[From Sketches of the Coast, 1836]

CHAPTER XIX.

 

ISLE OF MAN, GENERAL DESCRIPTION, INTERIOR, COASTS, DOUGLAS, ST. MAUGHOLD’S HEAD, RAMSAY BAY, PEEL, SODOR, SPANISH HEAD, CALF ISLAND, DERBY HAVEN, CASTLETOWN, CLIMATE, PRODUCE, TENURES, FARMERS, NAVAL SERVICE, MANUFACTURES, FISHERIES, POOR, COTTAGES, FOOD, DRESS.

 

IN the autumn of 1829, I revisited Scotland, and spent some weeks, en route, in the Isle of Man. My inquiries respecting this interesting island were facilitated by the introduction to its principal inhabitants, and the result of them is embodied in the following general summary.

The island is about thirty miles in length, and eleven in breadth at its widest point, containing upwards of 130,000 acres. A range of mountains, terminating to northward in a broad rampart some-what distant from the sea, traverses it from south-west to north-east, round and heavy in form, excepting North Barrule, at the north-east extremity. Snaefell, the highest, rises 2000 feet above the sea ; commanding a magnificent panoramic view of the coasts of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, extending to Solway Firth, Ailsa Crag, the Mull of Galloway, and the noble mountains of Morne.

The interior of the island is boggy, but the hills are on all sides perforated by glens, which are partially adorned by wood, chiefly beech and alder, sometimes rising into timber, and watered by torrents forming in several places picturesque waterfalls. The villages, churches, and farmhouses, being usually surrounded by groves of trees, relieve the generally monotonous aspect of the surface of the island.

The northern part of the island is flat, but richly cultivated.

Grandeur is confined to the coast : and the rude magnificence of its lofty precipices contrasts strikingly with the softer scenery of expanding harbours shelving shores, towns, and villages.

Douglas is the principal town, though Castletown derives, from the circumstance of its being the seat of local government, a sort of metropolitan importance. It is situated in the corner of a bay, enclosed by two bold promontories, presenting seaward only the backs and ends of miserable dwellings; but the shores sloping upwards to the mountain-range, are studded with the residences of the principal inhabitants, amongst which Mona Castle stands preeminent, on the beach beneath a cliff covered with flourishing plantations. It was built about thirty years ago by the Duke of Athol, at an expense of 60,0001., and is at present occupied by the duke’s son-in-law, Lord Strathallan1. The receding tide discovers extensive sands, and several banks and rocks, which render the navigation dangerous, and the occasion of many wrecks. But notwithstanding these disadvantages, the bay affords the best anchorage and securest refuge in St. George’s Channel during westerly winds. In easterly, small vessels only can take shelter within the pier, whilst ships must run for Belfast Lough or southward. A pier, which cost government 25,0001. with a lighthouse upon it, defends the entrance of the harbour, and forms a promenade for the town’s-people. The depth of the water in the harbour in spring-tides is twenty-one feet, and at neap, thirteen feet. The erection of another pier, which might render the bay secure during any wind, has been proposed to government2 A tower over Douglas-head serves for a landmark; but a lighthouse in its stead would much diminish the perils of this coast.

The streets, or rather lanes, of the town, with the exception of one lately built, are narrow and intricate, and without a pavement for pedestrians : the houses are respectable, and the shops are spacious and showy, and worthy of any English country-town. Lodging-houses, machines, and baths, are provided for those who are disposed to avail themselves of the cheapness of living, and excellent sea-bathing on the coast, as the water is singularly clear, being free from mud, seaweed, or shells. The rate of house-rent is, however, high, compared with the price of all other articles. Large establishments for the herring-fishery are erected on the harbour side.

A small river winding among sloping hills, laid out in meadows or adorned with plantations, flows into the harbour under an old bridge, between richly-wooded banks. At some distance from the town, it passes a wooded knoll, concealing from view the park and newly-built residence of General Goldie, who by his marriage with a Manks heiress became the wealthiest proprietor in the island, and now fills the office of speaker of the House of Keys. It is called the Nunnery, from its vicinity to an ancient establishment of that description, the ivy-mantled ruins of which are used as a stable. It was founded by St. Bridget, who received the veil from St. Maughold, a saint of high reputation in the island.

The residence of Colonel Wilks, of oriental fame, who married a sister of General Goldie, adjoins it. And the singularly sequestered and prettily situated church of Kirk Braddan, the incumbent of which is Mr. Howard, author of a well-known volume of Sermons, is in the same neighbourhood. This is the parish-church of Douglas. The value of the living is 701. per. annum. The town has two chapels of ease, one of which is large ; but they are very insufficient for the population3.

The coast north of Douglas is precipitous, but in some places green to the water’s edge, and rises into the bold promontory of St. Maughold’s-head. Kirk Maughold stands in a hollow, within the midst of an extensive cemetery, a dreary and romantic spot. The parish and head-land derive their appellation from one of the earliest events of Manks history on record, which occurred A.D. 500; the landing of St. Maughold on this coast, cast ashore in a leathern boat, his feet and hands in manacles. He was afterwards elected bishop of the Island. This headland and the point of Ayre enclose Ramsay Bay. The town, situated on the estuary of the Sulby river, has a small harbour, admitting vessels of 100 tons, a quay, pier, and light-house. The streets are narrow, but the houses are respectable, and appear neat and cleanly from the prevalence of whitewash, a customary precaution against typhus fever, which prevails here as in other towns of the island. The mania for whitewashing, so disparaging to antiquity, has absolutely raged in this neighbourhood, and some of the churches are, as in South Wales, daubed to the roof. One old disused church, on a knoll at the foot of the mountain-range, embosomed in trees of dark foliage, and now accessible only to the climber, might pass under its new dress for the spectre of one of those ancient remnants of rustic piety, which are now fast crumbling to decay, and giving place to others of more substantial construction and larger dimensions.

