[From Letters from IoM 1846]



"As a Christian Bishop, scarcely any age has seen his superior-in activity, disinterestedness, and steady attention to discipline."-MILNER's LIFE OF BISHOP WILSON.

" To make mankind better they must be constantly watched, and frequently admonished."-ANON.

THE bishopric of Sodor and Man was first instituted by Pope Gregory IV., and had for its diocese this island, and all the Hebrides, or western Scottish islands, but which the Danes called Sodoroc from the Swedish Sodor, (soil, or our Island,[fpc - Sudreys south!]) and from which the title, Bishop of Sodor, is supposed to be derived. The bishop's seat was at Rushin or Castletown, in the Isle of Man, which is called in Latin, Sodorensis. But the Hebrides had, when the Isle of Man became dependent on the kingdom of England, a bishop of their own, whom they also entitled " Sodorensis," or " Bishop of the Isles." The patronage of the bishopric was given, together with the island, to the Stanleys by Edward IV., and afterwards came to the family of Athol. The British government purchased the island from the Duke of Athol in 1765, with a view of preventing the smuggling, then so extensively carried on there, and in order to establish a free trade.

Bishop Wilson, upon being appointed to the bishopric of this Island, continued to reside there nearly sixty years, "in great reputation," as it is affirmed, "for his piety, exemplary life, hospitality, and extensive charity." His character, indeed, appears to have been truly apostolical; and during a French war, so highly was he respected, even by the French, that their cruisers were forbidden to "injure the property of the natives of the Isle of Man," out of respect to the Bishop. " Cardinal Henry," says the historian, "wanted much to see him, and sent over on purpose to inquire after his health, his age, and the date of his consecration, as they were the two oldest bishops, and, he believed, the poorest in Europe, at the same time inviting him to France. Few can now form an adequate idea of the difficulties which Bishop Wilson had, at that period, to encounter. The dwellings of the Manx were generally only huts of sod, which seldom had either -indoor or chimney, the smoke escaping through an aperture in the roof. " The social state of the island," says Mr. Horne, " at that period was probably somewhat like the present condition of the Waldenses, or of the flock of Oberlin1 in the Ban de la Roche, both of which have recently been so well made known to us by numerous publications." The bishop, in his history of the Isle of Man, written after an acquaintance of more than forty years, observes, " The natives are, in general, an orderly, civil, and peaceable people, well instructed in the duties of Christianity, as professed in the church of England. They have a great many good qualities. They are generally very charitable to the poor, and hospitable to strangers, especially in the country, where the people, if a stranger came to their houses, would think it an unpardonable crime not to give him a share of the best they had themselves to eat or drink. They have a significant proverb, to this purport, When one poor man relieves another, God himself rejoices at it!"' When the Bishop first arrived in the Island, the honesty of the Manx was proverbial. For many years, he informs us, " his door had no fastening but a latch;" and, also, that "the lawyers, or such as gain by strife, had never found any employment in the Isle of Man." What a contrast to the present state of things! The Manx are now proverbial for their love of litigation, and the town of Douglas abounds with solicitors.2 The good bishop, however, lived to see much demoralization introduced in the island, chiefly by the smuggling carried on, so that a traveller in those days declared that "the whole island had become a den of smugglers." To the clergy the bishop was most generous and affectionate. Young candidates for the ministry were received in his house for a year before their ordination, and carefully instructed, by lectures and conversation, in the principles of theology-his great desire being, as he declared, to influence them " to love and live 3 the Gospel."

