[from Manx Notes & Queries, 1904]
THOMAS BUSHELL (1594-1674),
HIS SECLUSION ON THE CALF OF MAN (1628-1630).
The Calf of Man towers out like a large sentinel, detached from the mainland of the Island by the little Sound, facing distant Ireland. Manx tradition connects its vicinity with the heroic feats of Finn Mac Cooil, and Kettel is said to have hunted here the elk, and leaping the Sound with his spear. It is now the goal of the seeker after nature, and a favourite haunt of the artist and Izaak Walton's disciples. Its lights and tints, ever playing and moving about its greyish-brown cliffs and crags, hung with heather bloom and sea pink, rising from a sea, now purple or emerald, or merged into a surging mass of molten gold, spanning against the soft summer sky form a picture of unfading attraction and beauty. To study its varying moods, view it at the first blush of the morn, when the rays just delicately strike the Calf, or when it is .-glorying in the wild dance of the snowy curling sorai of the breakers; at sunset, when the main heaves and burns in the mellowness of myriads of gorgeous colours; by night when the silver sickle or the full orb of the moond iffuses her magic light over its serene face, hushed into dreamy silence.
The Calf, held variously by the Earl of Derby, the Stephensons of Balladoole, the Duke of Atholl, and the Careys, has been rarely resorted to by visitors, but has recently been more opened up to free and easy access by a syndicate at Port Erin.
In Feltham's time (1797), and centuries before him, boats to the Calf were launched from Bradda Head; "you require," he says, "four hands, as the strong tides at the Sound require; the Calf," he continues, "is about five miles round, sheep abounds, but no part is in tillage, fern, heath, and short herbage variegate the surface. On the west side the rocks are stupendous, and the quantity of birds, called muirs, etc., are incredible, whether sitting on the rocks with their young, floating on the surface of the sea, or filling the immediate air-they give variety to the scene, and their abrill voices arrest attention, and pleases from its novelty." Chaloner (1652), at a much earlier period, speaks of its plentifulness of sea fowl, particularly puffins, of its falcons, red deer, "of some ayries of mettled faulcons that built in the rock, of the great stores of conies, and in some time (he adds) there arrive out of Ireland and the western parts of Scotland many of the small hawks called merlyns."
You would land then a little east of Kitterland, at a point now called Grant's Harbour, or Purt ny vaatey-the port of the boats-on the north-east part of the Calf, and a track led you along the western side to a little farm-stead. Near that stupendous precipice, the Ooir Vooar-the great rock rim-you behold yet the traces of an ancient chapel and burial ground, erected on the highest point of the Calf - 421 feet above the sea-and close by are to be seen the ruins and site of a place called Thie Vushell, or Bushell's house. This little hut has quite a romantic history, and faint memories are still afloat at Cregneish. It once harboured a man who played a not un-important part in the fortunes of King Charles I. The original structure, slight and frail, was composed of a single room with a narrow entrance to it, and shows at one side a recess, measuring about three feet wide and six feet deep - probably the dormitory.
Thomas Bushell, the tenant of this little hermitage, was born 1594 at Cleve Prior, in Worcestershire, and when 15 years old entered the household of the great Lord Chancellor, Francis Bacon. He showed a natural genius for natural philosophy and experiment, and his master, who also became his instructor, "imparted to him many secrets in discovering and extracting minerals,' and his own subsequent mining processes were the natural outcome of Bacon's theories. On the disgrace of the Lord Chancellor lie went first to the Isle of Wight, where he lived for some time as a fisherman. He after retired to London, and some years after Bacon's death (1626) crossed to the Isle of Man. He narrates the reasons of his retirement hither:-" The embrions of my mines proving abortive by the sudden fall and death of my late Lord Chancellor Bacon, in King James's reign, were the motives which persuaded my pensive retirement to a three years unsociable solitude in a desolate Island, called the Calf of Man, where, in obedience to my dead lord's philosophic advice, I resolved to make a perfect experiment upon myself for the obtaining of a long and healthy life, most necessary for such a repentance, as my former debauchedness required, by a parsimonious diet of herbs, oil, mustard, and honey, with water sufficient, most like to that our long-lived fathers before the flood, as was conceived by that lord, which I most strictly observed, as if obliged by a religious vow, till Divine Providence called me to a more active life."
