[From Letters from IoM 1846]
"A dusty road it was. DUST-dust-dust everywhere." DICKENS
"This little island, instead of being a burthen to the mother country, remits about 15,000l. annually to the British revenue, after all expenses are paid."-TRADE AND COMMERCE.
THE hotel from which I now write, "Mona Castle," was built about forty years ago by the Duke of Athol, at an expense of 40,000l.., as his residence, but afterwards sold, and converted to its present use. Douglas 1 is the largest and greatest commercial town in the island (Castletown,2 from being the seat of local government, is considered the capital,) and has a handsome light-house and pier, which cost 22,0001., the latter forming a promenade for the inhabitants and visitors. As it was originally merely a fishing village, the old streets are very narrow and inconvenient, and the buildings, generally speaking, very mean-looking and irregular ; but the new houses, near the bay, are very neat, and built in the style of those at our fashionable watering places. Douglas bay is picturesque, and there are some pretty little villages in the neighbourhood, studded with trees, forming a pleasing contrast to the general bleak and bare appearance of the island, which is about thirty miles in length, and eleven in breadth, containing upwards of 130,000 acres; and one of its largest mountains, Snaefelt, rises 2000 feet above the sea, commanding a beautiful view of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, extending to Solway Frith, Ailsa Craig, the Mull of Galloway, and the mountains of Morne.
Bishop Wilson conjectures " man " to be an abbreviation of " manning," which signifies, in the Manx language, " among;" the island being surrounded by other territories. Others suppose the words " Mona" and " Man" to be derived from the ancient British word, " Mon," signifying, in Owen's Dictionary, " What is isolated."3 The Duke of Athol was lord of this island, the sovereignty of which he sold in 1765 to the Crown, but retained his territorial property. This is alluded to in the following verse of an old Manx song:
"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 love's a dram,
But what will lament for the Isle of Man."
The manufactures of the island are woollen cloths,4 linen, ropes, sail-cloth, &c. ; and it produces black marble, slate, limestone, lead, and copper. It contains seventeen parishes, the chief towns being Castletown, Douglas, Peel, and Ramsay. Till the year 1765, the chief business of the place was smuggling. The annual returns of this trade, (according to Wood,) exceeded 350,000l., and were estimated by some at half a million; while the value of seizures was not more than 10,000l., so that the profits to those engaged in the traffic must have been enormous. It is said the Duke of Athol (having a small duty upon imports) rather encouraged it, and consequently the island then became the harbour and storehouse of smugglers, whence they shipped their goods to England, Ireland, and Scotland, to the great detriment of the British revenue.
This island was long an independent sovereignty, held by the Earls of Derby, and is celebrated for the gallant defence made by the Countess of Derby for Charles I. It afterwards descended to the Duke of Athol, from whom it was purchased, as before stated, by the British government, in 1765, to prevent smuggling, and to establish a free trade. The Manks had formerly a curious custom concerning debts, now abolished-viz., that " When the debtor died and was buried, and there remained no witness to prove the debt, the creditor came to the grave of the deceased, and laid himself all along, with his back upon the grave, and his face towards Heaven, and a Bible on his breast, and then he protested ' before God, that is above him, and by the contents of the Bible on his breast, that the deceased, then buried under him, did owe him so much money;' and then the executors were bound to pay him." This custom was abolished in the year 1609.
According to Camden, women malefactors in this island were formerly " to be put in a sack and sewed up, and so flung from a rock into the sea."
This morning I started for Peel-a hot and dusty ride, of about ten or eleven miles. Peel, formerly called Holme Town, is the head quarters of the Herring Fishery. It is a mean-lookin gtown, and the ruins of the castle and cathedral-5 the only lions in the place, and these I confess disappointed me. They stand on a rocky island separated from the main land. The castle from the earliest times was a fortified residence of the Kings of Man. There is a mound of earth in the centre of the area,6 probably a sepulchral tumulus, though some have conjectured it to have been a rostrum for public harangues. A body of native soldiers formerly were garrisoned in this castle. Here, in the reign of Richard II., the Earl of Warwick was imprisoned, but afterwards re-called with honour. Also Eleanor Cobham, wife of Humphry, Duke of Gloucester, who was sentenced to perpetual confinement, on the charge of witchcraft, by Henry VI., under the guardianship of Sir John Stanley. Shakespeare introduces her, as you are aware, in his historical play of Henry VI., Part II.
"K. HEN. Stand forth, dame Eleanor Cobham, Gloster's wife:
In sight of God, and us, your guilt is great;
Receive the sentence of the law, for sins
Such as by God's book are adjudged to death.
You, madam, for you are more nobly born,
Despoiled of your honour in your life,
Shall, after three days' open penance done, Live in your country here, in banishment,
With Sir John Stanley, in the Isle of Man.
"DUCH. Welcome is banishment, welcome were my death,
" GLO. And, master sheriff.
Let not her penance exceed the king's commission.
" SHER. An't please your grace, here my commission stays;
And Sir John Stanley is appointed now
To take her with him to the Isle of Man.
" DUCA. Stanley, I pr'ythee, go, and take me hence; I care not whither, for I beg no favour,
Only convey me where thou art commanded.
" STAN. Why, madam, that is to the Isle of Man
There to be used according to you state," &c., &c.
1 The name is derived from the two rivers Doo and Glas, which unite about a mile from the town.
2 Anciently called Rushen.
3 The Manksmen derive it traditionally from Manna-Man Maclea, an ancient king who first conquered the island. The early history of this island rests wholly on tradition, which is neither full nor consistent. It was doubtless the Mona mentioned by Caesar.
4 A manufactory for printing cotton was once tried, but abandoned.
5 Bishop Wilson was the last prelate enthroned here.
6 Here are the ruins of a church dedicated to St. Patrick, supposed to have been the first Christian church in the island.