The western coast from Furby Point to the bold promontory of Peel Head, consists of an uniform sandy cliff of little elevation. The small town of Peel lies in a bay formed by a bold promontory connected with the shore by a pier, and encircled by the walls and covered with the ruins of the castle, and of the cathedral of St. Germain, and of the church of St. Patrick, reputedly much more ancient than Castle Rushen. The vestiges of these edifices are extensive and picturesque. Their decay is owing to the unfortunate use, in their construction, of the soft crumbling sandstone of the adjacent coast, when the finest possible material might have been procured, though with some trouble and expense, from the eastern coast, the limestone in the neighbourhood of Castletown, of which Castle Rushen is built. The guard-room is pointed out as the scene of the legend of the Black Dog, " the Spectre-hound of Man," which destroyed a drunken soldier who boasted that he would fight it single-handed.

The cathedral, built A.D. 1245, was named after Germain the First, bishop of the Island and of the three kingdoms4, is a small church ; the ground within its walls is now used as a burial-place for Roman Catholics, of whom there are few in the Island, and for drowned persons, wrecks having been frequent on the coast between Peel and Calf Island previous to the erection of the light-house on the latter. Beneath the choir of the cathedral is a low, damp, dungeon, formerly used as the ecclesiastical prison. The grave of an enormous giant is shown beneath the outer wall of the castle ; it was lately opened by two young sportsmen from Manchester, who discovered no bones or other vestiges.

The insulated rock, on which these ruins stand, is called Sodor, and as it was the site of the cathedral, was sufficiently important, in an ecclesiastical point of view, to give an additional title to the bishop of Man. As a spot " from which savage clans and roving barbarians derived the light of knowledge," it merits being ranked with lona ; for hither Scot-tish kings were sent for education by their laws, and Man was, as Hector Boëthius informs us, " the fountain of all honest learning and erudition." I am inclined to adopt the above conjecture respecting the long disputed question of the origin of the title of the Bishop of Sodor and Man, as more simple and obvious than the plausible derivation of the word Sodor, from Sudureys, or Southern Isles, i. e. Southern Hebrides, with which the Isle of Man was associated in the civil and ecclesiastical sub-division of those islands by the Danes. All the early writers, Camden, Buchanan, &c,, suppose Sodor the seat of the bishopric. Part of the castle was inhabited within half-a-century ; it is now solely tenanted by an old bombardier, who acts as cicerone, and bolts out his legends like shot from a twelve-pounder. The rock of Sodor is commanded by a steep ridge rising abruptly from the town of Peel, and terminated by lofty and deeply caverned precipices. The harbour has a light-house ; the entrance to it is narrow, admitting small vessels, and affording a safe receptacle to the herring-fleets.

A small river flows into the sea at Peel, once second only to the Laxey in the celebrity of its salmon. From this port a considerable quantity was formerly exported to Italy. It is not impossible that salmon-peel, which differs little from salmon, may have derived its designation from this trade, on the supposition of salmon-peel being synonymous with peel-salmon, though, in hazarding this definition, I must not forget the old story of the horse-chestnut and chestnut-horse. The conjecture is supported by the Manks salmon corresponding in size with that of the salmon-peel.

The principal object southward of Peel is Brada Head, a stupendous pile of black rocks, second only to those of Spanish Head in grandeur. There is a copper-mine at the entrance of Port Erin or Iron, at the edge of the sea. The cliffs are perforated in several places by the operations of the miners, and much discoloured by the mineral.

There are lead-mines here and at Laxey ; some silver is found in the latter. The quarries of Poolvash, in this neighbourhood are celebrated for having furnished the fine black-marble, of which the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral are composed, presented by Bishop Wilson.

The Isle of Man is separated from Calf Island by a narrow sound, through which the tide runs from east to west with great rapidity, forming the Race of the Calf. The navigation of this chaRnel is rendered dangerous by several rocks. This island produces some grain and good pasture, and has a farm-house and some cottages upon it.

Its north-west coast is girt by a broad belt of rent and dislocated rocks tumbled together in indescribable confusion, and by innumerable apertures of great depth, through which the sea, when agitated by the violent gales from the opposite quarter, rushes with tremendous impetuosity. Though not exceeding 200 feet in height, it can scarcely be matched, in point of rude magnificence, in any part of the British coasts. At some distance from the south-west point of the island, the reef of rocks called the Chickens, which is covered at high-water, presents a very dangerous obstacle to vessels, as the current of the ebb from the Sound sets full upon it and might wreck a vessel becalmed and borne along by the stream. The north-west coast rises into steep, majestic cliffs, 400 feet in height, on the head of which the light-houses are erected, and most advantageously, as the whole coast of Man, from Furby Bay to the Calf is, with the exception of Peel Bay, very dangerous. Opposite to these is the Stack, a conical rock, separated from the coast by a narrow channel and now intercepting the ebb which flowed on both sides of it, with such force, in a direct course to the Chickens, that our boat though well-manned, could scarcely stem it.

The south-east corner of Man is formed by Spanish Head : a headland consisting of two promontories united together by a range of perpendicular cliffs, averaging 300 feet in height, enclosing a bay, and exhibiting in the broken outline of its stupendous precipices, fragments detached from the coast, shooting up into pinnacles, and deep chasms penetrating far inland the ravages of the devouring element. The grandeur of its scenery is enhanced by the black hue of the rocks. The western side of the southern headland overlooks Calf-Sound, and consists of lairs of rocks, much resembling piles and beams of timber laid together, arranged horizontally in the form of shelves, and covered with splintered fragments, detached from the mass, by the joint operation of wind and rain.

The southern coast of Man yields much sea-weed, which supplies the Island with good manure. It may be seen waving to and fro at great depth, so extraordinary is time clearness of the water, a perfect submarine forest.