Blundell (1648), further alludes to Bushell's stay:-" All Mann glorieth in its Calf, and do still retain the memory of that vast wit for inventions where he late had a hermetical life in the cave of a hollow rock in the Island, and do still talk of his pendant bed (such as the hammock in a ship) and strange diet."
It may be asked: What allured him to particularly select the Isle of Man for his voluntary self-banishment from the metropolis and the court? That question may be satisfactorily answered as we have the clue.
We know Edward Christian was appointed by James, the seventh Earl of Derby, and King of the Island, as Governor of Man, in 1628, which office he held till 1635. The Earl, in a passage of a letter to his son, says:-" I was newly got acquainted with Capt. Christian, whom I perceived to have abilities enough to do me services; I was told he made a good fortune in the Indies, and that he was a Manx. man born. He is excellent good company, as rude as a sea captain should be, but refined as one that has civilised himself half a year at court, when he served the Duke of Buckingham."
Chaloner (1652) adds that "he was employed in command at sea by the East Indy Company, and sometimes under King James in one of his Royall ships."
Edward Christian then, as we see, was one of the suite of the famous Duke of Buckingham, who was likewise the great patron of Lord Chancellor Bacon, who on the occasion of his elevation to his office wrote an eloquent letter of thanks "for the influence he had exerted in his behalf for the obtention of his appointment." It was thus that Bushell and Christian were intimately thrown together as members of Bacon's and the Duke's retinue. It was Christian who entertained him of his native Island and the Calf, and when Bushell had fully decided on his retirement, Christian no doubt urged and invited him to come to Man for that purpose. Castletown, the seat of the government, would be his first destination, as a guest of Christian, who also, no doubt, conducted him to Port Erin. His stay in the Island coincided thus with the elevation of Christian as Governor of the Isle in 1628.
Bushell's solitary residence in the Calf, and his reasons for such a strange step, must have naturally puzzled the natives. Blundell observes:-"Neither himself (Bushell) is truly understood, nor his diet related by the Manks-men." Although he lived cut off from direst intercourse, his seclusion must by no means be considered as perfect and complete. It was no doubt varied by occasional visits of and to Christian, to talk and converse about their former life in London, and to discuss with him future plans and schemes. The Isle offered also a favourite field for his following investigations into the nature of veins and their distribution. That he must have examined minutely the character of the strata of the vicinity appears clear. In the little creek of Cabbyl Ghaw, at the east side of the Parade, in the Sound, where the Cregneish fishermen throw their boats, is still an old, disused mining shaft, where some rotten timbering and traces of former mining operations in search of ore have been discovered, and Chaloner informs us, moreover, that Edward Christian found the rocks at Mine hough (Bradda Head) contained much silver; that "ore of lead is near unto the sea crag at Mine hough and has been experimented by Edward Christian to hold much silver, and that the veins of this mine by its brightness may be plainly discovered in the rock towards sea." Christian himself was not versed in mining matters directly, and probably the knowledge of the existence of ore here must have been imparted to hm by his friend Bushell, whose practised eye soon had found evidence of it at Bradda, Spaldrick Bay, from whence the boats plied regularly between the mainland and the Calf.
His necessities of life, and such things as honey, oil, mustard, etc., were procured from Castletown. Beehives were then more extensively kept in the Island for the honey and wax. Here then he lived for three consecutive years, engaged in study and speculation, and maturing his ideas. The bracing sea air,and the quiet and tranquil course of his life, his regular habits and diet, invigorated his shattered frame. He laid by a good stock of bodily and mental vigour and self-reliance, which conduced to the development of great energy and longevity, for he reached the good age of eighty. When he took possession of the little hut on the Calf he was in the hey day of his life, and about 34 years old. Had he there kept a diary - as Hall Caine makes his hero do, when banished by the Bishop of Man, his father - or written his personal recollections, while in constant contact for 16 years with his great master, what wonderful glimpses might he have afforded us into the inner and outward life, and the various traits and habits of that great personality !
