very feet of the Governor, in the form of three questions: (1) What is the charge? (2) Who makes the charge? (3) Who is to try the charge? Governor Loch, who was, of course, responsible for the formulation of the charge, and was at once prosecutor and judge, was for the moment dumbfounded by the pertinence of the demand, but eventually he evaded answer by stating he would hand down all the documents to the Attorney-General. There was an adjournment, and when the matter came on again there was an enormous attendance of Bar and public.
The result was a somewhat tame one, for after a brief consultation between Bench and Counsel, it was arranged that Mr. Laughton should apologise for his references to, the Governor. Some discussion arose as to the terms of the apology, and in the end Mr. Laughton's: statement partook rather of the nature of a vindicatory explanation than an expression of regret. Decidedly the Governor did not gain anything by his action.
The fighting spirit was strong in Mr. Laughton, and from youth to almost The end he revelled in doing his utmost to advance what he believed to be the right side in connection with differences of public moment. As he never hesitated to speak his mind freely and without regard to the feelings of opponents, it goes without saying that he made many enemies, some of whom were in high places. That he did so probably prevented his appointment to the Bench of the Manx High Court. It was expected he would have been chosen as Northern Deemster upon the death of Deemster Sherwood, but strong influences were brought to bear against him, with the result that he was passed over in favour of a gentleman who had not a tithe of his ability or experience in the practice of law. In 1884 he was appointed High-Bailiff of Peel, a post which he held to the time of his death, and which he filled with conspicuous dignity and credit.
Always an ardent politician, Mr. Laughton held during the early portion of his career views strongly Radical of tinge, and these he maintained until he was well past middle age. He frequently fought ardently in support of the aspirations of the Manx people for greater measure of political power. Especially did he engage heartily in the movement for the abolition of the selfelected House of Keys and the substitution of a body elected by the people. By voice and pen he commended the movement in vigorous terms, and undoubtedly his advocacy was a considerable factor in the success which attended upon the agitation for reform. He also took the most prominent part in bringing about a reconstruction of the committee of the House of Industry, an institution which, prior to the passing of the Poor Relief Act, controlled indoor and outdoor poor relief in Douglas. Half a century or so ago, the Committee of Management was entirely appointed by members of the Established Church. Nonconformist subscribers regarded this condition of things as a grievances, and agitated for redress. Their aspirations were championed by the late Rev. William Hawley, then incumbent of St. George's, Douglas; and Mr. Laughton, who did not suffer their Churchmanship to obsess their sense of justice. The Nonconformist claims were, however, stoutly resisted by Churchmen as a body, and Douglas was for a considerable time set by the ears in consequence of the fierce disputes which arose. In the end Mr. Laughton and his clerical coadjutor in so far triumphed that a small measure of representation upon the committee was conceded Nonconformists.
Though in the days of his early and mature manhood Mr; Laughton was a Radical in politics, he was never a demagogue, and if he conceived that the majority of the people were; wrong with regard to public questions, he he'd no hesitation in expressing his conviction upon the point. In his declining years his political opinions became considerably modified, and indeed he was for several years before his death Conservative of view. Notwithstanding the ardency of his politics, he made no attempt to enter the House of Keys untill 1883, when he contested against the late Mr. William Farrant for the filling up of a vacancy in the representation of Glenfarba Sheading. The contest was a memorable one, and produced perhaps the finest election speeches ever delivered in the Isle of Man, both candidates being in the first flight of public speakers. The Glenfaba electors, however, distrusted Mr. Laughton's democratic programme, and preferred as their member Mr. Farrant, who was a Tory of the Tories. In 1884 Mr. Laughton was returned to the House as member for Peel, and on the dissolution of the House he offered himself for reselection, but was opposed by the late Mr. Joseph Mylchreest, of Whitehouse, who defeated him. On Mr. Mylchreest's death, Mr. Laughton was returned for Peel unopposed, and retained the seat up to the General Election of 1903, when he was defeated by Mr. T. H. Cormode, the present member for Peel. During his Membership of the House, Mr. Laughton strove hard but without success to secure remission of the annual contribution of £10,000 from the Manx Revenue to the Imperial Government. He introduced at least two Bills for the reform of the Licensing Laws, but these were disapproved by the Temperance Party upon the one hand, and the brewers and publicans on the other, with the inevitable result that they failed to pass.
Mr. Laughton's social attainments were of a high order. He had a magnificent sense of humour, and was the very best of company. As a public entertainer he held high rank, while as an elocutionist he was unequalled in the Isle of Man. In connection with the " Penny Readings," which were such a feature of life in Douglas half a century ago, he frequently held audiences spellbound for a couple of hours with his magnificent interpretations of excerpts from the English prose and poetry classics. During the Lancashire Cotton famine, which was one of the effects of the American Civil War, he toured the principal towns of the North of England, and gave recitals in aid of the Famine Funds, which, as the result of his efforts, were largely augmented.
A lifelong and faiths adherent of the Established Church, Mr Laughton ever took a deep interest in Church work, and for several years he was a Sunday-school teacher in connection with St. George's, Douglas.
Mr. Laughton was twice married. By his first wife he had five children-two sons and three daughters. The elder son, Mr. Mainwaring Laughton, died shortly after attaining his majority. The younger, Mr. Frederick Augustus Laughton, became a member of the Manx Bar, and after practising in Douglas for some two years he proceeded to Natal, and was admitted to the Natal Bar. With him it was a case of "like father like son," for he quickly made a big, reputation as an advocate in the land of his adoption. Some years ago he took silk as a King's Counsel, and he now enjoys one of the largest practices in Natal. Mr.F. A. Laughton edited his father's "Reminiscences " for the Press. All the late Mr. Laughton's daughters are married and are resident in England. Some years after the death of his first wife, Mr. Laughton espoused Miss Watts, niece of the late Mr. E. L. Watts, of Douglas. She proved herself a most devoted helpmeet, her fine capacity for business detail and organisation being invaluable to her husband in the autumn and winter of his life. Mrs. Laughton is one of the most popular leaders of society in the Isle of Man, and deservedly so. In many ways she has rendered the Island find service, and particularly in connection with; the Manx Music Festivals. In the inception of these she took a prominent part, and that they have become firmly established is almost entirely due her organising abilities and to her tactful perseverance in the face occasionally, of considerable discouragement. Just now Mrs. Laughton is engaged upon work connected with the comfort and maintenance of discharged soldiers and sailors and of families of men who have died in the service of their country. She has the high distinction of being the first recipient of the Medal annually awarded by the Manchester Manx Society in recognition of valuable service to the Isle of Man. Devoted to her, husband, his death on March 12th, 1911, came as a great blow to her, but she bore up under it with he accustomed courage
Mr. Laughton's reminiscences were written by him from time to time during the closing years of his life They were first published in serial fashion in the columns of the Isle of Man Examiner during the year 1912. In response to a multitude of requests they are now republished in book form, with a preface by Mr. F. A. Laughton, K.C., of Natal, the only surviving son of the author.,
Douglas, September 1916.