Many anecdotes are recorded of his benevolence, from among which I select the following: "He had ordered a coat from a tailor, and desired that it might be made perfectly plain, with merely a button and loop to fasten it. " But, my lord," said the tailor, " what would become of the poor button-makers and their families if every one thought in that way ?-they would be starved outright." " Do you say so, John?" replied the bishop; "why, then, button it all over, John." He was buried in the churchyard of Kirk-Michael, where an unostentatious stone simply records his death,4 and contains the following inscription:

"This Monument was erected
By his own Son, Thomas Wilson, D.D.
A native of this parish,
Who, in obedience to the express commands of his Father,
declines giving him the character he so justly deserved.
Let this island speak the rest." 5

Of him it might truly be said, in the words of a quaint old divine, " His sermons were not so plain but that the piously learned did admire them, nor so learned but that the plain did understand them." An excellent chirurgeon he was at joining of a broken soul, and at slating of a doubtful conscience."6

Dr. Mark Hildesley succeeded him; and to this excellent bishop the Manks are indebted for the translation of the Bible into the Manx language, which had been commenced by Bishop Wilson. "Bishop Hildesley," says his biographer, "had this work so much at heart, that he often said, " He only wished to live to see it finished, and then he should be happy to die when he would." A day or two after its completion he was seized with a stroke of the palsy, (having preached the day previous on the " Uncertainty of Human Life,") and expired in about a week afterwards.7

He appears to have been a worthy successor of Bishop Wilson. He was succeeded by Dr. Richard Richmond, who is described as " an eloquent preacher, but haughty and unamiable in his manners." The next bishop appointed to the see was Dr. George Mason, who is said " to have involved himself in trouble and disgrace by his weakness, rather than by any studied attack on the privileges of others." To him succeeded Dr. Claudius Crigan, who was elevated to the prelacy by the late Duchess of Athol, and was almost the only instance of a bishop who never graduated higher than a Bachelor of Arts. His origin was very humble, his father being jailor of Omagh, in the county of Tyrone. Crigan had been, in his earliest days, chaplain to a regiment. He married a widow in the Island of St. Lucia, with whom he received a handsome fortune. At the time of his appointment to the bishopric, he was preacher and reader to a small chapel in the environs of Liverpool. His obtaining the see was the effect of a singular circumstance. The Duchess of Athol (who was always in great difficulties) was, when the see fell vacant, residing at Bath. A Mrs. Calcraft, formerly housekeeper to the family, was then living in Liverpool, and the duchess conceiving this might be no bad place for a speculation among the clerical funds, applied to her " to make due inquiry where she might probably light on a good chap for the episcopal preferment-one that would bleed freely." Mrs. C. cast her eyes immediately on Crigan. She knew he was possessed of the means, and she had no doubt of his -inclination. Accordingly, she told Mr. Crigan that the see was vacant-that her grace the duchess had heard a most excellent character of him. Crigan bowed, and hoped her grace would never have any cause to alter her good opinion of him. "I have not the least doubt of your gratitude, Mr. Crigan, as well as of your moral and religious character," replied Mrs. C. " I trust not," answered his reverence, putting his hand to his heart. " I knew you were just the man the duchess wanted," rejoined the old lady. " I will forthwith mention to her the communication between us; and the result will be (rising from her chair in stately form) that I may announce, doctor, that you will be Bishop of Man." Crigan expressed suitable acknowledgments; and after a few more meetings, when the parties were supposed perfectly to understand one another, he was regularly appointed by her grace Bishop of Man. After the appointment, however, the duchess thought it was time to consider of the quantum of remuneration. Any direct specified engagement of the kind had hitherto been delicately avoided ; but her grace thought it as well to look after the rouleaus before she finally fixed her seal to the viaticum. Just as Crigan was preparing to set off to Bath to pay his homage to her grace, Mrs. Calcraft made her appearance, and avowed her grace's orders to know how far his gratitude would carry him? The doctor (whose countenance presented one of the most saturnine complexions, blended with a peculiar austerity of physiognomy, marked with the strongest Roman outline,) very deliberately replied, " As far as man could go, to express his obligations to her grace. He would first proceed to Bath, and then if she had proceeded to London, he would lose no time in " " Bless my heart, doctor," replied the old lady, interrupting him," you misunderstand me. Her grace expects that you will come to the point in respect to the sum you propose giving her as a proof of your gratitude. As to driving after her post haste, merely to thank her, doctor-that is all humbug, give me leave to say." " Madam," said Crigan, gravely and solemnly, " Do you come to insult me?" " Indeed, I do not, Mr. Crigan," (for here she was pleased to drop his doctor's degree ;) " but if your reverence does not come down with a good round sum, her grace desires me to inform you that she will never confirm her appointment of you to the bishopric of Man."