He left the Calf in the course of 1630 for Road Enstone, near Woodstock, where he had an stablishment and constructed some curious and ingenious water-works, which greatly pleased Charles I., who visited him when in the neighbourhood. He next occupied himself with perfecting a new method of soap-making which, in 1635, he secured the exclusive right. But his great opportunity came in 1636, when the King made him a grant to work the royal mines of Cardiganshire, in Wales, by indenture,* stating that many hopeful mines discovered upon the mountains in Wales, wherein were great quantities of silver, were lost by the unskilful working of these mines, therefore his Majesty, by securing the same to Thomas Bushell, and for encouraging the poor miners by a more timely and speedy pay out of their own labours, thought fit the said Thomas Bushell should erect a mint in the Castle of Aberystwyth, with officers and workmen necessary for the coining of all such bullion only as should be drawn out of the mines within the Principality; and that the monies there made should be stamped with feathers on both sides, etc. The mines were last farmed by Sir Hugh Myddleton, at the low annual sum of £400, whose efficient management effected so great an alteration that his monthly profit from Cwmsymlog alone has been estimated at £2,000. Bushell, on his installation, recovered the inundated mines, and employed new and more expeditious methods of mining. He became warden and master-worker of the mint, occupying 500 families and spending £7,000 before reaping the fruit of his indefatigable labours. It took him four years to recover the decayed mines, and he discovered also some old mines, wrought by the Romans. The coins struck by him were, as authorised by this deed, half-crown, shilling, sixpenny, great, half-great, threepenny, penny, and halfpenny pieces, and bear date between 1638 and 1642, when the mint was removed to Shrewsbury in consequence of the distractions arising out of the Civil War. When the King was pressed by the Parliament forces, Bushell made a noble acknowledgment to his royal master by raising a regiment among his miners, and clothing his whole army, besides supplying him with £40,000 in his necessity towards the payment of his troops. He proved a most devoted Royalist, and with unexampled self-abnegation, used all his entire resources and powers in support of the cause of his royal patron; "be converted," says Thomas Fuller, " the mattocks of his miners into spears, and their shovels into shields, formed them into a regiment, and commanded them in person, in defence of a cause too desperate for recovery." The King, in touching language, acknowledged his great obligations to him in an autograph letter, in which he speaks of the-
" Manie true services actually done in these times of trying a subject's loyalty as in raiseing us the Darbyshire minors for our lifeguard at our first entrance to this ware for our owne defence, supplyinge us at Shrewsbury and Oxford with your mint for for payment of our armye, your charging the dollar wee paid our soldjers at 6/- a piece when the malignant partie cried them down at ffive, your stopping the mutinie in Shropshire, your providing us 100 tonnes of lead shot for our armye with mony, your helping us to 26 pieces of ordinance, your cloathing of our life guard and three regiments more with suites, stockings, shoes, and mounterees when wee were readie to march in the ffield ; your contractinge with merchants beyond the seas, for providing good quantities of powder, pistol, carabine, muskett, and bullen, in exchange for your own com-modities : with diverse other services." Speaking of his later career, Mr W. Wroth* says:-
"He held Lundy Island for the King, and in 1647 surrendered it and went into hiding. In 1652 he gave securities to the Council of State for his future good behaviour, and obtained from the Protector a renewal of his lease of the royal mines and confirmation of his grant for coining the silver there extracted. These were confirmed in 1658 by Richard Cromwell, who also protected and encouraged him in his operations in the lead mines in the Mendip. His mining schemes in Somersetshire also received the sanction of Charles."
He seems to have been overtaken by great adversity and impecuniousness pressing on him in his old age, for in 1663 there is the petition of Ths. Bushell, master-worker of the royal mines, praying the King for a royal protection for arrest for two years, having contracted great debts in the service of the late King, which he hopes to repay in time from. his mineral proceeds. Nothing more definite is known of him after this, and he then silently drops out of ken; but his splendid services were fittingly acknowledged, for on his death in April, 1674, he was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. His wife was Anne, widow of Sir William Waad, Lieutenant of the Tower.
Such is the eventful history of the recluse; and the visitor, on bending his steps to the crumbled pile of Thie Vushell, will approach it, not in curiosity alone, but witlr a fuller knowledge and sense of the deep interest that is bound up with it and the lone dreamer who whiloin occupied the sea-girdled rearing heights of this sparkling diadem of Mona-the Calf of Man.
+ See New Cruide to Aberystwith, by Thomas Owen Morgan, barrister, Aberystwith, 1864, pp. 43-44 and 57-58.
*See article: Thomas Bushell, Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. VIIL, 1886; written by Warwick Wroth.