The greater part of the eastern coast exhibits a continued line of lofty precipices. The principal bay south of Douglas is Derby Haven, a fine harbour, half a mile in diameter, affording deep water, and capital anchorage ; the principal resort of the her-ring-vessels on this coast. A small lighthouse is placed at its entrance. General Goldie, the chief proprietor of the coast, has tendered to government a project for forming a wet dock here, at the expense of 100,000l., and the advocates of this plan maintain that Derby-Haven would be preferable as the site of a central asylum harbour, to Douglas, inasmuch as it is more free from rocks and sand-banks.

The danger of this coast to human life has been much diminished by the zeal and exertions of Sir William Hillary, who resides at Douglas and has introduced time use of the life-boat. This spirited individual has himself repeatedly incurred the ut most risk in rescuing the crews of wrecked vessels. He never allows the men employed in this service to wear cork jackets, or to be lashed to the boat, deeming such precautions calculated to diminish their intrepidity : nor does he himself, though unable to swim, make use of them. Sir William Hillary has received several medals from the Humane Society, in recognition of his distinguished services in the cause of humanity5 .

The seat of government is Castletown, neatly built of limestone from the adjacent coast on the shore of a land washed by a dangerous bay. The lieutenant-governor resides in Castle Rushen. This ancient building was erected A. D. 720, by Guttred, son of Orrys ; and the material employed in its construction is so durable, that no trace of injury from time, or the action of weather, can he discovered in any part of it, not excepting the quarter exposed to the south-west wind, and its accompanying rains, of the effects of which many of our cathedrals afford melancholy proofs. The castle consists of a keep, flanked by square towers, used as a prison, enclosed by a substantial wall, and the apartments of the lieutenant-governor, added to the building in the time of Queen Elizabeth, which are small, but protected by walls, sixteen feet thick, from both the heat of summer and the cold of winter. A detachment of soldiers, the only one in the Island, is stationed here to mount guard at the castle, and to assist the civil force in case of riot or tumult.

On the shore near the castle is a mound, on which are standing ruins of an ancient building, once used as a place of execution. It is the spot on which the unfortunate commandant of Castle Rushen, William Christian, suffered death by order of Lord Derby, for surrendering that fortress to the rebels, during the civil wars. The execution was regarded by the Manksmen as a murder, and the remembrance of it is still perpetuated by time plaintive national song of " The Fair-haired William."

The Manksmen are somewhat offended by the manner in which Sir W. Scott has spoken of Christian, in his novel of Peveril of the Peak; but without reason, for his character is represented as blameless, except in regard to the single act of rebellion, of which the House of Derby could entertain but one opinion.

The climate of the Island is pure and mild, but moist. Myrtles, arbutus, Portugal laurel, and several plants requiring warm temperature, thrive in it and it is no small proof of its being favourable to the production of fruit, that an apple-tree in an orchard near Castletown, yielded 16,000 apples in a single year.

The snow is sometimes heavy, and destructive to the sheep. The shepherds discern the animal when buried, by a hollow spot in the snow, formed by the ascending breath, a practice, I believe, usual in mountainous countries.

The Duke of Athol and others have planted larch, but those trees have been much blasted by the sea-gales, as soon as they reach a certain height. The previous trenching of the ground is found absolutely necessary to the growth of the trees. It is said that the high winds prevent the growth of firs. Feltham makes a remark certainly inapplicable to the then existing state of the Island, that " the Scotch fir will endure almost any severity of climate." That the fir did formerly grow in the Island has been ascertained by the discoveries made, in the bogs, of the roots of this tree (the only species of bog-timber which the island affords), at a depth of eighteen or twenty feet, still growing upright, firm and entire, but the bodies broken off, with their heads all lying to the north-east. Sacheverel, who mentions this fact, does not describe the size of the timber. The position in which they were found proves that they were overthrown by the prevailing wind of the Island. At a period when, in consequence of the little provision hitherto made for future navies, the attention of government has been directed to the royal forests, the advantage of planting the waste lands of the Island, which have been purchased of the Duke of Athol by the government, with oak, which grows well on the western coast of Scotland, and also thrives when it has been planted in this island, might deserve consideration. There is a beautiful glen leading from Douglas to the interior of the Island, called Glen Darrah, or the Glen of Oaks, which may be considered conclusive as to the former growth of oaks in the Island.

Of the entire surface of the Island, about two-thirds are cultivated, and the rest is waste, affording pasture for sheep. The northern district, the soil of which is clay under sand, is the most productive, and furnishes the largest quantity of grain for exportation; but the southern is best supplied with lime and sea-weed from the adjacent coast. ‘ The soil and climate are found best adapted to oats and barley 6

The cultivation of potatoes has latterly much increased, though the sea-wrack is ill suited to this plant. It has proportionably superseded the oat and barley, as the food of the people. Wheat, formerly unknown in the Island, may be now seen on very exposed spots. The growth and the manufacture of flax are very general, almost every farmer and cottager raising a little for the use of his family and for exportation. The waste or mountain lands, are enclosed, and belong to the lord of the island, but the proprietors of quarter-lands have the right of pasture.

The exports, in 1823, were of wheat 7,549 quarters ; barley 254 ; oats 1,256 :—6000 quarters of wheat may be considered the average.

The produce of the island in most years was, during the latter part of last century, inadequate to the consumption, and in 1740, a scarcity was occasioned by drought, which was severely felt, in consequence of the importation of English corn being prohibited 7. Feltham remarks, in 1798, that a material improvement had taken place in the agriculture of the Island, during the previous twenty years ; although a society formed for the encouragement of farming improvements was dissolved. The various obstacles to agricultural improvements in the island will be hereafter considered.

Enclosures, which, in other countries, are optional with the proprietors of land, are prescribed by the Manks law : or in lieu of boundaries, fences, ditches, or hedges, keepers must be stationed to prevent the cattle straying. It is consequently a frequent practice here, as in Ireland, to tie the legs of the cattle with straw ropes. The practice is called lanketting.

The cattle of the Island are short-horned and run to fat, yielding no milk till they are six years old; but Mr. Gawne, a landed proprietor who has bestowed much attention on the breed, has crossed them successfully with cattle imported. He has introduced the Leicestershire sheep : the native sheep are of the usual mountain kind,—small, sweet-flavoured, and coarse-wooled.