Mr. Crigan, however, (after this curious negotiation,) sent to the duchess the consecration oath of a bishop, together with several direct passages which he had carefully extracted from her letters to Mrs. Calcraft; and, having threatened to publish the whole, besides laying the case before his Majesty's Privy Council, there was no further demur offered, and Crigan was consecrated Bishop of Man, but not without suffering a load of obloquy respecting the transaction, which he certainly did not merit. It is, perhaps, needless to add, that her grace never admitted the bishop to do personal homage for the favour conferred. This prelate is described as amiable, with polished and conciliatory manners.

I believe the succeeding bishops were Drs. Murray,8 (the present Bishop of Rochester,) Ward, Pepys, and Short, who are highly spoken of by the Manks.

The Service is performed in most country churches alternately in English and Manx. There is, probably, nowhere to be found such religious toleration9 as in this island, no licence being required for the preacher, or the place in which he ministers.

" The established religion of this island," says Lord Teignmouth, " being that of an episcopal church, is upheld by a clergy well qualified for the important functions they have undertaken. They possess an evangelical zeal which they widely diffuse for the benefit of the rising generation. The graces of elocution, and the charms of learning, can never counterbalance the mischiefs effected by a negligent or immoral pastor; happily for this island, the inhabitants have nothing of that kind to complain of. It is highly gratifying to 'see the respect commonly shown in the different parishes to the clergyman and his family. The service of the church is attended by the laity with an appearance of devotion very gratifying to witness, nor is any part of the Sabbath profaned by immorality, which is too often the case in larger communities.

" The deep-rooted attachment of the Manx to the established church, which precluded dissent till the arrival of the methodists, and still binds the adherents of this sect to its ordinances, is attributable to various causes. Among these may be enumerated, their insulated situation and distinct habits-the tenacious adherence to ancient rites and customs, and reverence for authority, which distinguishes them in common with the other branches of the great family to which they belong. The remarkable combination of strict discipline, with perfect toleration, in their ecclesiastical code, and the commanding influence of the episcopal office, endowed with elevated rank, civil and ecclesiastical power and ample wealth, yet, from its peculiar constitution, which assigned to it a throne in every parish church, brought into contact with every portion of the diocese."


1 Whom the Bishop appears to have greatly resembled*

2 Derived from the Latin verb ` Solicito,' To make anxious -To disquiet-To entice one to do, &c.-Vide LATIN DICT.

3 "Men," says the author of Lacon, " will wrangle for religion-write for it-fight for it-any thing but-live for it."

4 By apoplexy, at the age of ninety-three.

5 Vide Appendix C.

6 Fuller's " Holy and Profane State."

7 The ancient :Manx custom of approaching their bishops on the knee was abolished by this prelate.

8 Complaints were made before the appointment of Dr. Murray, by the English bishops, that men morally unfit for the church were admitted into holy orders. When this bishop came over to reside he found the diocese suffering under this imputation, and he most effectually restored its character, by suspending and degrading several priests whose lives were a scandal to their profession.

9 Bishop Wilson was so great a friend to toleration, that " the Papists," says his biographer, " who resided in the island loved and esteemed him, and not unfrequently attended his sermons and his prayers. The dissenters, too, attended even the communion service, as he had allowed them a liberty to sit or stand, which, however, they did not make use of, but behaved in the same manner with those of the established church. A few Quakers who resided in the island visited, loved, and respected him."


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2011