The Island yields a race of very hardy poneys, capable of much labour, with little food. They are exported : for draught and other purposes, horses are imported as well as bred in the Island, but these are of an inferior kind. The tops of the gorse, ground in a mill, serve as a good fodder for horses. I passed a mill near Inchebreck, used for this purpose. That the Manks legislators were not indifferent to the breed of horses, appears from the statute which prescribes that " at court of common law, the jury shall present, among other offenders, all persons that keep stoned horses not worth 6s. 8d., or scabbed horses or mares !"

Partridges and hares abound in parts of the Island : the sale is legal, and the former are sold for 1s. 6d. the brace, and the latter for 4s. 6d. and 5s.—in the market ; snipes and woodcocks are numerous. The privilege of shooting requires a license and the permission of the proprietor of the land, which is seldom or ever withheld. The existence of game proves that the right has not been wholly abused. Formerly, falconry appears to have been practised in Man, as the destruction of falcons or herons was prohibited by law. The falcons of Man were celebrated and exported, probably trained in the island. They still, exist. Foxes and pole-cats, their most voracious enemies, are unknown in the Island : and to the negative catalogue of vermin must be added snakes and moles. It is said that no poisonous animal is found in Man, an exemption which it owes, like the neighbouring island, to its patron saint and supposed creator, St. Patrick. Weasels are, however, numerous, and rats have become a pest to the Island : they have almost exterminated the puffins, on Calf Island, by their depredations on the nests of those birds. This account does not exactly agree with that of Bishop Wilson, who observes that the Island contains "several noxious animals, such as badgers, foxes, otters, filmarts, moles, hedge-hogs, snakes, toads, &c., of which the inhabitants know no more than their names ; as also several birds, among which magpies, lately introduced by a gentleman more fanciful than prudent or kind, and frogs, a few years ago, which increase very fast8."Red-deer formerly ranged in the mountains : and the bones of elks, and other species of deer are found in different parts of the Island, and chiefly in the pits of shell marl, near Ballagh. This quarry yielded the most perfect specimen ever seen, which is now preserved in the Museum of Edinburgh.

The Manks tenures deserve particular attention. Each parish is divided into Treens, each of which comprises four quarterlands ; varying from 60 to 150 acres, varying according to their value, which is from 10l. to 125l. per annum9 . " These are considered property of the highest nature, are (though subject to the payment of a small rent to the Lord of the Island, the total of which amounts to 15001., contributed by 759, the whole number) absolute estates of inheritance descendible from ancestor to heir, cannot be disposed of by will, nor are liable to payment of debts10." The holder of property of this kind is called here, as in Westmorland, a statesman, as the property itself is an estate. The basis on which the security rests is the Act of Settlement, procured by the concurrent efforts of the Manks legislature and of Bishop Wilson, which terminated the struggles with the House of Derby.

" Other lands are called intaks," (tack signifying a lease, as in Scotland, whence leaseholders are called tacksmen,)" and cottages, which were formerly considered of a nature far inferior. Purchased lands, though quarterlands, are on an exact footing with intacks and cottages11." They are devisable and liable for debt. The legal mode of disposing of property is by sale or mortgage : " the mortgage must be recorded within six months ; all mortgagees are empowered, at the expiration of five years from the date of their mortgage, to take possession of the lands granted in mortgage, and retain the same until the mortgage is paid off; setting the lands yearly by public auction, and crediting the mortgagee with the rest. Notwith standing which, the mortgagor has a right, at any time, to pay off the mortgage within twenty-one years12."

All transfers of property must be recorded, as in copyholds in England : and thus "the title of every acre of land in the Island may be traced. Nothing can be more clearly defined than the modern Manks tenures, which are totally unshackled with, and unrestrained by fictitious suits or records, similar to English fines or recoveries; by abstruse family settlements, for no entail can be created of hereditament within the Isle, beyond the life of the grantee, or the heirs of persons in esse; by feoffment with livery of seisin, &c., which forms so essential and abstruse a part of the English code13."

The statesmen are proudly conscious of the superiority of their tenures to those of the English farmers. " We do not hold farms as your tenants do in England," said the wife of a statesman to me, " they pay so much for them, and return them to the proprietor : ours are our own property : we leave the whole to the eldest son."

But however gratifying to the speculative philanthropist might be the aspect of a country parcelled out into small lots, held by proprietors transmitting them in hereditary independence to their eldest sons, and raising corn, cattle, and flax, for domestic manufacture, for their own use, and for exportation, pasturing their sheep and gathering their fuel on the common-lands, rights to which they are entitled by the nature of their tenures, the system is practically vicious ; diminishing the wealth both of the small farmers who were apparently interested in the preservation of it, and of the public at large, and indeed containing within itself the seeds of its own dissolution.

The expense of rearing and educating a large family, though the children, as they grow up, contribute to their own support by assisting in the labours of the field or domestic manufacture, presses heavily upon the estate ; and the portions of the daughters, which sometimes amount to 200l. prove an additional incumbrance. The support of the widow constitutes another burden, as " if any man die, she is entitled to one half of all his goods, and half the tenement in which she lives during her widowhood, if his first wife14."

The proprietor becomes involved in debt, and borrows money on the security of a mortgage15, and if he fail in redeeming it, is dispossessed of his property and quits the Island, or betakes himself to any occupation within his reach. Such is the actual condition of most of the statesmen and small farmers throughout the Island. As it may be fully supposed, the class is fast disappearing: multitudes of them have been swallowed up in the extending estate of Mr. Gawne, and that of Englishmen and other strangers, who have embraced opportunities of purchasing land in the Island. Some of the estates which have been formed by the gradual absorption of the property of the smaller proprietors, amount in value to some thousands per annum. The minister of Peel informed me that not one of those persons who were considered the principal inhabitants in the neighbourhood of that town, when he first arrrived there, remains. Next to General Goldie, the principal proprietor is Mr. Gawne, who obtained his fortune chiefly by his brewery : he resides in the south of the Island, and devotes his attention to agriculture and planting. His garden and hothouses are celebrated. The bishop’s extensive property has been always remarkable for good cultivation. The encroachment of the gentry, on the old system, is regarded by the natives with futile jealousy.

That a system which entailed poverty and debt on the farmers must prove unfavourable to agricultural improvement, to which capital is necessary, is obvious. But the small proprietors of whom we speak, are as much indisposed to the adoption of plans of improvement, as they are, from want of capital, incapable of carrying them into effect. Pursuing the beaten track of their fore-fathers, and limiting their views to their own land and that of their neighbours, they regard projects of improvements if suggested to them, as innovating on established practice, and will not incur the risk of what they conceive to be an experiment. They are incapable of adopting any enlarged system of management ; and the land is inadequately cultivated, and the breed and growth of cattle are neglected. One instance of the baneful effect of the independent system may be mentioned : in regard to the growth of flax, each statesman raises it on his own land, whether the soil is adapted to it or not.

The manifest inferiority of the produce of a country parcelled out into small estates, arising from the want of means of enterprise, of public spirit, and the powerful stimulant of example, when compared with that of those in which there is a due gradation of proprietors, affords irrefragable proof of the folly of those speculators who would attempt to frustrate the Divine Economy, check the developement of natural wealth, and by arbitrary enactments, enforce poverty, on the plea of establishing independence.

The defective farming of the small proprietors in the Island has been much attributed to their frequent participation in the herring-fishery, which diverted their attention, as well as their capital. It is still the frequent practice of the farmers to purchase a boat, and share in the profits of the fishery. Where man’s pursuits are amphibious, and his livelihood is derived equally from agricultural and from maritime employments, both are neglected16. Another, and principal cause of the neglect of agriculture in the Isle of Man, was the illicit trade of smuggling, the profits of which engrossed the attention of the natives. Feltham states that " The prejudices to the king’s revenue were nearly 350,0001. per annum ; and the value of the seizures on the coast of Ireland, from the Island, 10,0001. per annum :" and that the extent of smuggling was attributed by the Commissioners appointed in 1792, to decide on the duke of Athol’s appeal, to the old incomplete mode of collecting the customs under that family, and that they recommended it being placed under the crown." The effect of the suppression of sniuggling in promoting agricultural improvement is thus alluded to by the same author. " The union to the British crown in 1765, gave, like the union of Scotland in 1706, a temporary alarm to the people. A respectable native thus describes its effects. The local trade, so long carried on here to the detriment of the crown, being now totally suppressed by the care and attention of his Majesty’s civil government in the Isle, aided by the vigilance and activity of the revenue officers and cutters, they have turned their hands with uncommon spirit and diligence to cultivate the more innocent and laudable, though less lucrative, art of agriculture, and the linen-manufacture. They have lost, it is true, a certain species of commerce, of no advantage to the place in general, as but few in comparison were enriched thereby, while it was secretly undermining them, as it introduced a spirit of idleness and dissipation, and from the easy acquisition of spirituous liquors, and other foreign luxuries, was tending fast to debauch the minds, corrupt the morals, and enervate the constitutions of the common people; the gains so lightly acquired being for the most part as lightly liquidated. Instead of this, a more pleasing and agreeable prospect has opened. Sublatâ causâ, tollitur effectus. Industry and sobriety have taken place, and diffuse their influence, which we have reason to hope will daily increase.’"

But the Manks were not so easily persuaded of the beneficial effects of the Union ; their dissatisfaction was expressed in an old song, of which the following couplet is a sample,

" For the babes unborn will rue the day,
That the Isle of Man was sold away;
For there’s ne’er an old wife that loves a dram,
But what will lament for the Isle of Man."

The just anticipations of the writer above quoted have been realized ; the cultivation of the land has been improved in proportion to the failure of illicit resources.

During the war, the navy, congenial to the maritime situation and habits of the islanders, afforded them an unfailing resource. The Isle of Man has perhaps furnished a much larger number of able and excellent seamen to the public service, in proportion to their population, than any other district of the British Empire. No sailors are preferred to the Manksmen by British officers. There are at present residing in the neighbourhood of Castletown, two captains in the royal navy, natives of this Island, both of whom were impressed, one out of a collier in this harbour, who became Nelson’s first lieutenant at Trafalgar.

It is remarkable that the Manks sailors exhibit a superior degree of self-respect and good conduct, resulting from their birth as the sons of independent proprietors ; a moral advantage which certainly counterbalances many of the evils of the system. That they have seldom risen to eminence, and that out of the vast numbers which Man has furnished to the navy, none should have associated his native island with his own fame, has arisen partly from the singular circumstance of the Manksmen concealing, both in the navy and army, their birth, and passing for Irishmen, from apprehension of the animosity evinced by the Irish towards them; partly, to escape the taunts to which the ill name acquired by their Island, from having been the asylum of debtors and citadel of smugglers, frequently exposed them ; and partly, from the usual practice of those Manksmen, who have gained the means of living out of the Island, never to return to it.

The military service has been far less congenial to the habits of the Manksmen than the naval; and the esprit de corps of these islanders has never been roused into action, as in Scotland, by the formation of a local corps.

There is one branch of employment connected with the present system which cannot be too zealously encouraged, the domestic manufactures, already alluded to, which are carried on by the females, who are consequently never idle. At whatever hour the cottage or farm-house is entered, the women and girls will be found, unless employed in the field or farmyard, intent on the labour of the spinning-wheel or loom. They fabricate fishing-nets, woollen cloths, cottons or linens The rigid economist, who could desire the entire transfer of the domestic manufacture to Leeds or Manchester, as requiring a far less portion of labour, and consequently of cost, forgets that the time actually bestowed on it is leisure, which would be otherwise unemployed, unprofitable, and consequently posed to temptations, to discord, and vice. The employment which it would afford to a few additional manufacturers in a large town would ill atone for the moral evils resulting to a numerous peasantry.

In the year 1781, 32,201 yards of linen were exported ; in 1807, 90,305 ; but since that period the quantity has been rapidly declining.

There is a woollen manufactory near Douglas; a cotton-manufactory was long ago established, but failed. Hats are manufactured of coarse woollen, in substance extremely thick and heavy, lasting from two to three years, and costing two shillings.

The bleaching in Laxey Glen has obtained much celebrity ; stuffs are sent thither from all parts for the purpose, and exported ; the grass-bleaching being preferred to the artificial chemical process.

The price paid for bleaching has very much fallen. A flourishing brewery has been established about two years, by some people from Norfolk, on the bank of the river : the exemption from the duty on malt, which this Island enjoys, is favourable to the consumption of beer and ale ; but the brewer complained of the increasing preference for spirits, which are equally free from burden. The price of rum, for which 6d. is paid for the glass, in England, is 2d. in the Isle of Man, and of brandy, which is bought in England for 1s., but 4d. here : gin is 3d. per glass: whisky is scarcely known. The cheapness of wine and spirits attracts yachts to the island for the purpose of obtaining supplies. Ale was in Man, as in Wales and Scotland, formerly the sole beverage of the people, and was of a superior kind. " As God has given this blessing in plenty to comfort them in their misfortunes," says Sacheverel, in his Account of the Isle of Man, 1680, " so he has given them hearts to make use of it (I wish I could say with moderation)." A paper-mill has been also erected in Laxey glen ; the rags employed in the manufacture are imported.

In trade the Manksmen take little share. One proof of this is afforded by the circumstance that there is no Jew in this Island, the only one who settled here having been converted 20.

The fisheries, especially that of the herring, form the principal resource of the natives next to land. The herrings appear off the coast of Man in June, and remain till September, when they migrate to the eastern coast of the Island, and deposit their spawn, remaining there till November. The vessels used are half-decked. They are built by the eye. The reputation of the Manks boat-builders is not con-fined to the Island21; their keels are very short, and though swift sailers, they pitch exceedingly, and are not considered as safe as the English, which are lugger-built, longer, and perpendicular at the ends, and being followed by long trail-nets are very successful in the fishery. The Manksmen are now imi tating both their boats and their mode of fishing22.

The herring-fishery of Man is subject to the j urisdiction of an officer called the water-bailiff, who presides in the Admiralty courts of the Island, and assists as a judge in the Courts of Chancery and general gaol-delivery : he delegates the immediate superintendence of the fishery to two admirals nominated by himself ; these are masters of boats, themselves fishermen, direct the time of sailing and of casting the nets, and adj udge separately and singly, unless they choose to call to their aid the advice of any of the senior fishermen, all disputes among the fishermen. Their decisions are subject to the appellate jurisdiction of the water-bailiff, but are implicitly submitted to, as that officer never, as he informed me, received complaints respecting them. Mr. Quirk, the present water-bailiff; has by his judgment and conciliatory conduct materially checked their former litigious disposition. Great difficulties, however, arise from the disputes of the Manksmen with the English and Irish fishermen, who do not acknowledge the authority of the admirals, and submit only to the laws of the realm. There are belonging to the former, at present, 100 vessels, from St. Ives, and other parts of Cornwall; the latter also are numerous from the vicinity of their coast, but their enterprise is much restrained by want of capital, and their boats are of an inferior description. The chief subject of contention between the Manks and Englishmen is the period of commencing the fishery, and of shooting the nets. The former never fish before the 5th of July, and shoot their nets invariably after dark, to avoid alarming the fish ; a deviation from this rule being permitted only on special liberty from the officers or water-bailiff ; the latter break through both these customs, taking the sea in June, and shooting their nets while the sun is up. The Manksmen complained on the subject to the House of Keys, by whom their representations were submitted to the Board of Northern Fisheries, who decided in favour of the right claimed by the English, as being authorized by the act of parliament to fish at all seasons on the British coast. Notwithstanding the jealousy excited by this difference, the English fishermen are held in estimation for their orderly conduct and skill in the fishery. The old Manks statute prohibiting fishing from Saturday morning till Sunday at night after sunset, on pain of forfeiting boats and nets, is observed ; and the take of Monday is generally superior to that of other days, in consequence of the less previous disturbance of the fish. The manksmen had an old quarrel with the Irish respecting the side of the vessel from which the net should be cast, originating in the direction given by our Saviour to St. Peter, which produced the miraculous draught. This was determined by the act of 1793, which decided, in conformity to the above supposed precept, that the net should be shot from the star-board side.

The floats used in the herring-fishery are made of dog-skins, which are found much better adapted to the purpose than those of sheep ; to this circumstance may be partly attributed the number of dogs kept in the Island. Tarred-nets are prohibited by law : the cran used for the purchase and sale of fresh herrings is legally made only of oak-staves completely seasoned ; and its measure was fixed. And it is also enacted, that any vessel should reveal the discovery of a scull of fish to the next, and so on through the fleet. The killing a sea-gull during the fishing-season is punished with a fine of 3l., as the bird is useful in indicating the course of the fish. The fishery has been unprosperous during many years, excepting the single year of 1824, and especially from that time. Mr. Gelling, the minister of Peel, traces its ill success as far back as 1802, when he first entered on his charge. The success of the fishery was long stationary. " The number of boats belonging to the Island, for which the herring custom was paid and annually returned by the coroners, was in 1781, 343; and in the year 1811, 331 23."

The recent failure of the fishery is attributed partly to the fish having shifted their ground. It is considered by the fishermen themselves as a judgment on them for their unfortunate quarrel with the late bishop respecting the green-crop tithes, in which the men of Peel took a violent and tumultuary part. An instance of the capricious disposition of fish occurs in the case of haddocks, which formerly abounded on this coast, but have now wholly disappeared. But the herring-fishery has been liable in former times to long periodical fluctuations. Sacheverel, in his account of the Isle of Man, published in 1702, ascribes the great poverty of the inhabitants to their having for several years past lost their herring-fishery.

I went on board of one of the boats. It was of twenty-eight tons ; the crew consisted of ten men: the proprietor of the vessel receives a double share of the fish taken. The original cost of it was 100l. It is the excellent practice of the Manksmen employed in the herring-fishery, to commence and end the day with prayers and hymns. Each crew is seen, when the vessel is on the point of sailing, standing up with their heads uncovered for this purpose. I purchased of these men the old Manks psalm-book, bound in black leather, and thoroughly soaked with salt water, which served them on these occasions, exacting from them a promise that they would procure another copy. The form of prayer used was composed by Bishop Wilson, who also introduced into the Litany a clause " for the restoration or preservation of the resources of the sea."

The departure of the herring-fleet on its nightly cruise is an animating spectacle. I witnessed it on a fine evening in a bay on the east of the Island. At the time of sailing, the crews all stood up in their vessels, offering up their customary prayers; the sails were then spread, and we reached Spanish Head just in time to see them run down the Race of Calf in full and rapid procession to the Western sea, where the fish were now congregated24.

The cod-fishery has been neglected. rfhere are banks abounding in this fish, a few miles distant west from the Island, which are believed completely to encircle it. The obstacles to entering on this advantageous trade are want of capital adequate to furnish vessels of twenty-five tons, the expensive lines required, and ignorance of the mode of salting the fish. These it is thought would be completely removed by a bounty on salted cod granted by the Manks legislature, but the members object to the principle of bounties. Yet to attract capital and skill to a trade which will prove profitable, and will, when once set on foot, no longer need the artificial prop necessary to its outset and early progress, seems a suitable object for a bounty. Flat fish, turbot, &c., are commonly speared.

The Island furnishes sufficient employment for its inhabitants. The labourers’ wages are is. per day, ample, considering the comparatively low price of provisions ; and those of mechanics, not-withstanding their general unskilfulness, 3s. Poverty is complained of, but there is little severe distress. There is no legal relief for it in the Island ; workhouse, or even hospital. At the same time, the law prohibits any person from begging out of his own parish ; the poor are aided or supported by private charity, weekly collections, and some funds arising out of private donations. When their distress is increased by typhus fever, or any other epidemic, the minister applies to the wealthiest inhabitants, who contribute readily to meet the emergency. in Peel, the number of individuals receiving public alms is eighty.

The most complete arrangement for the investigation and relief of the wants of the poor, has been formed at Castletown, by the minister of the parish. He has divided the town into districts, to each of which are assigned visiters. The number receiving relief in Winter amounts to about seventy-two ; and about half that number in summer. Begging is, however, not altogether suppressed, and a day in the week is allowed for the practice. The proprietors contribute here but 301. annually to the poor.

The cottages are in general of a very inferior description ; often built of earth, or sod, thatched with straw, fastened down by ropes of the same material. A funnel of sail-cloth, covered with a coating of lime, serves as a substitute for a chimney. The most wretched habitation which I saw was in a retired glen near Ramsay ; its sod-walls were green, and the sail-cloth funnel was wanting. It was tenanted by the son of an Irishman, who fled to this Island, like many of his fellow-countrymen, during the Rebellion. He had thirteen children, for several of whom his friends in Dublin have provided employment and subsistence. The bishop has erected cottages with chimnies, but the example has been little imitated.

To the above general account of the abodes of the peasantry, the little village of Craignish, forms a remarkable exception. Expecting to find, in the dreary sequestered height on which it is situated, forming part of the ridge terminating in Spanish Head, a collection of hovels, I was agreeably disappointed to discern cottages built of stone, a material which is fortunately at hand in this corner of the Island, neatly thatched, and white—washed, and equally clean within, as most of them were provided with chimnies which carried off the smoke. The first dwelling which we entered, was inhabited by an Englishman, a Chelsea pensioner, who obtained it by marriage with a Mankswoman. It exhibited all the cleanliness and comfort of an English cottage : and probably furnished the example to others. He spoke of the villagers as being orderly and neighbourly, and never making use of oaths, even in their quarrels. Each of them possessed a small piece of land, or cow : and distress was seldom known amongst them, except in some few instances of those who preferred enduring the privations to which they were occasionally exposed, to making them known by an application for relief to the public funds ; and unhappily these were not sought out by excursive benevolence. By good management they distribute their food equally through the week, " boiling their pot" once a day, whereas the English peasant reserves his provisions for the Sunday, and contents himself with a cold meal during the rest of the week. They have three meals, oat or barley meal twice, and potatoes with fish, and sometimes bacon, at dinner. The dried conger, which the English fishermen will seldom eat, and the Scotch hold in abhorrence, from the resemblance of the eel to the snake, is in Man a favourite article of food. The poor make use of another article of food not used in England, a small limpet, called fritters. They have, moreover, discovered, like the Scotch, that a rich soup may be made of the blood of the cormorant : notwithstanding the occasional use of such diet, the Manks peasantry in general fare well. The farmers live chiefly on oat and barley cakes; and meat, principally pork, which is often sold for 2d. or 3d. per lb.

The absolute dependence of the villagers, whose comparative exemplary conduct and happy lot I have described, on their own resources, may afford an argument to the opponent of the English system of poor-laws. In reference to the state of the poor, and their exemption from public relief, the Isle of Man and the Isles of Guernsey and Jersey bear a close resemblance : and to both the Isle of Man and the Channel Isles the same remark may be applied ;—they afford little or no encouragement to the settlement of poor from other parts within their shores ; whilst they facilitate the egress of their own poor, whenever impelled by want of employment to seek their subsistence elsewhere25.

The usual dress of the Manks women consists of a jacket and petticoats. They are very proud of, and cherish their long hair. They are also particularly found of showy colours, and wear much the tartan ; this propensity is occasionally severely rebuked from the pulpit. The cheapness and variety of the tartan form its chief recommendation to the Manks, and not its Scotch origin ; this would operate in an opposite manner. The only individual whom I saw in a full suit of tartan, a man of some property, wore it in defiance of the Manks, with whom he had quarrelled. The men are invariably attired in blue coats or sailors jackets, and blue trousers, a complete naval costume. Their shoes worn on week days are made of skins, sometimes covered with hair, fastened with thongs across the foot, called kerranes. I saw them in the mountains. The common brogues of the Highlands of Scotland are of a very superior substance and texture. The children wear no shoes or stockings ; and even adults, when very neatly clad, dispense with them when walking.

The people are healthy, long-lived, and have very numerous families. There are often fourteen grown up persons in a family. The prevailing disorders are low typhus-fevers, which are chiefly confined to the towns, and rheumatic affections, and occasionally measles and small-pox, but consumptions are extremely rare.

 

Footnotes

1 It has been since sold and converted into a hotel, and has subsequently become the house of the United Service Club, at Douglas.

2 The public attention was first drawn to the important subject of constructing a great central harbour for the Irish Sea, at Douglas, by Sir William Hillary : and some years afterwards, Sir John Rennie, by direction of the Commissioners for making, maintaining, and improving the harbours in the Isle of Man, surveyed the proposed site, and drew up a Report, approving the project, and suggesting a plan of carrying it into effect.

I am happy in the opportunity of giving additional publicity to a project, interesting not only in a commercial point of view but to humanity, and cannot represent its claims to public attention more forcibly than in the words of the Report.

—See Appendix, Note 2.

Sir J. Rennie proposes to effect his object by constructing two breakwaters, one of 340 feet, and another of 1400 feet long, and to run out a small pier of 400 feet long. He calculates that it would afford accomodation to from 150 to 200 vessels of all sizes ; and that the cost of it would amount to upwards of 200,0001.

Sir W. Hillary, in a recent publication on the same subject, suggests that the expense might be defrayed out of the surplus revenues of the Isle of Man, amounting to 15,0001., paid annually into the Exchequer of England.

3 The population of Douglas is now about 8000 (1836).

4 Port Elliott, seat of the Earl St. Germain, in Cornwall, is erected on the site of a church dedicated to the same saint.

5 While since attempting, and successfully, to save a crew wrecked in Douglas Harbour, Sir William was washed off the boat, and his life was, almost miraculously, spared.

6 There are two kinds of it, the four-rowed, which is only fit for malt, and the two-rowed, which is used for bread, was the general food of the lower classes, with whom oats also were a considerable part of diet.—Feltham’s Tour, 1798. (The best account of the Isle of Man hitherto published.)

7 The importation of foreign corn into the Island, when the English ports are shut, was prohibited by an Act of last year; and excited no sensation among the natives, as they now raise more grain than they can consume.—1836.

8 Bishop Wilson’s History of the Isle of Man.

9 Feltham

10 Ibid. :

11 Ibid.

12 Feltham.

13 Johnson’s Jurisprudence of the Isle of Man, 1811.

14 The women have singular privileges. " Wives have the power to make their wills (though their husbands be living), of one-half of all their goods ; except in the six northern parishes, where the wife, if she had had children, can only disposeof a third part of the living goods."—Feltham. Tradition says that the ladies of the southern division of the Island obtained their superior privileges by assisting their husbands in battle.

15 In 1825, the mortgages on Manks Estates amounted to 800,0001. See Appendix, Note iii.

16 The commissioners of the Manks legislature on the herring fishery recommend, in their Report (A. D. 1827), the employment of the fishermen in the cod-fishery during the absence of the herrings, in order that they may become more efficient seamen by being withdrawn from agricultural pursuits, to which they are induced by what they call the most injurious and unnatural union of the two trades of fishing and farming.

20 See Appendix, Note III.

21 Mr. Macniell, of Colonsay, employed them to construct the vessels which he uses for ferrying cattle, and conveying his other produce to the coast.

22 The Manks Commissioners attribute the superior success of the English fishermen to the smaller size, and consequent steadiness and security of their boats ; observing, that in the memory of many living persons, the average size of the Manks fishing-boats had nearly trebled, and some of the largest are now little or at all short of being double the tonnage of some boats from St. Ives. After drawing a comparison between the English and Manks fishermen, the Commissioners conclude by stating their opinion, that the Manksman, by imitating the principal habits of the Cornish fishermen, would reduce the number of his crew one-half, the labour of the remainder two-thirds, and augment the comforts of the whole in a still higher proportion—Report, 1827.

23 Staining. In the Isle of Man Fisheries, 250 vessels of larger size than those formerly used, and upwards of 2000 sea-men are now employed.—Sir J. Rennie’s Report. (1835.)

24 Mr. Mackenzie in his paper " On different sorts of herrings, &c." (Transactions of Highland Society of Scotland, Vol. II,) states, that whilst the Isle of Man was a storehouse of smugglers, the inhabitants in a great measure neglected the herring-fishery, using small boats, and only when the herrings came into the bays to spawn. Hence the Island scarcely supplied more than its own consumption ; but when smuggling was abolished, people formerly employed in smuggling and fishing alternately, turned their whole attention to the herring and other fisheries, and invested their capital by degrees in up-wards of 500 large boats, of from ten to fifteen tons burden, and some half-decked, which sallied out into the deep seas, and as far as the Clyde, Barra-head, &c.

What evidence does this Island, as well as Scotland, afford of the impoverishment which a country sustains from dependence on illicit resources,—a just and righteous dispensation of Providence!

The Manksmen appear from the statement of the Commissioners already quoted to have gone from one extreme to the other in respect to the size of their boats.

25 The new system of poor-laws adopted in England will, by checking the immigration into this country of vagrants, from those parts in which legal relief has not yet existed, gradually render some regulations of the kind necessary, whilst it prescribes a course of proceeding founded on long and dearly bought experience.


 

index next


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